Report: Ballot access worse in Southern states

A new report from the Center for American Progress, entitled “The Health of State Democracies,” takes a deep dive into the democratic performance of each state in the Union. The report evaluates states across three categories: ballot access, representation and influence.

On ballot access in particular, Southern states don’t stack up well. As the map below shows, you can get most of the way toward predicting whether a state will receive an F in the reports evaluation of ballot access by starting with a map of the Confederate States of America:

Ballot access by state

Ballot access by state

The report considered a number of factors when determining the quality of ballot access, upgrading states that provide for ballot access initiatives like preregistration, online voter registration and early or no-fault absentee voting; while downgrading states that have voting restrictions such as voter ID laws, long wait times at the polls or poor Motor Voter implementation performance.

Motor voter implementation performance has become the subject of increased scrutiny of late, as lawsuits have recently been filed in both Texas and North Carolina over their state agencies’ seeming inability to correctly update the registration status of voters who interact with government offices. This form of ballot access denial has nothing to do with preventing voter fraud and everything to do with a state’s general hostility toward voting in general, as it only affects eligible voters who have their forms properly processed. And the problem extends far beyond Texas and North Carolina. As Douglas Hess writes in the Post:

Pennsylvania, which has been sued before for failing to implement the NVRA, reported that between November 2012 and October 2014, only one voter registration application was filed from these agencies. Rhode Island, which has also been sued for compliance problems, failed to report whether there were any registrations at these agencies. Maine, New Jersey, South Dakota, Utah and Washington also failed to report data. In the same report issued four years earlier, North Carolina and Virginia reported 72,128 and 32,368 registration applications. In the new report, these states’ agency registration applications dropped to 33,332 and 14,497.

It’s important to note that, by all accounts, the South isn’t the only region in which there are unnecessary and discriminatory restrictions on voting. Rust belt states including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan receive F’s from CAP, as well. Also, as the report notes, every state has room for improvement. However, while the trend is not absolute, it is clear: the South is bad at democracy as measured by the ability of its citizens to effectively and efficiently choose their representatives.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. These are the same states that have implemented a keep-in-the-vote program ever since they realized that free and fair elections were no longer likely to be decided in their favor. They have made it harder to register to vote, and passed restrictive ID requirements for those who do. They have used every tool at their disposal — including the tax code — to discourage anyone who isn’t middle aged, white and wealthy from casting ballots. And even when citizens jump through all of their hoops, doing everything right in order to ensure that their votes will count, the states’ bureaucracies are conveniently incompetent, losing registration forms and selectively discouraging provisional balloting.

The report found a correlation — while not going as far as to claim causation — between ballot access and turnout, with the ten highest-rated states turning out at rates four percentage points higher than the ten lowest-rated states. This finding is supported by prior research showing that voting restrictions have a negative effect on voter turnout.

Apparently, when you make it harder to vote, fewer people vote. Who knew?


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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5 Responses to “Report: Ballot access worse in Southern states”

  1. devlzadvocate says:

    OMG. “. . . whole towns, cities and counties”. Bullshit. No counties. Six cities. Detroit, Benton Harbor among them which have all emerged from bankruptcy, which btw was approved in a ballot proposal by voters in the State. I didn’t like it, but don’t make it more than it is. Damn. I’ve lived in Michigan my entire life and it it NOT a poor man’s Singapore.

  2. 2karmanot says:

    Perhaps you are not aware that Michigan has become an oligarchy that is suppressing democracy altogether by confiscation and forfeiture of whole towns, cities and counties. It has become a poor man’s version of Singapore.

  3. ComradeRutherford says:

    “when you make it harder to vote, fewer people vote. Who knew?”

    The GOP did, that’s why they did this.

  4. devlzadvocate says:

    Strange designations for Michigan. Lower and upper peninsula are two different colors althogh the ballot access would be the same. So, which designation is correct? If that is incorrect, what else might be incorrect? As Indigo points out, access is better in Florida than in Michigan after all the problems reported in Florida, but none in Michigan? What? I do know that the only actual voting day is Election Day. There are no early voting days in Michigan, while Florida has some. Michigan is in the process of changing access to absentee ballots.

  5. Indigo says:

    I’m surprised that Florida ranked as high as it did. What does accessibility mean, exactly? My polling place is right down the street, that’s easy, but there’s a number of hoops to jump through before you can take your ballot to the booth. On the other hand, in North Dakota, where I lived and taught before retirement, polling places are far distant because the population is so spread out. Everything is far away, an hour drive to the grocery store, for example, is considered manageable. But once at the poling station, you can register on the spot and walk right in. It’s very convenient in that sense.

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