Tougher voting rules have affected democratic participation efforts in key battlegrounds


In 2020, when Angela Lang and her team at Black Leaders Organizing for Communities met with Milwaukee residents who were nervous about voting in person during the pandemic, they pointed to a wide-ranging option: ballot boxes.

Two years later, the boxes are no longer an option for state voters after a conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court banned their use in July. So on Wednesday night, Lang’s team sent out a text message to voters asking them to return their absentee ballots by mail before Nov. 1.

“People got used to a new way of voting in 2020,” said Lang, whose group focuses on voter turnout in Milwaukee’s predominantly Black North Side, along with parts of Racine and Kenosha. “But you can’t have a voting routine” because the ground rules have changed.

“It’s very disappointing,” he said.

A flurry of new laws like Wisconsin’s and recent court rulings have changed the voting landscape ahead of this year’s midterm elections. And those changes – along with a slower pace of fundraising by some third-party groups – could make it harder for Democrats to repeat the record turnout that helped them capture the White House and the majority of the US Senate last cycle.

“A lot of work was done to help people overcome obstacles in 2020, and instead of celebrating and being happy about the fact that the turnout was so great, new obstacles were put in front of them,” said Sean Morales-Doyle. He oversees the liberal-leaning voting rights program at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice.

Since the 2020 election, at least 20 states have passed laws putting voting restrictions in place when voters go to the polls this fall, according to a recent Brennan Center analysis of legislative activity through Sept. 12. in fact, Montana and Delaware have further messed up their voting procedures in recent weeks.

The political stakes are high: U.S. Senate majorities could be in tight contests in states like Wisconsin and Georgia, where high turnout propelled Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to victory in Senate primaries in the 2020 election cycle and flipped control of the chamber. to their party

Warnock, who is up for re-election this fall as he seeks a full six-year term, will face former NFL star and Republican candidate Herschel Walker.

In advance, in-person voting began Monday in Georgia.

In Wisconsin, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is trying to fend off a challenge from state Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes. The closely watched state governor’s race pits Democratic incumbent Tony Evers against Republican businessman Tim Michels.

Some Democratic groups say donors are investing less money in mobilizing voters this year than in 2020, even as voters face higher hurdles and candidates in high-profile races like Warnock’s record-setting campaigns. (Warnock, who has consistently led fundraising among all Senate candidates this cycle, recently reported raising more than $26 million in the three months from July to September, his biggest fundraiser yet of the cycle.)

In Georgia, the Republican-controlled General Assembly made major changes to the state’s voting laws in 2021, following Democratic gains there. In 2020, incumbent President Joe Biden became the first Democratic candidate to win the state in nearly 30 years.

The legislative change goes from making it a crime to offer food and water to voters waiting in line to restricting the hours and locations of polling stations. In addition, voters must now present identification to request absentee ballots. Previously, election officials only had to match the signatures of absentee voters with those on file.

The law also made it clear that any Georgia voter could challenge the eligibility of an unlimited number of their fellow voters, which has helped unleash tens of thousands of ballot challenges by conservative activists in recent months.

Aklima Khondoker, CEO of the New Georgia Project voting rights group, said her organization has had to revise the information it provides to voters and hire more staff to communicate the changes. The group is also urging Georgians to check their voter registration status now to ensure they are not caught by frivolous scammers when they show up to the polls.

“We don’t want to scare people,” he said. “We want to prepare people.”

But New Georgia Project officials say funding for voter information campaigns and mobilization has not kept up with the demands created by the new law. The group currently has a seven-figure budget gap in the area of ​​voter education, according to development director Candice Drummond.

In a recent phone-banking operation to contact major 2020 donors who had not yet contributed for the 2022 cycle, New Georgia Project officials repeatedly heard from people who said they had already given, said spokesman Paul Glaze. But, he said, many were referring to a leadership PAC associated with Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia, not the New Georgia Project.

(Abrams, a powerful fundraiser with a national profile, raised more than $36 million for his campaign and PAC in the three months ended Sept. 30, his campaign recently announced. That’s roughly $7.6 million more than his Republican opponent (than the fundraising for Gov. Brian Kemp, who he narrowly defeated in 2018.)

The Black Voters Matter Fund — another group that helped push Georgia’s record turnout in 2020 — is likely to run half of the state’s radio ads two years ago because of budget cuts, said group member Cliff Albright. – the creator

He attributes some of the funding problems to a drop in donor interest in the midterm elections, along with a lower profile of racial justice issues that peaked in 2020 with nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd.

But, Albright said, “part of that is people don’t understand that doing the same amount of work that we did in 2020, which was Herculean in itself, requires more funding support.”

“In a perfect world, we would be able to build on what we did in 2020,” Albright said. But now, he added, “we have much more to communicate about what has changed.”

Supporters of Georgia’s law, known as SB202, or the Election Integrity Act, point to high turnout in this year’s Georgia primaries to counter Democratic arguments that made it harder for lawmakers to vote.

Early voting participation in the May primary was up 168 percent over 2018, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who supported the new law, said in a news release. “The overwhelming turnout we’ve seen proves that for once the Georgia Election Integrity Act struck a good balance between access and security,” he said.

Albright said the higher turnout “means we’ve had to work harder to overcome your oppression.”

He said his team remains committed to getting out the vote in Georgia and other key battleground states, despite the upheaval. Activists “can get frustrated, they can get mad and maybe even punch themselves in the head,” he said, “but we have to keep moving.”

It’s not just the new laws that have disrupted get-out-the-vote plans.

In Montana, for example, a state court ruling late last month struck down three restrictive voting provisions passed by the state legislature. Those laws prohibited paying anyone at the polls, eliminated same-day voter registration, and made it difficult to use student IDs to vote.

Lawmakers argued that fraud prevention measures were needed.

In his ruling, Judge Michael Moses, appointed by former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, said voter fraud was “extremely rare” in Montana and found that the laws violated the rights of young voters and Native Americans.

Keaton Sunchild — political director of the nonpartisan Western Native Voice, one of the groups that challenged the law — said third-party polling will help ensure Native Americans can participate. In a reservation, he said that some residents live more than 120 kilometers from the election office.

Sunchild said his organization had to develop alternative plans as legal challenges played out. Always trying to figure out: ‘Will it change?’”.

Sunchild said the group will now continue canvassing in the state’s seven reserves, following Moises’ ruling.

But the legal battles may not be over. An aide to Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen told the New York Times that the Republican plans to appeal the ruling. A spokesman for Jacobs, Richie Melby, did not respond to an inquiry from CNN.