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Changes in Election Laws Nationwide Focus on Voter Access

by Lucas Eaves, published

election laws Credit: spirit of america /

State legislatures have been very active this session discussing and passing new election laws, according to a report released last week by the Brennan Research Center.

The report highlights 75 restrictive bills introduced in 30 states. These bills, which include voter ID laws, early voting restrictions, voter registration restrictions, and reduction of voting hours, will make the election process more difficult for some voters.

Virginia and Arkansas both passed a law requiring a photo ID to vote. Virginia also pushed through legislation that affects voter registration by third parties.

Credit: Brennan Center for Justice

Elections Laws

At the same time, more than 200 affirmative voting bills have been introduced around the country, including measures to expand early voting and modernize the voter registration process through online registration, along with other steps.

New Hampshire stopped the passage of more voter ID laws in late March until an impact study is carried out by state officials.

In Wisconsin, a referendum to keep same-day voter registration was overwhelmingly approved, reaching 73 percent of the vote in the state's largest city, Milwaukee. A bill was introduced in the California Legislature that, if passed, will lower the pre-registration age to 15 in order to increase youth voter turnout.

Other changes in election laws include:

Florida State Senate to Tackle Election Reform

During the 2012 election cycle, Florida was under the national spotlight for its numerous problems on Election Day, notably the long waiting lines that led voters to wait up to 8 hours to perform their civic duty. According to some estimates, more than 200,000 people were dissuaded from voting because of the waiting period.

Most of these problems arose from the 2011 election reform which -- among other things -- reduced early voting periods and required voters who changed their address within the state to use a provisional ballot. It also created new rules that slowed down the process of casting a regular ballot.

A new bill to remedy the situation is currently going through the state Senate. If passed, the reform will increase the number of early voting days and would require the creation of more early voting locations. While the bill has bipartisan support, some democratic senators advocate broader reform.

The bill will reach the Senate floor and be submitted for a vote in the coming weeks.


Massachusetts Considers Modernizing its Election Laws

Last week, Massachusetts' Joint Committee on Election Law hosted a public hearing about a constitutional amendment that would allow early voting or no excuse absentee voting. Currently, the state constitution allows the use of absentee ballot for only three reasons: the voter is out of town, physical disability that prevents the voter from going to the polls, or a religious practice interferes in the voter's ability to vote on Election Day.

The amendment will remove these restriction and allow voters to request an absentee ballot without stating a reason. Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia allow no excuse absentee voting. A constitutional amendment would require the approval of two successive legislatures and the people of Massachusetts before taking effect.

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