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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)