Voting Rights Proposals Could Affect 2016 Elections

By Project Vote April 9, 2015

New report shows strong interest in making voting easier, but little progress

WASHINGTON, DC — Since January, lawmakers on the state and federal levels have introduced over 180 bills that would change state and federal voting laws.

“Three months into 2015, the battle for the 2016 election is already being fought in legislatures across the country,” said Michael Slater, executive director of the voting rights nonprofit Project Vote.

According to a new report released today by Project Vote, we have seen an increase in efforts to make voting easier and more convenient in the wake of last year’s 72-year low in voter turnout. However, with newly emboldened partisans in office and a major election a year and a half away, it’s hard to say how far these reform efforts are likely to go.

“Recent trends in election legislation, both positive and negative, have continued so far in 2015,” Erin Ferns Lee writes in Legislative Threats and Opportunities: Spring 2015. “The threats are especially of note since the U.S. Supreme Court weakened the protections against discrimination under the Voting Rights Act in 2013, meaning problematic laws can be implemented in certain jurisdictions without federal preclearance.”

In Legislative Threats and Opportunities: Spring 2015 Lee summaries the content, status, and potential impact of bills introduced so far in 2015.

  • Overwhelmingly, there were more positive elections bills introduced in the state legislatures than negative, but there is little bipartisan support for making voting easier, and few reforms of substance have passed:
  • Lawmakers in 36 states have introduced 128 bills that would have a positive impact on voting, including online registration and early voting bills.
  • Automatic voter registration—which puts the responsibility for registering voters on government rather than individuals—is a popular trend this year. At least eight states have introduced such bills, with Oregon the first to adopt a form of automatic registration in 2015.
  • Eleven states have proposed to improve youth voter registration by allowing 16- and 17-year-old citizens to preregister to vote; this reform recently passed in Utah.
  • Online registration is another popular reform this year, with key states like Florida and Pennsylvania strongly considering joining the 24 other states who currently offer the convenience.
  • The restoration of voting rights for former felons continues to pick up steam as a bipartisan issue, with 11 states proposing to make voting accessible to former felons.

Meanwhile, legislators across the country continue to introduce legislation that would roll back existing reform efforts or introduce new obstacles to voting:

  • Twenty-four states have proposed at least 52 bills that would threaten voting rights, including voter ID, proof-of-citizenship requirements, and other restrictions.
  • Legislators continue to push back against election reforms that have already been implemented. Threats to slash early voting days or repeal same day registration came up in several states in 2015, despite the popularity of these reforms with voters.
  • Additionally, the immigration debate continues to drive bills that would require documentary proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.
  • The most pervasive voting issue is still voter ID. Seventeen states have already introduced over 30 bills that would require stricter forms of voter ID in order to cast a ballot.

“Voter ID requirements remain the most divisive and contentious voting rights issue with strong political support from newly elected lawmakers and secretaries of state,” writes Lee, “despite the dearth of evidence of voter impersonation fraud and mounting evidence that some eligible citizens would be unable to meet these requirements.”

Although it is promising to see once politicized voting issues like online registration and felon voting gain bipartisan support, the constant push to undermine voter access by cutting early voting or implementing voter ID is problematic for the future of voter access.

The full Election Legislation 2015 report, as well its individual tables and maps, can be downloaded here or at www.projectvote.org.

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For more information, contact Michael McDunnah, Communications Director, at 202.905.1397 or mmcdunnah@projectvote.org.