Civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King III, are amping up the pressure on President Obama and the 2016 White House contenders to tackle low voter turnout by overhauling the rules governing the nation’s elections. The advocates are marking Thursday’s 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) with a rally on the National Mall calling for new efforts to knock down what they consider to be barriers to the polls. The activists want lawmakers to consider online registration and an expansion of the voting window to include a weekend, which they argue would make it easier for people to cast their ballots. Behind King and Andrew Young, the former United Nations ambassador and civil rights activist who now heads the voting rights group Why Tuesday?, the activists have challenged each of the 2016 presidential candidates to outline their ideas for addressing the low voter turnout that’s plagued recent elections — a request that came with an unveiled threat to call out those who ignore the plea.
The number of military and overseas voters who have downloaded Federal Post Card Applications from the DoD website is down by more than half compared the 2010 midterm elections, Defense Department officials said. But that’s not necessarily an indication that voter turnout among the military and overseas absentee voter population will be low, officials said. For one thing, the number of troops deployed has decreased, which reduces the number of absentee voters. Other factors are in play as well. In the past, the rate of military voter registration and election participation has been higher than in the general population, noted Matt Boehmer, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program.
At a time when many states are making it harder to vote, 16 states have provided some good news over the last year by deciding to go in the opposite direction. In various ways, they have expanded access to the polls, allowing more people to register or to vote more conveniently. The list, compiled by the Brennan Center for Justice, includes these states:
• Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Virginia and West Virginia. They created online registration systems, a big improvement over unreliable and inconvenient paper systems.
• Colorado and Louisiana. They will allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister when they apply for a driver’s license. Colorado also added Election Day registration, and it is encouraging mail-in voting without an absentee excuse.
• Maryland. It will allow same-day registration during early voting, which was expanded from six to eight days.
• Delaware. It will allow most felons to vote immediately after completing their sentences.
A campaign to persuade British expats to vote in the European and local elections fell well short of its target, according to the Electoral Commission. An estimated 5.5 million Britons live overseas, but only a fraction – around 20,000 – were registered to vote in the UK as of February this year. The commission ran a campaign in the weeks before the elections on May 22 to encourage 25,000 more of them to register. However, only 7,079 did so – less than a third of the number hoped for. The Electoral Commission’s pre-ballot campaign involved advertisements on expat radio stations, and collaborations with the Foreign Office, groups such as Votes for Expat Brits, and political parties’ overseas networks. But in a report reflecting on the campaign, the commission disclosed that, although the number of registration forms downloaded from its website by Britons overseas was higher than for the previous European elections, it “fell well short” of its target. “Although we were disappointed not to hit our target we recognise that expatriates at these elections may have chosen to register to vote in their EU countries of residence,” said the report.
India: Citizen surge: Election Commission ensures that low voting percentages are a thing of the past | The Week
Even before the results are announced, the latest Assembly elections have thrown up a pleasant surprise. The voting percentages in all the states have been extraordinary. Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, notorious for low turnouts, recorded 74.5 per cent and 71 per cent, respectively. Chhattisgarh defied threats from Maoists to register an impressive 77 per cent, the highest ever for the state. Delhi, too, registered its best-ever voting performance at 66 per cent. Suddenly, low voting percentages are becoming a thing of the past and the Indian voters appear to be more involved and informed. The most important reason behind this surge is the Election Commission’s aggressive campaign to enrol new voters, especially women and the youth. The systematic voters’ education and electoral participation (SVEEP) wing of the commission, opened in 2009, has been tasked with expanding the registration of eligible voters, addressing gender gaps and ensuring more participation of the youth. “The programme has been undertaken across the country and the increase in turnout has varied from around 10 per cent in lower turnout states to 2-3 per cent in traditionally high turnout states,” said Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath. For the first time, the commission deployed ‘awareness observers’ in these elections. In all, 47 of them were put on the job in the five states for two weeks before the elections to motivate voters.
