Both Lawmakers and Citizens Push for Voting Reforms Before 2016 Election

By Project Vote October 13, 2015

Washington, DC — In 2015, nonpartisan voting rights group Project Vote monitored 315 bills, introduced by state and federal lawmakers, that could change the way people vote in 2016 and beyond.

“It was a historic year in voting rights. Not only did we mark the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, but we also saw citizens and advocates on the ground demanding that our elected leaders restore voting rights protections,” said Project Vote President Michael Slater. “Although there has been a rise in positive election reform proposals, we still have a long way to go, particularly when it comes to protecting voters from new laws that undermine access to the ballot.”

According to a new report released today by Project Vote, Legislative Threats and Opportunities: Fall 2015, there is growing interest among lawmakers to improve and modernize the administration of elections. And some of these new laws passed.

Restrictive voting proposals, however, are still on the table in the legislatures and courthouses. Without the protections of the Voting Rights Act, which was weakened in 2013, only time will tell how these harmful bills could affect future elections.

In Legislative Threats and Opportunities: Fall 2015, Erin Ferns Lee summaries the content, status and potential impact of bills introduced in 2015.

Opportunities in voting rights focused on improving voter registration in 2015. Online voter registration, for example, passed in three states, and appears to be the new norm: more than half of all 50 states now offer, or are preparing to offer, this option to voters.

Automatic voter registration has been a popular and potentially exciting new reform this year, with 19 states and the U.S. Congress proposing new laws. Oregon became the first state to pass such a law, and California joined them just this past weekend.

Restrictive voting proposals are still a threat to voting rights, however, especially voter ID.

“While the threat to pass [strict voter ID] laws is always looming large, the pushback appears just as strong,” wrote Lee. “Contentious voter ID laws in Texas and North Carolina faced legal challenges, and most calls for new or heightened photo ID requirements were defeated…Meanwhile, we have seen the introduction of new proposals to reduce or revoke voter ID laws on the state and federal levels.”

The rise in voter registration opportunities is a promising sign, but the yearly barrage of voter ID bills and other overzealous restrictions on voter registration and voting are signs that we still need voting rights protections in place. Such protections are outlined in the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which remains pending in U.S. Congress.

“As exhibited in cities across the country, citizens want free and fair access to the ballot, and they want our democracy to align with the values and technical advancements of the 21st century,” wrote Lee.

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Project Vote is a national nonpartisan, non-profit organization dedicated to building an electorate that accurately represents the diversity of America’s citizenry. Project Vote takes a leadership role in nationwide voting rights and election administration issues, working through research, litigation, and advocacy to ensure that every eligible citizen can register, vote, and cast a ballot that counts.

For more information and interviews, please contact Michael McDunnah at 202-905-1397.