State Republicans have in recent weeks advanced a spate of proposals that would restrict access to the ballot box, a move voting rights experts warned was coming after President Joe Biden's win.
State lawmakers are considering more than 100 laws that would make it harder to vote, according to an analysis conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. This number represents almost triple the number of similarly restrictive bills under consideration this time last year, according to the analysis.
These bills, in the works in 28 states, primarily seek to limit mail-in voting access, add voter ID requirements and make it harder to get on or stay on the voter rolls, according to the Brennan Center. There are nearly 2,000 bills moving through state legislatures aimed at addressing election-related issues overall, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Mail-in voting proved key to Biden's victory, as more Democrats than Republicans embraced the method rather than congregating at the polls as an uncontrolled pandemic raged. Experts have attributed this split to then-President Donald Trump's unrelenting effort to sow doubt in the integrity of the 2020 race with false claims that vote-by-mail is inherently fraudulent, and appeals to his supporters to vote in person.
Now, Republicans have zeroed in on mail-in voting for new restrictions and rollbacks, in some cases targeting laws the GOP had championed years before the pandemic.
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel told Fox News recently that rolling back pandemic election changes like expanded mail-in voting was “absolutely an important effort” for the party. She added that the RNC would be “taking a very heavy role in” efforts to clean up voter rolls. Trump falsely claimed there were thousands of dead people who voted in Georgia and while roll maintenance is a normal part of elections, experts warn that the voter roll purges that some Republicans have advocated for in the past are too aggressive, removing eligible voters from the books.
Conservative advocates of these laws say they’ll make elections more secure. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in American elections, while there is a large body of evidence that American elections are secure from both hacking and fraud. Still, Republicans have for years warned of voter fraud, despite the lack of evidence for it, something voting rights experts say primed a significant number of Republican voters in 2020 to believe Trump's lie about a stolen election.
“People are planting the seeds, laying the groundwork, and then saying, ‘Look, people are fearing exactly what I told them to fear’ even though there’s no evidence or basis for that,” said Eliza Sweren-Becker, an attorney at the Brennan Center who worked on the analysis of the state legislative proposals.
There’s an even more prolific effort to expand voting access, with more than 400 bills in 35 states proposing the expansion of access to the vote.
But with Republicans controlling the majority of state legislatures in the U.S., voting rights advocates say they are on high alert for new laws that will make it harder for voters to cast their ballots in future elections.
Sweren-Becker said she’s particularly concerned about Georgia, Arizona and Texas, states that have been trending blue in part due to a quickly diversifying electorate. Georgia and Arizona flipped blue this past presidential election, backing Biden over Trump; those wins were fueled in part by major demographic shifts over the last few years, paired with significant organizing and voter education efforts by Democrats and grassroots groups.
Suppressive laws “always have a greater burden on voters of color,” she said. “It’s impossible to disentangle these efforts to restrict voting access with efforts to keep Black and brown voters from the ballot box.”
Laws aimed at curbing mail-in voting — and drop boxes
At least a half-dozen states want to limit or modify mail-in voting systems.
In Pennsylvania, there are three different proposals that would eliminate no-excuse voting, Brennan notes, less than two years after state lawmakers in both parties voted to approve the law.
In Georgia, GOP lawmakers have promised to repeal no-excuse mail voting more than 15 years after the party put the system in place. The proposed law would limit the practice to those who are 75 or older, disabled or absent from the precinct on Election Day.
In Arizona, a Republican lawmaker wants to stop infrequent voters from receiving their ballots in the mail automatically.
In Pennsylvania, a Republican state senator announced he’d seek to eliminate the permanent early mail voting list, a system that allows voters who opt in for regular mail voting.
Lawmakers in Virginia and Georgia have also proposed eliminating drop boxes, a popular way of returning mail-in ballots. There’s no evidence that using these mailbox-like receptacles invites voter fraud, but it was a key complaint from Trump and his campaign during the race.
Laws around voter ID
Lawmakers in 10 states including Pennsylvania, Virginia and Minnesota have introduced 18 bills to add voter ID requirements or make them stricter, the Brennan Center said.
In New Hampshire, lawmakers want to require mail-in voters to send photocopies of their photo ID, while Georgia Republicans want driver’s license numbers and date of birth to be submitted alongside such ballots.
Laws pertaining to getting and staying on the voter rolls
Legislators in Connecticut, Montana, New Hampshire and Virginia have proposed ending same-day voter registration, while lawmakers in Alaska and Georgia have proposed ending automatic voter registration.
At least six states are considering more aggressive purge practices, too. Voter roll maintenance is an ordinary part of elections, but too-aggressive purges can disenfranchise eligible voters.
Laws to change how a state allocates presidential electors
Some states are also attempting to rethink how Electoral College votes are allocated in the presidential contest.
In Wisconsin and Mississippi, Republicans have proposed distributing electors proportionately, based on the results of individual congressional districts instead of a winner-takes-all statewide allocation. It’s a system only Maine and Nebraska use, but that too could change: Republicans in the Nebraska Legislature have proposed giving all their electors to the statewide winner, after Biden won one of the state’s electoral votes.
Lawmakers in Oklahoma and Arizona have proposed cutting voters out of the process, giving themselves power to allocate the state electors to a candidate. Arizona would give legislators the power to override the secretary of state's certification of the vote, appointing electors to a candidate of their own choosing. Oklahoma would give legislators the power to appoint electors unless there is a federal law requiring voter ID and auditable paper ballots, in which case the power would be returned to voters. That bill was sent to committee this week.
Meanwhile, 11 states have introduced proposals to join an interstate compact that would undermine the traditional Electoral College structure. If enough states join, participating states agree to allocate electors to whoever wins the popular vote nationwide.