Workers would help register voters and facilitate safe voting options.
With less than six months before Americans head to the polls to select a new president, a new bill would establish a federal organization to help administer elections amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., introduced the “DemocracyCorps Act,” which would create an organization of 35,000—modeled after AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps—deployed nationwide to help states administer elections, register voters, implement voter education campaigns and work at the polls. Although several federal agencies are involved in securing elections and the Election Assistance Commission is solely dedicated to serving as an information clearinghouse, elections are run by the states. Some experts say that leaves them more vulnerable to interference and other malpractice.
“In our democracy, those in power should not try to curtail the right to vote. A pandemic doesn’t change that—it heightens the need for full access to the ballot,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Booker’s “common sense legislation will help ensure that more voters will be heard and more ballots will be counted. If our highest civic duty is to vote, then there should be federal support to encourage it.”
DemocracyCorps members would serve two-year terms and be assigned to states based on their total populations, the number of Native Americans in those states, and the number of elected positions representing the population. Members would be paid $15 per hour, plus locality pay.
A 15-member board appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate would oversee the Corps. The board must include at least one individual between the ages of 16 and 25, a Native American and a member of the disability community. These should be “individuals who have experience in expanding voting rights and protecting the right to vote,” according to the bill. There would also be a chief executive officer, chief financial officer, two managing directors and an inspector general.
The Attorney General, EAC members, Housing and Urban Development, Defense and Homeland Security department secretaries, and chief executive officer would be non-voting, ex-officio board members. Every odd year, no later than March 1, the Corps would have to submit a report to Congress on its activities the previous two years.
Besides the new federal organization, the bill would make changes to how elections are administered. Those changes include expanding early voting, online registration and voting by mail, which President Trump claims, without evidence, is susceptible to fraud. Election experts note that U.S. troops and civilians posted overseas have been successfully voting absentee for decades.
“The right to vote is sacred and we should make exercising that fundamental right as easy as possible. Unfortunately, the global pandemic has placed that right in peril, and unless decisive measures are taken to provide safe voting options, many Americans may face a terrible choice this fall between protecting their health and participating in our democracy,” said Booker. “DemocracyCorps aims to cultivate and inspire a new generation of young people to strengthen our democracy by helping Americans safely exercise the franchise, just as the Freedom Summer volunteers before them.”
Booker’s DemocracyCorps is one of several national service initiatives put forth during the pandemic. Last month, a group of Senate Democrats introduced a series of proposals to dramatically expand the health care workforce to aid the pandemic response.