What happened then?
In 2012, voters in Ohio, Maryland, Florida, South Carolina and elsewhere around the country stood in long lines – in some cases, for as long as nine hours – to vote. Long lines to vote are not a new problem, nor are they isolated. They do, however, disproportionately impact minority voters, according to studies of the 2008 and 2012 elections. As President Obama said on election night, “We have to fix that.”
Why it still matters?
According to the Brennan Center, early in-person voting opportunities shorten Election Day lines, expand opportunities to identify and correct registration errors and provide a better, more accessible voter experience. Over the last decade, the percentage of voters casting their ballot early and in-person increased nearly five-fold, but in demographic proportions roughly similar to the general voting population. In 2008, however, African American and Hispanic voters increased their usage of early in-person voting to 17 and 24 percent, respectively. By 2011, 8 states responded by passing laws to cut back early voting.
What’s happening now?
- Nearly one third of voters (47 million) cast their ballot before Election Day in 2012, more than double the rate of the 2000 election.
- However, 12 states do not currently allow any form of in-person early voting and since 2011, 8 states have passed laws that cut back early voting. These restrictions are particularly likely to hurt minority voters. For example, in North Carolina, 7 in 10 African Americans who cast ballots in 2008 voted during the early voting period.
- The bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration recommended that states expand opportunities to vote before Election Day, saying that “early voting offers Americans opportunities to participate in the electoral process that simply cannot be afforded by the contained twelve-hour period of the traditional Election Day.”
- Long wait times are a significant barrier to voting. In 2012, more than 5 million voters waited for more than an hour to cast a ballot and more than 200,000 people in Florida alone may have simply given up.
What needs to happen moving forward?
179 House Democrats are cosponsors of the Voter Empowerment Act (VEA), a bill which would, among other things, require fifteen consecutive days of early voting for any federal election. The VEA was introduced by Congressman John Lewis in May 2012. Despite bipartisan support for early voting from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, Republican leaders in Congress have not taken up the VEA – or any other legislation promoting early voting.