Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, a former civil rights attorney, have joined 48 of their colleagues in introducing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The legislation would update and restore critical safeguards included in the original Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court weakened crucial tenets of that landmark law prohibiting discriminatory voting practices. 

“The Voting Rights Act was one of the most pivotal and transformative laws of the 20th century, as it finally protected the long-delayed promise of democracy for Black Americans,” said Warner. “Tragically, we’ve seen the Supreme Court take aim at some of the most effective portions of the law, diluting its power and turning the clock back for folks seeking a fair shot at the ballot box. I’m proud to support the John R. Lewis Voting Advancement Act so we can restore critical portions of the VRA, recommit to preventing discriminatory voting regulations, and honor the towering legacy of Rep. Lewis and all the civil rights heroes who forever strengthened American democracy.” 

“The ability to vote freely and conveniently regardless of where you live or what you look like is crucial to democracy. But Americans in at least 14 states will have a harder time voting this year because their state legislatures passed new, restrictive voting laws,” said Kaine. “That’s unacceptable. It’s past time for Congress to act, in part by restoring the Voting Rights Act so we can protect Americans’ right to make their voices heard at the ballot box.”

The Supreme Court’s disastrous Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013 significantly curtailed the federal government’s ability to prevent discriminatory changes to voting laws and procedures—opening the floodgates for voter suppression. The Supreme Court’s subsequent ruling in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee further weakened the Voting Rights Act by making it significantly harder for plaintiffs to challenge discriminatory voting laws or procedures. The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act in the wake of those rulings.

The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is endorsed by hundreds of organizations, including the following leading civil rights organizations: ACLU, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, MALDEF, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, and Demos.

WASHINGTON – This week, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined 49 of their colleagues in reintroducing the Freedom to Vote Act, legislation to improve access to the ballot for Americans, advance commonsense federal election standards and campaign finance reforms, and protect American democracy. The legislation includes various provisions that have already been enacted in Virginia, including automatic voter registration, same day and Election Day voter registration, online voter registration, and no excuse mail voting.

In addition to bringing Virginia’s successes to every corner of the country, the legislation would protect Virginia’s progress from potential attacks from state legislators, some of whom have already tried to make it harder for Virginians to cast their ballots. Earlier this year, a top Republican legal strategist told a roomful of donors she was optimistic that legislation making it more convenient to vote in Virginia could be undone. The introduction of the Freedom to Vote Act—which would also restore the right to vote in federal elections for people who have served their time for felony convictions after they are released from prison—comes as the Virginia NAACP calls for clarity from Virginia’s Governor regarding the process for restoring voting rights for people with felony convictions who have completed their sentences in Virginia.

“The opportunity for every American to make their voice heard is the bedrock of our democracy, but right now the very act of voting is under siege in state legislatures across the country,” said Sen. Warner. “The Freedom to Vote Act enshrines in federal law efforts to safeguard democracy from these attacks and protect Americans’ access to the ballot.”

“The strength of our democracy depends on Americans’ ability to make their voices heard,” said Sen. Kaine, who practiced civil rights law for 17 years. “The Freedom to Vote Act would help expand voting by mail, early voting, and other reforms to make voting easier. These provisions—many of which were adopted in Virginia—are broadly popular among Americans across the political spectrum and are essential to our democracy. It’s crucial that we pass this legislation to protect Virginia’s progress on the federal level, and help states across the country follow Virginia’s lead in making voting more convenient.”

The legislation reflects feedback from state and local election officials to ensure the people responsible for implementing reforms are able to do so effectively. It also elevates the voices of American voters by ending partisan gerrymandering, and would help eliminate the undue influence of secret money in our elections. Summaries of how the three sections of the bill would protect Americans’ right to vote are below.

Legislative text is available here.

Voter Access and Election Administration 

This section includes provisions to improve voter access by implementing reliable state best practices for voter registration and election administration to ensure all Americans can easily exercise their freedom to vote regardless of where they live. 

