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This November, Know Your Voting Rights

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September 29, 2016

When voters go to the polls this November, they will encounter a patchwork of different laws and policies, many of them new since the 2012 presidential election — on everything from new voter registration deadlines to new identification requirements at the polls.

Since the last presidential election, 17 states have sought to implement new barriers to voting — including states like Alabama, Kansas, and Texas — with new ID requirements, disproportionately affecting minorities and low-income communities. As discussed below, some but not all of these laws have been blocked thanks to litigation by the ACLU and other organizations.

We’ve also seen positive changes as well, with voting laws that have expanded access. Multiple states have enacted laws that allow voters to now register to vote on Election Day. And this year, many victories have expanded the right to vote for people with criminal records. For instance, in Maryland, the re-enfranchisement of felons who have been released from prison is an extraordinary step to ensure that casting a ballot is open and just.

We want to clarify changes in the law and educate communities as they seek to exercise their right to vote. The ACLU has a long history of helping voters understand and exercise their rights. We have been at the forefront of the fight against voter suppression as well as the movement to allow new voter access. As a continuation of this work and in the lead-up to the November elections, the ACLU — in partnership with our state affiliates and their local allies — will host a series of telephone town halls in a dozen states to educate voters about new rules or common misconceptions when it comes to casting a ballot.

Empowering Americans with the right information to exercise their right to vote is crucial to a transparent and equal democracy. Our telephone town halls will highlight these states and laws:

  • Ohio: In this state, people on parole and probation can vote. The ACLU also recently settled a case restoring some early voting days and times, including on evenings and weekends.
  • Virginia: The good news: The governor recently restored voting rights to approximately 13,000 people with past convictions that have finished their sentences and is moving forward with plans for additional restorations. The bad news: The state now also requires a photo ID to vote.
  • Wisconsin: A photo ID is now required to vote, even though ACLU litigation challenging the law is ongoing.
  • Kansas: The bad news is that the state enacted a new photo ID law. But the good news is that the ACLU has had several recent victories so that citizenship documents are no longer necessary for registration at a DMV or when using the federal voter registration form.
  • Maryland: Voting rights have recently been restored to people with criminal convictions who are no longer in prison and to people on parole and probation.
  • Pennsylvania: As a result of ACLU litigation, a photo ID is no longer required to vote. People with criminal convictions can also vote this election.
  • Illinois: Voters can register to vote on Election Day for the first time in a presidential election.
  • Alabama: The bad news is that a new voter ID law is now in effect. The good news is that some people with past convictions can now vote too.
  • California: People on probation can vote, and there is a new law that facilitates voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • Colorado: There’s a new Election Day registration law in effect, available for the first time in a presidential election.
  • Florida: Early voting was cut in 2011, but thanks to ACLU litigation, those cutbacks have been reversed. And on another positive note, a movement is growing to restore voting rights to people with criminal records.
  • Texas: Unfortunately, a photo ID is now required to vote but, thankfully, a recent court victory allow people without IDs to vote — all they have to do is sign an affidavit at polls.

These are just a few of the many changes in effect for this election. That is why it is now more important than ever for us to be informed of the voting requirements in our state, so that we can exercise our right to vote this November.

Learn more about what’s at stake this election season