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Philadelphia could be the next major city to switch to ranked-choice voting.
The Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution on Friday to consider using the alternative voting system for municipal elections and will proceed with public hearings to discuss the switch.
Momentum for ranked-choice voting has been building across the country, especially since New York City successfully used the new system in its June mayoral primaries.
Under this alternative voting system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. In the case that no candidate receives majority support, an instant runoff will occur, as the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and that person's support is redistributed to voters' second choices. That process continues until one candidate crosses the 50 percent threshold.
Proponents of RCV say it reduces the cost of election administration and improves the voter experience by eliminating the need for costly runoff elections. Supporters also argue RCV bolsters the campaigns of women and people of color. However, critics say the system is confusing and doesn't necessarily lead to better representation.
Exit polling following the New York City mayoral primaries showed high voter turnout and an easy transition to the ranked-choice voting system. More than 1.1 million New Yorkers cast ballots in the primaries, the highest turnout in more than three decades. And for the first time ever, women will likely hold a majority of the 51 city council seats. New York City will also likely have its first-ever openly gay Black woman and first person of South Asian decent join the council following the general election in November.
The Philadelphia City Council will consider the implications of adopting such a system in Pennsylvania's largest city.
"Like New York City, Philadelphia has partisan primaries that are followed by a general election that is far less contested," said Rob Richie, president and CEO of FairVote, which advocates for RCV. "New York's precedent for adding ranked-choice voting to the primary is a particularly sensible step that will make more votes count, as FairVote and our Philadelphia reform allies have suggested for years."
In addition to New York City, 39 other jurisdictions currently have a ranked-choice voting system. Maine and Alaska offer RCV in statewide elections.
With voters expecting to see a higher than average number of statewide measures on their ballots in 2021, Ballot Measure Project Director Josh Altic puts these measures in context. Altic reviews the notable issues before voters and highlights the trends. This Ballotpedia briefing video also covers 2021's notable measures impacting policies such as policing, executive emergency powers, sports betting, voting, education, taxes, and environmental rights.
This is the third in a series of articles examining changes to voting laws in every state. Faye Shen Li Thijssen and Cassidy Wang contributed research and reporting for this installment.
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 third installment focuses on five swing states.
In Arizona and Georgia, two swing states with single-party control of government, Republicans enacted major election overhauls. In contrast, the divided governments in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin found little compromise in recent years, leading to only minor modifications.
The chart below provides an overview of how voting practices have changed or remained the same in these five swing states over the past two years. A more detailed explanation of each state's changes follows.
More from Election Evolution:
While Arizona is a Republican trifecta (GOP control of the governor's seat and both legislative chambers), the state has become increasingly competitive in presidential elections over the past two decades. Last year was the first time Arizona went blue since Bill Clinton won re-election in 1996.
In recent years, Gov. Doug Ducey and Legislature have enacted many changes to the state's election system, including expansions to voter access and stricter election rules.
Two years ago, a ballot cure process was established, requiring election officials to notify voters of any issues with their ballot and giving voters the opportunity to correct it. Then this year, lawmakers tweaked this law to add a deadline of 7 p.m. on Election Day by which voters had to cure their ballots.
Also in 2019, lawmakers eliminated the rule that people with one felony conviction had to pay their legal fines and fees before having their voting rights restored. Former felons do still have to pay any outstanding restitution, though.
This year, Arizona enacted a new rule prohibiting election officials from sending mail ballots to voters who had not requested one, unless that voter is on the permanent absentee voting list. Violating this rule is a felony offense. This change came after several states proactively sent voters mail ballots and/or mail ballot applications for the 2020 election during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Another mail voting change orders voters to be removed from the permanent early voting list — renamed the "active early voting list" — for not voting in two consecutive election cycles. Inactive voters have 90 days to respond to the notice before removal. This law does not prevent these voters from casting a ballot in person nor does it cancel their voter registration.
Earlier this year, Arizona lawmakers banned the use of private funding for election administration. This stems from many states and counties accepting private money last year to help cover the extra costs imposed by the pandemic. Legislators also created an "election integrity fund" to pay county recorder expenses for election security, cybersecurity and post-election ballot counting.
