Eighteen states have enacted 30 new laws that make it harder to vote, according to a new tally by the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice that tracks state activity through July 14.
Among the most common provisions, according to Brennan’s researchers: Measures in seven states that either expand officials’ ability to purge voters from the registration rolls or put voters at risk at having their names improperly removed. Those laws were enacted in Arizona, Iowa, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas and Utah, the center found.
Three of the 18 states with new voting restrictions have passed sweeping, omnibus bills that cover a broad range of voting activity: Florida, Georgia and Iowa.
Republican attempts to pass an omnibus bill in Texas have been thwarted by Democratic state lawmakers who fled the state to deny Republican lawmakers from obtaining the quorum needed to conduct business. But their departure is likely to only delay action. Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has promised to call more special sessions to advance Republicans’ election proposals.
With the For the People Act on indefinite hold after a filibuster by Republicans in the Senate on Tuesday, the Voting Rights Act is about to return to center stage in Washington. The Supreme Court will soon decide a case on how a crucial part of the landmark law applies to voting laws challenged as racially discriminatory.
The country is already roiling with controversies over whether a variety of post-2020 state voting changes reflect legitimate policy concerns or racially discriminatory ones.
In Congress, Senators Joe Manchin and Lisa Murkowski have turned a spotlight on the Voting Rights Act with their endorsement of a version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. It would reaffirm Congress’s central role in protecting the right to vote against racially discriminatory changes and give the Justice Department (or, in Mr. Manchin’s version, the federal courts) the critical power to approve changes that are legitimate and block those that are invidious.
The John Lewis Act might well offer the best chance of new national legislation protecting the right to vote in America, and its significance is best seen in historical context, especially that of two Supreme Court cases.
The John Lewis Act would restore provisions of the Voting Rights Act (Sections 4 and 5) that were effectively invalidated by the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder. When enacted in 1965, these provisions identified certain parts of the country and put their voting systems under a regime of federal control. These areas had to submit voting changes to the federal government, which had the power to block a proposal if it would diminish minority voter power. The federal government does not normally have veto power over state laws, but Section 5 created one.
Congress identified those areas based on voting practices in 1964. This coverage formula mainly singled out the states where extensive disenfranchisement had been in effect since the turn of the 20th century — especially since a Supreme Court case from 1903, Gilesv. Harris.
Texas legislators approved new, more restrictive state election rules aftera session that lasted from Thursday night into the early hours of Friday. The GOP-backed state Senate bill passed the House at 3 a.m. (4 a.m. ET) after hours of debate over amendments proposed by Democrats.
The House version of the legislation, which differs significantly from what passed the state Senate, will now go to a conference committee to resolve the differences.
The measure would make it a felony to provide voters with an application to vote by mail if they hadn’t requested one, or to use any public funds to facilitate the third-party distribution of mail-in voting applications.
The ability for polling place “watchers” to be present throughout the day of the election is also expanded under the bill. It sets a high bar for when such observers can be taken out of a polling place. The bill states they can be removed “only if the watcher engages in activity that would constitute an offense related to the conduct of the election.”
But the version the House passed early Friday also stripped out some of the more contentious provisions seen in earlier iterations, such as a ban on drive-thru voting and restrictions on early voting schedules.
The legislation was criticized by Democrats, progressive groups and voting rights advocates as a “voter suppression bill.” Republicans such as state Rep. Jeff Leach view it as “sensible election integrity legislation that ensures and protects full access to the ballot box.” The bill, he tweeted shortly after 4:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m. ET), cracks down on “illegal activity” undermining elections, echoing the false claims that elections in November were not secure.
Arizona lawmakers, who began the year with one of the highest number of voting restriction bills in the nation, are winding down a legislative session in which it appears only a few of those bills will survive.
But that doesn’t mean voting rights activists are happy.
Ryan Snow, associate counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called it a “death by a million cuts.”
“Officials … have taken to erecting a litany of barriers that any one of which might sound on its face that it’s not that big of a deal,” Snow said. “But when you take them together, it creates a restrictive process that disproportionately affects voters of color, low-wealth voters, young voters and other politically disabled voters.”
Supporters of the bills disagree and say that the state – coming off the divisive 2020 election and in the midst of a contentious audit of Maricopa County’s returns – needs to restore faith in the election process and “ensure Arizona’s elections are fair and transparent.”
