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Voting Laws Roundup: October 2023

So far this year, at least 14 states have enacted laws making it harder to vote, while 23 states have enacted laws making it easier.

Published: October 19, 2023

Click here for the most recent Voting Laws Roundup.

Over the past three years, states have enacted restrictive voting laws at breakneck speeds, and that trend continues in 2023. At the same time, even more states have taken a different path, enacting new laws to make voting easier. Indeed, this year, there have been nearly three new expansive laws enacted for every restrictive law, the biggest ratio since 2020.

The wave of pro-voter legislation follows the 2022 midterms, when voters largely rejected election-denying candidates in swing states. At least four of those states — Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, and New Mexico — enacted multiple expansive voting laws or an omnibus pro-voter law in 2023. Nearly half of all states enacted at least one expansive voting law this year. And most of this year’s expansive voting laws have been passed since our last roundup in June.

There remains a stark divide between states. On one side are those that are broadening democratic participation. On the other are those making it harder to vote and easier for partisan officials to interfere in democratic processes. Many states passing new restrictive laws are the places where it is already hard to vote.

More restrictive laws have been enacted this year than in any year of the last decade except 2021. Some of these laws may have drastic consequences for voters who wish to participate in the 2024 elections. And several states have set the stage for election interference schemes next year.

In all but seven states, regular legislative sessions have ended. footnote1_oazk0cj 1 Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are still in regular session.  Between January 1 and October 10, 2023:

  • At least 14 states enacted 17 restrictive laws, all of which will be in place for the 2024 general elections. footnote2_hgilnez 2 AR H.B. 1411, FL S.B. 7050, ID H.B. 124, ID H.B. 340, IN H.B. 1334, KS S.B. 106, MS H.B. 1310, MS S.B. 2358, NE L.B. 514, NM S.B. 180, NC S.B. 747, ND H.B. 1431, SD H.B. 1165, TX S.B. 924, UT S.B. 17, WY H.B. 279, WY S.F. 153. Legislation is categorized as restrictive if it contains one or more provisions that would make it harder for eligible Americans to register, stay on the voter rolls, or vote as compared to existing state law.  Many of these new laws target voting by mail.
  • At least 6 states enacted 7 election interference laws, with all 7 taking effect before the November 2024 elections. footnote3_s33888j 3 AR H.B. 1411, AR S.B. 272, FL S.B. 4-B, GA S.B. 222, NC S.B. 749, SD H.B. 1165, TX S.B. 1933. Legislation is categorized as election interference if it either threatens the people and processes that make elections work or increases opportunities for partisan interference in election results or administration.
  • At least 23 states enacted 47 expansive laws, highlighted by comprehensive pro-voter legislation in Colorado, Michigan, and New York. All but 1 will be in full effect for the 2024 general elections. footnote4_f3rryff 4 AR H.B. 1512, AR S.B. 247, CA A.B. 545, CA A.B. 626, CO S.B. 276, CT H.B. 5004, CT H.B. 6941, GA S.B. 129, IL S.B. 2123, KS S.B. 221, LA H.B. 449, ME L.D. 886, ME L.D. 1653, MD H.B. 410, MI H.B. 4697, MI H.B. 4699, MI S.B. 259, MI S.B. 367, MI S.B. 370, MI S.B. 373, MN H.F. 3, MN H.F. 28, NV A.B. 286, NV S.B. 216, NV S.B. 327, NJ A.B. 5175, NM H.B. 4, NM S.B. 180, NY A.B. 4009, NY A.B. 7690, NY S.B. 1733, NY S.B. 1327, NY S.B. 5984, NY S.B. 7394, OR H.B. 2107, OR S.B. 166, TX H.B. 1217, TX S.B. 477, TX S.B. 1599, UT H.B. 37, UT S.B. 17, VA H.B. 1948, WA H.B. 1048, WA S.B. 5112, WA S.B. 5208, WV S.B. 631, WY H.B. 79. Legislation is categorized as expansive if it contains one or more provisions that would make it easier for eligible Americans to register.

Of particular note, Republicans in the North Carolina legislature have used their veto-proof majority to push through two sweeping laws, one of which restricts voting access and the other of which undermines election administration. Also notable is a new Texas law that allows for extreme state oversight of Harris County’s day-to-day election administration.

More than a dozen pieces of restrictive legislation passed since 2021 are facing legal challenges, including provisions of restrictive voting laws passed this year in Mississippi and Florida that have been temporarily blocked by federal courts.

