In a backlash to 2020’s historic voter turnout, and under the pretense of responding to baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities, state lawmakers have introduced a startling number of bills to curb the vote. As of March 24, legislators have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states.
That’s 108 more than the 253 restrictive bills tallied as of February 19, 2021 — a 43 percent increase in little more than a month.
These measures have begun to be enacted. Five restrictive bills have already been signed into law.
In addition, at least 55 restrictive bills in 24 states are moving through legislatures: 29 have passed at least one chamber, while another 26 have had some sort of committee action (e.g., a hearing, an amendment, or a committee vote).
Most restrictive bills take aim at absentee voting, while nearly a quarter seek stricter voter ID requirements. State lawmakers also aim to make voter registration harder, expand voter roll purges or adopt flawed practices that would risk improper purges, and cut back on early voting. The states that have seen the largest number of restrictive bills introduced are Texas (49 bills), Georgia (25 bills), and Arizona (23 bills). Bills are actively moving in the Texas and Arizona statehouses, and Georgia enacted an omnibus voter suppression bill last week.
Many bills seek to undermine the power of local officials. After county election officials conducted elections during a pandemic and stood up to pressure to manipulate the results, state lawmakers are now seeking new criminal penalties to target these officials.
Federal voting rights legislation now moving through Congress would override many of these state-level restrictions, and some state lawmakers are responding. Some have introduced nonbinding resolutions to oppose the For the People Act. Texas lawmakers have proposed setting up a parallel system with its own rules for state contests if the federal law is enacted.
At the same time, 843 bills with expansive provisions have been introduced in a different set of 47 states (up from 704 bills as of February 19, 2021).
Of these, nine expansive bills have been signed into law.
In addition, at least 112 bills with expansive provisions are moving in 31 states: 9 have passed both chambers and are awaiting signature (including a bill to restore voting rights in Washington), 41 have passed one chamber, and 62 have had some sort of committee action.
More than a third of the expansive bills address absentee voting, while more than a fifth seek to ease voter registration. State lawmakers are also focusing on expanding access to early voting and restoring voting rights to people with past convictions.
The 2021 legislative sessions have begun in all but one state. Some state sessions (including Georgia’s) have already ended, and others will draw to a close in April.
You can find a resource listing restrictive and expansive state voting legislation by bill number here.
Bills Enacted into Law
- GA SB 202 (omnibus): Gov. Brian Kemp signed SB 202 into law on March 25. The omnibus elections bill incorporates elements of at least 16 other restrictive bills that Georgia legislators had previously introduced.
SB 202 limits absentee voting by requiring voters to provide a state identification number or photocopy of an identifying document with their absentee ballot application, barring election officials from affirmatively sending out ballot applications, giving voters less time to apply for an absentee ballot, and sharply restricting the availability and hours of drop boxes. It also effectively reduces early voting in many counties by standardizing early voting days and hours. The bill affirmatively sanctions “mass challenges” to voter eligibility, meaning that one person can come to a county clerk’s office and seek to have an unlimited number of voters removed from the voter rolls for being ineligible (though such efforts can violate the National Voter Registration Act). In one particularly cruel provision, SB 202 criminalizes the act of giving snacks or water to voters waiting in line at polling places.
- IA SF 413 (omnibus): SF 413 is an omnibus elections bill that incorporated elements of two other restrictive bills that Iowa legislators had previously proposed (IA SF 91, IA SF 115). The new legislation does a number of things to restrict voting access. It risks flawed voter purges by moving voters to inactive status every time they miss a federal election, requiring Iowa to use U.S. Postal Service change-of-address data for list maintenance, and threatening county auditors with criminal prosecution for not abiding by voter roll purge practices.
SF 413 also restricts access to absentee voting by giving voters less time to apply for absentee ballots, barring local officials from affirmatively sending out absentee ballot applications, limiting election officials’ discretion to provide ballot drop boxes, and further restricting who can assist an absentee voter in returning their ballot. It also restricts early voting by shortening the early voting period by nine days and limiting election officials’ discretion to offer additional early voting locations. And it rolls back Election Day voting by requiring polls to close an hour earlier than they previously had and reducing the amount of paid time off employers must give people to go vote.
