Florida, Michigan, and Texas are the next frontiers in the nationwide battle over voting access

Grace Panetta
·6 min read
Texas voting
A supporter prepares for a Ridin' With Biden event on Oct. 11, 2020, in Plano, Texas LM Otero/AP
  • Republican lawmakers in Florida, Michigan, and Texas are taking up new voting laws.

  • Proposed measures in all three states would add restrictions to mail voting.

  • Recently, GOP governors in Iowa and Georgia signed major election reforms into law.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Republican-controlled legislatures in key states are undertaking unprecedented efforts to limit mail voting.

Republican governors in Iowa and Georgia recently signed sweeping voting and election omnibus bills. Georgia's controversial 98-page bill has been slammed as suppressive by civil rights advocates, major CEOs, and President Joe Biden.

Read more: Donald Trump elevates a loyal Florida operative to shore up his post-presidency political operation

New figures from the Brennan Center for Justice as of March 24 show that lawmakers in 47 states have introduced a total of 351 measures that would restrict voting. So far, five of those bills have passed and been signed into law, with 55 currently moving through the legislative process.

Meanwhile, legislators in a separate set of 47 states have introduced 843 bills with provisions that would expand voting access, with nine signed into law and 112 moving through the system.

Those states include Florida, Michigan, and Texas, all of which were crucial battlegrounds for the 2020 election.

Texas drive thru voting
A car enters a drive-thru voting site on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Houston. Legislation backed by Republican lawmakers in the state would ban drive-thru voting. David J. Phillip/AP

Texas:

Republican lawmakers are advancing a bill in Texas that sets new restrictions on absentee voting, which is already limited to voters who are above 65 or have another excuse, and curtails the power of local officials to expand voting options in their counties.

The state's election rules were the subject of acrimonious legal battles leading up to Election Day 2020, including lawsuits over absentee voting, ballot dropoff locations, Gov. Greg Abbott's expansion of early voting, and drive-thru voting in Harris County.

Two similar items of legislation, House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 7, would both ban local election officials from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters, ban drive-thru voting, further criminalize third-party ballot collection, increase access for partisan poll watchers to view and record the voting process, make it more difficult for election officials to remove poll watchers from voting locations, and require all direct-recorder electronic voting machines in the state to have voter-verifiable, auditable paper trails by 2026.

Lawmakers have also watered down two of SB 7's most controversial provisions included in the original bill that would have required voters with disabilities to receive a doctor's note to vote absentee and limited counties to only hold early voting hours between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. local time.

The latest committee substitute requires those voting absentee due to disability to sign a sworn statement attesting their inability to vote in person, and requires counties to hold a minimum of 9 hours of early voting that can start as early as 6 a.m. and go as late as 9 p.m.

SB 7 is now headed to the House Elections Committee after being passed by the full state Senate. Lawmakers in the Elections Committee approved a new version of the legislation on April 8, but the text of the substitute has not yet been released to the public.

Florida voting line
People wait in line to vote at the Bell Shoals Baptist Church on election day Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Brandon, Fla. Chris O'Meara/AP

Florida:

Florida's voting system and robust vote-by-mail program have received praise from both sides of the aisle, including from Florida resident and former President Donald Trump, who has voted by mail in the state four times in 2020 and 2021.

But GOP lawmakers in the state are still aiming to restrict some aspects of the mail-in voting process.

House Bill 7041, among other measures, would require voters to sign up to receive a ballot in every election that takes place in one calendar year instead of every two years, further restrict third-party ballot collection to only allow a voter's family member to return their ballot, and limit the available hours and locations of ballot drop boxes.

A previous version of the bill would have followed Georgia's lead in cracking down on the ability of volunteers to bring food and drinks to water to voters waiting in line, but that provision was removed from the bill in the latest committee substitute passed out of the House Appropriations Committee

Other provisions of the law ban local election officials from accepting private grant money, and set clearer standards for the processing of provisional ballots and signature verification of mail ballots, including more robust requirements for alerting voters to problems with their ballots.

Senate Bill 90 includes many of the same provisions as HB 7041, and would go a step further in banning ballot drop boxes altogether. It is set for a hearing in the Senate Rules Committee on April 14.

Michigan voting
Brooke Hader, 18, votes for the first time since becoming old enough to be eligible, as she fills out her ballot during absentee early voting for the general election in Sterling Heights, Mich., Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020 David Goldman/AP

Michigan:

Republican lawmakers who control the state legislature in the swing state of Michigan recently introduced a massive package of 39 bills related to election administration.

Michigan voted for Biden by 154,188 votes. But the presidential election in the state was the subject of numerous false claims of voter fraud by Trump and his allies.

Not all the bills in the package restrict voting, as the Brennan Center and Detroit Free Press noted. Some of the laws allow 16 year-olds to pre-register to vote, expand early voting, and set new requirements for poll watchers.

SB 273 and SB 286 would set new restrictions on ballot drop boxes, including not allowing voters to use drop boxes after 5 pm.

SB 285 would require identification to vote absentee, SB 310 would ban election officials from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot applications (as Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson did in 2020), and SB 287 would bar officials from including prepaid postage for absentee ballots. SB 303 and 304 would make the state's voter ID law stricter by requiring voters without identification to vote a provisional ballot that won't be counted unless they provide the requisite ID.

Republicans in the state are aiming to circumvent a likely veto for all those bills from the state's Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer by putting them to the voters instead through Michigan's unique ballot initiative process, the Associated Press and New York Times report.

If Republicans get about 340,000 signatures, or 10% of the total votes cast in the 2018 gubernatorial election, they can put up the proposed legislation for a vote, at which point it can pass without Whitmer's signature or veto, The Times explains. If the legislature doesn't take up the legislation, it'll be put to the voters as a ballot initiative.

"This is a clear abuse of the initiative process in Michigan, as it is meant to be used for people to get around gridlock and non-responsive government, not for political parties to enact a partisan, anti-voter power grab," Quentin Turner, program director for Common Cause Michigan, told reporters in an April 1 briefing.

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