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Widespread poll closings found in places no longer subject to federal election oversight

Almost 1,700 polling places have been closed in counties that are no longer subject to federal oversight brought on by past voting discrimination, according to a new study that was highlighted at a congressional hearing Tuesday.

The poll closings, documented in the report Democracy Diverted by the Leadership Conference Education Fund, was one of several examples witnesses gave of what they say are discriminatory practices that have occurred since the Supreme Court voided a key part of the Voting Rights Act six years ago.

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GOP Legislation Puts Restrictions on Voter Registration Efforts

A number of Republican-controlled statehouses are advancing legislation to rein in voter registration drives that helped young and minority voters sweep Democrats into power at the state and national level during the 2018 midterms.

In Tennessee, the Senate recently passed a bill that would require training for voter registration groups and levy fines against groups for submitting incomplete registration forms. The bill has the backing of Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett and is similar to a measure the House already passed.

The Nashville-based Equity Alliance, a group that registers black voters, said in a statement that the recently passed Senate bill was "blatantly racist" and likened it to "Jim Crow-era intimidation."

In Arizona, the House has passed a bill that would ban voter registration groups from paying employees by the number of registration forms they submit.

Civil rights groups fear this type of legislation, specifically bills targeting voter registration, will become more common in GOP-led statehouses. In Texas, for instance, lawmakers are considering a measure to make it a felony to include false information on a voter registration form, which could potentially criminalize a simple clerical mistake.

"I would not be surprised if we see more and more of these types of bills being proposed particularly in places like Tennessee where you've seen really high turnout in recent elections among groups that have been traditionally more marginalized," Sophia Lin Lakin, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project, told The Hill.

At least 19 bills in 10 states are advancing with the intent of placing new restrictions over voting and voter registration efforts, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, which supports easier ballot access.

Arizona moving toward a purge of vote-by-mail roster

The Republican-led Arizona legislature is moving to prevent many of the state's citizens from being able to vote by mail.

The Senate and a House panel have both passed legislation dictating that voters who do not cast ballots in two consecutive election cycles will be removed from the rolls of those eligible to cast mail-in ballots, the method now used by three-quarters of Arizonans. These people could still vote early in person.

A spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, told Newsweek about 200,000 people would be dropped but noted the figure is based on "our interpretation of the bill language," which lawmakers have conceded is unclear.

"These are individuals that obviously are not choosing to vote early," GOP state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita told The Arizona Republic. "This is frankly a sacred document. And we want to make sure that we're sending them to individuals who are utilizing the system."

"If this is not an issue of voter suppression, then please go back and fix this bill because the effect of it makes it look that way," countered Democratic state Rep. Diego Rodriguez.

Arizona moves to criminalize some voter registration activities

Arizona's narrowly Republican state House voted Monday to create some new crimes connected to voter registration. Sponsors say the measure is in response to a raft of fraudulent registrations before the 2018 election. Critics say the bill will suppress voting, especially by young people and minorities.

The measure, which has strong prospects in the solidly GOP state Senate, would create a four-month jail term for people who collect completed voter registration forms but do not submit them within 10 days. It also would make it a misdemeanor, with a potential $2,500 fine, to pay voter registration operatives based on the number of people they sign up to vote.

Another bill passed by the state House would require people who drop off their early ballots at voting centers to provide identification. Opponents say plenty of voters don't carry any of the forms of ID the bill would require.

Arizona, with 11 electoral votes, has voted for Republicans in the past five presidential elections, but last fall Democrats took a Senate seat, a House seat, two other statewide offices and four legislative seats from the GOP.

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