The way you vote is subject to change, and it all depends on where you live. So far this year, 49 states have introduced more than 425 bills that include provisions to restrict voting rights (as of Oct 4). That’s according to the latest report from the Brennan Center for Justice (a nonpartisan law and policy institute). Meanwhile, 19 states have already passed 33 laws making it harder for some to cast their ballots.
All of this came to a head following the 2020 presidential election. After former President Donald Trump lost the election, he and his supporters made baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. We repeat: there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. But now, legislatures across the country are making moves to tighten the rules on how people vote.
The massive wave of proposed bills and passed laws is giving some flashbacks to Jim Crow-era voting restrictions. Many of the bills and laws target practices like absentee voting and voting by mail. Reminder: these are two policies that helped Americans exercise their right to vote during the pandemic – and in 2020, helped lead to the highest voter turnout in more than a century. Others make it more difficult to vote in-person by restricting early voting, or imposing criminal penalties on election officials. While Republicans say these measures can help keep elections safe and secure, Democrats say they infringe on Americans’ right to vote – and that they especially hurt voters of color and voters with disabilities.
This year, state and local elections (think: for mayor, city council) are taking center stage. But the bigger contests will be in next year’s midterm elections. That’s when Democrats and Republicans will duke it out for power in Congress. And with new voting restrictions in place, the GOP hopes they'll win big.
One state that has made headlines is Georgia. For the first time since 1992, the Peach State went blue for President Biden in the 2020 election. And in March, 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." Here are a few of the things the law does…
Cuts the time people have to request an absentee ballot and requires new identification for them
Limits the use of ballot drop boxes
Shortens the early voting period for runoffs
Makes handing out food and water in poll lines a crime
Gives the Republican-controlled legislature more power to decide how elections are run
Arizona is another state that approved voter restrictions this year. During the 2020 presidential election, the Grand Canyon State also flipped blue for the first time in 24 years. It previously allowed voters on its Permanent Early Voting List to automatically get sent a ballot via snail mail. But in May, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed a bill that would purge people from that list.
Here’s how it works: the state’s 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 the bill is all about “election integrity."
Voters are also getting less of a say in Florida. In May, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a law that imposes stricter voter ID requirements and added 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 the new law the "strongest election integrity measures in the country."
Texas also joined the club in September. That’s when 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 had put up a long battle – staging walkouts, fleeing the state, and risking arrest – all in efforts to block the bill. But the Republican-controlled legislature carried on. Abbott says these measures make “it harder for cheaters to cast an illegal ballot.”
The other states that have passed voter restrictions: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. But there are plenty of others trying to make it more difficult for people to vote.
Lawmakers in a number of states (red and blue) have tried or are trying to pass their own laws. Worth noting that not every effort will be voted on or signed into law.
Nebraska is reportedly the only Republican state without a voter ID law. And previous attempts to change that have been rejected at least seven times in the state legislature. Now, there’s a petition to put a voter ID requirement on the 2022 general election ballot as a constitutional amendment. Supporters say it's to increase election confidence. But critics say it’ll create a barrier for people to show up at the polls.
Another state that’s making moves: 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) has been using her veto power to stop several bills from becoming law. Plot twist: GOP lawmakers could potentially use a so-called loophole to get the final say.
In response to the flurry of legislation, many Democrats have focused on doing the complete opposite of Republicans and are aiming to pass laws that make it easier to vote. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 25 states have enacted this type of legislation. Some of the highlights:
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 six states have enacted laws that aim to make voting more accessible for voters with disabilities.
Meanwhile, back in March, US House Democrats passed sweeping voting rights legislation – aka For The People Act. It would have:
Set up automatic voter registration
Expand early voting
Allow same-day voter registration
Restore voting rights for former felons
Limit states’ ability to purge voters from their rolls
But in June, Senate Republicans blocked the bill, thanks to the filibuster. Republicans have called the bill a partisan power grab by Dems. And said that states should be the ones setting the voting rules.
But that’s not all: In October, Senate Republicans dealt another blow to Dems. They blocked the Freedom to Vote Act – a scaled down version of the For The People Act. It would have made Election Day a public holiday, created minimum standards for early and mail-in voting, and more. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called the Dems’ effort part of a “radical agenda.”
'It's not over': But Dems are singing ‘well, we won’t back down.’ And are looking to bring the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act up for a vote soon.
This year, the Supremes took up two voting rights cases – considered to be the biggest since 2013. Back then, the Court struck down a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and essentially ruled that states with a history of discrimination no longer had to get the federal gov’s OK before they changed voting laws – giving states more leeway.
This year’s cases focused on two restrictions in Arizona and whether they violate another section of the 1965 law, which bans practices that discriminate on the basis of race (among other factors). They included:
Discarding ballots that are cast at the wrong precinct
Only allowing certain people (family members and caregivers) to collect people’s ballots for delivery to polling places (a practice known as “ballot harvesting”)
A lower court had previously ruled against the state, but SCOTUS sided 6-3 with Arizona and upheld both restrictions. Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the opinion for the court's conservative majority, said Arizona’s rules didn’t rise to racial discrimination. But Justice Elena Kagan voted in the minority, saying the ruling discriminates against minority voters, who historically have faced challenges casting their ballot.
Reach out to your elected officials. Let them know where you stand on your state’s voting rights or restrictions bills, and demand they take action. You can find their contact info here.
Register to vote. Voting is one of the best ways to make your voice heard. While federal elections go down every two years (we see you, 2022 midterms), state and local elections can take place any year.
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. The Brennan Center for Justice is tracking what states are working on when it comes to voting restrictions. You can catch up on the latest with their October 2021 roundup.
Voter restriction bills that lawmakers are pushing for around the country could make it harder for millions of Americans to vote. While voter suppression tactics are nothing new, many legislatures are looking to tighten the rules around how you cast your ballot. And one of the best ways to make sure your voice is heard is by voting and staying informed.
Last updated on October 29 – Updated to include Texas and the Brennan Center for Justice's October report
Last updated on July 1 – Updated to include the Supreme Court case decision on Arizona's voting restrictions
Skimm'd by Maria del Carmen Corpus, Maria Martinolich and Kamini Ramdeen
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