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Voting Rights in 2011: A Legislative Round-Up

As the 2012 election approaches, a massive crackdown on voting rights is unfolding – the most significant such assault in decades.  Millions of Americans risk disenfranchisement, blocked from casting ballots or having them count.  

Published: July 15, 2011

As the 2012 election approaches, a massive crackdown on voting rights is unfolding – the most significant such assault in decades.  Millions of Americans risk disenfranchisement, blocked from casting ballots or having them count.

The wave of new, restrictive legislation includes bills making voter registration drives extremely difficult and risky for volunteer groups, bills requiring voters to provide specific photo ID or citizenship documents that they may not have, bills cutting back on early and absentee voting, bills making it hard for students and active-duty members of the military to register to vote locally, and more.

Even though these bills will clearly affect citizens’ right to vote, there seems to be no pressing reason for the measures—in a piece of brutal satire that cited Brennan Center research, Stephen Colbert recently took weak claims about voter fraud head-on.

The Brennan Center has produced a number of publications dealing with these issues, including most recently The Cost of Voter ID Laws: What the Courts Say. This analysis outlines the wave of legislation and other changes that have swept through many states this year. We will also be publishing a fuller report and analysis in the coming days, accessible from this page.

Summary of State Legislation and Selected Executive Actions

Restricting the Right to Vote in 2011

Updated July 15, 2011

Photo ID Requirements for Voting

  • In this legislative session, at least 34 states introduced photo ID requirements for voting. (Three additional states introduced other voter ID legislation.)[1]
  • According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), at the beginning of 2011, 27 states already had non-photo voter ID laws going beyond the requirements of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).  (The other 23 and DC follow HAVA and require ID only from first-time voters who register by mail, and allow non-photo IDs.)  14 of these 27 considered legislation this year to require photo ID at the polls and make existing identification requirements more restrictive, and 14 did not.  An additional 20 states that did not have photo ID laws proposed such legislation this year.
    • Photo ID bills have already been signed into law in AlabamaKansasRhode Island, South CarolinaTennesseeTexas, and Wisconsin.  (Alabama, Texas, and South Carolina will need to obtain preclearance of their new laws from the U.S. Department of Justice or a three-judge court before implementation; Texas and South Carolina have already filed for preclearance.)  Note: the Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee bills offer an alternative mechanism for most voters without ID to cast a ballot that will count.
    • An active photo ID bill in Pennsylvania has passed through the chamber of origin.
    • Governors in MontanaMinnesotaMissouriNew Hampshire, and North Carolina vetoed photo ID bills that passed the legislatures. New Hampshire’s legislature is holding a special session on September 7 to try to override the Governor’s veto on this, and other, legislation.
    • constitutional amendment authorizing voter ID passed the Missouri legislature and will be on the November 2012 ballot.  (As noted, the accompanying bill requiring photo ID was vetoed by the governor.)
    • ballot measure requiring photo ID will be on the Mississippi ballot in November 2011; it was not initiated by the legislature.
    • Citizens in Massachusetts have begun the petition initiative process to get an ID provision on the ballot for 2012.


Proof of Citizenship Requirements for Registration or Voting

  • At least 10 states—Alabama (here and here), Colorado (and another bill related to Sec. of State powers), ConnecticutKansas (same as voter ID bill), Maine, NevadaOregon (pending), South Carolina (no further action this session—carries over), Tennessee, and Texas—introduced legislation that would require proof of citizenship to register or vote.
  • The laws in Alabama, Kansas, and Tennessee passed and were enacted. (Unlike the Alabama and Kansas laws, the Tennessee proof of citizenship requirement applies only to individuals flagged by state officials as potential non-citizens based on a database check.)
  • Previously, the only state to attempt to require proof of citizenship was Arizona.  That law has been enjoined by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which has recently heard that appeal en banc.

Restrictions on Voter Registration Drives

  • At least six (6) states—California (pending), FloridaIllinois (pending), MississippiNorth Carolina (pending), and Texas (various bills introduced: HB 1570, HB 2194, HB 2587, HB 2391, HB 2589, HB 3057, HB 3113, HB 3521, HB 3594)—all introduced legislation to regulate voter registration drives.  
  • The bills in Florida and Texas (HB 1570 and HB 2194 enacted) passed and have been signed into law.
  • The California and North Carolina bills limit groups’ ability to compensate employees based on the number of registrations collected. 
  • The Florida bill is extremely onerous and is described in significant part here. Due to five of its counties being protected under the Voting Rights Act Section 5, the law is subject to preclearance. Florida filed for preclearance with the Department of Justice where parts of the bill were precleared, and parts of the bill were withdrawn and filed in a D.C. District Court instead, to be heard in front of a three judge panel.
  • The Illinois bill reduces the time period for submitting completed voter registration forms to 2 days and prohibits groups from copying any information from voter registration forms (subject to criminal penalties).
  • The Mississippi bill (that failed) would have imposed a range of requirements on voter registration groups, including pre-registration, reporting, compensation rules, and a 10-day submission deadline.
  • The Texas bills that passed require voter registration drive workers and volunteers to go through mandatory training, require them to be qualified voters, and prohibit performance-based compensation.



Cutting Down Early Voting Periods

  • At least nine (9) states—FloridaGeorgia (HB 92 enacted; HB 138 and SB 192 introduced), MarylandNevadaNew MexicoNorth Carolina (pending), Ohio, Tennessee (various bills enacted: SB 772SB 923SB 922), and West Virginia (SB 581 and 391 enacted, HB 2857 introduced)— introduced bills to reduce their early voting periods this year. 
  • The bills in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, and West Virginia have been enacted.
  • Texas introduced a bill that would omit early voting locations from official notices of a general or special election. The measure did not pass.

Reducing Voter Registration Opportunities

  • Three states —MaineNew Hampshire, and Montana—saw the introduction of bills to eliminate election day registration.  In two states, North Carolina and Ohio, legislators introduced bills to eliminate same day registration during the early voting period. 
  • Maine’s bill was enacted.  EDR had been in place in Maine since 1973.
  • Ohio’s bill – eliminating what some had called “golden week,” the first seven days of absentee voting before a general election when the early voting period overlapped with the period before the voter registration deadline, and during which eligible citizens were able to register and vote on the same day – was also enacted.
  • Montana’s bill passed but was vetoed.
  • North Carolina’s bill is still pending
    • A bill that passed in Wisconsin (which also contains the voter ID requirements) increased the state’s residency requirement for registration from 10 days to 28 days of consecutive residency, and also moved the deadline for late registrants to register to the Friday before an election from the day before an election.
    • Florida passed a law that eliminates the opportunity for registrants who move across counties to change their registration addresses and vote a regular ballot at the polls. Ohio enacted a bill that eliminates this form of portable voter registration.

Disenfranchising People with Past Felony Convictions

  • This session, both Iowa and Florida rescinded prior gubernatorial actions that restored voting rights of people out of prison. (In Florida, 150,000 citizens got their rights restored until the process was halted; now, up to one million Florida taxpayers, disproportionately African-American men, are all but permanently disenfranchised.) 


[1] These 34 states are: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The three additional states are Arizona, Idaho, and Washington.