Mail-in ballots have been the target of many new Republican-proposed restrictions in state legislatures. (Photo by iStock /Getty Images Plus)
WASHINGTON — Republican state lawmakers across the country are ramping up their drive to enact voting and election-related laws in time for crucial 2022 midterm elections.
As federal legislation that would limit state-level voting restrictions appears stymied in Washington, Republicans in the states are moving forward with new proposals and revisiting old ones that Democrats and voting rights advocates say are designed to both suppress voters and subvert the election process.
“I expect we will see additional restrictive voting legislation in 2022,” said election expert Rick Hasen, co-director of the Fair Elections and Free Speech Center at the University of California, Irvine.
Hasen said former president Donald Trump “is demanding it based on his false claims of a stolen 2020 election, and it plays to the Republican base that believes Trump’s false claims.”
In 2021, at least 19 states enacted 34 laws restricting access to voting, according to an analysis by the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice. The analysis from early December found that before the 2022 session even started, state legislators were pre-filing bills to make it harder to cast a ballot and to allow “audits” of election results.
There are 88 voter restriction bills in nine states from the 2021 legislative session that will roll over to the 2022 session, according to the Brennan Center. Without federal legislation to block Republican lawmakers’ efforts, experts warn the United States is likely to see a similar “tidal wave” of restrictive voting laws this year.
Most of the states where restrictive laws are likely this year also passed or attempted to pass similarly restrictive laws last year.
“All indications are that the tidal wave of efforts to restrict and undermine the vote that we saw last year will continue through 2022,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director of the voting rights and elections program at the Brennan Center. “We’re already seeing it, in bills to make it harder to vote and to enable partisans to sabotage elections.”
Here’s a look at states to watch, the voting restrictions that emerged last year, and what could be coming in 2022:
LAST SESSION: After the 2020 election, when a Democrat won the state’s presidential contest for the first time in almost three decades, Georgia became ground zero for restrictive voting laws. In March, Gov. Brian Kemp signed Senate Bill 202, approving a spate of changes to voting rules, including a shortened period for requesting an absentee ballot, a ban on government entities from distributing unsolicited absentee ballot applications, and limitations on counties’ use of ballot drop boxes, among many other measures. The state has been hit with several lawsuits claiming the law discriminates against voters of color, including one suit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
THIS SESSION: As the legislative session gets underway, lawmakers are expected to revisit legislation to reshape the state’s handling of absentee ballots and other voting rules. Even before the session began, lawmakers started previewing their intentions. Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller, who is running for lieutenant governor, pre-filed legislation in December to ban ballot drop boxes, arguing that they were introduced as an emergency measure during the pandemic but many counties didn’t follow appropriate security guidelines. The bill prompted outrage from voting rights advocates across the country, but it’s only one of many by state Republicans.
Republicans are also proposing legislation to allow the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate election-related complaints without a request from a local government.
Another potential GOP-backed bill would allow voters to choose paper ballots instead of the recently purchased Dominion Voting Systems electronic touchscreen devices. State Sen. Burt Jones, who is also running for lieutenant governor and is endorsed by former President Donald Trump, is pushing for the change, claiming electronic touchscreens are vulnerable to hacking.
Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger also wants to tighten election rules and is advocating a constitutional amendment to ban noncitizens from voting in Georgia. Noncitizens are already prevented from voting under state law.
With Republican majorities in both chambers of the legislature, Democratic lawmakers see little path to expand voting rights in Georgia this session. But voting rights groups like the Atlanta-based Fair Fight Action are ready to do their part to push back against what they see as voter suppression efforts.
“Fair Fight Action and voting rights groups across Georgia are ready to fight back against any and all anti-voter proposals that Republicans try to force through this legislative session,” Hillary Holley, the group’s organizing director, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Georgia voters will also head to the polls this year for elections for governor and secretary of state. GOP candidates in both races have supported Trump’s lies about the 2020 election and gubernatorial candidate David Perdue has said he would not have certified the results.
Follow more throughout the session in the Georgia Recorder.
LAST SESSION: Early in 2021, Arizona led the nation in proposed legislation that would make it harder for people to vote. By the end of the year, the state passed three restrictive voting bills. One bill made Arizona’s early voter list less permanent by requiring counties to stop sending early ballots to people who have not used early voting in either of the last two statewide or federal elections.
Another bill requires the state to throw out mail-in ballots that are not cured of missing signatures by 7 p.m. on Election Day. The third bill included several election integrity policies including stripping election officials of their authority. That bill was struck down by Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper in September.
THIS SESSION: Before the session started, Arizona Republicans pre-filed nearly a dozen measures to reform elections. State Sen. Wendy Rogers wants legislation to set up a government bureau to investigate fraud in elections and prohibit drive-up voting for anyone who is not disabled. While those measures would restrict voting, Rogers also wants to make primary and general election days paid holidays for all state workers, which could encourage participation in elections.
Republican state Sen. Kelly Townsend introduced bills related to election audits and to review the security of election equipment. She also wants new voter ID requirements and legislation to criminalize people who misplace a voter’s ballot and contractors who do not follow through with election-related work.
Other Republicans introduced measures to require paper ballots to be printed with holographic foil, which they say would prevent tampering. Others want all ballots and votes to become public records with digital images.