Multiple laws enacted this year shifted election authority away from the secretary of state, who traditionally is seen as the top election official in every state. The secretary of state is now required to give a Legislature-designated entity and the attorney general access to Arizona's voter rolls so they can ensure the list complies with federal law. Another law also gives the attorney general, rather than the secretary of state, authority to defend state laws in all election-related litigation through January 2023. And during an emergency, a state officer is prohibited from modifying any deadline or election-related date unless ordered to do so by a court. Violating this rule is punishable as a felony offense.
Other recent voting changes include:
- The requirement that Arizonans show non-photo identification to vote in person was extended to cover the early voting period.
- The Arizona Game and Fish Department is required to offer voter registration services to people who apply for a hunting, fishing or trapping license.
- Mail ballot return envelopes must be designed to conceal the voter's political affiliation.
- Replacement ballot centers must open at 6 a.m. during the state's mail ballot elections. (Previously, centers had to be open until 7 p.m. but an opening time was not specified.)
- If there aren't enough people in a certain precinct to serve as poll workers, then any registered voter in the state may volunteer to fill staffing vacancies.
- The secretary of state is required to use death records received from the state's department of health to cancel matching voter registrations.
- The attorney general and county attorneys must investigate and prosecute anyone who is ineligible and knowingly registers to vote.
- Party-appointed challengers and party representatives must be Arizona residents and registered voters. (Previously, there were no limits on who could be challengers or representatives.)
- It is now a felony offense for knowingly impersonating any election official, including an election board member, poll worker, officially designated challenger or party representative.
- Physical or electronic access to a voting machine or electronic pollbook must be secure to prevent unauthorized access and to verify the equipment before use.
- Voters who wish to cast a ballot at an emergency voting center must sign a statement under the penalty of perjury that they are experiencing an emergency that prevents them from voting during the early voting period or on Election Day. Violating this rule is punishable as a felony offense.
- The Arizona Legislature passed a resolution declaring opposition to federal regulation of elections, in particular the For the People Act.
Similar to Arizona, Republicans are in control of the Legislature and governorship in Georgia, and the state has become more competitive in recent presidential elections. The Peach State flipped blue last year for the first time since Clinton won in 1992.
Nearly all of the election changes Georgia has enacted over the last two years came from the GOP-backed omnibus bill that was passed this year. The bill received national attention and was lambasted by voting rights advocates for imposing several new limits to voter access.
Much of the omnibus bill was aimed at tightening rules around mail voting. Those changes include:
- Voters are required to provide their driver's license or state ID number on their mail ballot applications and the envelopes of their completed mail ballots.
- Election officials are prohibited from mailing absentee ballot applications to voters who do not request them.
- Third-party groups are barred from distributing absentee ballot applications that have been pre-filled. Applications sent by third parties must include a disclaimer that identifies the group as a non-governmental organization.
- Counties must provide at least one drop box. Additional drop boxes can be offered based on the number of registered voters or early voting sites. Drop boxes must be placed indoors at early voting sites and government buildings, meaning voters can only return ballots during business hours.
- The absentee ballot application period was cut from nearly six months before an election to less than three months. The deadline for applying to vote by mail is now the 11th day before an election.
- Election officials now have less time to begin issuing absentee ballots. Clerks cannot send ballots until 29-25 days before an election. (Previously, ballots could be sent 49-45 days before.)
- Election clerks can begin processing absentee ballots three weeks before an election, rather than after the opening of polls on Election Day. Once the ballot counting process begins after polls close on Election Day, election officials are not permitted to stop until the process is complete.
The omnibus bill also modified rules around in-person voting. Mobile voting centers are now prohibited unless the governor declares a state of emergency. Polling location hours cannot be extended unless ordered by a superior court judge. And counties are now required to notify voters of a polling place location change at least seven days before an election.
Additionally, early in-person voting availability was limited. Counties must offer early voting during weekday working hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Local officials can extend these hours but not before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. Early voting must be available on two Saturdays — rather than just one — but Sunday voting is optional. County officials must post early voting locations at least two weeks before voting begins.
Several new election crimes were created. Giving or offering a voter "money or gifts," including food or drink, at a polling place is punishable as a misdemeanor. It's a felony to watch a person cast their ballot, unless the viewer is an authorized assistant or a minor child. Recording or photographing a voted ballot or the screen of a machine while a vote is being cast is a misdemeanor.