States are gearing up for another battle over ballot access, and Florida, a key swing state, could again find itself in the middle. Florida’s next legislative session could be marked by fights over absentee ballots, online registration and early voting sites. Earlier this year, state lawmakers eased some voting restrictions enacted in 2011. Those restrictions, including a reduction in early voting days, had helped snuff out voter registration drives and contributed to lines as long as seven hours on Election Day in 2012. Now, a key Democrat in Florida’s House of Representatives wants the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature to go further by making it easier for residents to register and vote.
Utah’s Republican Party approved some changes to the state’s system for electing candidates in an effort to stave off an initiative that seeks to replace it. GOP leaders took the action at a special meeting in Fillmore on Saturday, the same day a petition drive began to replace the current caucus and convention nominating system with direct primaries. Republican leaders said the changes will make it easier for more people to participate in neighborhood caucuses to ensure results represent the will of the people. Among other things, they decided to allow absentee voting for people unable to attend evening caucuses and early online registration to speed up the check-in process.
Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale hopes to increase voter turnout by allowing online registration and expanding on the use of all-mail ballots in special elections. Gale visited McCook Wednesday and said he intended to seek legislative approval in the coming session for online registration and believed the Internet could help the state reach out to more voters. “Hopefully it will be a big convenience, voters wouldn’t have to secure a paper form or even go to their county office,” said Gale. Gale said he planned to confirm the online submissions by asking legislators to allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to populate the voter database with driver’s license numbers and the last four digits of citizen’s social security number. “This will help authenticate citizenship and ensure valid and appropriate registration,” said Gale, adding that he needed legislative authorization to do it.
It will be harder to cast a ballot in North Carolina now, thanks to a catch-all set of anti-voter legislation that – as it did in other states – addresses a problem that doesn’t appear to actually exist. North Carolina’s Republican-controlled government has eliminated same-day voter registration; reduced early voting; abolished a program to help high school students register; given party poll-watchers more authority to challenge voters; weakened disclosure for “independent expenditure” committees; ended out-of-precinct voting; made it more difficult to open satellite polling places, say at a nursing home; banned an option for straight-ticket voting; and – of course – approved a new photo-ID requirement. Gov. Pat McCrory said he’ll sign the legislation, despite not having seen at least one of its provisions – and apparently not even understanding the current system.
0.002397 percent. That’s how much voter fraud there was in Ohio last year, according to a report released yesterday by Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted. Out of about 5.63 million votes cast in a presidential election in this key swing state, there were 135 possible voter-fraud cases referred to law enforcement for more investigation. “Voter fraud does exist, but it’s not an epidemic,” Husted said. The report summarized a comprehensive review of alleged voter fraud and suppression that Husted ordered all 88 county boards of elections to conduct in January. Rumors of fraud and suppression at the polls undermine voter confidence in elections, Husted said. Those same things also inspire legislation in Ohio — where in 2011 House Republicans passed a bill that would have, in the name of minimizing fraud, required a photo ID to vote on Election Day. Democrats fought that bill, and Husted played a roll in killing it. His report yesterday gives folks on all sides of the debate something to latch onto.
Voting Blogs: After Long Lines of 2012, States Push to Expand Voting Access | Brennan Center for Justice
After long lines marred the 2012 election, Republicans and Democrats are supporting bills in the states to increase registration opportunities, expand early voting, and modernize election systems, a new Brennan Center analysis found. Nearly 200 bills to expand voting access were introduced in 45 states in 2013 (click map for larger view). Of those, 41 bills in 21 states are currently active, meaning there has been some form of activity, such as a hearing or vote. Three states, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Virginia, have already passed expansive laws. Many of these new bills are drawing bipartisan support. The GOP introduced an online registration bill in Pennsylvania and passed it in Virginia. New Mexico’s new law streamlining registration at state DMVs received broad bipartisan support and was signed by a Republican governor. And in Colorado, Democrats in the legislature worked with the mostly-Republican Colorado County Clerks Association to draft a modernization bill, which passed the House Friday.
In 2013, state legislators continue to push laws that would make it harder for eligible American citizens to vote. At the same time, others are pressing measures to improve elections. Below you will find a regularly-updated, comprehensive roundup of where restrictive laws were introduced, where they are pending, where they are active, and where they have passed thus far. Click here to read a detailed summary of all passed and pending restrictive legislation proposed nationwide in the 2013 state legislative sessions (as of March 29th).
