Every big election year, horror stories surface around the South and the rest of the country of voters having to wait for hours to cast their ballots. In 2008, reports came out of Georgia of voters having to stand in line for up to 12 hours to vote. In 2012, the battleground state of Florida garnered national headlines with accounts of voters waiting six hours at the polls. In 2013, President Obama assembled a 10-member bipartisan commission to look into the experiences of voters in the previous year’s elections and to propose solutions to help streamline the voting process. The commission found that the Florida and Georgia experiences weren’t isolated: More than 10 million people had to wait more than half an hour to vote in 2012. Arguing that “no citizen should have to wait in line for more than 30 minutes to vote,” the group outlined a series of ways election officials could make voting easier, saying that “jurisdictions can solve the problem of long lines through a combination of planning … and the efficient allocation of resources.” Yet despite a flurry of election law bills at the state level, many states have failed to act on the commission’s proposals and make improvements to ensure long wait times don’t taint the 2014 mid-term elections.
American election reform, where states look to either impede or assist people’s ability to influence government with their vote. Ballots in at least five states — Connecticut, Montana, Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas — focus on some kind of election reform. Most states have made voting harder in the past decade by enacting voter ID laws, ostensibly to guard against voter impersonation, a problem that the public believes to be more widespread than the evidence suggests. For example, a five-year crackdown by the Justice Department under President George W. Bush resulted in only 86 people being found guilty of voter fraud across all 50 states, according to a 2007 investigation by The New York Times. In part because many of these voter ID laws have already passed, the majority of the legislative activity in 2014 actually focused on making voting more convenient. … Based on interviews with state and local election officials in states with early voting, the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School argues that early voting brings a host of benefits, including shorter lines and less administrative burden on election day. Nonetheless, eight states have cut back on early voting since 2010. One recent example is North Carolina, where the legislature decided to cut a week of early voting, eliminate same-day registration during early voting and reduce the hours of early voting on the final Saturday before election day.
Secretary of State Jon Husted wants a court to throw out his own directive. Under an order to county elections boards Husted issued on Friday, Ohioans could start voting a week earlier than he’d planned and cast a ballot during the two weekends before Election Day. But at the same time, the Republican is pushing for a higher court to overturn the lower-court ruling that added the days of early voting and eliminate them. Battling in court over when Ohioans can vote has become almost a biennial ritual, seemingly taking place every time the state has a gubernatorial or presidential election. This year, the dispute involves whether voters can start casting ballots on Sept. 30 or Oct. 7, and whether additional hours will be allowed on weekends and evenings.
In an era of early voting, no-fault absentee ballots and all-mail elections, Election Day is something of a misnomer. Candidates and their supporters now drive their voters to the polls for days, weeks, sometimes more than a month. And it’s already kicked off: 379 voters in North Carolina have requested and returned absentee ballots from state elections officials. More states join in this week. Somewhere in Minnesota this Friday, a voter will cast the first ballot of that state’s midterm election. The following day, voters in Maine, New Jersey, South Dakota and Vermont will be able to go to local elections offices and do their civic duty, too. Before the month is out, voters in Iowa and Wyoming will start casting their ballots, too.
A Missouri appeals court panel rewrote the ballot summary Monday for an early voting proposal, ruling that the wording approved by lawmakers was misleading because it failed to mention the measure is contingent upon funding. A proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot will ask Missouri voters whether to authorize a no-excuses-needed early voting period for future general elections. The six-day voting period would be limited to business hours on weekdays. In its ruling Monday, a panel of the Western District appeals court said the summary prepared by the General Assembly failed to note the early voting period would occur only if the legislature and the governor provide funding for it.
Ohio’s elections chief set a longer early voting schedule ahead of the fall election, while vowing Monday to continue appealing a federal judge’s ruling that led to the new times in the swing state. In a Sept. 4 decision, U.S. District Judge Peter Economus blocked an Ohio law trimming early voting and ordered Secretary of State Jon Husted to set an expanded schedule that includes a Sept. 30 start to early voting instead of Oct. 7. The judge also barred Husted from preventing local elections boards from adopting additional early voting hours beyond his order. Husted said that could create a “patchwork” of rules across the state.
Here in the Senate battleground of Colorado, the latest front in the voting wars is the mailbox. In other states, that fight has generally centered on laws that opponents say restrict voter access – measures, largely passed by Republican legislatures, that require voter identification or reduce the number of days for early voting. But Colorado is operating under a new system designed to do the opposite: For the first time this year, every registered voter will get a ballot delivered to them through the mail, weeks before Nov. 4. The 2014 midterm elections are the first statewide contests since the Democratic-controlled Colorado legislature, voted last year to make it easier to cast a ballot. The law allows residents who neglect to register in advance to sign up on Election Day itself. And it instituted all-mail elections, with ballots going out statewide 22 days before Election Day. So Election Day, in essence, has officially become Election Month – a development that has spurred strategists on both sides to craft the biggest midterm turnout operations in state history, a high-stakes race to find and identify every possible voter.
Ohio officials asked a federal judge yesterday to hold off from immediately forcing the state to comply with his ruling last week that expands early voting this fall. U.S. District Judge Peter C. Economus temporarily blocked an Ohio law that trims early voting, and he ordered the state’s elections chief to set an expanded voting schedule. Early voting would start on Sept. 30 instead of Oct. 7. Economus also barred Secretary of State Jon Husted from preventing local election boards from adopting early-voting hours beyond his order.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted says eliminating “Golden Week” is necessary to ensure only Ohioans are voting in state elections. While speaking with editors for Gannett Ohio on Friday, the Republican incumbent said eliminating days when people can register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day is critical to deterring people from other states from coming to Ohio and participating in its elections. Previously, Ohio allowed early voting 35 days before an election — giving people a five-day Golden Week in which they could register and cast a ballot on the same day. The Ohio Legislature reduced early voting to 28 days before an election, eliminating this time. However, this past week U.S. District Judge Peter Economus blocked that law and restored the 35-day voting schedule. State officials, including Husted, are appealing that decision.
The Supreme Court’s decision last year eliminating a barrier against voting procedure changes in mostly Southern states came with a caveat: Chief Justice John Roberts warned that the Voting Rights Act still included a “permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting.” Now federal courts from Texas to Wisconsin are on the verge of deciding whether Roberts was right — or if what remains of the 1965 law after the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling is less able to stop states from making it harder to vote. An appeals court hearing Friday in the Wisconsin case, following a two-week trial in a Texas district court, might point the way back to the Supreme Court. Cases in North Carolina and Ohio also could be headed that way. Those states and others have made voting more difficult in recent years to combat what they claim are instances of voter fraud. Texas imposed strict new photo identification rules hours after the Supreme Court ruling. North Carolina cut back on early voting, same-day registration and provisional balloting. They were among 15 states freed in whole or in part from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states with a history of discrimination to clear any changes with the Justice Department. The high court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder struck down the list of states dating back a half century.