Overview of Activities to Restrict or Expand Voting Rights

Voters’ access to the ballot in a number of states is threatened this election season. Review our summary here and find more information at https://www.brennancenter.org/protect-the-vote   In recent years, millions of registered voters have been arbitrarily purged from the roles in various states; NOW activists should check out what is going on their respective states prior to the mid-term election on Nov. 6.

Florida – Felon Voting Rights

Amendment 4 returns eligibility to vote to Floridians who have completed the terms of their sentences, including probation, parole, fines, and restitution. Florida is one of only four states that still have a system that prevents people from earning back the eligibility to vote for life; Amendment 4 would allow approximately 1.4 million people to gain back the right to vote. Felony voter disenfranchisement predominantly affects Black Americans who make up 30% of disenfranchised felons in the state. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.

Michigan – Constitutional Amendment to Expand Voter Rights

Proposal 3 would require statewide election audits and the right to U.S. military and overseas voters to receive absentee ballots by adding these rights to the state constitution. Prop 3 also guarantees the right to vote straight party ticket, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and no-reason absentee voting.

Georgia – “Exact Match” Snares 53,000 Registrations

Last year the Republican-controlled state Senate introduced an “exact match” system to make the process for validating registrations stricter in false attempts to crack down on voter fraud. Fraudulent voting has been found to be extremely rare, but the assertion of voter fraud is being used to limit access to the ballot. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp ( R ),  who is running for Governor (while retaining his job as statewide director of elections) in November against Democrat Stacey Abrams, is holding 53,000 registration applications over small discrepancies in how someone provided their names. Kemp’s decision disproportionately affects Black and Latino voters with 70% of the applications being from Black Georgians. While Kemp says that those placed on the pending list can still vote with a valid ID, the “exact match” system has been proven to disproportionately affect low-income voters.

A coalition of advocacy groups has launched a lawsuit to block Georgia from enforcing a practice critics say endangers the votes of more than 50,000 people in November and potentially larger numbers headed into the 2020 presidential election cycle. The Campaign Legal Center and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law argue in the suit, which was filed in a federal district court on Oct. 11, that the state’s “exact match” requirement violates the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act and the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Campaign Legal Center is also concerned that voters who cast ballots by mail will not be able to provide sufficient ID in time and if their ballots are rejected under the “exact match” rule — and they do not successfully navigate the bureaucracy within a 26-month window — they could see their names purged from the voter rolls. The current law allows the state to remove “inactive voters” who miss three cycles.

North Dakota – Residential Address Requirement

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 9 to uphold a North Dakota voter identification law which requires that voters present an ID which includes a residential address in order to vote, potentially restricting the rights of thousands of Native Americans in the state who do not have residential addresses.

The restriction was adopted by the Republican-controlled legislature to prevent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp ( D ) from being re-elected, observers say. Heitkamp’s margin of victory was buoyed in 2012 by strong support from the state’s Native Americans.

The law, signed by Republican Gov. Doug Burgum in 2017, had been blocked by a U.S. District Court which found it to be discriminatory towards the state’s Native American population. The Eighth Circuit overturned that ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 9upheld the circuit court’s decision, with only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan dissenting. The two noted in their dissent that this ruling was confusing because voters who used their identification to vote in the primaries could now find that same identification insufficient, because “the injunction against requiring residential-address identification was in force during the primary election and because the secretary of state’s website announced for months the ID requirements as they existed under that injunction.”

Native Americans living on reservations often do not have residential addresses but have IDs which feature P.O. boxes. Native Americans are North Dakota’s largest minority population (more than 36,000), comprising over 5 percent of the state’s population. However, it is possible to obtain a residential address before Election Day, according to a Facebook post by the organization Native Vote ND, which encourages voter participation by Native Americans in the state.

Brennan Center for Justice Voting Laws Roundup*

Bills That Have Been Signed (Three States).

  • Washington state has enacted: (1) a law implementing automatic voter registration, (2) a law implementing election day registration, (3) a law implementing pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and (4) a state-level Voting Rights Act that grants citizens the right to challenge electoral systems that deny race, color, or language minority groups an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choosing.
  • California has enacted a law implementing pre-registration through its AVR system.
  • Utah has enacted (1) a law that extends registration deadlines and (2) a law that may encourage certain counties to offer early voting opportunities.

