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Expert Brief

Voting Laws Roundup 2018

In 2018, changes to voting laws are again poised to play a major role in state legislative agendas.

  • Brennan Center for Justice
Published: April 2, 2018

[Down­load a PDF of this docu­ment here.]

Legis­lat­ive sessions have either commenced or concluded in every state that is meet­ing this year, except North Caro­lina, and the most notable takeaway of this session so far is the remark­able momentum around auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion, or AVR. What follows is the Bren­nan Center’s analysis of state legis­lat­ive activ­ity as of April 2, 2018. [1]

In March, the New Jersey Senate passed an AVR bill out of commit­tee with a bipar­tisan vote. In the same month, Wash­ing­ton’s governor signed AVR into law and the Mary­land Legis­lature passed an AVR bill and sent it to the state’s governor. In addi­tion, the Massachu­setts House has passed an AVR bill out of commit­tee. The Utah Senate passed an AVR bill this year, but it died in the House.

Broadly speak­ing, more pro-voter reforms are moving than anti-voter restric­tions. Wash­ing­ton state has been a signi­fic­ant locus of pro-voter reform this year: in addi­tion to AVR, the Legis­lature passed – and the governor signed – a pack­age of reforms, includ­ing elec­tion day regis­tra­tion, pre-regis­tra­tion for 16– and 17-year-olds, and a state-level Voting Rights Act. Cali­for­nia and Utah have also enacted laws improv­ing voter access. In total, as of April 2 – when we at the Bren­nan Center completed our latest round of legis­lat­ive bill track­ing – at least 12 states have advanced at least 20 bills expand­ing voting access through at least one state legis­lat­ive cham­ber. [2]

Never­the­less, efforts to restrict access to the fran­chise persist. At least five states have advanced at least six bills restrict­ing voting access through at least one cham­ber.[3] Notably, the New Hamp­shire Legis­lature has passed a bill target­ing student voting. In addi­tion, the Geor­gia Senate passed a pair of bills cutting voting hours in Atlanta, one of which also would have restric­ted early voting options on week­ends. But those bills were rejec­ted by the state Assembly.

Finally, states have taken only tent­at­ive steps to address signi­fic­ant elec­tion secur­ity issues ahead of the 2018 elec­tions. So far this year, at least six states have advanced at least eight bills related to elec­tion secur­ity through at least one cham­ber. [4] At the federal level, Congress recently appro­pri­ated $380 million to help states upgrade their voting systems. This is a neces­sary, but far from suffi­cient, step toward secur­ing our voting systems.

Over­view of Expans­ive Bills

As of April 2, at least 41 states and Wash­ing­ton D.C. have intro­duced or carried over at least 514 bills expand­ing voting access.

Pro-voter reforms that have moved thus far this year include:

  • Bills That Have Been Signed (Three States).
    • Wash­ing­ton state has enacted: (1) a law imple­ment­ing auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion, (2) a law imple­ment­ing elec­tion day regis­tra­tion, (3) a law imple­ment­ing pre-regis­tra­tion for 16– and 17-year-olds, and (4) a state-level Voting Rights Act that grants citizens the right to chal­lenge elect­oral systems that deny race, color, or language minor­ity groups an equal oppor­tun­ity to elect candid­ates of their choos­ing.
    • Cali­for­nia has enacted a law imple­ment­ing pre-regis­tra­tion through its AVR system.
    • Utah has enacted (1) a law that extends regis­tra­tion dead­lines and (2) a law that may encour­age certain counties to offer early voting oppor­tun­it­ies.
       
  • Bills Passed by the Legis­lature (Three States).
    • The Mary­land Legis­lature has passed (1) a bill imple­ment­ing auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion and (2) a consti­tu­tional amend­ment that would permit the Legis­lature to imple­ment elec­tion day regis­tra­tion. If ulti­mately enacted, the amend­ment will go to the voters in a Novem­ber refer­en­dum.
    • The South Dakota Legis­lature has passed a bill facil­it­at­ing the addi­tion of regis­tra­tion loca­tions.
    • The Wiscon­sin Legis­lature has passed a bill permit­ting the use of tribal iden­ti­fic­a­tion to register to vote.
       
  • Bills Passed by One Legis­lat­ive Cham­ber (Eight States).
    • The Indi­ana Senate has passed a bill that would imple­ment no-excuse absentee voting.
    • The Kansas Senate has passed a bill improv­ing access for voters with disab­il­it­ies.
    • The Mary­land House and Senate have each passed separ­ate bills that would imple­ment no-excuse absentee voting in muni­cipal elec­tions.
    • The Michigan Senate has passed a bill that would permit applic­ants to register to vote online through the secret­ary of state’s website.
    • The New York Assembly has passed a bill extend­ing the dead­line for receipt of absentee ballot applic­a­tions.
    • The Oklahoma Senate has approved a bill facil­it­at­ing oppor­tun­it­ies for early in-person voting.
    • The Pennsylvania Senate has passed a bill easing access to absentee ballots for voters with disab­il­it­ies.
    • The Wiscon­sin House has approved a bill expand­ing access for milit­ary voters.

