What is going on with voting laws in United States?
By Sydnie Balcer
SWOSU professor Heather Katz discusses the new voting legislation is appearing all over the U.S., and some is being taken to the Supreme Court.
Since the 2020 presidential election, Republicans and Democrats have battled over whether to impose legislation restricting access to voting due to concerns of voter fraud or to expand voting rights to prevent voter discrimination.
The two items of legislation making headlines in 2021 are the For the People Act and Georgia’s Election Integrity Act of 2021.
For the People Act
The For the People Act is federal legislation being proposed by U.S. Democrats that would address “voter access, election integrity and security, campaign finance, and ethics for the three branches of government.”
The bill was originally proposed in 2019 and was blocked by Senate Republicans after passing in the House of Representatives. It has been reintroduced in 2021 as a response to proposed voting restrictions in several states since the 2020 presidential election.
Georgia, Michigan, Texas, Florida, and Arizona have proposed legislation that would restrict access to voting in varying capacities, which supporters say will combat voter fraud.
The For the People Act includes measures to ensure election security, which would require all voting machines used in federal elections to be made in the U.S. and would require the preservation of paper ballots for recounts and audits.
The portion of the For the People Act that covers voter access would require states to offer same-day voter registration, offer an early-voting period of at least two weeks, offer online voter registration, among other provisions. It would also make Election Day a federal holiday.
The bill would also impose restrictions on campaign finance; require presidents, vice presidents, and presidential and vice presidential candidates to release the previous 10 years of their tax returns; and prevents partisan gerrymandering.
Heather Katz, SWOSU political science assistant professor, said the For the People Act would fundamentally change voting patterns in the U.S.
“It has the wishlist of everyone who wants to democratize voting,” Katz said. “It is awe-inspiring in terms of this idea that people who want to vote should be able to.”
Despite its seemingly bipartisan goals, Republicans have been critical, and the bill passed narrowly in the House of Representatives with a vote of 220-210.
Katz said that while the bill will make it to the Senate floor, it will likely not pass due to Republican use of the filibuster. Filibuster is an “informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions.”
The Election Integrity Act of 2021
The Georgia voting legislation, SB 202 or The Election Integrity Act of 2021, made headlines for making it a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, to give food or water to voters waiting in line within 150 feet of polling places and for allowing state officials to oversee and remove local election officials.
The bill also shortens the period to request and mail in absentee ballots, creates additional identification requirements for sending in mail-in ballots, expands early voting access, and shortens the period for runoffs from nine weeks to four weeks.
Katz said the voting laws being introduced and making headlines are a direct result of the 2020 elections, which included a close senate race in Georgia that resulted in a runoff vote and a Democratic win.
“Georgia is turning purple,” Katz said. “More people there are voting, and black women were instrumental in that.”
The bill’s proposal is being discussed along with voting legislation surfacing in Arizona, Florida, Michigan and Texas, as they also impose different degrees of voter restriction. Most supporters of the restrictions cite issues of voter fraud as the primary reasons they are necessary; however, there has not been substantial evidence for the claims made following the 2020 presidential election.
Cases of reported voter impersonation in the 2012 general election, in fact, were “indistinguishable from that reporting abduction by extraterrestrials” according to one 2014 study published by the Election Law Journal.
Since SB 202’s passing on March 25, three lawsuits have been filed by civil rights groups that allege the voting restrictions will disproportionately affect voters of color and qualifies as illegal discrimination.
“The law is driven by blatant racism, represents politics at its very worst, and is clearly illegal,” said Deputy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project Sophia Lakin. “We urge the court to act swiftly to strike it down.”
If the For the People Act were to be passed, which Katz said she believes is unlikely, it would have an effect on the voting laws being passed at the state level.
“It seems to have an open door to small policies,” Katz said, “because anything that would result in a racially decisive result would be forbade.”
Supreme Court Cases
The U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing a case early this summer regarding two of the voter restrictions introduced in Arizona, which would require election officials to discard ballots cast at the wrong precincts and would make it a crime for anyone other than a family member or caregiver to deliver another person’s early ballot.
The court case calls into question whether the Arizona voting laws violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was meant to combat laws that discriminate against minorities and had some provisions scaled back in 2013 with Shelby County v. Holder due to Section 4(b) being considered an unconstitutional law that was no longer necessary.
Should the Arizona laws be upheld by the Supreme Court, it would make challenging other types of election-restricting legislation more difficult.
Katz said that if the For the People Act were to be passed, it would likely end up in the Supreme Court because it would set a new federal voting standard from the Voting Rights Act.