The groundswell began early this year with the introduction of 253 bills proposing voting restrictions across 43 states as of Feb. 19, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice. That number rose to at least 389 bills in 48 states as of May 14, the Brennan Center reported Friday.
While Texas Democrats on Sunday blocked an effort in their state to pass what would have been one of the most stringent new voting measures in the country, 14 states have enacted laws this year that tighten the rules around casting ballots.
Many of the bills target mail voting and other policies that helped safeguard the franchise during the coronavirus pandemic and helped produce the highest turnout among American voters in more than a century. Supporters of Trump claim without evidence that unless subject to strict limits, mail ballots open the door to widespread fraud. Some of the bills also seek to curtail early voting, impose restrictions on voter registration efforts, limit the power of local officials to oversee elections and stop private donors from supplementing their operational budgets.
Some Democratic-controlled states have moved in the other direction, approving measures to formalize more permissive voting policies from 2020, complementing proposed federal legislation to protect voting rights with a set of national standards. But with roughly half of all state governments under Republican control — and momentum for new voting restrictions throughout the GOP — the impact on tens of millions of voters could be dramatic.
As of mid-May, 14 states had enacted 22 laws with provisions that create new hurdles to vote, and another 61 such bills were still advancing in 18 states, according to the Brennan Center. Arkansas and Montana lead the country in fresh voting restrictions, with four new laws enacted each. Both imposed or tightened identification requirements for in-person voting and added restrictions for assisting voters in returning mail ballots. Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming, in addition to the states listed below, have also passed laws with restrictive language.
Here are some of the most significant new state voting restrictions
Most of the new voting laws impose limits on mail and early voting. Several have drawn legal challenges from civil rights groups.
Enacted May 11
Republicans in Arizona have proposed a number of stand-alone bills that take on specific aspects of the voting process. The first to pass changed the state’s popular Permanent Early Voting List, which determines who receives mail ballots each election cycle. Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed it into law May 11. The new rules mean voters who do not cast a ballot at least once every two years will have to respond to a government notice to avoid being removed from the list and to continue getting a ballot in the mail.
Enacted May 6
After its 2020 elections ran smoothly, Florida nonetheless passed far-reaching voting restrictions with the encouragement of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a close ally of Trump. A state law he signed May 6 institutes a number of changes, including requiring voters to renew their mail voting application every two years and to submit a form of identification. With some exceptions, voters’ access to drop boxes for returning mail ballots will be limited to early voting hours, a maximum of 12 hours per day. If any drop box is found to be accessible outside of these hours, the local supervisor of elections could be subject to a civil penalty of $25,000. Voters will be permitted to drop off only two ballots for nonfamily members. The law gives partisan election observers more access to the ballot counting process. It also prevents behavior undertaken with the “intent” of influencing a voter, so the law is likely to bar efforts to provide food and water to people waiting in line to cast in-person ballots. Donations to election budgets from private individuals are also not allowed.
Enacted March 25
Combining elements from more than a dozen other bills, Georgia’s new voting law signed by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) on March 25 imposes a number of restrictions on voting in the state, earning it comparisons to the Jim Crow laws that effectively blocked Black men and women from voting in the American South. Specifically, the rules prevent proactively sending mail ballot applications to voters, require voters to submit identification with their application to be approved and shorten the time frame for the application process to take place. Like several other states, Georgia added new restrictions on the use of mail ballot drop boxes and prohibited providing food or water to people waiting in line to vote in person. Legislators also stripped certain powers from the secretary of state, removing that official as chair of the State Election Board and allowing the General Assembly to select his or her replacement.
The law takes other steps to expand access to voting, including guaranteeing a minimum number of ballot drop boxes in each county and providing more resources for localities to address long lines for in-person voting.
Enacted March 8
Iowa was among the first states to approve an omnibus voting restriction bill, signed into law in early March by Gov. Kim Reynolds (R). As in Georgia, the new law shortens the application period for mail ballots and bars election officials from proactively sending application forms to voters. County auditors can face criminal charges if they do not follow certain procedures in purging voter rolls. The early voting period — and voting hours on Election Day — are shorter. Local officials’ discretion in placing drop boxes is curtailed.
Here’s what to watch in coming weeks
As more legislatures wrap up their work for the year, here are a few states that could still take action.
A number of additional voting restrictions could be enacted in Arizona, where baseless claims of voting irregularities have led to a widely criticized audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County. Proposals have included requiring voters to submit a form of identification with their application to vote early by mail and setting a postmark deadline of the Thursday before Election Day for mail ballots to be considered valid. Another measure advancing through the legislature would strip certain powers from Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat.
A stream of proposals have been introduced in Michigan, including measures placing limits on the use of ballot drop boxes, prohibiting officials from proactively sending mail ballot application forms to voters, adding new photo-ID requirements and empowering partisan election challengers. While Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could veto the bills, Republicans have suggested they may use an obscure voter-petition process to give the GOP-run legislature the final say.
Several proposed voting restrictions are under consideration in New Hampshire, including bills that would ease the removal of voters from the rolls, require additional identification information from voters throughout the process of casting a ballot and eliminate same-day voter registration. One amendment seeks to blunt the impact of the leading federal bill to protect voting rights, should it pass.
One of the most restrictive voting bills in the country was defeated — at least temporarily — in Texas on May 30, when a Democratic walkout in the state House caused the chamber to miss the deadline for passage. But Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced he will add the bill to the agenda for a special legislative session he plans to call later in the year, leaving voting rights advocates on high alert.
The Republican measure would have made it harder to vote by mail, empowered partisan poll watchers and imposed stiff penalties on election administrators. Comparing the legislation to Jim Crow laws, critics said it would disproportionately affect people of color. The bill prohibited drive-up voting and other methods used widely by Black and Latino voters in Houston to cast ballots during the coronavirus pandemic.
How GOP-backed voting measures could create hurdles for tens of millions of voters
Florida ran a nearly flawless election in 2020. Republicans changed the voting rules anyway.
Expand access? A historic restriction? What the Georgia voting law really does.
2020 turnout was the highest in over a century. Check out the data here.
Amy Gardner and Peter W. Stevenson contributed to this report.
About this story
Editing by Matea Gold. Graphics by Harry Stevens. Photo editing by Natalia Jimenez. Copy editing by Anne Kenderdine. Design by Tyler Remmel.
Data sources: Turnout of voting-eligible population from the United States Election Project. Share of vote by method from an MIT Election Data + Science Lab poll of registered voters, with samples sizes of 1,000 respondents in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Michigan, and 200 respondents in New Hampshire and Texas. Respondents answering “I don’t know” not included. Margins of victory in the 2020 presidential election from Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Elections. State party control, which considers party control of both the legislature and governorship, from the National Conference of State Legislatures.