Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this week capped off a year of major election reforms across America by signing hotly debated legislation after a prolonged drama that saw Democratic legislators flee the state in a bid to prevent its passage.
Texas, with its Republican governor, is among at least 18 states to enact election reform measures this year, including bills to require voter ID, curb the controversial practice of ballot harvesting, and remove the dead and other ineligible voters from registration rolls.
Organizations that tallied the election changes include the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonpartisan group representing state lawmakers, and the Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal group opposed to voter ID laws and the upkeep of voter registration.
“State legislatures finally realized in many states that these holes and vulnerabilities that existed in the system for quite a while need to be fixed,” Hans von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission, told The Daily Signal.
“States like Texas, Georgia, Florida, and other places actually passed some good reforms to fix it,” von Spakovsky said.
Now manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at The Heritage Foundation, parent organization of The Daily Signal, von Spakovsky noted that many of the state election reforms prevailed despite misleading political attacks.
“[Lawmakers have] done it in the face of totally unfair and outrageous criticism of them, basically saying all kinds of lies about what they were doing,” von Spakovsky, also a member of President Donald Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, said.
The Brennan Center, which is affiliated with the New York University School of Law, characterized the new state laws as “restrictive” measures that would “suppress” voting.
The group announced a lawsuit against the state of Texas, claiming that the objective of the legislation known as SB 1 “is not to prevent voter fraud; it is to retain power in the face of a changing and expanding electorate.”
The 18 revised state election laws could be the most such successful bills since 14 states passed election measures 10 years ago, the Brennan Center said, noting: “The United States is on track to far exceed its most recent period of significant voter suppression—2011.”
Most of the new laws, however, allow more early voting and are less restrictive than election laws in New York, where the Brennan Center is based, von Spakovsky said.
Kansas and Kentucky are the only states with Democratic governors to enact major election reforms, although Nevada saw passage of a modest new law. The Kansas law came only after a veto override.
In most states that acted, a clear partisan divide opened over election reforms, with Republicans backing them and Democrats opposed.
“I think it’s a hopeful sign because I think it finally, maybe, will show that many of the opponents in the political ranks are realizing that the lies they are telling about voter ID aren’t working,” von Spakovsky said of states with Democratic governors.
“Given that the American people overwhelmingly support [voter] ID, that they better finally get onboard and go with what the American people think is a good idea,” he said.
Here is an overview of state election reforms passed so far this year:
A new Arkansas law requires voters who cast provisional ballots to show ID by noon on the Monday after Election Day. These voters previously had only to sign a sworn statement.
A separate law puts stricter limits on ballot harvesting, the practice in which political operatives distribute and collect large quantities of absentee ballots. It also prohibits election officials from distributing unsolicited applications for absentee ballots.
The Grand Canyon State also joined a trend among states by banning private money to pay for election administration. The move largely was in response to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s donating $350 million to election offices across the United States last year.
Another new Arizona law will remove the names of inactive voters from an early-voting list if they have not voted in two consecutive election cycles. And a fourth law requires voters to sign the envelope in which they submit an absentee ballot.
Besides banning private funding of election administration, the law requires voters to request an absentee ballot in order to receive one. It also increases security for ballot drop boxes, which debuted in the 2020 election because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The law establishes guidelines for ballot drop boxes, aims to shorten lines at polling places, and gives a State Election Board more oversight over county election administration.
The measure also prohibits political operatives from offering food, bottled water, or anything of value within 150 feet of polls. Only New York and Montana have similar provisions related to offering food and water in voting lines.
Idaho is among states that responded to Zuckerberg’s big spending on election administration through the left-leaning Center for Tech and Civic Life, which distributed the money.
The Idaho Legislature passed and Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, signed SB 1168, which requires that all state elections be funded only by appropriations from federal, state, or local government entities.
Indiana’s SB 398 prohibits local election jurisdictions from accepting or spending funds that come from private donors for the purpose of running elections. In response to the Zuckerberg donations, the new law specifies only federal, state, and local government money may be used to administer elections.
“A number of states banned private funding of election officials, election offices, which I think was something that happened in the last election [and was] unprecedented—“Zuckerbucks”—[and] raised enormous conflicts of interest and ethical problems for election officials,” von Spakovsky said.
“They have now banned that, which is a good thing,” he added. “No private party, no political candidate, should be able to give money to local election offices in a way that might influence and manipulate the outcome of the election.”
A new law in Iowa, a battleground state in recent presidential elections, requires absentee ballots to arrive at election offices by the close of Election Day to be counted.
The measure also allows fewer early-voting days, dropping the total from 29 to 20.
The Republican-controlled Legislature voted in May to override a veto of the measure by Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat.
Kentucky’s new law increases security for absentee ballots and requires a paper trail for voting machines. It also sets up an online portal for absentee ballot requests and adds three days to in-person early voting, up from the previous 19-day limit.
Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, signed HB 574, which was passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
Louisiana’s new law, known as HB 167, establishes a procedure for election officials to remove dead voters from registration rolls within 30 days of receipt of a death certificate.
One new Montana law requires voters at the polls to present either a state driver’s license, a tribal photo identification card, a state ID card number, or a military ID.
Other new laws in Montana close voter registration at noon the day before an election, restrict paid ballot collectors, and allow local election officials to reduce hours at polling locations with fewer than 400 registered voters who will cast ballots in person, as long as other polling places are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
A measure signed into law by Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, increases the maximum size of an election precinct from 3,000 to 5,000 registered voters.
A new law in New Hampshire, the only New England state to pass election reforms this year, requires the secretary of state to provide information on matches of death records against voter checklists.
Another law requires that those who register to vote on Election Day by using a voter affidavit or sworn statement must also have a photo taken beforehand. The Brennan Center claims the measure is among those that “restricts access to vote.”
A new law in Oklahoma sets a 30-day limit for a county election board to remove dead voters from its registration list. Another law both expands early in-person voting and requires applications for absentee ballots to be received no later than 5 p.m. on the third Monday preceding an election.
A third Oklahoma law allows the State Election Board to participate in multistate organizations that maintain voter lists, such as the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center.
The new Texas law extends early voting hours, prohibits election clerks from mailing out an application for an absentee ballot unless a voter requests one, and bans “drive-through” voting. The measure also requires voter ID for mail-in ballots and safeguards for poll watchers.
The law also requires the Texas secretary of state to use specifics on a driver’s license to “verify the accuracy of citizenship status information previously provided on voter registration applications.”
Utah’s new law, known as HB 12, requires that the names of dead voters be removed from rolls and assigns the state’s lieutenant governor to enforce it.
The Brennan Center described the law and others removing dead people from voter rolls as a “purge.”
A new Wyoming law requires voters to show ID to vote in person. Acceptable forms of identification include a driver’s license, a state or tribal ID, a passport, a military ID, or one from a Wyoming public school, university, or community college.