New Setbacks for Voting Rights Restrictions..And Yet

April 17, 2012

Today's news that a prominent backer of voter ID laws is responding to growing public opposition and no longer focusing resources on elections or social policy is a welcome announcement. Yet the right to vote for millions of Americans is more threatened now than it has been in decades, and the numerous new voter ID policies are just one part. As the Brennan Center noted last month, more than 70 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win in 2012 will now come from states with new restrictive voting laws.

Today, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an Arizona law requiring voters to provide proof of citizenship when registering to vote. According to the Brennan Center’s research, at least 7 percent of voting-age Americans do not have this kind of documentation. Today’s ruling means similar laws in AlabamaGeorgiaKansas, and Tennessee could be struck down in the future. (The decision also upheld a provision requiring either a photo or non-photo ID to vote.)

In Florida, one of the key swing states for the Presidential election (with a long history of voting problems), multiple new restrictions have been placed on the ballot box. New legislation makes it more difficult to register to vote, placing massive restrictions on civic groups. The Florida League of Women Voters and other groups have stopped their registration activities as a result of the new law, which is facing current legal challenges in federal court. The law also eliminated early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, which some black lawmakers have said is an intentional attempt to suppress minority voters.

Similar voter registration restrictions are under consideration in Michigan as part of a package of rules to restrict voter access to the ballot, as well as in South Carolina.

Ohio legislators also passed legislation to restrict early and absentee voting, but the new restrictions faced significant public pushback. More than 300,000 signatures were gathered to challenge the law, putting it to a statewide referendum vote on the November ballot. However, some of the restrictions may be legislatively repealed before the election.

“From restrictions on voter registration to sharp cutbacks on early voting, out-of-touch state legislators seem determined to restrict the fundamental right to vote for millions of Americans across the country,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “Instead of restricting the franchise, we should be ensuring that our outdated voter registration system is modernized and works for all Americans."

The Brennan Center has advocated for the modernization of the voter registration system, which would ensure access for millions of Americans while properly securing the voting rolls. A recent New York Times editorial wrote in favor of voter registration modernization.

Read the Brennan Center’s comprehensive study, Voting Law Changes in 2012, which details how these laws could make it significantly harder for millions of eligible Americans to vote this year. To schedule an interview with the Brennan Center’s voting experts, please contact Erik Opsal at erik.opsal@nyu.edu or 646-292-8356.