In the first three months of 2015, state legislatures introduced a slew of voting bills that could have varying impacts on the 2016 presidential election, according to a new study by Project Vote.
“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 non-profit, in a statement.
In Legislative Threats and Opportunities: Spring 2015, author Erin Ferns Lee writes that in the wake of last year’s 72-year low in voter turnout, there have been increased effort to make voting easier. Additionally, once highly-partisan voting issues like online registration and felon voting are gaining support from lawmakers on both sides of the ideological divide. However, those positive reforms go hand-in-hand with continuing efforts to undermine the vote. Most positive reforms, however, have not gained bipartisan support, and few substantive reforms have actually been passed.
“Recent trends in election legislation, both positive and negative, have continued so far in 2015,” Lee writes in the report. “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 pre-clearance.”
Among the more positive trends are:
- 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—has been introduced in at least eight states, 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 s
tates 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.
Contrastingly, 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.
- 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.
- Seventeen states 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.”
The full report, as well its individual tables and maps, can be downloaded here.