As freedom-craving Americans, we enjoy a wealth of hard-fought-for rights. Scoop from the political and religious flavors of your choice, express yourself through free speech or incessant cat memes and, of course, cast your ballot for the candidates of your choosing. It is an election year, after all.
But actualizing the latter—something as simple as marking an X on a box—isn’t always easy. While some states work hard to ensure that all eligible voters can cast their vote, some have enacted restrictive voting laws – including voter ID laws, restricting early voting, ending same-day registration and other measures – that make it tough for some Americans to make their voice heard. These measures, often disproportionately, keep minority, lower-income and elderly voters from making it to the polls, stifling their voices in future policy decisions.
Wait, hasn’t that happened before?
Why yes, it has, you history buff. Prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many states used tactics, such as poll taxes and impassible literacy tests, to keep African-American voters from accessing the polls. The Voting Rights Act set out to end all that and ensure equal access everywhere. But 2013 saw the Voting Rights Act essentially gutted, with its strongest section struck down by the Supreme Court. Since then, voting rights have faltered in some states and flourished in others.
Here’s how 10 individual states are winning the fight against voter disenfranchisement, and ensuring a vote and a voice to all eligible Americans.
The land of bottomless craft beer adopted crafty legislation in March 2015, when Oregon became the first state to automatically register eligible voters who request driver’s licenses or state IDs from the DMV. The law takes effect this year. Oregon estimates that 300,000 new voters will be added to the registry.
California has also gone automatic, with Gov. Jerry Brown approving legislation that registers voters when they obtain or renew driver's licenses or state IDs. Legislators say the 2015 measure, known as the "New Motor Voter Act," will help make voter registration seamless and spur a historic drive to the polls in 2016. More than 60,000 former state felons could also join the rush thanks to California now granting them the right to vote. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that the state would settle litigation over laws that had barred low-level felony offenders under community supervision from voting.
Arizona and Washington
Arizona has been heralded as America’s innovator of paperless voter enrollment, detonating its online registration system in 2002. Washington came next, implementing similar legislation in 2008.
Iowa and New Mexico
Following AZ and WA’s lead, an increasing number of states are now using technology to entice more voters to the polls. As of this month a total of 29 states, plus the District of Columbia, offer online registration. This year’s additions include Iowa and New Mexico. And online voter registration systems in both states are now live.
In 2013, the Colorado State Legislature passed a bill authorizing same-day voter registration. The bill included other election reforms such as mailing ballots to all registered voters. In addition, Colorado is one of only three states utilizing a vote-by-mail system for all elections. (The others: Oregon and California.)
Maine, Wisconsin and Minnesota
In these top turnout states, all eligible citizens can register on election day.
In Enfranchisement We Trust
The number of Americans heading to the polls each election has been tanking for the last fifty years. And that’s not right. On the one hand, since the beginning of the 2015 legislative session more than 100 restrictive bills have been either introduced or carried over in 33 states. On the other hand, and during the same time period, some 464 bills that would enhance voting access were either introduced or carried over in 48 states, plus the District of Columbia. The balance is tipping toward enfranchisement, and that is certainly good news. Let’s keep doing what we can to ensure that everyone can take advantage of this most basic civil liberty and vote for what matters.