- AR HB 1112 and AR HB 1244 (voter ID): Arkansas enacted two bills that tightened the state’s voter ID requirements. Arkansas’s old voter ID law allowed voters who arrived at their polling place without valid identification to vote a provisional ballot if they signed a sworn statement attesting that they were registered to vote. HB 1112 eliminates this option, and it requires voters who show up without identification to return to the county clerk’s office by the Monday following the election with qualifying identification in order to have their vote counted. Arkansas law allows people with religious objections to being photographed to obtain an ID card that does not have a photo. HB 1244 establishes that non-photo IDs are no longer valid for voter identification.
- UT HB 12 (purges): Utah enacted a bill that will make faulty purges more likely. The bill requires county clerks to cross-reference all death certificates against voter registration rolls and remove the names of dead voters within 10 days. Because the law does not require any notice to the voters being removed, does not require auditing of the source data, and does not specify how many data points must be matched, it creates a risk that county clerks will remove the wrong names from their voter registration rolls.
Restrictive Bills that Are Moving
In addition to the five restrictive bills that have been enacted, 55 restrictive bills in 24 states are moving in state legislatures.
More than half of the restrictive bills that are moving (28 bills, in 18 states
) include provisions that would restrict access to mail and absentee voting. These 28 bills would add voter ID requirements to the mail ballot process, restrict assistance in returning ballots, bar election officials from affirmatively mailing out ballot applications, and limit or eliminate mail ballot drop boxes. The other moving bills would restrict voting in a variety of ways (and many have multiple impacts). Eight of the moving restrictive bills would tighten voter ID requirements.
Six of these bills would limit or ban Election Day registration,
while two would make voter registration more cumbersome.
Five of these bills would modify or eliminate protections against polling place closures and consolidations (which force voters to travel farther to cast their ballots).
And seven of these bills would expand voter purge practices in ways that risk improper removals.
Arizona and New Hampshire have the greatest number of moving restrictive bills.
- In Arizona, seven restrictive bills are advancing.
- Four Arizona bills seek to make absentee voting more difficult by prohibiting election officials from sending mail ballots to voters without an affirmative request, making it easier to remove voters from the permanent early voting list, requiring further identification information on absentee ballots, and limiting the time that voters have to supply a signature for their mail ballot they had forgotten to sign.
- Another bill would prevent local election officials from conducting voter registration drives on nongovernment property (AZ SB 1358).
- Two bills seek to prohibit policies that the state does not even have — automatic voter registration and Election Day registration — in a seeming effort to create a conflict with the federal For the People Act (AZ HB 2793, AZ HB 2811).
- In New Hampshire, 10 restrictive bills are advancing.
- Two bills target Election Day registration: NH HB 86 would eliminate it altogether, while NH HB 523 would require that voters who register on Election Day with a qualified voter affidavit or sworn statement have their photograph taken at the time of registration.
- Two bills take aim at student voters. NH HB 429 would eliminate the use of college and university ID cards as valid photo ID, while NH HB 362 would remove the ability of students to use their educational institution as their place of residence for voting purposes.
- Two bills would make voter registration more challenging by eliminating the ability of voters without valid identification to establish proof of residency by qualified affidavit (NH HB 531, NH HB 535).
- One purge bill would direct the removal of voters from the rolls based on third-party information regarding change of residence, a practice the National Voter Registration Act does not permit (NH SB 31).
- Three bills would require more identification information at various points in the absentee voting process (NH HB 292, NH SB 54, NH HB 327).
Texas and Florida are advancing bills with multiple restrictive provisions.
- In Texas, the most comprehensive, moving restrictive bill is TX SB 7, which has already passed out of committee and would implement a wide range of restrictions on voting access. SB 7 seeks to limit mail voting by enacting comprehensive restrictions, including prohibitions on state or local election officials sending unsolicited mail ballot applications to voters and on the use of any unstaffed drop boxes. It would limit early voting hours. It would increase the risk of long lines on Election Day by eliminating the use of certain “mobile” and drive-through polling places and changing the statutory standards that guide allocation of polling places and election equipment.
