The November election will be the first presidential contest to take place since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to strip some of the major protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which required states with a history of voter discrimination to get federal clearance before changing their voting laws. Seventeen states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time. Among them, Wisconsin, Texas, and North Carolina have tightened their photo ID requirements; Kansas now requires proof of citizenship to cast a ballot; and Arizona has made it a felony for people to collect ballots from others and take them to the polls. Some people—mostly Democrats—say these laws disenfranchise poor and minority voters. But others—mostly Republicans—defend the stringent requirements as part of an effort to prevent voter fraud (an occurrence scholars largely consider to be a myth, and in some states, is more rare than a lightning strike). But just as some states are making it more difficult to vote, others are passing legislation to make it easier.
The Illinois House and Senate approved a measure on Tuesday to register people to vote automatically when they renew their driver’s licenses at the DMV (with an option to opt out). If Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signs the legislation—something he has shown support for in the past—the Prairie State will be the fifth state to enact automatic voter registration, after Oregon, California, Vermont, and West Virginia. Dozens of other states are considering similar legislation.
The convergence of these two competing trends has brought the issue of voting rights to a boil in the United States, and Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law and the author of the new book The Fight to Vote, says America has reached a “tipping point” in its democratic process.