2012 Summary of Voting Law Changes
The Brennan Center's Voting Law Changes in 2012 report
analyzed how a series of laws imposing new restrictions on who can vote
and how could significantly change the electoral landscape. As states
continue to introduce and consider new restrictive measures, we will be
updating the summary below and this detailed compilation
of potentially restrictive laws related to voting that were proposed
nationwide in the 2011 and 2012 state legislative sessions, and that
have been passed or remain pending.
At least 180 restrictive bills introduced since the beginning of 2011 in 41 states.
27 restrictive bills currently pending in 6 states.
25 laws and 2 executive actions passed since the beginning of 2011 in 19 states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin).
17 states have passed restrictive voting laws that have the potential to impact the 2012 election (Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin). These states account for 218 electoral votes, or nearly 80 percent of the total needed to win the presidency.
Of these, restrictions from 19 laws and executive actions are currently in effect in 14 states (Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin).
- Identification laws (read a detailed summary of laws passed since the beginning of 2011)
- Photo ID laws. At least 34 states introduced legislation that would require voters to show photo identification in order to vote, and an additional four states introduced legislation requesting that voters show photo identification to register or to vote. Photo ID bills were signed into law in eight states — Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — and passed by referendum in Mississippi. In addition, Minnesota's legislature has passed a bill proposing a constitutional amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that would require government issued photo ID to vote in person. The amendment will be voted on by referendum at the 2012 general election. By contrast, before the 2011 legislative session, only two states had ever imposed strict photo ID requirements. The number of states with laws requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification quadrupled in 2011. To put this into context, 11 percent of American citizens do not possess a government-issued photo ID; that is over 21 million citizens.
- Voter ID laws. Virginia has passed a law changing its voter ID requirements by eliminating the option of executing an affidavit of identity when voting at the polls or applying for an absentee ballot in person, while expanding the list of acceptable IDs. New Hampshire’s new voter ID requirements require a voter to produce documentary ID or submit an affidavit of identity. After September 2013, a voter must produce a New Hampshire or US government photo ID or execute an affidavit of identity, no other form of identification will be accepted.
- Proof of citizenship laws. At least 17 states introduced legislation that would require proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, to register or vote. Proof of citizenship laws passed in Alabama, Kansas, and Tennessee. The Tennessee law, however, applies only to individuals flagged by state officials as potential non-citizens based on a database check. Previously, only two states had passed proof of citizenship laws, and only one had put such a requirement in effect. The number of states with such a requirement has more than doubled.
- Making voter registration harder. At least 16 states introduced bills to end highly popular Election Day and same-day voter registration, limit voter registration mobilization efforts, and reduce other registration opportunities. Florida, Illinois and Texas passed laws restricting voter registration drives, and Florida and Wisconsin passed laws making it more difficult for people who move to stay registered and vote. Ohio ended its weeklong period of same-day voter registration, and the Maine legislature passed a law eliminating Election Day registration. Luckily, Maine voters later repealed the law. In addition, some opponents of the Minnesota constitutional amendment have argued that it has the possible effect of eliminating Election Day registration as it currently exists in that state. That amendment will be voted on by referendum at the 2012 general election.
- Reducing early and absentee days. At least nine states introduced bills to reduce their early voting periods, and four tried to reduce absentee voting opportunities. Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia succeeded in enacting bills reducing early voting.
- Making it harder to restore voting rights. Two states — Florida and Iowa — reversed prior executive actions that made it easier for citizens with past felony convictions to restore their voting rights, affecting hundreds of thousands of voters. In effect, both states now permanently disenfranchise most citizens with past felony convictions. In addition, South Dakota recently passed a law imposing further restrictions on citizens with felony convictions by denying voting rights to persons on probation on top of existing requirement that any term of imprisonment or parole be completed before the state will restore their voting rights.