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How New State Voting Laws Could Impact Voters

The Brennan Center examined six states’ new voting laws and their expected negative impact on voting.

Published: September 1, 2021

As new voting restrictions become law across the country — at least 18 states have enacted 30 such laws as of July 14 — a key question arises: How many voters are likely to find it harder to vote because of these changes?

It is impossible to predict the precise number of people who will not vote because of these laws. Many voters may find ways around the new obstacles. But accumulated barriers can diminish voter turnout, especially when those measures particularly burden voters of color or low-propensity voters. In some cases, a single obstacle can impact hundreds of thousands of voters, while in other instances multiple policies compound, causing voting access to suffer death by a thousand cuts.

That matters, both for Americans’ ability to exercise their freedom to vote and for the outcomes of elections, which can be won by the slightest margin. Fewer than 13,000 votes swung both Arizona and Georgia in last year’s presidential election, for example. The sheer number of restrictive provisions in the 30 new laws shed light on just how difficult it will be to overcome or organize around these restrictions. What’s more, these new laws pile on top of other barriers erected in recent years, like the pay-to-vote system that Florida enacted in 2019, which denies eligibility to more than 700,000 Floridians because of court debts.

The voting reforms in the For the People Act, together with those in the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, would blunt the impact of many of the new restrictive laws and protect Americans’ access to the vote.

Below are just some of 2021’s new restrictions (plus proposals awaiting the governor’s signature in Texas) and context for understanding their expected impact.


MARGIN OF VICTORY: In Arizona, the 2020 presidential election was decided by 10,457 votes, the closest margin in the country.footnote1_ra3IIfW8Y7g91Office of the Arizona Secretary of State, “2020 General Election,” last updated November 24, 2020,

THE LAW: This year, Arizona legislators got rid of the state’s “permanent early voter list” (PEVL) through S.B. 1485. footnote2_bJoGWeuipeQJ2Ariz. S.B. 1485 (2021). Voters on the PEVL automatically received a mail ballot for every election in which they were eligible to vote. Now, voters on the new “active early voter list” who do not cast an early ballot in two consecutive election cycles will be removed from the list unless they sign and mail back a notification sent to them (removals will start in 2025). footnote3_wDZ1uDbHfTo63Ariz. S.B. 1485. Many voters who have come to rely on receiving a mail ballot will not get one and therefore may not vote. Tribal and rural voters who realize too late that they were removed from the early voting list may not have transportation to the polls on Election Day.

POTENTIAL VOTER IMPACT: The Arizona secretary of state concluded that, due to S.B. 1485, as many as 200,000 voters may be purged from the early voting list,footnote4_s7UNeHSEVDVC4Jeremy Duda, “GOP Bill that Could Remove 200k People from the Permanent Early Voting List Clears the House,” Arizona Mirror, April 21, 2021, which included 3.2 million Arizonans at the beginning of 2021.footnote5_hrGrekzRzR415Andrew Oxford, “Republicans in Arizona Legislature Advance Bill to Remove Some from Early Voter List,” AZCentral, January 21, 2021,


MARGIN OF VICTORY: The 2020 presidential election was decided by 11,779 votes in Georgia, the second-closest margin in the country.footnote6_nH8Elleji6j16Office of the Georgia Secretary of State, “2020 Presidential Recount Results,” last updated December 7, 2020, (hereinafter “Georgia Recount Results”).

THE LAW: The state’s new omnibus law, S.B. 202, contains several provisions that make voting harder. Among them are the following:

Drop boxes

S.B. 202 restricts how many drop boxes a county can provide by limiting the permissible number to the lower of the following two figures: the number of early voting locations in the county or the number of times the county’s voting population can be divided by 100,000.footnote7_pVdWg0JML6ua7GA S.B. 202, Sec. 26 (2021). Voters who relied on this method and are no longer able to access a drop box may either not vote or have to return their ballots by mail (which is not always reliable and requires earlier drop-off to ensure ballots arrive on time).

POTENTIAL VOTER IMPACT: The four major metropolitan counties surrounding Atlanta — Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett — will be limited to an estimated 23 drop boxes total.footnote8_kboKp5XM0B8Q8Mark Niesse et al., “Drop Box Use Heavy in Democratic Areas Before Georgia Voting Law,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 12, 2021, By contrast, there were 111 drop boxes in those four counties last year.footnote9_muHxuErWWJMZ9Niesse, “Drop Box Use Heavy.”. In those four counties, over 305,000 absentee voters (roughly 56 percent of absentee voters there) used drop boxes in the 2020 election.footnote10_uIYj2YxuIv1K10Niesse, “Drop Box Use Heavy.”.