End Notes

Restrictive Legislation

Between January 1 and October 10, at least 14 states enacted 17 restrictive laws. footnote1_k8lmr3g 1 AR H.B. 1411, FL S.B. 7050, ID H.B. 124, ID H.B. 340, IN H.B. 1334, KS S.B. 106, MS H.B. 1310, MS S.B. 2358, NE L.B. 514, NM S.B. 180, NC S.B. 747, ND H.B. 1431, SD H.B. 1165, TX S.B. 924, UT S.B. 17, WY H.B. 279, WY S.F. 153. This exceeds the number of restrictive voting laws enacted in every year for the past decade besides 2021, when 33 restrictive laws had been passed by early fall. A few of this year’s measures implement numerous changes.

There are four new restrictive laws that we have not reported on in previous editions of the Voting Laws Roundup. Nebraska adopted a law that requires mail voters who lack a Nebraska driver’s license or state ID card to include a copy of an acceptable photo ID with their mail ballot application and their marked ballot. footnote2_x3ozcog 2 NE L.B. 514.  The law only permits voters who cannot submit a copy of ID to vote by mail if they certify under threat of criminal penalty that they have one of a limited list of “reasonable impediments.” That list does not include lacking the ability to create a copy of one’s ID, which means that voters who do not have access to a printer or photocopier may not be able to vote by mail.

A new Mississippi law makes it harder for people with disabilities to vote by mail. footnote3_gtdjjlg 3 MS S.B. 2358.  The law imposes new criminal penalties on anyone who assists a voter with returning a mail ballot except for election officials, postal workers, family members, household members, and caregivers.

Texas passed a law that will allow some counties to consolidate polling places, which increases the likelihood of long wait times. footnote4_2oyofng 4 TX S.B. 924.

The fourth new law is an omnibus restrictive voting law in North Carolina, where the legislature overrode the governor’s veto to enact it. This new law shortens the window to return mail ballots, bans the use of ballot drop boxes, and increases the chances that voters using same-day registration do not have their ballots counted. footnote5_biafx0m 5 NC S.B. 747.  We detail this law further below.

Since the successful expansion of voting by mail in 2020, some lawmakers have been set on making it harder to do so, despite the proven security of the process. That trend has continued this year. So far, states have enacted 11 new laws that curb access to mail voting. footnote6_j5uckyj 6 AR H.B. 1411, FL S.B. 7050, IN H.B. 1334, KS S.B. 106, MS S.B. 2358, NE L.B. 514, NM S.B. 180, NC S.B. 747, SD H.B. 1165, WY H.B. 279, WY S.F. 153.  Of the new mail voting laws, 4 add more stringent voter ID requirements, footnote7_3xld95r 7 AR H.B. 1411, IN H.B. 1334, NE L.B. 514, WY H.B. 279.  3 prohibit election workers from sending unsolicited mail ballot applications or ballots, footnote8_9asf564 8 AR H.B. 1411, IN H.B. 1334, KS S.B. 106.  4 shorten the period for requesting or casting a mail ballot, footnote9_gan1mwt 9 FL S.B. 7050, NM S.B. 180, NC S.B. 747, WY S.F. 153.  2 ban the use of drop boxes, footnote10_sag0blq 10 NC S.B. 747, SD H.B. 1165.  and 1 makes it a crime to return a mail ballot on behalf of another. footnote11_oyy3s56 11 MS S.B. 2358.  (The number of provisions adds up to 14 because 3 of the 11 laws do more than one of these things).

Overall, at least 325 restrictive voting bills have been introduced in 45 states this year. At least 6 are still moving through state legislatures.

 

End Notes

Election Interference Legislation

Since January 1, at least 6 states have enacted 7 election interference laws. footnote1_jeswbyj 1 AR H.B. 1411, AR S.B. 272, FL S.B. 4-B, GA S.B. 222, NC S.B. 749, SD H.B. 1165, TX S.B. 1933. This represents a decrease from roughly this point in 2022, when 7 states had enacted 12 election interference laws.

Two election interference laws have been enacted since our last roundup in June. The first is a Texas law that allows the politically appointed secretary of state to exercise intense oversight over Harris County’s day-to-day election administration. footnote2_9snqpp8 2 TX S.B. 1933. Harris County, which includes Houston, has pursued pro-voter policies in recent years (often against the state government’s wishes), such as sending mail ballot applications to all eligible voters in 2020. Harris County is home to the greatest number of nonwhite eligible voters in the state, and over the last few years, the Texas legislature has repeatedly targeted the county and its policies.

The second election interference law, which was enacted in North Carolina, restructures state and county boards of elections to have an even partisan split, opening the door for members to block the certification of results. footnote3_nj3qrjx 3 NC S.B. 749. This law is discussed in detail below.

