The Supreme Court issued a new ruling on Thursday that upheld two Arizona laws restricting organizations’ ability to collect mail-in ballots as well as invalidating ballots cast in the wrong precinct. Critics say the court’s decision further erodes landmark voting protections codified by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The court’s ruling follows a report finding that as of mid-June, 17 states had passed 28 laws making it harder for constituents to vote in 2021, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law. The report notes that the last year a similar number of laws passed restricting access to the ballot was 2011 — when 14 states had enacted 19 such measures by October.
Eliza Sweren-Becker, a voting rights and elections counsel at the Brennan Center, called the new wave of voting laws “an unprecedented assault on voting rights” as well as “a voter suppression effort we haven’t seen since the likes of Jim Crow.”
The nation’s high court previously gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, when Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a majority opinion arguing that jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting should no longer be subject to oversight from the Department of Justice before effecting changes to their voting laws.
The Brennan Center report attributes this year’s batch of restrictive voting laws to “racist voter fraud allegations behind the Big Lie (a reference to former President Donald Trump’s repeated false claims of a rigged election) and a desire to prevent future elections from achieving the historic turnout seen in 2020.”
Commenting on the former president’s claims of mass voter fraud, Sweren-Becker says, “We know that’s false, but we have officials at the state level passing these laws making it harder for people to vote.”
Some of the specific provisions in these laws that can have a negative impact on voter turnout according to the Brennan Center include restrictions on voting by mail — some 63.9 million ballots had been sent as of Election Day 2020, data from the U.S. Elections Project indicated — challenges to in-person voting, and limitations on the number of mail ballot drop boxes in precincts.
According to Sweren-Becker, Republican lawmakers in state legislatures across the country are capitalizing on Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud to pass these measures.
“What is very clear is that we had a very successful election last year with historic turnout that was certified as one of the safest, most secure elections,” she says. “And we are hearing (about claims of voter fraud) as pretextual motives. … These laws are being enacted in Republican-controlled legislatures, in many cases on purely party-line votes.”
States differ in their structuring of these laws as well.
The report specifically calls out Florida, Georgia and Iowa for passing comprehensive omnibus bills that “undertake a full-fledged assault on voting.” In contrast, certain states including Arkansas and Montana have passed piecemeal voting restrictions through four separate bills each.
Sweren-Becker says advocates are considering two primary avenues to challenge some of these new voting laws: court litigation and federal voting reform legislation.
“Litigation is happening already, in states like Georgia, Iowa, Florida. But that is a piecemeal state-by-state approach,” she says. “And that’s why a federal policy like the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act are so necessary because they will be applicable to people across the country.”
As of mid-June, Senate Democrats were still wrangling the necessary votes to pass either of these voting rights measures in the face of expected unified Republican opposition.
But even as some states face litigation for measures they’ve passed, others still have active legislative sessions where observers worry that more voting restriction measures may follow.
Sweren-Becker says voting rights advocates should focus on pressuring state lawmakers in Pennsylvania — a state with a Republican-controlled legislature that adjourns in December — and Texas, where a special session will begin July 8, after Democrats walked out on a vote for a bill that would increase vote by mail restrictions and limit early voting hours at the end of the regular session.
Despite outcry from Democrats, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has struck a defiant tone on his state’s omnibus voting measure, SB7. In response to a tweet from the Texas Attorney General detailing the booking of a suspect charged with voter fraud, Abbott wrote: “Voter fraud is real and Texas will prosecute it whenever and wherever it happens. We will continue to make it easy to vote but hard to cheat.”
Sweren-Becker says the frenetic pace of this year’s restrictive voting bills — the Brennan Center’s report noted 61 bills with restrictive provisions continuing to move through 18 state legislatures as of June 21 — makes it “essential to pass federal democracy reform that ensures that people can freely and safely cast their ballots.”
And while these bills’ language tends to omit race, Sweren-Becker says that several of their provisions do end up targeting access to the ballot for voters of color.
She notes “the policy in the Texas bill that banned early voting hours during the Sunday before Election Day, which very clearly targets souls to the polls efforts that are clearly organized by Black churches,” as well as increased challenges to voting by mail, “after a wave of increased mail voting last year, and particularly by voters of color and young voters.”
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17 States Have Passed Restrictive Voting Laws This Year, Report Says originally appeared on usnews.com