Bills Passed by the Legislature (Three States).

  • The Maryland Legislature has passed (1) a bill implementing automatic voter registration and (2) a constitutional amendment that would permit the Legislature to implement election-day registration. If ultimately enacted, the amendment will go to the voters in a November referendum.
  • The South Dakota Legislature has passed a bill facilitating the addition of registration locations.
  • The Wisconsin Legislature has passed a bill permitting the use of tribal identification to register to vote.

Bills Passed by One Legislative Chamber (Eight States).

  • The Indiana Senate has passed a bill that would implement no-excuse absentee voting.
  • The Kansas Senate has passed a bill improving access for voters with disabilities.
  • The Maryland House and Senate have each passed separate bills that would implement no-excuse absentee voting in municipal elections.
  • The Michigan Senate has passed a bill that would permit applicants to register to vote online through the secretary of state’s website.
  • The New York Assembly has passed a bill extending the deadline for receipt of absentee ballot applications.
  • The Oklahoma Senate has approved a bill facilitating opportunities for early in-person voting.
  • The Pennsylvania Senate has passed a bill easing access to absentee ballots for voters with disabilities.
  •  The Wisconsin House has approved a bill expanding access for military voters.

Overview of Restrictive Bills:

As of April 2, 2018, at least 24 states have introduced or carried over at least 70 bills restricting voting access. No states have enacted restrictive laws yet this year, but restrictive legislation is still advancing.

Bills Passed by the Legislature (Two States).

  • The Indiana Legislature has approved a list maintenance bill that fails to fix the problems with its current list maintenance practices (though as we previously observed in footnote 3, this bill presents an unusual case).
  • The New Hampshire Legislature has passed a bill that appears to be directed at deterring student voting.

Bills Passed by One Legislative Chamber (Four States).

  • The Kentucky House has passed a bill restricting access to absentee voting.
  • The New Hampshire House has passed a bill that appears to be directed at deterring student voting.
  • The Ohio Senate has passed a bill reducing the minimum required a number of precinct officials in certain circumstances.
  • The Oklahoma House has passed a bill authorizing the state Election Board to compare the state voter registration database to other state and federal databases and requiring the Board to refer any individuals on the voter rolls identified as potential non-citizens to the district attorney

Overview of Election Security Bills:

As of April 2, 2018, at least 26 states have introduced or carried over at least 79 bills related to election security. Note that this count does not include appropriations bills or administrative action, nor is the Brennan Center opining the impact or potential efficacy of these bills in this document.

Election security bills that have moved thus far this year include:
Bills That Have Been Signed (Three States).

  • Indiana has enacted (1) a law containing a variety of provisions related to maintaining voting equipment; updating the permissible error rate for voting systems to reflect current federal standards; and requiring county election boards to notify the Secretary of State within 48 hours of certain security violations, and (2) a law regarding post-election reconciliation of vote counts.
  • South Dakota has enacted a law prohibiting voting equipment from being connected to the Internet and prohibiting ballot marking devices from saving or tabulating votes.
  • Washington has enacted a law expanding the types of post-election audits election officials may run on direct recording electronic or in-person ballot marking systems to include random checks of ballot counting equipment, risk-limiting audits, and electronic audits of ballot counting equipment.

Bills Passed by One Legislative Chamber (Three States).

  • The Maryland House has passed (1) a bill requiring post-election, manual audits of voter-verifiable paper records for general elections (and authorizing such audits for primary elections) and (2) a bill requiring the state election administrator to notify the governor and other elected officials and agencies, within seven days, of security violations involving state elections systems.
  • The Michigan House has passed a bill requiring that electronic voting systems use paper ballots for tabulating purposes.
  • The Missouri House has passed a bill that beginning January 1, 2019 bans future purchase of direct recording electronic voting machines and requires that all newly purchased electronic voting systems read paper ballots that voters have marked by hand or, in the case of disabled voters who need assistance, from paper ballots that have been marked by paper-ballot marking devices designed to assist disabled voters.

*This summary prepared from information at https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/voting-laws-roundup-2018