Since 2010, 25 states passed laws making it harder to vote. Some required voters to present photo ID at the polls; others restricted early voting or the re-enfranchisement of ex-felons. In 17 of the states, Republicans control the legislature and the governorship. Liberals have scrambled to get the laws repealed or overturned in court. But with exceptions such as the July decision by a federal appeals court to block several new voting restrictions in North Carolina, most of the new laws remain on the books and will be in effect in November.
Now some of the bluest states are passing laws to make voting easier. Since the start of 2015, five states have approved automatic voter registration measures, in which government agencies such as the Department of Motor Vehicles add qualified citizens to the voter rolls unless they opt out. “The question should be, Why would we ever have a barrier?” says Democrat Jennifer Williamson, state house majority leader in Oregon, where the nation’s first AVR measure was signed into law in March 2015. “We should be constructing a system where the default is voting.”