Related Resolution: LJE 13-16, LJE 13-19, and LJE 09-17
OverviewThe right to vote is the cornerstone of American democracy-a right that many have fought to achieve and died to protect. Despite the progress to ensure voting rights for all Americans, the battle to defend these fundamental rights is still being waged to this day.
Over the past several years, discriminatory state voter identification laws and legal challenges to the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 have led a new wave of attacks on voting rights, which threaten to push our country backwards to a system that promotes voter discrimination, intimidation, and disenfranchisement.
In response to these threats, NBCSL passed Resolution LJE 13-16, Preserving and Expanding Access to the Ballot Box for All during its 36th Annual Legislative Conference in December 2012. This resolution was aimed at ensuring voting access for all Americans and called for stronger state action to
- expand “no excuse” early voting (the ability to vote by mail without being forced to provide a reason or excuse, such as traveling)
- increase the ease and accuracy of initial registration
- establish safe automatic voter registration criteria
- improve registration portability, and
- provide poll workers with a reasonable amount of time to vote themselves.
While minority voter participation continues to rise, barriers to the ballot box remain. It is imperative that state and federal lawmakers pass laws to empower the nation’s most vulnerable and disenfranchised, preserving the right to vote for all Americans.
State ActionStates continue to pass legislation restricting access to the ballot box for many Americans, particularly minorities, seniors, and young people.
- According to the National Conference of State Legislatures in 2013, twelve states introduced new voter-ID legislation and seven states proposed to increase restrictions existing photo ID laws.
- From 2009-2012, fifteen states enacted new voter-ID laws or increased their voter-ID restrictions.
- Twelve states have laws in which felons can lose their right to vote permanently. Other states, such as Iowa and South Dakota, have passed laws making it more difficult for ex-offenders to regain the right to vote. Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia, allow ex-offenders to regain their access to vote.
- Only 10 states and the District of Columbia California allow same day registration.
In the face of discriminatory policies, NBCSL encourages state lawmakers to pass legislation to increase voting access in our communities. Below are a few examples.
DelawareHB 9 and HB 10 The Hazel D. Plant Voter Restoration Act
Representatives Keeley, Baumbach, *Bolden, Brady, Heffernan, Kowalko, Mitchell, *Potter, Mulrooney, Schooley, * J. Johnson, Scott, *D.P. Williams, Smith, and Viola.
Senators Venables, *Henry, Cloutier, Ennis, Lavelle, Marshall, Peterson, and Townsend.
The Delaware Constitution previously mandated that felons had to wait five years following the completion of their sentence before they were eligible to have their voting rights restored. Former NBCSL member and Delaware State Representative Hazel D. Plant was a steadfast proponent of the restoration of voting rights; she pushed for full restoration until her death in 2010. Inspired by Rep. Plant, Delaware lawmakers amended the state’s constitution to ensure voting rights for all.
Under the new law, non-violent offenders are now able to vote in the state of Delaware upon release from jail. Violent offenders—those convicted of murder, public corruption, or sex crimes—must still wait five years before becoming eligible to vote.
- Restore voting rights in a timely manner for those who have committed minor offenses.
- Supporters of the five-year waiting period believe the time period is reasonable for the crimes committed.
MarylandHB 224 Election Law – Improving Access to Voting
Delegates Reznik, Barve, Bobo, *Carr, Clagett, *Davis, Dumais, Frick, Guzzone, Hucker, Lafferty, Luedtke, McHale, *Mitchell, Rosenberg, Simmons, *Tarrant, M. Washington, *Howard, and Cardin
Long lines and wait times during the November 2012 General Election caused Maryland legislators to re-evaluate the state’s voting process. In response, Maryland enacted a law this month to improve access for early and absentee voters.
Under the new law, voters can now register and cast their ballots on the same day during early voting periods. Voters are also able to obtain an absentee ballot online, and additional provisions have been made to improve the online security system. Also, the law provides voters two additional early voting days, establishes more early voting facilities, and commissions a study to review the 2012 elections and the cause of delays. Maryland’s law also addresses voter fraud by increasing the fine for multiple voting or attempting to influence a voter’s decision.
- Increase voter turnout
- Improve absentee and early voting
- Further discourages and penalizes voter fraud
- Although protections are in place, some believe fraud could still occur, especially with the introduction of same day registration.
- Voting sites were not allotted for in all Maryland counties; some still fear long voting lines in future elections.
ColoradoHB 1303 The Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act
Representatives Hullinghorst, Pabon, and *Buckner
Previously, Colorado made the vote-by-mail process so easy for residents that 74% of the electorate opted to mail ballots in 2012. Colorado also previously closed off registration 29 days prior to Election Day. The Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act sought modernize Colorado’s processes. The bill was passed the Colorado Legislature in early May and has been sent to the governor.
Crafted in part by county clerks, the bill eliminates neighborhood precinct locations and enhances Colorado’s vote-by-mail system. The act requires the state’s county clerks to mail ballots to all registered voters and allows such voters to vote by mail or in person at early voting locations. The bill also extends registration periods allowing residents to cast ballots on the same day that they register to vote. The bill would also implement the use of a real-time voter access file to determine eligible voters and if an individual has already voted.
- Cut costs by consolidating polling locations.
- Increase voter turnout and reduce voter confusion.
- Modernize their election system.
- Challenged as a partisan bill, opponents have called the bill unnecessary and detrimental to the electoral process.
- Some are concerned about increased voter fraud, particularly with the introduction of same day registration and mailed ballots to inactive voters.
Several states have continued to pursue legislation that limits access to the ballot box and increases barriers for voters. However, NBCSL asserts that voting is a fundamental right that should never be infringed upon. States that are moving to expand access should be applauded, while others that seek to disenfranchise voters should be vigorously challenged. The fight for voting rights in the United States continues, but with vigilance and collaboration, state legislators can preserve the right to vote for future generations.
- The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) - is a legal organization that fights for racial justice. Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans.
- The Brennan Center for Justice - is a nonpartisan law and policy institute housed at the New York University School of Law that seeks to improve America’s systems of democracy and justice. The Center’s work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, and from racial justice in criminal law to Constitutional protections in the fight against terrorism.
- The American Civil Liberties Union - is an entity that works daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.
- The U.S. Department of Justice - is an agency created to (1) enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law; (2) ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; (3) provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime; (4) seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior; and (5) ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.
- The National Conference of State Legislatures - is a nonpartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the nation's 50 states, its commonwealths, and territories. It tracks state legislation on a vast array of policy issues, including voting laws.