Saturday January 22nd, 2022 6:32PM

After voters embraced mail ballots, GOP states tighten rules

By The Associated Press

A monthslong campaign by the Republican Party, fueled in part by the false narrative of widespread fraud in last year's presidential election, has led to a wave of new voting laws that will tighten access to the ballot for millions of Americans.

The restrictions especially target voting methods that have been rising in popularity across the country, erecting hurdles to mail balloting and early voting that saw explosive growth during the pandemic. More than 40% of all voters last fall cast mail ballots, a record.

Texas is the latest state to crack down, after the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill Tuesday taking aim at Democratic-leaning counties that have sought to expand access to the ballot.

“Regardless of motives, these bills hurt voters,” said Isabel Longoria, the election administrator of Harris County, which includes Houston. “Voters are going to feel this the next time they go vote, and that’s what I’m most worried about.”

Republican lawmakers and their allies say the new laws are meant to ensure election integrity, but Democrats and voting rights activists say they instead will end up disenfranchising voters, especially young people and minorities. In Texas, the bill prompted Democratic lawmakers to flee to the nation’s capital to prevent a legislative quorum, a protest that ended when a handful of lawmakers returned after more than a month away from home.

The Texas bill, expected to be signed soon by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, follows similar legislation this year in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa and some other GOP-controlled states. Restrictions also are being pushed in Ohio, where Republicans control the Legislature and governor’s office.

Among the most consistent targets of Republican lawmakers this year have been mail ballots and early in-person voting, after many states expanded those options to make voting safer during the coronavirus outbreak.

Roughly a quarter of all voters cast mail ballots in 2016 and 2018. That jumped to just over 43% in 2020, according to a recent report by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. It was the first time in the history of the survey that a majority of voters did not cast their ballots in person on Election Day.

Almost 13 million people voted by mail in the November election in states that have new legislation that restricts mail voting procedures, according to the report.

Some of the more contentious aspects of the Texas bill are measures banning 24-hour polling places and drive-thru voting. Those options were used successfully last year, especially in Houston, which is heavily Democratic and has a significant number of Black and Latino voters. The legislation also makes it a felony for a local election official to send unsolicited mail ballot applications and bans the use of drop boxes for mail ballots.

Harlan Williams, an instructional designer who voted at a drive-thru center in the last presidential election, described the process as fast and well-organized.

“It really just doesn’t make any sense to take it away from us,” he said. “I think it’s clearly voter suppression. It’s a way for a party that’s losing influence and power to try and stay in power.”

Texas Republicans defend the law as a way to ensure that only eligible voters cast ballots, even though there has been no evidence of widespread fraud there or in any other state. They also say the law takes steps to help voters — for example, allowing those who cast a mail ballot to fix mistakes rather than having it automatically rejected as well as a measure that would have polling places open for at least an extra hour during early voting periods.

“The sorts of provisions that we're talking about have never been demonstrated in any way to suppress the vote, to prevent people from voting or even necessarily to make it hard to vote,” said Jason Snead, executive director of Honest Elections Project, a conservative advocacy group.

“So a lot of what these laws do, when you look at the actual particular provisions, they're expanding early voting opportunities, they're preserving, where it exists already, no-excuse absentee voting. They're making it, in some respects, easier to vote. They're also just working to provide for the security and confidence that voters want,” he said.

Republicans have tightened voting rules as former President Donald Trump and his allies continue to baselessly claim his loss was due to widespread fraud. Critics of the new GOP laws have said the concerns are based on conspiracy theories and should not be used to restrict voting access.

“We’re starting from the point of view, it’s not broke, why are we trying to change it?” said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat.

Many of the changes this year would have faced federal scrutiny before being implemented had the U.S. Supreme Court not weakened a core provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Under that provision, Arizona, Georgia, Texas and other states and counties with a history of discrimination would have had to submit their proposed legislation to either the federal court for the District of Columbia or the Justice Department.

Critics of the new restrictions have for months urged Democrats in Congress to pass federal legislation to establish minimum voting standards to neutralize some of the new laws. But Democrats have been unable to unite behind a strategy that could overcome near-unanimous opposition from Senate Republicans.

With most of the Republican restrictions already in place and the midterm elections approaching, the Democratic National Committee has pledged $25 million for voter education, registration and other efforts as a way to combat the new laws.

Democrats also have countered with laws that broaden voting access in states they control politically, taking steps such as expanding drop-off locations for mailed ballots and making it easier to register and vote on college campuses.

Few states will have a brighter spotlight next year than Georgia, which has emerged as one of the nation’s hottest political battlegrounds. Republicans this year passed restrictions around absentee balloting and increased legislative oversight of election officials.

