State Voting, Registration Laws Vary 01/19 08:45
(AP) -- The rules of elections are always changing.
In the states and the District of Columbia, lawmakers last year considered
more than 2,900 bills dealing with elections and voting, and enacted more than
350, according to a tally by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The changes include deadlines for registration, pay for election workers and
many other details. But the overarching story is that there are simultaneous
pushes across the country to make it easier or harder to register and vote.
A look at some of the common issues playing out in the states:
VOTER ID REQUIREMENTS
Thirty-four states require voters to show identification at polling places;
several others require IDs of voters the first time they vote. A North Carolina
voter ID law is on hold pending the outcome of a lawsuit.
To voters with driver's licenses, the requirements typically are not a big
deal. For others --- disproportionately the young, old, disabled, poor and
minority --- gathering the documents for a valid ID can be a barrier to voting.
To get a valid government-issued ID, a person may need to go through the
process of getting a reissued birth certificate or Social Security card, which
can take months.
Voter ID laws have become more common and more restrictive since a 2013 U.S.
Supreme Court ruling that overturned a key piece of the Voting Rights Act of
1965. Nine states that had a history of racial discrimination no longer have to
submit voting changes to the federal government for review before they become
law. All nine of those states now ask voters to show some form of ID at polling
places. Some of the ID laws were adopted before the 2013 ruling but had been
blocked from taking effect.
The stated reason for voting ID requirements is preventing fraud by voters.
It does happen, but not often.
Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, has been
trying to track voter impersonation cases that could have been stopped with
tougher voter identification requirements. He said he's aware of fewer than 50
incidents over the last two decades, out of more than 1 billion of votes cast
in federal elections alone. He said such efforts are rare in part because they
aren't likely to swing elections.
"Fraud by voters nets you a few incremental votes," Levitt said. "What's the
The Heritage Foundation keeps a database of election fraud cases of all
kinds going back to the 1990s. While the list is not comprehensive, it has
fewer than 1,000 incidents over a span of more than two decades, including
charges such as vote-buying, where candidates rather than voters were the
Some recent cases that have gotten attention had nothing to do with IDs.
Terri Lynn Rote of Des Moines, Iowa, pleaded guilty of trying to vote twice
by absentee ballot in 2016 and was fined $750. Rote said she wanted an extra
vote for then-candidate Donald Trump because she believed the system was rigged
Last year, a Sacramento man, Gustavo Araujo Lerma, was sentenced to nearly
four years in prison after being convicted of voting fraud. A judge found the
Mexican citizen impersonated an American citizen so he could vote over a period
of two decades. At trial, he testified that he was a Trump supporter.
In December, the Democratic governors of Kentucky and New Jersey took action
to expand voting to people who have served time after felony convictions,
continuing a national trend of restoring rights of people after they are
released from prison.
In New Jersey, 80,000 people who have completed prison sentences but remain
on parole or probation will be able to vote in elections starting in March
under a law passed and signed in December.
In Kentucky, 140,000 people who have completed sentences for non-violent
offenses can vote under an executive order signed by in December by newly
elected Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.
People convicted of crimes are disproportionately black men, a demographic
with low election participation. The Sentencing Project says that 1 in 13 black
adults is ineligible to vote because they're in prison, on parole or probation,
or have been convicted of a crime that bars them from voting in their state.
But restored voting rights remain in flux in one important presidential
battleground state. In 2018, Florida voters amended the state constitution to
allow 500,000 people who have completed sentences for felony convictions to
have the right to vote.
The GOP-controlled Legislature last year passed a law creating a caveat: The
rights would be restored only to those who had paid all their fines and court
costs. To proponents of the change, the idea is that those payments are part of
Opponents called it the equivalent of a poll tax and sued. The Florida
Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion this past week siding with Republicans
and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
A lot of election access battles are over voter registration.
Most states allow voters to sign up online, and several let them register on
Election Day. In California, voter registrations are now updated automatically
when people interact with the state Department of Motor Vehicles --- unless
they opt out.
But the practice, which launched in 2018, has been riddled with errors,
including people being registered with the wrong party and some non-citizens
being added to voter rolls.
At least 16 states have some version of automatic registration, most
involving motor vehicle agencies. In other places, pruning of registration
lists has become controversial.
Election administrators are supposed to take out the registrations of people
who have died or moved out of the jurisdiction -- or in some places, failed to
vote in the last several elections.
How it's done is at the heart of legal battles playing out in some states,
including Wisconsin and Georgia.
Georgia officials removed 313,000 people from voter rolls last year. Fair
Fight Action, a group founded by Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who narrowly lost
the 2018 election for governor there, objected.
The group said that 120,000 people were taken off the rolls because they did
not respond to postcards that said they had not voted or had other contact with
election officials for three years. The state agreed that about 22,000 of those
should not have been taken off the list.
But the fight continued regarding the remaining 98,000, with Fair Fight
arguing that the state should have followed its new law and sought to remove
only people who had no contact with voting officials for five years. In late
December, a judge disagreed and found the state could remove voters from the
At the same time, a conservative group has taken legal action in a handful
of places to try to force voter-roll pruning. The Public Interest Legal
Foundation sued Detroit officials in December for not properly maintaining
voter lists. It said the rolls there included more than 2,500 deceased people
who were born at least 85 years ago -- including one with a listed birth year
"Dead people aren't the problem. It's the fact that no one is catching it.
What is getting overlooked?" said the group's spokesman, Logan Churchwell.
Churchwell said that when voter registration rolls are sloppy, they can also
be vulnerable to hacking and other interference.