States are changing election laws, but will they impact midterm turnout in 2022?


There has been a lot of outcry over so-called anti-democratic new state laws that make it harder to vote.

But it turns out that such laws might have little impact on voter turnout and voting margins in an election.

That’s according to a February 2022 analysis from Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a newsletter that provides nonpartisan election analysis.

The 2020 presidential election recorded the highest turnout of the last century, with 66.8% of citizens aged 18 and over voting in the elections.

High voter turnout could make the difference in the 2022 midterm elections. Turnout in midterm elections is generally lower than in presidential elections.

The 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate will be up for grabs in the elections. Democrats hold slim majorities in both chambers. If Republicans are able to increase the number, they will likely flip control of both chambers in their favor.

As a political scientist, I study state voting and election rules. Voting is important to a healthy democracy because it is how we consent to be governed and how elected officials know what policies we want.

Election laws also protect against voter fraud. Thanks to these laws, voter fraud in the United States is very rare and generally has no impact on the outcome of elections.

Sometimes these rules can create burdens for citizens who want to vote. This can lead to citizens losing trust in their government. Citizens’ loss of trust in government can harm our democracy.

It is too early to tell the full effect these new election laws will have on shaping the 2022 elections.

New laws might not make voting easier or harder

During the 2021 legislative sessions, 36 states passed legislation that changes the way citizens vote.

Most of these recent laws do not make voting any easier or more difficult. They facilitate the process for the state and local officials who organize the elections.

For example, a new law in Utah improves communication between the Social Security administration and election officials to ensure deceased voters are removed from voter registration rolls.

Meanwhile, nineteen states have enacted 33 laws that may make it harder for Americans to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

In Texas, for example, a 2021 law requires voters to provide part of their Social Security or driver’s license number on their mail-in ballot application. The number should match the one voters used when they registered to vote. Two million registered voters in Texas did not have one of the two numbers on their voter roll they gave when they registered to vote.

A large number of absentee ballot applications for the March 2022 Texas primary were rejected due to this change. Texas has also limited the opening hours of early voting locations and banned the popular drive-thru voting trend.

In Georgia, voters requesting mail-in ballots must now provide photo identification when requesting a mail-in ballot and when returning it.

Georgia also joined Texas, Iowa and Kansas in passing a law prohibiting county and state election officials from automatically sending absentee or absentee ballot applications to registered voters.

In some cases things get easier

Twenty-five states, meanwhile, have passed 62 laws since 2020 that could make voting easier.

Delaware and Hawaii have joined 20 other states that now automatically register citizens to vote when they turn 18. Early research shows that automatic voter registration can slightly increase voter turnout.

Some states have made it easier for specific groups of voters. For example, in Maine, students can use their photo ID to vote. In North Dakota, students can share a letter from a college or university to vote. Indiana now allows a document issued by a Native American tribe or band to serve as valid identification for voting.

Ten states — including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois and Kentucky — increased access to ballot boxes and mail-in voting locations in 2021.

Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada and Vermont have passed bills that protect or facilitate voter access to polling places. Maryland’s bill requires counties to offer a minimum number of early voting centers based on population. Vermont will now allow outdoor and in-car voting. Beginning with the 2022 primary election, all voting in Hawaii will be by mail.

These changes give voters more options or just make it easier to vote and can help increase voter turnout.

What will happen in 2022?

Many suffrage activists expect turnout to decline in states that have made it harder to vote and increase in states that have made it easier.

The answer may not be so simple.

Researchers disagree on how voting rules affect voter turnout. Studies do not consistently show that individual voting laws reduce voter turnout.

But a state’s set of election laws can have more influence during elections. Researchers call the combined effect of election laws “the cost of voting.”
When the cost of voting increases, overall turnout decreases.

Turnout in the 2020 presidential election has been unusually high, even with some state laws that suffrage advocates say made it harder for people of color and other groups to vote.

Electoral laws are not the only factors influencing voter turnout. But adding additional hurdles to voting can lead to frustration that keeps some voters at home. The upcoming midterm elections will determine whether these new election laws have a measurable impact on voter turnout.

[The Conversation’s Politics + Society editors pick need-to-know stories. Sign up for Politics Weekly.]

Nancy Martorano Miller is an associate professor of political science at the University of Dayton.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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