Still other states have made it harder to vote by mail: Florida has reduced the hours for ballot drop-off boxes and will also require voters to request a new mail ballot for each election. Georgia and Iowa have banned elections officials from automatically mailing absentee ballot applications to voters — as Texas may soon do. Idaho and Kansas require that a voter’s signature on an absentee ballot match the voter-registration signature.
Notably, some of the provisions are targeted at areas and groups that lean Democratic — like Black, Latino and younger voters. Georgia has lowered the number of drop boxes allowed for the metropolitan Atlanta area to an estimated 23 from 94 — while increasing drop boxes in some other parts of the state. Texas Republicans hope to ban drive-through voting and other measures that Harris County, a Democratic stronghold, adopted last year. Montana has ruled that student IDs are no longer a sufficient form of voter identification.
There are a few laws that go in the other direction. In Kentucky and Oklahoma, bipartisan groups of legislators voted to expand early voting, while Louisiana made it easier for former felons to vote. Several Democratic-leaning states, including Vermont and Nevada, have also taken steps to make voting easier.
And the impact?
That’s not so easy to figure out. The laws certainly have the potential to accomplish their goal of reducing Democratic turnout more than Republican turnout. In closely divided states like Arizona, Florida or Georgia — or in a swing congressional district — even a small effect could determine an election.
But recent Republican efforts to hold down Democratic turnout stretch back to the Obama presidency, and so far they seem to have failed. “The Republican intent behind restrictive election laws may be nefarious, but the impact to date has been negligible,” Bill Scher wrote in RealClearPolitics on Monday. The restrictions evidently have not been big enough to keep people from voting, thanks in part to Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts.
The Republicans’ latest restrictions — and the ones that may follow, as in Texas — are more significant, however, and that creates uncertainty about their effect.
“Our democracy works best when we believe that everybody should have free, fair and accessible elections,” Myrna Pérez, a longtime elections expert, told us (before Biden nominated her to a federal judgeship). “And while it may turn out that their self-interested anti-voter efforts may backfire, make no mistake: Our democracy is worse just because they tried.”
The Supreme Court has taken a different view. Its Republican-appointed majority has repeatedly ruled that states have the right to restrict voting access.