As the election cycle heats up, barriers to the polls are becoming a serious problem to more and more voters across the country. Whether it’s waiting five hours in line just to cast a vote or delaying local elections due to gerrymandering, voters have been prevented from taking part in our democracy this primary season. Here are the five worst election disasters of 2016.
In a span of five hours, you could fly from L.A. to New York or drive from Chicago to St. Louis. But for some Arizona voters, this wasn’t even enough time to make it through a line to vote in March’s primaries. That’s because Maricopa County slashed the number of polling places from 200 in 2012 to 60 in 2016, leaving only one polling place for every 21,000 eligible voters. The huge drop in polling places created long lines across Arizona’s largest county and barred thousands of voters from making their voices heard.
In the past, states covered under the Voting Rights Act, such as Arizona, would not have been able to significantly reduce polling places unless the federal government approved it. However, the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 that allowed states like Arizona to change election rules without the federal government’s approval.
Fortunately, a movement to strengthen the VRA is gaining momentum. In fact, more than 50 members of Congress formed the Voting Rights Caucus last month as part of an ongoing effort to restore the VRA.
Just weeks after the Arizona disaster, voters in Puerto Rico faced a similar story: a reduction of polling places, long lines and sweltering heat. Weeks before the island’s Democratic primary, voters were shocked with news that the number of polling places was going to be cut from 1,510 to 455. On June’s primary day, voters waited up to 2.5 hours in Puerto Rico’s capital city, San Juan, just to cast their ballots.
Voting is a fundamental right, but in Ohio, it’s become “use it or lose it.” At least 144,000 “infrequent” voters have been removed from the state’s voter registration lists. Without re-registering, these voters, most of whom haven’t voted since 2008, won’t be allowed cast a ballot in one of America’s most crucial swing states.
The state’s slogan “Stay Just a Little Bit Longer,” rang true in an unfortunate way for many voters during April’s primary. On college campuses across Wisconsin, students waited hours to vote or were prevented from voting altogether, primarily due to the state’s new voter ID laws that do not accept student IDs. The restrictions didn’t just limit college students — other eligible voters were turned away from the polls because they couldn’t provide a valid voter ID.
In order to boost voter turnout, local primaries are usually held on the same day as national primaries. However, that wasn’t the case in North Carolina because legislators were required to fix congressional districts so badly gerrymandered that they had to delay House congressional races until June rather than holding them during the national primary in March. As a result, voter turnout for the House race was only 7.8 percent.
The election disasters that have plagued the 2016 campaign cycle demonstrate just how many barriers voters face at the polls. No single solution can fix all of these problems, but the truth is, there’s an easy way to get started expanding access to our democracy: automatic voter registration.
With AVR, up to 50 million eligible voters would automatically be registered to vote just by interacting with the DMV. Five states have already passed AVR, and it’s being considered in 27 more. We need your help to continue building momentum. Tell your state lawmakers you support AVR.
We already know what impact AVR can have for American voters. In Oregon, monthly voter registrations have tripled since they enacted AVR in January. By implementing AVR, we could see these results nationwide.