State Watch

States are passing a record number of voting restrictions

Republican state legislatures have passed a record number of bills curtailing voting access in the first five months of 2021, the year after a national election saw the highest turnout election in modern history without evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Legislators in 14 states — almost all of which are controlled by Republican governors and legislators — have passed 22 bills to curtail access to the ballot box, according to a count maintained by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. That surpasses the previous record set in 2011, when 14 states passed 19 new laws restricting ballot access.

This year’s tally is likely to grow: About a third of legislatures are still in session. At least 31 additional bills restricting the vote have already passed one chamber in 18 states, and dozens more have received initial hearings.

Legislators in Florida, Georgia and Montana have passed new laws to impose new voter identification requirements for those who vote by absentee ballot. Arkansas, Montana and Wyoming have all passed new identification requirements for voters who show up at the polls.

Iowa and Montana legislators have passed bills reducing the number and hours of polling places. Georgia and Iowa legislators have scaled back early voting hours. Legislators in six states — Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky and Oklahoma — have shortened the window in which voters can request an absentee ballot. 

After an election in which more people cast ballots by mail than ever before, legislators in Georgia, Iowa, Kansas and Florida have imposed new restrictions on election administrators’ authority to send absentee ballot applications or ballots themselves to voters who have not specifically requested them.

Voting by mail has emerged as a significant target for Republican legislators. Proposals in 15 states would restrict voting by mail, to varying degrees. Six states are considering bills to limit unsolicited absentee ballot applications. 

Arkansas and Montana have each passed four measures that would restrict access, the highest number in the nation. Other states like Georgia and Florida condensed multiple measures to restrict access in one omnibus package. A similar omnibus bill failed over the weekend in Texas, where Democratic lawmakers staged a dramatic walkout to deny quorum to the Republican majority.

The rush of measures to change election law come after former President Trump and his allies have spread misinformation about the integrity of the 2020 elections, which he lost to President Biden by a wide margin. Republican legislators have largely bought into Trump’s claims of fraud, despite a lack of evidence.

What fraud has come to light has been notable for its limited scope. In Texas, the state attorney general is prosecuting 43 cases of voter fraud — only one of which comes from the 2020 elections, in which 11 million voters in the state cast a ballot.  

In Wisconsin, elections officials have referred 41 cases of suspected voter fraud to local district attorneys covering both the primary and general election last year, more than half of which came from voters who apparently registered to vote using an address of a UPS store in La Crosse. More than 3 million Wisconsin residents voted in November, and Biden carried the state by 20,000 votes. 

Democrats and voting rights groups have promised legal challenges to many of the measures passed this year. Groups like the NAACP have already filed suit in Georgia. Marc Elias, a Democratic election law expert, waited just hours after Florida passed its omnibus election overhaul to file suit there.

At the same time, some states have passed measures that expand access to voting, mostly on bipartisan votes. Seven states have passed new laws expanding access to early voting, including both blue states like New Jersey and Massachusetts and deep-red states like Kentucky, Indiana and Oklahoma. 

Legislators in Washington and New York approved measures this year to allow former felons to regain their right to vote. Legislators in six states, both red and blue, have advanced bills to promote voting access to those with disabilities. 

Over the weekend, Nevada legislators approved a measure to convert elections to run entirely by mail, joining Western neighbors like Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Utah, which already operate elections by mail.

Democrats have used the Republican rush to restrict voting rights to push the For the People Act, the most sweeping reform of voting rights at the federal level in nearly 60 years. That measure has passed the U.S. House of Representatives, though it has run into threats of a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

Tags Donald Trump Florida For the People Act Georgia Joe Biden Texas voting access voting restrictions voting rights

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