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Voting Laws Roundup: October 2021

In an unprecedented year so far for voting legislation, 19 states have enacted 33 laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote.

Published: October 4, 2021


Click here for the most recent Voting Laws Roundup.

Edit­or’s note: A recap of 2021’s voting laws as well as a look at voting legis­la­tion planned for 2022 can be found here.

The 2020 federal elec­tion drew the United States’ highest voter turnout in more than a century, break­ing records despite the Covid-19 pandemic and efforts to under­mine the elec­tion process with the Big Lie of a stolen elec­tion.

In a back­lash to this historic voter parti­cip­a­tion, many state lawmakers have proposed and enacted legis­la­tion to make it harder for Amer­ic­ans to vote, justi­fy­ing these meas­ures with false­hoods steeped in racism about elec­tion irreg­u­lar­it­ies and breaches of elec­tion secur­ity.

In all but seven states, regu­lar legis­lat­ive sessions are now over. foot­note1_mqac9dd 1 MA, MI, NC, NJ, OH, PA, and WI are still in regu­lar session. Many states, however, are hold­ing special legis­lat­ive sessions for redis­trict­ing.  Between Janu­ary 1 and Septem­ber 27, at least 19 states enacted 33 laws that make it harder for Amer­ic­ans to vote.

At the same time, lawmakers in many states respon­ded to Amer­ic­ans’ eager­ness to vote by making it easier for eligible voters to cast their ballots. Between Janu­ary 1 and Septem­ber 27, at least 25 states enacted 62 laws with provi­sions that expand voting access.

But this expans­ive legis­la­tion does not balance the scales. The states that have enacted restrict­ive laws tend to be ones in which voting is already relat­ively diffi­cult, while the states that have enacted expans­ive laws tend to have relat­ively more access­ible voting processes. In other words, access to the right to vote increas­ingly depends on the state in which a voter happens to reside.

Congress has the power to protect Amer­ican voters from the kinds of restric­tions enacted so far this year. The Free­dom to Vote Act, which is currently before the Senate, is a compre­hens­ive pack­age of voting, redis­trict­ing, and campaign finance reforms. It includes national stand­ards for voting that would ensure access to the ballot across state lines. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advance­ment Act, which has passed in the House, would comple­ment the Free­dom to Vote Act. In many instances, it would prevent changes to voting rules that discrim­in­ate on the basis of race or member­ship in language minor­ity groups from being imple­men­ted, and it would restore voters’ robust abil­ity to chal­lenge discrim­in­at­ory laws. Three of the four omni­bus restrict­ive laws were enacted in states that would be subject to preclear­ance under the John Lewis Act (FL, GA, TX). 

Restrict­ive Legis­la­tion

The 33 laws enacted so far in 2021 have vari­ous impacts, includ­ing but not limited to making mail voting and early voting more diffi­cult, impos­ing harsher voter ID require­ments, and making faulty voter purges more likely. foot­note2_cehx0mz 2 AL H.B. 285, AL H.B. 538, AR H.B. 1112, AR H.B. 1244, AR H.B. 1715, AR S.B. 643, AZ S.B. 1003, AZ S.B. 1485, AZ S.B. 1819, FL S.B. 90, GA S.B. 202, IA S.F. 413, IA S.F. 568, ID H.B. 290, IN S.B. 398, KS H.B. 2183, KS H.B. 2332, KY H.B. 574, LA H.B. 167, MT H.B. 176, MT H.B. 530, MT S.B. 169, MT S.B. 196, NH H.B. 523, NH S.B. 31, NV S.B. 84, NY S.B. 264, OK H.B. 2663, TX H.B. 3920, TX S.B. 1111, TX S.B. 1, UT H.B. 12, WY H.B. 75. Provi­sions are categor­ized as restrict­ive if they would make it harder for Amer­ic­ans to register, stay on the rolls, and/or vote, as compared to exist­ing state law.

