By Alicia M. Cohn
Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) this week is unveiling his next step in the battle over voting rights in the form of a pop-up Web application that informs people where to vote and how to register.
Hoyer and Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), the ranking Democrat on the House Administration Committee, sent a letter to colleagues dated Monday to introduce the new application and encourage members to use it, specifically recommending sharing it through social media. The letter urges that it is the "responsibility" of elected leaders to help inform constituents about the democratic process.
"In the last year, we have witnessed a nationwide assault on American citizens' constitutionally-guaranteed right to vote," they wrote. "Aside from the unnecessary, expensive, and ineffective new Voter ID laws, we have also seen targeted purges of eligible, registered voters from state rolls. Little has been done to educate the public about these actions. As a result, there are thousands of eligible voters at risk of being turned away from the polls while attempting to make choices about their federal representation."
The new app marks a concerted attempt by Democrats to counteract what they see as the negative push at state level by Republicans to implement voter ID laws -- for instance, in Texas and Wisconsin -- and purge voting rolls, as in Florida. The Justice Department has acted to blocked many of those attempts on the grounds they violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965, legislation that sought to end racially discriminatory voting practices, but advocates such as Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott say the DOJ is "stonewalling" state attempts to protect voting rights for legal voters by weeding out illegal ones.
Hoyer and Brady have advocated for the Voter Empowerment Act to modernize and reform the voting process.
“As we approach a pivotal presidential election, the right to vote is under assault from a series of punitive laws and targeted voter purges in states across the country," Hoyer told The Hill in a statement. "To combat this assault, Democrats have developed an app to give Americans critical voter eligibility information so voters are empowered and know their rights. Information is the most powerful weapon we have to fight against voter intimidation and deception. In the months to come, I will continue working with my Democratic colleagues to ensure that all Americans have the most up-to-date information on registration requirements and how and where to exercise their most fundamental right.”
President Obama has his own voting registration initiative, GottaVote.org. That website is a one-stop shop for voter registration that detects where a viewer is located in the United States and offers information on how to get registered and when to vote.
The goal of both tools is to forge a simple path to educating eligible voters on how to vote. Hoyer's app goes one step further than Obama's in seeking to find potential voters where they are. It is embed-able and can be shared on other websites. It is also accessible on smartphones.
The app provides a pop-up process that walks users through the eligibility requirements and state-by-state how-tos for registering to vote. For those who are already registered, but don't know where or how to vote or are confused by deadlines such as those for mail-in ballots, the app provides links to the relevant information, including the opportunity to add a reminder to Outlook calendars.
The app is customized for all 50 states and six territories, according to Hoyer's office. It was developed by staff in Hoyer's office as well as the Democratic Office of the Committee on House Administration.
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