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The most extreme voting restrictions proposed by the GOP

Following Democratic victories in the 2020 election, state Republican lawmakers across the country are proposing new laws that would restrict access to voting. (Video: Mahlia Posey/The Washington Post, Photo: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
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Republican state lawmakers across the country are pressing forward with bills that would add new voting restrictions. They have justified this by pointing to Americans’ (and mostly Republicans’) concerns with the legitimacy of the 2020 election, despite no evidence of actual significant or widespread fraud. But as I wrote Tuesday, the bills themselves go quite a bit further than those concerns would dictate — in ways that lend credence to the idea that this is more about gaming the system.

Beyond the matter of how much these bills actually address the perceived problems, though, is how many of them are extreme. And some proposals are quite extreme — in ways that go beyond what the vast majority of or all states do.

The bills that have gone forward in Georgia and Iowa would, in most ways, move those states in line with how many other states conduct their elections. Whether the restrictions are warranted or in line with GOP claims about why they’re passing them is one question, but they’re generally not outside the mainstream of American politics.

But many other proposals are.

(It bears emphasizing that these are proposals, and legislatures may not press forward with them. But some are, and we’re still in the early days of a clear GOP effort to add restrictions across many states.)

Below are some that are the most extreme or clearly aimed at partisan benefit:

1. Moving up deadlines for absentee ballots — to days before the election

After the 2020 election, President Donald Trump and Republicans cried foul that Pennsylvania would accept absentee ballots received after Election Day, if they were postmarked by then. But new proposals don’t just seek to change the rules for when ballots can be received; they would also move the postmark deadline into unprecedented territory.

In both Arizona and Iowa, proposals would require not just that absentee ballots be received by Election Day — as most states require — but that they actually be postmarked several days before.

A bill in Arizona would require the absentee ballots to be postmarked by the Thursday before the election, while a bill in Iowa would require them to be mailed at least 10 days before the election.

Iowa is already among the few states that required absentee ballots to be sent before Election Day, but only four states did so as of last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures — Alabama, Iowa, North Dakota and Utah. And none of them required this earlier than the day before Election Day, as the bills in both Arizona and Iowa would do.

2. Requiring absentee ballots to be notarized

Another proposal in Arizona would require that absentee ballots be notarized.

Many states do require witnesses for absentee ballots, but the vast majority of them allow for the witness to be someone other than an official notary or election official. According to the NCSL, as of last year only a few states required the latter: Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma.

(Separately, a bill in Oklahoma proposes an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would prohibit absentee ballots from being delivered without applications being notarized or signed by two witnesses — a standard most states don’t have.)

3. Eliminating mail return altogether

Absentee ballots are often referred to interchangeably as “mail-in votes.” But a bill in Arizona seeks to eliminate the “mail-in” portion of that, prohibiting them from being returned by mail at all. It would require them to be dropped off “only by delivering it by hand to a designated voting location.”

Several bills in other states, it bears noting, would also restrict the number of locations in which ballots could be dropped off or seek to outlaw ballot drop boxes outright.

4. Eliminating the senior exemption

According to the NCSL, 34 states allowed what is known as “no-excuse” absentee voting as of last year — i.e. allowing anyone who wants to vote absentee to do so. Republican lawmakers in many states are seeking to roll this back.

But some are going further than others. A bill passed in the Georgia state Senate this week, for instance, would prevent 5 million of Georgia’s 7.7 million registered voters who can currently cast absentee ballots from doing so, even by the GOP’s own math.

Other proposed restrictions go significantly further than do most states. A bill in Arizona, for example, would eliminate the exemption for senior citizens — only allowing it for those with disabilities. Of the states that required excuses to vote absentee last year, only eight didn’t have an age exemption for older people, according to the NCSL. This would be particularly significant in Arizona, though, which has one of the highest older populations in the country.

5. Black churches and Sunday voting

One of the most controversial proposals to move forward recently is in a bill passed at the Georgia Capitol last week. Among other new rules on early voting, it would restrict early voting to one Sunday.

That’s particularly significant given the importance of “Souls to the Polls,” an initiative by Black churches to get voters to cast early ballots on Sundays. Other bills have sought to shorten the early-voting window in certain ways, but given the prominence of “Souls to the Polls” in Georgia, it lends credence to the idea that this is about reducing the influence of Black voters rather than combating fraud.

Furthering that argument: The same bill seeks to prevent early voters from being bused to polling places, except in emergencies, and would ban distributing food and drink to people in long voting lines, as is often the case in urban areas.

6. Paring down voter rolls

Some of the most questionable moves by state Republicans in recent years have been their efforts to supposedly “clean up” their states’ voter rolls. Before Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) defended his state’s election results against Trump’s baseless fraud claims and opposed the effort to eliminate no-excuse absentee voting, he, as Georgia’s secretary of state, was accused of manipulating voters rolls through purges of nonactive voters.

Some of the new proposals take this process into new territory, though. Multiple bills in Mississippi would require voter rolls to be compared to other databases to supposedly identify noncitizens. And a bill in New Hampshire would allow elections officials to remove registered voters based upon data from other states — something that the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school says would be in violation of federal court decisions.

7. Changing the allocation process for electoral votes

Other proposals don’t deal directly with voting, but rather how those votes translate into a state’s electoral votes. But several of them appear to be transparently aimed at increasing the GOP’s share.

A bill in Nebraska would switch the state from allocating electoral votes by congressional district — it’s one of only two states to do so, along with Maine — to making them winner-take-all for whoever wins a majority of votes in the state. Again, this is in line with how the vast majority of states do things, but it’s also notable that it comes shortly after President Biden became just the second Democrat to pick off an electoral vote in the state, after Barack Obama in 2008. Both won an Omaha-based district.

Another bill in Oklahoma — in keeping with its supporters’ pressure to pass constitutional amendments — would allow the state legislature to select its presidential electors if there isn’t a federal law requiring voter ID and paper ballots to verify election results.

And a third bill in Arizona would allow the state legislature to revoke the certification of presidential electors by majority vote — something certain Republicans argued state legislatures should do in light of the bogus fraud claims — regardless of how the state votes.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Mississippi also requires ballots to be signed by an official witness.

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