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Expert Brief

Election 2016: Restrictive Voting Laws by the Numbers

Starting after the 2010 election, legislators in nearly half the states passed a wave of laws making it harder to vote. This resource includes a series of maps to help visualize the impact of these restrictions.

Published: September 28, 2016

Start­ing after the 2010 elec­tion, legis­lat­ors in nearly half the states passed a wave of laws making it harder to vote. These new restric­tions ranged from cuts to early voting to burdens on voter regis­tra­tion to strict voter ID require­ments. While courts stepped in before the 2012 elec­tion to block many of these laws, the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County gutting the most power­ful protec­tions of the Voting Rights Act made it even easier for states to put in place restrict­ive voting laws.

In the run-up to the 2016 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion, the surge in attempts to make it harder to vote has been met by a push­back by courts, as many chal­lengers fight­ing against these laws have secured victor­ies soften­ing or elim­in­at­ing the restric­tions.

This resource includes a series of maps to help visu­al­ize the scope, preval­ence, and nature of these restrict­ive voting laws and to chron­icle the back-and-forth of litig­a­tion:

  1. Click here to see the 14 states with new restrict­ive voting laws in effect for the first time in 2016.
     
  2. For a look at all 20 states with new restrict­ive voting laws in effect since 2010, click here
     
  3. To see which of the 14 states with new laws in 2016 were previ­ously covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, click here
     
  4. Race played a factor in which states passed new voting restric­tions. In response to demo­graphic shifts, includ­ing recent growth in popu­la­tion or voter turnout among ethnic or racial minor­it­ies, many states passed new restrict­ive laws. Click here for more. 
     
  5. Among the types of restrict­ive laws passed, strict photo ID laws are partic­u­larly on the rise. To see the dramatic change in the land­scape of strict photo ID laws since 2004 — most notably, the explo­sion of strict photo ID laws between 2010 and 2016 — click here.
     
  6. A lot of courts have found that these new restric­tions viol­ate the Consti­tu­tion or the Voting Rights Act. Click here to see maps of these victor­ies and other ongo­ing voter litig­a­tion.
     
  7. For a look at legal chal­lenges to restrict­ive photo ID laws since 2010, click here.
     
  8. For a look at the strict photo ID laws in effect in 2016 or recently blocked, click here.

Over 100 million Amer­ic­ans will cast a ballot this Novem­ber, after the biggest roll­back to voting rights since the Jim Crow era.

But progress is possible: Before the summer recess, congres­sional Demo­crats intro­duced a trans­form­at­ive bill that could auto­mat­ic­ally register up to 50 million new citizens to vote. Recent litig­a­tion victor­ies in Alabama, Geor­gia, Kansas, North Caro­lina, North Dakota, Texas, and Wiscon­sin also signal hope that roll­backs to voting rights can be stopped. Between now and Novem­ber, watch the courts for the latest devel­op­ments on what voters will encounter at the ballot box this year.

This docu­ment illus­trates the current voting land­scape and uses maps to analyze how we got to this point. 

1. New Restrict­ive Voting Laws for 2016

Voters in 14 states will face new voting restric­tions for the first time during a pres­id­en­tial elec­tion this year. Those 14 states are: Alabama, Arizona, Indi­ana, Kansas, Missis­sippi, Nebraska, New Hamp­shire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Caro­lina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wiscon­sin.

The number was 17 as recently as July, but recent court rulings blocked restrict­ive meas­ures in Geor­gia, North Caro­lina, and North Dakota. Despite a recent court victory mitig­at­ing the impact of Texas’s photo ID law, it is still coun­ted because the meas­ure is more restrict­ive than the previ­ous require­ment.

You can read about each state’s new restric­tions on our inter­act­ive map. A PDF version is avail­able here.

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2. New Voting Restric­tions in Effect Since 2010

After the 2010 elec­tion, state lawmakers nation­wide star­ted intro­du­cing hundreds of harsh meas­ures to make it harder to vote. Over­all, 20 states have new restric­tions in effect since the 2010 midterm elec­tion that restrict access to regis­tra­tion and voting. For details on each state’s new restric­tions, check out our inter­act­ive map. A PDF version is avail­able here.  More inform­a­tion on the bills across the coun­try can be found here, here, here, here and here

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3. 2016 is the First Pres­id­en­tial Elec­tion in 50 Years Without the Full Protec­tions of the Voting Rights Act

Many new restrict­ive voting laws went into effect after the Supreme Court gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013. Under Section 5, states and local­it­ies with a history of racial discrim­in­a­tion in voting had to seek federal “preclear­ance,” or approval, from either the Depart­ment of Justice or a federal court before imple­ment­ing any changes to their voting laws and proced­ures. In the Shelby County decision, the Supreme Court evis­cer­ated that portion of the law, giving states with a history of discrim­in­a­tion free rein to change their voting laws without prior approval.

Of the 14 states with new restrict­ive voting laws in effect for the first time in a pres­id­en­tial elec­tion this year, six were previ­ously covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Five of these states — Alabama, Missis­sippi, South Caro­lina*, Texas†, and Virginia — have new voter ID laws in place.

 

* Prior to the Shelby County decision, South Caro­lin­a’s law was approved by a federal court under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The court read the law to include a reas­on­able imped­i­ment excep­tion to the photo ID require­ment and delayed imple­ment­a­tion of the law until after the 2012 elec­tion.
† As of August 2016, in compli­ance with a decision from the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Texas has agreed to allow voters without one of the limited forms of photo ID to claim a reas­on­able imped­i­ment to obtain­ing ID; show an altern­at­ive form of iden­ti­fic­a­tion from a long list that includes paychecks, util­ity bills, and govern­ment docu­ments; and vote a regu­lar ballot.

