NOTE: This is a guest post by Tim O’Brien, Voter Protection Project Manager of the League of Women Voters.
For many state legislatures, the beginning of spring marks the half-way point of their legislative session. Some are already adjourned and some seem to never end. Regardless of the length of their sessions, each state has focused some of their energy on voting rights and elections; 2,230 bills relating to elections, both good and bad, have been introduced in state legislatures across the country since January. That equals approximately 26 new bills per day, or at least one new piece of election legislation per hour, which is well on track to exceed the 2,357 bills introduced in 2012.
We all remember the long lines, confusion over what — if any — identification was needed to vote, registered voters not listed on the voter rolls and election results that took days to determine the winner in last November’s elections. The need for election reform was self-evident. With the majority of Americans in favor of reforms that improved access to the ballot box, many thought these notable problems would create a window of opportunity for real reforms to help ensure every eligible voter could cast their ballot and have it counted without any unnecessary barriers. For the most part, legislatures did not take advantage of this opportunity to reform the election systems in this way, and in some cases they simply ignored the facts and moved forward with anti-voter legislation.
Take Virginia for example. In the span of a few short weeks, the legislature passed and the governor signed two anti-voter bills into law; one makes it more difficult for organizations like the League of Women Voters to register citizens, and the other not only creates more onerous photo identification criteria to vote, but also risks removing eligible voters from the voting rolls and makes absentee voting more difficult.
The League of Women Voters of Virginia (LWVVA) helped lead the charge to defeat these bills by testifying before the various committees, corresponding with the governor and reaching out to legislators. The silver lining is that these battles are not over and LWVVA will continue to lead the fight against them. Assuming that the Voting Rights Act survives an awaited ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, both of these new laws will need to be pre-cleared by the federal government before going into effect.
Other states continue their assault on voters with new photo ID legislation and the League in these states, including Missouri, North Carolina, Alaska and Montana, is working hard to defend voters’ rights. So far the voter photo ID map remains the same for voters, but with many bills still pending and legislatures still in session, the risk for voters remains. And even where there’s a glimmer of good news, like last week when the Governor of Arkansas vetoed a voter photo ID bill citing disenfranchising effects, voting rights continue to be under assault. The Arkansas legislature ultimately overrode the Governor’s veto and the restrictive voter photo ID bill will go into effect next year. Voting rights activists are evaluating what options remain to challenge this law.
We remain hopeful that several other states will pass election reform measures that are pro-voter, such as expansion of early voting, secure on-line registration, permanent and portable statewide voter registration and improvement of poll place management.
At the half-way point of the legislative sessions, we are faring pretty well, but it remains clear that the assault on voting rights is and will continue to be unrelenting.
Rooted in the movement that secured the right to vote for women, the League of Women Voters is a non-partisan organization that encourages informed and active participation in government by working to educate voters and to increase understanding of major public policy issues, including protecting and engaging voters, reforming money in politics, and defending the environment.