States are in a headlong rush to attack voting access — or expand it

Nine days of early voting were eliminated in Iowa. New Hampshire took away ballot drop boxes. Georgia also made it a crime for voters to wait in line to get water.

It will be more difficult than ever to vote in many states, almost all of which are controlled by Republicans. That’s especially true for lower-income Americans and people with disabilities, voting-access advocates warn. They emphasize that the new restrictions target voting methods that are disproportionately used by people of color.

These states also saw the election reshaped due to rulings by conservative judges, and newly drawn districts that favor Republican candidates.

A review of voting laws in the 50 states and Washington, D.C. by the Center for Public Integrity paints a stark picture of the state of voting in America — one in which states are taking two different paths. While many states passed bills that made headlines and prevented the franchise from being granted, states controlled by Democrats made voting easier and more fair. Split-party control in some states led to one direction while others went the other way.

We found:

  • 26 states have worsened equity in representation and voting.
  • It was improved by Washington, D.C., twenty states, and Washington, D.C.
  • Four states have shown little change in either direction.

Our research revealed that 160 million Americans live within states that reduce equity, while 151 million are in areas that increase equity. Around 20 million Americans live where the situation has not changed significantly.

The rollback in voting access has been fueled by falsehoods from former President Donald Trump and his allies about the 2020 election — an election that officials in his own administrationElection experts and state and federal judgesconfirm that it was safe and accurate. “Instead of celebrating that, what we saw was a rush to enact legislation on the false premise that the 2020 election, and elections generally, are riddled with widespread voter fraud,” said Jasleen Singh of the Brennan Center for Justice.

Attacks on access targeted methods that are more commonly used by people of colour and younger, more Democratic-leaning voter. “These are direct attacks on voters that legislators think will vote for the other party,” said Sylvia Albert of Common Cause. “It is clearly an attack on Black and brown and low-income voters.”

As the Supreme Court has dealt with restrictive state laws, they have arrived several blowsThe Voting Rights Act. The court will hear important cases regarding gerrymandering, state legislative powers over election results, and other issues during its current term, which began this Week.

The country is blessed with Democratic and mixed-party control states that have made voting and registration easier since 2020. New Mexico established protections for tribal land, Illinois made vote by mail permanent and Maine made it easier to take part in primaries.

In a few states where voting rules have barely budged from 2020, Democratic governors blocked GOP legislation with vetoes, an establishment Republican blocked restrictive voting measures, or court challenges pausedOr preventedThe legislation is still in draft. In those states, the status quo could easily be shattered by a flip in control over the governor’s office or a handful of politicians retiring or losing primaries.

Voting laws, and the way they’re interpreted by election officials, depend on where you live. Voters in different states — and sometimes even neighboring cities or counties — can face sharply different options for casting their ballots.

Utah is an example of this. All voters receive a mail-in ballot and can track their status online. The law allows voters to register to vote in person at polling places on Election Day.

Mississippi’s Election Day is the only way to vote. Absentee voting is allowed with some exceptions are limitedMail voting is a requirement multiple notarized signaturesA voter must register 30 daysBefore an election.

The United States’ voting system is unevenly distributed due to the different rules.

“We should all have equal access to the ballot. Otherwise, we don’t all have the same freedom to vote,” said Danielle Lang of the Campaign Legal Center.

Our journalists took a close examination of the details of voting in the United States. They reported on voter registration, voter-roll purges and redistricting, among other things. As Democracy Fund’s Tammy Patrick, a former elections official in Arizona, put it: “In elections, the details matter.”

Millions of Americans have difficulties exercising their right to vote, even though they live in states with increased access. Voters with disabilities, Indigenous voters on reservations, and eligible voters with felonies have faced particular barriers.

Many voters will find that their influence in state legislatures, and the U.S. Congress is diminished by a round partisan gerrymandering. Every decade, political districts are redrawn. This latest round is based upon the 2020 Census results.

2019 was the year that the Supreme Court ruled that political gerrymandering was an issue beyond the jurisdiction of federal courts. Politicians — who draw the maps in many states — took the cue.

The country has seen states draw maps that reduce the number and competition for congressional districts. An expert created a congressional map by Republican leaders in Indiana. called “one of the most extreme gerrymanders in history.”

Many states’ redistricting maps have been contested in court, with plaintiffs alleging that their state’s constitution bars partisan gerrymandering or contending that the maps discriminate against Black or Latino voters. Judges have ordered that maps in certain states, including New York be redrawn. Due to ongoing litigation in several states, some voters could see their district boundaries change before 2024.

Redrawing districts for certain state legislative, city council, and school board seats has also been done, though often without the same public attention as maps for congressional seats. Battles for the future of democracy are not restricted to statehouses and Washington, D.C. — they are taking place at city halls, county government buildings and school board meetings across the nation.

