Elizabeth Warren’s Latest Plan: Expanding Voting Access

WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts on Tuesday released a far-reaching plan that would create new standards for how federal elections are carried out across the country, part of an effort to protect voting rights and make it easier for Americans to vote.

Ms. Warren unveiled her plan hours before holding a campaign event in South Florida, a place that has had ample experience with election controversy, most notably in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential race.

“Our elections are never going to be secure, fair or workable with so many jurisdictions each making their own rules — especially when some officials deliberately manipulate those rules to stop people from voting,” Ms. Warren said in a Medium post announcing her plan.

As part of her proposal, intended to expand voting access and strengthen election security, Ms. Warren would create a new federal agency, the Secure Democracy Administration. She would replace every voting machine across the country with modern equipment and would require the use of a uniform federal ballot. She would also impose uniform standards on election rules, compelling all states to allow automatic voter registration and same-day registration, early voting and voting by mail.

The proposal is the latest in a series of detailed plans that have helped Ms. Warren stand out in the early months of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Together, her collection of plans amounts to a formidable policy platform that she can draw on in the first Democratic debate on Wednesday.

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The plan comes at a time when protecting voting rights is a priority for Democrats, after Republicans in recent years have enacted new voting restrictions in many states. Democratic lawmakers in states like New York have pushed to expand access to the ballot box, and in Congress, the Democratic-controlled House passed an ambitious voting rights and anticorruption bill in March, though it has no hope of passage in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Other Democratic presidential candidates, including Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado, as well as former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, have also issued proposals about voting rights.

The administration of elections in the United States is highly decentralized, with rules and procedures that vary on the state and local level. Ms. Warren is calling for the federal government to play a much larger role, creating new standards for federal elections that states would need to follow.

Her proposals would likely face resistance from state election officials who may very well bristle at the idea of being ordered by the federal government to overhaul how they conduct their elections. The Warren campaign provided a letter from six law professors laying out the legal power that would make her plan possible. “In sum, Congress has broad authority to enact election reforms that require states to alter the way they currently administer federal elections,” the letter said.

Similar to other plans that Ms. Warren has put forth in her presidential bid, her latest proposal would seem to have little chance of passage if Republicans maintain control of the Senate. Even if Democrats win control of the chamber, Republicans would be positioned to block it using the filibuster, though Ms. Warren has called for ending that tactic.

Under her plan, Ms. Warren would make Election Day a holiday, and she would restore voting rights for formerly incarcerated people nationwide (though she would not allow voting for those in prison, as Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has called for).

Ms. Warren would also seek to end partisan gerrymandering by requiring states to use independent commissions to draw congressional district lines, and she would restrict states from removing voters from election rolls. And in instances “where racist or corrupt politicians refuse to follow the law,” Ms. Warren said, the federal government would step in and temporarily oversee federal elections.

Her plan seeks to nudge states to make it easier to vote in state and local elections as well. Under her proposal, the federal government would pay all of a state’s costs for election administration if it followed the federal standards for state and local elections. States would receive bonus payments for achieving high voter turnout.

Ms. Warren said she would allocate $20 billion over 10 years to pay for her plan. She said that cost could be covered with proceeds from her proposed “Ultramillionaire Tax,” which would impose an annual tax on a household’s assets above $50 million.

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