CLC Report Grades States on Changes to Voting Laws in 2021 Legislative Sessions

Issues

Congress can and must act to guarantee equal, nondiscriminatory access to the freedom to vote

WASHINGTON – Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) released a report grading states on their 2021 legislative sessions. This is the first report to zoom in on how states have changed their vote-by-mail and early voting laws this year, finding that seven states enacted restrictive laws in the first half of the year. The report uses a ten-point scale to grade the performance of all states that have completed their legislative sessions, examining the impact of changes caused by COVID-19 and detailing which states are making those changes permanent.

CLC held a press call on voting rights today with New Georgia Project, viewable here.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced early Wednesday his plan for floor action in September on a revised version of the For the People Act, signaling that it will be a top priority after the Senate returns from recess. The report details how the new bill would positively impact the 13 states included in the report who currently require an excuse to vote by mail, and the 16 states included in the report that don’t currently have a two-week early voting period. In addition, at least four states that passed restrictive laws in the first half of this year would have been subject to preclearance – which would have required them to prove to the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court that their laws did not discriminate against voters of color – if the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act were in place.

“Federal intervention would have succeeded in preventing dozens of states from passing laws this year that severely curtail millions of Americans’ freedom to vote. Voting rights legislation must be passed urgently by Congress when they return from recess before more damage is done,” said Caleb Jackson, legal counsel, voting rights at Campaign Legal Center (CLC), a co-author of the report. “The expansion of vote-by-mail and early voting opportunities were key to the 2020 election having the biggest election turnout in a century. States should be working to expand these opportunities so that voter turnout can continue to improve. Our democracy works best when all voters are able to exercise the freedom to vote in safe and accessible elections.”

CLC’s report findings include:

  • Racial impact: With the exception of Maryland, the legislatures in states with the highest Black populations that changed their vote-by-mail and early voting policies each made changes for the worse: Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana.
  • COVID-19 Impact: The COVID-19 pandemic led several states to expand access to vote by mail and early voting. During the 2020 elections, 10 states changed their laws to allow all eligible voters to vote by mail either generally or because they feared contracting the coronavirus. Only one of the 10 states that expanded vote-by-mail eligibility in 2020 is in the process of making that expansion permanent: New York. One of the four states that extended its early voting period during the pandemic permanently established three days of early voting through a bipartisan election reform package: Kentucky.
  • Partisan Impact: In 2020, we saw an expansion of vote by mail in red and blue states alike. Five of the 10 states that expanded vote-by-mail eligibility in 2020 were states that the Republican candidate, former President Donald Trump, won by 10 or more percentage points. Trump also won every one of the four states that expanded their early voting periods in response to the pandemic.