As 2021 came to a close, voting rights advocates had an opportunity to take stock of the Republican-imposed voting restrictions approved over the course of the year. The realizations were depressing: Against a backdrop of Donald Trump’s Big Lie, 19 states approved 33 laws that make it harder for Americans to participate in their own democracy in 2021.
Among the questions that soon followed: How much worse would this get in 2022?
NBC News reported in late December that a flood of GOP-backed proposals were on the way, and each would make it more difficult to vote. The New York Times published a related report, highlighting a “new wave of Republican legislation to reshape the nation’s electoral system.”
This was not idle speculation. NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks voting bills and advocates for federal election legislation, published an update yesterday.
Today, the Brennan Center published our Voting Laws Roundup, which catalogs legislative assaults on voting rights around the country. As of January 14, legislators in 27 states have introduced, pre-filed, or carried over 250 bills with restrictive provisions, compared to 75 such bills in 24 states a year ago. That’s a tripling of proposals to restrict the vote. The bills would reduce access to mail ballots, limit or eliminate same-day voter registration, require proof of citizenship to vote or register, or make it harder for people with disabilities to vote.
The Brennan Center added that there are also a variety of proposals pending in 13 states related to the administration of elections: “Some would give the state legislature the ultimate power to reject election results. Others threaten election officials with civil or criminal penalties or place partisan actors in charge of vote counting.”
To be sure, most of these proposals won’t pass. Many won’t even be considered. Last year, the majority of the voter suppression measures introduced in state legislatures were largely ignored by the lawmakers in the respective bodies. The fact that they were introduced in the first place was unsettling — the anti-voting bills reflected an unhealthy perspective toward democracy — but they were more curiosities than legitimate threats to the franchise.
But 33 measures across 19 states did, in fact, become law, and each will make the voting process needlessly more difficult. Similarly, most of the proposals referenced by the Brennan Center yesterday will fail, but in all likelihood, some won’t.
In theory, Congress is not powerless to intervene in support of voting rights. Indeed, Senate Democrats pushed two important pieces of legislation — the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — to help protect the franchise.
Last month, the Republican minority filibustered both bills. Most of the Democratic Senate majority was prepared to advance the proposals anyway, but Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema refused to support the plan.