Additionally, it's a felony to accept an absentee ballot from a voter for delivery or return unless statutorily authorized to do so. Handling of an absentee ballot application by anyone other than the voter or an authorized third party is punishable as a misdemeanor. Knowingly opening a sealed ballot envelope is a felony. And third parties who are not election officials are prohibited from mailing absentee ballot applications to voters who have already requested or cast a ballot. Violations could lead to fines of $100 per duplicate application.
Georgia's attorney general is now authorized to establish a hotline for voters to call in complaints and anonymous tips regarding voter intimidation, fraud and illegal election activities.
Other recent voting changes include:
- Provisional ballots cast out-of-precinct cannot be counted by officials before 5 p.m. on Election Day. These ballots must be accompanied by a sworn statement that the voter could not cast a ballot at their home precinct before the polls closed.
- Counties must ensure poll watchers have designated areas within a polling place to fairly observe the ballot-counting process. Poll watchers must be trained by the organization they represent.
- Individuals may serve as poll officers in counties in which they neither live nor are employed by the county, with prior approval from county election superintendents.
- Counties must report and post information about the total number of ballots cast and rejected as soon as possible after polls close, and no later than 10 p.m., on Election Day.
- The secretary of state must regularly obtain information from the interstate Election Registration Information Center to maintain the accuracy of the state's voter rolls. Georgia first joined ERIC in 2019.
- Officials must give any eligible voters serving jail time access to their personal effects for the purpose of applying for and voting an absentee ballot.
- The use of private funding for election administration is prohibited.
- A nonpartisan individual chosen by the Legislature is now the chairperson of the state election board, demoting the secretary of state to a non-voting ex officio member.
- If precincts have more than 2,000 voters and wait times longer than an hour in the 2020 election, officials are permitted to divide the precincts and/or add more poll workers and voting equipment.
Michigan has long been considered a battleground state even though from 1992 to 2012 it went to the Democratic presidential candidate. Then in 2016, Donald Trump won the state by a razor-thin 0.2 percentage points. The state went back to blue last year when Joe Biden narrowly won.
With Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Legislature's Republican majorities at odds, Michigan has not seen as many changes in election law compared to other states.
In 2019, the state's online voter registration system launched and automatic voter registration was implemented at motor vehicle agencies. That same year Michigan joined the Electronic Registration Information Center to improve the accuracy and efficiency of its voter rolls.
Ahead of last year's election, Michigan enacted a law requiring newly installed ballot drop boxes to follow certain procedures for proper labeling, security and monitoring.
Earlier this year, the Legislature adopted a resolution urging Congress and Biden to oppose the passage of the For the People Act.
Similar to Michigan, the divided government in Minnesota has resulted in only a few small changes to the election system over the past two years. Democrat Tim Walz is governor and the Legislature is split between the Republican-majority Senate and the Democrat-majority House of Representatives.
Earlier this year, Minnesota adopted new security measures for absentee ballot drop boxes. Each drop box must be weather-proof, designed to prevent unauthorized tampering, continually recorded during the absentee voting period and emptied at least once a day. The locations of drop boxes must be published. Electioneering activity within 100 feet of a drop box is prohibited.
This year, the state also appropriated funds to improve election administration and security. The funds will be used to modernize the voter registration system and implement cybersecurity updates, as well as provide training for local election officials.
Additionally, a law enacted this year requires lists of rejected absentee ballots to be made available to the public after voting ends on Election Day.
In 2016, Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point, breaking the state's eight-election streak of going to the Democratic presidential candidate. Biden turned Wisconsin blue again with his narrow win.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has vetoed multiple restrictive voting bills sent to his desk this year by the Republican-controlled Legislature. As a result, only minor voting law changes have occurred recently.
Home-schooled students who are at least 16 years old can now serve as poll workers. (Previously, only students at public, private or tribal schools could do so.) And the Wisconsin Elections Commission is required to post meeting minutes within 48 hours of a meeting or hearing.
Other recent changes have been a result of litigation. Last year, a federal appeals court restored a requirement that residents must live in a district for 28 days — instead of 10 — to be eligible to vote. The same court also declared the emailing or faxing of absentee ballots to be unconstitutional.
For many people, modern technology makes voting online a no-brainer. But implementing such a system nationwide presents many risks and challenges.
