Nov 03 2021
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.”
Oct 20 2021
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.”
Warner and Kaine Join Colleagues in Requesting Update from Justice Department on Efforts to Protect Election Officials and Workers
Oct 20 2021
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:
- The number of threats against election workers, officials, volunteers or their families that have been identified by the Task Force, broken down by state.
- The number of completed and ongoing investigations based upon those identified threats.
- 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.
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.
Jun 21 2021
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.
Feb 25 2021
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.