End Notes

Expansive Legislation

Between January 1 and October 10, at least 23 states enacted 47 laws that make it easier to vote. footnote1_rtmwt75 1 AR H.B. 1512, AR S.B. 247, CA A.B. 545, CA A.B. 626, CO S.B. 276, CT H.B. 5004, CT H.B. 6941, GA S.B. 129, IL S.B. 2123, KS S.B. 221, LA H.B. 449, MD H.B. 410, ME L.D. 1653, ME L.D. 886, MI H.B. 4697, MI H.B. 4699, MI S.B. 367, MI S.B. 370, MI S.B. 373, MI S.B. 259, MN H.F. 3, MN H.F. 28, NJ A.B. 5175, NM H.B. 4, NM S.B. 180, NV A.B. 286, NV S.B. 327, NV S.B. 216, NY A.B. 4009, NY S.B. 5984, NY A.B. 7690, NY S.B. 1327, NY S.B. 1733, NY S.B. 7394, OR H.B. 2107, OR S.B. 166, TX H.B. 1217, TX S.B. 1599, TX S.B. 477, UT H.B. 37, UT S.B. 17, VA H.B. 1948, WA H.B. 1048, WA S.B. 5112, WA S.B. 5208, WV S.B. 631, WY H.B. 79.  Twenty-eight of these have been enacted since our most recent roundup in June. Some are broad measures that implement numerous changes.

Since our last roundup, Michigan and New York each passed 5 expansive voting laws. In Michigan, these laws implemented last year’s Proposal 2, a comprehensive democracy reform package that voters overwhelmingly approved. Now Michigan voters have nine days of early voting, footnote2_71rb8cz 2 MI S.B. 367.  easier voting by mail, footnote3_wi6zqfc 3 MI H.B. 4699, MI S.B. 370.  increased drop box access, footnote4_p9ngn36 4 MI H.B. 4697.  and a more expansive list of acceptable voter ID. footnote5_qkjmhfl 5 MI S.B. 373.

New Yorkers, too, will have expanded access to voting. The legislature approved several improvements, including laws requiring correctional institutions to give voter registration forms and information to people newly released from prison, footnote6_uergjji 6 NY A.B. 4009.  requiring high schools to provide voter registration forms to students, footnote7_yim2mlj 7 NY S.B. 1733.  and allowing citizens to register to vote closer to Election Day. footnote8_5rzumgx 8 NY S.B. 5984.

Colorado has enacted a law with far-reaching voting changes. footnote9_gwk68r8 9 CO S.B. 276.  These include increased opportunities for in-person voting on Indian reservations; the establishment of drop boxes at places of worship; mandatory polling places on college campuses, as well as drop boxes on campuses with at least 1,000 students (previously 2,000); and mandatory provision of voter registration forms to certain eligible voters who are incarcerated.

In June, Connecticut became the sixth state to enact a state Voting Rights Act. footnote10_hwgwjuj 10 CT H.B. 6941.  These state laws mirror the federal Voting Rights Act, aiming to fill the void left by recent Supreme Court decisions that have gutted the landmark civil rights law. Connecticut’s legislation will protect voters of color from burdens imposed by local governments. It creates state oversight of localities with histories of discrimination, expands language access, and establishes strong protections against voter intimidation. State Voting Rights Acts were also considered this year in Illinois, footnote11_7ckhrsz 11 IL H.B. 1244.  Maryland, footnote12_qdj9ma8 12 MD H.B. 1104, MD S.B. 878.  Michigan, footnote13_lobn1t0 13 MI S.B. 401.  and New Jersey. footnote14_yoyaqyl 14 NJ A.B. 4554, NJ S.B. 2997.

Nevada added to this year’s wave of expansive legislation by passing laws to make it easier to vote on Indian reservations footnote15_uniywxw 15 NV S.B. 327, NV S.B. 216.  and from jail. footnote16_9889wre 16 NV A.B. 286.  Louisiana has beefed up its enforcement of laws guaranteeing accommodations for voters with disabilities. footnote17_lmyxf3h 17 LA H.B. 449.

These sweeping changes add to the comprehensive voting expansions passed previously this year. For example, Minnesota’s Democracy for the People Act, enacted in May, establishes automatic voter registration, allows voters to sign up for mail ballots in all future elections, and authorizes young voters to pre-register before they turn 18. footnote18_d7mm5tg 18 MN H.F. 3. New Mexico’s expansive voting law, which passed in March, not only restores voting rights to people on parole or probation, but also creates a permanent vote-by-mail list and protects polling place access for people living on reservations. footnote19_31phtrq 19 NM H.B. 4.

