Three Virginia congressional Democrats witnessed similar scenes on Election Day: long lines at polling places around the commonwealth, with not enough poll workers or voting machines to handle the heavy turnout. And voters, in Virginia and elsewhere, made similar complaints about waits that sometimes lasted for hours. But the three lawmakers came away with two very different solutions to the problem. Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.) and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (Va.) have joined a Delaware Democrat to offer a bill that would give grants to states that make it easier for residents to register and cast their ballots. Rep. James P. Moran (Va.) went in his own direction, introducing legislation that would require states to allow early voting and online registration.
As is often the case on Capitol Hill, the debate centers on whether Congress should urge states to change their ways – or force them.
“With these two approaches, you see carrots versus sticks,” said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine, who writes the Election Law Blog.
To Moran, the need for federal mandates is clear, particularly if states are doing a poor job of making it easy to vote.
“The very communities that are the most likely to suppress the vote, either intentionally or unintentionally, would probably be the least likely ones to apply for a grant to fix the problem,” Moran said.