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Analysis

5 Egregious Voter Suppression Laws from 2021

States made it harder for Americans to vote last year and are poised to keep going in 2022.

voting
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2021 was, unfor­tu­nately, a banner year for new barri­ers to the right to vote. Nine­teen states enacted thirty-four laws restrict­ing access to voting, far and away the most in any year in at least the past decade.

These laws impose a wide range of voter suppres­sion meas­ures, such as obstacles to voting by mail, new voter ID require­ments, and limit­a­tions on what elec­tion offi­cials can do to help promote voter access. They vary greatly in scope, from omni­bus laws with multiple restrict­ive provi­sions to single-subject laws that create less obvi­ous burdens.

The modern approach to voter suppres­sion can often be char­ac­ter­ized as death by a thou­sand cuts — seem­ingly minor rules about issues like voter ID, mail voting, resource alloc­a­tion at polling places, and voter roll main­ten­ance can add up to create signi­fic­ant burdens, partic­u­larly on communit­ies of color.

It is thus often diffi­cult to under­stand the full impact of new restrict­ive voting laws when look­ing at any one provi­sion by itself. And new provi­sions that seem less burden­some at first glance are some­times indic­at­ive of a broader push to sabot­age elec­tion outcomes that may not be as obvi­ous.

That said, some voting laws passed in 2021 stand out as partic­u­larly concern­ing on their face. The substance of these laws and the processes used to enact them should raise a red flag for anyone concerned about the health of our demo­cracy. Here are five of the most concern­ing examples:

Flor­ida Senate Bill 90: Broad restric­tions on mail voting

After an elec­tion where Black voters in Flor­ida cast mail ballots at a rate higher than in recent years, Flor­ida enacted S.B. 90, which imposes a long list of new constraints on mail voting. The law severely limits the avail­ab­il­ity and access­ib­il­ity of mail ballot drop boxes and requires voters to put their state ID number or Social Secur­ity Number on their mail ballot applic­a­tion without provid­ing an altern­at­ive for voters who lack such inform­a­tion. It also limits who can assist voters with return­ing their mail ballots.

Geor­gia S.B. 202: A ban on food and water, plus subtle attacks on mail voting and local elec­tion offi­cials

Geor­gia S.B. 202 gained national atten­tion by making it a crime to distrib­ute water or snacks to voters wait­ing in line, a response to a prac­tice many voter parti­cip­a­tion groups use in this state with notori­ously long wait times in some elec­tions. While the food and water provi­sion is the most blatantly outland­ish, the law contains less obvi­ous aspects that pose seri­ous threats. It allows any voter to come to a county clerk’s office and chal­lenge the voter regis­tra­tions of as many people as they would like. And, after an elec­tion when Black voters voted by mail at a rate higher than ever before, it makes it more diffi­cult to vote by mail in several ways. The law also sets up a process that could be used to remove profes­sional elec­tion offi­cials and replace them with more partisan actors.

Iowa Senate File 413: Crim­in­al­iz­ing elec­tion offi­cials for protect­ing voters

Iowa helped to start a national trend of laws target­ing elec­tion offi­cials with crim­inal penal­ties for expand­ing voting access by enact­ing S.F. 413. The law imposes a number of new penal­ties and restric­tions on elec­tion offi­cials, includ­ing a provi­sion that refers county elec­tion offi­cials for crim­inal prosec­u­tion if they do not imple­ment the law’s aggress­ive new voter-roll purge provi­sions.

Montana House Bill 176: Ending a popu­lar policy for partisan reas­ons

Montana H.B. 176 elim­in­ated Elec­tion Day regis­tra­tion, a popu­lar and effect­ive policy that Montana voters have relied on for years. During debate over the law, a Repub­lican state repres­ent­at­ive openly stated that he wanted to end elec­tion day regis­tra­tion because he believed it was used by young people who were “not on our side of the aisle.”

Texas S.B. 1: Target­ing Elec­tion Work­ers and Restrict­ing Mail Voting

After a lengthy legis­lat­ive process that involved the speaker of the House asking legis­lat­ors not to use the word “racism” when debat­ing on the floor, Texas passed S.B. 1, a law so restrict­ive that the Bren­nan Center is chal­len­ging it in court.

Some of its most aggress­ive provi­sions target elec­tion offi­cials and work­ers and make it harder to vote by mail. The law threatens elec­tion offi­cials and work­ers with new crim­inal penal­ties for expand­ing voter access or even simply encour­aging eligible voters to request mail ballots. For mail voting, it imposes new iden­ti­fic­a­tion number require­ments and new obstacles for voter assist­ance. It also empowers partisan poll watch­ers to harass voters and elec­tion work­ers. The changes have already reportedly led to astound­ing mail ballot rejec­tion rates in some counties.

What’s in store for 2022

State legis­latures are not slow­ing down with their attempts to suppress the voices of certain voters. A stun­ning number of anti­demo­cratic bills have already been pre-filed or intro­duced for 2022 legis­lat­ive sessions. Here are some of the worst:

Arizona: Oner­ous proof of citizen­ship require­ments

Arizona legis­lat­ors have pre-filed two bills that would require voters to show proof of citizen­ship for all elec­tions. Such rules have been struck down in Arizona and other states for vari­ous reas­ons, and they severely burden voters without doing anything to prevent fraud. Never­the­less, Arizona S.B. 1013 would require the secret­ary of state to ask for an exemp­tion from the federal rules that bar proof of citizen­ship require­ments to vote, and Arizona S.C.R. 1005 would initi­ate a ballot refer­en­dum to impose a new proof of citizen­ship require­ment.

New Hamp­shire: Elec­tion sabot­age

In New Hamp­shire, state legis­lat­ors are jump­ing on the disturb­ing national trend of elec­tion sabot­age legis­la­tion with three pre-filed bills that attack fair elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion in differ­ent ways. House Bill 1522 would allow any voter to conduct their own “citizen’s audit” of elec­tion results by person­ally view­ing every ballot cast in an elec­tion, creat­ing seri­ous privacy prob­lems and further under­min­ing public confid­ence in elec­tions. H.B. 1567 would allow any registered voter to sue to have an elec­tion offi­cial removed from office. And H.B. 1324 would allow the New Hamp­shire State Senate to initi­ate a dispute before the New Hamp­shire Supreme Court seek­ing to over­turn the state’s results for a pres­id­en­tial elec­tion.

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This legis­la­tion is danger­ous to our demo­cracy, no doubt. And there are many more provi­sions in the long list of restrict­ive voting laws passed nation­wide last year that will create signi­fic­ant burdens on voters.