Senator Elizabeth Warren is calling for major changes to the way millions of Americans cast ballots in a proposal released on Tuesday, declaring the patchwork system of election administration run by the states a “national security threat” in the wake of attempted Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Warren wants Congress to standardize elections for federal office, with uniformly designed ballots and brand new voting machines in every polling place nationwide, combined with a “Fort Knox”-like security system to prevent tampering. The system would be run by a new federal Secure Democracy Administration.
“This is a national security threat, and three years after a hostile foreign power literally attacked our democracy, we’ve done far too little to address it,” Warren wrote in a post on the Medium website announcing the plan. It is the latest in a series of detailed proposals released as she campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination and prepares for the first debate on Wednesday night.
Voters would see dramatic changes in how and when they can register to vote and cast ballots. Automatic and same-day voter registration would be mandated nationwide, and Warren’s proposal would make it more difficult to purge voters from the rolls. Election Day would become a federal holiday with expanded polling hours, and voters could cast ballots a minimum of 15 days before an election.
Seeking to counter voter suppression tactics, Warren called for Congress to pass two voting rights bills that would make it easier for vulnerable populations to vote and require certain municipalities to pre-clear changes to election requirements with the Department of Justice. Other parts of her plan, like increasing election security, are also similar to provisions in broader election-overhaul bills in Congress that also address campaign finance.
Warren estimates her plan, which would be paid for with her previously announced wealth tax proposal, would cost roughly $20 billion over ten years.
Taken together, the proposals from the Massachusetts senator represent a historic shift in the administration of elections in the United States, which are run by state and local governments. Warren argued the 2016 presidential election exposed a glaring need for standardization, citing reports that the Russian government engaged in hacking attempts targeting state election systems and personnel, and even accessed voter registration records.
“We have 8,000 election jurisdictions running elections. Problems with resources, malfeasance, and errors are rampant. No more,” Warren wrote.
She maintains that the Constitution already allows Congress to regulate federal elections and argued in the Medium post that “it’s time to draw on these constitutional powers to strengthen our democracy.”
Under her plan, states and municipalities would remain free to set their own rules for statewide and local races, but those that decline to adopt federal standards for those races would miss out on funding. Warren also said she’d authorize her Secure Democracy Administration to seek court orders to force states to comply with standards for federal elections if they refuse to do so.
“The right to vote is a fundamental right, and we will not let racist and corrupt politicians undermine it or our democracy,” she wrote.