Election Day is less than a month away and Leagues across the county continue to educate and engage citizens with the information they need to vote and have their votes counted. This task has become more difficult in recent years as state legislatures in numerous states have passed laws making it more difficult to register, vote and have that vote count. We have seen laws that require onerous proof-of-citizenship and residency in order to register to vote and discriminatory photo ID requirement as a prerequisite to voting, as well as cuts to early voting, elimination of same-day registration and restrictions on third-party voter registrations, like those hosted by Leagues.
Added to this mix are the numerous “late breaking” court decisions that are likely leading to more confusion and, in some cases, less access to the polls. Let’s take a look at what is happening in a few key states:
Ohio –The Ohio Legislature and Secretary of State, Jon Husted, have been busy working to decrease the number of early voting days available to voters in Ohio. Earlier this year the Legislature passed, and Governor Kasich signed, a variety of anti-voter bills seeking to limit long-established early in-person voting, reducing the absentee ballot, and eliminating Ohio's so-called “Golden Week,” a popular provision that allowed residents to register to vote and cast ballots on the same day.
The League of Women Voters of Ohio (LWVOH) was one of several organizations that sued the state to force them to reinstate the cuts to early voting, including the Golden Week. Throughout the summer and into the fall, the judicial system has considered the changes with new rulings overturning previous rulings that first reinstated early voting and Golden Week, only to reverse itself once again. Following a disappointing ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in late September, the state won this round and early voting options will be limited and Golden Week will not exist for Ohio voters this year.
Not to be deterred by the ever changing rulings, LWVOH sprang into early action with their Voting 1-2-3 program that provides up-to-date voting information on the three ways to cast your ballot, specific information for college students, and what ID is needed to vote. In addition to this program, the League is working with coalition partners to help get out the vote.
North Carolina – Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning a key provision of the Voting Rights Act last summer, the North Carolina legislature ended same-day registration, shortened early voting, dispensed with Sunday voting and defunded programs to help pre-register 16 and 17 year olds. With support from our legal partner, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina (LWVNC) brought two legal challenges against the new law. Like in Ohio, the North Carolina League has seen some victories, as well as defeats in the past few months. Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled a lower court’s decision that had invoked the Voting Rights Act to prevent the implementation of the new law for the upcoming elections. This week’s disappointing decision by the Supreme Court, that enforces the legislature’s anti-voter law, will likely deny tens of thousands of North Carolinians the right to vote.
LWVNC is working to help educate the public on these last minute changes and continues to monitor and respond to last minute changes at the local level by attending County Board of Elections meetings.
Wisconsin – This summer, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin (LWVWI) suffered two legal defeats as the courts upheld the voter photo ID law the League and its coalition partners had successfully stopped implementation of for nearly two years. But just yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in to prevent the photo ID requirement from going into effect before the November elections. Unfortunately, despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Wisconsin’s Attorney General continues to search for ways to implement their anti-voter law, with voting already underway in the state.
These late changes to election law have created a great deal of confusion for voters and elections officials. LWVWI hasbeen actively working to help mitigate the impact of the implementation of the the new residency requirement needed to register to vote. Leagues across the state are working with various government offices to ensure voters are getting the correct information. Additionally, local Leagues are distributing voter information cards to help ensure voters know where to find the information they need to cast a ballot, and LWVWI will once again run their effective poll monitoring program to be sure things run smoothly on Election Day.
Texas – Texas passed one of the nation’s most restrictive voter photo ID laws in 2011, and it went into effect in 2013 following the U.S. Supreme Court’s disappointing decision on the Voting Rights Act. However, this November’s election would have been the first major election with the new photo ID requirements in place. There are estimates that about 1.2 million eligible voters do not have the required photo ID needed to vote. Challenges to the law have been working their way through the courts since its passage and in a significant rulingyesterday, a federal district court struck the law down as racially discriminatory and found that it violates the federal Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution.
The state has said it will appeal this decision – so unfortunately, the reality is that Texans still can’t be certain what rules they must follow in an election that is less than a month away. The League of Women Voters of Texas who had been working to ensure voters were able to obtain the necessary identification will continue to monitor this case and educate voters as appropriate.
Update 10/14: A federal appeals court has reinstated Texas' voter photo ID requirement for the 2014 elections. The case has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Election Day is just weeks away and yet these last minute rulings further muddy already murky waters when it comes to how voters in these states will be able to exercise their right to vote. While the League is heartened that some of these decisions have restored access to the ballot box for some voters, there’s no doubt there will be confusion among voters and poll workers. And stay tuned, because many of these courts actions are only temporary and the courts will be issuing final rulings on many of these laws sometime after Election Day.
Luckily, once again, voters can be reassured that thousands of League volunteers are doing everything they can from actively educating voters, fighting in the courts, and monitoring the voting process on Election Day to ensure that all citizens have the information they need to vote and have their vote counted.
For a personalized voting guide to elections in your community, including candidate information, ID rules, early and absentee voting information and much more, visit VOTE411.org and enter your address.