One provision in Georgia’s new law would reduce the number of ballot drop boxes in metro Atlanta from 94 last year to no more than 23 for future elections, based on a formula of one drop box per 100,000 registered voters. Georgia Republicans said they were focused on making sure drop boxes were written into the law, available for future elections with strong security measures in place.

Democrats see something more sinister at work, after President Joe Biden beat Trump by a little more than 12,000 votes in the state, largely on the strength of Black and left-leaning voters in Atlanta and some of its suburbs.

The state’s new rules also shorten the amount of time voters can request an absentee ballot, from 180 days to 78, and add an ID requirement for requesting and returning mail ballots.

Florida Republicans also established new rules around ballot drop boxes, requiring them to be guarded and only available when election offices and early voting sites are open. Election supervisors could face a $25,000 fine if a ballot drop box is accessible outside early voting hours or is left unsupervised.

Arizona Republicans passed a law that purges infrequent voters from a list of those who automatically get a mail ballot each election.

In Iowa, voters will have less time to vote early, after Republicans narrowed the window from 29 days to 20. The state’s new election law also requires most mail ballots to be received by Election Day, as opposed to being postmarked then. County election officials are banned from sending out absentee ballot request forms unless a voter asks for one.

“It’s going to be harder for people to vote,” said Sylvia Albert, voting and elections director for Common Cause, which advocates for expanded voter access. “It means that states have to put more money and time and energy into educating the voting population in how to go about being able to vote in spite of these burdens.”


