2021 Round-Up: Efforts To Restrict Voting in the States

A vintage theater marquee sign that says "GOP LEGISLATIVE THEATRE...CLOSED FOR THE SUMMER"

State legislatures are beginning to wrap up their 2021 sessions (yes, that means many are already done with the bulk of their legislating for the year). Some states will return after the summer, and some will call special sessions over the next few months to wrap up unfinished business. As states spent the spring establishing new voter suppression laws, we can expect the summer to be filled with lawsuits challenging these laws before the next election. Many states have already been sued; you can keep up with all voting litigation on our Cases page here. Let’s take a second to look back at the damage state Republicans have done to voting rights over the first half of 2021.

In total, there have been 408 voter suppression bills proposed in state legislatures as of May 19. 25 have been signed into law so far.
Here’s a rundown of the provisions we’re seeing proposed by Republicans across the country to limit access to the ballot box.

3 states have banned “line-warming.”

In their omnibus voter suppression bills, both Georgia and Florida banned the distribution of food and water to voters in line by anyone except poll workers. This move is designed to compound the existing inequalities of access to the ballot box; line-warming is much more necessary in areas where wait times to vote are high, and those areas tend to be minority neighborhoods in states like Georgia and Florida. (Read our Data Dive on disparate wait times in Georgia here.) This ban on food and water distribution does what Republicans do best: targeting restrictions in order to further inconvenience the voters already facing the highest barriers (and who don’t tend to vote conservative). 

34 bills in 15 states would limit early voting.

Bills to limit early voting have been proposed in half the legislatures across the country. In Arkansas, Senate Bill 485 would have eliminated early voting on the Monday before Election Day, the day that over 50,000 voters cast their ballots last year. The bill failed in the House. Texas’s House Bill 2293 would restrict early voting to between the hours of 6:00AM and 9:00PM — a deliberate attack on the 24-hour early voting sites set up by Harris County in 2020 that led to record turnout and expanded ballot access for people who worked long daytime hours and could not get time off. The bill is pending in the House Elections Committee.

And Iowa’s Senate File 413 shortened the state’s early voting period by nine days (the bill was signed by Governor Reynolds, and is currently being challenged in court). Whether it’s limiting the window in which people can vote early, cutting the most popular early voting day from the calendar or rolling back expanded hours that allowed voters with the least flexible schedules to have their voices heard, Republicans know that early voting is key to expanding voting access, and they’re determined to reign it in. 

198 bills in 41 states would restrict absentee voting.

Every state that considered voter suppression legislation this year saw a bill proposed that would restrict absentee voting. South Dakota’s House Bill 1245 would have slashed the state’s absentee return period by 15 days, to 30 days down from 45. The bill died in committee. Georgia considered, but didn’t pass, Senate Bill 241, a bill that would have repealed the state’s long-standing no excuse absentee policy.

And Arizona’s Senate Bill 1593 would require absentee ballots to be postmarked six days before Election Day in order to be counted — almost a full week less than voters casting ballots in person have to vote. Ballots mailed later than the Thursday before Election Day would be thrown out, one of the most restrictive absentee proposals in the country. The bill was retained in committee — so it’s on hold for now. Like early voting, absentee voting significantly expands who is able to cast a ballot. Conveniently, after a year that saw record use by Democrats of absentee voting, Republicans want to make it harder — through shorter return timelines, heightened eligibility requirements and arbitrary postmark deadlines. 

54 bills in 18 states have proposed new voter roll purges.

Voter roll purges are a favorite tactic of Republicans: under the guise of enhancing election security and improving the convenience of election administration, they can remove thousands of eligible voters from the rolls and require voters to re-register in order to have their voices heard. The re-registration process can be complicated, easily discourage turnout and be time consuming and costly for voters who should have already been all set to go on Election Day. In Arizona, Republicans have eliminated their Permanent Early Voter List (which guaranteed any eligible person on it would be sent an absentee ballot every election) and replaced it with an Active Early Voter List, which would require voters to cast a ballot at least once every two election cycles in order to automatically receive a mail ballot. 

85 bills in 32 states want stricter voter ID laws.

Heightened voter ID requirements can take many forms, but they all have the same goal: to make it harder for students, poor voters and voters of color to vote. It’s a tried and tested Republican suppression tactic, and in 2021 it isn’t slowing down.

In New Hampshire, where state Republicans have been attacking student voting rights for years, the proposed bill, House Bill 292, would add an additional ID requirement if an absentee ballot is being sent anywhere other than the address the voter has on file with their clerk — a clear disadvantage for students who move frequently, return home often and otherwise have impermanent addresses. The bill has had a public hearing and is awaiting committee recommendation. Montana’s Governor signed into law Senate Bill 169, a bill that requires anyone without a state, military or tribal photo ID or passport to provide two forms of ID. The bill removed student IDs from the list of accepted single-source IDs, but added conceal carry permits. (Montana is being sued over its new voter ID provisions.)

And Arkansas enacted House Bill 1112, requiring all voters to bring a valid ID with them to the polls on Election Day. The bill is being challenged in a lawsuit. Voter ID laws establish additional, unnecessary barriers to voting for citizens who already face uphill battles to have their voices heard. 

Now what?

The volume of voter suppression bills proposed in state legislatures this year has been unprecedented. And even though they did not all get passed into law, one thing is clear: Republicans are determined to make it even harder to cast a ballot in 2022, despite state election officials pulling off a historic election in the midst of a pandemic with no documented cases of voter fraud in 2021.

The GOP’s determination to make it harder to vote in this country will be met with significant push back from voting rights advocates, Democrats and voters across the country — and as we enter the second half of the year, we’re prepared to keep up the fight and ensure every voter has their voice heard.