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After 2008 Election, Some States Want to Make Voting Easier; Others Determined to Make it Harder

Cross-posted at Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters

Weekly Voting Rights News Update

By Erin Ferns

Following an historic turnout in the 2008 election comes a flurry of election reform agendas from both sides of the battle over voting rights. Since November 4, some state lawmakers have seized on the success of early voting and Election Day Registration (EDR) as models for facilitating voter registration, while others appear to have been threatened by the heightened turnout and inspired to introduce restrictive voter ID and proof-of-citizenship bills for the 2009 legislative session.

Following what appears to be significant progress this year in closing participation gaps among historically underrepresented young and minority voters, we review Election Day stories in states with voter ID and EDR laws, and preview next year's legislative battle for election reform.

Election Day Registration

In North Carolina, lawmakers report being “proud” of the implementation of the state's 2007 Same Day Registration law, which permits early voters to register and vote at established “One-Stop” voting sites, according to the Raleigh News and Observer. In the 2008 primary and presidential elections, the law seemed to boost voter registration while cutting the use of provisional ballots by more than half, compared to figures from the 2004 election. On average, EDR states tend to outperform non-EDR states in election outcome by a minimum of 10 percentage points, according to public policy group, Demos.

“State Rep. Paul Luebke said he expects other states to model North Carolina's early voting system,” according to the report. “The only change he would suggest for the next elections would be to standardize the hours, encouraging local boards of elections to stay open longer in early voting.”

Despite the smooth success of Same Day Registration at early voting sites in North Carolina and other states,Republican lawmakers in Ohio are pushing to end the state's new mandate to allow voters to register during the early voting period.

State Republicans recently announced that they would file legislation to move the voter registration deadline to 65 days before Election Day, according to an Associated Press report. They hope to pass the bill before the 2008 session ends “and a new, Democratic-controlled House takes over in January.”

However, election law expert Dan Tokaji said the bill will likely run into opposition as “federal law clearly prohibits states from having registration deadlines earlier than 30 days before an election.”

Before the Nov. 4 election, the “Republican Party sued Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to stop the same-day window…but state and federal courts upheld it.”

Brunner has planned an election summit in December to review the elections process and will likely not adhere to any changes before the new legislature takes over, according to the AP report.

Meanwhile, states like West Virginia are considering implementing Election Day Registration, which currently exists in about eight other states in its traditional form whereby eligible citizens may show up at their polling place on Election Day, register to vote and cast a ballot. First implemented in Maine in 1973, EDR is also practiced in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire and Wyoming. Other states, like North Carolina, Ohio and Connecticut permit variations of the option to register and vote at the same time, either during an early voting period, or–in the case of Connecticut–on a special ballot that only allows them to vote for the president.

“I lost my card, and I didn't think I could do it too close to the time,” said one West Virginia voter and supporter of an EDR law, according to Parksburg, W. Va. News station, WTAP. “So, if it was that way, I could have voted.”

However, Woods County clerk, Jamie Six, who “studied the idea for the state clerk's association” is against the implementation of EDR.

“The poll workers have a long and very busy day already,” Six said. “And to add this to their plate to take care of on election day, we don't feel it would be fair.”

While EDR in the state is unlikely, Six says it is possible to allow voters to register during the early voting period. “A committee of the West Virginia Legislature is to hear from Six on Monday,” according to WTAP.

In the 2008 session, about 19 states introduced EDR legislation. Bills are pending in four states: Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio. None of these bills have moved since this summer.

At least two states, Texas and Montana, which currently practices EDR, have pre-filed several bills relating to EDR for the 2009 session.  

Voter ID

While some states were facilitating voter registration and voting this year, Indiana – home of the country's strictest voter ID law – reportedly turned some of its young voters away without casting a regular ballot, and even encouraged poll workers in other states to mandate voter ID when no such law existed in the first place.

Despite being properly registered and equipped with out-of-state and student ID, the young voters were only allowed to vote provisionally on Nov. 4, leaving some discouraged and others in tears, according to a letter to the Indianapolis Star by Leon Riley, an election official at Butler University's Hinkle Fieldhouse precinct.

“The Indiana voter ID law amounted to disenfranchisement for a number of young, well-informed voters, as well as some voters who have various limitations of resources, transportation and problem-solving ingenuity. Is this what we want for some of our brightest and best, or for some who need help along the way? In fairness, this unnecessary barrier must be abolished,” wrote Riley.

