While it may feel like it has been going on forever, the 2016 election is one year from now. The presidency is at stake, of course. Control of the Senate, of state legislatures, and even (theoretically) of the House of Representatives is up in the air. But in basic ways, the very integrity of our electoral system is on the ballot, too, next year. Alarmingly, we don’t even know the basic rules that will be in place — and there is more in flux than in any recent presidential year. One other thing is certain, though: Voters are angry about the state of our democracy. And this is a critical time to yell about it. Start with the vote. We all know that Republican-controlled states passed dozens of new laws since 2011 to make it harder for many Americans to cast a ballot. Hardest hit: the poor, minorities, students, the elderly. These laws often have been delayed or tangled up in court. But 15 states will have new restrictions in effect for the first time in a high-turnout national election. And it is the first presidential election since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, the nation’s most effective civil rights law.
In many ways, this is a lawmaking moment. The Supreme Court could weigh in before the election to make clear just how much courts will protect the most sacred of democratic rights.
Possibly the justices will hear a case about the Texas voter ID law. Federal courts have already found the state’s harsh new requirement was deliberately racially discriminatory. It could come from North Carolina, where a judge has yet to rule on the state’s sweeping anti-voter law. Or Alabama, which is shutting down government offices in black communities that provide voter ID.
At the same time, new voting reforms spreading across the country could make it easier for many to vote. California and Oregon have enacted automatic registration of voters at the state DMVs, a move that could add millions to the rolls in just those states. Other states are moving forward as well. We could see the emergence of a two-tier electoral system, with some states vigorously making it harder to vote, while others finally modernize their systems.