The Bulletin

Study finds there’s only one state in the U.S. where it’s harder to vote than in Virginia

By: - October 22, 2018 12:56 pm

A recent study from Northern Illinois University ranked Virginia as the second-hardest state to vote in, falling behind only Mississippi.

The study used a “Cost of Voting Index,” which judged states based on the ease of registration and other voting laws, with registration deadlines carrying the most weight.

Authors of the study considered whether states allow voters to register on Election Day, register online, extend voting rights to convicted felons and if there is automatic voter registration. Voter ID laws also factored into the ranking, as well as early and mail-in voting practices.

In Virginia, residents can register to vote online, but have to do so a month before Election Day. Two years ago, Gov. Terry McAuliffe started the process of restoring voting rights to 200,000 convicted felons. 

His effort hit several snags, including a court challenge from Republicans, who claimed he was trying to stack the voter rolls with people who would vote for Hillary Clinton – one of McAuliffe’s close political allies- in the presidential election.

Virginia allows mail-in and in-person absentee voting that can be done before Election Day, but voters must have an approved reason, so there is no true early voting in the state. Virginia also requires a photo I.D. at the polls, and will give voters a free photo I.D. card if they don’t have their own.

“The study does give us some very substantive findings that we can report about the effect on voter turnout,” said one of the study’s authors,  Scot Schraufnagel, chair of the Department of Political Science at Northern Illinois University. “There also are implications for civil rights. We know, anecdotally, states with larger African-American populations have higher ‘cost of voting’ values.”

Virginia Democrats have tried to remedy some of the items the Illinois study looked at, including implementing no-excuse absentee voting, automatic voter registration and same-day registration.

Those efforts failed last session in the majority Republican Privileges and Elections Committee.

“Our ranking is not surprising,” Democratic Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg tweeted about the study. “It needs to change.”

Rounding out the top five hardest states to vote in behind Mississippi (No. 1) and Virginia (No. 2) were Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana (tie), and Texas.

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Mechelle Hankerson
Mechelle Hankerson

Mechelle, born and raised in Virginia Beach, is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in mass communications and a concentration in print journalism. She covered the General Assembly for the university’s Capital News Service and was among 12 student journalists in swing states selected by the Washington Post to cover the 2012 presidential election. For the past five years, she has covered local government, crime, housing, infrastructure and other issues at the Raleigh News & Observer and The Virginian-Pilot, where she most recently covered the state’s biggest city, Virginia Beach. Mechelle was with the Virginia Mercury until January 3rd, 2019.