Ahead of 2016, Voting Wars Continue, but Momentum on Registration Reform

With the 2016 race already under way, the voting wars continue in the states, but with a significant drop-off in new restrictions in 2015, according to a new analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

Since the 2010 election, however, 21 states have new laws making it harder to vote — and in 14 states, next year will be the first time these rules are in effect for a presidential election, which is marked by high turnout.

At the same time, there is also solid momentum on reforms to improve the voter registration process this year. In recent months, Oregon enacted a significant new law that will automatically sign up citizens. Several other states have seen proposals to adopt online registration. In fact, for the third year in a row, bills to expand voters’ access to the ballot box outpace those to restrict voting.

Overall, since the 2012 election, 23 states plus the District of Columbia passed new laws to improve voting. This has not necessarily put voters ahead of where they have been in recent years, however, because restrictive legislation continues to make it harder for voters to participate.

In the 2015 legislative session, there have been at least:

  • 113 restrictive voting bills introduced in 33 states

    • 1 voter ID bill passed in North Dakota
  • 464 bills to enhance voting access introduced in 48 states plus the District of Columbia

    • 14 bills to improve voting passed in 11 states, plus the District of Columbia

Click here for a full list of states and maps.

“Heading into the 2016 election, politicians continue to waste time fighting over restrictive voting laws,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of theBrennan Center’s Democracy Program. “Instead, we must improve the voting system. Several states are moving in the right direction. Next year, let’s make sure every eligible American can make their voice heard. “

Voting Wars Continue, But With Less Output

Voter ID is still at the forefront of the voting wars, and it remains largely a partisan issue, according to the Brennan Center’s analysis. Nearly half the restrictive bills introduced this session are voter ID-related, and most have Republican-only sponsorship. Only one restrictive bill has been enacted thus far. North Dakota passed a bill making its voter ID law even more restrictive, permitting only four forms of ID. But voter ID requirements failed in several states, including Arkansas, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Nevada, which had a rancorous fight.

Momentum on Registration Reform

In March, Oregon passed a breakthrough law to modernize voter registration by automatically registering eligible citizens who have driver’s licenses (and do not ask to remain unregistered). Oregon’s law triggered a surge of similar proposals from 14 states and the District of Columbia. Another popular reform this year is online registration, which continues to receive bipartisan support, with bills passing in Florida, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Vermont also passed a bipartisan Election Day registration bill, and Indiana passed legislation allowing state agencies that issue SNAP and TANF benefits to electronically transfer voter registration information to election officials.