Two years ago, the biggest battles in state legislatures were over voting rights. Democrats loudly — and sometimes literally — protested as Republicans passed new voting restrictions in states like Georgia, Florida and Texas. This year, attention has shifted to other hot-button issues, but the fight over the franchise has continued. Republicans have enacted dozens of laws this year that will make it harder for some people to vote in future elections.
But this year, voting-rights advocates got some significant wins too: States — controlled by Democrats and Republicans — have enacted more than twice as many laws expanding voting rights as restricting them, although the most comprehensive voter-protection laws passed in blue states. In all, 39 states and Washington, D.C., have changed their election laws in some way this year. Here’s a rundown of the most important shifts.
Where voting rights were restricted in 2023 (so far)
Driven by many Republicans’ false belief that lax voting laws allowed the 2020 election to be stolen from former President Donald Trump, 2021 was a record-breaking year for voting restrictions. According to data from the Voting Rights Lab, a pro-voting-rights organization that tracks election-law legislation, state legislators introduced 566 bills restricting voter access or election administration that year, 53 of which were enacted. This year hasn’t been quite so busy, but as of July 21, 366 laws with voting restrictions had been proposed and 29 had been enacted.
All but one of those 29 new lawscame in states where Republicans have full control of the lawmaking process: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. Five of the laws include provisions that tighten voter-ID requirements, 11 include provisions that interfere with election administration and 13 have at least one provision that targets mail voting. Some notable changes include:
- Ohio enacted a big election-law package that removes non-photo IDs from the list of acceptable voter IDs, limits counties to one ballot drop box each, gets rid of early voting on the day before the election, moves up the deadline for applying to vote absentee by four days and shortens the period for accepting properly postmarked absentee ballots after Election Day by six days.
- Mississippi adopted a law that prohibits so-called ballot harvesting, a favorite target of Republicans who falsely believe “mules” stuffed ballot boxes to steal the 2020 election for President Biden. Specifically, this law prohibits anyone except a family member, household member, caregiver or mail carrier from collecting and delivering someone else’s absentee ballot.
- Idaho removed in-state student IDs from the list of acceptable voter IDs.
- Florida enacted a wide-ranging bill that, among other things, places several restrictions on organizations that register voters, such as requiring them to register with the state every election cycle, attest that their workers aren’t felons and turn in voter-registration applications they collect within 10 days instead of 14.
- Indiana has a new law requiring people requesting an absentee ballot to provide proof of identity, such as their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number. It also prohibits anyone from mailing an absentee-ballot request form to anyone who hasn’t specifically requested it.
- Arkansas and South Dakota both enacted new laws banning ballot drop boxes.
Where voting rights were expanded in 2023 (so far)
Unlike two years ago, though, we’d argue that the bigger story of this year’s legislative sessions was all the ways states made it easier to vote. As of July 21, according to the Voting Rights Lab, 834 bills had been introduced so far this year expanding voting rights, and 64 had been enacted. What’s more, these laws are passing in states of all hues. Democratic-controlled jurisdictions (Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island and Washington) enacted 33 of these new laws containing voting-rights expansions, but Republican-controlled states (Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming) were responsible for 23 of them. The remaining eight became law in states where the two parties share power (Nevada, Pennsylvania and Virginia).
That said, not all election laws are created equal, and the most comprehensive expansive laws passed in blue states. For example:
- New Mexico adopted a major voting-rights package that will automatically register New Mexicans to vote when they interact with the state’s Motor Vehicle Division, allow voters to request absentee ballots for all future elections without the need to reapply each time and restore the right to vote to felons who are on probation or parole. The law also allows Native Americans to register to vote and receive ballots at official tribal buildings and makes it easier for Native American officials to get polling places set up in pueblos and on tribal land.
- Minnesota followed suit with a law also establishing automatic voter registration and a permanent absentee-voting list. The act allows 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote too. Meanwhile, a separate new law also reenfranchises felons on probation or parole.
- Michigan enacted eight laws implementing a constitutional amendment expanding voting rights that voters approved last year. Most notably, the laws guarantee at least nine days of in-person early voting and allow counties to offer as many as 29. The bills also allow voters to fix mistakes on their absentee-ballot envelopes so that their ballot can still count, track the status of their ballot online, and use student, military and tribal IDs as proof of identification.
- Connecticut became the sixth state to enact a state-level voting-rights act, which bars municipalities from discriminating against minority groups in voting, requires them to provide language assistance to certain language minority groups and requires municipalities with a record of voter discrimination to get preclearance before changing their election laws. The Nutmeg State also approved 14 days of early voting and put a constitutional amendment on the 2024 ballot that would legalize no-excuse absentee voting.
These weren’t the only election-law changes that passed this year, either. The Voting Rights Lab tracked an additional 73 voting laws that have been enacted so far this year that had a neutral, mixed or unclear impact on voting rights. This category actually includes two of this year’s most controversial new election laws: a pair of Texas laws eliminating the position of election administrator in counties with large populations and allowing the secretary of state to supervise elections there if there is a “recurring pattern of problems.” Democrats have decried the new statutes as a partisan power grab since, in practice, they apply to only one county: solidly Democratic Harris County (home of Houston). The Texas secretary of state is appointed by the (currently Republican) governor. While this law may not implicate the rights of individual voters in the immediate term, it’s part of a trend of red states taking power away from local election officials.
No matter its specific provisions, each of these election-law changes could impact how voters cast their ballots in future elections, including next year’s closely watched presidential race. There’s a good chance your state amended its election laws in some way this year, so make sure you double-check the latest rules in your state before the next time you vote.