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Democracy & Justice: Collected Writings, Vol. VII

Democracy & Justice: Collected Writings, Vol. VII

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This volume is a sample of the Brennan Center’s work on all fronts in the fight for democracy and justice in 2013. Material is drawn from Brennan Center reports, policy proposals, and issue briefs, in addition to public remarks, legal briefs, congressional testimony, and op-ed pieces delivered at Brennan Center events or written by Brennan Center staff.
This volume is a sample of the Brennan Center’s work on all fronts in the fight for democracy and justice in 2013. Material is drawn from Brennan Center reports, policy proposals, and issue briefs, in addition to public remarks, legal briefs, congressional testimony, and op-ed pieces delivered at Brennan Center events or written by Brennan Center staff.

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Published by: The Brennan Center for Justice on Feb 21, 2014
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01/24/2015

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Myrna Pérez and Jonathan Brater

In 2013, as many legislatures passed laws to improve voting as to curb rights — a shift in

momentum. The most sweeping bill: Colorado passed comprehensive election reform, joining

Maryland, Oklahoma, Virginia, West Virginia, and others to expand rights.

This article appeared on The Huffington Post, May 16, 2013.

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 eforts. Still, the trend is
unmistakable: Afer 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
identifcation requirements, to modernizing voter
registration, to expanding early voting.

Colorado provides a great example. Te 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. Te 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.

Te 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. Te Colorado County
Clerks Association — the ofcials who actually
run elections, and come from both political parties
— worked with lawmakers, community groups,
and election ofcials to hammer out a compromise
that expands voting access and works for election
administrators as well.

Te Colorado example and the broader trend of
expansive legislation are a welcome change from
the 2011-12 legislative session, when partisan state
legislatures across the country passed a wave of
restrictive voting laws. Before the 2012 election, 19
states passed 25 laws and 2 executive actions that
would make it more difcult to register and vote. But
despite this efort to restrict voting rights, voters and
civil rights advocates eventually prevailed. Tanks to
the actions of citizens, courts, and the Department
of Justice, by November 2012, all the worst measures
had been reversed, blocked, or blunted.

After years of backsliding, states are

embracing free, fair, and accessible elections.

29

Voting Reform

Yet problems persisted on Election Day. Our outdated
voter registration system, insufcient safeguards for
voter access, and inadequate standards for voting
machines and poll workers led to hours-long lines in
many polling places. Commenting on the voters still
waiting in line to vote as he gave his victory speech on
election night, President Obama remarked, “we have to
fx that.”

Te positive developments in 2013 show this message is
getting through. Even in Florida, which saw some of the
worst voting restrictions and the longest voting lines,
legislators passed a bipartisan bill aimed at decreasing
wait times. Better than merely stemming the tide of
restrictive laws, voters and election ofcials are now
enjoying a positive wave of their own as more and more
states move to expand voting access.

Unfortunately, some state legislatures continue to
insist on making it harder for people to vote. Among
these dubious outliers is North Carolina, which is

considering bills that would reduce the early voting
period, end same-day registration, make it harder for
citizens who have completed their criminal sentences
to regain their voting rights, and increase the powers
of untrained “challengers” to try to prevent registered
voters from casting ballots. Others would make the
state’s voter ID law more restrictive by limiting the types
of acceptable IDs and impose a tax penalty for parents
of students voting in their college communities. Tese
suppressive voting laws are exactly the type of backward-
looking, partisan, and anti-participation moves that
were rejected in 2012.

North Carolina is out of step with the times, and if it
does not reverse course, it risks fnding itself on the
wrong side of history. Te story of 2013, at least thus
far, has been one of lawmakers moving to make it easier,
not harder, for voters to participate in our democracy.
Hopefully, the states not yet part of that story will start
moving in the right direction.

30Brennan Center for Justice

Harnessing technology to improve voter registration falls squarely within
the Presidential Commission on Election Administration’s charge to make
recommendations for “the efcient management of voter rolls and pollbooks.”
We urge the Commission to recommend that states use electronic systems to
modernize, simplify, and enhance the security of voter registration and voter
rolls. By managing voter rolls with updated technologies and tools, states will
also better “ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to cast their
ballots without undue delay,” as well as eliminate many of the obstacles voters
face when attempting to cast ballots.

Te need for reform is great. Voter registration is the single biggest election
administration problem in the United States. A 2012 Pew study found that 24
million registrations nationwide are invalid or have serious errors, such as an
incorrect address. A system in which 1 in 8 records has serious errors raises the
prospect of fraud and manipulation. Further, more than 50 million Americans,
or 1 in 4 eligible citizens, are not registered to vote. Tis leads to problems on
Election Day. Stephen Ansolabehere examined election data and determined
that in 2008, up to 3 million eligible citizens could not vote because of problems
related to registration. Recent data suggest this problem has not abated. In
the 2012 election, 2.8 percent of in-person voters experienced registration
problems, up from 2.0 percent in 2008.

Te paper-based voter registration system used in many jurisdictions is the principal
source of the problem. It relies on forms with illegible and incomplete information,
which election ofcials must then transcribe. Tis leads to further errors stemming
from misreading forms or making typos. Registrations are difcult to update,
meaning voter registration addresses do not match actual addresses. Tis outdated
system is wasteful and inefcient, and relies on 19th-century technology that is
out of step with the kind of electronic transactions citizens have increasingly come
to expect in all other aspects of modern government, business, and life. Tis creates
needless barriers to voting, opportunities for fraud, and delay and confusion at
polling places — which in turn leads to long lines on Election Day.

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