In an emer­ging trend, restrict­ive laws in four states — Geor­gia, Iowa, Kansas, and Texas — impose new or more strin­gent crim­inal penal­ties on elec­tion offi­cials or other indi­vidu­als. foot­note3_dl7rdb9 3 GA S.B. 202, IA S.F. 413, KS H.B. 2183, TX S.B. 1. In addi­tion, other newly enacted laws impose new crim­inal penal­ties, includ­ing AZ H.B. 2794 and TX H.B. 574.  These new crim­inal laws will deter elec­tion offi­cials and other people who assist voters from enga­ging in ordin­ary, lawful, and often essen­tial tasks. People in Geor­gia can now be charged with a crime for hand­ing out water or snacks to voters wait­ing in line at the polls. foot­note4_psqiz63 4 GA S.B. 202.  In Iowa and Kansas, people could face crim­inal charges for return­ing ballots on behalf of voters who may need assist­ance, such as voters with disab­il­it­ies. foot­note5_0m8rx3s 5 IA S.F. 413, IA S.F. 568, KS H.B. 2183.  And in Texas, elec­tion offi­cials could face crim­inal prosec­u­tion if they encour­age voters to request mail ballots or regu­late poll watch­ers’ conduct. foot­note6_el0r­qui 6 TX S.B. 1.

The state laws restrict­ing voting access are not created equal. Four of the 33 laws are mixed, mean­ing they contain pro-voter policies as well as policies that make voting more diffi­cult (IN S.B. 398, KY H.B. 574, LA H.B. 167, OK H.B. 2663). Other laws are relat­ively narrow in their scope (e.g., NV S.B. 84, UT H.B. 12). By contrast, Flor­ida, Geor­gia, Iowa, and Texas have enacted omni­bus laws that each contain several new restrict­ive provi­sions. foot­note7_fmpjw0o 7 GA S.B. 202, FL S.B. 90, IA S.F. 413, TX S.B. 1.

Four states have passed multiple restrict­ive voting laws. Arkan­sas and Montana passed four such laws each, while Arizona and Texas passed three each).

Most recently, Texas enacted S.B. 1, omni­bus legis­la­tion that dispro­por­tion­ately burdens Latino, Black, and Asian voters and makes it harder for those who face language access barri­ers or who have disab­il­it­ies to get help cast­ing their ballots. The law also constrains elec­tion work­ers’ abil­ity to stop harass­ment by poll watch­ers and bans 24-hour and drive-thru voting, among other meas­ures. In a state where it was already hard to vote, S.B. 1 compounds the barri­ers faced by Texas voters. The Bren­nan Center is chal­len­ging S.B. 1 in federal court. foot­note8_w33a5dn 8 In addi­tion to Texas S.B. 1, the two other restrict­ive bills enacted since the Bren­nan Center’s last roundup are NH S.B. 31 and NY S.B. 264, both less sweep­ing in scope than Texas’s omni­bus legis­la­tion. New Hamp­shire S.B. 31 allows imme­di­ate purges based on unre­li­able inform­a­tion. New York S.B. 264 shortens the time period for voters to mail absentee ballots applic­a­tions (shift­ing from a “mailed-by” dead­line of seven days before Elec­tion Day to a “received-by” dead­line of 15 days before Elec­tion Day).

More than 425 bills with provi­sions that restrict voting access have been intro­duced in 49 states in the 2021 legis­lat­ive sessions.

