The past two years have not been kind to voting rights. Across the country, the Tea Party wave of 2010 led to new restrictive voting measures, including photo identification requirements and cuts in early voting. In total, these changes had the potential to disenfranchise more than 5 million Americans.
However, with progressive victories in the 2012 election and a renewed awareness of the need to protect the ballot box, 2013 could be a banner year for voting rights.
Rather than continuing to solely play defense, the Center for American Progress has released a report detailing 11 pieces of state legislation that voting rights advocates can use to go on offense in 2013:
1. Online voter registration. Less than 63 percent of Americans aged 18-34 were registered to vote in 2009, yet a Nielsen survey found that these young citizens were by far the most electronically connected, with 88 percent having an Internet connection at home. Modernizing the voter-registration process and allowing people to register online would be a boon for the overall number of voters in our country.
2. Election Day registration. Most states bar their residents from registering in the weeks just before an election—at a time when media coverage is at a fever pitch and less-engaged citizens are just starting to tune in. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, stop allowing people to register 30 days before an election. Election Day registration eliminates that barrier, helping a significant number of Americans vote. In 2008 alone, more than 1 million individuals registered on Election Day in these states. Studies have found that Election Day registration boosts turnout on average by 7-percentage points to 14-percentage points.
3. Require public schools to help register voters. Young Americans continue to vote at far lower rates than the rest of the citizenry. This year, for instance, only half of the voting-eligible population between the ages of 18 and 24 cast a ballot, compared to more than two-thirds of senior citizens. One simple way to encourage students to vote is for states to require that public schools provide voter-registration services.
4. Expand early voting. Early voting is one of the most important realms of voting rights over the past decade. It offers citizens more flexibility to vote at their convenience—not everyone can take off an hour or two from work on the first Tuesday of November—and allows election officials to spread the process of counting ballots over a number of days or weeks, rather than getting inundated all at once. It’s also a major boon for minority turnout. Many African American churches, for instance, participate in a “souls to the polls” voting drive on the Sunday before Election Day helping boost black early voting rates. Currently, 16 states don’t offer early voting.