State legislatures across the country are hard at work expanding the right to vote. Already, more than 200 bills to improve voting access have been introduced in 45 states in 2013. Friday in Denver, Gov. John Hickenlooper made Colorado the latest to expand rights, joining Maryland, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Virginia, and West Virginia. More legislation is awaiting signature in Florida. To be sure, some states continue to push needless restrictions on the ability of citizens to participate in elections, and voters and their advocates must remain vigilant against any such efforts. Still, the trend is unmistakable: After years of backsliding, states are embracing free, fair, and accessible elections. In many cases, the bills have enjoyed broad bipartisan support, another encouraging trend. Legislators are expanding access to the ballot in a variety of ways, from reducing the burden of voter identification requirements, to modernizing voter registration, to expanding early voting.
Colorado provides a great example. The Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act includes a number of provisions that would make it easier to register and vote. With the governor’s signature Friday, Colorado is now the 11th state to enact Election-Day registration, which leads to higher registration rates and turnout. The bill institutes a system of portable registration, so that when voters move they can still cast a ballot which will count. It also establishes a bipartisan election modernization task force, paving the way for future reforms. Further, the bill eliminates the problematic “inactive – failed to vote” status that led to voters being denied ballots in certain elections simply because they had failed to vote a single time.
The Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act is truly a comprehensive election reform bill. And the most promising development is the bipartisan way it was conceived. The Colorado County Clerks Association — the officials who actually run elections, and come from both political parties — worked with lawmakers, community groups, and election officials to hammer out a compromise that expands voting access and works for election administrators as well.