Sep 2, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Push to expand voting rights gains ground in 2023

State voting rights in 2023
Data: Voting Rights Lab; Map: Axios Visuals

Two years after Republican-led states approved waves of new voting restrictions, more states in 2023 have improved access to voting than have limited it.

The big picture: 29 states and Washington, D.C., have enacted a total of 70 laws expanding voting rights this year, while 16 states have enacted 29 laws to restrict voting, according to data and analysis by the nonprofit Voting Rights Lab (VRL).

  • 8 states included in those counts imposed batches of laws that did both.

Why it matters: The GOP's backlash to many pandemic-era measures that improved access to voting has continued, but voting-rights advocates have struck back with some big wins in the run-up to the 2024 election.

  • While most of the new laws the VRL identified as improving voting rights are in blue states, some Republican-led states have come to embrace some voting policies that the GOP, led by former President Trump, had cited in their false claims of election fraud in 2020.
  • One example: Arkansas, a solidly red state, eased restrictions on early voting and mail-in voting.

Zoom in: Several of the most significant new laws and policies — enhancing and restricting voting procedures — are in politically divided swing states likely to be crucial in what's expected to be a tight race for president in 2024.

  • Michigan, where Democrats control state government, passed the nation's biggest package of bills to increase access to voting. New laws ensure that student IDs are acceptable identification at the polls, expand early voting and improve tracking procedures for mail-in ballots.
  • Nevada, where Democrats control the legislature but the governor is a Republican, improved voting access for Indigenous people and felons, and approved harsher penalties for tampering with voting equipment.

On the other hand, Arizona's Republican-led legislature passed a resolution that raised questions about whether the state is moving toward banning some types of electronic vote tabulation systems.

  • Georgia's Republican-led legislature, meanwhile, passed a measure that Democrats say could help inject partisan politics into how counties oversee their elections.

What they're saying: "Some of the greatest threats to voter access and fair elections are happening in many of the 2024 battleground states where Republicans control state government," said Megan Bellamy, vice president of law and policy at the VRL, which supports expanded access to voting.

Between the lines: The states that expanded voting rights this year also include Minnesota, which began allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote and now automatically registers people to vote when they renew or receive their driver's licenses.

  • Connecticut approved two weeks of early voting, protected voting access to minority communities that historically have faced discrimination, and provided more assistance to voters who don't speak English.
  • New Mexico enacted a law that allows Native Americans to vote and receive ballots at tribal office buildings, and automatically registers state residents to vote when they interact with the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • New York now allows any voter to vote early by mail, without needing an excuse to do so.

Other states have continued to focus more on restrictions, some of which are legacies of the false claims of election fraud in 2020:

  • In-state student identification cards are no longer acceptable forms of voter ID in Idaho.
  • Non-photo identification cards are no longer an acceptable proof of ID in Ohio, which also limited mail-ballot drop boxes to one per county. Ohio also will no longer allow early voting the day before an election.
  • Ballot drop boxes and write-in candidates are no longer options in Arkansas.
  • And election drop boxes were banned in South Dakota, a decision most county auditors disagree with.
  • Indiana imposed new requirements for residents who request an absentee ballot, including that they provide proof of their identity with their driver's license number or Social Security number.
  • Collecting and delivering someone else's ballot is now illegal in Mississippi unless the individual is a caregiver, a family member, a household member of the voter — or a mail carrier.

In a few states, legislatures approved restrictions that were vetoed by the governor.

  • North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed a bill passed by the GOP-controlled legislature that would have limited absentee voting and empowered partisan poll watchers.

States with new laws the VRL listed as both expanding and restricting voting rights included Texas, which pass a total of nine measures — three that the VRL says improved voting rights, and six that added restrictions.

  • Two laws signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) eliminated the nonpartisan election administrator in mostly Democratic Harris County — which includes Houston, the nation's third-largest city.
  • Another new law gives the state government, which is led by Republicans, more authority to intervene in Harris County's elections.
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