“Democracy isn’t just about voting rights, pulling a lever for your candidate. It’s the idea that everyone matters, that we’re in it together,” said Micah Kubic of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas.

Fights over access to the ballot box raise fundamental questions, he said: “Who counts? Who matters?”

Record Voter Turnout and Conspiracies

The 2020 election was held in the midst COVID-19 pandemic. Absentee voting soared. States worked together to devise policies that would allow more people to cast their ballots without ever visiting a polling location on Election Day. 2020 was the highest-turnout election for 120 years.

“Voters responded to expansions in access in 2020 by coming out in record numbers,” said Common Cause’s Albert.

Falsehoods about Trump’s loss, many of which focused on mail voting and election results in racially diverse urban areas, became motivating forces for Republican candidates and elected officials at all levels — from Congress to sheriff’s departments.

On Capitol Hill, federal voting rights legislation stalled. Senate Democrats couldn’t break a filibuster to act on what President Joe Biden has called “the single biggest issue.”

In states where Republicans control all branches, there has been no gridlock among lawmakers. They seized on Trump’s rhetoric about fraud to pass a flurry of election-related bills in 2021 and 2022 that make voting more difficult.

“These changes are saying back to voters, ‘Oops, we don’t actually want you to vote,’” Albert said.

Texas, Florida, Georgia and other states were all scrutinized for their election laws that limit the access to drop boxes. criminal penalties related to the work of election officials.

“This past session was spent on what I consider voter suppression bills,” said LaVon Bracy of Faith in Florida, a longtime voting rights advocate in the state.

Republican officials in Florida as well as Virginia have set up units to investigate, prosecute, and prosecute fraud in elections. vanishingly rareUnited States. Florida’s election police recently made high-profile arrests of 20 people for voting with felony convictions, which the state allows in some cases but not others. But reporters quickly found major flaws, including evidence that state officials and even the head of the election police were involved in approving those Floridians’ efforts to register.

Advocates fear that, in addition to making voting more difficult, the media coverage about arrests and criminalizations of election violations will discourage some people from even trying.

There are also the battles over absentee and mail voting. Right-wing activists have been attacking the practice in states like Arizona and Utah where they have been popular and uncontroversial for a long time. Republican legislators in Arizona passed a law to purge people from the state’s list of voters who automatically receive a mail-in ballot. They will now be removed if they fail to vote for two election cycles and don’t respond to a notice sent by mail.

Even proposals that haven’t become law concern elections experts. “We have never seen the number of restrictive laws being proposed,” said Singh, who tracks voting legislation at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Misinformation about voting has also impacted the lives of professionals who run elections. Many have been threatened with violence and now fear their safety. Others have resigned.

“In that absence, you get the loss of institutional knowledge. But then you also have this void that can be filled by bad actors,” said Democracy Fund’s Patrick. “And that’s a concern by many election officials in the field: Who’s going to fill those roles?”

Patrick stated that if the attacks continue on election officials, the profession could see another wave resignations before 2024’s presidential election.

Disenfranchisement, Barriers to Voting As Old as the Country

While state laws change are written in language that is racially neutral, their impact is nonetheless significant.

“Racial discrimination in voting has been a particularly pernicious and enduring American problem,” a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report stated2018 The commission pointed to voter ID laws, voter-roll purges, challenges to eligibility and proof of citizenship measures as “voting procedures that wrongly prevent some citizens from voting.”

These types of measures were passed by the legislatures in every state in the country in 2021-2022. Many of these measures invoke voter fraud or election security.

The current wave of election legislation comes less than a decade after the nation’s strongest tool for battling disenfranchisement was gutted.

Previously, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination in voting to “preclear” changes with the Department of Justice or a federal court in D.C. Several southern states, along with Arizona and Alaska, fell under the preclearance requirement. Also, counties in North Carolina, Florida, California and California fell under the preclearance requirement.

Because of the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling, all are now free to make any changes they want without federal approval Shelby County v. Holder.

Many of these jurisdictions began major changes in elections well before 2020. Texas is an exception. closing over 700 polling places. Recent laws in Texas and Georgia, among others, would have required preclearance. Now they don’t.

“There is a direct attack on Black voters,” said James “Major” Woodall of the Southern Center for Human Rights.

Woodall and other voting access advocates claim that restrictive laws make their work more difficult. Jerry Gonzalez of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials said the state’s 2021 law, SB 202, “leaves undue pressure on local organizations like ourselves that work to help people navigate the gauntlet of trying to cast your vote. It shouldn’t be that difficult to vote in our democracy.”