ID requirement to vote absentee

S.B. 202 requires voters applying for an absentee ballot to include a driver’s license or state identification number.footnote11_ys4WvXrVglXm11Ga. S.B. 202, Sec. 25 (2021). Voters who do not have those forms of ID are required to provide a copy of an identifying document (like a utility bill or bank statement) with their absentee ballot application.footnote12_iJK6X0akAPfA12Ga. S.B. 202, Sec. 25. This new, harsher ID requirement will disproportionately burden Black voters.

POTENTIAL VOTER IMPACT: Over 272,000 registered Georgia voters (about 3.5 percent of the state’s registrants) do not have a driver’s license or state ID on file with election officials.footnote13_d4FulHtGsZ4T13Mark Niesse, “Georgia Absentee ID Law Has Outsized Impact on Black and Metro Voters,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 1, 2021, Black Georgians make up 30 percent of registered voters in the state but 56 percent of voters without ID information on record.footnote14_nZq8Sffi2rR614Niesse, “Georgia Absentee ID Law Has Outsized Impact.”

Limits on sending mail ballot applications

S.B. 202 bans government officials from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot applications.footnote15_tSQKb4Ngjb5Z15Ga. S.B. 202, Sec. 25. It also prohibits third-party organizations from sending applications with any information prefilled.footnote16_zcoUehHjZZcL16Ga. S.B. 202, Sec. 25.

POTENTIAL VOTER IMPACT: During the 2020 presidential election, third-party organizations assert that they distributed over 6.9 million absentee ballot request forms in Georgia, prefilled with voter’s names and addresses.footnote17_pa8fNklVVuPv17VoteAmerica v. Raffensperger, 1:21-cv-01390-JPB, (N.D. Ga., Apr. 7, 2021), Complaint ¶ 28, available at; and Mark Niesse, “Groups Mass Mail Absentee Ballot Applications to Georgia Voters,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 25, 2020, More than 1.3 million Georgia voters cast absentee ballots in the 2020 general election.footnote18_aAx6nCPDNiIp18Georgia Recount Results (Contest Details, Vote Types).

Mobile voting centers

S.B. 202 bans mobile voting centers except when the governor declares a state of emergency.footnote19_gLoIhogeNOKi19Ga. S.B. 202, Sec. 20.

POTENTIAL VOTER IMPACT: During the 2020 election, two polling vehicles crossed Fulton County during early voting.footnote20_raB1k0Veg1w220Nick Corosaniti and Reid J. Epstein, “What Georgia’s Voting Law Really Does,” New York Times, April 2, 2021, updated August 18, 2021, In the 2020 general election, more than 11,200 people in the county voted at one of them, nearly equal to the number of deciding votes statewide in the presidential election.footnote21_rxuMBuSLdcqQ21Corosaniti and Epstein, “What Georgia’s Voting Law Really Does.”

Out-of-precinct ballots

S.B. 202 prohibits voters from being able to cast out-of-precinct provisional ballots before 5:00 p.m. on Election Day.footnote22_g8bzgl7pK7jo22Ga. S.B. 202, Sec. 34. That means voters who show up at the wrong precinct before 5:00 pm won’t be able to vote there, even if they are eligible to cast ballots in races for U.S. senator or president, for example.

POTENTIAL VOTER IMPACT: In the 2020 general election, election workers counted 3,357 out-of-precinct provisional ballots in Georgia.footnote23_rEqsPjpv9q4z23Mark Niesse, “Georgia Voting Law Disqualifies Ballots Cast in the Wrong Precinct,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 30, 2021,


MARGIN OF VICTORY: Florida’s U.S. Senate election in 2018 was decided by 10,033 votes.footnote24_aEryiiiaYiDr24Florida Department of State Division of Elections, “November 6, 2018 General Election, Official Results,” accessed July 28, 2021, This was one of many very close elections in the state over the past two decades (the presidential election was decided by just 537 votes in 2000). The 2020 presidential election was not as close — it was decided by 371,686 votes.footnote25_njJz557x6B8x25Florida Department of State Division of Elections, “November 3, 2020 General Election, Official Results,” accessed July 30, 2021,

THE LAW: Among the restrictions in Florida’s omnibus law, S.B. 90, is a limitation on ballot drop box locations, which may only be in the main office and permanent branch offices of county supervisors of elections and at early voting sites (where they will be limited to use during early voting hours only).footnote26_xux8BclV86ST26Fla. S.B. 90, Sec. 28 (2021). In other words, S.B. 90 effectively limits almost all drop box availability to 8 to 12 hours a day.footnote27_w3sdDus39x9R27“Early Voting,” Florida Division of Elections, accessed July 25, 2021,; and Fla. Stat. § 101.657(1)(d). Shift-workers and other voters who relied on early morning and nighttime hours to submit their ballots will no longer be able to do so.

