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Why, in 2014, Is Voting Becoming Harder Instead of Easier?

From Texas to Wisconsin, major voting rights cases are making headlines. Brennan Center Communications Manager Erik Opsal breaks down exactly why these legal battles are happening.

  • Erik Opsal
October 10, 2014

Cross-posted on

Yester­day the US Supreme Court blocked a strin­gent Voter ID law in Wiscon­sin and a Federal Judge in Texas blocked a similar law, claim­ing it was an “uncon­sti­tu­tional poll tax”. Many other voting rights cases are in the news. To under­stand exactly why these legal battles are happen­ing, we spoke to an expert, Erik Opsal, Commu­nic­a­tions Manager for the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

Q: We’ve heard a lot about laws making it harder to vote in the past few years. What’s happen­ing?
Since the 2010 elec­tion, politi­cians have pushed a wave of laws cutting back on voting rights. These restric­tions range from new photo ID require­ments to early voting limits to voter regis­tra­tion cutbacks. Over­all, 22 states have new laws that could make it harder to vote, and 14 of them will have new restric­tions in place for the first time in a major elec­tion this year. That means voters in nearly half the coun­try could find it harder to cast a ballot in 2014 than they did four years ago.

Q: What’s the justi­fic­a­tion for making the voting process more restrict­ive?
These aren’t reas­on­able elec­tion regu­la­tions. They are efforts by some politi­cians to manip­u­late the system for their own advant­age. Instead, Amer­ica should make its elec­tion system more free, fair, and access­ible by modern­iz­ing regis­tra­tion and bring­ing voting into the 21st century.

Q: Is this tight­en­ing of voting restric­tions happen­ing in every state or just some?
It’s happened in about half the coun­try. As mentioned, 22 states have new restric­tions since 2010, and many of them are in the South and Midw­est. Most restrict­ive laws passed through Repub­lican-controlled legis­latures and in states with increases in minor­ity turnout. To find out the rules in your state, check out the Bren­nan Center’s compre­hens­ive Student Voting Guide.

Q: What is being done to address this prob­lem?
Voting advoc­ates are fight­ing these laws across the coun­try. They’ve chal­lenged restrict­ive meas­ures in court in seven states. Many of those cases are still ongo­ing, and some may wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court. Advoc­ates have also pushed laws to improve voting by modern­iz­ing the regis­tra­tion system and increas­ing early voting oppor­tun­it­ies. Laws to expand access passed in 16 states since 2012.

Q: What can I do about it? How can I make sure my vote is not blocked?
Register and vote! It’s import­ant to stand up for our rights and elect lead­ers who will lift up our coun­try and our communit­ies. See the Bren­nan Center’s Student Voting Guide to find out the rules in your state. It provides regis­tra­tion dead­lines, resid­ency require­ments, iden­ti­fic­a­tion policies, absentee voting rules, and early voting inform­a­tion. And use OurTime’s online regis­tra­tion tool to sign up today.