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Analysis

5 State Laws Based on Voter Fraud Myths that Will Hamper Future Elections

The plot to overturn the 2020 election failed, but false claims about voter fraud have successfully fueled legislation that will make it harder to vote.

As the Janu­ary 6 commit­tee hear­ings have made clear, the attack on the Capitol was fueled by false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion. While the insur­rec­tion failed, the damage from the Big Lie of a “stolen” elec­tion is ongo­ing.

2021 and 2022 have been record-break­ing years for new legis­lat­ive attacks on voting and elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion. Bren­nan Center research has found that most of the legis­la­tion has been fueled and justi­fied by misin­form­a­tion. And in upcom­ing elec­tions, voters and elec­tion offi­cials will have to navig­ate new burdens imposed by some of these laws. Here are a few examples of the effects of the Big Lie that voters will face this fall.

Georgia

Geor­gia was the subject of a storm of litig­a­tion over the 2020 elec­tion, threats of viol­ence and harass­ment toward elec­tion offi­cials and voters, and targeted attempts to change the elec­tion results — includ­ing an hour-long phone call in which Trump urged the state’s top elec­tion offi­cial to “find” enough votes for him to win. Despite their univer­sal fail­ure in court, many of the Big Lie–in­spired false claims made in these lawsuits motiv­ated legis­lat­ive provi­sions that will be in place for the 2022 elec­tions.

Geor­gia Senate Bill 202 

GA S.B. 202, enacted last year, responds to the lies pushed in these base­less lawsuits with remark­able preci­sion. In one case, a plaintiff falsely claimed that private funds were provided to Fulton County to “pay ballot harvesters” and to “pay for . . . the plan to remove the poll watch­ers from one polit­ical party so that the crit­ical respons­ib­il­ity of determ­in­ing . . . the valid­ity of the count could be conduc­ted without over­sight.” She also alleged that “absentee voting records demon­strate illegal votes being coun­ted and legal votes not being coun­ted” in excess of 50,000 votes.

Other cases claimed that the state’s use of drop boxes some­how increased the risk of fraud — another popu­lar Big Lie conspir­acy theory. Courts rejec­ted these lawsuits, and Geor­gia Secret­ary of State Brad Raffen­sper­ger’s testi­mony to the Janu­ary 6 commit­tee thor­oughly debunked these claims.

However, S.B. 202 seem­ingly valid­ates these alleg­a­tions by prohib­it­ing local elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors from accept­ing fund­ing from private sources and expand­ing the legal rights of poll watch­ers to observe elec­tions without constraints by elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors. The law also limits the avail­ab­il­ity of drop boxes and restricts access to mail voting by impos­ing stricter iden­ti­fic­a­tion require­ments for absentee voters and short­en­ing the window to apply for absentee ballots. Tellingly, one of S.B. 202’s cospon­sors echoed wide­spread conspir­acies support­ing the Big Lie, suggest­ing in an op-ed that unre­li­able mail ballots changed the outcome of certain races in 2020.

Geor­gia Senate Bill 441

Although there is abso­lutely no evid­ence of wide­spread voter fraud in Geor­gia or any other state, S.B. 441 grants the Geor­gia Bureau of Invest­ig­a­tion the author­ity to invest­ig­ate voter fraud and refer any perceived viol­a­tions for prosec­u­tion. This bill directs even more resources toward invest­ig­at­ing fraud and opens up the risk of polit­ic­ally motiv­ated prosec­u­tions, which is partic­u­larly concern­ing when viewed along­side the range of new penal­ties created by S.B. 202. 

County-Specific Bills

In addi­tion to chal­len­ging certain voting meth­ods, elec­tion deni­al­ists directly attacked local elec­tion offi­cials in court, blam­ing them for the results of the 2020 elec­tion and accus­ing them of miscon­duct. Over a dozen lawsuits were filed against county boards of elec­tions, alleging fraud and seek­ing to block certi­fic­a­tion or over­turn the elec­tion results.

The Geor­gia legis­lature respon­ded to these cases as well by wrest­ing power from certain county boards of elec­tions, creat­ing the poten­tial for partisan inter­fer­ence in the admin­is­tra­tion of elec­tions. These county boards are respons­ible for admin­is­ter­ing elec­tions, count­ing votes, and certi­fy­ing results. S.B. 202 grants the state board of elec­tions the author­ity to inter­fere with how local elec­tions are run by remov­ing profes­sional elec­tion offi­cials and taking control of elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion in specific juris­dic­tions.

Addi­tion­ally, Geor­gia passed at least eight county-specific bills since 2020 that restruc­ture local boards of elec­tions. These restruc­tur­ings have often led to greater partisan advant­age and in partic­u­lar have removed Black Demo­crats from several boards.

