Thursday, December 08, 2022

Some states are making it harder to vote, some are making it easier, but it’s too early to tell if this will affect voter turnout in 2022.

Some states are making it harder to vote, some are making it easier, but it's too early to tell if this will affect voter turnout in 2022.

There has been a lot of swearing at what are being called anti-democratic new state laws that make it difficult to vote.

But it turns out that such laws may have little effect on voter turnout and electoral margins.

This is according to a February 2022 analysis by Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a fact sheet that provides non-partisan analysis of the election.

In the 2020 presidential election, voter turnout was the highest in a century, with 66.8% of citizens aged 18 and over voting in the election.

High voter turnout could play a decisive role in the 2022 midterm elections. Voter turnout in midterm elections is generally lower than in presidential elections.

All 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate will be contested during the election. Democrats have narrow majorities in both houses. If the Republicans can increase that number, they are likely to turn control of both houses in their favor.

As a political scientist, I study the rules of state voting and elections. Voting is important to a healthy democracy because that is how we consent to be governed and let elected officials know what policies we want.

Voting laws also protect against voter fraud. Thanks to these laws, election fraud in the United States is very rare and generally does not affect the outcome of an election.

Sometimes these rules can create difficulties for citizens wishing to vote. This can lead to a loss of citizens’ confidence in their government. The loss of citizens’ trust in government can harm our democracy.

It is still too early to tell the full impact of these new voting laws on the 2022 elections.

New laws may not make voting easier or harder

In the 2021 legislative sessions, 36 states passed laws changing the way citizens vote.

Most of these recent laws neither make it easier nor harder to vote. They simplify the process for state and local election officials.

For example, a new law in Utah improves communication between the Social Security Administration and election officials to ensure that deceased voters are removed from voter registration lists.

States make it harder to vote

Meanwhile, according to the Brennan Justice Center, 19 states have passed 33 laws that could make it harder for Americans to vote.

In Texas, for example, a 2021 law requires voters to provide part of their Social Security number or driver’s license in their request to vote by mail. The number must match the number that voters used when registering to vote. Two million registered voters in Texas were missing one of two numbers on their voter rolls that they entered when registering to vote.

A large number of mail-in requests for the March 2022 Texas primary were denied due to this change. Texas also limited the opening hours of early voting seats and banned the popular through-voting trend.

In Georgia, voters requesting absentee ballots are now required to provide photo identification when requesting a mail-in ballot and returning it.

Georgia has also joined Texas, Iowa, and Kansas in passing legislation to prevent county and state election commissions from automatically sending registered voters requests for mail-in or absentee ballots.

Things get easier in some cases

Meanwhile, since 2020, 25 states have passed 62 laws that could make voting easier.

Delaware and Hawaii have joined 20 other states that now automatically register citizens to vote when they turn 18. Early research suggests that automatic voter registration may marginally increase voter turnout.

Some states have made it easier for certain groups of voters. For example, in Maine, students can use their student photo ID to vote. In North Dakota, students can share a letter from a college or university to vote. Indiana now allows a document issued by an Indian tribe or group to serve as valid identification for voting.

In 2021, ten states, including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, and Kentucky, expanded access to mail-in and seat voting boxes.

Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, and Vermont have passed laws protecting or facilitating voter access to the polls. The Maryland bill requires counties to offer a minimum number of early voting centers based on population size. Vermont now allows voting on the street and by car. Beginning in the 2022 primary, all voting in Hawaii will be by mail.

These changes give voters more options or simply make it easier to vote and may help increase turnout.

People March Down The Street Holding Signs Reading
People march during a voting rights demonstration against voter suppression on August 28, 2021 in Washington, DC.
John Lamparski/Andalou Agency via Getty Images

What will happen in 2022?

Many voting rights activists expect turnout to decline in states that have made voting more difficult and increase in states that have made it easier.

The answer may not be so simple.

Scholars disagree on how voting rules affect voter turnout. Research does not always show that individual voting laws reduce voter turnout.

But a state’s general voting code may have more impact during an election. Scholars refer to the cumulative effect of voting laws as the “cost of voting.” When the cost of voting gets higher, the overall turnout goes down.

Turnout in the 2020 presidential election was unusually high, even despite some state laws that voting rights advocates say made it harder for people of color and other groups to vote.

Election laws are not the only factors affecting voter turnout. But adding more barriers to voting could lead to frustration that keeps some voters at home. The upcoming midterm elections will clarify whether these new voting laws will have a tangible impact on voter turnout.

[The Conversation’s Politics + Society editors pick need-to-know stories. Sign up for Politics Weekly.]

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