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Voting Rights Fight Continues in 2013

Just as they did before the 2012 election, state lawmakers are introducing measures that would make it harder to vote. Pending bills in North Carolina and Ohio present some of the most egregious examples.

  • Lucy Zhou
April 25, 2013

Ahead of the 2012 elec­tion, there was an unpre­ced­en­ted wave of restrict­ive voting legis­la­tion in states across the coun­try. In 2013, state lawmakers continue to intro­duce meas­ures that would make it harder for eligible Amer­ic­ans to vote. So far, Virginia and Arkan­sas have passed laws requir­ing photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion to vote, and yester­day, Tennessee passed a meas­ure to make its current voter ID law even stricter, forbid­ding citizens from using library cards, student ID cards, and muni­cipal photo IDs to vote. Other states have intro­duced bills that would not only imple­ment or tighten photo ID require­ments, but also scale back voter regis­tra­tion and early voting oppor­tun­it­ies, restrict the right to vote for those with past crim­inal convic­tions, encum­ber student voting rights, and remove eligible citizens from the voter rolls. The good news is, some of these bills have already failed, and others are highly unlikely to pass. Pending bills in North Caro­lina and Ohio, however, present some of the most egre­gious examples of contin­ued attempts to restrict the vote.

North Caro­lina has been a hotbed of restrict­ive voting bills, includ­ing H.B. 589, a bill propos­ing a strict photo ID require­ment that passed the House yester­day and now moves to the Senate. But state lawmakers are keep­ing several irons in the fire, also intro­du­cing S.B. 721, an omni­bus voting bill that creates a photo ID require­ment, reduces the early voting period by a week, cuts Sunday voting, and elim­in­ates same-day voter regis­tra­tion. The photo ID compon­ent alone will cost the state millions of dollars to imple­ment. It requires the state to launch voter educa­tion efforts and provide free IDs to the more than 300,000 registered voters who do not already have accept­able ID. This new burden would be exacer­bated by the concur­rent reduc­tion in early voting and elim­in­a­tion of same-day regis­tra­tion. The state’s popu­lar early voting program helps alle­vi­ate long lines and the burden on poll work­ers on Elec­tion Day. Like­wise, North Caro­lin­a’s same-day regis­tra­tion increases voter turnout and reduces the number of provi­sional ballots, which consequently reduces costs for elec­tion offi­cials.

S.B. 721 would also elim­in­ate auto­matic restor­a­tion of voting rights for those previ­ously convicted of a felony. Instead, those with past crim­inal convic­tions who have completed all terms of their sentence would have to wait five years before they may file a peti­tion to have their rights restored. Even then, restor­a­tion is condi­tioned upon unan­im­ous approval by the Board of Elec­tions, as well as two affi­davits from registered voters attest­ing to the applic­ant’s moral char­ac­ter. This provi­sion would continue punish­ing those who have paid their debt to soci­ety, send­ing the wrong­headed message that voting is a priv­ilege for the “deserving” rather than a right guar­an­teed to all citizens.

As if that weren’t enough, North Caro­lina is also target­ing the student vote with S.B. 667. Students have a consti­tu­tional right to register and vote at their college address, yet this bill would penal­ize students and their parents for the exer­cise of that right. Under S.B. 667, parents would be barred from list­ing their chil­dren as depend­ents on state tax forms if they register to vote at a differ­ent address. North Caro­lina grants tax deduc­tions from $2,000 to $2,500 per child depend­ent — a signi­fic­ant consid­er­a­tion for famil­ies under tough finan­cial circum­stances. Students may be caught having to choose between voting where they live or help­ing their famil­ies secure a tax break. Students should not have to make this kind of calcu­lus when it comes to the funda­mental right to vote.

The affront to student voting does­n’t end there: Ohio legis­lat­ors intro­duced a substi­tute budget bill, Sub. H.B. 59, which would also make it harder for students to vote in their college communit­ies. Students attend­ing Ohio’s public colleges or univer­sit­ies can request a letter or util­ity bill from the school that can be used as proof of resid­ency for voting purposes. The budget bill would require these schools to charge in-state tuition to students who receive these docu­ments. This threatened revenue loss creates a substan­tial disin­cent­ive for schools to provide these letters and util­ity bills, and makes it increas­ingly diffi­cult for Ohio’s students to prove resid­ency and vote in the state.

After an elec­tion plagued by long lines, inad­equate voting machines, and confu­sion at the polls, the bills in North Caro­lina and Ohio, which would increase the burden and incon­veni­ence upon voters, poll work­ers, and elec­tion offi­cials alike, simply defy common sense. Fortu­nately, these restrict­ive bills are becom­ing increas­ingly outnumbered as more and more states seek to expand voting rights and improve the Elec­tion Day exper­i­ence. Accord­ing to a new Bren­nan Center analysis, more than twice as many bills to improve elec­tions are pending across the coun­try. These reforms, such as modern­iz­ing regis­tra­tion and expand­ing early voting, are long over­due, and imper­at­ive if we are to live up to the prom­ise of our demo­cracy.

Photo by kate.gardiner.