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One would think that in a nation where so many citizens do not vote — 75 million eligible people in 2008 — legislators would spare no efforts to increase exercise of the franchise. Indeed, much of post-Civil War history has witnessed the toppling of formal barriers to voting: African-Americans, women and later 18-year-olds gained the suffrage; poll taxes and literacy tests were pronounced illegal. Over time, affirmative steps have also been taken to enhance the ballot’s use and significance through measures ranging from declaration of the “one person, one vote” principle to passage of the “Motor Voter” law. But ominously, in recent years the tide has turned.

Despite the dearth of reported cases of ineligible persons attempting to vote, since the start of 2011 at least one-third of the states, accounting for more than three-quarters of the electoral college, have enacted statutes or undertaken executive initiatives designed to limit ballot access. Their purported justification is preventing voter fraud. These include stringent requirements governing voter identification, documentary proof of citizenship to register or vote, and voter registration drives. In addition, some jurisdictions have repealed same-day registration and eliminated or restricted early or mail-in absentee voting. Finally, governors in Florida and Iowa reversed earlier actions easing felony disenfranchisement rules, which constitutes the single most consequential hurdle to voting in the United States. See generally Wendy R. Weiser and Lawrence Norden, Brennan Center For Justice, Voting Law Changes in 2012 (2011).

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