With the midterms rapidly approaching, voters across the country are registering at record-setting numbers. A record 800,000 people registered on this year’s September 25 National Voter Registration Day, surpassing the number of registrants from. In 2014, the last midterm election year, only 154,500 people registered on National Voter Registration Day.
In the last six months, some 400,000 registered to vote in Texas, far outpacing the typical rate of about 100,000 voter registrations a year Texas from the previous decade. In Travis County, which contains Austin, 93% of eligible voters were on track to register. Voter registration in Nevada has also outpaced the previous midterm numbers, with a total of 1,519,038 people now registered to vote. The same is the case in California, which has 1.5 million more voters than it did in 2014, with some 200,000 16- and 17-year-olds pre-registered to vote. Counties in both Kansas and Missouri have set records registering tens of thousands more voters than even presidential election years. Georgia has also seen record-setting numbers, registering 253,902 new voters since late April.
With voter registration deadlines having already passed in many states, the next challenge for advocates, campaigns, and candidates will be to make sure these numbers translate into turnout.
And that’s only part of the challenge — while the increased registration numbers are good news for our democracy, Republican attempts to curtail voting rights continue to be a major threat to the franchise. There are several cases that may be a significant factor in the midterms.
First, the good news. In April, a federal judge struck down Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s law that required all Kansans who were registering for the first time to provide documentary proof of citizenship. Judge Julie Robinson, who presided over the case, wrote the law “acted as a deterrent to registration and voting for substantially more eligible Kansans than it has prevented ineligible voters from registering to vote.”
A leading champion of voter suppression, Kobach was handed another defeat when a program run solely by his office, Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck, was rejected by a court in Indiana. The court blocked Indiana from purging their voting rolls based on Crosscheck data, which reports found flagged voters at a 99 percent false-positive rate.
In Missouri, results have been more mixed. Judge Richard Callahan ruled against a state voter restriction law, writing they were “misleading local election authorities and voters into believing a photo ID card is a requirement for voting.” Contrary to some state advertisements, a photo ID is not required if you bring another acceptable document, like a utility bill. But the ruling left Missouri’s current voter ID law intact, which repeated studies have shown to have a discriminatory effect on voter turnout.
In more troubling developments, the United States Supreme Court in June ruled in favor of Ohio’s voter purging law — the nation’s strictest. The law allows Ohio to purge voters from its rolls if they have not voted in six years. The ruling also protected vote purges in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Oregon, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Montana, which all have similar laws. The consequences of wrongful purges might not be felt until it is too late, on Election Day, as infrequent but otherwise eligible voters might not find out they have been purged from the rolls until they attempt to cast a ballot.
In October, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of North Dakota’s strict voter ID law, which requires voters to present a current residential address to access the ballot. This decision could prevent thousands of Native Americans who live on reservations in North Dakota from voting. (The U.S. postal service doesn’t deliver mail to rural reservations, so many Native Americans who live there use a P.O. box.) This ruling could be a devastating blow for the voting rights of Native Americans and could have dramatic consequences for the close Senate race there.
In Georgia, Secretary of State, gubernatorial candidate, and anti-immigrant fear-monger Brian Kemp has also caused concern over his voter roll purges. The Associated Press reported “Kemp’s office has cancelled over 1.4 million voter registrations since 2012. Nearly 670,000 registrations were cancelled in 2017 alone.” There are currently over 53,000 registrations that Kemp is blocking from going through, 70 percent of which represent African Americans. There is also a clear conflict of interest considering that Kemp is on the ballot this year while he is in charge of his state’s voter registration and voting process. A joint lawsuit from the NAACP points out the purges have “disproportionately and negatively impact the ability of voting-eligible African-American, Latino, and Asian-American applicants to register to vote.”