States consider record wave of voting bills

State legislators who have begun or are preparing to start legislative sessions this year will consider more than 600 bills to expand or restrict the right to vote this year, a massive increase over recent years that were already noted for historic levels of action on elections procedures.

A new report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, a group that supports expanded voting rights, found legislators in more than half the states have already introduced about 250 bills that would restrict the right to vote. At this point a year ago, just 75 such measures had been introduced.

The vast majority of those bills will die without a hearing or during the regular course of the legislative process. But their proliferation in recent years underscores the degree to which legislatures have become embroiled in the national effort to undermine confidence in past and future elections.

Legislators in 18 states have proposed measures that would impose new restrictions on voters who want to cast absentee ballots. Some states would require voters to submit part of their Social Security Number or driver’s license number to get a ballot; others would shorten the time period in which a voter could request a ballot.

Three states — Mississippi, Missouri and Virginia — are considering bills to limit the types of people who could request an absentee ballot. Another Virginia measure would eliminate no-excuse absentee voting, just months after Republicans reclaimed control of the House of Delegates in an election in which a record number of people used absentee ballots.

Legislators in Arizona and Virginia are considering bills to eliminate the use of drop boxes for returned ballots.

The number of election-related bills introduced in legislatures has skyrocketed in recent years, after former President Donald Trump began undermining confidence in the electoral process as far back as 2016, when he began spreading mistruths about his loss in the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses.

Some Republicans have adopted his claims, most starkly after Trump’s repeated effort to undermine the legitimate results of the 2020 election he lost. Legislators in 13 states have filed bills that would make it easier to initiate post-election audits, create new law enforcement divisions to prosecute alleged electoral crimes or impose new penalties on elections officials.

In five states — Florida, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia — legislators have introduced measures specifically aimed at auditing the 2020 election results.

Legislators in three states — Arizona, Virginia and Wisconsin — will consider bills that transfer authority over election administration from nonpartisan or bipartisan boards to the legislature or some other entity.

About two-thirds of all states will consider measures that would expand the right to vote. Nearly 400 of those measures had been introduced by mid-January, according to the Brennan Center’s research.

Legislators in Indiana, Missouri and Rhode Island will consider whether to allow voters to request an absentee ballot without an excuse. In Florida, legislators have introduced bills to prepay postage on absentee ballot envelopes, and to make absentee ballot applications more widely available.

Several conservative state legislatures including Mississippi, Virginia and Missouri will consider bills to restore voting rights to those convicted of a felony, either after they have served their sentences or once they are on parole. In Florida, legislators are being asked to restore Amendment 4, a voter-approved constitutional change in 2018 that gave former felons their right to vote but which was changed by the GOP-run legislature in 2019.

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