To assess the opportunities and pitfalls of remote digital voting, the Center for Security in Politics at the University of California, Berkeley announced Wednesday the formation of a working group that will rigorously study the issue. The goal is to develop best practices for election officials who want to offer safe and secure digital voting options.
While not yet widely used, digital voting is already an option for overseas military and civilian voters in 31 states and disabled voters in eight states. Proponents see it as an opportunity to make voting more accessible, especially during natural disasters or other emergencies.
The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the need to further study the feasibility of online voting. A recent report by the Election Assistance Commission found online balloting rose in popularity during the 2020 election, when voters were taking advantage of new opportunities. In last year's general election, more than 330 jurisdictions across eight states used mobile voting.
"How people think about — and participate — in voting is changing," said Janet Napolitano, founder and faculty director for the Center for Security in Politics. "We cannot turn a blind eye to the lessons of the 2020 election or overlook the voters who face inherent barriers to voting. We need academically rigorous, evidence-based standards that will guide the development of safe and secure remote balloting technology."
There are no national standards regulating the use of remote digital voting, which presents security and privacy concerns. The working group will dive into the potential challenges of casting a ballot online, such as voter and device authentication and vote verification.
"As technology changes, we must continually reassess opportunities to keep voting not only safe, secure and resilient, but also accessible for all Americans," said Mike Garcia, a cybersecurity expert and member of the working group.
Many election security experts strongly oppose remote digital voting because they say it is highly susceptible to hacking and does not provide the paper backup one gets when voting by mail or in person. And for election officials in jurisdictions where it is allowed for certain voters, there is little guidance on best practices.
"Having a report from a balanced group of experts can help inform the discussion, and importantly give guidance to election officials who are frequently caught in the middle, unsure of what is the 'least dangerous' path forward," said Jeremy Epstein, a voting security expert and member of the working group.
In addition to Epstein, the working group will consist of academic researchers, election administrators, cryptographers, and cybersecurity and election security experts, including:
- Ben Adida, executive director of VotingWorks.
- Michelle Bishop, voter access and engagement manager at the National Disability Rights Network.
- Allie Bones, assistant secretary of state for Arizona.
- Josh Benaloh, senior cryptographer at Microsoft Research.
- Henry Brady, professor in the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC, Berkeley.
- Anthony Fowler, professor in the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.
- Michael Frias, CEO of Catalist.
- Mike Garcia, a cybersecurity expert who previously worked at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
- Matt Masterson, former senior cybersecurity advisor at the Department of Homeland Security.
- Amber McReynolds, founding CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute.
- Maurice Turner, cybersecurity fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy.
- Mark Weatherford, chief information security officer at AlertEnterprise and chief strategy officer at the National Cybersecurity Center.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday signed into law the GOP-backed package overhauling Texas' elections, solidifying some of the most severe limits to voting access proposed this year.
The Texas GOP's efforts to pass this legislation were twice thwarted by Democratic lawmakers who fled the state and prevented the bill from moving forward due to lack of a quorum. However, once enough Democrats returned to the state in mid-August, Republicans resumed advancing the election changes.
The election overhaul legislation largely limits voting by mail, empowers partisan poll watchers and rolls back local initiatives that promoted voter access. Voting rights advocates say these changes will make it harder for Texans — in particular people of color, disabled individuals and those with limited English language proficiency — to vote.
What will the new law change?
The massive 76-page law, known as Senate Bill 1, makes several changes to Texas' election and voting rules. Abbott and Republican state lawmakers say the new law will bolster election integrity and make it "harder to cheat" — despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election in Texas or elsewhere in the country.
Election integrity is now LAW in Texas.
▪️ Ensures every eligible voter gets to vote
▪️ Adds more hours to vote
▪️ Makes it harder for fraudulent votes to be cast
▪️ Makes ballot harvesting a 3rd degree felony
Bottom line: it's easier to vote & harder to cheat. pic.twitter.com/p9IDQg95IK
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) September 7, 2021
The law bans drive-thru voting, which allows voters to drive up to an official voting location (usually under large tents), show photo ID and then remain in the car while filling out their ballot. This was a popular voting option during the 2020 election with 1 in 10 Texans casting an early ballot this way.
Another way SB 1 limits early voting availability is by banning 24-hour voting centers. The new law sets the early voting hours to be from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., prohibiting the all-day voting centers offered in Harris County, the state's most populous county.