POTENTIAL VOTER IMPACT: During the 2020 general election, at least 51 of Florida’s 67 counties offered at least one drop box that was available 24/7.footnote28_i1OI3c5K8CnS28Jose Vasquez and Daniel A. Smith, “All Counties Should Offer Secure, 24/7 Drop Boxes for Mail Ballots,” Tampa Bay Times, October 12, 2020, In the 2020 general election, 1.5 million Florida voters used a drop box to vote, making up more than 10 percent of voters who cast ballots and more than a quarter of those who did so by mail.footnote29_mI8tYRz6FT9t29Florida Supervisors of Elections Statement on PCB-PIE-21–05, March 22, 2021,; and John Kennedy, “Elections Bill that Bans Ballot Drop Boxes and Makes Other Changes Advances in Florida Senate,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, March 10, 2021, Many more Black voters opted to vote by mail in Florida in 2020 than in 2016. In the 2016 general election, 20 percent of Black voters cast their ballot by mail; in 2020, that doubled to 40 percent.footnote30_rTFV1sSdT6Ni30Calculated based on data from the Florida registered voter file from November 2017 and July 2021.


MARGIN OF VICTORY: In 2020, 138,611 votes decided the presidential race in Iowa and 110,138 votes decided its U.S. Senate race.footnote31_eeF4BCNMV77a31Office of the Iowa Secretary of State, “2020 Election Canvass Summary,” November 30, 2020, House District 2 was decided by just 6 votes.footnote32_u0bYMe8Mdlgj32Office of the Iowa Secretary of State, “2020 Election Canvass Summary.”.

THE LAW: Iowa’s omnibus voting law, S.F. 413, includes multiple provisions that make it harder to vote. They include the following:

Voter purges

S.F. 413 requires voters to be marked as “inactive” if they did not vote in the most recent general election.footnote33_eEe8sZLluPcs33Iowa S.F. 413, Sec. 25 (2021). Inactive voters will then be removed from the rolls if they do not vote in two successive general election cycles.footnote34_rl7Bogds7jK234Iowa Code § 48A.30(1)(g). But inactivity is a poor proxy for ineligibility — a voter may simply decide not to vote.footnote35_pyQU5vTzBFxE35For example, in July 2017, Georgia canceled the registrations of 107,000 people under the state’s “use it or lose it” purge policy (among more than half a million Georgia voters purged at the time). See Johnny Kauffman, “6 Takeaways from Georgia’s ‘Use It Or Lose It’ Voter Purge Investigation,” NPR, October 22, 2018, After 2017, 87,000 purged voters re-registered in Georgia, indicating they were still eligible in the state. See Mark Niesse, “Many Eligible Georgia Voters Were Canceled in Nation’s Largest Purge,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 12, 2020,—regional-govt—politics/many-eligible-georgia-voters-were-canceled-nation-largest-purge/jRlixHpVs0I9wVQYdDjxvM/ What’s more, Iowa’s purge practices have been error-prone in the past.footnote36_ry7Co6kKQZol36Jason Clayworth, “‘This Is Wrong’: Iowa’s Flawed Felon List Has Been Disqualifying Legitimate Voters for Years,” Des Moines Register, January 13, 2019, updated January 23, 2020,

POTENTIAL VOTER IMPACT: As of April 2021, 294,148 Iowa voters had been moved to inactive status because they did not vote in the 2020 general election.footnote37_c3TjW6f4YqUs37Ryan J. Foley, “Iowa Moves 294,000 Registered Voters to ‘Inactive’ Status,” Associated Press, April 26, 2021,

Sending mail ballot applications

S.F. 413 prohibits the secretary of state from sending absentee ballot applications to voters unless they request one.footnote38_r6GOTLT4lgCQ38Iowa S.F. 413, Sec. 43. In advance of the 2020 general election, Secretary of State Paul D. Pate sent out about 2 million such applications to every active, registered voter in Iowa.footnote39_pIEN99S95b7p39Office of the Iowa Secretary of State,Press Release: Secretary Pate Sending Absentee Ballot Request Forms Statewide This Weekend,” September 4, 2021,; and Stephen Gruber-Miller, “Iowa Secretary of State Will Mail Ballot Request Forms to All Voters Before Fall Election,” Des Moines Register, July 17, 2020,

