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How the 5 most populous states have overhauled their election systems

This is the first in a series of articles examining changes to voting laws in every state.

The ongoing election evolution in the United States, while in large part catalyzed by the Covid-19 pandemic, has been building momentum for years.

Many states were already undergoing major overhauls to their election systems leading up to the 2020 election, even before the pandemic gripped the nation. And in the aftermath of the presidential contest, states have doubled down on voting reforms.

To provide a comprehensive analysis of the voting law changes in every state and Washington, D.C., since 2019, The Fulcrum compiled data from the Voting Rights Lab, the National Conference for State Legislatures, the Brennan Center for Justice, and state statutes and constitutions. This first installment focuses on the five most populous states.

In California and New York, where Democrats control the state legislature and the governorship, the adjustments largely eased access to the ballot box, whereas Republican-led Florida and Texas mostly focused on tightening the voting rules. And in Pennsylvania, where there's a divided government, compromise on voting changes has been hard to come by.

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Report: One-third of the country has limited voting access since the 2020 election

More than halfway into the year, and with most state legislative sessions concluded, the full scope of voting changes spurred by the 2020 election is coming into view.

As of last week, 18 states have enacted 30 laws that limit voting access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal public policy institute at New York University Law School that has been tracking state voting legislation. At the same time, 25 states have signed into law 54 measures that expand access to the ballot box.

And more voting changes are sure to come. Thirteen state legislatures are still in session, and additional states, like Texas, may convene for special sessions.

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All eyes have been on Texas, but there are several other states making changes to their voting laws, too.

The 13 states limiting voting access under the radar

Texas is once again in the voting rights spotlight after GOP lawmakers this weekend revived a bill to tighten the state's election rules.

In May, Democratic lawmakers blocked the first round of voting restrictions by staging a dramatic walkout. But now in the special session, Republicans are getting a second chance to advance their legislative priorities.

And while much of the attention is on Texas, several voting restrictions have gained traction under the radar in 13 other states. RepresentUs, a prominent democracy reform advocacy group, released a report last week highlighting these lesser-known measures that impact more than 35 million voters overall.

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These states show bipartisan election reform is possible

Since last year's election, state legislatures have been advancing changes to voting and election rules along one of two divergent paths. Democrats are seeking expansions, like no-excuse absentee voting, while Republicans are pushing for increased security measures, like voter ID requirements.

In much of the country, one side can easily have its way without even attempting to reach across the aisle because one party controls both the legislature and the governorship. And in the 12 states with divided governments, too often there is contention rather than compromise.

Some purple states, like Kentucky and Vermont, have leaned into compromise and enacted bipartisan election reforms. But in other states, like Pennsylvania, partisan infighting is overriding any potential for collaboration.

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