Expans­ive Legis­la­tion

Between Janu­ary 1 and Septem­ber 27, 2021, at least 25 states enacted 62 laws with provi­sions that expand voting access. foot­note9_34ezb0l 9 CA A.B. 37, CA S.B. 29, CA S.B. 152, CA S.B. 503, CO H.B. 1011, CT S.B. 1202, DE S.B. 5, HI S.B. 159, HI S.B. 548, IL H.B. 1871, IL H.B. 3235, IL S.B. 825, IN S.B. 398, IN H.B. 1479, IN H.B. 1485, KY H.B. 574, LA H.B. 167, LA H.B. 286, MA H. 73, MA H. 3973, MD H.B. 206, MD S.B. 596, MD H.B. 745, MD H.B. 1048, MD S.B. 525, MD S.B. 683, ME L.D. 1399, ME L.D. 221, ME L.D. 1126, ME L.D. 1363, ME L.D. 1575, MN H.F. 1952, MT S.B. 15, ND H.B. 1078, ND H.B. 1253, ND H.B. 1447, NH H.B. 555, NJ S.B. 3203, NM H.B. 231, NV A.B. 121, NV A.B. 321, NV A.B. 432, NY A.B. 2574, NY A.B. 6046, NY A.B. 6047, NY S.B. 830B, NY S.B. 5545, OK H.B. 2663, OR H.B. 2681, OR H.B. 3021, OR H.B. 3291, VA H.B. 1888, VA H.B. 1921, VA H.B. 1968, VA H.B. 2125, VA S.B. 1097, VA S.B. 1245, VA S.B. 1331, VA S.B. 1395, VA H.B. 1890, VT S.B. 15, WA H.B. 1078. Provi­sions are categor­ized as expans­ive if they would make it easier for Amer­ic­ans to register, stay on the rolls, and/or vote, as compared to exist­ing state law.  These expans­ive policies ease the processes for request­ing and cast­ing a mail ballot, expand early voting time peri­ods, lengthen the dead­line by which an elec­tions office must receive and count mail ballots after Elec­tion Day, improve access for disabled voters, and strengthen language access provi­sions, among other meas­ures. Nearly 1,000 bills with expans­ive provi­sions have been intro­duced in 49 states in the 2021 legis­lat­ive sessions.

Access to the right to vote increas­ingly depends on the state in which a voter happens to reside. More than two-thirds of the states (17 of 25) that enacted expans­ive laws did not enact restrict­ive legis­la­tion as well. The 25 states that have enacted legis­la­tion with expans­ive provi­sions include the four states with mixed legis­la­tion (IN, KY, LA, and OK) and four states that enacted both restrict­ive and expans­ive laws (MT, NH, NY, and NV).

Eight states exten­ded or made perman­ent policies first imple­men­ted tempor­ar­ily in 2020 in response to Covid-19, such as send­ing mail ballots to all voters, imple­ment­ing curb­side voting, and allow­ing no-excuse early voting. foot­note10_523i­ulj 10 CA S.B. 29 and CA A.B. 37 (send­ing mail ballots to all voters), CT S.B. 1202 (Covid-19 as absentee excuse; drop boxes), IL H.B. 1871 (curb­side voting; drop boxes), KY H.B. 574 (no-excuse early voting; drop boxes; online mail ballot applic­a­tion; oppor­tun­ity to cure mail ballot signa­ture), MA H. 73 and MA H. 3973 (no-excuse mail voting; expan­ded no-excuse early voting), ME L.D. 1399 (remote notar­iz­a­tion for absentee ballots), NV A.B. 321 (send­ing mail ballots to all voters), VT S.B. 15 (mail ballot post­age; send­ing mail ballots to all voters; drive-thru voting; drop boxes).

Three states (CT, NY, and WA) expan­ded voting rights to people with past convic­tions, build­ing on national momentum to undo felony disen­fran­chise­ment laws. foot­note11_6ys89cg 11 CT S.B. 1202, NY S.B. 830B, WA H.B. 1078.

And six states enacted auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion (AVR) laws. Connecti­cut and Delaware adop­ted AVR legis­lat­ively, while Illinois, Maine, Nevada, and New York expan­ded exist­ing AVR programs. foot­note12_e57a33a 12 CT S.B. 1202, DE S.B. 5, IL H.B. 3235, ME L.D. 1363, NV A.B. 432, NY A.B. 2574.


End Notes

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