Voters in 19 States Weeks Away from Facing New Challenges at Polls

Published on October 15, 2021

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Thirty-three laws across 19 states have been enacted since the beginning of the year to restrict voters’ access to the ballot box, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Many of these states have a history of discriminatory voter laws, and the direct impacts of these new laws are making it even more difficult to vote right now and as voters being to cast their ballots in this November’s statewide and municipal elections. The National Nonpartisan Conversation on Voter Rights taking place in Denver from Oct. 21-23 comes at a critical time for voter awareness and engagement in the preservation and protection of their access to the ballot box.

“There is nothing more foundational to our democracy in the United States than the free exercise of the right and access to vote. Anything that abridges the exercise thereof must be amended or abolished immediately,” Mayor Hancock said. “That’s why we as mayors, election officials, county commissioners, voting rights advocates and civic leaders are coming together to have this conversation and express to our national leadership a path forward that secures the foundational right of every American.”

"Across the country we are seeing a wave of voter suppression bills being signed into law which threaten the very foundation of our democracy," said Mayor Lightfoot. "As we call upon Congress to protect voter rights, local leaders and stakeholders must also swiftly and strongly address these issues. I am grateful that we are coming together to have these conversations in order to protect the right of every citizen of this country."

Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock and Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot are convening stakeholders from across the country to take a seat at the table of history and develop a framework for implementing national strategies to protect, defend and promote voter rights.

Even during a global pandemic, the 2020 election saw historic voter turnout, thanks in large part to expanded vote-by-mail and early voting options. In retaliation, more than 400 bills restricting voting access were introduced in 49 states. The bills that were signed into law reverse that access by making it more difficult to vote early and/or by mail. Voter ID requirements have narrowed, leaving many voters, especially those in communities of color, to jump through hoops to exercise their right to vote.

New laws will also create criminal penalties for elections officials, volunteers and activists which will diminish voter engagement and assistance. In Georgia, for example, a person can now face criminal charges for something as simple and humane as handing out food and water to people waiting in long election lines. Kansas and Iowa voters can face charges if they return a ballot on behalf of a someone else, creating new obstacles for older voters or those with disabilities or impairments. Even elections officials can face charges in Texas, simply by encouraging voters to explore the option of voting by mail or by stopping harassment from poll watchers.

Texas is one of four states (along with Arkansas, Montana, and Arizona) to pass multiple omnibus laws restricting access to the ballot box. In Texas, SB1 creates major obstacle, especially for voters of color, voters with disabilities, and voters with language barriers. It bans drive-thru voting, makes it harder for voters to get assistance, and prevents election officials from regulating the conduct of poll watchers. Several civic groups are now challenging SB1 in federal court, but a ruling may not come before November’s election.

The National Nonpartisan Conversation on Voter Rights, taking place from Oct. 21-23 in Denver, will set a national action plan to end gerrymandering, ensure safe access to the ballot, and prevent partisan efforts that diminish voter access, especially in communities of color. For more information on the convening and program, visit denvergov.org/VoterRightsDenver.

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