“In order to maintain voter trust in our elections, it is important to provide the necessary safeguards so that voters can be confident in casting their ballots,” said Noah Weinrich, press secretary for Heritage Action, in an emailed statement.
Arizona Republican lawmakers introduced the third-highest number of voting restriction bills this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which said the state’s 23 bills trailed only Texas, with 49, and Georgia, with 25. Nationwide, 361 such bills were introduced, it said.
On the surface, the Republican effort to roll back voting rights in Michigan looks similar to what’s happening in states around the country: after Donald Trump narrowly lost a key battleground state where there was record turnout, Republicans are moving swiftly to implement sweeping restrictions to curtail access to the ballot box.
But the effort is raising unique concerns. Even though the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, is likely to veto a package of dozens of pending bills to curb voter access, Republicans are already hinting they will use a loophole to implement the measures anyway. They can take advantage of a quirk in Michigan’s law allowing voters to send a bill to the legislature if just over 340,000 voters sign a petition asking them to take it up. These kinds of bills cannot be vetoed by the governor.
“This effort is particularly anti-democratic, not just in substance, but in procedure,” said the Michigan secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat who serves as the state’s top election official.
The proposals include measures that are breathtakingly restrictive, even when held up in comparison to other measures states are considering. One bill bans Michigan’s secretary of state not only from mailing out absentee ballot applications to all voters, but also blocks her from even providing a link on a state website to a mail-in ballot application. Another proposal does not allow voters to use absentee ballot drop boxes after 5pm the day before election day. A different measure would require voters to make a photocopy of their ID and mail it in to vote by mail.
The effort is being closely monitored in a state known for razor-thin elections and where Donald Trump and allies tried to overturn the result in 2020. Republicans are moving aggressively to put the new voting restrictions in place ahead of the 2022 elections, when there are races for governor, attorney general and secretary of state. Michigan also has several key swing congressional districts that will help determine who controls the US House of Representatives in Washington.
The new restrictions are also urgent for Republicans because they are about to lose one of their most powerful advantages in the state legislature. A decade ago, Republicans manipulated the boundaries of electoral districts in such a way that virtually guaranteed they would hold a majority of seats. That manipulation, called gerrymandering, has allowed Republicans to control the legislature since 2011.Advertisement
But in 2018, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to strip lawmakers of their ability to draw districts, giving the power to an independent commission. With the commission set to draw new districts later this year, the new restrictions may be Republicans’ last-ditch attempt to distort voting rules to give them an edge in elections.
“Everything from January 6 forward is about 2022 and ultimately 2024. I believe we should plan for and anticipate that the very forces that emerged in 2020 to try to undermine democracy will be back in full force, potentially stronger, in more positions of authority, to try again in 2024,” Benson said.
A dozen megadonors and their spouses contributed a combined $3.4 billion to federal candidates and political groups since 2009, accounting for nearly one out of every 13 dollars raised, according to a new report.
The report, produced by Issue One, a nonpartisan group that seeks to reduce the influence of money in politics, shows the top 12 donors split equally between six Democrats and six Republicans. The list includes multiple Wall Street billionaires and investors, a Facebook co-founder, a shipping magnate and the heir to a family fortune dating back to the Gilded Age.
The study quantifies the intensifying concentration and increasing role of the super rich in American politics following the loosening of restrictions on political spending by the U.S. Supreme Court more than a decade ago.
“This is a stark illustration of our broken campaign finance system,” said Nick Penniman, the founder and chief executive of Issue One. “Today, a handful of megadonors wield outsized influence in our politics.” Mr. Penniman called on Congress “to pass sweeping reforms to create a democracy that works for everyone.”
The growing influence of multimillion-dollar megadonors has been accompanied by another, competing trend: a surge of small online donations to politicians of both parties. Those contributions — in $5, $10 and $25 increments — have given Democrats and Republicans an alternate source of money beyond the super rich.
Still, the study found that the top 100 ZIP codes for political giving in the United States, which hold less than 1 percent of the total population, accounted for roughly 20 percent of the $45 billion that federal candidates and political groups raised between January 2009 and December 2020. The study used data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which compiles figures from the Federal Election Commission.