  • Automatic Voter Registration and Online Voter Registration: Enacts an automatic voter registration system for each state through the state’s motor vehicle agency and ensures voters in all states have access to online voter registration.
  • Election Day Holiday: Makes Election Day a public holiday.
  • Uniform Early Voting: Ensures voters have access to at least two weeks of early voting for federal elections, including two weekends, while accommodating small election jurisdictions and vote-by-mail jurisdictions.
  • Same Day Voter Registration: Ensures every state offers same day registration at a limited number of locations for the 2024 elections and at all polling locations by 2026, allowing election officials, especially in rural areas, time to implement the new requirements.
  • Federal Minimum Standards on Vote by Mail and Drop Boxes: Ensures all voters can request a mail-in ballot, improves the delivery of election mail, and puts in place minimum standards to ensure drop boxes are available and accessible to all voters.
  • Strengthens Voter List Maintenance Standards: Requires that the removal of voters from the rolls is done on the basis of reliable and objective evidence and prohibits the use of returned mail sent by third parties to remove voters. 
  • Counting of Provisional Ballots: Requires provisional ballots to count for all eligible races within a county, regardless of the precinct they were cast in.
  • Standards for Voter Identification: Promotes voter confidence and access by requiring a uniform national standard for states that require identification for in-person voting, and allowing voters to present a broad set of identification cards and documents in hard copy and digital form. States that do not have a voter identification requirement would not be required to make any changes.
  • Voting Rights Restoration for Returning Citizens: Restores the right to vote in federal elections for people who have served their time for felony convictions after they are released from prison.
  • Expanded Voting Access Protections for the Disabled, Native Americans, Military, Overseas Voters, and Underserved Communities: Includes targeted protections to promote accessible voting to communities facing unique challenges. 

Election Integrity

This section includes measures to promote confidence in elections, stop partisan election subversion, and protect against election interference, both foreign and domestic. 

  • Preventing State Election Subversion: Establishes federal protections to insulate nonpartisan state and local officials who administer federal elections from undue partisan interference or control.
  • Protection of Election Records, Election Infrastructure, and Ballot Tabulation: Strengthens protections for federal election records and election infrastructure in order to protect the integrity and security of ballots and voting systems.
  • Voter-Verified Paper Ballots, Reliable Audits, and Voting System Upgrades: Requires states to use voting systems that use paper ballots that can be verified by voters and to implement reliable post-election audits. Also provides grants for states to purchase new and more secure voting systems and make cybersecurity improvements.
  • Non-Partisan Election Official Recruitment and Training: Tasks the Election Assistance Commission with developing model training programs to recruit a new generation of election workers and provides dedicated grants for training and recruitment.
  • Comprehensive Voting System Security Protections: Puts in place election vendor cybersecurity standards, including standards for manufacturing and assembling voting machines, among other key security measures.
  • Establishing Duty to Report Foreign Election Interference: Creates a reporting requirement for federal campaigns to disclose certain foreign contacts. 

Civic Participation and Empowerment 

This section includes provisions to prevent partisan manipulation of the redistricting process, establishes uniform disclosure standards for money in politics, and empowers states to make critical investments in their election systems. 

  • Non-Partisan Redistricting Reform and Banning Partisan Gerrymandering: Requires states to abide by specific criteria for congressional redistricting and makes judicial remedies available for states’ failure to comply. Allows states to choose how to develop redistricting plans, including the option of having an independent redistricting commission.
  • Combatting Secret Money and Election Interference (DISCLOSE Act and Honest Ads Act): Requires super PACs, 501(c)(4) groups, and other organizations spending money in elections to disclose donors and shuts down the use of transfers between organizations to cloak the identity of contributors. Ensures that political ads sold online have the same transparency and disclosure requirements as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite.
  • State Election Assistance and Innovation Fund: Establishes a self-sustaining fund to finance critical investments in state-led innovations for our democracy and election infrastructure. The fund is financed through an additional assessment paid on federal fines, penalties, and settlements for certain tax crimes and corporate malfeasance. States would be allotted an annual distribution for eligible democracy and election-related investments. States could select to access their full distribution or a partial distribution, or roll over their distribution for future use.
  • Nonpartisan Oversight of Federal Election Law: Improves the ability of the Federal Election Commission to carry out oversight and enforcement responsibilities.
  • Stopping Illicit Super PAC Coordination: Creates “coordinated spender” category to ensure single-candidate super PACs do not operate as arms of campaigns. 

