Many Steps Backward: An Increase in Voter Restriction Legislation

About the Author: Madeline Berstrom is a first year law student at American University- Washington College of Law. Madeline graduated from Arizona State University and hopes to work on the Hill or on policy in a government agency/department after graduating law school. 

 

Following record levels of voter turnout in the 2020 Presidential election, legislation across the nation has been introduced to either expand or restrict various voting rights and procedures. With the 2020 election falling in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, traditional voting methods had to be altered to accommodate health concerns and risks, and many states chose to expand mail and absentee voting to ensure people were still able to cast their ballot. The Democrats want to make some of those temporary changes permanent, while Republicans in state legislatures across the country have been introducing bills to severely limit and crack down on voting access.[1]

The most prominent legislation at the moment is Georgia’s SB 202, passed in late March, which introduced dramatically restrictive measures for the voters of Georgia.[2] Some of the major changes in the bill include decreasing the time to request absentee ballots, stricter voter identification requirements, limits on the amount of ballot drop boxes, outlawing offering food or water to voters waiting in line at the polls, and changes to the state’s election board, among many other changes.[3] Georgia Republicans cite security, accessibility, and fairness as the reasons for the changes introduced by the bill, though Democrats and advocates nationally have expressed objection and alarm to the challenges the bill’s measures will place on voters, primarily voters of color.[4] As a result of the passage of the legislation, corporations headquartered in Georgia, including Coca-Cola and Delta, have publicly disapproved of the bill, and the MLB chose to move the 2021 All-Star game that was scheduled to take place in Atlanta out of the state in response.[5]

In many other states, Republican lawmakers have been advancing restrictive voting legislation as part of a nationwide effort by many conservative groups to limit certain voting procedures, justifying the restrictions as a way to increase public confidence in the electoral system.[6] Arizona has introduced multiple bills with restrictions similar to the Georgia legislation, creating more requirements for early and absentee voting.[7] New Hampshire, Texas, and Florida are all seeing advancement in similar bills that all seek to curb some of the measures that allow for easier and more flexible voting options for many residents, like eliminating same day registration and increasing requirement’s for voter identification.[8] Countless other bills are making their way through state legislatures with similar restrictions. The Brennan Center for Justice found that 361 bills with restrictive voting legislation in 47 states as of late March 2021.[9]

These measures come as a response to not only the 2020 Presidential election, but also as a reaction to H.R. 1, a bill passed by the United States House of Representatives in early March that expands voting rights nationwide, in addition to addressing other election and voting-related matters.[10] Also known as the “For the People Act”, the bill introduces procedures that would make voting more accessible, ends congressional gerrymandering, addresses DC and territorial voting rights, reevaluates campaign finance laws, amongst many more provisions.[11] The bill calls for significant expansions that would make voting much easier for many citizens, and introduces measures that are the almost complete opposite of what Republican statewide legislation is currently introducing. The bill must pass the Senate and be signed by President Biden before becoming law, though it is currently held up before the Senate as senators debate the use of the filibuster before addressing H.R. 1.[12]

Voting is a supposedly fundamental right for American citizens, but the history of voting rights for many citizens has been anything but guaranteed as women and people of color had to wage a long fight for the right to vote. However, these Republican-backed bills that introduce strict limitations and hurdles on voting set the country back decades by making it significantly harder for people to be able to make their voices heard and have a say in the electoral process. The bills being advanced set aside countless efforts to make voting more accessible over time and cannot be reflective of a democratic electoral process that claims to give the power to the voice of the people.

 

[1] Eric Bradner & Fredreka Schouten, Democratic-led States Expand Voting Rights Amid GOP Push to Restrict Access, CNN (Apr. 3, 2021), https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/03/politics/voting-rights-expansion-democratic-states/index.html.

[2] S.B. 202, 156th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Ga. 2021).

[3] Nick Corasaniti & Reid J. Epstein, What Georgia’s Voting Law Really Does, N.Y. Times (Apr. 2, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/02/us/politics/georgia-voting-law-annotated.html.

[4] Kelly Mena et al., Georgia Republicans Speed Sweeping Elections Bill Restricting Voting Access into Law, CNN (Mar. 26, 2021), https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/25/politics/georgia-state-house-voting-bill-passage/index.html.

[5] Rachel Treisman, ‘Based On A Lie’ – Georgia Voting Law Faces Wave of Corporate Backlash, NPR (Apr. 1, 2021), https://www.npr.org/2021/04/01/983450176/based-on-a-lie-georgia-voting-law-faces-wave-of-corporate-backlash; Alden Gonzalez, MLB Moving 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta Over Georgia Voting Law, ESPN (Apr. 2, 2021), https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/31183822/mlb-moving-all-star-game-atlanta-georgia-voting-law.

[6] Fredreka Schouten, Major Conservative Groups Unify Behind State GOP Efforts to Restrict Voting, CNN (Mar. 25, 2021), https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/25/politics/voting-rights-restricted-republican-groups/index.html.

[7] Voting Laws Roundup: March 2021, Brennan Center for Justice (Apr. 1, 2021), https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/voting-laws-roundup-march-2021.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] For the People Act, H.R.1, 117th Cong. (2021).

[11] Id.

[12] Peter W. Stevenson, Here’s What H.R. 1, The House-passed Voting Rights Bill, Would Do, Wash. Post (Mar. 5, 2021), https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/03/05/hr1-bill-what-is-it/.

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