Weekly Voting Rights News Update
By Erin Ferns
Following an historic turnout in the 2008 election comes a flurry of election reform agendas from both sides of the battle over voting rights. Since November 4, some state lawmakers have seized on the success of early voting and Election Day Registration (EDR) as models for facilitating voter registration, while others appear to have been threatened by the heightened turnout and inspired to introduce restrictive voter ID and proof-of-citizenship bills for the 2009 legislative session.
Following what appears to be significant progress this year in closing participation gaps among historically underrepresented young and minority voters, we review Election Day stories in states with voter ID and EDR laws, and preview next year's legislative battle for election reform.
In North Carolina, lawmakers report being "proud" of the implementation of the state's 2007 Same Day Registration law, which permits early voters to register and vote at established "One-Stop" voting sites, according to the Raleigh News and Observer. In the 2008 primary and presidential elections, the law seemed to boost voter registration while cutting the use of provisional ballots by more than half, compared to figures from the 2004 election. On average, EDR states tend to outperform non-EDR states in election outcome by a minimum of 10 percentage points, according to public policy group, Demos.
"State Rep. Paul Luebke said he expects other states to model North Carolina's early voting system," according to the report. "The only change he would suggest for the next elections would be to standardize the hours, encouraging local boards of elections to stay open longer in early voting."
Despite the smooth success of Same Day Registration at early voting sites in North Carolina and other states,Republican lawmakers in Ohio are pushing to end the state's new mandate to allow voters to register during the early voting period.
State Republicans recently announced that they would file legislation to move the voter registration deadline to 65 days before Election Day, according to an Associated Press report. They hope to pass the bill before the 2008 session ends "and a new, Democratic-controlled House takes over in January."
However, election law expert Dan Tokaji said the bill will likely run into opposition as "federal law clearly prohibits states from having registration deadlines earlier than 30 days before an election."
Before the Nov. 4 election, the "Republican Party sued Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to stop the same-day window...but state and federal courts upheld it."
Brunner has planned an election summit in December to review the elections process and will likely not adhere to any changes before the new legislature takes over, according to the AP report.
Meanwhile, states like West Virginia are considering implementing Election Day Registration, which currently exists in about eight other states in its traditional form whereby eligible citizens may show up at their polling place on Election Day, register to vote and cast a ballot. First implemented in Maine in 1973, EDR is also practiced in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire and Wyoming. Other states, like North Carolina, Ohio and Connecticut permit variations of the option to register and vote at the same time, either during an early voting period, or--in the case of Connecticut--on a special ballot that only allows them to vote for the president.
"I lost my card, and I didn't think I could do it too close to the time," said one West Virginia voter and supporter of an EDR law, according to Parksburg, W. Va. News station, WTAP. "So, if it was that way, I could have voted."
However, Woods County clerk, Jamie Six, who "studied the idea for the state clerk's association" is against the implementation of EDR.
"The poll workers have a long and very busy day already," Six said. "And to add this to their plate to take care of on election day, we don't feel it would be fair."
While EDR in the state is unlikely, Six says it is possible to allow voters to register during the early voting period. "A committee of the West Virginia Legislature is to hear from Six on Monday," according to WTAP.