 

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WASHINGTON – Ahead of the President’s address in Georgia, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) issued the following statement on the urgent need to protect voting rights:

“As a member of the greatest deliberative body in the world, I continue to believe that we must preserve the Senate’s ability to debate contrasting viewpoints on matters of public policy. However, voting is the bedrock of our democracy and it is a right that should never be up for contention. As President Biden doubles down on his efforts to safeguard democracy from the barrage of attacks by state legislatures, Virginians can be sure that I’ll be working in the Senate to do whatever it takes to protect Americans’ access to the ballot.”

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 U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) issued the following statement on the status of voting rights legislation in Congress:

“When it comes to voting rights, when it comes to that basic right to exercise and participate in democracy, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would ensure we uphold what makes our democracy strong.  Across the country, in states like Georgia and Texas, the rights of all Americans, but especially minority and young Americans are being attacked, and the basic tenets of our democracy are under siege. These changes to voting laws are un-American, like saying you can’t give water to someone who is waiting in line to vote, or in states like Texas where they're saying a local government can overturn the results of a local election — that is not democracy.  The Senate has shown it cannot do its basic duty, and find 60 Senators to support basic voting rights, so I support changing the rules around the filibuster for voting rights legislation. We must pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to ensure that our democracy remains strong and in line with our values as Americans.” 

WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner & Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee, joined a bicameral letter led by Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi urging the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to address student voter registration and participation as it formulates higher education rulemaking. The letter comes as states across the country pass legislation designed to curb the voting rights of Black, Brown, and young people.

“Across the country, voting rights are under attack, and new laws restricting access to voting have been transparently intended to discourage students and people of color from participating in our elections. The Department can and should play a significant role in supporting democracy by creating additional nonpartisan opportunities for students to register to vote, keep their voter registration up to date, and participate in state and federal elections,” wrote the lawmakers.

“Participating in our democracy is consistent with the goals of federal financial aid, and the Department should take swift action to support access to voter registration and voting for students in this rulemaking process. Thank you for your attention to our request,” concluded the lawmakers.

Kaine, a former civil rights attorney, has long fought to protect voting rights and expand access to the ballot box. In September, Kaine introduced the Freedom to Vote Act, legislation cosponsored by Warner to improve access to the ballot for Americans, advance commonsense election integrity reforms, and protect our democracy from attacks. The Freedom to Vote Act elevates the voices of American voters by ending partisan gerrymandering and helping to eliminate the undue influence of secret money in our elections.

In October, Warner and Kaine helped introduce the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act legislation to restore the landmark Voting Rights Act and stop the spread of voter suppression.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Secretary Cardona:

We write to urge the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) to address student voter registration and participation in upcoming rulemaking for higher education accountability and to provide additional guidance to institutions of higher education to facilitate civic engagement.

Across the country, voting rights are under attack, and new laws restricting access to voting have been transparently intended to discourage students and people of color from participating in our elections. The Department can and should play a significant role in supporting democracy by creating additional nonpartisan opportunities for students to register to vote, keep their voter registration up to date, and participate in state and federal elections.

Section 487(a)(23) of the Higher Education Act requires each institution of higher education that receives federal financial aid funds to make a “good faith effort” to distribute voter registration materials and to make such materials “widely available” to students. A college’s good faith effort to distribute voter registration information widely should reflect the most common methods by which individuals register to vote— including, increasingly, online registration—and the deadlines they must meet.

The Department has full authority to prescribe regulations to enforce the program participation agreement in Section 487(a)(23). In early 2022, as part of the upcoming institutional accountability rulemaking, the Department should propose regulations that specify the time, manner, and frequency by which voter registration materials are distributed to students.

Importantly, at least once per year, as part of the course registration or other institutional enrollment process, the rules should require institutions to distribute to student’s voter registration information, including, where possible, a direct and accessible web link to register to vote or to update their voter registration (such as providing a new address). The rules should also recommend institutions distribute voter registration materials to students during other interactions many students will have with institutions, such as student identification application processes. While the regulations should prioritize online voter registration options to ensure an easy and accessible process for students, they should also accommodate institutions in states that do not conduct online voter registration.