Although Republicans have an advantage in both chambers, state Democrats are hoping for bipartisan support on their blueprint for legislation this year.
“We should be making it easier for all eligible Arizonans to vote, not harder,” their blueprint reads. “While we continue to support automatic voter registration and the repeal of needless roadblocks, we know the fight in the upcoming session will be to save democracy itself.”
Follow updates on all of this legislation in the Arizona Mirror.
LAST SESSION: In 2021, Michigan’s legislature passed three restrictive voting laws out of a proposed 39-bill package, but Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed all of them. The bills would have required the state to clean up its voter rolls more frequently (a practice that voting advocates say could end up purging eligible voters), ban the use of sworn affidavits for voters who show up to vote without an adequate ID, and prohibit internet access to voting machines, among other measures.
THIS SESSION: Although Michigan Republicans didn’t have any luck with their legislation last year, 15 of their restrictive voting bills from last year will carry over to the 2022 session, according to the Brennan Center.
Republicans are also counting on the fact that Whitmer is up for reelection in the fall and could be unseated by a Republican who would support their efforts.
Michigan Republicans are also attempting to push through voting restrictions with the Secure MI Vote ballot initiative. The initiative would restrict voting by eliminating the ability for voters without ID to cast a regular ballot, requiring voters to put identifying information like their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number on absentee ballot applications, and prohibiting election officials from sending absentee ballot application forms to voters who did not request them, among other measures.
If signed by enough voters, and certified by the Board of State Canvassers, GOP lawmakers could circumvent Whitmer’s veto and enact the restrictions anyway.
Read more on these efforts in Michigan Advance.
LAST SESSION: Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor vetoed the one restrictive voting law that Republicans in the state legislature passed in 2021. The bill would have mandated voter identification in all elections and limited the time period when ballot drop boxes are available, among other measures. While the bill did include some provisions aimed at expanding voting like creating early voting and allowing voters to fix mail ballots with missing signatures, Gov. Tom Wolf said that it was “ultimately not about improving access to voting or election security, but about restricting the freedom to vote.”
THIS SESSION: Although Republicans were not successful last year, 30 restrictive voting bills are carrying over to the 2022 session, four of which are proposed constitutional amendments that would allow legislators to pass voting restrictions with approval of the legislature and voters but without the governor’s review, according to the Brennan Center. The carryover bills would, among other measures, make voting harder by eliminating no-excuse mail voting, requiring voter ID for in-person and mail voting, requiring signature matching for mail ballots, and moving the deadline for absentee ballots to be returned from 8 p.m. on Election Day to 5 p.m. the Friday before Election Day.
Pennsylvania voters will elect a new governor in November.
Follow the Pennsylvania Capital Star for more on all of these efforts.
LAST SESSION: Last year, Texas passed Senate Bill 1, one of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. The law targets voting methods disproportionately used by Democratic voters of color, like banning overnight early voting hours and drive-through voting. The law also makes vote-by-mail more difficult and sets new criminal penalties for voter assistance. There are currently several lawsuits challenging the law, including one from the U.S. Department of Justice.
THIS SESSION: Texas’ legislative session will not meet in 2022 but all eyes will be on the litigation challenging Senate Bill 1, as opponents try to ensure it’s not in effect for the 2022 midterm elections.
LAST SESSION: In May 2021, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a wide-ranging bill that restricts voting by limiting the use of drop boxes, adding ID requirements for absentee ballots, stopping the automatic mailing of absentee ballots to voters who did not request them for that particular election, and limiting who can collect ballots, among other measures. The law went into effect immediately and the state was promptly hit with federal court challenges. A consolidated federal lawsuit is set to be heard on Jan. 31.
THIS SESSION: DeSantis is already urging lawmakers to go even further this session to restrict voting. He told lawmakers in his State of the State address Jan. 11 that the legislature must create a new law enforcement entity to investigate voter fraud. He also wants to impose felony penalties for “ballot harvesting” and says the state needs stricter deadlines for purging inactive voters from the rolls. Lawmakers also prefiled a bill before the session started to initiate a partisan audit of the 2020 election.
Read more in the Florida Phoenix.
LAST SESSION: In 2021, Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature passed six restrictive voting laws which were all vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who said they would present “unnecessary and damaging hurdles for Wisconsinites to participate in our democracy.” The bills would have cut back on the number of absentee ballot drop boxes, limited who can return an absentee ballot on behalf of another voter, and barred the Wisconsin Elections Commission from automatically sending absentee ballot applications or absentee ballots to voters, among other measures. Republicans also tried to pass a law to end a photo ID exemption for indefinitely confined voters, which would have presented significant hurdles for voters with disabilities.
THIS SESSION: According to the Brennan Center, 13 restrictive voting laws from last year will carry over into the 2022 session. Republicans will no doubt continue their efforts, with high-ranking GOP lawmakers already indicating their intentions. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has called for members of the Wisconsin Election Commission to resign and Republicans have floated proposals to remake the bipartisan commission and allow the legislature to run elections. The investigation Vos ordered into the 2020 election will also spill over into 2022.
Evers, who is now the only barrier preventing state Republican lawmakers from passing restrictive laws, will also be up for reelection this year.
Follow new developments in the Wisconsin Examiner.
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