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Expert Brief

Voting Laws Roundup 2015

As the early stages of the 2016 presidential race begin, state legislatures are already considering hundreds of laws that could determine voters’ access to the ballot.

Published: June 3, 2015

As the early stages of the 2016 pres­id­en­tial race begin, state legis­latures are already consid­er­ing hundreds of laws that could determ­ine voters’ access to the ballot. Since the begin­ning of the 2015 legis­lat­ive session, and as of May 13, 2015, at least 113 bills that would restrict access to regis­tra­tion and voting have been intro­duced or carried over in 33 states. Over the same time period, at least 464 bills that would enhance access to voting were intro­duced or carried over in 48 states plus the District of Columbia.

For the third year in a row, bills to expand voters’ access to the ballot box outpace those to restrict voting, both in terms of intro­duc­tion and enact­ment. This strong show of support for making the ballot access­ible has not neces­sar­ily put voters ahead of where they have been in recent years, because some recent restrict­ive legis­la­tion contin­ues to make it harder for citizens to parti­cip­ate.

Voting Restric­tions

Of the 113 bills restrict­ing access in this legis­lat­ive session (includ­ing bills carried over from last session), 6 of them are active in 5 states, in that there has been legis­lat­ive activ­ity beyond intro­duc­tion and refer­ral to a commit­tee in 2015 (such as hear­ings, commit­tee activ­ity, or votes).

Note: If a state falls into more than one category, the map reflects the legis­la­tion that has advanced furthest in the legis­lat­ive process.

Voter ID remains at the fore­front of the voting wars, but enact­ment has slowed. Nearly half of the voting bills intro­duced so far this session that restrict access are aimed at estab­lish­ing voter ID require­ments or tight­en­ing pre-exist­ing ones. Voter ID remains largely a partisan issue. Of the 52 restrict­ive ID bills intro­duced so far, most have Repub­lican-only spon­sor­ship. Only one state, North Dakota, passed a voter ID bill this legis­lat­ive session — all others failed. Nevada, a Repub­lican-led state without an exist­ing strict photo ID law, had a rancor­ous fight. Arkan­sas and Missouri, where state courts struck down ID laws, had renewed efforts this session to put ID require­ments before the voters as ballot ques­tions. Voter ID bills also failed in Maine, Nebraska, and New Mexico.

Only one restrict­ive bill has been enacted thus far. This session, North Dakota passed a bill making its already-restrict­ive voter ID law even more oner­ous for voters. Thus far, this is the only restrict­ive law passed and signed, and it is note­worthy that it exacer­bates exist­ing restric­tions rather than impos­ing a new one. This stands in contrast to recent prior years, which saw numer­ous burden­some voting bills at around this time of year. As amended, North Dakota’s new law allows for only four forms of ID: a current North Dakota driver’s license or non-driver ID card, a tribal ID, and a long-term care certi­fic­ate. Persons stationed or living outside of the coun­try can present a current milit­ary ID or pass­port. The ID require­ment applies to absentee voters, with a narrow excep­tion for voters with disab­il­it­ies unable to travel to get an accep­ted ID. In those instances, a disabled voter may obtain an absentee ballot without ID, but only if another eligible North Dakota voter confirms in writ­ing that the absentee voter is eligible to vote.

As court battles continue, state legis­lat­ors are also waging wars against voting restric­tions. There are ongo­ing lawsuits over new voting restric­tions in Arizona, North Caro­lina, and Texas. In a few states, legis­lat­ive battles happened along­side those court fights. The most inter­est­ing example comes from Texas, which has a high-profile court battle over photo ID. The Texas legis­lature enacted a bill that would provide a certi­fied copy of a Texas birth certi­fic­ate free of charge to a voter who states she is seek­ing it to obtain an elec­tion iden­ti­fic­a­tion certi­fic­ate, a minor adjust­ment. More impact­ful ameli­or­at­ive bills failed to pass. More alarm­ing, a bill passed by the Texas legis­lature would exacer­bate the restrict­ive ID law by elim­in­at­ing non-expir­ing photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion cards for the state’s senior citizens. There are also bills pending in North Caro­lina — which has a trial begin­ning this July over new voting restric­tions passed in an omni­bus law in 2013 — to restore some early voting hours cut by the chal­lenged law and to expand the list of IDs accep­ted to vote, but neither is active. In Arizona, where there is an ongo­ing suit over a require­ment that voters present docu­ment­ary proof of citizen­ship before regis­ter­ing, legis­lat­ors intro­duced bills to repeal or mitig­ate the burden­some law, but the session expired with none of the bills progress­ing.

Restrict­ive Bills Passed in 2015

North Dakota

Voter ID (HB 1333) (passed and signed)

 

Selec­ted Restrict­ive Bills Defeated in 2015

Arkan­sas

Voter ID (HJR 1007/SJR 7)

Maine

Voter ID (LD 197)

Geor­gia

Early Voting (HB 194)

Missouri

Voter ID (HB 30, HB 339)

Nebraska

Voter ID (LB 111)

Nevada

Voter ID (SB 169, SJR 15, AB 253, AB 266)

New Mexico

Voter ID (HB 340)

Texas

Purges (HB 1096)

Virginia

Voter ID (HB 1318) (vetoed)

 

Selec­ted Restrict­ive Bills Pending and Active in 2015

New Hamp­shire

Voter Regis­tra­tion and Student Voting (SB 179) (passed Senate)

Texas

Voter ID (SB 1934) (passed, not yet signed)

 

Enhan­cing Voter Access

Legis­lat­ors from both sides of the aisle intro­duced and suppor­ted numer­ous voting bills expand­ing access to the ballot box as well. Of the 464 bills enhan­cing access that have been intro­duced or carried over this legis­lat­ive session, 33 are active in 16 states.

