A flurry of controversial, Republican-backed legislation could limit voter access and change the way elections are administered across the U.S.
As they advocate for the current wave of restrictive measures, proponents, largely conservatives, are citing concern for the integrity of elections on the heels of false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election. But opponents, including Democrats, say the bills will disenfranchise voters, especially low-income Americans and people of color.
The provisions include limiting voting by mail, ballot drop boxes and poll hours, as well as allowing less time to request absentee ballots, imposing strict voter ID requirements and banning mobile voting centers. Some bills already have become state laws. Given these state-level Republican efforts to restrict ballot access, legislation that would be a sweeping expansion of federal voting rights remains in political limbo in the face of almost unified Republican opposition.
Religious leaders have joined the fight. The Associated Press reports multifaith coalitions are leading voting rights activism in several states, and clergy have called on corporate leaders to condemn new laws restricting voters.
The latest edition of ReligionLink features experts on voting laws and how the faithful are responding to legislative efforts expected to restrict access to the ballot box.
Restrictive: During 2021 legislative sessions, lawmakers have introduced at least 389 bills in 48 states that would add restrictions to voting, according to a May report by the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice. As of May 14, 22 have become law in 14 states and 61 bills are moving in 18 states, the report found.
Expansive: In 49 states, at least 880 bills would expand voter provisions, the report states. Twenty-eight have become law in 14 states; 115 bills are moving through 25 state legislatures, the report found.
Democrats in Congress are struggling to push through two big voting bills. Federal campaign finance, elections and ethics laws would see sweeping changes under the For the People Act, which passed the House and was sent over to the Senate, The Washington Post reports. Provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act would be restored if the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act passes, according to the report. Democrats would need to overcome a probable Senate filibuster for them to be enacted.
- Read “After defeating restrictive voting bill, Texas Democrats send loud message: ‘We need Congress to do their part’” from The Washington Post on May 31, 2021.
- Read “Democrats grapple with the enemy within: What to do about the filibuster rule that could kill their agenda” from The Washington Post on May 29, 2021.
- Read “With Florida Bill, Republicans Continue Unrelenting Push to Restrict Voting” from The New York Times on May 7, 2021.
- Read “Election integrity or voter suppression? Faith leaders are divided over voter access laws” from the Deseret News on May 2, 2021.
- Read “Faith leaders across US join in decrying voting restrictions” from The Associated Press on April 18, 2021.
- Read “From the filibuster to DC statehood, clergy rally around a growing voting rights agenda” from Religion News Service on April 16, 2021.
- Read “Texas faith leaders condemn new election bills as Jim Crow dressed up in a ‘tuxedo’” from Religion News Service on April 8, 2021.
- Read “Georgia faith leaders to leave water bottles around Capitol in protest of new voter laws” from Religion News Service on March 30, 2021.
- Read “Faith leaders push back against proposed ‘Souls to the Polls’ voting restrictions” from Religion News Service on March 12, 2021.
- Read “In Statehouses, Stolen-Election Myth Fuels a G.O.P. Drive to Rewrite Rules” from The New York Times on Feb. 27, 2021.
- Read “Voting Laws Roundup: March 2021” from the Brennan Center on April 1, 2021.
- Read “Majority Support Stricter Gun Laws, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Stark Divides On Views Of Police And Voting Issues” from Quinnipiac University Poll on April 15, 2021.
- Read “How Did Absentee Voting Affect the 2020 U.S. Election?” from Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
- Read “The Miracle and Tragedy of the 2020 Election” from SSRN on Feb. 25, 2021.
Jessica Anderson is executive director of Heritage Action for America, a conservative grassroots advocacy group created by the think tank the Heritage Foundation. Noah Weinrich is the media contact.
Gilda Daniels is a law professor at the University of Baltimore and a voting rights expert. She wrote Uncounted: The Crisis of Voter Suppression in America. Daniels also served as a deputy chief in the voting section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division during the Clinton and Bush administrations. Her areas of interest also include religion and democracy.
Aunna Dennis is executive director of the Georgia chapter of Common Cause, which is an organization advocating for access to voting. David Vance is the media contact.
Joshua A. Douglas
Joshua A. Douglas is a law professor and voting rights expert at the University of Kentucky. He wrote Vote for US: How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting.
Chad W. Dunn
Chad W. Dunn is legal director and co-founder of the UCLA Voting Rights Project. His areas of expertise include voting rights and election law. Dunn co-authored the “Protecting Democracy: Implementing Equal and Safe Access to the Ballot Box During a Global Pandemic” report.
Anne Ellsworth is a priest at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Parish in Tempe, Arizona. She has spoken out against voter suppression.
Aderson B. Francois
Aderson B. Francois is a Georgetown University law professor and director of the Civil Rights Clinic and Voting Rights Institute. His scholarly interests include voting rights.
Cassandra Gould is the executive director of Missouri Faith Voices and an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The organization’s work includes advocating for voter protections and the For the People Act.
Andrew Hall is co-director of the Democracy & Polarization Lab at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. He also is a political science professor and his areas of expertise include how to safely administer elections during the pandemic.
Gary Hamrick is the senior pastor of Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg, Virginia. He has spoken in support of updating voter laws.
Richard L. Hasen
Richard L. Hasen is a law and political science professor at the University of California, Irvine. He is an expert on election law and wrote Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy.
Frederick Haynes III
Frederick Haynes III is the senior pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas. He helped organize a conference for African American pastors concerned about the spread and use of the prosperity gospel, especially among African Americans.
Vincent Hutchings is a political science professor at the University of Michigan. He is an expert on public opinion, elections, voting behavior and African American politics.
Kenneth R. Mayer
Kenneth R. Mayer is a professor of American politics at University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research interests include election administration and he is an election law expert.
Lydia Medwin is the director of congregational engagement and outreach of The Temple in Atlanta. Medwin is one of the authors of a March 2021 opinion piece called “Lawmakers shouldn’t pursue harmful curbs on voting.”
Bee Moorhead is executive director of the interfaith group Texas Impact, which is based in Austin, Texas, and promotes environmental conservation and opposes voter suppression measures.
Angela X. Ocampo
Angela X. Ocampo is a political science professor at the University of Michigan. Her research looks at the political incorporation of racial, ethnic and religious minorities.
Nathaniel Persily is a law professor at Stanford Law School. He is an expert in American election law, including voting rights, redistricting and election administration.
Elizabeth Reiner Platt
Elizabeth Reiner Platt is director of the Law, Rights and Religion Project at Columbia Law School. She authored a March 2021 column in The Hill called “‘Religious liberty’ is coming for voting rights.”
Bradley A. Smith
Bradley A. Smith is a law professor at Capital University Law School and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. He is an expert on election law and campaign finance as well as a co-author of Voting Rights and Election Law.
Charles Stewart III
Charles Stewart III is a political science professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His areas of expertise include congressional politics, elections and American political development.
Franita Tolson is a law professor at the University of Southern California and an expert in constitutional law, voting rights, redistricting and election law.
Michael Waldman is president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. Voting rights are among the issues the center addresses. Alexandra Ringe is the media contact.