Brief #72—Civil Rights

Policy Summary
In the aftermath of the 2018 midterm elections which saw the Democratic Party make significant gains with additional seats in the House of Representatives and the number of state governorships, state legislators in four swing states with current Republican majorities have introduced legislation that would impose additional barriers on citizens’ right to vote. And they have also introduced legislation that would curb the powers of the governor and state election boards from making changes to these new laws if implemented.

In Wisconsin, the state legislature introduced bills that would prevent the incoming Democratic governor from modifying the state voter ID law to permit more people to vote. And they introduced a bill to eliminate an early voting period. In Michigan, Republicans introduced a bill that would overturn Election Day registration. In Ohio, Republicans in the state legislature introduced bills that would add additional requirements to amend the state constitution as well as a requirement that signatures on initiatives and petitions are only valid for 180 days. And in North Carolina, the Republicans in that state legislature are trying to pass a bill that would prohibit the Democratic governor from vetoing a new voter ID law that passed on Election Day. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Analysis: These bills, which came swiftly after Democratic gains on Election Day, clearly show that many Republican politicians are not interested in protecting every eligible voter’s constitutional right to vote. Each proposal has a common theme in that each erects an unnecessary barrier for citizens who want to vote or suggest improvements in providing access to the ballot box.

The proposal in Wisconsin does nothing more but handcuff the new governor from adding additional acceptable forms of ID that people can show when they try to vote. The likely effect is less voters coming to the polls.

The Michigan proposal overturning Election Day registration is in direct contravention of a ballot initiative that was overwhelmingly approved weeks before on Election Day. If voters in Michigan approve of registration of voters on Election Day, why did the state legislature introduce a bill that would overturn that initiative?

Ohio Republicans also tried to defy the will of their voters. A ballot initiative put to the voters approved a constitutional amendment that would make gerrymandering more difficult in Ohio. Yet Republicans in the state legislature responded by changing the rules on constitutional amendments and initiatives – constitutional amendments may now have to meet a higher threshold (60% of voters need to approve now instead of a simple majority) and signatures on initiatives and petitions are only valid for 180 days. This will cause any future initiatives to have a shorter timetable to be approved in Ohio, thus increasing chances of initiatives being defeated before even being placed on ballots for voters to vote on.

And Republicans in North Carolina weren’t to be left out in the rush to try and suppress future voters. Even though federal courts deemed their original voter ID law unconstitutional in 2013, the state put the voter ID law back on the ballot in 2018, which surprisingly got approved by voters. However, North Carolina Republicans are attempting to introduce a bill that would implement the amendment faster than normal so that the Governor cannot veto the amendment. While the result is clearly to suppress voters, the incident in North Carolina is also an issue of the powers of each branch of government and how political parties are manipulating the levers of power to get what they want.

These bills can best be explained with this Twitter post from the MaddowBlog which shows the wide gap in statewide voting and the distribution of state legislative seats. Democrats may have won more than 50% of the popular vote in these states but they are only winning 40% and even less of the total state legislative seats. The bills we have seen seem directed at keeping certain political parties in power at all costs even including ignoring the popular will of the voters. These bills are unnecessary and are blatant power grabs to keep Republican politicians and policies in power despite not even getting a majority of the votes cast statewide. LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

  • Common Cause – non – profit group focused on ending gerrymandering in the U.S.
  • Fair Vote – non – profit group infopage on redistricting and harms of gerrymandering.
  • Campaign Legal Center – non – profit group fighting to protect and strengthen the U.S. political process.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact

Photo by Arnaud Jaegers

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