Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings is taking her shot at crafting new national voting rights law, in part to temper the impact of some of the Republican-led state laws like Florida’s latest elections overhaul.
On Tuesday, Demings, who is running for U.S. Senate in 2022, introduced her “Every Vote Counts Act” to address Americans’ rights to “easily, safely and securely cast their votes.”
Her federal bill, House Resolution 3867, would preempt state laws. It was unclear how much impact it might have on Florida’s new elections law, pushed through the Florida Legislature by Republicans and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis this spring without support from Democrats. Similar laws were pushed through, or are in the works, in other states led by Republicans.
Among other provisions, HR 3867 would mandate minimum numbers of drop boxes based on populations and require 24-hour access by voters to those drop boxes. Those provisions likely would expand voting access in Florida beyond what the new state law, SB 90, permits.
The bill also would require every state to implement a ballot tracking system for vote-by-mail, and require the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Election Assistance Commission to develop standards for alternatives to signature matching verification requirements for vote-by-mail. That, in part, is inspired by what Florida already is doing, potentially using the Sunshine State as a national model.
“American voters turned out in record numbers in 2020. With voting rights under attack across the country, it is critical that we protect mail-in voting and drop boxes, which allowed millions of Americans to vote safely and securely last year, including many with disabilities or other limitations that make going to a polling location difficult,” Demings stated in a news release.
“Let’s not be distracted by politically motivated lies which seek to undermine faith in our elections. The Department of Homeland Security under President (Donald) Trump reported that last year’s election was the most secure in our nation’s history,” Demings added. “Unfortunately, Republicans in state legislatures across the country are seeking political advantage by attempting to stop certain people from voting. When we take away someone’s vote, we take away their voice.”
The bill is being co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, chair of the House Democracy Reform Task Force.
“This important effort will strengthen election security and expand access to the ballot box for millions of Americans across the country. I salute Congresswoman Demings for her commitment and leadership in our critical fight for voting rights,” Sarbanes said in the news release.
The release provided statements of support from voting rights advocates.
“As politicians across the country move to limit the use of ballot drop boxes and place unnecessary and overly burdensome requirements on mail-in ballots, we need the Every Vote Counts Act to make certain every voter can cast their ballot and have that ballot count,” said Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel and senior deputy director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“Signature matching requirements and the restriction of ballot drop boxes have negative effects on Black Americans and other communities of color,” he added. “This bill will put a stop to these discriminatory acts, and encourage all Americans to go out and make their voice heard. Our democracy demands participation to represent the will of the people.”
Tony DePalma, director of public policy at Disability Rights Florida, praised the bill’s potential help for voters with disabilities.
“At both the national and state levels, there are ongoing policy discussions occurring that will ultimately impact the voting interests and opportunities of voters with disabilities, a voting bloc that included nearly 15 million voters during the 2018 midterm elections,” he said. “Too often, these discussions have commenced or been completed without the perspective or input of voters with disabilities themselves. Disability Rights Florida applauds and supports introduction of the Every Vote Counts Act which presents Congress with the opportunity to consider barriers to voting such as signature verification and drop box accessibility in terms that are relevant and meaningful to voters with disabilities in our states and across the nation.”