New year promises more changes to state voting laws

State lawmakers across the country have introduced thousands of bills to change the way elections are conducted after former President Donald Trump wrongly blamed voter fraud for his 2020 defeat. Hundreds became laws.

Even in this year’s midterms, Trump’s campaign supporters have been defeated, with advocates on both sides of the ballot debate bracing for another round of election-related legislation. Republicans are eager to further tighten election rules, while Democrats, who control two other state legislatures, will seek to make voting easier.

Minnesota’s new Democratic secretary of state, Steve Simon, said he had spoken to several state secretaries eager to push for voting change. Losses in top races by candidates who declined to vote have emboldened some Democrats to support expanded voting rights.

“Voters have spoken loud and clear about what they want and don’t want, whether it’s about this office or all these other issues,” said Simon, who beat a Republican who repeated Trump’s lies about the 2020 election challenger.

Democrats won majorities in both chambers of the Minnesota Legislature in November, giving Simon an opportunity to enact change. He wants to urge lawmakers to adopt automatic voter registration and allow high school students to pre-register.

States often make tweaks to their voting laws — some subtle, some dramatic. But experts have never seen the explosion of legislation that followed the 2020 presidential election, when more than 3,600 electoral bills were introduced, according to the Voting Rights Lab, which tracks legislation.

Liz Avore, a senior adviser to the group, said 22 states have expanded voting access over the past few years, 10 states have enacted new restrictions, and five states have expanded voting access in some ways while setting new restrictions in others. obstacle. It’s creating divisions in the U.S., she said, “where your zip code defines your access to our democracy.”

That gap appears likely to widen next year. The legislature won’t be in session until January at the earliest, so it’s unclear how many bills are being drafted and what topics will be covered. But the Texas legislature only meets every two years, and lawmakers can “pre-submit” draft legislation for upcoming sessions, providing a preview.

The Associated Press identified nearly 100 election-related legislative proposals that have been filed in the state, both increasing access to the ballot box and further restricting it. That includes allowing the state’s top attorney to assign a prosecutor to focus on election crimes, testing the boundaries of a court ruling earlier this year that said the attorney general has no authority to prosecute election crimes.

Another would assign a team of sheriffs to act as election marshals to investigate allegations of election-related misconduct. It would emulate Florida, where special election officials have arrested people — including those who wrongly believed they were eligible to vote under a 2018 constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to some felons . Critics have called the department a political tool of the governor.

Matt Simpson, a senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said the state’s current proposed election legislation, such as increasing criminal penalties for election crimes and creating an election marshal, is “extreme” and “very intimidating” to voters. of”. These approaches, he said, were largely political and did not address practical issues related to voting, such as high rejection rates of mail-in ballots and ballot applications due to widespread confusion about the necessary identification numbers.

“There’s certainly not widespread election fraud in Texas,” Simpson said. “These bills, these concerns raised, are looking for solutions to problems.”

An audit report from the Secretary of State’s office released earlier this month highlighted the reliability of the Texas election. A 359-page audit of the 2020 elections in the state’s two largest Democratic and two largest Republican counties found some “irregularities,” but they were mostly related to holding elections during the pandemic.

“In most cases, the audit found that counties followed their procedures and clearly documented their activities,” the audit said.

Ohio is another Republican-controlled state where lawmakers continue to push for restrictions.

The state is likely to gain national attention next year after Republicans said they might try again on the May ballot to introduce a measure that would require a 60 percent majority to pass any future constitutional amendments. The provision could limit the ability of Ohio voters to control Republican gerrymandering or otherwise confront the Republican-majority legislature, such as codifying abortion rights.

Republicans failed to garner enough votes during the lame-duck session in December to set a higher bar for passing the amendment, but they did pass sweeping election law reform. The bill added photo ID requirements for voters and made them free, codified a directive requiring each county to have a ballot box and eliminated early voting on the Monday before Election Day — something county officials have said would interfere with their final preparations. The legislation also shortened the time to receive mail-in ballots after the election from 10 days to four days.

Theresa Gavarone, a Republican state senator, said the measures to tighten access to polling stations and speed up the counting of votes were aimed at improving “perception, confidence and integrity” in the election.

“Guys, perception is important,” Gavarone said. “Believe it or not, our goal should not just be to secure our elections, we must give those who doubt our election results a reason to participate.”

Voting rights advocates were outraged.

“This legislation will make voting unnecessarily difficult for seniors, students, rural Ohioans, active-duty military personnel and other eligible Ohioans,” said Jen Miller, executive director of the Coalition of Women Voters of Ohio.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s office said he was reviewing the legislation.

Democrats are preparing their own push, especially in Michigan and Minnesota, two states where they won control of the legislature and retained the governorship.

Michigan voters not only gave Democrats control of the state legislature, they also passed Proposition 2, a sweeping ballot initiative that expands early and mail-in voting. Democrats are already preparing to strengthen the measure in the legislative session.

“The next term will require quite a bit of implementing legislation, and I look forward to working with the Legislature and the governor’s office to implement that legislation,” Ingham County Clerk Bab Byrum, a Democrat, said in an interview.

Michigan State Department spokesman Jack Rollo said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson may ask lawmakers to allocate $100 million a year for local election offices and propose new measures to prevent the spread of election misinformation. A Democratic state lawmaker also proposed fines for people who pressure election workers, a key reason for Democrats in the state legislature after conspiracy theorists targeted poll officials after the 2020 presidential election.

In Minnesota, Simon said he also wants to increase penalties for threatening or interfering with election workers. He said he would push for a number of other reforms, including pre-registering high school students so they can quickly join the voting roll when they turn 18. Younger voters lean toward Democrats, but Simon said he’s not trying to promote his party.

He said he simply wanted voters to be more reflective of the population, a goal he also pushed when the state legislature was split between Republicans and Democrats.

“These reforms will benefit everyone,” he said.

Associated Press writers Joey Cappelletti in Lansing, Mich., and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.