Reports of voter suppression became a major theme during the 2018 midterm election, and several states are now trying to expand voting rights to make suppression a thing of the past. This effort has moved forward particularly quickly in New York, which passed a voting rights package on Monday that could make it much easier for many New Yorkers to vote in future elections. States across the country are making similar moves, too.
The election reform package the New York legislature passed this week includes numerous changes meant to remove all possible barriers to voting, as Mother Jones reports. This includes measures to allow early voting and absentee voting without having to provide an excuse, preregister 16- and 17-year-olds, and combine the state and federal primary election days into one day (they previously took place in different months). The reform package still requires a signature from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but he's publicly expressed his support for expanding voting access.
New York's current voting laws currently are pretty antiquated, as The New York Times describes, especially when considering the state's reputation as a bastion of liberalism. In some ways, then, the reform package is just catching up to laws that already exist elsewhere. Other proposals Cuomo pledged to support in a tweet, like making Election Day a holiday or voting by mail, would push the state ahead of the curve in terms of voting rights — although The Times notes that those measures would have to be approved by voters before becoming law.
New York is one of at least nine states attempting to expand access to the polls this year, by the Brennan Center for Justice's count. Lawmakers in New Mexico introduced legislation in early January that, if passed, would lead to automatic and same-day voter registration, as well as grant voting rights to convicted felons, as The Taos News reports.
Across the country, New Jersey's legislature is working on a major voting reform package that would include many of the aforementioned measures. It would also extend registration deadlines and provide more services to help people get registered, according to the Brennan Center.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has announced that he would support legislation to repeal his state's restrictive voting laws and expand access in several ways, too. According to the Brennan Center, all of these measures are likely to move forward given the current makeup of the states' legislatures. In addition, governors or lawmakers in three states have called for election reform packages that still haven't been introduced yet: Delaware, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.
Lawmakers in South Carolina and Texas have also introduced legislation aimed at expanding voting access in similar ways, but the Brennan Center explained that Republican control over those states' legislatures makes it unlikely that reforms will pass.
Zooming out, it's not even just individual states that are expressing a commitment to making it easier to vote. In their first official act upon taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats introduced a bill aimed at expanding voting rights and lessening the effects of money in politics, as Vox reports. This was a largely symbolic move, as Senate Republicans aren't inclined to take up the bill; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even said it's "not going to go anywhere," according to The Wall Street Journal.
On the state level, however, efforts such as New York's are looking very promising. And with willing state legislatures, many will likely move forward. That's not to say there aren't still states with restrictive voting laws — but the states listed above show that efforts to expand, rather than limit, access to the polls are gaining steam.