The Department should also swiftly issue sub-regulatory guidance that clarifies institutions’ responsibilities under current regulations. This guidance should remind colleges of their existing requirement to distribute voter registration information to students well in advance of state deadlines to register to vote. And, such guidance should strongly encourage institutions to adopt best practices for providing links to voter registration online and through direct notifications to students, including links during course registration and campus-wide email reminders. These reminders should also encourage students to check and update their voter registration information to ensure the most recent address is on file and explain current law on where students may register to vote based on their permanent residence. Finally, the guidance should make clear that Federal Work-Study funds can be used for nonpartisan voter registration, education, engagement, and poll watching activities—and can help institutions meet their community service requirements.

Participating in our democracy is consistent with the goals of federal financial aid, and the Department should take swift action to support access to voter registration and voting for students in this rulemaking process. Thank you for your attention to our request.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) issued the following statement after the Senate failed to move forward with the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 bipartisan legislation to safeguard voting rights:

“The Senate has once again failed to safeguard voting rights, this time by refusing to allow debate on a bipartisan bill to protect access to the ballot. As global history has taught us, it is not enough to simply hold elections – we must see to it that those elections are free and fair. Across the country, the sacred right to vote is under attack by those who find it politically expedient to suppress voter turnout. I urge my Republican colleagues to start working in good faith. The right to vote is integral to democracy and it deserves to be treated as such.” 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, issued the statement below after voting for a procedural motion to advance the Freedom to Vote Act – landmark legislation to secure American elections and protect the right to vote. The legislation failed to move forward by a vote of 49-51 after falling short of the 60-vote threshold needed to open debate on the bill, with no support from Republicans.

“Today, I voted to move forward with a bill to secure our elections and protect the right to vote – a cornerstone of American democracy. If we are to preserve this democracy, we must make sure that future generations of voters have the same reasonable, unencumbered access to the ballot box that so many Virginians currently enjoy as they cast their votes ahead of the November election. As we face an alarming barrage of attacks on our most solemn ideals and our most precious institutions, it’s discouraging that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would refuse to even debate this set of commonsense measures.”

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, and 17 other colleagues in a letter to the Department of Justice seeking an update on the actions of the Department’s Election Threats Task Force, which was established in July to receive and assess reports of threats against election workers. The Senators specifically requested information on the Task Force’s plans to facilitate the reporting, investigation, and prosecution of threats against election officials and election workers. This request follows a survey of election workers earlier this year which found that nearly one in three felt unsafe because of their job, nearly one in six received threats of violence, and more than one in six were concerned about their lives being threatened.

“In the last year, we have seen election officials and election workers face a barrage of threats and abusive conduct from those seeking to interfere with the certification of the 2020 election or overturn the results,” the Senators wrote.

“While existing laws protect voters from intimidation and violence, additional specific protections are needed for officials, workers, and volunteers responsible for operating polling stations, counting and processing ballots, and certifying election results. The lack of clear guidance for law enforcement left many election workers at risk, and in some instances election workers were told that threats against their safety are ‘protected political speech.’ The Department of Justice has previously acknowledged the ‘inadequate’ response to threats against election workers, and the need to do more to protect them from harm,” they continued.

“We commend the Department of Justice for taking these threats seriously and establishing the Election Threats Task Force earlier this year to receive and assess allegations and reports of threats against election workers,” they concluded. 

Senators Warner and Kaine, who were in the Capitol during the violent attack orchestrated by people wanting to overturn an election, have long supported commonsense measures to protect our democracy from attacks. Kaine, a former civil rights lawyer, recently introduced his Freedom to Vote Act, comprehensive legislation that reflects feedback from state and local election officials to advance commonsense election integrity reforms — including expanding access to the ballot, protecting our democracy against election interference, ensuring transparency of election expenditures, and ending partisan gerrymandering. The Senate will vote on the bill tomorrow.

The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Angus King (I-ME), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

Full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Attorney General Garland:

We write to express our concerns regarding the unprecedented rise in threats against election officials and election workers in recent months and to request an update on the efforts of the Department of Justice’s recently established Election Threats Task Force. We appreciate the Department’s commitment to combating these threats to our democracy.

