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50 Years After Voting Rights Act, Work Remains in the States

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50 Years After Voting Rights Act, Work Remains in the States


16 GOP govs have signed bills to restrict voting rights over past 5 years, while Democratic governors lead the charge to expand access


Today, as Americans celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act, state implementation of voting access laws has varied dramatically.


Democratic governors have led the charge towards more access, with 13 Democratic governors signing legislation to expand voting rights since 2012, according to data from the Brennan Center for Justice. Democratic governors’ actions to expand voting rights have included: same day registration laws signed by Connecticut Governor Dannel MalloyCalifornia Governor Jerry BrownColorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin; and Governor Kate Brown’s landmark bill this March making Oregon the first state with automatic voter registration.


Meanwhile, Republican governors have led a concerted effort to make it more difficult for Americans to vote. Since 2010, 16 Republican governors have signed laws restricting voting rights, according to Brennan Center data. These include strict voter ID requirements, cutting early voting hours, and laws limiting restoration of rights for non-violent felons.


Several of the governors who signed these recent laws restricting voter rights are now 2016 presidential candidates: Ohio Gov. John KasichTexas Gov. Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that Perry’s Voter ID bill has a “discriminatory” effect that runs afoul of the Voting Rights Act.


“Today, Americans celebrate the tremendous progress made over the last 50 years under the Voting Rights Act, while we work every day to defend voting rights for all Americans,” said Elisabeth Pearson, Executive Director of the Democratic Governors Association. “America’s Democratic governors are committed to expanding voter access. This week, we’ll see the opposite from the Republican governors who line up on the presidential debate stage in Cleveland: governors with a record of slashing voting rights and undermining the core tenets of the Voting Rights Act. The choice for Americans couldn’t be clearer.”


  • New York Times Headline: ‘Easier Access to Ballot Is Pushed by Democrats.’ In October 2012 the New York Times reported, “At a time when Republicans have moved to enact tougher qualifications for voting in states around the country, Democrats have begun to push voter registration laws in the opposite direction in states they control, especially here. In the last few weeks, potential voters in California have been able to register online for the first time, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that will allow residents to register and vote on Election Day. Connecticut passed similar legislation this year, and voting rights advocacy groups hope as many as five states might join them next year. Democratic lawmakers here described the legislation as a potential counterweight to Republican-backed laws in other parts of the country requiring photo identification to vote and making it more difficult to register.” [New York Times, 10/5/12]
  • In March 2015, Gov. Kate Brown Signed Sweeping First-in-the Nation Legislation Making Voter Registration Automatic in Oregon. According to Reuters, “Sweeping first-in-the nation legislation making voter registration automatic in Oregon was signed into law on Monday by Governor Kate Brown, potentially adding 300,000 new voters to state rolls. The so-called Motor Voter legislation will use state Department of Motor Vehicles data to automatically register eligible voters whose information is contained in the DMV system, with a 21-day opt-out period for those who wish to be taken off the registry. Supporters say the legislation’s goal is to keep young voters, students and working families who move often from losing their right to vote.” [Reuters, 3/16/15]
  • In June 2015, Gov. Peter Shumlin Signed a New Same-Day Registration Bill Making Vermont the 14th State to Allow Same-Day Voter Registration. According to ABC22, “Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill allowing Vermonters to register to vote up until and including election day. The governor’s office says the law goes into effect on January 1, 2017. With the signing, Vermont becomes the 14th state to allow same day voter registration. ‘Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, and we should do everything in our power to help more Vermonters exercise this critical right,’ said Gov. Shumlin.” [ABC22, 6/1/15] 
  • Los Angeles Times Headline: ‘Brown Signs Package of Bills to Encourage Voting.’ According to the Los Angeles Times, “Months after statewide voter turnout hit a historic low of 25% in this year’s primary election, Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday signed eight bills aimed at getting more Californians to participate in the political process. […] The voting-related measures will allow absentee ballots mailed on election day to be counted as long as they arrive within three days, and will permit 16-year-olds to preregister to vote