State Watch

Voting laws are changing. Here’s how they look in your state

A man leaves a voting booth.
Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP
Jeremy Honeycutt, of Hinsdale, N.H., exits the voting booth after filling out his ballot at the Hinsdale polling station during the state’s primary on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022.

(NewsNation) — As the November midterm election draws near, voters in several states will be subjected to new laws dictating who, where, and how people may cast their ballots.

Proposed voting legislation took off after the most recent presidential election, following former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election and widespread voter fraud.

Below is a look at voting practices in each state and how today’s political climate is shaping election laws.

Vote-by-mail

Thirty-five states and Washington, D.C., allow voters to cast absentee mail-in ballots without an excuse.

Eight states automatically mail a ballot to every eligible voter even if it isn’t requested, although there may still be an option to vote in person.

In the early days of American democracy, people would cast their votes out loud on the courthouse steps, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Paper ballots didn’t become commonplace until the late 19th century.

The use of mail-in ballots came under fire during the 2020 presidential election, after the former president claimed an “unprecedented massive amount of unsolicited ballots” would mean the election results “may never be accurately determined.”

Voter fraud has proved exceedingly rare. The Brennan Center for Justice in 2017 ranked the risk of ballot fraud at 0.00004% to 0.0009%, based on studies of past elections.

Last year, a federal judge struck down portions of a Florida election law that the judge said suppressed Black voters.

The law tightened rules on mailed ballots, drop boxes and other popular election methods, changes that made it more difficult for Black voters who, overall, have more socioeconomic disadvantages than white voters, the judge said in his ruling.

Ballot drop-off box

Some states provide ballot drop boxes where voters can submit a sealed and signed envelope with their ballot, a practice that became more common in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Twenty-three states have specific laws regulating drop-box locations, how many are in each county, hours of operation and security measures. Additionally, 31 states allow someone to return an absentee or mail ballot on behalf of a voter.

Those practices were recently challenged in Wisconsin, where a conservative-controlled Supreme Court ruled in July that absentee ballot drop boxes may be placed only in election offices and that no one other than the voter can return a ballot in person.

Republicans have argued that practice — known as ballot harvesting — is rife with fraud, although there has been no evidence of that happening in Wisconsin. Democrats and others argue that many voters, particularly the elderly and disabled, have difficulty returning their ballots without the assistance of others.

Supporters argue drop boxes are a better option than mailing ballots because they go directly to the clerks and can’t be lost or delayed in transit.

Voter registration

In the U.S., all but one state require citizens to register to vote. North Dakota is the only one without a requirement and instead allows eligible citizens to vote with proper identification.

In Wisconsin, a conservative law firm is challenging the use of a federal voter registration form, saying it doesn’t meet the requirements laid out by state law.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty recently filed a lawsuit asking a judge to declare the National Mail Voter Registration Application illegal in the state and order the Wisconsin Election Commission to withdraw its approval for the form because it doesn’t include places to fill in information including whether a voter has been convicted of a felony and how long they have lived in their district.

Many states are required by federal law to use the form, which is provided by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, but Wisconsin isn’t subject to such an obligation because the state allows voters to register at the polls on Election Day.

Residents can also register online, at their municipal clerk’s office or by mail with a state form, which is available in English, Spanish and Hmong on the election commission’s website.

Photo Identification

Eighteen states had voter photo identification laws in effect as of this spring, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures and 19 states had identification laws that accepted proof other than photos.

Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia have some of the most strict photo ID requirements.

In Missouri, two groups are challenging a new election law requiring a photo ID to vote. The Missouri League of Women Voters and the Missouri NAACP are suing the state, claiming the law restricts voting rights, NewsNation’s local affiliate KOLR reported.

The Missouri law allows people without a government-issued ID (not a voter registration card or student ID) to cast a provisional ballot. That ballot would be counted if they return to the polling location later that day to show a photo ID or an election official can verify the voter’s signature.

Those opposed to the requirement have said getting a state photo ID isn’t always easy and cited concerns about voters’ provisional ballots being deemed insufficient. They also argue the new law is a barrier that disproportionately affects voters of color, seniors, voters with disabilities, young voters, and low-wage workers.

Proponents of the measure say it helps prevent in-person voter impersonation and increases public confidence in the election process. Opponents say there is little fraud of this kind, and the burden on voters unduly restricts the right to vote and imposes unnecessary costs and administrative burdens on elections administrators.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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