Democratic State Rep. Luis Moscoso’s Washington Voting Rights Act goes to the full House of Representatives after a committee approved it along with four other elections bills. Members of the House Government Operations and Elections Committee approved five pieces of legislation Monday, including the Voting Rights Act, a bill aimed at ending voter exclusion and promoting diversity in elected office. The Washington Voting Rights Act would encourage cities, towns and other local jurisdictions to switch from at-large elections to smaller districted elections. The bill, Moscoso said Tuesday, would empower local communities that have difficulties getting community members elected in at-large elections. The bill would exempt municipalities with populations under 1,000 and school districts with less than 250 students but would give people in qualifying communities the ability to sue in state courts if they feel their rights are being violated.
Pennsylvania: Lawmakers Hear Stories of Philadelphia Election Day Chaos Caused by Voter ID Law | CBS Philly
A group of Pennsylvania legislators today heard testimony from watchdog groups and voters on the state’s new voter ID law and problems it may have caused at the polls on Election Day 2012. The Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee heard testimony from a half-dozen voters and community groups, including the NAACP and the League of Women Voters. All who testified gave accounts of confusion at the polls about voter ID and the identification requirements for first-time voters. “For election administrators, the voter ID law pretty much was a nightmare,” Philadelphia city commissioner Stephanie Singer told the committee. “It was an unfunded mandate with extremely short deadlines.”
California: Lawmaker proposes letting California teens ‘pre-register’ to vote at age 15 | SanLuisObispo.com
California teens could submit paperwork to get on the state’s voter rolls three years before they are allowed to cast a ballot under legislation introduced this week. Senate Bill 113, by Democratic Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, would let Californians “preregister” to vote at age 15, giving the state the nation’s youngest minimum age for submitting an affidavit of registration. While the teens would not be able to vote until turning 18, the Santa Barbara Democrat said she hopes the change would increase the number of active voters by linking the “positive experience” of getting a learner’s permit at the Department of Motor Vehicles with registering to vote. Teens could also use the state’s new online registration system under the measure, which is sponsored by Secretary of State Debra Bowen.
Gov. Rick Snyder announced Wednesday that he and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson are teaming up to ask for legislation allowing Michiganians to register to vote online and to vote absentee without a reason — such as disability or being out of town — up to 45 days before Election Day. Johnson said her office has been updating its software over the past three years to allow for the voting changes and to accommodate more frequent campaign finance reporting, another goal on which she is working with Snyder. She didn’t speculate Wednesday night after the governor’s State of the State address on the chances of approval from the Legislature, which has been leery of liberalized voting rules. “We want to make it convenient and secure for everybody,” Johnson said.
Three Virginia congressional Democrats witnessed similar scenes on Election Day: long lines at polling places around the commonwealth, with not enough poll workers or voting machines to handle the heavy turnout. And voters, in Virginia and elsewhere, made similar complaints about waits that sometimes lasted for hours. But the three lawmakers came away with two very different solutions to the problem. Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.) and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (Va.) have joined a Delaware Democrat to offer a bill that would give grants to states that make it easier for residents to register and cast their ballots. Rep. James P. Moran (Va.) went in his own direction, introducing legislation that would require states to allow early voting and online registration.
South Carolina: Justice Department clears South Carolina’s online voter registration law | The Augusta Chronicle
South Carolina’s online voter registration law has won federal approval, allowing just a few days for people to use the easier option to sign up to vote Nov. 6. The U.S. Justice Department waited until its deadline to act on the state law signed in June. Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, South Carolina must receive the federal agency’s approval for any election law change. The law, passed unanimously by the Legislature, removes several steps from the paper registration process. Supporters say the online option will help voters, improve the accuracy of voter rolls and save money. South Carolina is the 13th state to implement online voter registration. The system was available by Tuesday afternoon through a link on the state Election Commission Web site. People who want to vote Nov. 6 can register through Saturday. State law requires registration at least 31 days before an election.