In the last year, we have seen election officials and election workers face a barrage of threats and abusive conduct from those seeking to interfere with the certification of the 2020 election or overturn the results. This is despite the Trump Administration’s Department of Homeland Security calling the election “the most secure in American history.”  We must respond to these threats head on to protect those who are working on the frontlines of our democracy.

The increase in threats is widespread. According to a survey of election workers earlier this year, nearly one in three felt unsafe because of their job, nearly one in six received threats of violence, and more than one in six were concerned about their lives being threatened.  This onslaught of threats against election workers is unacceptable, and it also raises serious concerns about the ability to recruit and retain election workers needed to administer future elections. 

While existing laws protect voters from intimidation and violence, additional specific protections are needed for officials, workers, and volunteers responsible for operating polling stations, counting and processing ballots, and certifying election results. The lack of clear guidance for law enforcement left many election workers at risk, and in some instances election workers were told that threats against their safety are “protected political speech.” The Department of Justice has previously acknowledged the “inadequate” response to threats against election workers, and the need to do more to protect them from harm.  

One investigation identified hundreds of hostile messages received by election workers or their families following the 2020 election, 102 of which were threats of death or violence.  However, that same investigation found only four known arrests and none of those resulted in a conviction. 

We must ensure that election workers are able to do their jobs free from threats, intimidation, or other improper influence. While Congress must pass stronger protections for election workers such as those in the Protecting Election Administration from Interference Act, the Preventing Election Subversion Act, the Election Worker and Polling Place Protection Act, and the Freedom to Vote Act, we also urge the Justice Department to take additional action under existing law. It is for this reason that we respectfully request an update on the actions that the Department’s Task Force has taken so far and on its plans to facilitate the reporting, investigation, and prosecution of threats against election officials and election workers. We also ask that you provide the following information:

  1. The number of threats against election workers, officials, volunteers or their families that have been identified by the Task Force, broken down by state.
  2. The number of completed and ongoing investigations based upon those identified threats.
  3. Any guidance issued to or by the Federal Bureau of Investigation or United States Attorney’s Offices regarding the prioritization of investigations and prosecutions of threats against election officials and election workers.

We commend the Department of Justice for taking these threats seriously and establishing the Election Threats Task Force earlier this year to receive and assess allegations and reports of threats against election workers. The Task Force makes clear that the Justice Department is prioritizing the identification, investigation, and prosecution of those who threaten or seek to harm election workers.

Thank you for your attention to the important matter and for your efforts to protect the election workers who administer the free and fair elections essential to our democracy.

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WASHINGTON – Yesterday, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senator Patrick Leahy in introducing legislation to restore the landmark Voting Rights Act and stop the spread of voter suppression. The legislation—the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—is named for the late Congressman John Lewis, an icon of the Civil Rights movement, and reflects an update to legislation introduced in the last Congress.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s damaging Shelby County decision in 2013—which crippled the federal government’s ability under the 1965 Voting Rights Act to prevent discriminatory changes to voting laws and procedures—many states across the country have unleashed a torrent of voter suppression schemes that have systematically disenfranchised tens of thousands of American voters. The Supreme Court’s Brnovich decision earlier this year delivered yet another blow to the Voting Rights Act, making it significantly harder for plaintiffs to win lawsuits against discriminatory voting laws or procedures.   

“It is critical that we pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to protect the fundamental right to vote,” the Senators said. “We are proud to cosponsor this legislation that will restore the full protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a landmark achievement of the civil rights movement.”

Last month, Kaine introduced the Freedom to Vote Act to improve access to the ballot for Americans, advance commonsense election integrity reforms, and protect our democracy from attacks. The Freedom to Vote Act, supported by Senator Warner, contains provisions expanding voting by mail, early voting, and taking other steps to make voting easier and safer, while the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would prevent undue restrictions on the right to vote by restoring the Department of Justice’s power to review potential restrictive changes to voting rules.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is endorsed by the following leading civil rights organizations: Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), the Brennan Center for Justice, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The full text of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act can be found here.

A section-by-section analysis of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act can be found here.