The Center for Public Integrity’s reporting documented inequities in access to voting and representation in every state and D.C., regardless of which party controlled state government. In some cases, voting laws are governed in part by state constitutions dating back to the period when Black Americans, Indigenous persons, and women were denied their right to vote.

In many Democratic-controlled states, Black and Latino voters wait in long lines simply to vote — sometimes because their communities lack the resources to open additional polling places, staff additional early voting sites or provide language assistance.

Our review found that voting has become easier in states controlled by Democrats and those whose control is split among the parties. Kentucky opened vote centres, which allowed residents to cast ballots at any site within their jurisdiction. California made 2020’s universal vote-by-mail effort permanent, while Connecticut expanded access to absentee voting.

Voting access doesn’t always break down cleanly on red-blue lines. The United States has many aspects that make voting possible. Western states such as Utah, Washington, Colorado and Washington have long supported mail voting. This is one of the largest equalizers in accessing elections. Washington, D.C., is not the only state that allows people who are incarcerated for felonies, to vote. Maine, Vermont, and Vermont are the other two states. Southern states, where Black voters make a large share of the electorate; conservative Midwestern states have passed many of the most stringent voter identification laws.

But in the aftermath of the 2020 election, with a weakened Voting Rights Act, national politics are playing a powerful role in the rules determining how Americans do — and don’t — cast their ballots.

More than a dozen GOP-controlled States adopted banson outside funding for elections. The Center for Tech and Civic Life provided funding for underfunded election offices in 2020. But it was the subject of right-wing conspiracy theories that were centered on its ties to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder.

“Those policies were being driven by a national narrative,” said the Campaign Legal Center’s Lang. “That came straight from the top in 2020, from President Trump.”

In Idaho, League of Women Voters President Betsy McBride said she’d never previously heard concerns about voter registration drives or people delivering absentee ballots for their elderly neighbors.

This changed after right-wing media and national Republicans targeted both. “This list of bills all over the country look pretty much the same, the talking points are the same,” she said.

The Idaho League of Women Voters was the most vocal opponent to a proposed bill, similar to laws passed in other Republican states, that would have made it a crime to “knowingly collect or convey another voter’s voted or unvoted ballot.”

“It was a felony with a big fine,” McBride said. “So it was clear that a lot of the work that the churches were doing and other groups was just going to come to a halt. We have a huge veterans home. And whether or not they have a living spouse is quite problematic.”

The Idaho House approved the proposal along with a slew of other voting restrictionsThey were killed in the state Senate. Patti Anne Lodge (State Affairs Committee Chairwoman) refused to give them a hearing. Lodge did not seek re-electionMcBride is concerned that similar bills will continue to be passed next year, and McBride agrees.

The Supreme Court will be considering these cases in the coming months. Moore v. Harper, a case that could give state legislatures nearly unchecked power to set election laws — even if those laws violate state constitutions or create extreme partisan gerrymanders. If the justices side with the “independent state legislature theory,” it will open the door for further restrictions in voting access in dozens of states.

The court also agreed to accept Merrill v. MilliganAnother case that could weaken Voting rights Act is in the matter of Alabama’s attorney general. If the court’s conservative majority sides with Alabama’s attorney general in the case, they could make it possibleStates can draw districts in a way that weakens the power of voters of colour. This would mean that one of the existing districts would be destroyed. the last remaining voting rights provisionsof the law.

Advocates for voting access claim that their work has never felt more urgent. “It’s pretty terrifying how fragile our democracy is right now,” said Davis Hammet, the president of Kansas-based civic engagement group Loud Light.

Project team

Reporters: Aaron Mendelson. Jared Bennett. Karen Juanita Carillo. Kimberly Cataudella. Ileana Garnand. Robby Korth. Robby Korth. Robby. Robby. Robby. Robby. Robby. Robby. Robby. Robby. Robby. Robby. Robbie. Robby. Robby. Robby. Robby. Robby. Robby. Robby. Robby. Robby. Robbby. Robby. Robby.

Editors:Matt DeRienzo, Jennifer LaFleur Mc Nelly Torres Jamie Smith Hopkins

Engagement with the audience: Lisa Yanick Litwiller and Janeen Jones, Ashley Clarke and Vanessa Lee, as well as Charlie Hsing Chuan Dodge.

Fact-checking: Yvette Cabrera, Kimberly Cataudella, Ileana Garnand, Melissa Hellmann, Kristian Hernández, Aaron Mendelson, Corey Mitchell, April Simpson, Peter Newbatt Smith, Maya Srikrishnan, Joe Yerardi, María Inés Zamudio

Audio: Juliana Marin

This articleThe first appearance was on Center for Public IntegrityThis article is republished here with a Creative Commons licence.