Over the past few weeks, I’ve visited New York City for National Voter Registration Day and then Texas, Wisconsin and Virginia to help educate voters about changes to elections laws in each of those states. The weekend before the election, I made my final trip to Ohio. In Ohio, as in states around the country, Leagues registered voters, created voters’ guides and provided opportunities for voters to meet and hear from candidates.
Ohio voters have had to learn and deal with new elections laws for every election since 2004; the state legislature has continuously cut and restored various voting rights following the debacle of the 2000 presidential election. Ohio was the first state to permit Sunday voting, and early voting has remained popular in the state despite attempts to restrict voters’ access to it.
I arrived during the last few days of Ohio’s early voting period, and despite cutbacks by the state legislature, in Cleveland there was a street party outside the Board of Elections where vans were bringing “Souls to the Polls” after church services. Early voting continued in Ohio on Monday, and I had the chance to promote the League’s online election resource, VOTE411.org and the need to get out and vote either early or on Election Day itself on public radio.
Because of these new barriers to the ballot, like the cuts to early voting in Ohio and the voter photo ID laws in Texas and Virginia as well as the influence of dark and secret money in our elections, our work serving voters has become more difficult in recent years. We have also seen and fought laws that require onerous proof-of-citizenship and residency requirements in order to register to vote, elimination of same-day registration, and restrictions on community-based voter registration drives, like those hosted by Leagues.
We plan to help lead a sustained effort to reform our election laws and ensure our elections are free, fair and accessible to all eligible voters at both the national and state level. There are some key ways to improve the nation’s elections administration that would let voters know that they are the central actors in the democratic process. Voters in every precinct deserve an election system that serves them, including secure online voter registration for all eligible voters, permanent and portable statewide voter registration, expanded early voting options, improved polling place management, and electronic streamlining.
Over this election seasons, League volunteers have worked tirelessly to register tens of thousands of new voters, host hundreds of candidate debates and issue forums, print and post online voters’ guides and so much more to encourage voters to hit the polls and weigh in on the issues most important to them. While Election Day 2014 is now past, League volunteers are already busy building on their voter services successes and preparing for the 2015 and 2016 elections.