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Voters on line in Chicago, Illinois

Residents wait in line to vote at an early voting site on October 2, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)"

GOP 'Tidal Wave' of Voter Suppression Set to Intensify in 2022, Analysis Warns

"There are solutions to this alarming and unprecedented attack on our democracy," said the Brennan Center for Justice, calling on the Senate to pass voting rights legislation.

Julia Conley

Republican state lawmakers are showing no signs of slowing down the "tidal wave of restrictive voting legislation" that ramped up across the country in 2021, according to a new analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice on Tuesday that warns such attacks are set to continue or even escalate in the New Year.

"Congress has the power to take bold action now to protect American voters from the kinds of restrictions enacted this year and the looming threats to voters and elections that may be imposed in 2022 and beyond."

The past year saw an undeniable acceleration of the passage of anti-democratic state laws, the Brennan Center reported Tuesday, with state legislatures enacting more voting restrictions in 2021 than in any year since the organization began tracking such laws in 2011. Nineteen states passed 34 restrictive laws between January 1 and December 7.

The analysis points to several categories of anti-voting restrictions, including laws restricting access to voting by mail, new or expanded voter ID requirements, the criminalization of "ordinary, lawful behavior by election officials" who try to help voters, and laws allowing voter purges.

The Brennan Center also highlighted "a new trend" in which "legislators introduced bills to allow partisan actors to interfere with election processes or even reject election results entirely," such as Arizona's H.B. 2720, which would empower state legislatures to reject election results and Texas's S.B. 7, which would allow elected judges to do the same.

Journalist and voting rights expert Ari Berman noted that despite the frenzied race by Republican lawmakers to pass laws they claim are aimed at maintaining "election integrity"—with 440 restrictive voting laws proposed in 2021—zero states have found any evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Looking ahead to 2022, at least 13 bills have been pre-filed in state legislatures in four states—Arizona, Missouri, New Hampshire, and South Carolina—meaning they'll receive top priority when the new legislative session begins.

"These early indicators—coupled with the ongoing mobilization around the Big Lie (the same false rhetoric about voter fraud that drove this year’s unprecedented wave of vote suppression bills)—suggest that efforts to restrict and undermine the vote will continue to be a serious threat in 2022," reported the Brennan Center.

Dozens of what the report called "carryover bills"—which have not reached resolution in 2021 and will be debated next year—focus on restricting voters' access to mail-in voting. Republicans in Pennsylvania and Kansas aim to shorten deadlines for applying for and delivering mail ballots, while Ohio lawmakers will continue debating whether election workers can assist people who return ballots.

Five carryover bills propose criminal penalties for election officials who mail out unsolicited ballots or for individuals who assist voters—including people with disabilities—with returning mail ballots.

Out of at least 74 pre-filed bills, at least seven also target voting by mail, "including shortening the time period in which a mail ballot may be requested, eliminating Covid-19 as an excuse for voting by mail, and expanding the grounds on which an absentee ballot can be rejected." In at least five states, six bills that have been pre-filed for 2022 aim to establish "illegitimate partisan review boards of election results," the group reported.

South Carolina's H.B. 4550, for example, would amend the state's code of laws "to create a joint committee to be known as the 'Restore Election Integrity Now' (REIN) Committee," which would be empowered to review election security, the accuracy of the election process, and other aspects of voting.

"These reviews have typically been designed to set the stage for future efforts to suppress votes and subvert election outcomes," said the Brennan Center, noting that four of the six pre-filed bills focus on continuing "questionable and politically motivated reviews of the 2020 election results" like those that were initiated in six states in 2021, while two would set up review boards for future elections. 

Both are part of "a disturbing legislative trend," said the organization, in which "partisan state legislators have empowered other partisan actors who are not part of the election administration process to access and review ballots and other materials."

The Brennan Center identified several states—including Arizona, Texas, Michigan, Missouri, and Pennsylvania—as "key states to watch" in the coming year, noting that their legislatures have already passed several restrictive bills and are set to try to enact even more.

In Texas, S.B. 1, one of the country's harshest anti-voting laws which "makes it harder for voters with disabilities and language access barriers to obtain assistance, constrains election workers’ ability to stop harassment by poll watchers, and bans 24-hour and drive-thru voting, among other measures," landed the state on the list of key states.

Michigan was also identified as a hotspot for voter suppression in 2022, with anti-voting rights activists organizing a ballot initiative that would impose new requirements on voters such as including the last four digits of their Social Security number on their voter registration or absentee ballot applications.

"There are solutions to this alarming and unprecedented attack on our democracy," noted the Brennan Center. "Congress has the power to take bold action now to protect American voters from the kinds of restrictions enacted this year and the looming threats to voters and elections that may be imposed in 2022 and beyond."

The organization urged the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, both of which have been passed by the House but remain stalled in the Senate due to the filibuster and the Democrats' razor-thin majority.

"These attacks on voting rights will continue in 2022," tweeted the group. "The Senate must protect our democracy."

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