However, the law does require more counties to provide at least 12 hours of early voting on each weekday of the last week of the early voting period. Previously, only counties with populations of 100,000 or more were required to do so, but SB 1 lowers the threshold to counties with a population of 55,000 or more.
Under this law, it is now a state jail felony for local election officials to send mail ballot applications to voters who do not request them. This is in response to Harris County's unsuccessful attempt to proactively send all 2.4 million registered voters in the county a mail ballot during last year's election.
Texans who wish to vote by mail will now be required to provide their driver's license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number on their mail ballot applications and then the completed ballot's envelope. This will be used to verify the voter's identity; previously, the state used a signature matching process.
Establishing a ballot cure process is one of the provisions in the new law that garnered support from Democratic state lawmakers. Voters will be able to track their mail ballot online and will be notified of any technical errors, such as a mismatching signature. Voters will then be able to fix, or "cure," their ballots.
Apart from altering mail voting rules, SB 1 also gives more authority to partisan poll watchers by allowing them "free movement" within a polling place. Previously, poll watchers were instructed to sit or stand "conveniently near" election workers during observation of the ballot counting process. Poll watchers are also required to undergo training and can be removed from the premises for violating the state Penal Code — two additions pushed by Democratic lawmakers.
Under SB 1, the secretary of state will be required to conduct routine checks of Texas' voter rolls to identify and remove any noncitizens. The law also creates new rules for those who assist voters, including those with disabilities, in filling out their ballot.
How voting rights advocates are responding
Days before Abbott gave his final approval of SB 1, voting rights groups had already taken this fight to the courts. On Friday, the League of Women Voters of Texas and other state advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in federal court. The Brennan Center for Justice and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a separate suit also on Friday.
Both lawsuits claim multiple provisions in SB 1 violate the Voting Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Constitution.
Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director of the voting rights and elections program at the Brennan Center, said SB 1 undermines equal access to the ballot box in Texas.
"The myriad restrictions in their legislation will be felt most by Latino, Black and Asian American voters, voters with disabilities and elderly voters," Morales-Doyle said. "These new impediments to voting have no legitimate purpose in keeping Texas elections fair and secure. The court must strike down this shameful legislation."
On Tuesday, just after Abbott signed the bill into law, a third federal lawsuit was filed by Marc Elias, a prominent voting rights lawyer, on behalf of LULAC Texas, Voto Latino, Texas Alliance for Retired Americans and Texas American Federation of Teachers. This suit argues certain provisions in the law violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the Voting Rights Act.
"Not only are we filing suit to protect the right to vote for all people of color, and the additional 250,000 young Latino Tejanos who will reach voting age in 2022, but to protect every Texan's right to vote. A thriving, healthy democracy demands maximum participation by all eligible voters," said Maria Teresa Kumar, CEO of Voto Latino.
A fourth lawsuit was also filed on Tuesday after the governor's signing. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and The Arc, a disabilities advocacy organization, are suing on behalf of several Texas-based groups, arguing the new law violates the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act by "intentionally targeting and burdening methods and means of voting used by voters of color." This suit also claims SB 1 violates the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by imposing barriers that discriminate against voters with disabilities.
Data released by the Census Bureau on Thursday showed America's population is more diverse than ever. For the first time since 1790, the number of people in the country who identify as white declined.
The detailed look into the nation's population changes over the past decade will be key as states can now begin redrawing election maps for the 2020s. But due to delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, states face a compressed timeline to complete their redistricting plans.
Concerns about the accuracy of the census count also remain. Communities of color have historically been undercounted, but this cycle could see larger disparities due to Covid-19 and efforts by the Trump administration to change the census questionnaire in ways that might have intimidated respondents.
Here are five stories to catch you up on the latest redistricting developments.
Mail and early voting practices were expanded and widely used during the 2020 election, to mitigate exposure to Covid-19, and since then they've been a main focus of states' election overhauls. A recent report provides a comprehensive look at the ways these voting methods have changed.
On Wednesday, the Campaign Legal Center released a 40-page report analyzing the modifications to vote-by-mail and early voting practices states have made so far this year. The report focuses on the 39 states that had completed their legislative sessions by the end of June.
The nonpartisan nonprofit graded each state based on its existing voting laws and the changes it made this year, if any, and then grouped states into three categories: least restrictive, restrictive and most restrictive. The scorecard is meant to show what provisions states may have that promote voting access, but it is not intended to be reflective of states' election systems overall.
