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Monday, December 5, 2022

How US Voting Laws Have Changed Since 2020

https://ift.tt/zZuLfwE you’re a registered voter in the Western U.S. state of Nevada, you’d have received a mail-in ballot this year, whether you asked for one or not.

That’s thanks to a new law that the state enacted last year as part of a broader effort to make it easier for people to vote.

But if you’re a voter in the Southwestern state of Texas, that option is not available to you. Indeed, a 2021 Texas law makes it a crime for election officials to automatically send mail-in ballots to voters.

The two laws epitomize the divergent paths that U.S. states have taken in the past two years as they’ve changed their election laws largely in response to the two consequential events of 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S. presidential election.

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While the U.S. has always had a Balkanized election system, the divide in voting procedures has widened as Democratic-led states have sought to expand voting access by codifying certain pandemic-era measures and adopting other rules, and Republican states have tightened rules in response to concerns about election integrity.

The Nevada legislature is controlled by Democrats, while in Texas Republicans are in charge.

“The result that we’re seeing is that we’re really seeing two different democracies develop in our country where a person’s ZIP code determines their level of ballot access, which is a growing trend,” said Liz Avore, a senior policy adviser at Voting Rights Lab, an organization that tracks election-related legislation.

Nearly every state has made some change to its voting laws over the past two years, according to the Voting Rights Lab.

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But while more states have expanded voting access than have restricted it, “for folks in those states that are restricting voter access, it’s going to be more difficult for them to vote,” Avore said.

John Fortier, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said access to voting is not an issue.

“There are a lot of access options in many states,” Fortier said.

Even states that do not encourage voting by mail give that option to many voters, he said.

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“Many people are choosing that,” Fortier said.

Changes in voting by mail

The growing divide in state voting procedures can best be seen in voting by mail, Avore said.

While 20 states have made it easier to vote by mail over the past two years, 11 others have made the practice more restrictive, according to a report by the Voting Rights Lab.

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Of the 10 restrictive election laws enacted this year, half put new limits on vote by mail, ranging from stricter identification requirements to prohibitions against drop boxes, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

Mail voting allows voters to cast ballots mailed to them by election officials. They can return their completed ballots by mail or use designated drop boxes.

Long popular with voters, mail voting saw a dramatic surge during the 2020 election, held during the coronavirus pandemic.

But then-President Donald Trump repeatedly criticized the practice, calling it unsafe and prone to fraud, and encouraged his supporters to vote in person instead.

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While there is no evidence that mail voting is unsafe, many Republican lawmakers remain suspicious, and they’ve moved to tighten the rules.

Texas is one of several Republican-led states that have made it a crime for election officials to automatically send mail-in ballots or applications to all registered voters.

While in most states voters can vote by mail using basic identifying information such as their name and date of birth, other states such as Florida and Texas have required mail-in voters to provide a driver’s license or Social Security number.

Many U.S. states allow the use of drop boxes to return mail-in ballots. But while several states such as Virginia have expanded access to drop boxes over the past two years, others such as Georgia have reduced the number.

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In 2020, Georgia election officials set up secure ballot drop boxes across the state for the first time, with voters using them to return 41% of mail-in ballots.

But this year, “Georgia limited the number of drop boxes each county could have,” said Spencer Overton, president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and a law professor at George Washington University.

Voter registration and voter rolls

Other restrictive laws affect voter registration and the maintenance of voter rolls, according to the Voting Rights Lab.

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Overton said voter registration is “one of the most significant barriers to participation.” Yet the U.S., unlike other major democracies, does not have automatic voter registration, he noted.

That has left each state to adopt its own system. Currently, 22 U.S. states have automatic voter registration. Delaware joined the list last year, but Arizona has moved to bar the method.

Other recently adopted restrictive laws threaten to purge eligible voters from the voter rolls, Overton said.

New laws in Arizona and South Carolina allow voters to be removed from registration lists if government databases show they’re not citizens. This can lead to “faulty purges,” the Brennan Center warns.

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Election interference laws

In addition to restrictive voting laws, voting rights advocates have voiced concern over a proliferation of what the Brennan Center and the Voting Rights Lab call “election interference laws.” These are laws that affect the administration of elections rather than the voter experience, Avore said.

Election interference laws come in different forms. One type gives partisan actors such as county election commissioners and poll watchers a greater role in elections.

Another common form imposes criminal penalties on election administrators for failure to enforce new rules such as strict citizenship verification requirements.

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The 2021 Texas election law allows poll watchers “to enter the vehicle being used by a voter with a disability to vote curbside,” according to the Voting Rights Lab.

At least seven states have enacted 12 election interference laws this year, according to the Brennan Center.

Republican supporters of these laws say they’re aimed at combating voter fraud. But voting rights groups say they increase the likelihood of political interference in elections.

“The election interference laws really open the opportunity for politicians to select the voters,” Overton said.

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Early voting surges

Even as they’ve moved their separate ways in changing their election rules, most states, whether red or blue, have found common ground in one area: allowing early in-person voting.

Avore calls this “one of the bright spots” in new state election laws.

Missouri and South Carolina, both Republican-led states, have established a two-week, no-excuse early voting period.

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“So, voters in those states will be able to cast their ballot in person early for the first time this election,” Avore said.

Even states that have otherwise tightened voting rules, including Texas and Georgia, have expanded early voting, according to Avore.

Today, 46 states and the District of Columbia allow early voting, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.

Despite warnings about restrictions on voting access, however, it is too early to know their full impact, according to election law experts.

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During the Texas primary earlier this year, election officials rejected nearly 25,000 mail ballots that failed to comply with the state’s new law. That’s a rejection rate of more than 12%, up from 2% during the last midterm

But early voting figures suggest high voter enthusiasm, with Texas reporting 4.2 million, Florida 3.6 million and Georgia a record 2.09 million. All three states have been criticized for imposing restrictions on voting access.

Author webdesk@voanews.com (Masood Farivar)
Source : VOA

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