POTENTIAL VOTER IMPACT: More than 1 million Iowa voters (nearly 60 percent of turnout) cast absentee ballots (either by mail or in person) in the 2020 general election.footnote40_v1ytDUUovbkl40Office of the Iowa Secretary of State, “2020 General Election Voter Turnout Report,” accessed August 31, 2021, This was more than a 50 percent increase over the 647,000 Iowa voters who used absentee ballots in the 2016 general elections.footnote41_dExQMjDmaanx41Office of the Iowa Secretary of State, “2016 General Election Voter Turnout Report,” accessed August 31, 2021,

Absentee ballot receipt deadline

S.F. 413 requires that absentee ballots be received by the close of polls on Election Day (8:00 p.m.).footnote42_nOB3GU69yJ8J42Iowa S.F. 413, Sec. 54; Iowa Code § 49.73(2)(a) (setting 8:00 p.m. as the time when polling places must close on Election Day). Iowa law previously permitted ballots to arrive by noon on the Monday following Election Day if postmarked by the day prior to Election Day.footnote43_dWV1BQf50FxB43Iowa S.F. 413, Sec. 54.

POTENTIAL VOTER IMPACT: Iowa Senate Democrats estimate that, had this policy been in place for the 2020 general election, 6,500 ballots would not have been counted.footnote44_inoURECbHuWO44Iowa Senate Democrats, “State Government Committee – All Bill Summary 2020,” June 23, 2021,


MARGIN OF VICTORY: Montana’s 2018 U.S. Senate election was decided by 17,913 votes.footnote45_o4cZl1Cb5yW645Office of the Montana Secretary of State, “2018 Statewide General Election Canvass,” accessed July 28, 2021, The 2020 presidential election there was decided by 98,816 votes.footnote46_kEYLD9M2jxFV46Office of the Montana Secretary of State, “2020 Statewide General Election Canvass,” accessed July 30, 2021,

THE LAWS: The state has enacted several laws this year that could make it harder for residents to participate in elections. They include the following:

Election Day registration

H.B. 176 eliminates Election Day registration in Montana.footnote47_rKqiXdgOOX5n47Mont. H.B. 176, Sec. 2 (2021).

POTENTIAL VOTER IMPACT: In 2018, 8,053 voters registered to vote on Election Day.footnote48_cqcjZAbzmqNR48Sam Wilson, “Gov Signs Bills Ending Election Day Registration, Tightening Voter ID Restrictions,” Independent Record (Helena, MT), April 19, 2021,–2ce2–5690–813b-ba6cee4e3cba.html.

Mail ballot assistance

H.B. 530 prohibits any person who distributes, orders, collects, or returns another person’s ballot from receiving any pecuniary benefit.footnote49_k43WWIS7uWCQ49Mont. H.B. 530, Sec. 2 (2021). This policy disproportionately burdens Native American voters, who often have limited access to polling places and rely on paid ballot assistance to return their ballots.

POTENTIAL VOTER IMPACT: The Blackfeet reservation, roughly the size of Delaware, has just four ballot drop-off locations.footnote50_u17fMFIJoK7b50Maggie Astor, “How G.O.P.-Backed Laws in Montana Could Hurt Native American Voting,” New York Times, July 6, 2021, The Blackfeet Nation has 17,321 enrolled members.footnote51_ims0lhbuUcRR51Blackfeet Nation (website), accessed July 29, 2021, For all seven tribal nations in Montana, getting to county election offices requires 18 to 176 miles of round-trip travel.footnote52_mB8GidpDP3kj52Western Native Voice, “Barriers to Election Services and Voting for Native Americans,” November 2019,–2020/State-Tribal-Relations/Meetings/November-2019/11_11_2019%20State%20Tribal%20Relations%20Committee%20Presentation%20.pdf. Native Americans make up 6.7 percent of Montana’s population or approximately 71,600 people.footnote53_zOnxHzAJYEsa53U.S. Census Bureau, “QuickFacts: Montana,” accessed July 29, 2021,


