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American voters cast their ballots during an election. (Photo: Kenny Karpov/ACLU)

American voters cast their ballots during an election. (Photo: Kenny Karpov/ACLU)

Amidst a Wave of Voter Suppression Bills, Some States Expand Access to the Ballot

"Voter suppression is only half of the story. In contrast, many other states have learned lessons from the successes of the 2020 election and are seeking to expand access to the ballot."

The struggle for the right to vote is underway at state legislatures throughout the country. Following record voter turnout in the 2020 election, politicians are drumming up false concerns and baseless conspiracies about widespread voter fraud to justify suppressing the right to vote. More than 250 voter suppression bills have been introduced in 45 states. These bills seek to make it more difficult for people to register to vote, vote by mail, or vote in person.

But voter suppression is only half of the story. In contrast, many other states have learned lessons from the successes of the 2020 election and are seeking to expand access to the ballot. Here are some of the most significant developments at state legislatures this year.

In Georgia, every method of casting a ballot is under attack

On March 30, the ACLU and civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit against Georgia's newly enacted sweeping law that makes it much harder for all Georgians to vote, particularly voters of color, new citizens, and religious communities. The law being challenged is S.B. 202, which was passed by the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in under seven hours on March 25.

The lawsuit challenges multiple provisions in S.B. 202, including the:

  • Ban on mobile voting;
  • New narrow identification requirements for requesting and casting an absentee ballot;
  • Delayed and compressed time period for requesting absentee ballots;
  • Restrictions on secure drop boxes;
  • Out-of-precinct provisional ballot disqualification;
  • Drastic reduction in early voting in runoff elections; and, perhaps most cruelly,
  • The ban on "line warming," where volunteers provide water and snacks to Georgians, disproportionately those of color, who wait in needlessly long lines to cast their vote.

These elected officials' actions follow the 2020 presidential election and the 2021 runoff elections for two seats to the U.S. Senate that saw record turnout of voters, particularly Black voters, in Georgia. The ACLU, ACLU of Georgia, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and law firms WilmerHale and Davis Wright Tremaine brought the case on behalf of the Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Georgia Muslim Voter Project, Women Watch Afrika, Latino Community Fund Georgia, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Iowa passes voter suppression bill limiting early voting and vote by mail

The governor of Iowa signed voter suppression legislation earlier this month that will greatly damage access to the ballot. The law cuts nine days of early voting, shortens the timeline for requesting and returning an absentee ballot, and requires that poll places close an hour earlier on Election Day. This bill was supported by politicians that could not provide a single case of voter fraud that the bill would prevent. A new poll shows a majority of Iowans oppose the new voting restrictions.

Florida bill seeks to severely restrict access to vote by mail

Nearly 5 million Floridians cast their ballots by mail in 2020, and more than 1.5 million used a drop-box to return their ballot. As a direct response to this voter participation, the Florida legislature is considering legislation that will require voters to submit vote-by-mail applications more often than is currently required and make it a crime for a friend or caregiver to assist a voter in returning their ballot.

In Montana, registration and voting may become much more difficult, especially for Indigenous and rural voters

The ACLU, ACLU of Montana, and Native American Rights Fund (NARF) partnered last year to sue the state of Montana over a law that made it more difficult for Indigenous people living on rural reservations to access the ballot. The law would have effectively ended ballot collection efforts. Now, the legislature is considering passing a nearly identical bill.

Additionally, the Montana legislature is considering a bill that would end Election Day registration. In 2016, over 12,000 Montanans—4.5% of all registration applicants—were able to register and cast a ballot on Election Day.

Kentucky, Delaware, and Vermont are poised to expand access to the ballot

After learning beneficial lessons from the 2020 election, the Kentucky legislature is positioned to expand access to the ballot. The Kentucky Senate has approved a bill that will offer the opportunity to vote early to all voters in Kentucky. If passed, Kentucky will join 43 states and Washington, D.C. in providing in-person early voting.

In Delaware, the general assembly is considering a variety of measures to improve access to the ballot. Automatic voter registration and same-day registration will be considered this session. Additionally, many state legislators are pushing to amend the state constitution to allow no-excuse absentee voting, which will open the door to permanent vote by mail options for Delawareans.

The Vermont Senate recently passed a bill that would allow for universally mailed ballots to be sent to every active registered voter. If passed, Vermont would be the sixth state in the nation to adopt this policy.

The ACLU is combating legislation to suppress the right to vote in state legislatures, while at the same time advocating for policies that will expand access to the ballot. We need no excuse absentee voting, same day registration, automatic voter registration, and access to in-person early voting for every eligible voter. We won't stop fighting until every eligible voter can cast their ballot. Let people vote!


© 2021 ACLU
Bobby Hoffman

Bobby Hoffman

Bobby Hoffman is the Advocacy & Policy Counsel for Voting Rights at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

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