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Warren unveils far-reaching plan to overhaul elections

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks before the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C., on June 17.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks before the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C., on June 17. (Susan Walsh/AP)

A day before Sen. Elizabeth Warren takes center stage in the first Democratic presidential debate, she unveiled a $20 billion plan to federalize national elections, notably by buying new voting machines for the entire country, standardizing ballots and making Election Day a holiday.

Warren (D-Mass.) has tried to distinguish herself in a field of two dozen candidates by unfurling a steady stream of detailed, ambitious policy plans, often ahead of multicandidate forums, as a way to drive the conversation. The strategy has won her attention, and her poll numbers have risen along with the number of new Warren policy proposals.

On Tuesday, she turned to the country’s elections for national office, a sore point across the political spectrum. Democrats, particularly in the South, contend that actions by GOP-led states to tighten voter ID requirements, purge voter rolls and take similar actions have suppressed Democratic votes. Republicans have complained of voter fraud, and President Trump created a national commission to examine voting irregularities, although it disbanded without issuing a report.

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“Voting should be easy. But instead, many states make it hard for people to vote,” Warren wrote in a Medium post outlining her new policy. “. . . Our elections should be as secure as Fort Knox. But instead, they’re less secure than your Amazon account.”

Warren proposes buying new voting machines for all of the roughly 8,000 election jurisdictions in the country, mandating automatic and same-day voter registration and giving all voters access to 15 days of early voting and voting by mail.

Her plan would also bar purges of voter lists, with exceptions for “death, change of address, or loss of eligibility to vote.” And it would provide financial incentives for states to adopt the new federal standards for local elections.

Republicans would almost certainly fight such a proposal, which at a minimum would require major legislation by Congress. GOP leaders have said in the past that many of the restrictions that Warren’s plan would overturn are designed to prevent voter fraud. Democrats dismiss the idea that there is widespread voter fraud in the United States.

Warren estimates that her proposal would cost $15 billion for new voter equipment and about $5 billion for election security. She would pay for the plan via her proposed wealth tax on the very rich, a revenue source she wants to tap for other policy plans as well.

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The election plan would also address the gerrymandering of congressional districts by requiring the creation of independent commissions in each state to draw electoral maps.

The plan could face legal challenges from those who argue that under the Constitution, states have the right to administer voting within their borders as they see fit. Possibly anticipating such concerns, Warren released a letter signed by six law professors saying Congress would be empowered to make the changes.

“Congress has broad authority to enact election reforms that require states to alter the way they currently administer federal elections,” according to the letter. “And, to cope with the limits, justified or otherwise, that the Supreme Court may continue to impose on that regulatory power, Congress may also invoke its broad authority to use federal funding to incentivize states to voluntarily reform their own elections.”