House Democrats Propose Making Colleges Register Students for Same-Day Voting

By Elizabeth Harrington | May 21, 2012 | 6:51pm EDT

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) AP Photo

( – House Democrats introduced “comprehensive” voting rights legislation last week, which, among other things, would transform colleges into voter registration sites and allow for same-day registration.

In response to the voter identification laws that have sprung up throughout the country, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) introduced the “Voter Empowerment Act of 2012” (VEA) on May 17.

"The Voter Empowerment Act will require all universities that receive federal funds to offer and encourage voter registration to their students," says a fact sheet about the bill posted on Lewis's website

The legislation (H.R. 5799) seeks to broaden access to the polls and “address the unprecedented efforts to turn back the clock and erect barriers to voting,” a fact sheet says.

Democrats are billing H.R. 5799 as “comprehensive voting rights legislation.” 

Section 1301 of the bill would expand the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which required state agencies such as Department of Motor Vehicle offices to provide voter registration, to every college or university that receives federal funding, treating them as “Voter Registration Agencies.”

“With a pivotal presidential election just six months away, we must do all we can to ensure free and fair elections and that everyone can vote,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Thursday, when the bill was introduced.

Universities must “offer and encourage voter registration to their students,” according to Hoyer’s office.  Lewis called this provision, “Encouraging youth to become voters.”

The act also would allow same-day registration.  “Voters are unaware that they are not registered until turned away from the polls,” said Rep. Lewis in a fact sheet about the bill.

“The Voter Empowerment Act would allow new and currently registering voters to update or correct their information on election-day,” he said.

“Same day registration,” Lewis continued, “which already exists in ten states, would prevent those voices from going unheard.”

The bill would also set up online voter registration, a “National Voter Hot Line,” and permit individuals with disabilities to use absentee registration.

The legislation comes after months of criticism from House Democrats against laws in over 30 states that require presenting a photo ID in order to vote. Some members have said voter ID laws are tantamount to a poll tax.

“For the first time since the Civil Rights era, we’re experiencing a not-too-subtle, unprecedented attack on this nearly sacred right to vote,” said Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) during a press conference unveiling the legislation.

“These laws do absolutely nothing—zero—to encourage more democracy in our democratic system,” said Rep. Bob Brady (D-Pa.).  “The Voter Empowerment Act is different.  Instead of writing laws designed to turn people away, we’ve written the bill to bring people in,” he said.

The bill currently has 130 co-sponsors, all Democrats, and has been referred to the on House Administration Committee.

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