The Campaign Legal Center graded states based on whether they offered 10 voting practices:
- No-excuse absentee voting.
- A permanent mail voting list.
- Permission for election officials to send voters unsolicited mail ballot applications.
- A uniform mail ballot notice and cure process.
- No requirement for a state-issued driver license or ID to vote by mail.
- Acceptance of mail ballots postmarked on or before Election Day and received up to 10 days after Election Day.
- At least two weeks of early in-person voting.
- Online mail ballot tracking.
- Ballot drop boxes.
- Allowance for voters to cast ballots by mail without notary or enhanced witness requirements.
Just two states — Illinois and Washington — checked all 10 boxes. Washington already employed all 10 practices, whereas Illinois adopted several of them this year. Conversely, Alabama received the worst grade out of the 39 states, notching just two checkmarks.
Most states (15) fell into the middle, "restrictive" category, meaning they checked six or seven boxes. Thirteen states offered eight or more of these voting practices and were deemed "least restrictive," while 11 states had five or less and were labeled "most restrictive."
This legislative session, nine states made changes to their voting rules in ways that met CLC's expectations, which earned them a higher score in the report: Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia and Utah. However, seven states made changes downgrading their scores: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Louisiana.
The Campaign Legal Center notes that it judged states by the existence of certain vote-by-mail and early voting policies, but not by the efficacy of those policies. Even if the policy looks good on paper, it could still result in substantial burdens on certain groups voters.
"Voters of color across the country fall victim to laws of general applicability that do not address the unique burdens they face, such as limited mailing access and distant — or nonexistent — early voting locations in their communities," the report says. "Many of these states still have much work to do to promote the freedom to vote for all voters despite their relatively high grades."
For instance, many of the states that received high grades for their expansive vote-by-mail policies have large Native American populations who lack adequate access to mailboxes, post offices, mailing addresses and transportation.
And in the places where mail voting rules were tightened, Black voters were disproportionately impacted. Three states with some of the largest Black populations in the country rolled back their vote-by-mail policies: Alabama (28 percent Black), Georgia (33 percent Black) and Louisiana (33 percent Black).
Lack of voter education about recent voting changes is also a significant problem, said Aklima Khondoker, chief legal officer at the New Georgia Project, which partnered with the Campaign Legal Center on this report.
"On a very real level in the state of Georgia we have widespread voter confusion, not only to our voters but our boards of elections and the way that they conduct their elections," Khondoker said. "We have our underserved and underseen communities — our youth voters, our disabled voters — who now have additional worry when it comes to casting their ballots because there is no comprehensive voter education available to them."
Many of these issues, the report notes, would be ameliorated by federal legislation, namely the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Nearly every state included in the report would have laws preempted by the sweeping election reform provisions included in the For the People Act. And 11 states would likely be subject to preclearance — meaning their election laws would need advance approval from the Justice Department — if the VRAA was enacted.
While House Democrats passed the For the People Act in March, its progress has stalled in the Senate. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said late Tuesday that a revised version of the legislation would be voted on in mid-September, when the Senate returns from recess. However, it's likely to still face opposition from the GOP, which can block the bill through a filibuster. And the VRAA has yet to be introduced in this Congress, although Democrats have signaled it is a priority.
"Federal intervention would have succeeded in preventing dozens of states from passing laws this year that severely curtail millions of Americans' freedom to vote. Voting rights legislation must be passed urgently by Congress when they return from recess before more damage is done," said Caleb Jackson, legal counsel for voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center and a co-author of the report. "Our democracy works best when all voters are able to exercise the freedom to vote in safe and accessible elections."
Beyond congressional action, there are still ways the federal government can promote voting access. In March, President Biden issued an executive order asking agencies to evaluate how they can, within their purview of the law, encourage voter registration and participation. As the deadline for agencies to submit their plans approaches, the CLC has provided guidance on best practices for promoting voter access.
One year gone, but the fight lives on. Civil rights leader and Rep. John Lewis died on July 17, 2020.
Over his decades of service, Congressman Lewis called on people to get into good trouble as he fought for equal rights and better voting access for all. Championing voting rights for the Black community was a major issue for Lewis and he inspired many to fight for their right to vote alongside him. RepresentUs reminds us that now more than ever, we must honor John Lewis by protecting the precious right to vote, and get in good trouble.