Some of the top ZIP codes for giving weren’t even populated by any people at all; instead, they were primarily associated with skyscrapers and post office boxes that were used as business addresses by the wealthy.
“I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft,” Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. said in a statement. “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”
Georgia Republicans passed restrictive changes to the state election process last month. The new law adds a host of restrictions, like requiring identification for mail voting and making it illegal to take food or water to voters in line.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed the bill into law immediately, calling it “common sense” legislation while aligning himself with former President Donald Trump in remarks promoting the bill.
MLB is “finalizing a new host city and details about these events will be announced shortly,” according to Manfred. The commissioner said All-Star Game festivities would still include tributes to Henry Aaron, the legendary Braves slugger who died earlier this year at age 86.
The All-Star Game, which features the best players of the National and American Leagues, had been slated for Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles last year but had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process,” Manfred added. “Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”
The Braves said they were “deeply disappointed” by the MLB action and had hoped the All-Star Game would serve as a vehicle to highlight the importance of voting rights.
The tableau of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signing a new elections law said it all: six White legislators flanking the Republican governor, his pen poised above a gleaming wood table. Behind them, a painting of the white-columned Callaway Plantation.
Not shown: the enslaved people who once picked cotton and raised livestock on the 3,000-acre plantation.
Not shown, either: Black state legislator Park Cannon, arrested by White state troopers after she knocked repeatedly to gain entrance to the bill-signing. Among other things, the new law makes it a crime — yes, a crime — to provide water or food to people waiting in line to vote.
Welcome to 2021, where Republicans have embarked on a national effort to suppress the vote at all costs. And, not to avoid the obvious, to suppress Black votes, because those ballots would not be cast to Republican advantage.
“Un-American,” President Biden called it at his news conference Thursday, and he was right. “It’s sick. It’s sick.”
It’s also a product of GOP desperation to retain or regain power. Alice O’Lenick, chairwoman of the Gwinnett County election board, didn’t mince words about the need to tighten up voting rules in Georgia. After the “terrible elections cycle” in 2020, when Republicans lost both Georgia Senate seats and Biden won the state’s electoral votes, “I’m like a dog with a bone,” she told fellow Republicans in January. “I will not let them end this session without changing some of these laws. They don’t have to change all of them, but they’ve got to change the major parts so that we at least have a shot at winning.”
Conservative lawyer Michael Carvin, representing the Republican National Committee in an Arizona voting rights case before the Supreme Court earlier this month, was equally transparent — and transactional. When Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked why the RNC was involved in the case — in particular, why it had an interest in preventing people from having their votes counted if they were cast in the wrong precinct — Carvin didn’t bother to pretend this was about anything other than partisan politics.
“Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats,” he said. “Politics is a zero-sum game, and every extra vote they get through unlawful interpretations of [the Voting Rights Act] hurts us.”
A shot at winning. Politics as zero-sum game. Proof positive that this isn’t about the phantom menace of voter fraud. It’s about making it as hard as possible for voters who aren’t inclined in Republicans’ favor to have their ballots cast or counted. You can debate whether the impact on voters of color is an intended feature or a problematic bug, but it’s an undeniable reality.
The new Georgia law stands as Exhibit A in the 2021 campaign to curtail voting rights but will not be the year’s last. Its final form was not quite as repulsive as initial proposals. Provisions to end early voting on Sundays — which happen to be “souls to the polls” turnout days at Black churches — were dropped. Weekend voting hours were expanded instead.
The Republican House bill would give counties less time to send out absentee ballots and do away with Sunday voting, among other measures.
“After stunning losses in the general election and January runoffs, it’s no mystery why Georgia Republicans have rushed to enact restrictions on early, absentee and weekend voting. They know their only hope for winning elections is to restrict the right to vote and silence Black voices,” said New South super PAC founder Nsé Ufot in a press release. “Georgia Republicans saw what happens when Black voters are empowered and show up at the polls, and now they’re launching a concerted effort to suppress the votes and voices of Black Georgians.”
The new voting bill is the latest effort by the GOP to clamp down after the record turnout in the state for the November election and Senate runoffs that turned the state blue.
“These new burdens will disproportionately fall on communities of color and other historically disenfranchised groups. Eliminating Sunday early voting blatantly targets a mobilizer of voters of color: Black churches that run Souls to the Polls operations,” Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center Fund, said in a statement.