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Protesters rally to demand protection for voting rights on the 58th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in Washington, D.C, on August 28, 2021. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds//AFP via Getty Images)

The Battle to Protect Voting Rights Continues

As some states restrict voting rights, others expand them. The fight for the future of elections is on.

2021 was a bad year for voting rights. Now state legislatures have returned for their sessions. What will 2022 bring? Early returns are not encouraging.

It can be easy to lose sight of another trend, this one positive: in some states, lawmakers are seeking to widen access to the vote.

Today, the Brennan Center published our Voting Laws Roundup, which catalogs legislative assaults on voting rights around the country. As of January 14, legislators in 27 states have introduced, pre-filed, or carried over 250 bills with restrictive provisions, compared to 75 such bills in 24 states a year ago. That’s a tripling of proposals to restrict the vote. The bills would reduce access to mail ballots, limit or eliminate same-day voter registration, require proof of citizenship to vote or register, or make it harder for people with disabilities to vote. 

Equally worrying, lawmakers also aim to increase partisan interference in election administration. Legislators in thirteen states have pre-filed or introduced 41 such bills. Some would give the state legislature the ultimate power to reject election results. Others threaten election officials with civil or criminal penalties or place partisan actors in charge of vote counting. 

It can be easy to lose sight of another trend, this one positive: in some states, lawmakers are seeking to widen access to the vote. Officials in at least 32 states have introduced, pre-filed, or carried over 399 bills that expand voting access, compared to 286 such bills in 30 states a year ago. In some states, bad bills and good bills jostle for support.  

For decades, voting rights have been a national goal, their protection a national obligation. Now the Voting Rights Act is gutted by the Supreme Court, Congress cannot pass vital legislation, and the Big Lie has taken hold. Some states are moving backwards, even as other states aim to build a modern and inclusive democracy. If we do not want to find ourselves a house divided, we must renew the drive to make our democracy a national mission again.

© 2021 Brennan Center for Justice

Michael Waldman

Michael Waldman is President of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, a nonpartisan law and policy institute that focuses on improving the systems of democracy and justice.

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