 

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WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following after the Senate failed to reach the 60-vote threshold required to advance S. 1, For the People Act, a bill he cosponsored to protect and strengthen the right to vote: 

“In recent years, we’ve seen states across the country enacting restrictive and discriminatory voting laws in a clear effort to make it harder for voters to make their voices heard at the ballot box. It’s for this reason that I voted for this comprehensive voting rights bill. The bill would have expanded mail-in voting, increased early voting hours, strengthened the Voting Rights Act, created urgently needed federal standards to ensure no American is denied this fundamental right, and more. While the Commonwealth of Virginia has led the charge on voting rights by implementing many reforms found in this bill, too many states have refused to heed that call. We have an obligation to all those who risked their lives to protect this most fundamental of rights not to give up on this vital effort.”

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate in defending the voting rights of Americans. Sen. Warner joined his colleagues in introducing legislation to protect local election officials from harassment and partisan pressure when overseeing elections. During the 2020 presidential election, Sen. Warner led all the Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee in calling for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the National Association of State Election Directors, and the National Association of Secretaries of State to work proactively to counter any attempts to suppress vulnerable and historically-disenfranchised voters during the COVID-19 crisis. Sen. Warner has also introduced bipartisan legislation – the Honest Ads Act – to help prevent foreign interference in elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Senators Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Jon Ossoff (D-GA) in introducing new legislation that will ensure the integrity of local elections while also protecting the safety and security of election workers and volunteers, following the spate of state-level voter suppression attacks sweeping the nation that would make it harder for eligible voters to cast a ballot and ensure it is counted. The Preventing Election Subversion Act of 2021 will institute new federal safeguards that will help keep the foundations of our democracy strong by insulating state election administration from partisan pressure. U.S. Representatives John Sarbanes (D, MD-03), Nikema Williams (D, GA-05), and Colin Allred (D, TX-32) are introducing companion legislation in the House.

Since January, state legislators have introduced over 210 bills in 41 states that grant more power to state legislatures nationwide to politicize, criminalize, or interfere with elections. These dangerous efforts place local elections officials at risk of partisan subversion, interference, or control. In fourteen states, including Georgia, these bills have been signed into law; Georgia’s SB 202 allows partisan officials in the state legislature wide latitude to remove local election officials. This is specifically concerning given that since the November 2020 elections, many of these officials have been pressured to overturn the election results, and have received death threats in response to their work upholding the integrity of our elections. 

“American elections – and the public servants who oversee them – should be free from partisan interference, threats of violence, and acts of intimidation. Unfortunately, state legislatures in states across the country have resorted to targeting local election officials in their latest effort to delegitimize and influence voting outcomes for political gain and we’ve seen election workers suffer from unrelenting abuse and harassment,” said Senator Warner. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation to protect free and fair elections, the cornerstone of our democracy.”  

“The dangers of the voter suppression efforts we’re seeing in Georgia and across the nation are not theoretical, and we can’t allow power-hungry state actors to squeeze the people out of their own democracy by overruling the decisions of local election officials,” said Senator Reverend Warnock. “This legislation is critical to ensuring the federal government has the tools to make sure every eligible voter’s voice is heard and their ballot is counted to help decide the direction of our country.” 

“The right to vote is fundamental to all of our rights, but today we are seeing efforts to roll back voting rights across the country,” said Senator Klobuchar. “We need to respond to these threats to our democracy head on which is why this legislation to protect election workers and prohibit voter intimidation tactics is so vital. This bill builds on several provisions from the For the People Act to fight back against attempts to undermine election workers and make it harder to vote. In the face of these unprecedented attacks, we must move quickly to ensure our democracy works for every American.”

"Around the world we see sham elections controlled by a ruling party to give a veneer of democracy while preventing the people from actually deciding who holds power. And in 2021, this threat has arrived on our shores," said Senator Merkley. "For the first time in my memory, one party is trying to dismantle the safeguards that give us independent, free elections so they can rig—or throw out—the results they don't like. This bill is an essential line of defense to preserve government of, by, and for the People."

“Senator Reverend Warnock and I are focused on protecting every American's voting rights. This legislation will ensure nonpartisan election officials can carry out free and fair elections without partisan interference and help safeguard the sacred right to vote,” said Senator Ossoff.

