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Oct 17 / Project Vote

Fight Over Election Laws Continues in States and U.S. Congress

Today, Project Vote releases a new report, Election Legislation 2012: Threats and Opportunities Assessment Update. Throughout 2012, Project Vote has tracked election-related legislation in all 46 state legislatures that were in session, as well as in the U.S. Congress. In this comprehensive new report, Project Vote’s Erin Ferns Lee summarizes the substance and outcome of positive and negative bills introduced in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress.

Continuing a trend that began after the surge of participation seen in the 2008 presidential election, partisan lawmakers have continued to push legislation that could have a negative impact on voter participation, particularly among low-income Americans and people of color. However, this year has also seen a stronger defense against these regressive laws mounted by voters, legislators, and the voting rights community:
  • Voter ID laws have dominated the debate on legislature floors, with 20 states proposing these restrictive policies. Four of these states passed measures to adopt (NH and PA) or implement (MS) voter ID, or to put the issue before voters on Election Day (MN).
  • Seven states unsuccessfully introduced Arizona-style laws to require proof-of-citizenship to register to vote. In April, the Ninth Court upheld a previous decision to allow Arizonans to submit federal voter registration forms without citizenship documents, likely stunting any progress for new bills.
  • Restrictions on voter registration drives were also widely proposed without much success. These restrictions may have fallen out of favor after a federal judge shut down Florida’s 2011 law that caused groups like the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote to suspend voter registration activity earlier this year.
While these harmful election laws have received far too much attention in state legislatures, there have also been some encouraging efforts to pass legislation that would increase access to the democratic process:
  • This session, at least two-dozen states proposed to allow voters to register and vote on Election Day: two states (CA and CT) adopted these policies. Online voter registration also passed in three states (CT, HI, and SC).
  • The United States Congress introduced the Voter Empowerment Act to establish online voter registration and standards for counting provisional ballots, promote access to voting for individuals with disabilities, and protect the ability of individuals to exercise the right to vote in elections for Federal office.
  • Congress has also introduced the Democracy Restoration Act, which would restore voting rights to millions of Americans who have been released from incarceration.
In the Threats and Opportunities Assessment, Lee writes, “Despite heavy setbacks, a rising public consciousness to protect voting rights has fueled the fight against regressive laws through lawsuits, repeals, and new legislation. In 2013 and beyond, we hope to see more lawmakers and election officials focus on making sure all eligible Americans can register, vote, and cast ballots that count.”
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