ATLANTA, Ga. — It has been an unprecedented year for new voting laws. Some make it easier to cast a ballot, but others make voting more difficult.
Eliza Sweren-Becker is the voting rights and election council at the Brennan Center for Justice. It's a group that’s been looking at the changes closely.
“That volume of voting restrictions is really unprecedented," Sweren-Becker said. “Unfortunately, the states that are making it harder to vote tend to be states where it is already very hard to vote. And the states that are making it easier to vote are states in which voting is already fairly accessible.”
Twenty-five states have passed at least 62 laws with provisions to expand voting access. However, Sweren-Becker says this does not balance the scales. Nineteen states have passed at least 33 laws this year that make it harder to vote. She says those voters are likely to notice a difference.
Stephanie Ali, the policy director for the New Georgia Project, is dealing with the fallout firsthand.
“So we’re seeing this very small, death by a thousand paper cuts, way of keeping people from being able to have their vote counted, and even worse they may not even realize it didn’t count," Ali said.
Throughout the 2021 state legislative sessions, there have been more than 425 bills with provisions that restrict voting access introduced. Four states – Iowa, Georgia, Kansas and Texas – have imposed new or more stringent criminal penalties on election officials or other individuals.
“The worst part of all these things is that they're administrative, they're on the processing end, they're on the application side. We’re not going to realize that these things have happened until it’s too late," Ali said.
She says Georgia lawmakers have made mail voting and early voting more difficult. A new voter ID requirement could also keep a quarter million people away from the polls because they don't have a Georgia ID card. Other changes are more subtle.
“Not being able to give out water, not being able to give out food, is so noticeable, and such a big thing that’s going to grab attention, but there’s actually five new criminations for voting in SB202, many of which happen in the privacy of someone’s home," Ali said.
Georgia leaders say the rules actually expand access. The new laws expand weekend voting in some regions, and require state officials to keep voting lines under an hour. But Ali believes the laws do far more harm than good.
“It’s really just going to nickel and dime the way that they are able to vote. Instead of just seeing a huge sweeping change when they first go to the ballot box like they might expect, it’s actually going to be little things that stop them up every single time," Ali said.
“And that kind of voter suppression is best dealt with at the federal level, and that’s why Congress has to act," Sweren-Becker said.
Voting advocates are pushing two bills in Congress. The first is the Freedom to Vote Act. It’s a comprehensive package of voting, redistricting and campaign finance reforms. It also includes national standards for voting that would ensure access to the ballot across state lines.
“Provisions that have been very successful when enacted in states across the country, red and blue, so these are policies that have been tried and true," Sweren-Becker said.
The second is the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It would prevent changes to voting rules that discriminate on the basis of race or from being implemented. It would also restore voters' robust ability to challenge discriminatory laws.
"Those two bills are essential to fighting back against this wave of state voter suppression," Sweren-Becker said.