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Millions of Voters Navigate New Voting Rules on Super Tuesday

New photo ID rules and other changes vary widely between individual states, districts and even polling locations.

A voter casts their ballot at a polling location at the Museum of Contemporary Art on March, 5, 2024, in Arlington, Virginia.

The election landscape facing voters shifted rapidly from state to state in recent years, thanks in part to rank partisanship and the baseless conspiracy theories spread by a certain election-denying former president. After the calamitous presidential election of 2020, state lawmakers passed an unprecedented number of laws shaping elections and access to the ballot.

Litigation over ballot access and redistricting — particularly in Southern states with a history of racist segregation and voter suppression — remains virtually constant in state and federal courts.

Pro-democracy groups are now keeping a close eye on the 16 states holding Super Tuesday primary contests today as millions of voters navigate major changes to voting rules, districts and polling locations for the first time.

With activists calling for protest votes against President Joe Biden’s support for Israel’s brutal war on Gaza, and partisan runoffs for state and federal offices on the ballot in multiple states, Super Tuesday is more than just a test run for the general election in November. Voters choose who is on the ballot in the primaries and send a message about their temperament to party leaders. In deep red or blue states where only one party is competitive, primaries often determine who goes on to win public office.

While 23 states passed laws to expand ballot access in 2023, at least 14 states passed new photo ID requirements and restrictions on mail-in voting that voters may be unaware of until they have trouble casting a ballot. Since 2020, eight states — Arkansas, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio and Wyoming — have enacted laws requiring voters to present a photo ID at the polls, a change impacting about 29 million potential adult voters.

Voter ID requirements in six critical swing states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — are changing this year due to new laws or legal rulings, according to NBC News. With President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump expected to be running at the top of the ticket once again, it will likely be voters in a handful of swing states who decide the election on razor-thin margins.

“Confusion” will likely be the biggest barrier to voting in 2024, according to Sylvia Albert, the democracy policy counsel at Common Cause, a group that monitors elections and assists voters.

For example, in states with new ID requirements, voters who don’t have a driver’s license are more likely to encounter barriers when they show up to vote. In most states with photo ID requirements, voters can cast a provisional ballot if they do not have the correct form of ID.

Unfortunately for voters, the situation varies widely between individual states, districts and even polling locations.

“It’s a mix across the country, and in some places, it’s going to be a good change, and in some places a bad change,” Albert told reporters on Monday. “In one state polling locations may be closing down, in another there is different rules around voter ID or vote-by-mail, in another state there might be elimination of drop boxes.”

Voters in Arkansas and North Carolina will encounter stricter photo ID requirements for the first time on Super Tuesday. In Texas, gun owners can use their firearm license to vote in Tuesday’s primaries, but election officials in the deep red state are reminding students this week that they cannot use their college or university ID cards.

Most other states allow student ID cards — besides Idaho, where Republicans who recently eliminated the use of student IDs for voting were accused of voter suppression in court. The Republican-led states of South Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio and Tennessee also do not allow student IDs for voting.

Litigation over racist gerrymandering is ongoing in North Carolina and Texas, where voting maps have shifted in recent years during charged partisan fights over redistricting. Similar fights have erupted over Republican-drawn maps in other Southern states, including Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican lawmakers completely dismantled a majority-Black congressional district last year.

Meanwhile, voting rights advocates warn that local election offices are underfunded and understaffed after an exodus of experienced personnel who either recently retired or left their jobs due to harassment by right-wing election deniers.

“Voters are dealing with so many new things,” Albert said. “So, we all know that voting is a pattern, and when something is outside of that pattern, it really can cause barriers.”

In North Carolina, partisan poll watchers can now “roam freely” inside polling places, a policy put in place in multiple red states after baseless conspiracy theories about a stolen election went viral in 2020.

“They can’t see who the person is voting for, but the law does allow them to hear conversation the voter is having with an election worker, and we feel that is nothing but codifying potential intimidation,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause in North Carolina.

A restrictive new voting law in North Carolina also threw out a three-day grace period for election offices to receive mail-in ballots. People mailing in ballots late likely will not have their votes counted. Phillips said advocates will be paying close attention to how many provisional ballots are cast by voters who did not bring the right form of photo ID to the polls, and how many mail-in ballots miss the deadline.

After years of legal fights over gerrymandering and a GOP takeover of the state’s Supreme Court, a congressional voting map drawn by Republicans recently went into effect in North Carolina that is expected to deliver three to four extra House seats to the GOP this year.

“Those primary races are really highly contested,” Phillips said.

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