Explainer: How new U.S. laws could trip up voters in the midterm elections

Nov 1 (Reuters) – U.S. states have adopted more than 30 new voting restrictions since 2020, from voter ID requirements to limits on mail-in voting, raising tensions between Republicans and Democrats ahead of November’s general election .

Republicans, who have largely accepted former President Donald Trump’s false claims of fraud in the 2020 election, say the measures are necessary to ensure the integrity of the election. Democrats say they aim to make it harder for voters who traditionally support the Democratic Party to vote for them.

Most of the measures were supported by Republican state legislators and opposed by Democrats, but the split is not purely red and blue. Sometimes the debate about each law comes down to the writing of the details.

VOTER ID

Eleven US states have imposed stricter voter identification requirements since 2020, according to the Brennan Center for Justice and Voting Rights Lab, which tracks voting legislation across the country.

Opponents of the voter ID measure are not objecting to the requirement that voters verify their identity when voting — which is already standard in every state — but rather the means used to verify them.

Unlike many European democracies, where government-issued IDs are more ubiquitous, studies have found that millions of US voters do not have photo ID.

Two of the most controversial 2021 laws changed ID rules for absentee or mail-in ballots.

Georgia currently requires voters without a driver’s license or state ID card to include in their absentee ballot application a photocopy of another government-issued ID, which many voters may not be able to easily produce. Previously, absentee voters’ identities were verified by matching signatures.

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Texas law allows voters to use a wider range of IDs when applying and sending mail-in ballots. However, it automatically rejects them if the voter uses an ID number different from the number provided when they registered to vote.

In the March primary in Texas, election officials rejected one in eight mail-in ballots, according to data from the secretary of state’s office. That rate – 12.4% – surpassed Texas’ 0.8% mail-in vote rejection rate during the 2020 presidential election. Officials blamed most of the increase on the new law, according to local news reports.

Advocates of the Georgia and Texas measures say they are necessary to ensure that voters are who they say they are, and they cite studies that show some voter ID laws do not depress turnout. Opponents say there’s no need for stricter ID rules because voter fraud is already gone, and they point to studies showing voter ID laws in states like North Carolina reduce voter turnout.

THE VOTE IS POSTED

A line of early voters stretches outside the building as early voting begins for the midterm elections at the Citizens Service Center in Columbus, Georgia, U.S., October 17, 2022. REUTERS/Cheney Orr/File Photo

Mail voting laws are especially complex in the United States. Only 11 countries in the world do not require voters to provide an excuse to vote by mail, according to the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).

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Two-thirds of US states are in this category. As of 2020, 19 states have passed laws making it more difficult for voters to apply for, receive, or send mail-in ballots, according to the Brennan Center and Voting Rights Lab.

Some state laws limit voting by mail in one way while facilitating it in other ways. Kentucky’s Republican-leaning legislature passed a law that allowed voters to correct absentee ballots if they made a mistake, but also limited the application period for absentee ballots.

Advocates of limiting mail-in voting say it adds to the cost of running elections and creates more opportunities for voter interception and fraud. Advocates of expanding vote-by-mail say that limiting it prevents voters who can’t make it to the polls.

MAINTENANCE OF VOTER LIST

Unlike many democratic countries, the United States does not have mandatory voter registration through a centralized system. As a result, states must periodically review their registered voter lists to ensure they are up-to-date.

As of 2020, seven states have passed laws that make it easier to remove voters from the rolls. Advocates of the laws say they are necessary to ensure that only qualified voters are kept on the rolls, while opponents say the laws make it harder for voters to know they have been removed or to remedy improper removals.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in April passed a law he said would improve election security by requiring election supervisors to purge voter rolls annually instead of every two years, and establishing a statewide Office of Election Crime and Security to investigate the “irregularities” of the elections. Voter advocates criticized the law, saying it created more opportunities for voters to be worse off the rolls and intimidated by investigators from the new office.

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PARTNERS VS. NON PARTISAN ELECTION ADMINISTRATION

The United States has one of the most fractured election administration systems in the world. In most US states, elections are overseen by elected or appointed state officials. In each county, elections are organized by local officials such as clerks and judges, sometimes in conjunction with independent or nonpartisan election committees.

Some state-level voting laws sought to change election management authorities ahead of the hotly contested 2020 election, in which Trump blamed his loss on voter fraud.

But since that election, 25 states have passed laws that have taken power away from traditional election managers and, in many cases, given control to partisan actors, according to the Voting Rights Lab. Advocates of the laws, overwhelmingly Republican, argued that they would strengthen oversight of local election officials.

These laws are unusual in other democracies. Human rights organization the Council of Europe adopted guidelines in 2010 that called for high-level positions in election management bodies to be “dispersed among the parties” to ensure balance.

Report by Julia Harte; editing by Ross Colvin and Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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