State legislatures across the United States have enacted voting laws, in a move that voting rights advocates argue is motivated by false allegations perpetuated by former President Trump about voter fraud in the 2020 election.

This year, 18 states have enacted laws that restrict Americans’ right to vote, while 25 states have expanded voting access, according to the data collected by the Brennan Center for Justice.

Texas became the latest addition to the list of largely Republican-controlled states that have enacted new voting restrictions on Sept. 7, when Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed into law Senate Bill 1, despite pushback from Democrats over concerns that it targets marginalized voters.

“This is by far … the most aggressive wave — in terms of the number of bills introduced and passed — of voting bills that we’ve seen since we’ve been tracking these bills,” said Will Wilder, a Singer Fellow in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “These bills are just a backlash to what happened in the 2020 election — really rooted in these lies about voter fraud that a lot of people started spreading in the aftermath of the 2020 election.”

The John Lewis Voting Rights Act passed by the House last month, along with the For the People Act, would override most restrictions posed by state legislatures, Wilder said. However, both bills face Republican opposition in the Senate, making it unlikely to pass the 60-vote threshold it needs to become law.

Restrictive Laws

Although predicting the precise number of affected voters is impossible, a Brennan Center analysis shows that in some cases, a single obstacle can deter tens of thousands of voters from showing up to the polls. In other instances, multiple policies can compound, causing voting access to suffer. 

This may have the ability to control the election outcome — Democrats swung Arizona and Georgia by less than 13,000 votes in last year’s presidential election.

State legislatures, mainly controlled by Republicans, have imposed several restrictions on mail-in ballots and in-person voting, in response to the 2020 election’s high turnout, Wilder said.

Research has shown that voter ID laws disproportionately impact communities of color, Wilder said.

“We are seeing some states imposing voter ID laws for voting in person, but what we’re really seeing new this time is states starting to impose stricter voter ID laws for people voting by mail,” he said. “The pool of people voting by mail this year during Covid was much bigger than it’s ever been before, so it’s no surprise that some states are making it harder to vote by mail.”

While some states— such as Arkansas and Montana — have passed a number of bills, each addressing a narrow set of issues to restrict voting access, others — such as Texas — have passed a single omnibus bill to incorporate several restrictions.

The Texas voting rights law limits early voting, bans drive-thru voting centers and 24-hour voting, prohibits the use of drop boxes and limits the distribution of mail-in applications. It gives partisan poll watchers increased autonomy inside polling places, and makes obstructing them a criminal offense. 

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has filed a lawsuit challenging the law in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, arguing that it targets methods of voting used by voters of color.

Due to the pandemic, larger counties in Texas — such as Harris County, which includes Houston — set up drop boxes and drive-thru centers, which were used overwhelmingly by Black and Latino voters, said NAACP LDF Redistricting Counsel Kathryn Sadasivan, who is also the lead counsel on the lawsuit.

“These kinds of opportunities or methods of voting that enfranchised voters and were lawful in Texas, have been, under Senate Bill 1, completely eliminated, which is a very targeted way of attacking these methods of voting that were critical to enfranchising Black and Latino voters,” she said.

Expansive laws

25 states — mainly those led by Democrat-controlled legislatures — have enacted laws with provisions to expand mail-in ballots access, remove barriers to in-person voting and increase access for incarcerated voters and voters with disabilities. 

Lawmakers in Maryland have passed legislation to permanently expand mail-in voting, increase the number of early voting centers and make voting materials more accessible for current and formerly incarcerated voters.

The Voting Rights Act of Virginia — which Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, signed in June — requires all local elections administrators to receive public feedback or advance approval from the state’s attorney general for changes related to voting, such as moving precincts, and allow voters and the attorney general to sue over voter suppression. 

This recreated a pivotal element of the federal Voting Rights Act, which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. The law, which is a first for states, explicitly prohibits racial discrimination related to voting. 

The Brennan Center report underlines that many of the states where voting is relatively more accessible are enacting laws to further strengthen voting access. This is “deepening a national divide such that the promise of the right to vote depends increasingly on where Americans happen to live.”

This article was originally published on CNSMaryland.org on Tuesday, September 14, 2021.


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