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The State of Voting 2018 — Updated

Here’s what’s happened on the voting front since we published our comprehensive summary in June

August 3, 2018

Amer­ic­ans’ voting rights remain in flux in advance of the 2018 elec­tion. In June, we published The State of Voting 2018 — a compre­hens­ive summary of new laws, bills, lawsuits, and other devel­op­ments that could impact Amer­ic­ans’ abil­ity to cast a ballot that counts this Novem­ber. A lot has happened since then. Here are the major updates: 

Restrict­ive Voting Laws 

In June we repor­ted that at least eight states had put in place new laws restrict­ing access to voting since 2016. That number has grown to nine. Since June:

  • New Hamp­shire passed a law that will make it more diffi­cult for students to register and vote. 
  • North Caro­lina passed laws that will elim­in­ate early voting on the last Saturday before the elec­tion, though the restric­tion will not take effect until after this year’s elec­tion. 

Expans­ive Voting Laws

We previ­ously repor­ted on the dramatic spread of auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion (AVR) across the coun­try. Since then, the total number of states to have adop­ted this trans­form­at­ive reform is poised to rise to 13 plus D.C., and new numbers from Cali­for­nia showed posit­ive effects from its new AVR system. Specific­ally: 

  • Cali­for­nia has seen an extraordin­ary impact on its voter regis­tra­tion numbers as a result of AVR. The Secret­ary of State repor­ted that almost 260,000 Cali­for­ni­ans newly registered at the DMV between April 1 and June 30, and an addi­tional 120,000 updated their addresses (AVR went into effect on April 23).
  • The Massachu­setts Legis­lature passed an AVR bill, and the Governor is expec­ted to sign it into law, although the system will not be in place in the lead-up to the 2018 elec­tion.

Litig­a­tion That Could Impact Voting Access

Through­out this year, there have been active lawsuits against new voting laws in at least 13 states, in addi­tion to other lawsuits against state admin­is­trat­ive actions that could impact voting access. Since June, there have been signi­fic­ant devel­op­ments in seven lawsuits:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s contro­ver­sial voter purge prac­tice of remov­ing voters from the rolls when they miss a single federal elec­tion and then do not respond to a notice or vote for four years. As a result of the decision, thou­sands of Ohioans who have been purged through this process will not be able to vote this Novem­ber unless they re-register. For addi­tional analysis, click here.
  • In Arizona, the lawsuit chal­len­ging the state’s require­ment that voters show docu­ment­ary proof of citizen­ship to register to vote settled: The state will now register voters for federal elec­tions without requir­ing docu­ment­ary proof of citizen­ship, regard­less of which voter regis­tra­tion form applic­ants use. (Applic­ants will still have to provide proof of citizen­ship to vote in state elec­tions.)
  • In Flor­ida, a federal district court blocked the Secret­ary of State’s decision to ban siting early voting loca­tions on college campuses, breath­ing new life into the 26th Amend­ment to the U.S. Consti­tu­tion.
  • In Indi­ana, a federal district court blocked the state’s faulty voter purge law, which required states to purge records based on the results of the error-prone “Crosscheck” program. While the state has appealed this decision, as a prac­tical matter, this makes it unlikely that voters will be purged under the law before the elec­tion.
  • In Iowa, a state district court blocked a new law that cut back on early voting days and made it harder to cast absentee ballots. The court also prohib­ited state offi­cials from suggest­ing that ID was required to vote this Novem­ber in connec­tion with the state’s “soft rollout” of its new voter ID law. The state has appealed the decision.
  • In Kansas, a federal district court struck down the state’s docu­ment­ary proof of citizen­ship law, which had blocked the regis­tra­tions of more than 35,000 applic­ants. The state has appealed the decision.
  • And a federal district court in Michigan struck down that state’s new ban on straight-ticket voting, find­ing that it was passed with the intent to discrim­in­ate against African-Amer­ic­ans.

(Disclos­ure: the Bren­nan Center repres­ents the plaintiffs in the Indi­ana lawsuit and filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the plaintiffs in Ohio.)

Redis­trict­ing and Gerry­man­der­ing

Several major devel­op­ments in redis­trict­ing lawsuits since early June mean that extreme partisan gerry­manders will stay in place this Novem­ber and that Texas will continue to use a slightly modi­fied version of a map found to be racially discrim­in­at­ory:

  • Most notably, the Supreme Court punted on the key issues in three major partisan gerry­man­der­ing cases out of Wiscon­sinMary­land, and North Caro­lina, refus­ing to say whether it will allow courts to police partisan gerry­man­der­ing going forward. Justice Anthony Kennedy — the key target of these cases — retired from the Court.
  • In a case out of Texas, the Supreme Court threw out, essen­tially on a tech­nic­al­ity, a lower court ruling that the state had inten­tion­ally discrim­in­ated against voters of color when it adop­ted revised legis­lat­ive maps in 2013. As a result, Texas’s maps will largely stay the same until the next round of redis­trict­ing in 2021.

Elec­tion Secur­ity

Since June, the threat to the secur­ity of our voting systems has again intens­i­fied. Accord­ing to recent news reports, Russia launched cyber­at­tacks against several candid­ates running for Congress this year, and Face­book iden­ti­fied fake accounts seek­ing to mount a polit­ical influ­ence campaign focused on the midterm elec­tions. Although the govern­ment has not taken bold enough steps to address this heightened threat, there has been some progress. A number of juris­dic­tions have decided to pilot risk-limit­ing audits this Novem­ber, which can help verify vote counts and detect improper disrup­tion.

Novem­ber Ballot Meas­ures That Could Impact Voting Access

This year Amer­ic­ans will vote on a record number of ballot meas­ures to expand — and restrict — voting access and to improve the redis­trict­ing processes. Since June, there have been several new devel­op­ments relat­ing to those ballot meas­ures: 

  • In Michigan, a voter-initi­ated proposal to create an inde­pend­ent redis­trict­ing commis­sion cleared a major hurdle when the state Supreme Court ruled that it should be included on this Novem­ber’s ballot. Emails released in a separ­ate lawsuit — in which GOP polit­ical oper­at­ives said they plot­ted to cram “Dem garbage” into certain districts to main­tain an arti­fi­cial elect­oral advant­age — under­scored the need for reform.
  • Another Michigan ballot initi­at­ive that would add a vari­ety of pro-voter reforms to the state consti­tu­tion got a big step closer to getting on the Novem­ber ballot as its proponents filed more than 430,000 signa­tures in support of it. (The reforms include auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion, elec­tion-day regis­tra­tion, no-excuse absentee voting, and post-elec­tion audits.)
  • In North Caro­lina, the state Legis­lature put a suite of consti­tu­tional amend­ments on the Novem­ber ballot, includ­ing a require­ment that voters present photo ID in order to cast a ballot and meas­ures to aggrand­ize the power of the GOP-controlled Legis­lature. GOP lawmakers heightened the contro­versy around these amend­ments by circum­vent­ing the commis­sion legally respons­ible for draft­ing amend­ment language, instead draft­ing mislead­ing ballot language to describe the proposed changes.

(Photo: Hill Street Studios/Getty Images)