While several states continue legal wrangling over how voters must prove their identity at the polls, a new bill in Congress aims to make it easier for millions of eligible voters to at least register.
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York filed legislation Sept. 18 that would require all states to offer online voter registration and set national standards for how they do it. Only 22 states now have some form of online voter registration; five other states have passed legislation yet to be implemented. That leaves 23 states that have no online voter registration system.
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Gillibrand’s bill would expand online enrollment to all eligible voters whether or not they have a state-issued ID. This would remove obstacles to groups of citizens who are less likely to have such IDs — older Americans, for example.
The proposal comes as more states impose additional voter requirements, including a photo ID, that critics contend have made it more difficult to vote. Most recently, a federal circuit court panel upheld a Wisconsin law that requires registered voters to produce a birth certificate or similar document at the polls.
“Instead of adding new burdens, we should make voting easy for millions of people,” Gillibrand said in a walk-up statement on the bill (S 2865). “Bringing our nation’s antiquated voter registration system into the 21st century is common sense.”
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Her measure has support from a number of public interest groups, including the League of Women Voters and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. Still, Congress has adjourned until a lame-duck session after the Nov. 4 election without acting on another voting rights proposal in response to a 2013 Supreme Court decision that invalidated a key part of the Voting Rights Act. The failure to act on that measure, which enjoys bipartisan support, signals that the online registration proposal, supported chiefly by liberal lawmakers and groups, could well face an uphill battle.
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