By Chris Carson
There are a lot of reasons to be discouraged by the restrictions we saw to voting this year:
- In South Carolina, college students were required to fill out a 2-page form to register to vote.
- In Ohio, 400,000 registered voters across the state were purged from the rolls without notice.
- In Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin, the period of early voting was cut down to mere days.
- Across the country, there were more than 800 fewer polling locations to cast a vote in 2016 than in 2012 and 2014.
Now more than ever, the League of Women Voters is guarding against restrictions to voters. We will be vigilant to keep this from continuing — both at the federal level and in the states.
Thankfully, though, it's not all bad. As we look towards 2017, the League of Women Voters sees reasons to be hopeful.
We are seeing improvements to online voter registration and automatic registration in parts of the country. States like Florida are moving forward with electronic election databases to allow voters to register online. We know that online voter registration — a win-win for voters and elections officials alike — makes it significantly easier for millions of voters to register and update their registration information.
In Massachusetts, a pre-registration bill will soon allow 16- and 17-year-olds to register to vote before they are eligible in 2018. Colorado adopted a new voting law in 2013 to allow driving-age residents to pre-register to vote, and in 2016 the state saw a huge uptick in voter turnout.
Yet at the same time, some states are moving in the wrong direction.
Even in the few weeks since the election, state legislatures moved to pass voting restrictions that will impact voters in future elections. Just this month, the Michigan state house passed a new, stricter voter identification law. In this past election, more than 18,000 voters who did not have photo ID at the time of voting were able to cast provisional ballots by signing an affidavit attesting their status. Going forward, this new law would require Michigan voters without ID to bring one to a clerk's office within 10 days of the election.
That's exactly what lawmakers shouldn't be doing. Voting should be encouraged and made more accessible, fair, and free for everyone — not made harder by obstacles that are proven to be unnecessary and blatantly discriminatory.
But it's not going to get better without your help.
These laws weren't passed in the glare of election-year politics. They were passed quietly and quickly while too few people were paying attention. If we're not vigilant, they'll do it again and again and again.
If you're upset about the way restrictions on voting rights affected this election, then it's time to get to work. We can't wait for things to get worse before we take action. The powers that want to make it harder to vote are counting on us to stay on the sidelines until another big election is on the horizon. But every year is an election year, and it's time to get serious — right now.
Since the election, League of Women Voters affiliates nationwide, as well as many other organizations, are seeing a spike in interest from community members who want to "do something."
In the face of potentially unprecedented challenges to voters' rights, we have received over 10,000 signers to our new petition to stop voter suppression.
Around the country, a new generation of concerned citizens, many first-time voters, are reaching out to the League of Women Voters and looking to get involved.
We are continuing our longtime focus to provide information to millions of voters so they have the opportunity to weigh in on the future of our country and build stronger communities.
After a bruising election year — it is more important than ever to make sure Americans of all backgrounds have the opportunity to shape our collective future.
Yes, I know you are tired from this past election. It took a lot out of all of us. But there is no time like the present to make sure you and your friends are registered to vote. If you care about the outcome of elections — from LGBTQ rights to climate change to the state of our economy — you have influence over these issues. Not only by your own vote — but by getting others involved as well.
United, our organization is stepping up to the challenges ahead.
The fight for equal access at the voting booth continues. It might feel like an uphill battle at all levels of governments — but when we work together — we can make a difference.