At least one expansive bill was introduced in every single state legislature this year, with at least 606 introduced nationwide. This is the first time this has happened since the Brennan Center started tracking expansive legislation in 2013.

End Notes

Noteworthy Developments

North Carolina Takes Aim at Voter Access and Election Administration

The new veto-proof Republican majority in the North Carolina legislature has curtailed voting access and disrupted election processes by passing an omnibus restrictive voting bill footnote1_ypfdo76 1 NC S.B. 747.  and an election interference bill. footnote2_cyd9gwi 2 NC S.B. 749.  Although Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoed both, the legislature overrode those vetoes.

Among its most restrictive provisions, the omnibus voting restriction law moves the deadline for receipt of mail ballots from three days after Election Day to 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. In the 2020 presidential election, more than 11,600 ballots sent by Election Day arrived in election offices in the three days following. The law also increases the chances that voters using same-day registration do not have their ballots counted (even after they presented photo ID and proof of residence). Each of these provisions could result in eligible voters having their ballots rejected due to factors outside their control.

The new election interference law threatens election processes by changing the makeup of state and county boards of elections. It replaces the five-member state board of elections and county boards of elections with an eight-member state board and four-member county boards. They would have even partisan splits, but the law contains no mechanism for breaking ties. These boards handle crucial tasks like certifying election results. The absence of a tie-breaking system opens the door for board members to block certification, which is not a theoretical risk: two out of five board members in Surry County refused to certify their elections in 2022. With no tiebreaking mechanism, the law may be setting up scenarios where a board is deadlocked and the partisan legislature intervenes to settle the tie.

Additionally, if a county board cannot reach a consensus on an early voting plan, the county reverts to just one early voting location. The increased chances of election board deadlock could cut access to early voting.

Lawsuits Challenge Newly Enacted Voting and Election Laws

North Carolina’s S.B. 747 faced legal challenges almost as soon as it went on the books, and it is far from the only one to legal challenges this year.

Federal courts have blocked two restrictive voting laws enacted this year, and both cases are now on appeal. Several other lawsuits against restrictive voting laws are pending.

A federal judge temporarily blocked the new Mississippi law that restricts who can help voters — including voters with disabilities — return their completed mail ballots. footnote3_t0aiqn4 3 MS S.B. 2358.  A disability rights group, a voting rights group, and individual voters claim the law violates federal protections entitling voters with disabilities to assistance. The federal judge prohibited the state from employing the law in its 2023 elections. Mississippi has appealed the decision.

Another federal judge blocked provisions of Florida’s newest restrictive voting law, signed by the governor on May 25, that makes it more difficult for get-out-the-vote groups to register voters. footnote4_8lra56r 4 FL S.B. 7050.  Civil rights groups in Florida filed three separate lawsuits challenging the law as a violation of free speech, free association, and equal protection. Over the summer, a federal judge blocked a provision that barred noncitizens from registering voters and another that prohibited the retention of voter information by these groups. The state has appealed.

In addition, a federal court has allowed a lawsuit challenging two new voter ID laws in Idaho aimed at student voters to proceed. The first challenged law, signed in March, removes student ID cards as an acceptable form of ID for in-person voting, footnote5_7pkzqk5 5 ID H.B. 124.  and the second, signed in April, requires voters to present a photo ID that is not a student ID to register to vote. footnote6_oq6y85k 6 ID H.B. 340.

Harris County, Texas, challenged a law mentioned in our last roundup that takes the unprecedented step of abolishing the position of Harris County elections administrator. footnote7_18tnqml 7 TX S.B. 1750.  Although this law does not qualify as election interference because it leaves election administration in the hands of other county officials rather than transfer it to state level political actors, it makes Harris County the only county in the state that cannot have an election administrator if it chooses. The legislation could have a chilling effect on both the county’s new administrators and election administrators in other counties.

In Arkansas, a law that makes it harder for citizens to initiate ballot measures faces a lawsuit. A voting rights group and a state senator claim the new law, which increases the signature threshold for an initiative to get on the ballot, violates the state constitution. footnote8_l42q0rb 8 AR H.B. 1419.  (This law was also mentioned in our last roundup in June.)

Finally, lawsuits filed in past years continue to be litigated against omnibus anti-voter bills passed in prior years. Many provisions of Texas’s S.B. 1, which passed in 2021, are at issue in an ongoing trial in which the Brennan Center represents several plaintiffs. Likewise, litigation against Georgia’s S.B. 202 — also passed in 2021 — is still moving toward trial.

End Notes