As activists gather, state legislators continue to advance attacks on voting 


May 7, 2021

On Saturday, voting rights advocates will gather, in-person or online, in more than 100 communities throughout the country to mark the “National John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Action Day.” The advocates will demand congressional passage of the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, two proposals that would expand access to the ballot box. 

The actions could not be more timely. Across the country, state legislatures continue to advance barriers to voting, spurred in part by what many are calling the “Big Lie” — the oft-refuted notion that the November 2020 elections were replete with error and fraud. 

According to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice, as of March 24, state legislators had introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states. That’s 108 more than the 253 restrictive bills the Center counted as of February 19 – a 43 percent increase in little more than a month. 

And a number of these measures have a chance of being enacted. Five already have been signed into law – most notably, in Georgia in late March, and just Thursday of this week in Florida. The states with the greatest number of restrictive bills are Texas (49 bills), Georgia (25 bills), and Arizona (23 bills). The Georgia Legislature already has adjourned; the Texas Legislature is scheduled to adjourn in late May. 

The Brennan Center reports that most restrictive bills are aimed at limiting absentee voting, while nearly a quarter seek stricter voter ID requirements. State legislators also are working to make voter registration harder, expand voter roll purges or adopt flawed practices that would risk improper purges, and cut back on early voting. 

In Florida on Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that adds hurdles to voting by mail, restricts the use of drop boxes, and prohibits any actions that could influence those standing in line to vote, which advocates say is a ruse to discourage groups from handing out food or water to voters standing in line in the hot Florida sun. The law was opposed by the Florida Association of Elections Supervisors, the public officials who oversee elections in the state, with all or nearly all 67 of such officials opposing the law.  

Thursday’s enactment of the Florida bill immediately drew the ire of the White House, which called it “built on a lie” and said that the state is moving “in the wrong direction.” 

“The 2020 election was one of the most secure elections in American history,” said Deputy White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “There’s no legitimate reason to change the rules right now to make it harder to vote. That’s built on a lie. The only reason to change the rules right now is if you don’t like who voted, and that should be out of bounds.” 

Indeed, a certain sense of irony surrounds the new Florida law in two ways. First, both Democrats and Republicans in Florida have touted the state’s clean elections – there were few claims coming out of the Sunshine State in the November 2020 aftermath that there was something amiss about the way the election was conducted (and the claims that were levied involved the suppression of Black voters). 

Second, Republicans in Florida have spent decades and tens of millions of dollars to build up early voting and voting by mail. (In Florida, absentee voting and mail voting are one and the same.) Now, both Republican political consultants and Republican legislators warn that the new law could spike such efforts. 

Steve Schale, a long-time Democratic consultant in Florida, watched with interest last May when President Trump began a series of tweets viciously attacking mail voting in Florida and elsewhere. 

“MAIL-IN VOTING WILL LEAD TO MASSIVE FRAUD AND ABUSE,” Trump tweeted on May 28, one of dozens of such attacks that he unleashed throughout the year, according to the Washington Post. “IT WILL ALSO LEAD TO THE END OF OUR GREAT REPUBLICAN PARTY. WE CAN NEVER LET THIS TRAGEDY BEFALL OUR NATION.” 

“It was comical to watch Trump light on fire 20 years of Republican work and tens of millions of Republican investment — literally lighting a match to it,” Schale told the Post. “Every time he sent a tweet out, I’d get a text from a Republican operative here in Florida with an eye-roll emoji.” 

In fact, at one point during deliberations over the Florida measure, some GOP lawmakers suggested exempting U.S. military servicemembers and older voters – two voting blocs that, in Florida at least, tend to lean Republican. Other legislators, however, put a stop to the effort, warning that it would run afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. 

Still, the fact that Republican legislators in Tallahassee may have acted to suppress Republican voters comes as little solace to Black leaders, who saw in the legislation vestiges of 20th century Jim Crow laws. Notes the Post: 

“The restrictions proposed by Florida Republicans drew sharp criticism from Black lawmakers there, who rose one after another during a House debate Wednesday to condemn the legislation. 

“They said the bill would make voting particularly difficult for minorities, who more often struggle with transportation and work nonstandard hours in the service sector in Florida’s tourism-dependent economy, relying more heavily on after-hours drop boxes.” 

Also criticizing the legislation was Eliza Sweren-Becker, Counsel in the Democracy Program for the Brennan Center. Within hours of DeSantis’ signature, Sweren-Becker published her own critique on the Center’s web site under the headline, “Florida Enacts Sweeping Voter Suppression Law.” 

It’s worth taking a step back to note that after last year’s general elections, Florida’s officials touted their election process as a great success,” Sweren-Becker wrote. 

Nevertheless, she added, the new, 48-page law “makes a slew of changes to Florida elections, including making voter registration more difficult, modifying rules for observers in ways that could disrupt election administration, and restricting the ability to provide snacks and water to voters waiting in line. 

Two lawsuits against the law were filed in federal court within hours of the law’s signing:  one filed by the League of Women Voters of Florida, Black Voters Matter Fund and others, and another by the Florida NAACP, Disability Rights Florida and Common Cause.

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