Note: If a state falls into more than one category, the map reflects the legis­la­tion that has advanced furthest in the legis­lat­ive process.

Oregon trig­gers a surge of auto­matic regis­tra­tion bills. In March, Oregon passed a break­through law to modern­ize voter regis­tra­tion by auto­mat­ic­ally regis­ter­ing eligible citizens who have driver’s licenses (and do not ask to remain unre­gistered). Soon after Oregon’s bill was intro­duced, 14 addi­tional states — Alabama, Arizona, Arkan­sas, Cali­for­nia, Geor­gia, Illinois, Louisi­ana, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, South Caro­lina, Texas, and Vermont — plus the District of Columbia intro­duced bills that would auto­mat­ic­ally register citizens who have, apply for, or update driver’s licenses, and that inform­a­tion would be elec­tron­ic­ally sent over. In some states, such as Geor­gia, Illinois, and Ohio, the legis­la­tion would register citizens who have conduc­ted busi­ness with other govern­ment agen­cies as well. The bills vary as to the specific mech­an­ism by which indi­vidu­als are registered, and other details — for instance, when and how an indi­vidual may opt out of regis­tra­tion. But all seek to reduce the burden on indi­vidual voters and instead require the govern­ment to ensure eligible citizens are registered.

Online regis­tra­tion contin­ues to pass with bipar­tisan support. As in recent legis­lat­ive sessions, several states — Flor­ida, New Mexico, and Oklahoma — enacted online regis­tra­tion on a bipar­tisan basis.

Other reforms are gain­ing bipar­tisan support. In Vermont, a bill to estab­lish Elec­tion Day regis­tra­tion was enacted on a bipar­tisan basis. Indi­ana enacted a bill, with bipar­tisan support, to allow state agen­cies that issue SNAP and TANF bene­fits to elec­tron­ic­ally trans­fer voter regis­tra­tion inform­a­tion to elec­tion offi­cials (which is currently in place only at the DMV). A bill to restore voting rights to people with past crim­inal convic­tions passed the Mary­land legis­lature in April by a substan­tial major­ity and with some bipar­tisan support, but was vetoed by the governor. The legis­lature will have the oppor­tun­ity to over­ride the veto when it is back in session; the bill passed the State Senate with enough votes to over­ride a veto and the House only two short of the neces­sary amount. In Minnesota, a bill restor­ing voting rights with bipar­tisan co-spon­sor­ship advanced before being defeated.

Bills to Enhance Voter Access Passed in 2015

District of Columbia

Online Regis­tra­tion (LB 1035) (passed in 2014, signed in 2015)

Flor­ida

Online Regis­tra­tion (SB 228) (passed and signed)

Indi­ana

Optional Elec­tronic Regis­tra­tion (at agen­cies admin­is­ter­ing TANF and SNAP bene­fits) (SB 465) (passed and signed)

Montana

Disab­il­ity Access (HB 209) (passed and signed)

New Mexico

Online Regis­tra­tion (SB 643) (passed and signed)

Oklahoma

Online Regis­tra­tion and Optional Elec­tronic Regis­tra­tion (SB 313) (passed and signed)

Oregon

Auto­matic Regis­tra­tion (HB 2177) (passed and signed)

Utah

Expan­sion of Same Day Regis­tra­tion Pilot Project (HB 219) (passed and signed)

Pre-regis­tra­tion (HB 340) (passed and signed)

Texas

Voter ID (SB 983) (passed and signed)

Vermont

Elec­tion Day Regis­tra­tion (S 29) (passed and signed)

Virginia

Voter ID (HB 1653) (passed and signed)

Polling Place Stand­ards (SB 1062) (passed and signed)

Wyom­ing

Voting Rights Restor­a­tion (HB 15) (passed and signed)

 

Selec­ted Bills to Enhance Voter Access Defeated in 2015

Hawaii

Elec­tronic Regis­tra­tion (HB 401)

Kentucky

Online Regis­tra­tion (HB 214)

Virginia

Voting Rights Restor­a­tion (SJR 238)

Mary­land

Voting Rights Restor­a­tion (SB 340/HB 980) (vetoed)

Minnesota

Voting Rights Restor­a­tion (SF 878) (provi­sion removed from version of bill that passed)

Voting Rights Restor­a­tion, Pre-regis­tra­tion, Auto­matic Regis­tra­tion, Early Voting (SF 455) (provi­sions removed from version of bill that passed)

Oklahoma

Voter ID (SB 86), (HB 1511)

Wash­ing­ton

Pre-regis­tra­tion (HB 1294)

 

Selec­ted Bills to Enhance Voter Access Pending and Active in 2015

Cali­for­nia

Auto­matic Regis­tra­tion (AB 1461) (passed)

Iowa

Online Regis­tra­tion (SF 331) (passed Senate)

New York

Ballot Design (A 3389) (passed Assembly)

 

Also see our roundup of voting law changes in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Voting Rights Context

These voting law changes come amid a high-pitched battle over voting rights.

Since the 2010 elec­tion, 22 states have new laws making it harder to vote — ranging from photo ID require­ments to early voting cutbacks to regis­tra­tion restric­tions — and 17 states will have them in place for the first time in a pres­id­en­tial elec­tion in 2016. Those 17 states are: Alabama, Arizona, Geor­gia, Indi­ana, Kansas, Missis­sippi, Nebraska, New Hamp­shire, North Caro­lina, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Caro­lina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wiscon­sin.*

*Note: This list was updated to include Arizona in March 2016.

 

Click for inter­act­ive version.

There has also been some posit­ive momentum to improve voting. After long lines marred the 2012 elec­tion, 23 states plus the District of Columbia passed new legis­la­tion to improve access to the polls.

Click here for inter­act­ive version.