Georgia has changed its voting laws. Which states will be next?
(CBS News) - Georgia has been Ground Zero in the post-2020 battle over state election laws, but it is hardly the only big battleground state pushing voting changes.
Arizona, Florida and Texas are considered the next frontier for altering the way people vote, with their legislatures considering proposals for additional ID requirements, restrictions on dropboxes, and cuts to private funding for local election offices.
The three states each have growing and increasingly diverse populations and play a substantial role in the outcome of presidential contests. And they all have Republican governors and Republican majorities in the legislature.
But the political trends and the way they conduct elections differ. Donald Trump and local Republicans were successful in Texas last year, and the state already has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. Arizona is an emerging battleground and there, Joe Biden eked out a rare victory for Democrats. Florida, a state Mr. Trump also carried, made headlines last year because its election went so smoothly.
The common theme across these states when it comes to their proposed changes reflects the national party’s emphasis on elections. “Much of the election reform that’s being considered right now is based on a fantasy — a lie — the big lie,” said David Becker, executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research. “Much of this reform is not necessary, by any means. The security of the election was remarkably good.”
The Brennan Center, which has been tracking voting law proposals across the country, found that lawmakers in 47 states have introduced 361 bills that would restrict voting access. Of those restrictive bills, at least 55 are currently moving through legislatures in 24 states. So far, 29 of them have passed one chamber, while 26 of them have made it through a committee vote. Overall, five bills have been signed into law, including Georgia’s last week.
The final bill signed into law in Georgia was a diluted version of the original proposals. While it included new restrictions, it also expanded early voting in the state. And the voter identification requirement for absentee ballots, rather than just a signature, could make processing easier on election officials and lead to the rejection of fewer ballots.
Here are the upcoming states to watch on the voting laws front:
Arizona is considering a tightening of its election laws. Most of its voters have been mailing in their votes for years, since the state started allowing mail-in voting for every registered voter 30 years ago.
One of the two main bills that has passed the state Senate since the 2020 election, SB 1485, could shrink the voter pool by getting rid of the permanent early voting list, which allows voters to automatically receive a mail ballot for every election they are eligible to vote in. If voters choose not to vote early in the primary and general election for two consecutive cycles, they risk being removed from the early voter list. Counties are supposed to notify these voters, who may then stay on the list by responding within 30 days. A previous version of the bill failed in the Senate when a Repubilcan voted against the bill, claiming he had misunderstood its provisions, but he supported SB 1485.
The other bill to watch is SB 1713, which adds an ID requirement for people voting absentee. Arizona verifies absentee ballots using a signature match, but this bill would require voters to provide a number from a driver’s license, state ID, tribal ID or their voter registration number, in addition to providing a signature when returning an absentee ballot.
Florida was a bright spot in an election season marred by COVID-related delays. The state had a no-excuse absentee ballot program long before the pandemic, and until the 2020 election, Republicans had outpaced Democrats in mail-in voting. The state also had rules in place to process ballots before Election Day, so officials were able to report results on Election Night. After working for years to repair its reputation after the 2000 election, Florida stood out as a model in 2020.
A record number of voters participated, Mr. Trump carried the state, and Republicans picked up House seats.
Even so, Florida Republicans are pushing for voting restrictions. The legislature is considering Senate Bill 90, focused on absentee voting. The legislation would prohibit the use of drop boxes altogether — a popular method of returning mail-in ballots — and would require voters to include a form of identification with a mail ballot in addition to a signature. The bill would prohibit anyone but an immediate family member from returning an absentee ballot. And it would require that voters who request an absentee ballot application reapply each election cycle, instead of every two cycles as is current policy.
Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has also advocated for these reforms, saying that while the election ran smoothly in Florida, “we should not rest on our laurels.” During a committee hearing last month, Senator Dennis Baxley, who sponsored the bill under consideration, said “It’s not that there was a debacle so we have to fix it. But do we have to wait for a debacle?” But Lake County Supervisor Alan Hays, a former Republican lawmaker, called the legislation a “travesty,” saying legislators are playing “havoc with the lives of 1.5 million Floridians, not to mention the burden you’ve added to the lives of supervisors of election.”
Republican state senators in Michigan introduced more than three dozen election bills last week that cover a range of voting issues. There are two bills that would add a photo ID requirement: one that covers absentee voting and one for in-person voting. Currently, voters without an ID can sign an affidavit affirming their identity, but the new bills would require them to cast a provisional ballot and to verify their identity.
There are also other bills that require approval for drop boxes and locking them at 5 p.m. the day before an election, allowing poll watchers to record vote tabulating, and banning the secretary of state from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications or posting the application on the state’s website.
“The reforms introduced today seek to make Michigan’s elections more secure, more accurate and trustworthy, while at the same time streamlining participation in the elections process,” GOP state Senator Lana Theis said in a press release last week.
Michigan’s Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer could veto any bills she views as too restrictive, but Republicans in Michigan have a workaround. If Whitmer vetoes a slate of bills that the legislature passes, the GOP can start a petition initiative. If they gather about 340,000 signatures, the legislature can vote on the petition initiative and a simple majority can approve it without the governor’s signature.
“If that legislation is not passed by our legislature, which I’m sure it will be, but if it’s not signed by the governor then we have other plans to make sure it becomes law before 2022,” Michigan GOP Chair Ron Weiser told party activists last week. “That plan includes taking that legislation and getting the signatures necessary for a legislative initiative so it could become law without Gretchen Whitmer’s signature.”
Joe Biden won New Hampshire by seven points, but Republicans flipped the state house and senate and kept the governor’s mansion. When it comes to voting laws, the state House is considering proposals that would eliminate Election Day voter registration, and would prohibit students from using their educational institution as a place of domicile for the purpose of voting. New Hampshire has the highest number of students per general population — about 11% of the state’s population, according to a 2017 study.
Lawmakers in Texas are considering multiple bills that would restrict voting access in what is already one of the hardest states to vote in. A study published last year found that Texas had the most restrictive voting processes in 2020. On Thursday, the state Senate passed SB 7, a sweeping bill that would add many voting restrictions. Texas state Senator Bryan Hughes said Wednesday during a floor debate that the legislation standardizes election rules so that “every Texan has a fair and equal opportunity to vote, regardless of where they live in the state.”
Part of the bill targets two practices used by Harris County, home to Houston, during the 2020 election. It limits early voting hours to 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. after the county offered extended hours in 2020 and had a few 24-hour voting days. It also bans drive-through voting, which was added due to the pandemic and faced a late legal challenge. An analysis by the Texas Civil Rights Project estimated that Asian, Black and Hispanic voters cast more than half of the votes at drive-thru voting sites and during extended early hours in Harris County.
The bill bans county officials from sending absentee ballot applications even to voters who qualify for the process. It requires that a mail ballot be delivered to a person, effectively prohibiting the use of unstaffed drop boxes for returning mail ballots. Voters who request a mail ballot, but choose not to return it, would only be able to vote a provisional ballot. There’s a requirement for people who assist voters or drive at least three voters to the polls to fill out a form providing their personal information and reason for assistance. The bill would also create strict rules for how the counties with at least one million people could distribute polling places. It also allows partisan poll watchers to record voters, including those who are receiving assistance while voting if the watcher “reasonably believes” that assistance is unlawful.
“It is potentially very intimidating to allow for partisan observers to record voters as they are exercising their franchise,” Becker said.
There’s also a bill in the House, HB6, that provides protections for partisan poll watchers by limiting the reasons a watcher can be removed from a polling site. It also requires people who assist voters to fill out a form and provide “the reason assistance was necessary.” The bill also makes it a felony for a public official to distribute an absentee application to a voter who didn’t request one.
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