Efforts to make voting more complicated have lurched forward this week in the Republican-run legislatures of three additional major partisan battlegrounds.
The Arizona House voted Tuesday to purge inconsistent voters from the roster of people who are sent a mail-in ballot before every election. Hours later in Florida, a Senate committee advanced a package of fresh restrictions on voting. And GOP powers in Ohio put the finishing touches on their own multifaceted plan to make access to the ballot box more difficult.
Business executives have joined Democrats and civil rights advocates to excoriate all those efforts as aiming to disenfranchise voters of color — an argument that has not stopped fresh curbs from being enacted this year, in the name of bolstered election security, in purple states from Georgia to Iowa and most recently Montana.
These are the details of the developments in the states with the freshest legislative activity:
The measure is now one roll call, in the GOP-run Senate, away from the desk of Republican Gov. Steve Ducey.
The vote in the House was 31-29 along party lines, promoted mainly by Republicans who have continued to push the evidence-free allegation that fraud cost former President Donald Trump the state's 11 electoral votes last year.
Under their bill, people who don't return any ballot for any election for four years would be dropped from the roster of voters — which now includes three-quarters of Arizonans — who receive vote-by-mail packets before each election. (They would first get a warning they have 90 days to ask to stay on the list.)
About 200,000 voters, or one in five, sat out the primary and general elections in both 2018 and 2020 and would be subject to the purge. Republicans say the measure is justified to keep not-completed ballots out of the wrong hands. Democrats say the result would be confusion and ultimately suppression — especially of Latinos, Native Americans, young people and partian independents.
Greater Phoenix Leadership, a business group, and more than 50 company executives including the owner of the Arizona Cardinals have come out against the bill and two others that have not advanced as far in the Legislature, one to shrink the period for mail-in voting and the other to stiffen proof-of-identification requirements for those using the forms.
"These measures seek to disenfranchise voters. They are 'solutions' in search of a problem. They are attempts at voter suppression cloaked as reform — plain and simple," they said in an open letter last week, warning that passage could taint the state's reputation as a good place to live and work.
President Biden was the first Democrat to carry the state in six elections, albeit by just 10,000 votes out of 3.3 million cast, and after the November election Arizona has two Democratic senators for the first time since 1968.
The Senate Rules Committee approved the bill, 10-7. One Republican joined every Democrat in opposing it, despite GOP sponsors abandoning some of the more aggressive ideas in their original package — including intensified signature-matching rules for voters and an outright ban on drop boxes.
Instead, the bill would make drop boxes available only during early voting hours, not around the clock. It also would bar political operations from delivering water to voters within 150 feet of a polling place, add more ID requirements to vote-by-mail applications, end the ability of voters to be on a permanent roll to receive an absentee ballot for each election, limit third-party collections of ballots and boost the powers of partisan observers during vote tabulation.
As in other states, the debate was between Republicans who said they wanted to prevent cheating that otherwise "could happen," and Democrats who said that warding off a hypothetical was much less of a problem than suppressing the vote.
As approved, the measure is quite similar to a bill awaiting a vote in the Republican-majority House. But unless identical language wins passage in both chambers by the end of next week, when the Legislature adjourns, no voting bill will be presented to GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis this year. Florida has for a decade been considered the biggest purple state, but Republicans have won every topflight statewide contest in the past five years.
Republican legislators and GOP Secretary of State Frank LaRose say they are close to unveiling an election law overhaul proposal they believe can win bipartisan backing.
But a draft of the legislation that circulated last week prompted state House Democtatic Leader Emilia Sykes to send out a fundraising email describing the bill as "so draconian that the Georgia law looks mild in comparison."
That draft would ban ballot drop boxes, require two forms of ID to vote early or by mail, and eliminate early-in person balloting the Monday before the election. But negotiators say they are also considering a collection of proposals to ease voting, including a new online system and a later deadline to apply for an absentee ballot.
One draft version would prohibit the state from paying the postage on returned absentee ballots. Another would mandate postage-paid envelopes with all ballot request forms and ballots.
Unlike many other states, the Ohio Legislature meets all year — so there is plenty of time to alter rules ahead of the next election, when the marquee race in Ohio will be for an open, now-Republcian-held Senate seat. Trump secured its 18 electoral votes twice, meaning last year was the first time since 1860 that Ohio did not vote for the presidential victor.
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Gov. Greg Gianforte has signed legislation ending Montana's long-standing same-day voter registration practice, while also imposing stricter voter ID requirements.
The Republican governor approved the two restrictive voting measures on Monday, after the GOP-majority Legislature passed the bills largely along party lines last month.
This makes Montana the latest state to roll back voting access following the 2020 election. Republican lawmakers across the country have been pushing for stricter election rules that they say will protect against voter fraud — despite no evidence of widespread wrongdoing. At the same time, Democrats have been advocating for expanding access to the ballot box.
Since 2006, Montana has allowed eligible voters to register and cast a ballot on Election Day. (Twenty other states, plus Washington, D.C., allow for same-day registration.) But now, under this new law, Montanans will have until noon the day before an election to register to vote.
The second bill requires voters to show certain identification before casting a ballot. Acceptable forms of photo ID include a Montana driver's license, government-issued photo ID, passport, military ID, tribal ID or state-issued concealed carry weapons permit. Voters could also provide the last four digits of their Social Security number.
Students can use their school-issued photo IDs to vote as long as they also provide a secondary piece of identification like a bank statement, utility bill, paycheck or another document that shows their name and current address.
Republican Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen specifically requested the Legislature make these voting changes. She said requiring voter ID and implementing voter registration deadlines were "best practices in protecting the integrity of elections."
