Conyers Introduces Bills Protecting Voter Rights in Election Aftermath

During the 2008 presidential election season, there were numerous allegations of attempts to disenfranchise legitimate voters. Some of the techniques involved voter caging, voter purging, and deceptive practices. To prevent the use of these techniques in the future, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) introduced legislation that would ban deceptive practices and eliminate voter caging. He also introduced a bill that would restore voting rights to numerous individuals who have been convicted of felonies and would make Election Day a holiday.

Conyers recently introduced H.R. 103, the Caging Prohibition Act of 2009. The bill bans state or local election officials from prohibiting a voter from registering or voting in a federal election if the decision is based on a voter caging document or list, an "unverified match list," or an immaterial error on an application or registration document. It also prohibits state or local election officials from formally challenging a voter for any of the aforementioned reasons. Also, in order for a person, other than a state or local election official, to challenge a voter, the challenger must have first-hand knowledge that is "documented in writing" and "subject to an oath or attestation under penalty of perjury." Violating the provisions in the bill can result in a fine or imprisonment up to five years.

Voter caging is a practice whereby political parties or officials send a document to a set of registered voters or individuals who have applied to register to vote; any documents returned as "undeliverable despite an attempt to deliver such document to the address of a registered voter or applicant," and any documents with addressee instructions that are not followed, are considered "voter caging documents." An "unverified match list" is then generated; this is a "list produced by matching the information of registered voters or applicants for voter registration to a list of individuals who are ineligible to vote." The voters and potential voters who end up on this list are then often challenged at the polls, a controversial practice due to individuals who wind up on match lists due to postal service errors, clerical mistakes, and other circumstances beyond their control.

Conyers also introduced H.R. 105, the Voting Opportunity and Technology Enhancement Rights Act of 2009, which protects voter rights, improves election administration in federal elections, prohibits deceptive practices, prohibits voter caging, restores voter rights, and makes Election Day a legal public holiday.

The bill is designed to improve election administration by establishing national standards for write-in absentee ballots, addressing verified ballots, establishing requirements for counting provisional ballots, establishing minimum requirements for voting systems and poll workers in polling places, allowing same-day voter registration, addressing the integrity of voter registration lists, allowing early voting, improving voting systems, making uniform voter registration standards, establishing voter identification standards, and ensuring the election administration is impartial. Some of these provisions may bump up against the traditional role of the states in administering elections.

The bill is also designed to prohibit deceptive practices in federal elections by modifying the penalty for voter intimidation, establishing sentencing guidelines, and setting out methods to report violations. Furthermore, the bill restores voting rights to all citizens except those who are serving a felony sentence at the time of a given election. The legislation also establishes methods that states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons would be required to use to notify individuals that their rights have been restored.

H.R. 103 has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary. H.R. 105 has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, as well as to the Committees on House Administration and Oversight and Government Reform.

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