MARGIN OF VICTORY: The margin of victory in Texas’s 2018 U.S. Senate race was 214,921 voters.footnote54_cekmSPS8Ar8p54Office of the Texas Secretary of State, “Race Summary Report, 2018 General Election,” accessed August 24, 2021, And over the last decade, several Texas congressional races have been decided by close margins, including the 2018 race for House District 23, decided by 926 votes, and the 2020 race for House District 24, decided by 4,584 votes.footnote55_diFt2JYti89y55Office of the Texas Secretary of State, “Race Summary Report, 2018 General Election”; and Office of the Texas Secretary of State, “Texas Election Results,” accessed July 28, 2021, The 2020 presidential election was not as close: 631,221 voters decided the results.footnote56_q79Q3oX1tvtf56Office of the Texas Secretary of State, “Texas Election Results.”

PENDING LEGISLATION: The Texas Legislature failed to pass the two omnibus voting restriction bills introduced during its regular 2021 session after Democrats walked out, depriving the House of a quorum.footnote57_vPUZX0CVwLSS57Nick Corasaniti, “Texas Democrats Stymie G.O.P. Voting Bill, for Now,” New York Times, May 31, 2021, But in two successive 30-day special sessions, Republican lawmakers reintroduced many of the same restrictive voting measures, including in omnibus bill S.B. 1. In response, House Democrats walked out again to break quorum during the first special session, but the Texas Legislature passed S.B. 1 during the second one. At the time of publication, S.B. 1 is awaiting the governor’s signature; he has promised to sign it into law. Restrictions in S.B. 1 include the following:

Drive-through and 24-hour voting bans

S.B. 1 prohibits drive-through voting locations and 24-hour voting at early voting locations, which were made available in Harris County last year during the pandemic.footnote58_iwcANHfPzsbs58S.B. 1, 87th Leg., 2nd Spec. Sess. (Tex. 2021).

POTENTIAL VOTER IMPACT IF ENACTED: In the 2020 general election, about 127,000 Harris County voters made use of drive-through polling places during the general election.footnote59_kGf8PN84cXAB59Jolie McCullough, “Nearly 127,000 Harris County Drive-Thru Votes Appear Safe After Federal Judge Rejects GOP-Led Texas Lawsuit,” Texas Tribune, November 2, 2020, updated November 3, 2020, Harris County also permitted 24-hour voting over two days during the early voting period.footnote60_i7A6nYrRmkY760Juan A. Lozano, “Houston Looks to Boost Turnout by Offering 24-Hour Voting,” Associated Press, October 30, 2020, During that period, 15,943 voters cast early ballots.footnote61_pSHeuQmGAXjx61Harris County Election Division, “Daily Record of Early Voting – November 3, 2020 and Special Elections,” (archived).

One-quarter of Black Texans and nearly one-quarter of Asian Texans live in Harris County. By contrast, Harris County is home to just 12 percent of white non-Hispanic Texans.footnote62_iVifgSye5LXI62U.S. Census Bureau, “American Community Survey 2015–2019 5-Year Estimates (2019),” available at

ID requirement to vote absentee

S.B. 1 requires voters applying for an absentee ballot to include their driver’s license/state identification number or, if they do not have one, the last four digits of their Social Security number.footnote63_rLnoMBDWXzAn63S.B. 1, 87th Leg., 2nd Spec. Sess. (Tex. 2021). Voters who have neither must say so.

POTENTIAL VOTER IMPACT IF ENACTED: About 11 percent of Texas voters, or 1.9 million people, have only one of the two numbers (state ID or Social Security) on file.footnote64_ruwCctTZTPSk64Jessica Huseman, “The Texas Election Bill Contains a New Obstacle to Voting that Almost No One Is Talking About,” Texas Monthly, July 26, 2021,

Chris Davis, the elections administrator for Williamson County, has testified that most voters with only one number on file would not remember which number they had submitted, often many years earlier, and have to guess. “You have a 50 percent chance of the voter guessing wrong,” he said.footnote65_cj3n84Vjt1v465Huseman, “The Texas Election Bill Contains a New Obstacle.” Defective applications are rejected;footnote66_zGBxBen2DXqK66Tex. Elec. Code §§ 86.001(c), 86.008. voters would then have to resubmit their mail ballot application with the correct information.

If Texas voters continue to vote absentee in the same numbers as last year but half guess incorrectly on their absentee ballot application as to which ID number is on file, 104,500 voters will have their applications rejected.footnote67_wxTDbmWiWx3367Huseman, “The Texas Election Bill Contains a New Obstacle.”

End Notes