WASHINGTON — Republican state lawmakers across the country are ramping up their drive to enact voting and election-related laws in time for crucial 2022 midterm elections.
As federal legislation that would limit state-level voting restrictions appears stymied in Washington, Republicans in the states are moving forward with new proposals and revisiting old ones that Democrats and voting rights advocates say are designed to both suppress voters and subvert the election process.
“I expect we will see additional restrictive voting legislation in 2022,” said election expert Rick Hasen, co-director of the Fair Elections and Free Speech Center at the University of California, Irvine. “Trump is demanding it based on his false claims of a stolen 2020 election, and it plays to the Republican base that believes Trump’s false claims.”
In 2021, at least 19 states enacted 34 laws restricting access to voting, according to an analysis by the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice. The analysis from early December found that before the 2022 session even started, state legislators were pre-filing bills to make it harder to cast a ballot and to allow “audits” of election results.
There are 88 voter restriction bills in nine states from the 2021 legislative session that will roll over to the 2022 session, according to the Brennan Center. Without federal legislation to block Republican lawmakers’ efforts, experts warn the United States is likely to see a similar “tidal wave” of restrictive voting laws this year.
Most of the states where restrictive laws are likely this year also passed or attempted to pass similarly restrictive laws last year.
“All indications are that the tidal wave of efforts to restrict and undermine the vote that we saw last year will continue through 2022,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director of the voting rights and elections program at the Brennan Center. “We’re already seeing it, in bills to make it harder to vote and to enable partisans to sabotage elections.”
Here’s a look at states to watch, the voting restrictions that emerged last year, and what could be coming in 2022:
LAST SESSION: After the 2020 election, when a Democrat won the state’s presidential contest for the first time in almost three decades, Georgia became ground zero for restrictive voting laws. In March, Gov. Brian Kemp signed Senate Bill 202, approving a spate of changes to voting rules, including a shortened period for requesting an absentee ballot, a ban on government entities from distributing unsolicited absentee ballot applications, and limitations on counties’ use of ballot drop boxes, among many other measures. The state has been hit with several lawsuits claiming the law discriminates against voters of color, including one suit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
THIS SESSION: As the legislative session gets underway, lawmakers are expected to revisit legislation to reshape the state’s handling of absentee ballots and other voting rules. Even before the session began, lawmakers started previewing their intentions. Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller, who is running for lieutenant governor, pre-filed legislation in December to ban ballot drop boxes, arguing that they were introduced as an emergency measure during the pandemic but many counties didn’t follow appropriate security guidelines. The bill prompted outrage from voting rights advocates across the country, but it’s only one of many by state Republicans.
Republicans are also proposing legislation to allow the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate election-related complaints without a request from a local government. Another potential GOP-backed bill would allow voters to choose paper ballots instead of the recently purchased Dominion Voting Systems electronic touchscreen devices. State Sen. Burt Jones, who is also running for lieutenant governor and is endorsed by former President Donald Trump, is pushing for the change, claiming electronic touchscreens are vulnerable to hacking. Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger also wants to tighten election rules and is advocating a constitutional amendment to ban noncitizens from voting in Georgia. Noncitizens are already prevented from voting under state law.
With Republican majorities in both chambers of the legislature, Democratic lawmakers see little path to expand voting rights in Georgia this session. But voting rights groups like the Atlanta-based Fair Fight Action are ready to do their part to push back against what they see as voter suppression efforts.
“Fair Fight Action and voting rights groups across Georgia are ready to fight back against any and all anti-voter proposals that Republicans try to force through this legislative session,” Hillary Holley, the group’s organizing director, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Georgia voters will also head to the polls this year for elections for governor and secretary of state. GOP candidates in both races have supported Trump’s lies about the 2020 election and gubernatorial candidate David Perdue has said he would not have certified the results.
Follow more throughout the session in the Georgia Recorder.