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Dems unveil 'FAST Voting Act'

In the days and weeks leading up to Election Day 2012, it became painfully clear that voting problems have reached scandalous levels in many parts of the country. The fear was, once the election was over, attention would shift, policymakers would move on to other issues, and memories of voters waiting seven hours to cast a ballot would fade.

Fortunately, it looks like some members of Congress are keeping the issue alive.

Yesterday, Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) unveiled a bill they're calling the "Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act." Under their proposal, states that "aggressively" pursue election reforms would be rewarded with federal grants.

And what kind of reforms are proponents looking for? It's not a short list, but the Warner/Coons bill calls for flexible registration opportunities, including same-day registration; expanding early voting; "no-excuse" absentee voting; and "formal training of election officials, including state and county administrators and volunteers."

As best as I can tell, because the FAST Act is roughly modeled after the Race to the Top education initiative -- it's a competitive grant program, not a set of federal mandates.

In the House, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) unveiled a related proposal, the "Streamlining and Improving Methods at Polling Locations and Early (SIMPLE) Voting Act," which is even more ambitious. Most notably, it would require 15 days of early voting in all states for federal elections -- and because Congress has authority over regulating federal elections, the assumption is states would simply apply identical standards for all down-ballot races.

The introduction of these bills now appears intended to lay the groundwork for future efforts. This Congress will wrap up next month, and given its to-do list, and the fact that every new Congress starts over with a blank slate, we'll almost certainly have to wait until the new year before voting reforms are considered. That said, it's encouraging to see some worthwhile proposals on the table.