SB 7 would also increase voter purges by threatening local election officials with financial penalties for not purging voters. It targets voters with disabilities by limiting curbside voting, placing more restrictions on voter assistance, and requiring voters who want to vote by mail on the basis of a disability to provide written documentation of their disability. And SB 7 would reduce protections against voter intimidation by rolling back common-sense checks on poll watchers (like the current prohibition on poll watchers using devices to record voters).
- In Florida, FL SB 90 targets the state’s absentee voting process. The bill would ban ballot drop boxes, limit assistance with ballot delivery to immediate family members, and shorten the length of time that a person can stay on the absentee voter list.
In Michigan, lawmakers introduced eight restrictive bills on a single day (March 24).
While these bills haven’t yet advanced further through the statehouse, they are concerning, as they would establish a photo ID requirement for both in-person and mail voting, make it harder to request a mail ballot by eliminating online requests and barring election officials from affirmatively sending out applications, and limit the use of mail ballot drop boxes. These restrictive bills were part of a package of 39 bills filed by Michigan legislators on March 24. Not all of the 39 bills would directly restrict access to voting, but many would still cause significant problems for voters and election administrators by weakening restrictions against voter intimidation and expanding the use of poll watchers, among other things.
Bills Enacted into Law
- MA HB 73 (absentee voting and disability access): This bill extends no-excuse early voting and absentee voting through June 30, 2021. It also requires election administrators to grant disabled voters unable to vote a paper ballot reasonable vote-by-mail accommodations.
- MT SB 15 (disability access): This bill requires accessible voting interfaces to be made available to voters with disabilities during all-mail ballot elections in all jurisdictions, unless there are fewer than 200 registered voters or if the election is for an irrigation district. It allows voters with disabilities to designate an agent to assist them in marking their ballots.
- NJ SB 3203 (early voting): This bill creates early in-person voting (with differing early voting periods depending on the type of election). It requires that each county designate a minimum number of early voting sites, depending on the population size of the jurisdiction, and that the early voting sites open on the weekends during the early voting period.
- NY AB 2574 (automatic voter registration): This bill expands automatic voter registration agencies to include the State University of New York (SUNY).
- VA SB 1097 (absentee voting/witness signature): Under this bill, a voter’s failure to have a witness sign the absentee ballot envelope for any election held during a declared state of emergency related to a communicable disease of public health threat is not a material omission and does not render the ballot void. The bill directs the Virginia Department of Elections to convene a work group to consider and evaluate alternatives to the witness signature requirement for election officials to use to verify that an absentee ballot was cast by the voter identified as having requested and received such ballot.
- VA SB 1331 (disability access): This bill requires the Virginia Department of Elections to make available to all localities a tool to allow voters with a visual impairment or print disability to electronically and accessibly receive and mark absentee ballots using screen reader assistive technology.
- VA HB 1921 (disability access and curbside voting): This bill clarifies that any voter with a permanent physical disability, temporary physical disability, or injury, or who is 65 or older, is entitled to vote outside of the polling place. The bill further provides that during a declared state of emergency related to a communicable disease of public health threat, any voter is entitled to vote outside of the polling place. The bill requires that the area designated for voting outside of the polling place be clearly marked and instructions on how the voter is to notify a poll worker of their request to vote outside of the polling place be prominently displayed.
- VA HB 1968 (early voting): This bill expands the locations for in-person absentee voting by permitting the electoral board or general registrar of a county or city to provide such voting in more than one office. It further gives the electoral board or general registrar the authority to permit in-person absentee voting on Sundays.
- VA HB 2125 (pre-registration): This bill permits pre-registration to vote for 16- and 17-year-olds, whose registration shall be automatically effective when that person turns 18 or becomes eligible for advance registration as already permitted by Virginia law, whichever comes first.
Expansive Bills that Are Moving
As of March 24, 2021, 112 expansive bills in 31 states are moving through state legislatures.
