Leagues across the country can expect to have a busy 2016 legislative session, with the majority of state legislatures beginning their sessions in January. Many state legislatures will be debating critical issues, which could include possibly changing election laws in the middle of a major election year. This could create significant and unnecessary confusion for voters. Voters' rights and election laws will be brought to the forefront once again in 2016, and with elections at every level of government, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
State Leagues often take on leadership roles when advocating for voters' rights, and next year will be no different. With so much at risk during the 2016 legislative session, the League of Women Voters will continue to fight for pro-voter reforms, building upon the many successes we helped secure in 2015, and against voter suppression tactics to ensure that access to the ballot box remains fair, free and accessible.
In 2015 there were over 2,200 voting related bills introduced across the country, both good and bad. Voter photo ID bills continued to spread across the country with legislation introduced in over eight states – however no new voter ID bills were passed, thanks in large part to the hard work of Leagues across the country to educate both legislators and voters about the dangers of implementing such laws. Early voting was also under attack across the country, and Leagues, along with coalition partners, were able to protect the rights of voters and stop the majority of cuts.
Access to the ballot was expanded in big ways in 2015 too, with new laws creating early voting, online voter registration systems and same day registration. While not all of the legislation pushed by state Leagues passed at the state level, Leagues educated the public, legislators and the media on the importance of strengthening our democracy through pro-voter reforms.
Online voter registration was the biggest pro-voter trend in 2015 – over half of the voting age population lives in a state that will have online voter registration by 2018. While the League is encouraged by the overwhelming support at the state level for this pro-voter reform, the League will be working to ensure 2016 will bring online voter registration that is not tied to a voter’s driver’s license. Nearly every online voter registration law currently in place requires a voter to have a driver’s license, or other state issued ID, to take advantage of the new system. This leaves out eligible voters who do not have, for a variety of reasons, an ID.
The other big trend from 2015 that we expect to continue into the 2016 legislative session is automatic voter registration (AVR), with over states 18 states filing or pre-filing automatic registration bills already. The League of Women Voters of Oregon and California were part of the coalitions driving AVR forward in their states, paying close attention to bill language to ensure that the new system of registration does not negatively impact underrepresented communities. Of biggest concern to the League is the ability for non-citizens to opt out of the registration process – if automatically registered through no fault of their own, non-citizens could face consequences that range from federal fines to deportation. In 2016, Leagues across the country will continue to keep a close eye on this new trend and will continue to push for legislation that creates a fair and transparent system while greatly expanding access to the ballot.
Once again, the Leauge expects to see states across the country introduce bills that would create, or strengthen existing, voter photo ID laws. Voter photo ID laws have been the most popular vehicle to attack voting rights across the country since their inception in 2006. In Missouri, a state that has already tried to pass voter photo ID nine times since a court ruled a previous ID law unconstitutional, a voter photo ID bill has already been pre-filled. Leagues across the country are prepared to fight against this harmful voter suppression tactic, and have the track record and experience to ensure that no new photo ID laws pass in 2016.
Leagues are already taking steps to push back on bills attacking voters’ rights that are coming, or that are already in place, while at the same time bringing attention to pro-voter reforms that will increase voter participation in their states. While there will be no shortage of voting related legislation introduced in 2016, the League is mobilizing grassroots support for pro-voter reforms that will make access to the ballot box across the country fair, free and accessible.