Voting Rights Across the United States
Well, Election Day is finally upon us. We have one day to go, and a handful of Senate, House, and Governors races still remain highly competitive, including in states where voting rights are on the ballot.
In every election cycle, the issue of voting rights emerges. Just recently in Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R), who is running for Governor against Stacey Abrams (D), has been accused of voter suppression. Additionally, in Florida, there is a ballot measure which could, if passed, restore voting rights to over 1 million felons.
I’ll break down the major differences in voting in different states across the country.
What’s Happening in Georgia?
To recap, Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) and state legislator Stacey Abrams (D) are vying to be Georgia’s next Governor. Recently, over 50,000 voter registrations were put on hold by Georgia’s State Department. Kemp is currently in charge of the Department and has repeatedly refused to step down. Voting rights groups, including the ACLU, have expressed concern over this issue. In a recent press release, the ACLU said they are filing a lawsuit against Kemp “and all county registrars.” The ACLU is making the case that Kemp and county registrars are not providing due process to individuals “whose absentee ballots or applications are being rejected due to an alleged mismatch of signatures.”
70% of absentee ballots and applications rejected are from black voters, furthering the fight over alleged voter and racial suppression. Georgia has an “exact match” voting process. Essentially, important information on absentee ballots and applications, including signatures, are matched with “Social Security and state driver records,” according to Vox. If the information doesn’t exactly match, the voter or applicant can be given the opportunity to correct the information.
Of the absentee ballots and applications rejected, about 98%, explained by CityLab, were received from “just ten counties, all of them connected to Georgia’s most urban areas.” Stacey Abrams is relying on voters from urban and suburban counties, in addition to the black vote, to help propel her to the finish line. There’s no way of precisely knowing if and how this could hurt Abrams’ chances. That’s something we’ll discover on Election Day, as the results come in.
Ex-Felons–Which States Bar Them From Voting?
While it’s easy to vote for millions of Americans, millions of others don’t even have the right to vote. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, felons are “permanently disenfranchised” from voting in Iowa, Kentucky, Virginia, and Florida.
This election cycle, Florida is at the center of a major ballot measure. Florida Amendment 4, if passed, would “automatically restore the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, upon completion of their sentences, including prison, parole, and probation. To be clear, felons would not be allowed to vote while incarcerated. Maine and Vermont are the only two states that allow everyone to vote.
Given that Amendment 4 is technically an amendment to the state Constitution, for it to pass, it will have to receive a 60% approval from voters.
The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization working to reduce the level of incarceration across the U.S., released a report in 2016 showing that approximately 6.1 million people “are forbidden to vote because of ‘felony disenfranchisement,’ or laws restricting voting rights for those convicted of felony-level crimes. The Report, summarized by Ballotpedia, also found that “Florida was estimated to have 1,686,318 persons–10.43 percent of the voting age population–disenfranchised due to felonies.” Statistically, that is a staggering number of Floridians who are disenfranchised from voting.
Voting–Where It’s Easy to Vote, and Where It’s Not…
Some states make it convenient for people to vote, while other states have a more challenging process. For instance, the state of Alabama has some of the most restrictive voter ID laws. Alabamians can only vote on Election Day, meaning they can’t petition for an absentee ballot. But over in California, it’s quite easy to vote: you don’t need ID, you can vote early 4 weeks prior to Election Day, and you don’t need any excuse for requesting an absentee ballot.
If you’re curious as to how easy (or hard) it is to vote in your state, click here. Even if you’re state doesn’t require an ID, or your voting precinct doesn’t typically ask for one, double-check.
And finally, a quick glance over the basics. The Senate, currently held by Republicans, is given a roughly 85% chance of staying under Republican control. The House, however, is quite the opposite. FiveThirtyEight gives Democrats an 85% chance of sweeping control of the House and gaining an average of 39-40 seats. But remember–these are only chances.
Like everything in politics, anything can happen at the last moment, so nothing is quite as set in stone as it may seem.