States Push for New Voting Laws With an Eye Toward 2024

The tug of war over voting rights and rules is playing out with fresh urgency at the state level, as Republicans and Democrats fight to get new laws on the books before the 2024 presidential election.

Republicans have pushed to tighten voting laws with renewed vigor since former President Donald J. Trump made baseless claims of fraud after losing the 2020 election, while Democrats coming off midterm successes are trying to channel their momentum to expand voting access and thwart efforts to undermine elections.

States like Florida, Texas and Georgia, where Republicans control the levers of state government, have already passed sweeping voting restrictions that include criminal oversight initiatives, limits on drop boxes, new identification requirements and more.

While President Biden and Democrats in Congress were unable to pass federal legislation last year that would protect voting access and restore elements of the landmark Voting Rights Act stripped away by the Supreme Court in 2013, not all reform efforts have floundered.

In December, Congress updated the Electoral Count Act, closing a loophole that Mr. Trump’s supporters had sought to exploit to try to get Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the 2020 election results on the day of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

Now the focus has returned to the state level. Here are some of the key voting measures in play this year:

Ohioans must now present a driver’s license, passport or other official photo ID to vote in person under a G.O.P. measure that was signed into law on Jan. 6 by Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican.

The law also set tighter deadlines for voters to return mail-in ballots and provide missing information on them. Absentee ballot requests must be received earlier as well.

Republicans, who control the Legislature in Ohio, contend that the new rules will bolster election integrity, yet they have acknowledged that the issue has not presented a problem in the state. Overall, voter fraud is exceedingly rare.

Several voting rights groups were quick to file a federal lawsuit challenging the changes, which they said would disenfranchise Black people, younger and older voters, as well as those serving in the military and living abroad.

Despite enacting sweeping restrictions on voting in 2021 that were condemned by civil rights groups and the Justice Department in several lawsuits, Republican lawmakers in Texas are seeking to push the envelope further.

Dozens of bills related to voting rules and election administration were filed for the legislative session that began this month. While many are from Democrats seeking to ease barriers to voting, Republicans control both chambers of the Texas Legislature and the governor’s office. It is not clear which bills will gain the necessary support to become laws.

Some G.O.P. proposals focus on election crimes, including one that would authorize the secretary of state to designate an election marshal responsible for investigating potential election violations.

“Similar bills have passed in Florida and in Georgia,” said Jasleen Singh, a counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “We should be concerned about whether this will happen in Texas as well.”

Under another bill, a voter could request that the secretary of state review local election orders and language on ballot propositions and reject any that are found to be “misleading, inaccurate or prejudicial,” part of a push by Republicans in several states to make it harder to pass ballot measures after years of progressive victories.

One proposal appears to target heavily populated, Democratic-controlled counties, giving the state attorney general the power to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate voter fraud allegations if local officials decline to do so. Another bill goes further, allowing the attorney general to seek an injunction against local prosecutors who don’t investigate claims of voter fraud and pursue civil penalties against them.

Democrats are seeking to harness their momentum from the midterm elections to expand voting access in Minnesota and Michigan, where they swept the governors’ races and legislative control.

In Minnesota, the party introduced legislation in early January that would create an automatic voter registration system and allow applicants who are at least 16 years old to preregister to vote. The measure would also automatically restore the voting rights of convicted felons upon their release from prison and for those who do not receive prison time as part of a sentence.

In Michigan, voters approved a constitutional amendment in November that creates a nine-day early voting period and requires the state to fund absentee ballot drop boxes. Top Democrats in the state are also weighing automatic voter registration and have discussed criminalizing election misinformation.

Because of the veto power of the governor, an office the Democrats held in the November election, Republicans in Pennsylvania have resorted to trying to amend the state constitution in order to pass a voter ID bill.

The complex amendment process, which ultimately requires putting the question to voters, is the subject of pending litigation.

