News·7 min read

How Voter Restriction Laws Can Impact How You Cast Your Ballot

Three people casting their ballots to vote.
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Feb 4, 2022

The way you vote is subject to change, and it all depends on where you live. In 2021, 49 states introduced more than 440 bills that included provisions to restrict voting rights. And 19 states passed 34 laws making it harder for some to cast their ballots. That’s according to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice (BCJ), a nonpartisan law and policy institute. And 2022 is no different: Four states have already filed at least 13 bills for this year's legislative season.

Why States Are Making Changes to Voting Laws

After former President Trump lost the 2020 election, he and his supporters made baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. And legislatures across the country said ‘roger that.’ While missing an important piece of information: There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Instead, they started drafting bills to tighten voting rules. Which have made it harder for some to access their right to vote.

The massive wave of bills and laws is giving some flashbacks to Jim Crow-era voting restrictions. Some legislation targets practices like absentee voting and voting by mail. Aka two policies that helped Americans vote during the pandemic — and helped the country hit a new milestone in 2020 with the highest voter turnout in more than a century. Others make it more difficult to vote in-person by restricting early voting. And impose criminal penalties on election officials for doing things like changing election-related deadlines without a court order.

Republicans say these measures can help keep elections safe and secure. But Democrats say they infringe on Americans' right to vote — and especially hurt voters of color and those with disabilities. These arguments are also playing out in Congress, causing a major stall on nationwide voting rights legislation. And now, with the midterm elections coming up, the stakes are at an all-time high. Especially since the entire House is up for reelection (as well as a number of senators). And Dems want to cling on to the slight majority they have over Republicans in both chambers. 

Where Voting Laws Have Changed

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming have all passed legislation to restrict voting rights. The laws span from changing identification requirements, to outlawing the handing out of food or and water at the polls. Here are the states making major headlines:

  • GeorgiaIn March 2021, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed a bill that imposed a number of voting restrictions. He said the law is a step toward making sure "elections are secure, accessible, and fair." Some of the big changes include cutting the time people have to request an absentee ballot and making providing food and water in poll lines a crime.

  • ArizonaVoters on its Permanent Early Voting List used to automatically get sent a ballot via snail mail. But in May 2021, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed a bill that would purge people from that list. Here’s how it works: the state gov notifies voters who haven’t returned a mail-in ballot at least once during two consecutive election cycles. If they don’t respond to the notice, they’ll be removed from the list. Ducey said this legislation is all about “election integrity." The state has also pre-filed a bill for the 2022 cycle that would crack down on voter ID requirements (more on these bills below).

  • FloridaIn May 2021, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a law that imposes stricter voter ID requirements. And adds more hoops for those who want to request an absentee ballot. Like providing their driver's license or the last four digits of their Social Security number. It also limits drop boxes and requires election officials to monitor them when people drop off their ballots. DeSantis called it the "strongest election integrity measures in the country." The law went into effect immediately, but is now being challenged in federal court.

  • TexasIn September 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a sweeping voting bill into law. It bans drive-thru and 24-hour voting. And limits mail-in voting. Democrats tried to block the bill, going as far as staging walkouts, fleeing the state, and risking arrest. But the Republican-controlled legislature carried on. Abbott said these measures make “it harder for cheaters to cast an illegal ballot.”

In response to the flurry of legislation, many Democratic-led legislatures have focused on doing the complete opposite of Republicans. And aim to pass laws that make it easier to vote. According to the BCJ, at least 25 states have eased voting requirements like…

  • Virginia and New York made voter registration easier for young voters.

  • New Jersey and Kentucky codified in-person early voting.

  • Massachusetts extended early voting through June.

  • Illinois and Maine (among other states) have expanded access to ballot drop boxes. 

  • Washington and New York restored voting rights to people with prior convictions.

  • At least 10 states have enacted laws that make voting more accessible for voters with disabilities.

Bills Bills Bills…Intro’d That Could Become Laws

Lawmakers in a number of states — both red and blue — have tried or are trying to pass their own voting laws. (Remember: Not every effort will be voted on or signed into law.) Here are some examples out of…

  • Nebraska…Aka the only Republican state without a voter ID law. Previous attempts to change that have been rejected at least seven times in the state legislature. One attempt in 2021 didn’t get enough votes to make it to the legislature' debate floor. But it did spark a petition for a ballot initiative on the measure — which would leave the fate of the bill in the hands of voters. If they say ‘we’re for it,’ the legislature would have the authority to enact it into law.

  • Michigan…State legislators have introduced at least 39 bills that would do things like: limit the use of ballot drop boxes. Add new photo ID requirements. And ban prepaid postage for absentee ballots. Some efforts have cleared the state legislature. But Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) used her veto power to stop several bills from becoming law. Plot twist: GOP lawmakers could potentially use a loophole to get the final say.

Meanwhile, the federal government has been trying to pass laws to protect voting rights across the nation. As a way to counter what’s happening on the state level. But it’s been a months-long rollercoaster ride. The latest: In Jan. 2022, the House passed voting rights legislation that would do a number of things, including… 

  • Let people vote by mail, no excuse needed

  • Expand early voting

  • End partisan gerrymandering

  • Allow same-day voter registration

  • Make Election Day a federal holiday

  • Require states with a history of voting rights discrimination to get preclearance from the Justice Dept. before changing voting laws. Something that the Supreme Court struck down in 2013.

But, the Senate failed to advance the legislation. Republicans have argued that Democrats are trying to exert too much control over states and how they run their elections. Plus, the 50-50 split in the chamber isn’t helping Dems. In order to bypass the filibuster, they need 60 ‘ayes’ to get this through — or they need to get rid of the filibuster altogether. But with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) saying ‘let’s keep it’ — and Republicans saying ‘hard pass’ on the voting rights bill — things are going to stay stagnant for a while. Despite Congress' failure to pass comprehensive voting rights, the battle for change still isn’t over.

Voting Rights Are Your Rights: How You Can Get Involved

Politicians aren’t the only ones who can take a stand on this issue. Here’s what you can do… 

  • Reach out to your elected officials. Let them know where you stand on your state’s voting laws. You can find their contact info here.

  • Register to vote. Voting is one of the best ways to make your voice heard. Federal elections go down every two years — with this year’s midterms happening on Nov. 8. Plus, state and local elections can take place any year. Register here.

  • Know your (voting) rights. The ACLU has information on how to exercise your right, resist voter intimidation, and more. And the National Conference of State Legislatures has details on voter ID laws in each state.

  • Stay informed. Read up on important info about the upcoming elections. The BCR is tracking what states are working on when it comes to voting restrictions. You can catch up on the latest with their December 2021 roundup.

theSkimm

Voter suppression tactics are nothing new in the US. And with more voting restriction bills and laws in the works, it’s important to be informed and prepared ahead of the midterm elections. Not only on the federal level — but also in your local and state elections.

Last updated on Feb. 3 to reflect up-to-date info, including Congress' efforts to pass voting rights legislation.

Last updated on Oct. 29 to include the latest on Texas's law and the Brennan Center for Justice's October report.

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