In Texas, it’s now a crime for election workers to send absentee ballot applications to voters who didn’t request them. In Georgia, most voters who show up at the wrong polling places on Election Day will be turned away – instead of permitted to cast provisional ballots.
And in Florida, a new law makes it harder for voters to continue receiving ballots by mail and limits the availability of drop boxes.
Measures that Senate Democrats are slated to consider this week aim to counter these laws and a slew of others passed in Republican-controlled states in the last year.
Among other things, they would make Election Day a federal holiday, set minimum national standards for voting by mail and restore requirements that states seek federal approval for changes to their electoral practices that could harm minority voters.
The chief goal, supporters say: Make it easier for all Americans – regardless of which states they live in – to vote.
But the package of voting measures appears on course to fail in the Senate in the face of unanimous opposition from Republicans, who call it a partisan power grab. And the continued reluctance of two moderate Democratic senators – Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin – to change the Senate’s filibuster rules has dimmed hopes of the voting overhaul ever becoming law.
What is under consideration?
The Senate plans to consider a measure that combines two preexisting bills: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.
The John Lewis bill, named for the late Georgia congressman, focuses on restoring the power of the federal government to oversee state voting procedures to prevent discrimination against minority voters. A pair of Supreme Court rulings have eroded the key portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and this proposal would update the landmark law.
The Freedom to Vote Act is a more sweeping measure that would affect how Americans register to vote and cast their ballots.
In addition to making Election Day a federal holiday, it would:
- Mandate that states that require voter identification accept a broader range of ID. It also allows a voter to submit a sworn statement from another adult attesting to the voter’s identity.
- Allow voters to use ballot drop boxes, a method popularized in 2020 to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. About 41% of people who voted absentee in the 2020 election used drop boxes, according to the Pew Research Center. Lawmakers in several states, including Georgia, Florida and Iowa, have restricted their use. A new Georgia law, for instance, limits the number and location of drop boxes. In populous Fulton County, the number of drop boxes available to voters went from 38 in 2020 to eight in municipal elections last year. And a top Republican in the state has proposed banning their use altogether.
- Establish nationwide vote-by-mail rules. Voters would not need an excuse – such as illness or travel – to vote by mail. Once voters opt to receive ballots by mail, they would remain on a permanent vote-by-mail list, unless they asked to be removed or were no longer eligible to vote in the state. This provision would counter new laws in states such as Florida, which now requires voters to request mail ballots every general election cycle or roughly every two years.
- Allow people to register to vote and cast ballots at the same time. Twenty states and Washington, DC, already do so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. States also would have to make it easier to register to vote online.
- Permit voter registration forms to also serve as absentee ballot applications, circumventing restrictions on mailing out absentee ballot applications to voters who didn’t specifically request them. Under a law enacted last year in Texas, election officials face jail time and up to $10,000 fines for soliciting the “submission of an application to vote by mail from a person who did not request an application.”
- Require states to count provisional ballots as long as they are cast in the correct counties. Under Georgia’s voting law enacted in 2021, for instance, voters who show up at the wrong polling places before 5 p.m. on Election Day must travel to the correct locations to cast their ballots. During the 2020 election, 66% of provisional ballots accepted in Fulton County had come from voters casting ballots at the wrong precincts.
- Allow third-party groups to give water and food to voters waiting in line to cast ballots – as long as they aren’t engaging in electioneering activities or otherwise trying to sway votes.
- Restore federal voting rights to felons once they are released from prison. State laws vary widely on when people convicted of felonies can vote.