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State legislators gear up to pass a ‘tidal wave’ of voting restrictions ahead of crucial 2022 midterms

By Fredreka Schouten, CNN

The push to impose voting restrictions at the state level is poised to continue next year as Republicans drive forward with an array of new proposals — ranging from legislation that would eliminate ballot drop boxes to bills that would establish new ID requirements to vote.

In Georgia, for instance, state Sen. Butch Miller, a Republican and president pro tempore of the state Senate, this month introduced legislation that would ban the use of ballot drop boxes in a state that already passed a law this year dramatically restricting their use. In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, wants to establish a new law enforcement office to investigate election crimes. In Arizona, another battleground state, one bill would establish new voter ID requirements.

Lawmakers in four states already have pre-filed at least 13 bills for the 2022 legislative sessions that would make it harder to cast a ballot, according to an analysis released Tuesday from the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school.

And in five states, six pre-filed bills would allow “audits” or reviews of election results, as former President Donald Trump and his allies continue to baselessly attribute his 2020 loss to election fraud.

In addition, some 88 restrictive bills that were introduced but failed to become law in nine states this year are expected to carry over into legislative sessions set to begin early next year, the analysis found.

“We saw this past year a tidal wave of restrictive voting laws,” said Jasleen Singh, who works as a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and helped research the legislative proposals. “We’re finding there’s no sign of that tidal wave abating in 2022.”

The report argues that federal voting legislation, now stalled in the US Senate, offered the best tool to counter the coming onslaught of new laws in states where Republicans have a firm hold on the levers of government.

Spate of restrictions in 2021

The flurry of legislative efforts to clamp down on ballot access hit new highs this year.

In all, the center found that lawmakers in 19 states had passed 34 restrictive election bills as of December 7 — as largely Republican-led legislatures raced to reshape the election systems in their states.

The laws passed in 2021 account for more than a third of all restrictive voting laws enacted since Brennan began tracking voting legislation a decade ago, researchers said.

Some of the laws passed this year — along with proposals under consideration during next year’s legislative sessions — take aim at mail voting and other alternative ways to cast ballots that election officials used in 2020 during the pandemic to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Conservative critics argue that voting by mail left elections vulnerable to fraud, although federal, state and local elections officials have insisted there’s no evidence of widespread wrongdoing that would have affected the outcome of last year’s election.

Jason Snead, who runs the conservative Honest Elections Project, said revising voting procedures is “going to be one of the top 10 issues” next year in state legislatures.

In some cases, he said, lawmakers need to revisit procedures that were changed on an emergency basis during the height of the pandemic. In 2020, “the pendulum was swung much more heavily in favor of personal safety from the virus than election integrity,” Snead said. “But does that make sense on an ongoing basis? Does that make sense now? Does that make sense in an election 10 years from now?”

In Georgia, a traditionally red state that President Joe Biden flipped last year, Republican lawmakers earlier this year enacted a sweeping new law that established ID requirements to vote by mail and limited ballot drop boxes to one per 100,000 registered voters. As a result, populous Fulton County — which takes in much of Atlanta — went from 38 drop boxes during the 2020 election to eight, under the new law.

(An analysis earlier this year by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Georgia Public Broadcasting found that more than half the absentee voters in four heavily Democratic counties used drop boxes to return their ballots in the 2020 general election.)

Now Miller, who is seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, wants to eliminate the use of drop boxes in Georgia.

“Moving forward, we can return to a pre-pandemic normal of voting in person,” Miller said in a recent news release, announcing his bill. “Removing drop boxes will help rebuild the trust that has been lost. Many see them as the weak link when it comes to securing our elections against fraud.”

Georgia will host some of the marquee political battles of the midterms with the governor’s office, the secretary of state’s post and a US Senate seat all in contention in 2022.

Florida push

In neighboring Florida, DeSantis — considered a possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 — is pushing a slate of what he called “election integrity reforms” that he says will make “Florida the number one state for elections.”

Earlier this year, DeSantis signed into law a controversial bill that brought a raft of changes to election procedures in Florida — including restrictions on ballot drop boxes, stricter voter ID requirements for voting by mail and limits on who can pick up and return voters’ ballots.

Among DeSantis’ new proposals: the creation of a new “office of election crimes and security” — operating under Secretary of State Laurel Lee, a DeSantis appointee. The office would have an initial $5.7 million budget and a staff of 52, under his budget proposal.

DeSantis’ proposals also would increase penalties for collecting ballots from voters and push election supervisors to clean up their voting rolls more often.

Meanwhile, Florida state Rep. Anthony Sabatini — a Republican running for Congress — has introduced a bill that would require a third party to “audit” the 2020 election results in each county with a population of 250,000 or larger.

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