Both chambers of the Legislature need to pass the bill this session in order to place it on the ballot, but Democrats narrowly flipped control of the House in the midterms — and they will seek to bolster their majority with three special elections next month.

“If the chips fall in a certain way, it is unlikely that this will move forward and it might quite possibly be dead,” said Susan Gobreski, a board member of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. “But it ain’t dead yet.”

Gov. Josh Shapiro has indicated an openness to compromise with Republicans on some voting rules.

“I’m certainly willing to have an honest conversation about voter I.D., as long as that is something that is not used as a hindrance to voting,” Mr. Shapiro said in an interview in December.

First-time voters and those applying for absentee ballots are currently required to present identification in Pennsylvania, but Republicans want to expand the requirement to all voters in every election and have proposed issuing voter ID cards.

Critics say the proposal would make it harder to vote and could compromise privacy.

Mr. Shapiro has separately said he hoped that Republicans in the legislature would agree to change the state’s law that forbids the processing of absentee ballots and early votes before Election Day. The ballot procedures, which can drag out the counting, have been a flash point in a series of election lawsuits filed by Republicans.

Early voting fell precipitously in Georgia’s nationally watched Senate runoff in December after Republicans, who control of state government, cut in half the number of days for casting ballots before Election Day.

Long lines at some early-voting sites, especially in the Atlanta area, during the runoff led to complaints of voter suppression.

But the G.O.P. lost the contest, after a set of runoff defeats a year earlier that gave Democrats control of the Senate.

Now Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who is Georgia’s secretary of state and its top election official, wants to abandon the runoff system altogether, saying that the condensed timeline had put added strain on poll workers.

After a special election last year and the midterms, when Alaska employed a novel election system for the first time, some conservatives reeling from losses at the polls have directed their ire at a common target: ranked-choice voting.

At least three Republican lawmakers have introduced bills seeking to repeal some of the electoral changes that were narrowly approved by voters in 2020, which introduced a “top-four” open primary and ranked-choice voting in general elections. In addition to deciding winners based on the candidate who receives the most votes, the bills also seek to return to a closed primary system, in which only registered party members can participate.

Supporters of the new system contend that it sets a higher bar to get elected than to simply earn a plurality of votes.

But critics have called the format confusing. Some have blamed it for the defeat of Sarah Palin, the Republican former governor and 2008 vice-presidential nominee, in a special House election in August and again in November for the same office.

They also cited the system as being instrumental to the re-election last year of Senator Lisa Murkowski, a centrist Republican who angered some members of her party when she voted to convict Mr. Trump at his impeachment trial after the Jan. 6 attack.

Still, Republican foes of ranked-choice elections could face hurdles within their own party. According to The Anchorage Daily News, the incoming Senate president, a Republican, favors keeping the system in place.

Nebraska does not require voters to provide a reason to vote early by mail, but two Republican state senators want to make wholesale changes that would mostly require in-person voting on Election Day.

Under a bill proposed by Steve Halloran and Steve Erdman, G.O.P. senators in the unicameral legislature, only members of the U.S. military and residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities could vote by mail.

The measure would further require all ballots to be counted on Election Day, which would become a state holiday in Nebraska, along with the day of the statewide primary.

The League of Women Voters of Nebraska opposes the bill and noted that 11 of the state’s 93 counties vote entirely by mail under a provision that gives officials in counties with under 10,000 people the option to do so.

“This is an extreme bill and would be very unpopular,” MaryLee Mouton, the league’s president, said in an email. “When most states are moving to expand voting by mail, a bill to restrict vote by mail would negatively impact both our rural and urban communities.”

In the November election, Nebraskans overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative that created a statewide photo ID requirement for voting.

In Missouri, where Republicans control the governor’s office and Legislature, one G.O.P. bill would create an Office of Election Crimes and Security. The office would report to the secretary of state and would be responsible for reviewing election fraud complaints and conducting investigations.

Its investigators would also be authorized to enter poling places or offices of any election authority on Election Day, during absentee voting or the canvass of votes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *