Updated on Oct. 6 with updates about a SCOTUS voting rights case.
In 2021, we asked Skimm’rs about their plans to vote in the 2022 midterm elections. 91% of millennial women surveyed said they’d most likely vote. That’s significantly higher than the 66.8% of Americans who voted in the 2020 presidential election — which recorded the highest voter turnout of the 21st century. But even with increased voter turnout, only 20% of Americans say they’re confident in our electoral system.
How did we get to this point? Well, a lot has happened to the state of elections and voting rights since 2020. Let’s dive in.
The state of elections and voting rights
After former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, he and his allies made baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. Which led to the Jan. 6 insurrection. And sparked even more distrust in our electoral system. After the insurrection, 56% of Republicans said they still believed the 2020 election was rigged or the result of illegal voting. Not to mention that some are still trying to prove false claims of voter fraud.
Legislatures across the country have responded by passing restrictive voting laws — many in the name of “election integrity.” (Worth noting: There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud.) Texas added new requirements for mail-in voting and banned drive-thru and 24-hour voting. Meanwhile Georgia made it a crime to hand out food and water to voters waiting in line. And Florida made it harder for voters to get an absentee ballot. That’s on top of instances of voter intimidation at the polls. In Washington, signs warning voters that they were “under surveillance” were found around ballot boxes. In Arizona, groups organized “stakeouts” at local drop boxes to catch people they claim were submitting fake early voting ballots, according to the New York Times.
But restrictive voting laws and voter intimidation aren’t the only tactics being used to manipulate elections. Enter: gerrymandering (aka when elected officials redraw district maps in a way that favors one political party). While both Democrats and Republicans have been accused of the practice, rigged maps tend to be most common in states under Republican control (See: Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Ohio). That’s in part because the GOP had a huge win in the 2010 midterms — which gave them an advantage in redrawing maps.
Last year, Republicans led the redistricting process in about 20 states (compared to eight when Dems were in the driver’s seat), which could give Republicans a big edge in the midterms. Especially in an election where the GOP is expected to regain control of Congress.
Now, SCOTUS is showing it may back up GOP gerrymandering efforts. Alabama’s new congressional map left a single majority Black district. (Reminder: AL’s population is 27% Black.) The move caused Black voters to sue the state for diminishing their voting power. But the high court seems to be leaning in favor of Alabama, based on its argument that race shouldn’t be a main factor in redistricting. SCOTUS should have a final decision by next summer. PS: The new map is still being used in the midterm elections.
But Dems are ready for a fight. And have made it easier to vote in some states (see: Colorado and Vermont). They also tried to pass a bill that combined the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. Which would’ve established federal standards for mail-in voting and drop boxes, expanded early voting, allowed same-day voter registration, and more. But it couldn’t make it past the Senate to become law.
So what laws protect voting rights?
For now, these are some of the amendments and laws that protect voting rights:
The 15th Amendment: It gave Black men the right to vote. Though many states put racist voting laws in place (like literacy tests) to restrict this right. And many voter restrictions today still impact minority voting rights.
The 19th Amendment: It gave women the right to vote. But women of color still faced barriers to voting.
The 24th Amendment: It eliminated poll taxes — one of many efforts to discourage Black people from voting.
The 26th Amendment: It set the voting age to 18.
The Civil Rights Act of 1870: Enacted to enforce the 15th Amendment. It made it illegal to deny someone the right to vote based on race.
The Civil Rights Act of 1957: Created the US Commission on Civil Rights, established a civil rights unit in the Justice Dept, and authorized the Attorney General to “seek federal court injunctions” to protect the voting rights of Black Americans.
The Civil Rights Act of 1960: Allowed federal inspections of “local voter registration rolls” and court-appointed referees to help Black people register and vote. Plus, it outlined penalties for preventing someone from voting.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964: Prohibited discrimination based on race, religion, sex, or national origin, including at the polls.
The Civil Rights Act of 1965: Outlawed voter discrimination based on race or language spoken by prohibiting literacy tests. Plus, it placed limitations on states with a history of voter discrimination (though SCOTUS overturned this in 2013).
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993: Established other ways to register to vote, like creating a national mail voter registration form. And required states to keep “more accurate voter registration lists.”
The Help America Vote Act of 2002: Allocated federal money for elections (think: election administration and replacing voting systems) and created the US Election Assistance Commission.
Power players: Who actually has control
Every state has a chief election official who has authority over elections in their state. That could be someone selected by the state legislature or appointed by the governor. And could be the elected secretary of state, as is the case in 24 states. That could be a board or commission, as is the case in nine states.
But many other elected positions can directly impact your state's voting policies, like the governor and attorney general. Plus, at the local level, your county clerk plays a role. (Learn more about these positions and others here.)
Races to watch
Your vote could have implications beyond November. Think: Future elections. So here are some of the ballot measures and races to focus on:
Michigan: This voting initiative would guarantee a minimum of nine days for early voting, broaden the state’s use of ballot drop boxes, and more.
Georgia’s Gubernatorial Race:
The candidates: Stacey Abrams (D) vs. Incumbent Brian Kemp (R)
Stakes: If Abrams is elected, it could change the direction of voting laws and rights across the state.
What to know: Abrams has made a name for herself as a champion of voting rights. And her 2022 run for governor is no exception. Some of her campaign promises include ending gerrymandering and the “arbitrary” rejection of ballots, as well as allowing voter registration on Election Day. Meanwhile Kemp (who, reminder, Abrams also ran against in 2018) signed a law that restricted voting by mail and gave more control over elections to legislators.
Michigan’s Secretary of State Race
The candidates: Kristina Karamo (R) vs. Incumbent Jocelyn Benson (D)
Stakes: Karamo is one of many election deniers running for office. And if she’s elected, she’d have a direct role in how elections are carried out in the state.
What to know: Karamo believes that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Because she claimed ballots were allegedly illegally tallied for President Biden when she volunteered as a poll worker. And she’s made investigating fraud claims, election security, and election integrity some of her main priorities.
Pennsylvania’s Gubernatorial Race:
The candidates: PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) vs. State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R)
Stakes: Mastriano is another 2020 election denier. And in Pennsylvania, the governor appoints the secretary of state who oversees elections.
What to know: Not only does Mastriano believe there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, but he also attended the Jan. 6 insurrection. That’s why Mastriano wants to end all contracts with “compromised voting machine companies,” eliminate “no-excuse mail-in voting,” and ban ballot drop boxes. Shapiro, on the other hand, says he wants to “ensure access to the ballot box” and would veto bills that’d restrict mail-in voting.
The right to vote is a fundamental right in the US. And now, candidates for state offices across the country are trying to strip it away, under the guise of election integrity.
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