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Not all doom and gloom: Many states look to make voting easier

There's been plenty of national attention around efforts to make voting harder. But the momentum may quietly be moving toward greater, not less, ballot access.
At the Beech Street Center in Belmont, poll worker Rosemary Good handed out \"I voted\" stickers on Election Day, Nov. 6, 2012.
At the Beech Street Center in Belmont, poll worker Rosemary Good handed out \"I voted\" stickers on Election Day, Nov. 6, 2012.

Recent years have seen a seemingly endless stream of efforts in GOP-controlled states across the country to make voting harder, many of which have gained national attention. But a new report suggests that in fact, the broader momentum may quietly be moving in the opposite direction—toward greater, not less, access to the ballot.

Just since the start of the year, at least 190 expansive voting bills have been introduced in 31 states, according to a new roundup released Thursday by the Brennan Center for Justice. That’s compared to at least 49 restrictive bills introduced or carried over from last year, in 19 states.

Adding to the momentum are the bipartisan legislation introduced in Congress last month to strengthen the Voting Rights Act, and a report released recently by a presidential panel with several well-received ideas on how to make the voting process more efficient.

“For years, partisans have moved swiftly to restrict the right to vote. Now, given new momentum, there is a key opportunity to transform voting in America,”Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor efforts that make it harder to vote. But it is encouraging to see so many important leaders embrace the need to fix voting.”

Is the tide turning? 

"Certainly that is a hope, and there are lots of indicators suggesting that," Pérez told msnbc. "This is a sharp contast" from the wave of supressive laws in recent years.

Many of the expansive state laws introduced recently echo some of that panel’s key recommendations:

There are efforts in at least 18 states to modernize the voter registration system, using online and same-day registration, among other ideas. Experts say making it easier to register is perhaps the single best way to boost voter participation.

At least 13 states are looking to expand early in-person voting. (The presidential panel’s support for expanded early voting wasn’t popular with many conservatives, who argue, among othre things, that it reduces the importance of election day.)

And there’s even a direct pushback against voter ID requirements. At least nine states have introduced bills that would relax identification or proof of citizenship laws.

A Massachusetts bill that Pérez described as "exciting" would expand early voting and make it easier to stay registered when you move within the state. But it's not just blue states. A Nebraska bill that saw movement this week would allow for online registration, among other forward steps.