Where Republicans Have Made It Harder To Vote (So Far)

Georgia’s new voting restrictions dominated headlines in March, for numerous reasons: It was one of the closest states in last year’s presidential election and the focus of former President Donald Trump’s pressure campaign to get Republicans to overturn the results; the legislation was written in such a way as to have a disproportionate impact on voters of color; and the law inspired an unusual amount of backlash from corporate America, even spurring Major League Baseball to move its All-Star Game out of the state.

But Georgia is hardly the only state that’s made it harder to vote this year. Republican lawmakers have now enacted new voting restrictions in a total of 11 states — Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. 

As we wrote in March, Republican state legislators — inspired by Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud — have introduced hundreds of bills this year that would make it harder to vote. Based on the latest data from the Brennan Center for Justice and our own research, at least 404 voting-restriction bills have now been introduced in 48 state legislatures.1 What’s more, nearly 90 percent of them were sponsored primarily or entirely by Republicans.

Of course, not all of those bills will pass. Of those 404 bills, we count 179 that are already dead — either because they were voted down or weren’t passed before a key deadline. Another 137 bills have not yet progressed beyond the committee stage, and at this point, that inaction bodes poorly for their chances of passage. On the other hand, 63 bills are still worth watching, having passed at least one step of the legislative process (with those that have passed two chambers closer to passage than those that have just passed committee). That leaves 25 bills that are already law (back in March, this number was only six); four states have even enacted multiple such laws.

The highest-profile voting restriction that has been enacted since Georgia’s is Senate Bill 90 in Florida. Among other things, the law requires proof of identity for absentee voting, restricts ballot drop boxes to early-voting sites or election offices (where they can only be used if a staff member is physically present), limits how many absentee ballots a person can deliver for non-family members, and makes absentee-ballot requests good for only one election cycle (previously, they were good for two cycles). Critics also fear that the law could allow Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to stack local election boards with political cronies and intimidate campaigns from giving food and water to voters within 150 feet of a polling place (based on the law’s expanded definition of vote solicitation). DeSantis also signed the bill last Thursday at a signing ceremony that was closed to all members of the press except Fox News, contributing to the partisan acrimony over the legislation.

Of course, as in Georgia, it’s not clear whether Florida’s new law will actually boost Republicans’ chances of winning elections in the perennially competitive state. By making it less easy to vote absentee, the law discourages a voting method that was used overwhelmingly by Democrats in 2020 but was also a source of Republican strength in elections before that.

Other new voting restrictions haven’t gotten as much attention as Florida and Georgia, but they could still affect voting for millions of people and underscore just how widespread Republicans’ push to tighten voting laws has been.

From April 15 to April 30, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law no fewer than seven bills containing new voting restrictions. One prohibits people from going within 100 feet of a polling place except with the intention of entering or exiting it — which could effectively ban giving food and water to voters waiting in line. Another requires absentee ballots to be received by the Friday before Election Day, making Arkansas one of two states where absentee ballots that arrive on Election Day do not count.2 The other five laws take power out of the hands of local election officials (for example, one bans them from mailing out unsolicited absentee-ballot applications), a trend we’ve written about previously.Similarly, Montana has enacted five new restrictions on voting this year. Among them: The governor can no longer change election laws in an emergency (as Democrat Steve Bullock did during the pandemic last year) without first getting legislative approval; people with certain types of IDs (namely student IDs) have to present a second, supplementary ID in order to vote; and, crucially, people can no longer register to vote on Election Day itself. These last two restrictions could help Republicans at the ballot box: Research has found that Election Day voter registration adds a significant number of (disproportionately young) voters to the electorate, and young voters and students lean Democratic.Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon signed a bill to require people to present ID in order to vote in person, leaving just one reliably Republican state (Nebraska) without a voter-ID law.Republicans in the Kansas Legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s vetoes of two bills that bar the executive and judicial branches from changing election laws, prohibit the secretary of state from extending absentee-voting deadlines and impose strict rules on people who return other people’s absentee ballots.Idaho now requires that a voter’s signature on her absentee ballot match the signature from her voter registration.Indiana has a new law that standardizes election procedures, in part by restricting drop boxes to the “physical control and supervision of the county election board.” (There are pro-voting-rights provisions too, such as notifying voters whose absentee ballots are rejected and giving them a chance to fix, or “cure,” the problem.)A major election-law overhaul in Kentucky that mostly expands voting access (by allowing early voting, implementing an absentee-ballot curing process, establishing online voter registration and more) also contains one voting restriction: Kentuckians are not allowed to deliver another person’s absentee ballot unless they are the voter’s family member, roommate or caregiver (or work for the U.S. Postal Service or elections office).In less than five months, 25 new voting restrictions have already been enacted in 2021. That’s a notable uptick from recent years: The Brennan Center tracked only 14 voting restrictions that became law in 2019 and 2020 combined. It’s likely, too, that that number will continue to grow. Republicans are expected to add even more laws restricting voting access to the books in the coming months — with an omnibus bill in Texas likely to be the next voting restriction to experience the glare of the national spotlight. Stay tuned as we continue to track these bills and explore their implications.

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