Bills on the Precipice
- Nine bills have passed both chambers and are awaiting signature by a governor.
Among them is WA HB 1078, a bill to restore voting rights to Washingtonians with past convictions, and VA HB 1890, which would create a state voting rights act consistent with the congressional effort to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
- New York leads the way with 12 active, expansive bills. They cover eligibility for absentee voting, absentee ballot drop boxes, college campus voting opportunities, and restoration of voting rights to individuals with past convictions, among other areas.
- Some of the biggest action in expansive voting rights legislation comes from some of the smallest states: 11 expansive bills are moving in Maryland,
10 are moving in Connecticut,
and seven are moving in Rhode Island.
- New Jersey has five moving bills that would allow for absentee ballots with missing or illegible postmarks to be accepted up until 48 hours after Election Day and provide absentee voters with notice and an opportunity to cure ballot defects, among other things.
As of March 24, 2021, 54 moving bills in 26 states relate to absentee voting.
- Bills in six states — Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island — would extend or create no-excuse absentee voting.
All but one, Indiana, offered no-excuse absentee voting as a temporary measure in response to the Covid-19 pandemic during the November 2020 election.
- Bills in 11 states would require that voters be notified of and given an opportunity to cure absentee ballot defects, in some cases even after Election Day.
- Bills in seven states would create or expand access to permanent absentee voting lists (voters on the lists would automatically receive an absentee ballot for every election without having to reapply).
As of March 24, 2021, 18 moving bills in 15 states relate to voter registration.
- Bills in 15 states would expand voter registration opportunities, including by offering online voter registration, providing same-day and Election Day registration, providing for pre-registration of 16-year-olds, extending voter registration deadlines, and establishing and expanding automatic voter registration.
- Bills in five states would establish automatic voter registration.
- Bills in three states would establish or expand Election Day or same-day registration.
Voting Rights Restoration
Ten states have seen movement on bills to restore voting rights to people with past convictions.
- In Washington, HB 1078 — which would restore voting rights to more than 20,000 Washingtonians — was sent to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk on March 29.
- A New York bill, SB 830B, has passed the Senate and awaits a vote in the Assembly. The bill would codify in statute what the governor has been doing through executive action, restoring voting rights to New Yorkers with past convictions who are living in the community.
- The Virginia legislature has taken the first step toward amending the state’s constitution to restore voting rights by passing a resolution (VA SJR 272) out of both chambers this year.
- In Connecticut, CT HB 6578 would restore voting rights to everyone living in Connecticut’s communities (and codify automatic voter registration).
In addition to the hundreds of restrictive bills introduced for the 2021 legislative session, it’s worth calling attention to two particularly alarming trends.
In response to the momentum behind the federal For the People Act, six states have introduced nonbinding resolutions opposing the comprehensive democracy reform bill and urging Congress to reject it.
Texas lawmakers have introduced two bills to bifurcate the voter registration process, such that the federal For the People Act would not apply to state voter registrations (TX HB 4366, TX HB 4507). They would create a two-tiered voter system that would confuse voters and be difficult to administer. Arizona has advanced two bills that purport to prohibit policies (automatic voter registration and Election Day registration) that the For the People Act advances (AZ HB 2793, AZ HB 2811). The For the People Act applies only to federal elections; it would determine the rules for federal elections and trump any conflicting state rules that apply to federal elections, but it would not create policies for state elections.
After local election officials worked tirelessly last year to conduct elections during a pandemic and resisted substantial pressure to manipulate voting outcomes, state lawmakers are now taking aim at these local officials. For example, Texas has introduced at least six bills that would penalize election officials.
A Wisconsin bill (WI SB 204) would prohibit election clerks from sending absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots to voters who did not request them and create a felony offense for violation. A Missouri bill (MO HB 1327) would threaten any local election official with loss of funding if they refuse to purge voters on their rolls that the secretary of state has called on them to remove. And Iowa’s new law, IA SF 413, allows the state commissioner of elections to impose a fine on county election officials for any technical infraction, including failing to purge voters.