WASHINGTON (AP) — Ahead of this year’s midterm elections, voting rights groups are concerned that restrictions in Republican states caused by false claims about the 2020 election could jeopardize access to the ballot box for many voters.
Apparently, these fears did not come true. There were no widespread reports of a voter turnout, and turnout, while down from the last midterm cycle four years ago, looked strong in Georgia, a state with tight races for governor and the U.S. Senate.
The absence of widespread disenfranchisement is not necessarily an indication that everyone who wanted to could vote; there is no good way to tell why certain voters did not vote.
Voter advocacy groups facilitated voter education campaigns and modified voting strategies to reduce confusion and get as many voters as possible to vote.
“We in the voting community in Texas feared the worst,” Anthony Gutierrez, director of Common Cause Texas, said Wednesday. “For the most part, that didn’t happen.”
False claims that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump undermined public confidence in elections and prompted Republican officials to pass new voting laws. The restrictions included stricter ID requirements for voting by mail, shortening the period for filing and returning a mail-in ballot, and limiting early voting days and access to ballot boxes.
This no evidence the 2020 election was subject to widespread fraud or other irregularities.
The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that 33 restrictive voting laws in 20 states were in effect for this year’s midterm elections. The loudest and most far-reaching laws were passed in Georgia, Florida, Iowa and Texas. Arizona also passed new voting rules, but those have mostly been put on hold this year or will take effect later.
Of the four states with major changes to voting laws, preliminary analysis shows declines in registered voter turnout in Florida, Iowa and Texas, while Georgia saw a slight decline. Several factors can affect turnout, including voter enthusiasm and bad weather.
In Texas, the failed introduction of new voting restrictions during the state’s March primary led to officials threw out nearly 23,000 mail-in ballots as confused voters struggled to navigate the new ID requirements.
But preliminary reports after Tuesday’s election showed the rate of absenteeism had returned to more normal levels, which election officials attributed to outreach and mail to voters who were learning about the new rules. In San Antonio, county officials put the previous number of rejected ballots at less than 2%, a sharp reversal from the 23% of mail-in ballots they threw out in March.
Groups like the Texas Civil Rights Project, which works through churches and other organizations, have focused on making sure voters know how to properly fill out their mail-in ballots under the law, known as Senate Bill 1.
“As a community in Texas, we’ve worked very hard to prepare for SB1,” said Emily Eby, senior attorney for the election advocacy group.
Last year, Florida added many new rules regarding mail-in and early voting. These included new ID requirements, changes to the number of ballots a person can cast on behalf of someone else, and restrictions on access to boxes after hours. This year, lawmakers created a controversial new office dedicated to investigating fraud and other election crimes.
However, this year, voting on the eve and on election day was relatively peaceful. Representatives of electoral bodies do not report any serious problems.
Mark Earley, president of the Florida Supervisor of Elections, said the new laws haven’t had much of an impact on voter turnout or access this year, but said the rules taken together pose a problem.
“When you put it all together — the cumulative effect — it’s confusing, hard to communicate and hard to inform the public, hard to understand,” said Early, who monitors elections in Tallahassee’s Leon County. “It becomes a huge logistical and educational burden, as well as additional hurdles for people to jump through before they can collect their ballots.”
Iowa’s new law shortened the period in which voters must return mailed ballots, shortened polling hours and early voting days, and prohibited anyone other than a close relative, family member or guardian from casting a ballot.
More than 1.2 million voters voted in the November 8 elections. State officials said it was the second-highest rate in state history for a midterm, but campaign groups expressed concern that Latino turnout could drop because of the changes.
“Historically, we’ve had a fair amount of Hispanic absentee voting, which has allowed LULAC volunteers to pick up early voting ballots and return them to the county polls,” said Joe Henry, Iowa chapter board member. League of United Citizens of Latin America.
In Georgia, more votes were cast in this general election than in any previous midterm election — although with more voters on the rolls than four years ago, actual turnout was lower.
Gabriel Sterling, acting deputy secretary of state, noted that most of the changes to the election law, known as Senate Bill 202, affected voting before Election Day — “and they broke all the records for that.”
More early votes were cast — both in person and by mail — than in any previous midterm election in the state, he said. It was on election day that the turnout turned out to be lower than expected.
After Democrats won the 2020 presidential race and two U.S. Senate runoffs, the Republican-controlled Georgia Legislature passed sweeping changes to the state’s election laws in 2021.
The law shortened the time period for requesting a ballot and required voters to sign ballot statements by hand, which means they need access to a printer. He also reduced the number of ballot boxes in the state’s most populous counties and limited the hours they were available.
Critics said the changes made voting by mail more difficult. Democrats urged people to vote early and in person this year. Kendra Cotton, CEO of the New Georgia Project Action Fund, said she believes the election law has actually had a negative effect in a state where key races were decided by narrow margins in recent elections.
“Most likely, SB202 was trying to inhibit the vote, and we’re arguing that it actually wasn’t,” she said. “She was trying to prevent enough people from voting to change the outcome of the election here in Georgia.”
This year, Republicans have captured statewide seats, and there will be a runoff on Dec. 6 to determine the winner of the U.S. Senate race.
While she acknowledged there weren’t many problems on Election Day, Cotton said the law created a lot of “noise” that drained the energy and resources of organizations like hers.
“We need to get out there and help voters fight to stay on the rolls,” Cotton said.
Voter advocacy groups are already mobilizing to support Georgia voters heading into the Dec. 6 Senate runoff. Previously, the second round was held nine weeks after the election. The new law reduced this period to just four weeks, which also leaves too little time for new voter registration.
“These types of tactics are aimed at suppressing the vote,” said Andrea Haley, CEO of Vote.org. “But Georgians have demonstrated that they are ready and willing to overcome harsh voting conditions to make their voices heard.”
Associated Press data reporter Aaron Kessler in Washington, D.C., and writer Kate Brumback in Atlanta; Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida; Jeff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey; David Peet in Des Moines, Iowa; and Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.