October 13, 2016
Voting Should Be Easy
It’s the foundation of our democracy: one person, one vote. You shouldn’t have to pay a poll tax, in the form of photo ID, to cast a ballot. You should be able to register on the very day you want to vote. There should be early voting or an absentee-ballot option that allow you to go to the polls when it fits with your busy schedule.
Lots of countries have implemented some amazing policies to make voting simple. The US is simply falling behind the rest of the world, even though we like to think that our democracy is second to none. Well… let’s just say that there’s room for improvement!
State policies are always changing, and since the Supreme Court’s gutting of the VRA, many states have sought to implement some awful voter-suppression laws. (And some of these laws have been overturned in the courts!) Other states, meanwhile, have sought to put meaningful pro-democracy laws into effect. We know it can be confusing. So we put together a list of the five best and five worst states for voting.
Hall of Famers
Although it won’t be in place for this year’s election, California passed automatic voter registration (Connecticut, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia have also passed AVR), which could add up to 7 million new voters to the rolls! But California is already making things pretty easy for its voters: no ID requirements, same-day registration, 4+ weeks of early voting possible, and anyone can request an absentee ballot for any reason.
No ID required, plenty of early voting, and liberal absentee voting policies. Nebraskans can also register online, although they are not yet able to register at the polls on Election Day.
Vote by mail! What a concept. That policy has made a huge difference in Oregon’s turnout, which regularly ranks among the highest in the nation. Voting in Oregon is easy, and as a consequence, lots of people vote. How easy is it? Oregonians are automatically registered to vote — no paperwork, no making it to City Hall on time — and come election season, they receive a ballot in the mail. All they have to do is fill it out, and drop it in a deposit box around the state. Easy peasy!
Of course, we’re happy and proud that our home state made this list. No ID requirements, four weeks of early voting, absentee ballots for whoever wants one (even felons can vote by absentee ballot, even while they’re still incarcerated). AND Vermont is one of the states that has passed AVR, though it hasn’t yet been implemented. Vermont also just adopted same-day registration, but it won’t be in place until after the November elections.
Oregon’s neighbor to the north is also pretty great for those who like their voting hassle-free. Like Oregon, Washington conducts its elections entirely through the mail. No polling places, no lines, no IDs, no hassle.
Hall of Shamers
Oh, Alabama. Voters can only vote in person on Election Day: there are no early voting options. You also need to provide a good reason to get an absentee ballot — they’re pretty strict about who they mail them out to. And you better make sure you have a valid photo ID when you get to the polls. Plus, felons may lose their right to vote permanently.
Mississippi is determined to give voters a hard time: you need specific forms of ID, you can’t vote early, and it can be hard to get an absentee ballot. The state also seems pretty wary of automating anything related to the voting process. You can only register to vote and apply for an absentee ballot through snail mail. And felons may be restricted from voting even after going through our criminal justice system and having served their time.
“Live Free or Die” is New Hampshire’s motto, which is a little catchier than “We will make voting a challenging and cumbersome task.” Well, same-day registration IS allowed, but otherwise, New Hampshire has put a lot of hurdles in your path to the ballot box. Photo ID is required, there's no early voting, absentee voting is seriously restricted, and there's no online registration.
South Carolina passed a stricter voter ID law, but it was shot down by the Department of Justice. Now, confusion reigns. Voters are asked to bring ID, but will not be turned away if they don’t have it. Sound like a confusion tactic that could reduce turnout? Yep, we think so, too. Also, South Carolina has no early voting or same-day registration.
Voters need IDs in Virginia, and they can’t vote early or register to vote when they go to the polls. They also need to have a good reason to obtain an absentee ballot. Governor Terry McAuliffe had issued a blanket executive order to restore voting rights to felons, but the state supreme court ruled against him. So now he’s attempting to restore those rights individually, one by one until he covers all 200,000 felons.
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