The Preventing Election Subversion Act of 2021 would

Limit arbitrary and unfounded removals of local election officials by requiring a “for cause” standard to be met before suspension and provide a federal cause of action to enforce this standard; 

Allow a local election official who has responsibility for federal elections and who has been subjected to removal proceedings by a state board of elections to remove that proceeding to federal district court for redress; 

Make it a federal crime for any person, whether acting under color of law or otherwise, to intimidate, threaten, coerce, harass, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, coerce, or harass an election worker; 

Establish a minimum buffer zone to limit how close a poll observer may come within a voter or ballot at a polling location during an early vote period or on Election Day; and 

Require challenges to a voter’s eligibility to register to vote or to cast a ballot, other than from an election official, to be supported by personal knowledge with respect to each individual challenged.

View the Preventing Election Subversion Act of 2021 bill text HERE

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) in introducing the Democracy Restoration Act (DRA/S. 481) that would end the permanent denial of voting rights for individuals with criminal convictions nationwide. The bill aims to eliminate the complicated patchwork of state laws that creates a lack of uniform standards for voting in federal elections, exacerbates racial disparities in access to the ballot box, and contributes to confusion and misinformation regarding voting rights.

“Voting is a fundamental right of citizenship and, under our Constitution, there is no legitimate justification for denying people who have paid their dues from having a voice in our democracy,” said Senator Cardin. “The United States is one of the few Western democracies that allows the permanent denial of voting rights for individuals with criminal convictions. This must end if we truly want to reintegrate ex-offenders as productive members of our communities.”

In 30 States, individuals with convictions may not vote while they are on parole and 28 of those States disenfranchise individuals on felony probation as well. In 11 States, a conviction can result in lifetime disenfranchisement. Several States deny the right to vote to individuals convicted of certain misdemeanors. These state laws deny citizens participation in our democracy and have a disproportionate impact on African Americans and other racial minorities Studies indicate that disenfranchisement is associated with an increased risk of recidivism. In 2020, more than five million individuals and as many as one in five African-Americans in some states were disenfranchised as a result of these laws.

The Democracy Restoration Act (S. 481) is endorsed by a large coalition of civil rights and reform, faith-based, and criminal justice groups. This includes the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the Sentencing Project, and other organizations working on federal criminal justice reform. 

“The DRA is a critically important piece of civil rights legislation. The DRA makes our country more just, our democracy more inclusive, and our elections more participatory. The DRA makes space in the public square for second chances, for forgiveness, for redemption, and for love. Thank you, Senator Cardin, for continuing to be such a champion of the DRA,” said Myrna Perez, director of the Brennan Center's Voting Rights and Elections Program.

“The Democracy Restoration Act would begin to right the wrong of disenfranchisement by restoring the right to vote to returning citizens. Stripping the right to vote – a basic human right – is a relic of the Jim Crow era’s suffocating racism. Our democracy works best when all can participate,” said Sonia Gill, Senior Legislative Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union.

“The criminal justice system shouldn’t decide who gets a say in our democracy. One in 16 Black Americans cannot vote because of a felony conviction -- a rate almost 4 times greater than for people who aren’t Black. The racial injustices that permeate the U.S. criminal justice system now infect the electoral process. The Democracy Restoration Act would restore voting rights to millions of citizens released from prison; an important step to strengthen communities harmed for generations by oppressive laws,” said Kara Gotsch, Deputy Director of The Sentencing Project.

Senate cosponsors of the Democracy Restoration Act include U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Mike Bennet (D-Colo.).

As noted in the legislation, state disenfranchisement laws disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minorities. In recent years, African-Americans have been imprisoned at over 5 times the rate of Whites. More than 6 percent of the voting-age African-American population, or 1,800,000 African-Americans, are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction. In 9 States—Alabama (16 percent), Arizona (13 percent), Florida (15 percent), Kentucky (15 percent), Mississippi (16 percent), South Dakota (14 percent), Tennessee (21 percent), Virginia (16 percent), and Wyoming (36 percent)—more than 1 in 8 African-Americans are unable to vote because of a felony conviction, twice the national average for African Americans.

