The Republican-led push to restrict voting continues this year as lawmakers around the country set their sights on changing election laws.
Lawmakers in 12 states have already introduced or pre-filed 96 bills that would make changes to voting laws for the 2022 session, according to an analysis from the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school. That represents a 39% increase in bills from the same time last year, a sign that legislators have not let up on their efforts ahead of the midterms. The bills are part of a concerted effort by Republicans nationwide, who continue to cling to false claims about voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election to clamp down on access to the ballot box.
“It demonstrates that the trend of this being sort of a hot button and top political issue in state legislatures is continuing. And also gives us reason to worry that the passage of these new restrictive laws may also continue,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director of voting rights and elections at Brennan.
Of the total bills this year, more than half aim to make changes to mail-in voting, an option that became popular amid the pandemic as election officials balanced health precautions with ballot access. The bills also deal with increasing or imposing voter ID requirements for in-person voting and registration.
Virginia is leading the push this year, with 34 pre-filed or introduced bills as of mid-January. Last year it was one of a handful of states that moved to expand access to voting, including restoring voting rights to 69,000 former felons, under its then-Democratically controlled state legislature and then-Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat.
But in November, Republicans took back the state House and the executive office, a move that has since led to dozens of voting-related bills being proposed.
Additionally, 13 states have pre-filed and introduced 41 bills that undermine the electoral process, according to Brennan. This includes bills like one in Arizona that would have given the state legislature the power to reject election results. The extreme measure was effectively killed last week by Republican state House Speaker Rusty Bowers.
And, Brennan says, 16 bills have been introduced in eight states that would impose new criminal or civil penalties on election officials for making unintended errors, a trend that some critics of the legislation argue is leading to officials leaving their positions.
Morales-Doyle said it’s early in the year and more bills could still be introduced as legislative sessions progress, but that because of this year’s elections, the bills could have more of a partisan motivation.
“It could be that there’s a lot of political reasons why a legislature might want to introduce a restrictive bill and sponsor it. But that doesn’t mean that the bill is going to go anywhere,” Morales-Doyle told CNN on Wednesday. “There’s more this year than there were last year so we at least have reason to be concerned about what might happen next.”