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.
So far this year 35 anti-voter bills have been enacted across 18 states, according to the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab. In its report, RepresentUs identified 27 of them as "especially worrying and underpublicized cases."
Here are some of the recently enacted voting changes you may have missed:
Arkansas and Iowa have limited in-person early voting options. Voting by mail and access to ballot drop boxes have also been restricted in five states: Arkansa, Idaho, Iowa, Montana and Wyoming.
Additionally, a handful of states have adopted tougher rules for voter identification, including requiring an affidavit to cast a provisional ballot (Arkansas) and mandating photo ID at the polls (Montana and Wyoming).
Three states — Arizona, Kansas and Kentucky — have all reduced the power the secretary of state has over elections. For instance, a new law in Arizona gives the attorney general the authority to defend state election laws, rather than the secretary of state.
Seven states have rolled back or completely prohibited local and state election officials from using private money for election administration. This came in response to the Center for Tech and Civic Life, funded by Mark Zuckerberg, providing $350 million in grants for last year's elections. Banning such funds could make paying for elections difficult when help from the federal government is lacking.
Several states have also made changes to the voter registration process. Arizona and Iowa have ramped up their voter roll maintenance, which could inadvertently disqualify eligible voters. Iowa also cut its registration period by four days. Montana will no longer allow residents to register and vote on Election Day. And voters in Utah will now have less time to update their party affiliation before a primary election.
More voting changes are sure to come, though, as legislative sessions, regular and special, are still ongoing in 17 states and Washington, D.C.
As American politics has become more divisive over the past few decades, the country has also become more racially segregated.
More than 80 percent of the large metropolitan areas in the United States were more segregated in 2019 than they were in 1990, according to a new study by the University of California at Berkeley's Othering & Belonging Institute. Released last week, "The Roots of Structural Racism: Twenty-First Century Racial Residential Segregation in the United States" found that this increased segregation has contributed to poorer life outcomes, especially for people of color.
Areas with more racial segregation also had higher levels of political polarization, the study found. These divisions could play a huge role in how severe this round of gerrymandering is as states will soon redraw election maps for the new decade.
The Othering & Belonging Institute's study refutes the prevailing perception that the United States has become more integrated since the civil rights era. While metropolitan areas overall have become more diverse over the years, the neighborhoods within them are now highly segregated.
This racial residential segregation, the study found, will likely make it easier for politicians to use gerrymandering techniques like "packing" and "cracking" to draw election districts to their party's advantage.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 made it illegal for states to draw maps in ways that dilute the voting power of protected minority communities. And in 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering was an issue best litigated in state courts.
While racial gerrymandering remains unconstitutional, it can still occur when it becomes conflated with partisan gerrymandering, said Stephen Menendian, the study's lead researcher of the study and assistant director of the institute.
"Regions and states that have a lot of racial residential segregation make it much easier for state legislatures to draw boundaries in ways that are ostensibly political gerrymanders but actually racial gerrymanders," he said.
For instance, Menendian said, the state legislators in charge of mapmaking can make assumptions about which political party will draw voters from people of certain races, and then draw district lines accordingly.
Severe partisan gerrymandering leads to a disparity in political representation. One party may receive a majority of the votes in an election, but end up as the minority in the state legislature or Congress because of map manipulation. And this issue has only become more acute with modern technology.
"In 1890 you didn't have a computer that allowed you to generate literally thousands of scenarios in a minute, and then select the most fine point scenario that allowed you to maximize your political advantage," Menendian said. "It's basically politicians selecting voters, rather than the other way around."
Gerrymandering has larger implications on policies, including those related to ballot access, that are enacted at the state and federal levels. To make the mapmaking process more fair and representative, some states have adopted independent or hybrid commissions. However, politicians still have control over a majority of the state legislative and congressional maps.
Advocates for congressional term limits have an easy target: representatives and senators so easily reelected that they can elevate their own and their donors' interests above those of their voters. Adding to this worry over real or perceived self-interest, with or without actual corruption, is concern about our long-serving elected leaders' reduced capacities to govern as they age.
But the advocates – whether good-government reformers, conservative originalists, thoughtful independents, or combinations of the three – keep missing the bull's eye. And they miss by a decade or more. They anchor their proposals with a two-term limit in the Senate, which they should consider doubling if they want positive governing change.
