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5 states trying to make voting easier as the GOP tries to make it harder

Democratic-controlled states are working to make it easier to register to vote, extending early voting periods, and expanding access to absentee ballots.

By Emily Singer - March 17, 2021
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Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam

Amid the onslaught of voter suppression bills moving through Republican-controlled state legislatures, there is a bright spot on the voting rights front, as other states are bucking the trend and pushing through legislation that will make it easier to vote.

While GOP state lawmakers work to restrict voters by cutting back on early voting days, limiting who can vote by mail, and attempting to impose voter ID laws that will create hurdles for voters of color, Democratic state lawmakers are doing the opposite. Namely, they want to make it easier to register to vote and obtain absentee ballots.

It highlights the fundamental difference in the two political parties at this time. Democrats want to make it easier for eligible voters to exercise their rights, while Republican politicians — including Donald Trump himself — have admitted that they believe letting everyone who can vote cast ballots is bad for the GOP.

Here are the Democratic-controlled states that have taken steps to make it easier to vote:

Connecticut

Democratic lawmakers in Connecticut have introduced legislation to create an early voting period in the state, as well as create no-excuse absentee voting, the Hartford Courant reported.

Currently, voters in Connecticut must provide a valid excuse to vote absentee. Excuses include traveling out of state on Election Day, military deployment, and illness.

Connecticut is currently one of six states that do not have early voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, although Kentucky has early voting legislation that may head to its governor’s desk soon.

Denise Merrill, a Democratic who serves as Connecticut secretary of state, supports the measures.

“Despite a highly polarized electorate 79% of Connecticut voters support early voting, 73% of Connecticut voters support expanding access to absentee ballots to all voters without requiring an excuse,” Merrill told NBC Connecticut about why she supports the changes.

Delaware

Earlier this month, a group of Democratic state senators in Delaware introduced a bill that would implement automatic voter registration in the state.

“This Act stipulates that an unregistered adult citizen who provides proof of U.S. citizenship during a DMV license or identification card transaction will be automatically registered to vote by the Department of Elections, if otherwise eligible for registration,” reads a synopsis of the legislation.

Automatic Voter Registration has grown in popularity since 2016, when the state of Oregon became the first to use the method, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia use automatic voter registration, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

“By registering through a routine and necessary transaction such as those at the DMV, voters won’t have to worry about registration deadlines or application submissions. In a sense, they are automatically enfranchised,” the National Conference of State Legislatures said.

Vermont

As GOP-controlled states seek to make it harder to vote by mail, Vermont is looking to make all-mail elections the way of the future.

On Tuesday, the Vermont state Senate voted to use universal mail-in ballots for elections in the state, after Vermont successfully conducted the 2020 election by mail.

“Our action today stands in stark contrast to legislatures across the country who continue voter suppression efforts, targeting practices like mail-in voting that have correlated with higher turnout among people of color,” Democratic state Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint said after the vote, according to Seven Days, a local Vermont media outlet. “The Vermont Senate recognizes that our democracy, and our state, are strengthened when we make elections more accessible to all.”

The state House still must vote on the bill.

However, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, said he supports the measure, according to a local Vermont television station.

Virginia

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday announced that he restored the voting rights of 69,000 people who completed felony prison sentences — even if they remain on parole.

In Virginia, those convicted of felonies lose their right to vote, but the governor has the power to restore those voting rights after sentences are completed.

Northam took it a step further by saying he believes those who finish their sentences but remain on parole should have their voting rights restored — and he made that move on Tuesday, CNN reported.

“Probationary periods can last for years. But that’s also time in which a person is living in the community, rebuilding their lives,” Northam said, according to CNN. “They should be able to exercise those civil rights, even if they are still under supervision.”

According to the Sentencing Project, a group that works on criminal justice issues, “As of 2016, 6.1 million Americans were prohibited from voting due to laws that disenfranchise citizens convicted of felony offenses.”

Kentucky

On Tuesday, the Kentucky state Senate passed a compromise voting rights bill that creates an early voting period in the state, allows voters to request absentee ballots online, and lets voters whose ballots are rejected for mismatched signatures “cure” those ballots to ensure they get counted.

Kentucky is one of six states that currently does not allow early in-person voting.

The bill marks a rare moment in which a Republican-controlled Legislature voted to expand voting rights. Republicans control the state legislature in Kentucky, while a Democrat holds the governorship.

Voting rights advocates in the state praised the legislation.

“It doesn’t have everything I’d like. I want to see state reduce current 29-day voter registration deadline, expand absentee voting, increase early voting days, etc. Still…this is a HUGE step forward. When other states are restricting voting, KY is expanding voter access,” Josh Douglas, an elections law and voting rights professor at the University of Kentucky School of Law, tweeted.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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