voting rights

The States Following Georgia’s Lead on Voter Suppression

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has made voting-restrictions legislation a top priority in the Texas Senate. Photo: Lynda M. Gonzalez-Pool/Getty Images

As controversy continues to swirl around Georgia’s new restrictive election law, attention should be paid to what Republicans are doing along the same lines in other states. Republican state legislators are sponsoring a blizzard of new voting restrictions, advancing 55 bills in 24 states. CBS News and FiveThirtyEight have published helpful state-by-state overviews, and the Brennan Center for Justice has all the details you’d want. But it’s important to look at the general patterns. There is a lot of noisy GOP voter-suppression activity in states where Democrats hold a gubernatorial veto, such as Michigan. And three not-terribly-competitive states — Iowa, Arkansas, and Utah — actually preceded Georgia in enacting restrictive new voting laws. But the real threat to voting rights has mostly emerged in states, like Georgia, that were highly competitive last November and are currently controlled by a GOP governing trifecta.

The most salient wave of restrictive legislation is now moving through legislatures in Arizona, Florida, New Hampshire, and Texas. The first two states have had relatively wide-open voting laws in the past; Republicans in Arizona and Florida previously supported no-excuse voting by mail and provisions for automatically receiving mail ballots via a permanent registration system. New Hampshire and Texas, on the other hand, already have some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. But all four are moving in the same restrictive direction now. Here, some typical proposals from these and other states.

Voter ID for mail ballots

Moving from signature verification of mail ballots to an ID system was a key feature in the Georgia law and also in proposed “reforms” in Arizona, Michigan, Missouri, and New Hampshire (Wyoming is likely to establish voter ID for in-person voting). Michigan’s GOP proposal is for a photo-ID requirement; in other states (including Georgia), alternative ID is an available, albeit burdensome, option.

Restrictions on easy access to voting by mail

In both Arizona and Florida, bills moving through the legislature would make it harder to stay on a permanent voting-by-mail registration list that entitles voters to automatic receipt of ballots without a new application. In Arizona and Texas (as in Iowa and Georgia), bills aim to keep state or local election officials from proactively sending mail ballots or mail-ballot applications to voters, as many did in 2020 as a COVID-19 precaution.

Restrictions on easy return of mail ballots

Arizona and Florida bills (reflecting Republicans nearly everywhere) would restrict third-party collection of mail ballots, a practice they invidiously call “ballot harvesting,” implying fraud, even though there are security requirements in place and typically serious criminal penalties for abuse. Proposals in Florida, Michigan, and Texas would restrict the use of drop boxes for mail-ballot return (another feature of the Georgia law). And proposals virtually everywhere would ban the acceptance of ballots mailed by Election Day but received later (the central issue in the Pennsylvania litigation that the Trump campaign pushed so fervently).

Efforts to make voter registration harder

Arizona doesn’t have Election Day voter registration, but Republicans want to preemptively ban it. New Hampshire’s new restrictive proposals focus heavily on registration, and in particular seek to keep the state’s large number of left-leaning college students from voting there.

Preemption of local efforts to make voting easier

Republicans in Washington are complaining that the Democratic For the People legislation creating national standards for federal elections violates the principle of local control of election rules. But at the state level, they are often eager to keep Democratic local governments from setting their own rules. This was evident in Georgia’s new law enabling a state takeover of county elections on vague grounds of incompetence. And it’s a hallmark of the bill that just passed the Texas Senate — much of it aimed at cracking down on urban counties that made voting easier in 2020. In the name of “standardization,” Texas Republicans (led by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick) would prohibit the 24-hour early voting and drive-through voting that Harris County (Houston) authorized last year.

Countervailing Democratic efforts

In states where they have governing trifectas, of course, Democrats are seeking to make voting easier, often making 2020 COVID-19 accommodations for voters permanent. Perhaps the most striking trend is in Virginia, an ancient bastion of restrictive voting practices that has moved rapidly in the opposite direction since Democrats gained control of the legislature (along with the governorship) in 2019. The Commonwealth has just enacted new legislation incorporating protections that were originally in the federal Voting Rights Act but were gutted in a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision. But as Nate Cohn of the New York Times notes, earlier efforts in Virginia to liberalize voting rules do not seem to have had much of an impact on voter turnout.

It’s a reminder to partisans on both sides of the ballot-access wars that voters may adjust to changing rules more rapidly than is often assumed. But that also means the GOP’s voter-suppression drive may backfire by helping Democrats mobilize voters, offsetting the intended dampening effect on turnout by those the GOP fears.

The States Following Georgia’s Lead on Voter Suppression