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Could Restrictive New Voting Laws in Swing States Shift the Outcome in 2024?

More than 560 new rules governing elections have become law in states all across the country in the last three years.

Voters leave the Park Tavern polling location after casting their ballots in the Georgia primary election on May 24, 2022, in Atlanta, Georgia.

The 2024 presidential election is a full year away — and many of the rules that will govern the pivotal contest have already been written.

The past three years make up one of the most prolific periods for election legislation in American history. Over 560 new laws governing our elections — many of them containing pages and pages of changes — have become law in states all across the country.

While voters in states like Michigan and Nevada will experience more voting options than ever, new restrictions in states like North Carolina and Georgia will create significant barriers in 2024 — barriers that didn’t exist just four years ago.

The University of Virginia Center for Politics projects that the outcome of the elections in just eight states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — could determine our next president in 2024.

According to new research from my team at Voting Rights Lab, voters in half of these states will encounter significant new restrictions on their ability to cast a ballot. Their ability to overcome those restrictions could decide the outcome of next year’s election.

Four Key Swing States Restrict Voter Access

No swing state has erected more voting restrictions since 2020 than North Carolina. Whether voters cast their ballots in person or by mail in 2024, they will experience significant new barriers.

Just last month, North Carolina lawmakers overrode a veto from Governor Roy Cooper to restrict mail voting — an option used by more than one million of the state’s voters in 2020. The new law will toss all mail ballots received after 7:30 p.m. on Election Day — no matter when the ballot was dropped in the mail and without any protection against postal delays like those we saw in 2020. If that rule was in place back in 2020, more than 11,000 votes would have been tossed. North Carolinians will also face the strictest mail voter ID requirement in the country — thanks to a recent decision from the newly reconfigured state supreme court that reinstated a 2018 law that the previous configuration of the court had declared racially discriminatory and unconstitutional just last year. That 2018 law also creates a new photo ID requirement for in-person voters. Unlike most voter ID laws, it does not allow voters without ID to verify their identity using other means.

Just to the south, voters in Georgia will also face new restrictions on mail voting, including new requirements for requesting and casting mail ballots, and more limited options for returning them. Meanwhile, local election officials now face the burden of an alarming new system that allows extremists to file frivolous mass challenges to voter registrations.

In Wisconsin, a total ban on drop boxes and extreme new rules to block anyone other than the voter — not their spouse, caregiver, nor neighbor — from returning a mail ballot in most circumstances threatens one of the most popular voting options in the state.

And in New Hampshire, the lapse of pandemic-era expansions to mail and in-person early voting make it one of just three states where the only options for most voters will be to cast their ballot in person on Election Day. And new voters who register to vote on Election Day face new rules that make it far more likely their ballot will be rejected.

Swing State Election Officials Face Serious Challenges

Local election administrators will once again be entrusted to be fair, accurate, and accountable — especially in the states that capture the national spotlight. But as was the case four years ago, that spotlight has yielded an environment where those officials — civil servants often without any party affiliation — face serious threats for simply doing their jobs.

For many, recent years of unprecedented harassment and intimidation have proven too much to bear for election officials in several swing states. More than 50 top election officials in Pennsylvania have left their positions since the 2020 election. Top administrators in 13 of Arizona’s 15 counties have done the same. Similar stories out of Nevada and North Carolina mean election offices throughout the country will face drains on experience, staffing, and resources — all while working hard to implement a deluge of new election laws for the first time in a presidential election.

Lawmakers Seek Personal Control Over Elections in Swing States

It’s no secret that some extreme politicians are working to exert influence over our elections. Mega-donors have spent millions to spread disinformation and sow distrust in American democracy. Fringe groups have recruited thousands of poll observers to harass voters and disrupt polling places. Armed vigilantes have harassed and intimidated voters using drop boxes.

But there is perhaps no greater threat to voters than state lawmakers determined to exert personal control over our elections — to undermine the very fabric of American democracy by changing the rules for their own benefit.

Yet another new law in North Carolina — also enacted over the governor’s veto — grants state lawmakers the authority to take over state and county election boards. This power grab opens the door for conspiracy theorists to gain influence over local elections, creates a scenario where deadlocked county boards could close dozens of early voting sites, and means new state and local election officials will step into office just days before early voting begins for next year’s primaries.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin lawmakers have worked for months to remove the state’s nonpartisan election administrator. And in Arizona, the state legislature has relentlessly advanced bills granting themselves more and more power over elections — including one that would allow lawmakers to officially reject the results of a fair and free election — only to be blocked by vetoes from Governor Katie Hobbs.

Partisans have worked hard to put their thumb on the scale in fully half of the nation’s projected 2024 swing states. Those who stand on the side of a vibrant, inclusive democracy — from election officials to voter education groups to the voters themselves — will have to work harder to overcome. To make sure these barriers don’t affect the outcome in 2024, we have to start now.

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