Associated Press coverage of voting rights receives support in part from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP Elections, General Election News, General Presidential Election News, AP Online - Georgia News, AP Online Headlines - Georgia News
© Copyright 2022
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Hurricane Ida's aftermath, recovery uneven across Louisiana
Four days after Hurricane Ida struck, the storm's aftermath and progress in recovering from it are being felt unevenly across Louisiana
1:02AM ( 14 minutes ago )
Lake Tahoe wildfire seemed controllable, then it wasn't
Last week, managers overseeing the fight against the massive wildfire scorching California’s Lake Tahoe region thought they could have it contained by the start of this week
12:43AM ( 33 minutes ago )
Changing winds provide hope in California wildfire battle
Fire officials say gusty winds are calming and giving them a chance to throw all their resources into boxing a California blaze that is scant miles from Lake Tahoe and neighboring Nevada
12:34AM ( 42 minutes ago )
U.S. News
'What's the issue?' Tsitsipas undaunted by boos at US Open
Stefanos Tsitsipas has heard boos from the crowd for yet another long trip off court after dropping a set during a second-round victory over Adrian Mannarino
12:44AM ( 32 minutes ago )
Asian markets gain ahead of US report on August employment
Asian stock markets are higher as investors waited for U.S. jobs data that might influence when the Federal Reserve starts to wind down its stimulus
12:38AM ( 38 minutes ago )
Milley: US coordination with Taliban on strikes 'possible'
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark Milley, says it’s “possible” the U.S. will coordinate with the Taliban on any future counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan against Islamic State militants or others
12:32AM ( 45 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Ida remnants pound Northeast with rain, flooding, tornadoes
The remnants of Hurricane Ida blew through the mid-Atlantic states with at least two tornadoes, heavy winds and drenching rains
11:57PM ( 1 hour ago )
After Ida, small recovery signs amid daunting destruction
Residents of Louisiana communities hit hard by Hurricane Ida are seeing small signs of progress amid the need for a monumental recovery
11:13PM ( 2 hours ago )
Judge conditionally approves Purdue Pharma opioid settlement
A federal bankruptcy judge has approved with conditions a historic opioid settlement between Purdue Pharma and thousands of local and state governments
10:29PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP National News
Texas bans most abortions, with high court mum on appeal
The nation’s most far-reaching curb on abortions has taken effect in Texas, with the Supreme Court silent so far on an emergency appeal to put the law on hold
8:25PM ( 4 hours ago )
Effort underway to rescue girls soccer team from Afghanistan
An international effort is underway to evacuate members of Afghanistan's girls national soccer team and their families over fears of reprisal by the Taliban
7:56PM ( 5 hours ago )
R. Kelly accuser says he kept gun nearby while berating her
One of R. Kelly’s accusers has told a jury that he kept a gun by his side while he berated her before forcing her to give him oral sex in a Los Angeles music studio
6:34PM ( 6 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Biden meets Ukraine leader in long-sought Oval Office visit
President Joe Biden used his first meeting with a foreign leader since ending the war in Afghanistan to send the message that the United States — unburdened of its “forever war”— is determined to become a more reliable ally to its friends
9:32PM ( 3 hours ago )
Biden to survey Ida's storm damage in Louisiana on Friday
The White House says President Joe Biden will visit Louisiana on Friday to survey storm damage from Hurricane Ida
8:15PM ( 5 hours ago )
Mixed feelings in El Paso about looser Texas gun limits
A new Texas law allows most people age 21 or older who haven’t been convicted of a felony to carry a holstered handgun in public without undergoing any training or getting a permit
7:25PM ( 5 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Rep. Jamie Raskin's book 'Unthinkable' coming out Jan. 4
U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland is working on a memoir in which he will reflect on the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol and the tragedy he suffered a week earlier when his 25-year-old son Tommy killed himself
10:44AM ( 14 hours ago )
Biden defends departure from 'forever war,' praises airlift
President Joe Biden has defended the way the U.S. ended its 20-year “forever war” in Afghanistan
5:47AM ( 19 hours ago )
EXPLAINER: Details of the final version of Texas voting bill
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says he will sign sweeping changes to the state's election code that would make it harder — sometimes even legally riskier — to cast a ballot
9:00PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Online Congress News
Tea party 2.0? Conservatives get organized in school battles
A loose network of conservative groups with ties to major Republican donors and party-aligned think tanks is quietly lending firepower to local activists engaged in the culture war fights in schools across the country
12:08AM ( 1 day ago )
Venezuelan opposition to participate in regional elections
Venezuelan opposition parties say they will participate in the regional and municipal elections scheduled for November, a reversal from their boycotts of recent balloting
6:14PM ( 1 day ago )
Texas GOP voting changes on cusp of going to governor
A rewrite of election laws in Texas is on the cusp of heading to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk
4:41PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Elections
Experts warn of dangers from breach of voter system software
Republican efforts questioning the outcome of the 2020 presidential race have led to voting system breaches that election security experts say pose a heightened risk to future elections
2:56PM ( 4 days ago )
Harris holds steady on Southeast Asia trip as crises loom
Vice President Kamala Harris' visit to Singapore and Vietnam was overshadowed by global events that created new challenges for her and her team
12:31AM ( 5 days ago )
Bernie Sanders sells big government's virtues in red states
Bernie Sanders has long argued that steep federal spending and bigger government can improve the lives of working class Americans and win back the kinds of disaffected, largely white voters who flocked to Donald Trump
7:51PM ( 5 days ago )
General Election News
Museum chief is only candidate for Estonia's presidency
Estonia is gearing up for an unusual presidential election
3:33PM ( 4 days ago )
Belarus closes journalist organization, continuing crackdown
Belarus has ordered the closure of the country's largest independent journalists' organization
9:30PM ( 5 days ago )
Duterte confirms he'll run for Philippines VP next year
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has confirmed rumblings he will run for vice president in what critics say is an attempted end-run around the constitution
5:38AM ( 1 week ago )
General Presidential Election News
Cantlay says any bonus money from PIP would go to the fans
Patrick Cantlay doesn't think he's doing very well in the PGA Tour's “Player Impact Program.”
6:03PM ( 7 hours ago )
Ida's remnants close roads, prompt concerns of dam failure
Soaking rains from the remnants of Hurricane Ida prompted the evacuations of thousands of people after water reached dangerous levels at a dam upstream from Johnstown, Pennsylvania
5:13PM ( 8 hours ago )
Keeping score and taunting players, golf unlike other sports
The message at the Tour Championship is that golf isn't like other sports
3:59PM ( 9 hours ago )
AP Online - Georgia News
AP Online Headlines - Georgia News
Hurricane Ida's aftermath, recovery uneven across Louisiana
Four days after Hurricane Ida struck, the storm's aftermath and progress in recovering from it are being felt unevenly across Louisiana
1:02AM ( 16 minutes ago )
Lake Tahoe wildfire seemed controllable, then it wasn't
Last week, managers overseeing the fight against the massive wildfire scorching California’s Lake Tahoe region thought they could have it contained by the start of this week
12:43AM ( 35 minutes ago )
Changing winds provide hope in California wildfire battle
Fire officials say gusty winds are calming and giving them a chance to throw all their resources into boxing a California blaze that is scant miles from Lake Tahoe and neighboring Nevada
12:34AM ( 44 minutes ago )
'It looked apocalyptic': Crew describes Afghan departure
The U.S. military pilots and aircrew who made the final flights out of Afghanistan say the sky was lit up with fireworks and sporadic gunfire and the airfield littered with battered shells of airplanes and destroyed equipment
12:24AM ( 54 minutes ago )
AP Explains: Congress asks tech companies for Jan. 6 records
A House committee investigating the U.S. Capitol insurrection has requested that telecommunications and social media companies preserve the personal communications of hundreds of people who may have somehow been connected to the attack
12:14AM ( 1 hour ago )