During the 2012 election, voter access emerged as a highly partisan issue, with Republicans in several states decreasing early voting hours and pushing identification requirements.
Liberals and progressives argued that such measures had the potential to disproportionately disenfranchise elderly, low-income and minority voters, who tend to vote Democratic.
More than a dozen states across the country revamped voting laws to curb voter fraud and voting irregularities and implemented identification laws, though the Justice Department blocked several of the laws in the months before Election Day, including in Pennsylvania.
Congressional Democrats have convened a Task Force on Election Reform, led by Rep. John B. Larson, Conn., aimed at producing legislation on voting rights and campaign-finance reform.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn, D-S.C., introduced the SIMPLE (Streamlined and Improved Methods at Polling Locations and Early Voting) Act. The bill would require each state to institute a 15-day early-voting period before Election Day and would impose a one-hour limit on the time voters must wait to cast their ballot.
Several House Democrats including Clyburn, Rep. John Lewis, Ga., and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Md., last month introduced the Voter Empowerment Act of 2013. The measure, which has 167 co-sponsors and which was originally introduced during the last Congress, would enact sweeping changes to the way elections are held, such as requiring each state to allow online voter registration and early voting, as well as permitting convicted criminals to vote after having completed their sentence. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is the lead sponsor of similar legislation in the Senate.
Several other voting-related bills have been introduced this Congress, including Rep. James Moran's, D-Va., Value Our Time Elections Act and Rep. Steve Cohen's, D-Tenn. John Tanner Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act. On the Senate side, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has introduced the Clean and Fair Elections Act, which has garnered 18 co-sponsors so far, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has introduced the LINE (Lines Interfere with National Elections) Act.