"Montana has a long history of secure, transparent elections, setting a standard for the nation," Gianforte said in announcing his approval of the bills. "These new laws will help ensure the continued integrity of Montana's elections for years to come."
But voting rights advocates lambasted the new laws as unnecessary barriers to the ballot box. They said the photo ID requirement in particular would impose a financial burden on low-income Montanans and others without government-issued IDs.
It's possible voting rights groups could mount a legal challenge to the new laws, or try to undo them through a ballot initiative.
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Under pressure from voting rights groups, Georgia's third largest county will make it slightly easier to vote in the crucial Senate runoffs.
Cobb County planned to open only five instead of the usual 11 places for early in-person voting, which civil rights organizations complained would suppress the Black and Latino vote in the Atlanta suburbs. On Wednesday the county conceded the problem by moving one polling location and adding two more, but only for the final week of early voting.
But that partial victory may soon be overwhelmed by a bigger challenge to the cause of civic participation in the nation's newest big purple state. Top Republicans say they'll soon launch a bid in the General Assembly to reverse many of the policies that made voting easier this year.
Making the ballot box accessible to all who are eligible has long been a central tenet of the democracy reform movement, but it is of particular short-term importance in Georgia because who votes in the twin Jan. 5 runoffs will determine which party controls the Senate next year — which will decide whether any aspect of the good-governance agenda stands a chance in Congress.
Six voting and civil rights groups sent a letter Monday to Cobb County officials asking for all 11 voting centers that were used in the general election to also be open for the runoffs.
The new plan doesn't go as far as the groups hoped. Instead, one voting center was relocated to the southern part of the county where there is a higher Black population. And two more locations, one in the north and another in the south, will be open the final four days before early voting ends on New Year's Eve.
The county elections chief, Janine Eveler, said staffing shortages because of the holidays and the coronavirus surge made it impossible to do more than that. "We have simply run out of people," she said. "Many workers told us they spent three weeks working 14- or 15-hour days and they will not do that again."
Meanwhile, the Republican majority caucus in the state Senate promised Tuesday to make a tightening of election laws one of their top priorities in the new year.
They said they were responding to "the calls of millions of Georgians who have raised deep and heartfelt concerns that state law has been violated and our election process abused" in the general election.
Many in the GOP base are furious and suspicious about an election where Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry the state in seven elections and neither of the GOP senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, was able to muster the 50 percent the state requires for re-election.
The GOP lawmakers said they would push legislation to eliminate no-excuse absentee voting, bar the use of drop boxes to return mail ballots and add a photo ID requirement for those seeking to cast an absentee ballot.
These proposed changes are in direct response to the Nov. 3 election in which many more voters than ever before — in Georgia and across the country — decided to cast their ballots by mail due to the Covid-19 pandemic. President Trump and many other Republicans have repeatedly and falsely asserted that widespread mail voting leads to fraud. There has been no evidence before or after this year's election to back up that claim.
The Republican legislators are also requesting an investigation and additional audits into the Nov. 3 election. Three counts of presidential ballots so far have produced the same result: Biden won by about 12,000 votes.
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North Carolina's strict new photo ID requirement for voters will remain in limbo for the foreseeable future, even though a federal appeals court has paved the way for it to take effect.
The state's history of racially discriminatory election laws is not enough to prevent the General Assembly from imposing new restrictions, a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously Wednesday.
But the court continued to keep the 2018 law on the shelf during a certain appeal of its decision to the Supreme Court, alongside a separate challenge in state court. Both suits allege the 2018 measure would lead to the unconstitutional suppression of Black and poor voters.
Before the coronavirus pandemic and the surge in voting by mail made the 2020 election rules the most litigated in history, the byzantine battle over IDs in North Carolina was one of the most closely watched voting rights cases in the nation.
That's because of the state's robust record of discriminatory election rules. Shortly after the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, which required North Carolina and other states with similar histories to get federal approval for any changes to election rules, the Republicans in charge in Raleigh enacted several tough new curbs, including a photo ID requirement.
That law was blocked in 2016 by the 4th Circuit, which famously concluded it was written to "target African Americans with almost surgical precision."
Two years later, lawmakers asked voters to put a photo ID requirement in the state constitution and, after the referendum secured 55 percent support, the General Assembly wrote a new version of the law and enacted it over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto.
The NAACP and other civil rights groups then set about to block it in state and federal court. At the end of last year, federal Judge Loretta Biggs blocked the law from being implemented, agreeing with the plaintiffs' argument that its intent was rooted in racial discrimination.
The 4th Circuit disagreed, saying the judge had failed to give the General Assembly the legally required benefit of the doubt when considering the constitutionality of the law.
"A legislature's past acts do not condemn the acts of a later legislature, which we must presume acts in good faith," Judge Julius Richardson wrote for the panel, two nominated by President Trump and one by President Barack Obama. "The district court penalized the General Assembly because of who they were, instead of what they did."
Because of the litigation, the voter ID law was not in effect for this fall's election, when Trump carried the state and its 15 electoral votes by 1 percentage point and Republican Thom Tillis held onto his Senate seat by 2 points.
Seventeen other states also ask voters to show a photo ID in order to cast a ballot. Another 17 states have non-photo identification laws for voting.
North Carolina's law is considered among the strictest in the nation because it requires all would-be voters to arrive at their polling places with a driver's license, passport, student ID or other form of photo identification — or else they may only cast a provisional ballot that gets counted if they show up at the county elections board by the next day with the necessary ID. Supporters say this is reasonable, and accommodates poor people, because the law requires the state to provide access to free photo IDs.
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