Of the 15 states previ­ously covered by Section 5, nine have new restric­tions in place since 2010. The loss of the full protec­tions of the Voting Rights Act enabled states to put laws into place that had already been or that would have been blocked by Section 5. In Texas, for example, the state put a strict photo ID law into place imme­di­ately after Section 5 was gutted that had already been blocked as racially discrim­in­at­ory under Section 5. And, in South Caro­lina, a strict photo ID law was weakened in 2012 because the state was at the time under Section 5’s preclear­ance regime, and a Section 5 court read the law to allow for an affi­davit altern­at­ive for voters with a reas­on­able imped­i­ment to getting ID.

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4. Race & Voting Since 2010

In a broad wave of voting restric­tions passed since 2010, 20 states have cut back on voting access, with two more states passing laws that were recently blocked by courts. Still others, like Arkan­sas and Pennsylvania, passed restric­tions that were quickly and perman­ently blocked by courts. The key factors that account for these new laws are partis­an­ship and race. 

As this map makes clear, the states most likely to pass new voting restric­tions were those with the highest African-Amer­ican turnout in 2008, those with the highest Hispanic popu­la­tion growth between 2000 and 2010, and/or those formerly covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

  • Of the 11 states with the highest African-Amer­ican turnout in 2008, 6 have new restric­tions in place. North Caro­lina also fits this category, but its law is currently blocked for the 2016 elec­tion.
  • Of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic popu­la­tion growth between 2000 and 2010, 7 passed laws making it harder to vote (again, North Caro­lin­a’s law is currently blocked).
  • 9 out of the 15 juris­dic­tions previ­ously covered in whole or in part by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act have new restric­tions in place. North Caro­lina also fits this category, but its law is currently blocked for the 2016 elec­tion.
  • 4 states put restric­tions in place directly after the Shelby County decision: Alabama, Missis­sippi, North Caro­lina, and Texas.

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5. Strict Photo ID Laws Explode Between 2004 and 2016

Among the many restrict­ive voting laws passed since 2010, the most burden­some are strict photo ID require­ments, which permit voters to show only a small number of govern­ment-issued photo IDs in order to cast a ballot. Approx­im­ately 600,000 registered voters in Texas did not have accept­able IDs required under the original strict law, which has since been softened. Nation­wide, approx­im­ately 11 percent of Amer­ic­ans lack govern­ment-issued photo ID, includ­ing a dispro­por­tion­ate number of people of color, seni­ors, and young people, accord­ing to one analysis.

If voters in one of these strict photo ID states do not have a required form of ID on Elec­tion Day, they may vote a provi­sional ballot. But to have that vote coun­ted, they will have to return to the polls within a few days to prove their iden­tity.

When Geor­gia and Indi­ana passed their strict photo ID laws in 2005, they were outliers. But the number of strict photo ID laws has exploded since 2012. Although states continue to pass new laws, courts have already blocked or mitig­ated some of the worst meas­ures before the 2016 elec­tion.

This Novem­ber, voters in 8 states will face strict photo ID laws at the polls.

This sequence of maps traces the history of strict photo ID laws in the U.S., show­ing how many states had strict photo ID laws in effect in recent pres­id­en­tial elec­tions and how many are expec­ted to have them this fall.

 

 

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6. Major Litig­a­tion that Could Impact Voting Access

Many of the restrict­ive voting laws passed since 2010 are being chal­lenged in court — and many of those lawsuits have succeeded in block­ing or mitig­at­ing the chal­lenged laws. Ten states currently have major ongo­ing litig­a­tion that will impact voter access, and seven have succeeded, at least partially: Alabama, Geor­gia, Kansas, North Caro­lina, North Dakota, Texas, and Wiscon­sin. See our inter­act­ive map track­ing this litig­a­tion here, or view a PDF version here.

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7. Legal Chal­lenges to Restrict­ive Photo ID Laws

Photo ID laws have been espe­cially conten­tious in the courts in recent years. Six states have ongo­ing lawsuits over photo ID laws. Litig­a­tion wins in the summer of 2016 in three of these states — North Caro­lina, North Dakota, and Texas — show renewed progress in the courts. Even before 2016, in Arkan­sas and Pennsylvania, courts inter­vened to block strict photo ID laws that would other­wise have been in effect for the first time in a pres­id­en­tial elec­tion this year. In Wiscon­sin and Virginia, courts upheld restrict­ive photo ID laws that are in effect for the first time in a pres­id­en­tial elec­tion this year. Before 2010, courts blocked photo ID laws in Missouri, and upheld them in Geor­gia and Indi­ana.

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8. Strict Photo ID Laws in Effect in 2016

Strict photo ID laws have cropped up across the coun­try since 2005. A vast major­ity of the eight laws currently in effect passed in the last five years. Beyond that, half of these states — Alabama, Missis­sippi, Virginia, and Wiscon­sin — have never tested their laws in any pres­id­en­tial elec­tion. Tenness­ee’s ID law was in place in 2012, but was made more restrict­ive since then.

But change is still possible. North Dakota’s photo ID law was blocked by a federal court in summer 2016. North Caro­lin­a’s was softened by the legis­lature, and then struck down by a court. And Texas’s law was re-fash­ioned to create excep­tions for voters without ID.

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