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New Analysis: Voter Suppression Laws a Concern in 2018, Though Many States Looking to Expand Access

An initial look at laws introduced in state legislatures makes it clear that the fight continues against voter suppression across the country. But many states are looking to expand access to the polls and make a more inclusive democracy.

January 22, 2018

New York, N.Y. –  A first look at voting laws intro­duced in state legis­latures across the coun­try finds that voter suppres­sion efforts continue to be a concern at the outset of a pivotal elec­tion year. The Trump admin­is­tra­tion is promot­ing a similar agenda at the national level. At the same time, lawmakers are also making a signi­fic­ant push to expand access to the polls, accord­ing to a new analysis by the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.
In the first analysis of its kind in 2018, the Bren­nan Center’s Voting Laws Roundup shows that lawmakers in eight states have intro­duced at least 16 bills making it harder to vote, and 35 restrict­ive bills in 14 states have carried over from previ­ous legis­lat­ive sessions. If passed, the laws would increase restric­tions on voter regis­tra­tion and limit early and absentee voting oppor­tun­it­ies, among other changes.
Legis­latures in 22 states are consid­er­ing a combined total of at least 144 bills that would expand access to voting, and in 23 states and the District of Columbia lawmakers are consid­er­ing 263 bills that carried over from the previ­ous session. This includes legis­la­tion to auto­mate the voter regis­tra­tion process, a reform with bipar­tisan back­ing that increases voter turnout, along with accur­acy and secur­ity of voter rolls. There are also bills to expand oppor­tun­it­ies to register, restore voting rights to people with past crim­inal convic­tions, reduce the burden of exist­ing voter ID laws, and more.
“Our initial look at state laws makes it clear that the fight contin­ues against voter suppres­sion across the coun­try,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program. “But it’s extremely encour­aging to see so many states look­ing to expand access to the polls and make a more inclus­ive demo­cracy, espe­cially in the face of a push for the oppos­ite at the national level.”
New Hamp­shire is respons­ible for an outsize share of the restrict­ive legis­la­tion this year, includ­ing proposed bills aimed at disen­fran­chising students. Last year, the vice chair of Pres­id­ent Trump’s “Elec­tion Integ­rity” Commis­sion Kris Kobach claimed voter fraud was taking place in states like New Hamp­shire where a large number of voters held out-of-state IDs. Those comments were quickly refuted by New Hamp­shire’s chief elec­tion offi­cial and the Bren­nan Center, which noted that it’s perfectly legal and common­place for out-of-state students to register in the juris­dic­tion where they go to school.
Virginia, on the other hand, is seek­ing to enact a broad-based, pro-voter agenda on the heels of progress­ive wins in last year’s state elec­tions. So far, Virginia accounts for more than one-quarter of the expans­ive bills intro­duced this year.
The Bren­nan Center analysis also finds that six states have intro­duced bills related to elec­tion secur­ity issues, and four states are consid­er­ing carry-over bills on the issue from last session. Bren­nan Center experts expect to see more legis­la­tion along these lines intro­duced in the coming months in response to the foreign inter­fer­ence concerns that surfaced during the 2016 campaign.
The Bren­nan Center will peri­od­ic­ally update the Roundup as state legis­lature sessions continue.
For more inform­a­tion about the Bren­nan Center’s work on voting, click here.

To sched­ule an inter­view with a Bren­nan Center expert, contact Rebecca Autrey at or 646–292–8316.