Legislative Battles Over Voting Rights Continue in 2013
In a report released today, voting rights organization Project Vote analyzes all of the voting related bills introduced, passed, or rejected across the country in the first quarter of 2013, and finds that the recent trend towards disenfranchisement continues.
According to the report, Election Legislation 2013: Threats and Opportunities Assessment, 30 states introduced laws that restrict voting. While the lawmakers’ continued focus on voter restrictions is disturbing, the report also finds a groundswell of support for ways to protect and improve access to the democratic system. “Members of Congress, state lawmakers, and the American people are focusing on combating anti-voting measures and bringing our election system into the 21st century,” writes report author Erin Ferns Lee.
“Following widespread reports of problems in the 2012 election, lawmakers, the media, and the American people seem to have finally taken notice of the damage caused by this prolonged assault on voting rights, and have decided to fight back,” writes Lee. “While there are many threats to voting rights pending in the states, many more bills to improve access to the democratic process have been introduced.”
The report finds that voter suppression increasingly starts at the registration level, as more states are introducing legislation that restricts community based voter registration drives and requires eligible voters to provide proof-of-citizenship to register to vote. A handful of states have also tried to limit Election Day registration or same day registration.
Proof-of-citizenship has proven to be extremely harmful to voter registration, and now two states, Arizona and Kansas, have both introduced laws to reverse their states’ proof-of-citizenship requirements for registration.
Restrictive photo voter ID rules are still popular. Although several strict photo ID laws that have been passed since 2008 remain unimplemented due to court rulings (PA, WI) or issues with federal preclearance (MS, SC, TX), legislators in another 20 states have proposed restrictive voter ID policies.
On the opportunities front, online voter registration, same-day registration, and especially early voting have gained considerable support from lawmakers across the country. “Whether lawmakers propose to provide early voting options in their states or to expand existing laws…this election policy has frequently been proposed as a solution to the long lines experienced on Election Day 2012,” writes Lee.
Engaging young people in registration and education is also gaining momentum. A number of states have introduced laws to allow young people to preregister, or to run more programs for registration on college campuses. A few states are interested in voter education programs directed at young people.
The report shows that, once again, Virginia and Florida are battlegrounds in the fight for voting rights. This cycle, Virginia introduced and passed into law restrictions on community voter registration drives and strict photo voter ID requirements. Virginia also rejected efforts to enfranchise Americans with felony convictions. Florida, which was the poster child for long lines throughout the voting period in 2012, has introduced many bills to enfranchise voters and restore early voting days, though whether these bills can gain traction remains to be seen.
“This report makes clear that some politicians continue to use legislation to stifle the vote of low-income, elderly, youth and minority citizens,” says Catherine M. Flanagan, Director of Election Administration for Project Vote. “This batch of profoundly undemocratic bills provides context for the Supreme Court’s consideration of whether Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is necessary. It demonstrates that suppressive laws must be scrutinized to protect the health of our system, which works best when every eligible American participates.”