WASHINGTON, D.C. — With a new year comes change, and voters in states across the country are dealing with laws both expanding and attacking voting and elections after a multitude of previously enacted bills went into effect on Jan. 1.
Lawmakers in Idaho took diverging paths in the fight for youth voting rights from those in Michigan and Illinois. The midwestern states both now allow for certain 16-year-olds to preregister to vote, while students in Idaho are now plagued by photo ID requirements, which are currently being challenged in court, that removed student IDs as an acceptable proof of identity.
Michiganders also now enjoy a flurry of additional expansions, including minimum drop box requirements, more than a week of early voting and the early processing of mail-in ballots. The changes were made possible by a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters that greatly expanded voting rights in the Wolverine State.
Connecticut voters can likewise now enjoy early voting before general elections, for two weeks, thanks to a law enacted in June. Connecticut had been one of only four states — along with Alabama, Mississippi and New Hampshire — that did not offer in-person early voting options for all voters.
In Washington and New Mexico, state level voting rights acts (VRA) had pro-voting provisions go into effect at the start of the new year. A provision of New Mexico’s VRA, which was enacted in March and features a plethora of improvements to voting and elections, now allows for New Mexicans to sign up for a permanent mail-in voting list. The list means that voters who opt in will no longer have to request a mail-in ballot for each election.
Meanwhile, Washington legislators improved on their previously existing VRA by expanding who has the right to challenge discriminatory voting practices under the law to include Native American tribes and coalitions of multiple racial or language groups.
Sections of North Carolina’s dangerous and suppressive omnibus election law also went into effect on Jan. 1. Boards of elections in North Carolina are no longer permitted to accept private donations to help fund election administration, which is chronically underfunded. North Carolinians now only have until Election Day to return their mail-in ballots — the previous deadline was three days after Election Day — and individuals with felony convictions can no longer vote until they not only serve the duration of their prison sentence, but also serve and pay off probation and restitution.