Over­view of Restrict­ive Bills

As of April 2, 2018, at least 24 states have intro­duced or carried over at least 70 bills restrict­ing voting access.

No states have enacted restrict­ive laws yet this year, but restrict­ive legis­la­tion is still advan­cing.

  • Bills Passed by the Legis­lature (Two States).
    • The Indi­ana Legis­lature has approved a list main­ten­ance bill that fails to fix the prob­lems with its current list main­ten­ance prac­tices (though as we previ­ously observed in foot­note 3, this bill presents an unusual case).
    • The New Hamp­shire Legis­lature has passed a bill that appears to be direc­ted at deter­ring student voting.
       
  • Bills Passed by One Legis­lat­ive Cham­ber (Four States).
    • The Kentucky House has passed a bill restrict­ing access to absentee voting.
    • The New Hamp­shire House has passed a bill that appears to be direc­ted at deter­ring student voting.
    • The Ohio Senate has passed a bill redu­cing the minimum required number of precinct offi­cials in certain circum­stances.
    • The Oklahoma House has passed a bill author­iz­ing the state Elec­tion Board to compare the state voter regis­tra­tion data­base to other state and federal data­bases and requir­ing the Board to refer any indi­vidu­als on the voter rolls iden­ti­fied as poten­tial non-citizens to the district attor­ney.

Over­view of Elec­tion Secur­ity Bills

As of April 2, 2018, at least 26 states have intro­duced or carried over at least 79 bills related to elec­tion secur­ity. Note that this count does not include appro­pri­ations bills or admin­is­trat­ive action, nor is the Bren­nan Center opin­ing on the impact or poten­tial effic­acy of these bills in this docu­ment.

Elec­tion secur­ity bills that have moved thus far this year include:

  • Bills That Have Been Signed (Three States).
    • Indi­ana has enacted (1) a law contain­ing a vari­ety of provi­sions related to main­tain­ing voting equip­ment; updat­ing the permiss­ible error rate for voting systems to reflect current federal stand­ards; and requir­ing county elec­tion boards to notify the Secret­ary of State within 48 hours of certain secur­ity viol­a­tions, and (2) a law regard­ing post-elec­tion recon­cili­ation of vote counts.
    • South Dakota has enacted a law prohib­it­ing voting equip­ment from being connec­ted to the Inter­net and prohib­it­ing ballot mark­ing devices from saving or tabu­lat­ing votes.
    • Wash­ing­ton has enacted a law expand­ing the types of post-elec­tion audits elec­tion offi­cials may run on direct record­ing elec­tronic or in-person ballot mark­ing systems to include random checks of ballot count­ing equip­ment, risk-limit­ing audits, and elec­tronic audits of ballot count­ing equip­ment.
       
  • Bills Passed by One Legis­lat­ive Cham­ber (Three States).
    • The Mary­land House has passed (1) a bill requir­ing post-elec­tion, manual audits of voter-veri­fi­able paper records for general elec­tions (and author­iz­ing such audits for primary elec­tions) and (2) a bill requir­ing the state elec­tion admin­is­trator to notify the governor and other elec­ted offi­cials and agen­cies, within seven days, of secur­ity viol­a­tions involving state elec­tions systems.
    • The Michigan House has passed a bill requir­ing that elec­tronic voting systems use paper ballots for tabu­lat­ing purposes.
    • The Missouri House has passed a bill that begin­ning Janu­ary 1, 2019 bans future purchase of direct record­ing elec­tronic voting machines and requires that all newly purchased elec­tronic voting systems read paper ballots that voters have marked by hand or, in the case of disabled voters who need assist­ance, from paper ballots that have been marked by paper-ballot mark­ing devices designed to assist disabled voters.

Appen­dices list­ing the bills refer­enced in this analysis can be found here.


[i] This docu­ment tracks certain voting legis­la­tion making it easier or harder to register or vote, as well as certain legis­la­tion related to elec­tion secur­ity. Note that there are several types of elec­tion- and voting-related legis­la­tion that we do not track, includ­ing: redis­trict­ing, ballot design, enfran­chise­ment of people under 18 or non-citizens, or public or indi­vidual notice require­ments. The docu­ment also does not track admin­is­trat­ive changes that could expand or restrict access.

[ii] Cali­for­nia, Indi­ana, Kansas, Mary­land, Michigan, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Wash­ing­ton, Wiscon­sin. This count – and the counts of restrict­ive and elec­tion secur­ity bills passed through one cham­ber – does not include bills that passed through one cham­ber last year and carried over, or bills that passed through one cham­ber and subsequently failed.

[iii] Indi­ana, Kentucky, New Hamp­shire, Ohio, Oklahoma. Indi­ana’s current law viol­ates the National Voter Regis­tra­tion Act of 1993. This Indi­ana bill intro­duces some protec­tions against improper purges, but it does not address Indi­ana’s unlaw­ful fail­ure to give notice to voters prior to purging them.

[iv] Indi­ana, Mary­land, Michigan, Missouri, South Dakota, Wash­ing­ton.