The day before the election, an emergency motion was filed to stop enforcement of the voter ID law based on constitutional violations. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago denied the motion a week later without citing any reasons why, according to the Indiana Lawyer.

With the controversy over the U.S. Supreme Court's upholding of Indiana's voter ID law, and a flurry of voter registration fraud allegations in the weeks before the election, poll workers in some states appeared confused over their own states' laws. Voters in Mecklenburg County, Virgina, for example, complained that poll workers illegally asked them to provide proof of identification, including photo ID, according to the Smith Hill Enterprise. There were also reports of misleading signs outside of polling places that indicated photo ID was required.

The misinformation amounted to a misinterpretation of the Help America Vote Act, which required voters who registered by mail after 2003 to provide proof of ID.

“The voter being asked to present a photo ID is not the preferred language to use,” said Jessica Lane of the State Board of Elections. The preferred language, she said, is to ask for “a form of ID.”

Whatever the intention, voters were set back after waiting hours in long lines,  leaving to get their IDs, or possibly, not return at all, according to the Enterprise.

“I am registered with neither party. I am a devout independent with libertarian leanings, but I believe in the constitution and the fact that everyone needs to get out and vote,” wrote one concerned voter. “Was anyone denied the right to vote? If they did not have a photo ID and saw the sign, did they say 'Oops. I guess I can't vote' and leave?”.

For voter ID advocates, preventing the extremely rare crime of individual voter fraud is worth the risk of compromising a voter's right to cast a ballot. However, preventing many eligible voters from casting a ballot just to prevent a rare crime hardly seems on par with democracy. A four year investigation by the federal government found only 24 instances of voter fraud out of more than 214 million votes cast. Several studies have found that a number of already under-represented Americans – primarily young, elderly, minority and poor – would have a difficult time meeting the requirements. These studies include a Brennan Center survey that found 21 million Americans were without the required identification; a University of Washington study that found about a quarter of Indiana's young, African-American and low income voting-age populations lack the necessary ID; and a University of Georgia study found the state's Latino and Black voters were twice as likely not to posses required ID compared to White voters.

Yet despite the lack of evidence of voter fraud, and a well known, recent history of young and elderly voters missing out on the democratic process in Indiana (including Indiana nuns and Notre Dame University students who were turned away in the 2008 primaries) lawmakers in states like Oklahoma and Texas are hoping to make voter ID a reality in 2009.

While acknowledging that Oklahoma Speaker of the House Chris Benge “and the others pushing for a voter ID system have a certain level of common sense on their side (one idea is to offer free ID with their plan), Wayne Greene of the Tulsa World dismisses the argument that if people are required to show photo ID to cash a check, they should be required to show ID when they vote. Greene points out that there is plenty of evidence of people attempting to cash fraudulent checks, but no evidence of people attempting to cast fraudulent votes in Oklahoma.

“Benge told me he didn't have any examples of fraudulent voting to justify what sounds like a pretty expensive free ID system,” Greene says. The state, which introduced and failed seven voter ID bills this year, will convene for the 2009-2010 session next February.

Immediately after Election Day, lawmakers in Texas – where there was a serious voter ID battle during the 2007 session – pre-filed a few bills requiring voter ID as well as proof-of-citizenship at registration.
Supporters of voter ID hope to have it in effect by the next gubernatorial election, according to local publication, Athens Daily Review.

In total this year, 25 states introduced voter ID bills, and bills are still pending in four states: Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Track these and other election-related bills by visiting

After this presidential election's phenomenal turnout that showed the American electorate is finally closer to representing all of its citizens, lawmakers should recognize that voters take this fundamental right seriously. The passage of laws that help facilitate that right are far more conducive to a fair and healthy democracy than the passage of those that prevent some citizens from voting at all.


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In Other News:

More minorities voted this year, but white turnout dropped – McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON — Barack Obama's 8.5 million-vote margin over John McCain was fueled by a more than 20 percent surge in minority voting, a new analysis of exit polling data suggests.

Minnesota group asks feds to investigate problems with state's voter rolls – Associated Press
ST. PAUL (AP) – A group opposed to Minnesota's same-day voter registration law has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate problems it suspects with the state's voter rolls.

Woman seeks limits on mentally disabled voters – Associated Press
GRINNELL – A Deep River woman wants to change a[n Iowa] state law to require that mentally disabled voters be supervised when they cast a ballot.

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