Florida

The Big Lie took partic­u­lar hold in Flor­ida, where top state offi­cials embraced conspir­acy theor­ies and stoked doubt about the outcome of the 2020 elec­tion. Flor­ida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) publicly ques­tioned the 2020 results, claim­ing, “vote dumps . . . happen­ing a day or two or three days after Elec­tion Night, so you have one candid­ate that has a huge win, and then all of a sudden, fortunes change.” 

Flor­ida Senate Bill 90

Shortly after DeSantis made these state­ments, the state enacted S.B. 90, an omni­bus voter suppres­sion law that makes it signi­fic­antly harder for voters to cast their ballots in the state.

The law is based on many Big Lie conspir­acies, restrict­ing access to mail voting, drop boxes, and voter assist­ance. Among its provi­sions, S.B. 90 adds stricter voter ID require­ments for voters request­ing absentee ballots, requires constant monit­or­ing of drop boxes, reduces the avail­ab­il­ity of drop boxes outside of early voting hours, and makes it signi­fic­antly more diffi­cult for civic organ­iz­a­tions to assist people in regis­ter­ing to vote. 

Flor­ida Senate Bill 524

Flor­ida also enacted S.B. 524, which creates a new Office of Elec­tion Crimes and Secur­ity within the Flor­ida Depart­ment of State, respons­ible for invest­ig­at­ing viol­a­tions of elec­tion law and refer­ring them for prosec­u­tion. Like S.B. 441 in Geor­gia, Flor­id­a’s S.B. 524 directs addi­tional resources toward invest­ig­at­ing and prosec­ut­ing elec­tion crimes and threatens to enable partisan inter­fer­ence in elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion. Flor­id­a’s recently appoin­ted secret­ary of state, who will over­see the new office, is a prom­in­ent supporter of elec­tion conspir­acies and has refused to say Pres­id­ent Biden won the 2020 elec­tion.

Texas

Texas was the source of a raft of conspir­acy theor­ies and attempts to use the court system to throw out validly cast votes or even over­turn the elec­tion entirely. For example, several lawsuits chal­lenged drive-thru voting in Harris County and sought to have votes already cast at drive-thru sites tossed out.

The county’s policy allow­ing drive-thru voting, the plaintiffs argued in one case, “creates an oppor­tun­ity ripe for fraud,” which would cause the “outcome of the elec­tion [to be] in doubt.” And after Elec­tion Day, Attor­ney General Ken Paxton unsuc­cess­fully sued several states in a bid to have the U.S. Supreme Court reject their pres­id­en­tial elect­ors on the concocted basis of vague accus­a­tions of fraud in the mail voting process.

Litig­a­tion was not the only source of attemp­ted elec­tion sabot­age arising from Texas. A Texas man was arres­ted earlier this year for making death threats against elec­tion offi­cials in Geor­gia on the basis of false claims about the 2020 elec­tion.

These lawsuits and vari­ous attempts to over­turn the elec­tion were all unsuc­cess­ful, but Texas voters will face barri­ers in the midterms because of these false claims. Legis­lat­ors claimed that the “Novem­ber 2020 elec­tion demon­strated the lack of trans­par­ency and lack of integ­rity within the elec­tion process.” Draw­ing from this unfoun­ded notion, the legis­lature almost enacted a bill with a provi­sion actu­ally called “Over­turn­ing Elec­tion” that would have gran­ted partisan judges expan­ded powers to throw out the results of an elec­tion based on tenu­ous evid­ence of fraud.

Texas Senate Bill 1

The legis­lature went on to enact S.B. 1, which prohib­its drive-thru voting and imposes addi­tional restric­tions on obtain­ing and return­ing an absentee ballot. It also imposes substan­tial restric­tions on voter assist­ance for voters with disab­il­it­ies or limited English profi­ciency and expands the powers of partisan poll watch­ers on Elec­tion Day. In addi­tion to other impacts, the law has already led to high rejec­tion rates of mail ballots. The Big Lie was defeated in court in Texas, but its promoters were still able to use it to justify further restric­tions on voting.

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Legis­lat­ors across the coun­try have relied on base­less claims about 2020 to justify laws that restrict the right to vote and increase the risk of elec­tion inter­fer­ence. The examples provided above are just a portion of the new laws that will affect elec­tions in Novem­ber. The lies about the 2020 elec­tion have had such a wide­spread effect that even legis­lat­ors who reject these claims them­selves, like in Montana, are intro­du­cing and passing restrict­ive voting laws to alle­vi­ate the concerns of voters who do believe these lies.

The Janu­ary 6 insur­rec­tion may have been unsuc­cess­ful, but clearly, the Big Lie and the ongo­ing damage it is inflict­ing on our demo­cracy are not going away.