We already know that Americans’ access to abortion services, healthcare and firearms varies according to where they live. In California, it’s relatively simple for women to obtain an abortion, and in Texas, it’s quite hard; the reverse is true for guns. Some states accepted Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act, helping the poor obtain health coverage, and others did not. Increasingly, location also affects how difficult it is to cast a vote. When it comes to election law, red America and blue America are not at all alike. Since 2000, and especially in the last few years, states dominated by Democrats have tended to pass laws that make it easier to register and vote, while states dominated by Republicans have done the opposite. This month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill making voter registration automatic for eligible Californians who request a driver’s license or state ID from the Department of Motor Vehicles. California joins liberal Oregon in this endeavor. A number of other blue states are also looking to remove barriers to registration. Where you live should not affect your ability to register and vote in a federal election.
Meanwhile, North Carolina has abolished same-day voter registration and pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds, and cut back on early voting. (It is awaiting a decision in a federal lawsuit contesting these and other changes.) Alabama recently closed a number of motor vehicle offices in counties dominated by African Americans, making it even harder to obtain the type of photo identification necessary to cast a valid vote in that state. And Kansas required documentary proof of citizenship to register, apparently leaving lots of eligible voters in the lurch.
It is easy to praise Democrats for taking the high road, but let’s not lose sight of partisan motivations on both sides: Conservatives and liberals alike believe that making registration and voting easier helps Democrats because constituencies that lean blue — including the poor and racial minorities — tend to have lower participation rates. One study found that unregistered voters would have favored President Obama over Mitt Romney by 73% to 27% in the 2012 election.
That said, where you live should not affect your ability to register and vote in a federal election. Why should a Californian have a much easier time voting for president than a North Carolinian?