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Where Voters Made It Easier, and Harder, to Vote in the Future

The night's biggest voting rights measure was in Florida, where more than 1 million felons had their right to vote restored.

A black person handing in their ballot next to a basket of "I Love Voting" stickers.
(AP/John Minchillo)

SPEED READ:

  • Voters in Arkansas and North Carolina enacted voter ID requirements.
  • Meanwhile, voters in Florida, Maryland and Michigan and Nevada passed measures that aim to make it easier for people to vote and register.
 
On Tuesday, voters in four states appear to have approved ballot measures designed to make voting and registration easier, while two states passed measures making it harder.

The most prominent, Amendment 4 in Florida, crossed the 60 percent threshold needed to be added to the state constitution. The measure will automatically restore voting rights to former felons, except those convicted of murder or sex crimes.

Florida is one of only three states that doesn't restore voting rights to felons, unless they receive a pardon or clemency. Only a limited number of Florida felons are eligible, and they must appeal personally at occasional hearings in Tallahassee. Due to the state's restrictive nature, one out of every four felons who are disenfranchised nationwide live in Florida. That's 1.4 million citizens unable to participate in the state's elections.

"Voters in Florida have endorsed a historic advance in democracy for the United States by adopting Amendment 4," says Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice reform group. "Nearly one-quarter of the entire disenfranchised population in the U.S will now have the right to vote."

Advocates see the voting rights and restoration initiatives as part of a broader movement this fall that also included measures in several states regarding redistricting, ethics and campaign finance.

"This year, we're seeing an unprecedented number of democracy reform and voting rights access measures on the ballot," said Dana Laurent, director of strategic initiatives at the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a group that promotes progressive ballot measures. "In 2020, we expect more of the same."

In Michigan, voters approved a measure called "Promote the Vote," which will launch an automatic voter registration system to sign people up unless they opt out. It also will allow people to vote absentee for any reason and to register as late as Election Day. 

In Maryland, voters passed a referendum to allow citizens to register to vote as late as Election Day, which is known as same-day registration.

"In our view, people who are eligible to vote should be able to register and vote conveniently," said Max Feldman, a counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which favors expansive voting rights.

In Nevada, an automatic voter registration (AVR) measure was leading narrowly in early returns. It will have to be approved by voters twice before it could become law. The legislature referred the question to the ballot after Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed the idea last year.

In his veto message, Sandoval warned that AVR "would create an unnecessary risk that people who are not qualified voters may unintentionally apply to vote." Evidence for such potential problems seems to be at hand in neighboring California. Last month, the state Department of Motor Vehicles announced that some 1,500 individuals, including non-citizens, had been wrongly registered to vote through the AVR process. That's on top of 23,000 registration mistakes announced the month before. Secretary of State Alex Padilla has called for an audit.

Due to concerns about voter fraud, states have spent much of the past decade enacting restrictive voting and voter registration laws, such as voter identification requirements.

In Arkansas and North Carolina, voter ID laws have been struck down by courts. But both states passed voter ID ballot measures on Tuesday. Voter ID requirements will now be kosher because they are enshrined in the states' constitutions.

Meanwhile, Montana voters approved a measure to make it a crime -- with exceptions for people like mail carriers -- to collect and turn in ballots cast by others.

For results of the most important ballot measures, click here.

Alan Greenblatt is a senior staff writer for Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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