Positive signs for voting-rights laws—even in Pennsylvania

The backlash against voter suppression may have begun. Following highly publicized efforts by Republican-led legislatures to make voting harder for citizens during the 2012 Presidential election, voting rights advocates are fighting back. And, according to Progressive States Network, more and more states are now looking at enacting significant reforms to modernize voter registration and protect and expand voting rights.

Some of the developments are smart applications of technologies that our current, 19th-Century based voter registration and voting system could not have anticipated. And some are baby steps that, nevertheless, move us in the direction of expansion, rather than restriction, of voting rights in what politicians regularly tout as the “world’s greatest democracy.” None, however, are slam-dunks. For every rights-expanding proposal, there’s an equal and opposite reaction pushing back, mostly from Republican legislators who are either stuck in the past and uncomfortable with new technologies, or scared to political death of enfranchising groups that could defeat them. We can feel good that progress is happening, but if the shenanigans of the 2012 election tell us anything, there is no end to what some politicians will do to suppress the vote.  Here’s a roundup [April 2013] of recent developments:


The Connecticut state House passed a joint resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to allow early voting and no-excuse absentee ballots. The resolution passed by a 90-49 vote, with 12 members absent. It goes next to the Senate and then to a public vote in the 2014 election. If Connecticut passes the amendment, it would join twenty-seven states and Washington, D.C., in allowing voters to vote by absentee ballot without requiring a reason; 32 states and Washington, D.C., have early voting; and two states use automatic mail voting instead of traditional polling sites, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.


Colorado has taken a first step toward a sweeping change in voting. Under consideration in the Colorado legislature is the Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act, which would send mail ballots to every voter, allow election-day registration, and put all counties on a real-time, statewide database that supporters say would weed out cheaters who try to vote twice. It’s a long-shot at this point, but it’s a worthy effort to drag voting into the 21st century in Colorado, and perhaps become a role model for other states.


Pennsylvania progressive lawmakers want their state to become the 36th to have some form of early voting. [Did you say Pennsylvania? Home of voter ID designed to ensure that Mitt Romney would win the state? Wow.] In addition, a bill with bipartisan support that would allow online voter registration could pass the state Senate later this month [April 2013] and then head to the House.

In an article published in the Post-Gazette, the executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania said that states with early voting consistently have higher voter turnout. In addition, said a Democratic state legislator, the issue should not be a partisan one, as Republican candidate Mitt Romney carried 20 of the 32 states that allowed early voting in November.

West Virginia

According to the West Virginia Gazette, a bill passed on April 16 by the West Virginia legislature will make it easier for voters to register and vote. Under the new law, citizens will be able to register online to vote if they already have a digital signature on file with a state agency, like the Division of Motor Vehicles. The bill allows county clerks to transfer a potential voter’s signature from a driver’s license application to the voter registration form.  West Virginia’s Secretary of State also says that, eventually, the state will be able to use other identifiers, such as a Social Security number, to allow online registration for people without a signature on file.


Ex-felons will have their voting rights restored immediately thanks to legislation passed in Delaware. Non-violent felons will now be able to vote immediately after discharging their criminal sentences according to an amendment passed by the Senate removing a constitutional provision barring felons from voting for five years after the fulfillment of their punishments.


A bill passed the Senate and now goes back to the House for a vote on Senate amendments that would allow voters to register at early voting locations.


A bill that had previously passed the state House has now passed the state Senate. It will allow same-day registration, expand early voting and allow voters to obtain absentee ballots online.