Some of the most important expansions of ballot access in 2020 are very likely to be in Pennsylvania, one of the biggest of the tossup states where the presidency could get decided next year.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republicans in charge of the General Assembly reached a deal this week on a legislative package that would smooth access to the polls in four ways starting with the primaries in April, which may provide a turning point in the Democratic presidential contest.
An even bigger impact could come in the fall, when Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes will be central to the strategies of both nominees and turnout will be all-important. After backing the Democrat in six straight elections, the state went to President Trump in 2016 by less than a percentage point — a gap of 44,000 votes out of more than 6 million cast.
But the bill, which is on course for approval in Harrisburg in coming days, would provide no democracy reform panacea in the nation's fifth most populous state. Instead, it is being described by its proponents as propelling Pennsylvania from the back of the pack into the top half of the states when it comes to ease of voting.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Tuesday three democracy reform bills focused on local redistricting, voting access and campaign contributions.
The first piece of legislation prohibits partisan gerrymandering at the local level by establishing criteria for cities and counties to use when adjusting district boundaries. While California is the largest state to use an independent redistricting commission to draw its congressional and state district maps, local districts did not have the same regulations.
A handful of laws that took effect Tuesday in Maryland are designed to boost voting, political process transparency and civic engagement.
Maryland is a reliably Democratic state, and virtually all its elections won't happen for another year. But its proximity to Washington, and the fact that it's home to so many federal policymakers and advocates, means changes in the name of democracy reform get an outsized degree of attention from both fans and critics.
Like 20 other states plus D.C., Maryland will from now on permit people to both register and cast ballots on Election Day, so long as they can prove residency when they get to their polling location. The move to so-called "same day registration" will cost the local governments conducting elections a combined $2 million upfront and $600,000 each year after 2022, Patch reports.
Maryland is opening the door for increased civic engagement among children, allowing students starting in sixth grade to help out election judges on Election Day. Through what's dubbed the Page Program, younger poll workers will be trained and take an oath before they start service.
Herrick, Davis and Pryor work for Oklahoma State University.
Strict voter ID laws require residents to possess a valid, state-approved identification in order to vote.
Support and opposition to these laws primarily fall along party lines. Proponents — mainly Republicans — argue they are needed to protect the integrity of the electoral process. Opponents, who tend to be Democrats, say they're not necessary to reduce voter fraud.
Democrats have a point: In-person voting fraud is almost nonexistent. President Trump's now-defunct Voter Fraud Commission, which was supposed to investigate voter fraud during the 2016 election, was unable to unearth any significant evidence.
Critics claim Republicans don't really care about electoral integrity — that voter ID laws are about suppressing the turnout of minority voters, since these voters are less likely to possess legal forms of identification. Democratic candidates and activists routinely evoke these laws as tools of voter suppression.
But a growing body of evidence — which includes a study we published earlier this year — finds that strict voter ID laws do not appear to disproportionately suppress voter turnout among African Americans, Asian Americans or people of mixed races.