New Analysis: Trends Shift Sharply to Expand Voting Access

February 6, 2014

Hundreds of bills to improve access to the polls have been introduced leading up to the 2014 election, in sharp contrast to the spate of restrictive laws introduced before 2012, according to a new analysis issued today by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

In 2014, 190 bills to expand voting access have been introduced in 31 states, compared to 49 restrictive measures in 19 states, the new analysis found. This builds on momentum from 2013, when 46 states introduced 237 bills to improve voting, compared to 33 states introducing 92 restrictive measures. Ten states ultimately passed 13 bills to expand access, compared to eight states passing nine restrictive laws.

The trend marks an abrupt reversal from before the 2012 election, when 41 states introduced 180 restrictive voting bills. Overall, 19 states passed 27 measures making it harder to vote.

The flurry of state laws comes on the heels of two national bipartisan breakthroughs to improve voting access, both of which President Obama highlighted in his State of the Union address.

Last month, Republicans and Democrats introduced a new bill in Congress to strengthen the Voting Rights Act. Shortly afterward, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration — co-chaired by the top lawyers from the Obama and Romney campaigns — issued a report recommending reforms to shorten long lines at the polls, expand early voting, and modernize registration. Congress will hear more about the panel's proposal at a hearing next Wednesday.

“For years, partisans have moved swiftly to restrict the right to vote. Now, given new momentum, there is a key opportunity to transform voting in America,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “We will continue to monitor efforts that make it harder to vote. But it is encouraging to see so many important leaders embrace the need to fix voting.”

Despite the growing momentum, other state legislators continue to push laws that would make it harder to vote, and several restrictive bills are expected to pass, according to the analysis. Further, one reason fewer restrictive bills have been introduced is because many have already passed in previous legislative cycles.

For more information, please read this recent Atlantic op-ed by Brennan Center Democracy Program Director Wendy Weiser and this Daily Beast op-ed by Center President Michael Waldman.

To schedule an interview with a Brennan Center expert, please contact Erik Opsal at 646-292-8356 or