As the 2024 election approaches, organizers are working hard to preserve voting rights in states that have made it drastically more difficult to vote.
After record voter turnout in 2020, several states, including Georgia, Florida, and Iowa, took steps to make voting more difficult. Some reduced drop box access, and others limited vote-by-mail or shortened voting times. Voting rights organizations across the country are fighting to curb the impact of these laws by challenging them in court while also trying to help voters navigate obstacles that keep them from exercising their democratic right.
Grassroots organizations such as Black Voters Matter (BVM) and Fair Fight work to increase voter turnout in places facing restrictive measures. BVM focuses their organizing work in the nine core states: Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. To minimize barriers to voting, BVM does the people-to-people work of knocking on doors, conducting church outreach, and giving voters rides to the polls. The voting rights organization Fair Fight focuses specifically on Georgia, and it has been instrumental in combating unfair voting laws and organizing voters across the state.
In states like Texas, Georgia, and Florida, national organizations such as the Brennan Center for Justice have also been on the front lines of legal challenges to voter suppression. The Brennan Center is currently suing the state of Texas over Senate Bill 1, a new law that bans drive-thru voting and hinders election officials’ ability to stop poll watcher harassment. The Brennan Center also previously sued Florida for failing to provide guidance to people convicted of felonies about their eligibility to vote, which led some previously incarcerated people to be prosecuted for mistakenly registering to vote.
High turnout in the 2022 Georgia midterms showed how effective grassroots organizations were at helping voters show up to the polls in spite of the passage of Senate Bill 202 in Georgia. The 2021 law created several new impediments to voting that disproportionately affect people of color, including significantly limiting the use of drop boxes and criminalizing the act of giving food and water to voters standing in line (a provision which has since been overturned by a federal court). But despite the law, Georgia’s midterm turnout rate was largely the same as it was in 2018. Organizers attributed the strong turnout to grassroots efforts that educated voters on how to navigate the new conditions for voting.
“Since 2018, groups like FairFight, New Georgia Project, and so many other groups in the Georgia coalition have been working round the clock throughout the year every year to tell people to vote,” said Xakota Espinoza, communications and digital director at Fair Fight. “That’s why voters have more information than they’ve had ever before. They’re being reached out to and contacted more than ever before.”
At the same time, Georgia’s racial gap in voter turnout increased, with greater turnout from white voters and reduced turnout from Black voters. This was likely due to SB 202’s restrictions on vote-by-mail and access to drop boxes. More than half of the voters who used a drop box in 2020 live in four metro Atlanta counties, where people of color account for about 50% of voters. The number of drop boxes in these four counties has dropped from 107 to 25.
“There are a lot of things that go into turnout, some of it has to do with barriers,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, director of voting rights at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Some of it has to do with how much campaigns are investing in certain communities, and there are many other factors, but one thing I will be paying a lot of attention to in 2024 is whether the obstacles and turnout rates vary based on race and the communities people live in.”
Voting laws in 2024 are largely more restrictive than in 2020. Between October 2022 and October 2023, at least 881 laws were introduced in state legislatures to interfere in elections or restrict the right to vote. While 2020 was a watershed moment for improving voter access through vote-by-mail, at least 11 new laws enacted in 2023 reduced its use, such as a Nebraska law that requires voters without a Nebraska driver’s license or state ID to provide a copy of their photo ID with their ballot.
Some newly enacted laws allow state interference in elections. Texas’ SB 1 allows local officials to directly intervene in elections held in Harris County, one of the most populated and diverse counties in the state. Georgia’s SB 202 allows a state elections board to replace county elections boards after a performance review, potentially paving the way for elections to be decertified if state officials are displeased with county results.
At the same time, some states have adopted expansive voting laws that make it easier to vote by mail, register to vote, and vote early. At least one expansive bill was introduced in every state in 2023, and more than 1,200 expansive voting bills were introduced between January 2022 and October 2023. Many states like Oregon and New York that have enacted these laws are led by Democrats. However, red states like Utah and Louisiana have also enacted laws that made voting easier –– often coupled with other restrictive laws that make voting more challenging.
Organizers worry that restrictive measures prevent voters from coming to the polls because they provide fewer options for how to vote, increase wait times, and implement more requirements that intentionally target working-class people and people of color.
“Arguably, in some ways, we have more restrictions on voting rights than what we had the day after the Voting Rights Act was signed, in the sense that the Voting Rights Act has been weakened from 1965 to 2024,” said Cliff Albright, co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter.
Organizers are also concerned that misinformation will lead voters to make poorly informed decisions or abstain from voting entirely. Artificial intelligence creates significant concerns about disinformation campaigns fueling worldwide anti-democracy conspiracy theories. As we’ve seen in the U.S., such campaigns empower right-wing efforts to overturn elections.
“The mis- and disinformation threat is real,” said Juan Gilbert, a computer scientist and member of the National Academies Committee on the Future of Voting. “We saw that in 2020, and I would anticipate that will probably be the biggest thing to be concerned about in 2024.”
A November 2023 survey from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement found that 57% of Americans ages 18-34 say they are extremely likely to vote in 2024. At the same time, disillusionment with the Biden administration’s funding of Israel’s genocide in Gaza has created speculation that some young voters may abstain from voting in the presidential election. Albright said political pundits should be careful not to underestimate the anger many young voters and Black voters have over the Biden Administration’s support of Israel.
“To lose … 5%, 10%, or 15% on the margins in some states like Georgia or Michigan, that can be the difference,” said Albright. “The administration really has to look at what policies they pursue [in Gaza].”
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