Such 12-year limits have dominated congressional term-limit proposals ever since they began emerging in the latter half of the last century. The problem targeted decades ago was congressional "rigidity" or "inertia;" today it is swampiness. Now as well as then, such short limits would fail to fix the problem and would cause serious additional harm.
First, limiting congressional tenure to a dozen years would shift governing and policy expertise outside the institution; further empowering lobbyists and special interests would serve neither representational nor national interests. Second, such short tenures, combined with periodic partisan rotation of institutional control, would weaken the legislative branch internally and diminish its ability to check the executive branch. (There are additional drawbacks as well.)
So where does the real tenure problem lie? With the long-serving veterans who choose not to leave. Their extended service constrains the institution's succession pathways and, more frequently than anyone likes to acknowledge, produces less skilled governance. Limits of four Senate terms would address both challenges.
We must first deflate the notion of citizen legislators, who serve the nation briefly before returning to their states to continue their careers. This was the norm before the Civil War, when 40% of Representatives would not run for reelection after any given Congress. The 20th Century, particularly after WWII, saw the importance of the federal government grow and careers in Washington become attractive. Since 1900, the share of members not running for reelection averaged just 11.5%.
But such careerism is not the problem. The country's development and the nature of its challenges require that national effort and expertise be deployed. Rather, it is the unwillingness of senior members to relinquish power.
By the end of the 19th Century, only nine people elected to Congress had ever served 30 years or more; at the start of the 21st Century, fully 5% and then 6% of the institution – 28 members in 2007, rising to 34 in 2009 – was made up of 30+-year veterans. Today, seven percent of Senators have reached the three-decade threshold and the average age of all Senators is over 64, the highest ever.
What's wrong with such long tenures and the Senators' correspondingly advanced ages? First, less-than-capable leadership does become more common. Recall your reaction to seeing eight-term Senator Patrick Leahy preside over the second Trump impeachment trial, or the contributions of now seven-term Senator Charles Grassley or six-termer Diane Feinstein during the Judiciary Committee's last two confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justices. Second, our more senior members of Congress can be a bit out of touch; think of their questions about Facebook's operation during Mark Zuckerberg's testimony in 2018.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, such senior senators block the ascension of three- and four-term colleagues who are fully capable of leading the body. A two-term limit in the Senate would only penalize the now ready, able, and too-long waiting senators who have no path through the logjam at the top.
The challenge in the House is similar, where Representatives Pelosi (serving her 18th term), Hoyer (his 20th) and Clyburn (15th) have sat atop the Democratic leadership for nearly two decades (since 2003). You need not oppose their reign to ask if others could run the institution. Chris Van Hollen, for example, was serving his seventh term in the House in 2015 and, an already-risen star, could have become Speaker after Pelosi. But his blocked path made his choice to mount an ultimately successful run for the Senate easier, a genuine loss for the House (notwithstanding its gain of Jamie Raskin, his successor).
Hence my call for term limits of more than two decades' service, e.g., four terms in the Senate and 10 to 12 in the House. Such limits need vetting, of course; perhaps three or even five terms would work in the Senate, or, as advocated by Rep. Bill Frenzel fifty years ago, nine terms in the House. Only passing consideration need be given to limits instead on party leadership positions, since they would do nothing about long tenures' other problems and would remain comparatively easy to change – by self-interested veteran legislators. As for exceptions for future lions of the Senate, like the nine-term Ted Kennedy, very few could be allowed if necessary politically, but they could be considered later in the review process.
The key is to get off the two-Senate-term mistake promoted by the Congressional Term Limit Caucus, presidential candidates from Donald Trump in 2016 to Beto O'Rourke and Tom Steyer in 2020, or Senator Ted Cruz earlier this year.
The tangible benefits of a Congress made less sclerotic by longer term limits aren't easy to entertain when so many immediate election reform challenges command our attention. Additionally, there is the question of whether they are worth the effort to amend the Constitution, which imposing any term limit would require.
But our core electoral structure is eroding and, like your favorite underappreciated bridge or critical pipe, needs repair if not replacement. Vetting and debating longer term limits would get us one step closer to addressing this foundational issue, which, whether in years or decades, will demand our attention and action.