Latino citizens are also disproportionately disenfranchised based upon their disproportionate representation in the criminal justice system. In recent years, Latinos have been imprisoned at 2.5 times the rate of Whites. More than 2 percent of the voting-age Latino population, or 560,000 Latinos, are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction. In 34 states Latinos are disenfranchised at a higher rate than the general population. In 11 states 4 percent or more of Latino adults are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction (Alabama, 4 percent; Arizona, 7 percent; Arkansas, 4 percent; Idaho, 4 percent; Iowa, 4 percent; Kentucky, 6 percent; Minnesota, 4 percent; Mississippi, 5 percent; Nebraska, 6 percent; Tennessee, 11 percent, Wyoming, 4 percent), twice the national average for Latinos.

The full text of the Democracy Restoration Act (S. 481) is available here. A section-by-section summary follows.

Section 1: Short title.

Section 2: Findings. 

  • This section details some of the statistics and other problems associated with criminal disfranchisement laws, as well as the recent success of the Florida ballot initiative.
  • There are no standard qualifications for voting in federal elections, so disparate state standards effectively determine who may vote in federal elections, and the same individual may be arbitrarily allowed to vote by one state, but barred by the next.
  • The 48 states that prohibit voting by some or all people with convictions disproportionately disfranchise racial and ethnic minorities.
  • Disfranchising citizens who are living and working in our communities hinders their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

Section 3: Voting Rights Protected.

  • This section guarantees all citizens the right to vote in elections for federal office regardless of felony or misdemeanor criminal conviction.
  • An individual’s voting rights may be restricted, however, in elections that take place while s/he is incarcerated and serving a felony sentence.

Section 4: Enforcement of Federal Voting Rights.

  • This section authorizes both the Department of Justice and individuals harmed by violation of this Act to sue to enforce its provisions.
  • Unless an alleged violation occurs during the 30 days prior to a federal election, individuals must attempt to resolve grievances by providing notice to state election officials before they may file suit. State election officials have 90 days after receipt of a complaint to correct a violation, or 20 days if the complaint is filed within 120 days prior to a federal election. If a violation occurs within 30 days of a federal election, individuals may file suit immediately, without providing notice.
  • Neither the Department of Justice nor aggrieved individuals may seek monetary damages.

Section 5: Notification of Restoration of Voting Rights.

  • This section obligates state officials, the federal Bureau of Prisons, and the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System to provide written notification of the right to register and vote in federal elections to any individual who has been convicted of a criminal offense.
  • Notice must be given at the time of sentencing in cases involving misdemeanor charges, and felony charges for which a sentence of probation-only is given.
  • Notice must be given at the time of release from incarceration in cases involving felony charges pursuant to which an individual serves time in a correctional institution.

Section 6: Definitions.    

  • “Correctional institution or facility” includes all public and private facilities in which individuals are incarcerated pursuant to criminal conviction, but does not include residential treatment centers.
  • “Election” means any primary, special, runoff, or general election, including party conventions and caucuses held for purposes of nominating candidates, and elections held to designate delegates to a political party’s national nominating convention.
  • “Federal office” means the positions of President, Vice President, and Senator, Representative, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner to the Congress of the United States.
  • “Probation” means any period of probation imposed by a federal, state, or local court, without regard to conditions, or lack thereof, related to the person’s movement, payment of restitution, reporting or supervision.

Section 7: Relation to Other Laws.

  • This section makes clear that this Act does not prevent states from providing more expansive federal voting rights than mandated herein.
  • This Act also is not intended and should not be read to limit or replace the voting rights afforded by other federal laws, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973 et seq.), the National Voter Registration Act (42 U.S.C. 1973gg et seq.), and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (U.S.C. 20901 et seq.).

Section 8: Restriction on Use of Federal Funds.

  • This section provides that federal funds may not be used to construct or improve correctional institutions unless the jurisdiction (includes state, unit of local government or person) that is served by the institution is: (1) in compliance with Section 3; and (2) has in place a program to notify people released from incarceration of their federal voting rights.

Section 9: Effective Date.

  • This Act applies prospectively to any federal election held on or after its passage.

 

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