States push to change voting laws ahead of 2024 election

RICHMOND, Va. (March 7, 2024)—State lawmakers around the United States concerned about the integrity of elections ahead of the 2024 presidential vote have proposed and enacted a significant number of laws regarding voting rights and ballot access.

Voters could face new requirements in 2024

In the shadow of the 2020 presidential election, states enacted more "restrictive" and "expansive" laws related to voting in 2021 and 2023 individually than in any other years in the last decade, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Because of this, voters in 27 states will face new requirements that weren't in place when they voted in 2020.

From outlawing guns in polling places to proposing bills that require the identification of people who deliver advanced ballots on behalf of others, states across the country continue to consider new legislation that modifies the voting process, and imposes new regulations on ballot counting, absentee and early voting, polling places and election workers.

"Generally among legislators at the state and national level, concerns about voter fraud have become more pronounced," said David Kimball, a political science professor at University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Kimball said this sort of legislation has increased since the 2020 election, after then-President Donald Trump made accusations that electronic voting equipment was making mistakes.

For example, at least 13 bills to regulate or ban electronic ballot tabulators were introduced in eight states this year, including Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, and West Virginia, according to Voting Rights Lab data.

Pending legislation in Missouri proposes that all ballots should be cast on paper and hand counted. The bill outlaws the use of automatic tabulating equipment and voting machines, except those needed for accessibility purposes. More than 90% of U.S. election jurisdictions use ballot tabulators, according to the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center.

Ballot-counting scanners are widely used in states like Missouri even though people still vote on paper ballots, Kimball said. Counties will hand-count a random sample of ballots to ensure it matches up with the machines.

"It's not like they're relying entirely on the scanners," Kimball said. "In big, big counties with hundreds of thousands of voters and ballots counted by hand, it's going to take time and can be very frustrating and prone to errors."

No excuses and ballot drop-off

How advanced voting and absentee ballots are handled is a hot-button topic.

Mail-in, advanced and absentee voting are under scrutiny in many states, including Florida, Kansas, Missouri, and Virginia.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 28 states offer "no-excuse" absentee voting, where voters can request and cast an absentee or mail ballot with no excuse or reason necessary.

Florida allows "no excuse" absentee voting, but Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, tried to change that. Ingoglia proposed SB 1752, which would allow voters to cast mail ballots only if they couldn't vote in person because they were out of town during an election, hospitalized or in jail. A similar measure was introduced in Virginia, but also failed to advance.

Ballot drop-off in several states is subject to change, too.

One Kansas bill sparked controversy during its February hearing. HB 2572 mandates personal delivery of a ballot and requires individuals to have their pictures taken and their information recorded when delivering advance voting ballots on behalf of others. Detractors nicknamed this the "mugshot bill." Despite many claiming that absentee ballot voter fraud is negligible, there are documented cases which reached the judicial level. In 2023 a judge ordered a new mayoral primary in Bridgeport, CT after a city employee was caught on video stuffing envelopes into absentee ballot drop boxes on multiple occasions [ ]. In 2020, 4 people were indicted in Gregg County, Texas for illegally obtaining mail-in ballots for people without their permission and used them to sway the 2018 primary election in favor of their candidate [ ].

In Florida, the Republican-led State Affairs Committee proposed a bill that would limit the number of ballot drop-off locations during early voting periods across the state.

Florida's Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis previously banned official ballot drop-off boxes that aren't physically guarded at all times when they're available, which made it more expensive for county election administrators and reduced the number of drop-off locations.

Separately, Florida Republicans required voters to request a new ballot before every election. Before the change, a voter could receive a mail ballot by making a single request every four years. Far more Democrats in Florida cast ballots by mail and during early voting periods, while Republicans tend to show up on Election Day.

A new polling place atmosphere

Polling places and election workers around the country are facing new rules, too.

New Mexico's Senate recently passed a bill, SB 5, that makes bringing a loaded or unloaded gun within 100 feet of a polling place's door while voting takes place a misdemeanor.

SB 5 specifies that law enforcement and concealed carry permit holders are two exceptions. Some conservatives and rural Democrats opposed the bill, and it passed the state House by a single vote.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has until March 6 to sign the bill, which she is expected to do.

The Virginia General Assembly recently passed a similar measure proposed by Del. Irene Shin, D-Fairfax. The bill passed both chambers on party-line votes, but still faces a Republican governor.

In Missouri, SB 926 would expand the regulation of exit polling, sampling and electioneering to apply not only to polling places on Election Day, but during the absentee voting period as well.

The bill would also create the offense of "tampering with an election official," which includes harassing, intimidating or deceiving an election official or their family members. Committing the offense could result in imprisonment and a $2,500 to $10,000 fine.

"On the safety side, this is something I think has become an increasing concern since 2020: threats to election workers," Kimball said, adding, "that's spurred, I think, some legislators to propose measures to increase safety."

To alleviate staffing gaps at polling stations, Kansas considered a bill to broaden the pool of eligible poll workers. Kansas HB 2616 would expand eligibility to include active military members, their spouses or dependents and full-time college students regardless of residency or registered voter status.

"The best way to improve voter confidence is to have them be a poll worker," Kansas Rep. Pat Proctor, R-Fort Leavenworth, told the committee. "When you actually see how the process works and all the safeguards that are in place, it really does make you think there is no way to corrupt this. The more people we can get to participate the better."

Changing access to the polls

At least 240 bills that would change early voting availability in 41 states were introduced, and some enacted, since January 2023, according to Voting Rights Lab data.

For example, as a response to the poll worker staffing shortage, Kansas HB 2512 would mandate at least four hours of early voting on the Saturday before the election starting this year and then take away the Monday in-person early voting period starting in 2025.

Texas HB 1217, which went into effect Sept. 1, aims to standardize voting hours for rural and urban communities by requiring all counties to offer extended early voting hours.

According to an analysis of the bill, inconsistent voting times between counties meant residents in rural counties had "less time to vote than if they lived in a metropolitan area." Polling locations in most metropolitan areas already operated under extended early voting hours.

Additionally, Texans from rural parts of the state can expect to see more polling locations with longer hours this election cycle.

Nearly 90 counties, most of them rural, are a part of the state's Countywide Polling Place Program, which allows residents from any precinct in the county to vote at any location. The program, which counties voluntarily opted into, allows counties to combine smaller precincts and consolidate voting locations since residents could vote throughout the county.

But under Texas SB 924, which also went into effect Sept. 1, combined precincts in counties participating in the program cannot contain more than 10,000 voters, making them need more polling locations to comply with the law.

Votebeat, a nonprofit news organization, reported that some smaller Texas counties will have to double their polling locations to comply with the new law, while bigger counties that already offer a large number of voting locations may not need to add any.

Kimball, the political science professor, said that while the overall increase in the volume of proposed legislation is a reaction to fears related to the voting process, needed improvements can still result.

Richardson, digital editor with the Virginia Commonwealth University Capital News Service, reported from Richmond, Virginia. Luetkemeyer, assistant city editor at the Columbia Missourian at the University of Missouri, reported from Columbia, Missouri. Reporters Allie Haggar at the University of Kansas, Brody Foster at the University of New Mexico News Port, and Morgan Severson and Amelia Kimball at the University of Texas at Austin also contributed to this reporting.

This collaboration is a project of the Center for Community News to elevate high-impact, university-led statehouse reporting.

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