Here’s what to know about the battle over voting rights happening right now.
Florida, Arizona and Georgia were all battleground states in 2020 and host US Senate races in 2022. Republican legislative majorities and GOP governors are moving to make it more difficult to vote in these states.
Texas does not feature a 2022 Senate race, but it will feature a race for governor in 2022. Republicans control currently control all levers of the state government there.
There are proposals to make it more difficult to vote in other key states — Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — featuring 2022 Senate races, but divided government in those places will make restrictions more difficult to enact.
What exactly are the curbs on voting rights and access we’re talking about?
They vary from state to state.
Many states are considering changing from signature verification to require voters to include a copy of their driver’s license or other paperwork with a mail-in ballot.
Others are considering proposals to remove a voter’s registration if they don’t vote in four consecutive years.
“We must pass laws to prevent election officials from jeopardizing the election process,” Abbott said, somehow arguing that more people voting jeopardizes the process.
Could these changes alter the outcome of future elections, if passed?
Why are Republicans pushing changes now, instead of before the 2020 election?
- The pandemic hit. States made last-minute changes to ease rules about how and when people could vote because of public health concerns.
- Turnout surged. Either because of those changes or because voters wanted to reject or protect Trump (or both), turnout went through the roof, and Trump lost.
- Trump alleged voter fraud. Although there’s no evidence that any widespread fraud occurred, his repeated allegations turned addressing the integrity of the voting system into the top GOP priority.
- Republicans retained control of state governments. Trump’s allies at the state level have moved quickly to address the voter fraud he alleged but did not occur.
Why not just have everyone vote at the same time and in the same way?
The difficulty is making sure everyone has the same access to the polls while also maintaining the necessary amount of security. A complication is that when there are normal voting hours, it’s often people in cramped urban areas that end up waiting for hours. Early voting and voting by mail are alternatives to remove that barrier.
Can’t everyone over 18 in the US vote? How can states restrict access?
Yes! It took a long time to get from white landowners voting in the first presidential election to the 24th Amendment, enacted in 1964, which says:
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”
That did away with poll taxes and, paired with the Voting Rights Act, ended many of the Jim Crow-era tricks that kept many Black Americans from voting.
But not everyone over the age of 18 can vote — noncitizens and felons, in most places, although there are efforts to re-enfranchise felons. Notably, they can vote in Florida after voters there approved a ballot initiative in 2018.
States have the power to govern their own elections, but Congress has the power to place rules on them. And the courts often get involved.
Nearly every state requires some kind of voter registration and many require an ID to vote and there are many different versions of absentee voting and the hours during which people in different states can vote early or on Election Day.
What’s the history of rules about who can vote in US elections?
Voter registration is relatively unique to the US and has a long history of racism. It started in New England in the 1800s, was a key element of Jim Crow in the South, and then saw a huge uptick in the early 1900s as states tried to make it more difficult for immigrants and Jewish and Black Americans from voting.
What do other countries do?
Rather than put up roadblocks to voting, some countries, such as Australia, require it. People who don’t vote face a small fine.
The government makes people pay taxes, why can’t it just register them to vote?
The US has been slowly moving toward easier and, in some states, automatic registration, but the rules still vary by state. In the 1990s, under President Bill Clinton, Congress approved a reform that tied voter registration to the DMV. Most now have some form of online registration. Many states allow same-day voter registration, but in others there are deadlines. North Dakota doesn’t have any voter registration at all.
Is there an effort in Congress to change things at the national level?
The bill would do a lot more, including putting an end to partisan gerrymandering, by which parties draw congressional lines to protect their incumbents, mandating a two-week early voting period and more.
But it would require a supermajority — 60 votes — to overcome a promised GOP filibuster in the Senate. Democrats have suggested changing Senate rules specifically for this bill, but it’s not clear all Democrats would support the rule change.
Would universal vote by mail or universal voter registration automatically help Democrats?
Clearly, Democrats are trying to make it easier for people to vote and Republicans are generally trying to make it harder. That tells you a lot about the political calculus here. But it’s also true that Republicans did not lose every Senate race or any state legislatures in 2020 when turnout was through the roof.
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