The groundswell began early this year with the introduction of 253 bills proposing voting restrictions across 43 states as of mid-February, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice. That number rose to at least 389 bills in 48 states as of mid-May.
The national spotlight is now on Texas after Democratic lawmakers left the state on July 12 in an effort to block passage of one of the most stringent new voting measures in the country. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said the members could face arrest when they return, which is not expected until the state’s special legislative session concludes — potentially as late as Aug. 7.
Across the country, 17 states have enacted laws this year that tighten the rules around casting ballots and running elections, according to the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab, which tracks developments in state election law.
Many of the bills target mail voting and other policies that helped safeguard the franchise during the coronavirus pandemic and 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, widening a stark geographic divide in ballot access.
As of mid-July, 17 states had enacted 32 laws with provisions that tighten rules for voting and election administration, according to the Voting Rights Lab. In addition to the states listed below, Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming 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 and June 30
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.
Another measure, signed into law on June 30, stripped power from Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, allowed third parties designated by the legislature to flag ineligible voters for removal from the rolls and provided funds for election security and post-election recounts.
Enacted May 6
After its 2020 elections ran smoothly, Florida nonetheless passed far-reaching voting restrictions with the encouragement of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), 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 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.
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. Similar measures are now the centerpiece of a special legislative session that began July 8 and saw the exodus of Democratic legislators to Washington, D.C., on July 12. The lawmakers have vowed to remain out of state — depriving Republicans of the minimum attendance level required to conduct legislative business — to prevent passage of new voting restrictions.
The GOP bills would empower partisan poll watchers and impose stiff penalties on election administrators for actions such as sending unsolicited mail ballot applications to voters. Comparing the legislation to Jim Crow laws, critics have said it would disproportionately affect people of color. The measures would prohibit drive-up voting and other methods used widely by Black and Latino voters in Houston to cast ballots during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as create strict signature-matching rules that could force the rejection of valid votes cast by mail.
Amy Gardner and Peter W. Stevenson contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this story included states that passed resolutions about voting and elections. It has been updated to reflect just state laws that have been enacted as of July 14.
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2020 turnout was the highest in over a century. Check out the data here.