Triumphs and Challenges for Early Voting

Written by Allison Gordon, Common Cause intern on June 21, 2016

You’re a US citizen, you’re 18 years old or older, you’re registered and ready to vote. But what if November comes around and you have work or class on Election Day? What if you can’t wait hours in the long lines you’ve found at your precinct in the past?

There is hope, because all but 13 states allow for some form of early voting. Encouraged by groups like Common Cause and the League for Women Voters, states including Maryland, Illinois, and Massachusetts have even expanded early voting in recent years, with Maryland also allowing voters to register and vote simultaneously.

Six other states however, have moved to reduce early voting for 2016. The moves by Nebraska, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia are part of a larger  legislative movement to restrict voting for the 2016 election.

Early voting opportunities are critical to protecting and strengthening voter rights. Many voters, particularly those with lower incomes or limited mobility, simply cannot make it to the polls on Election Day. Because the day is not a national holiday and doesn’t fall on the weekend, they cannot afford to take off work, particularly if voting involves waiting hours in lines.

The Brennan Center for Justice identifies five additional benefits to early in-person voting:

  • Reduced stress on the voting system on Election Day;
  • Shorter lines on Election Day;
  • Improved poll worker performance;
  • Early identification and correction of registration errors and voting system glitches; and
  • Greater access to voting and increased voter satisfaction.

In May, a federal court in Ohio struck down a law that eliminated “Golden Week,” an early voting period allowing citizens to register and vote simultaneously. The court said that the law violated the 14th amendment and part of the Voting Rights Act. The decision followed a ruling by another federal judge upholding restrictive voter laws in North Carolina, including similar provisions that reduced early voting and eliminated same-day registration.

There are at least eight more pending court cases challenging voter restriction laws, including laws that limit early voting. With the Supreme Court at least temporarily down to eight, evenly split members, lower court decisions in these cases likely will determine whether thousands of American voices will be heard this November.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Voting and Elections

Tags: Voting Rights

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