2016 Voting Analysis: Automatic Registration Takes Off, But New Restrictions Still Hurt Voters

April 18, 2016

As voters head to the polls on Tuesday, all eyes will once again be on voting access after long lines and confusion in the Arizona and Wisconsin primaries.

Amid this high-profile election season, there is a strong drive to improve rather than restrict voting access in the states, but many Americans will still face obstacles at the polls this year, according to a 2016 voting analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law.

Here are the two key findings:

1. Automatic voter registration takes off across the country. Legislators in West Virginia and Vermont both recently passed groundbreaking bills with strong bipartisan support. This builds off of earlier successes in Oregon and California, which passed the reform in 2015. Oregon’s law has quadrupled registration rates since going into effect in January. Overall, 28 states plus the District of Columbia have considered automatic voter registration this year.  

2. States are passing fewer laws to restrict voting rights in 2016, but nonetheless restrictions in 17 states will be on the books for the first time in a presidential election this year. Voter ID bills are still the most common type of restriction being introduced. But the large number of states with restrictions already in place may account for the lack of new bills actually being passed. Restrictions in most of the 17 states passed before 2016.

“In an election year that’s commanding voters’ attention, it’s exciting to see legislators from both parties pass automatic registration, a common-sense reform to make voting more accessible for everyone,” said Adam Gitlin, counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “But the long lines we’ve seen in some primaries are a product of new voting restrictions, and just a glimpse of what could happen in November, when turnout is even higher. Lawmakers should strive to pass measures that encourage voters to participate, not keep them away.”

In the 2016 legislative session, there have been at least:

  • 422 bills to enhance voting access introduced or carried over in 41 states, plus the District of Columbia
    • Automatic voter registration was the most common type of legislation introduced
       
  • 77 bills to restrict access to registration and voting introduced or carried over from the prior session in 28 states.
    • Voter ID bills are the most common type of restrictive legislation introduced

Click here for a full list of states and maps.

See all of the Brennan Center’s Election 2016 resources.