“The Democratic Party was founded on the promise of an expanded democracy… Democrats believe we must make it easier to vote, not harder.”
—Democratic Party Platform
Democrats have a long and proud history of fighting for voting rights that continues to this day. Organizers and activists have fought and bled for their right to vote, and Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act in 1965 was the culmination of all of their hard work and sacrifice.
The right to vote is fundamental — it is the right that protects and expands all other rights. That’s why the Democratic Party has continuously remained dedicated to making it easier and more convenient for Americans of all backgrounds to cast their ballot.
We adopted the boldest and most pro-voter platform in history — calling for expanding early voting and vote-by-mail, implementing universal automatic voter registration and same day voter registration, ending partisan and racial gerrymandering, and making Election Day a national holiday.
We do this by supporting candidates for state secretary of state and state legislative seats who want to expand voting rights. And we do this by supporting efforts in all 50 states to ensure that every eligible citizen can register and vote, and that each vote is accurately counted.
This work is all the more important in the face of a cynical Republican strategy to make it more difficult to ordinary Americans to vote.
In the wake of the Supreme Court gutting a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, 14 states passed or implemented some form of voting restriction. These actions included eliminating same-day registration, reducing early voting, prohibiting out-of-precinct voting, and imposing strict photo ID laws.
During this same time period, however, 37 states passed election laws or regulations expanding access to the ballot box, such as automatic registration, online voter registration, same-day registration, expanding early voting, expanding accepted forms of identification, or improving data through partnerships such as Pew’s ERIC program.
It is important to stop and recognize these achievements because they represent the culmination of years of advocacy and coalition building by our party leaders, elected officials, and core constituents:
- Automatic Registration: California, Connecticut, Oregon, West Virginia and Vermont adopted laws automatically registering voters when they get a driver’s license and allowing them to opt-out if they wish. Oregon registered over 250,000 new voters in 2016 and 42% of those who were automatically registered cast a ballot in November 2016. California alone may automatically register up to 7 million citizens – almost the equivalent of all the votes cast in the State of New York in November 2016.
- Same-Day Registration: Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Utah, and Vermont passed same-day registration – allowing voters to both register and vote at the same time.
- Online Voter Registration: Florida, DC, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania passed online voter registration. As of June 2016, 31 states now offer online voter registration and another 7 have passed laws authorizing online voter registration.
- Modernized Motor Voter: California sent voter registration applications to nearly 3.8 million people who had applied for health insurance through the state’s healthcare exchange.
- Expanded Early Voting: Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland and Utah all either piloted, introduced, or expanded early voting.
- Identification Laws: New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Virginia added to the list of acceptable forms of identification when voting or otherwise made their voter ID law less restrictive.
The 2016 election was the first in in 50 years without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act, and 14 states had brand new voting restrictions put in place for this presidential election. Republicans passed laws eliminating same-day registration, reducing early voting periods, eliminating pre-registration, not counting certain provisional ballots, and imposing a new voter ID law in states like Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.
These laws have a real effect on our election outcomes, and disproportionately affect women, communities of color, young people, the elderly, low-income individuals, and disabled voters, as well as military members and veterans.
We saw this in Wisconsin, where as many as 300,000 voters didn’t have the photo ID that was required to vote. The margin of victory in Wisconsin was only 23,000 votes. We saw this again in North Carolina, where there were 158 fewer early voting locations in 40 counties with large African-American populations — African American turnout in North Carolina was down 16% from 2012.
As Republican politicians try to make it harder to vote, Democrats are working to expand access to the polls. Whether we are hitting the streets to register voters, engaging with local election officials, passing commonsense laws, or taking our fights against discriminatory voting laws to court, we won’t stop working to promote a system of elections that is accessible, open, and fair. As Congressman and Civil Rights leader John Lewis says, “the vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool or instrument in a democratic society. We must use it.”