Attempts To Limit Voting Rights Stunted As Efforts To Enhance Voting Access Prevail

In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 photo, an election official checks a voter's photo identification at an early voting polling
In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 photo, an election official checks a voter's photo identification at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas. In elections that begin next week, voters in 10 states will be required to present photo identification before casting ballots _ the first major test of voter ID laws after years of legal challenges arguing that the measures are designed to suppress voting. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

WASHINGTON -- A number of state legislatures are adjourning, and supporters of expanded access to the ballot box may be sighing in relief as they see some of the major efforts to restrict voting access were stymied during this legislative session.

Then again, they may be disappointed that bills to restore voting rights to felons were squashed, or that courts haven't yet shut down strict new voter identification requirements in Arizona, North Carolina and Texas.

At the federal level, congressional Republicans haven't been rushing to update the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court gutted in 2013, even as they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Selma, Alabama, civil rights march that helped bring about the landmark law.

As the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University highlighted Wednesday, "For the third year in a row, bills to expand voters’ access to the ballot box outpace those to restrict voting, both in terms of introduction and enactment." Of course, as the center notes, restrictions passed since the wave that swept the GOP to power in a slew of state legislatures in 2010 have continued to limit voting rights.

Here's a look back at state-level efforts to expand and restrict access to the ballot since November's midterm elections.

Efforts To Restrict Voting Access

Over the past four years, it has been challenging to keep up with all the new voter ID laws put in place. Although voter identification restrictions remained a favorite project of Republican-controlled state governments in their latest legislative sessions, only one -- North Dakota -- succeeded in passing a voter ID bill this time around. That measure made North Dakota's already strict voter ID law even more stringent.

Nevada's GOP-led legislature, which was considered the most likely state to enact a voter ID bill this year, closed its legislative session Tuesday without passing a law that would require a government-issued photo ID to vote. Arkansas and Missouri, where state courts struck down their ID laws, failed to put ID requirements before voters as ballot questions. Voter ID bills also failed in Maine, Nebraska and New Mexico.

Efforts To Enhance Voting Access

Both Illinois and Vermont passed bills allowing for same-day voter registration. Fourteen states now allow their citizens to register and vote on Election Day.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) signed a bill making the state the first to have "universal registration," where eligible voters will automatically be registered using state Department of Motor Vehicles data. An estimated 300,000 new voters will be added to the rolls.

Other states trended toward online voter registration, as Florida, New Mexico and Oklahoma decided to adopt the easier, more cost-efficient system. Lawmakers in Kentucky and Pennsylvania are also trying to do so, though with less success (so far). More than 20 states now have some form of online registration.

State legislators displayed a renewed enthusiasm for restoring felons' voting rights, though those efforts didn't always lead to success. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoed a bill passed out of his state's legislature. A similar attempt in Minnesota's Legislature didn't survive, but is expected to be pushed again next year. Wyoming, however, did make its restoration process for felons easier.

Texas' voter ID law, which some consider the nation's strictest, is currently being considered by a federal appeals court and is likely to end up before the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the state enacted a law that would provide a certified copy of a state birth certificate for free if voters state they would use it to obtain an election identification certificate. Voting rights advocates had called Texas' government-issued photo ID requirement a "poll tax" since the 2011 bill did not make birth certificates free for those who don't have one.

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