National attention on elections is often hyper-focused on battleground states and frames voter access and election security in rigid partisan terms. As 2023 state legislative sessions adjourn, a notable trend has emerged among Republican trifecta states (where they control all three state branches). In Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Wyoming, among others. Republicans are standing up for voter access and listening to election administrators in showing signs of reversing course on restrictive elections policy. State legislatures saw a plethora of bills introduced this year that would limit absentee voting, ban drop boxes, reduce early voting, and impose new criminal and civil penalties on voters and election administrators. When bills restricting voter access and tried and true practices are enacted, voter access suffers, and election administrators are penalized for simple mistakes. By refusing passage to restrictive and needlessly burdensome legislation these Republican-majority legislatures may be paving the way for a return to bipartisan agreement on election policies.
In Idaho, two bills introduced that would have limited voter access were defeated on the House floor. HB137 would have ended the use of affidavits for voters without identification at the polls, denying voters who forgot or lost their photo identification the ability to vote. HB205 would have eliminated no-excuse absentee voting. In both instances, opposition was bipartisan.
Speaking against HB137, Rep. Britt Raybould (R) told legislators that it is already a felony to provide false, erroneous, or inaccurate information on voter affidavits in Idaho. She argued that the bill was unnecessary and prevented eligible registered voters from exercising their constitutional right. Rep. Stephanie Jo Mickelsen (R) shared a personal story about her husband who had forgotten his driver’s license on election day and noted that without the option to sign an affidavit he would not have been able to cast his ballot.
When elections are already secure, additional requirements for voters and election administrators often create needless burden and complication. Idaho Secretary of State Phil McGrane(R) and former Secretary of State Lawerence Denney (R) repeatedly said that Idaho elections are secure and widespread voter fraud is not occurring. They both pointed to existing state elections laws, consistent results from elections audits, recounts and the public testing and demonstration of ballot tabulation equipment as evidence of the security and integrity of Idaho elections.
South Dakota legislators considered HB1217 to eliminate no-excuse absentee balloting, prohibit the use of drop boxes, and shorten the early voting period. HB1217 was brought to the House floor and failed because of strong bipartisan opposition. Opponents argued that eliminating drop boxes would hurt rural voters and that the legislature should listen to the state auditor’s objections to the legislation. The bill failed in a tie vote, was brought back for reconsideration, and failed again after losing support with 30 members voting in favor and 39 voting in opposition.
In Mississippi, legislation to shorten the deadline for voters who cast provisional ballots to produce qualifying photo ID and legislation that would eliminate absentee balloting except for military and overseas voters failed to receive hearings. The latter would have made Mississippi the only state with such limit on least-excuse absentee voting, which is considered essential and currently available in all states. Another piece of legislation that would have increased already strict penalties for election crimes failed to make it to the Governor’s desk after dying in the House Apportionment and Elections Committee without a hearing.
In Wyoming, HB156 would have removed Medicare or Medicaid insurance cards and student IDs as acceptable forms of voter ID. For many voters, especially younger and older voters, this would remove easily accessible options for identification without improving security. Dan Zwonitzer (R) argued that the legislation would hurt students and seniors. The bill was defeated by a bipartisan vote on the House floor. Three other pieces of legislation related to absentee ballots also failed to become law.
In Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Wyoming, Republican-controlled legislatures are protecting voter access and standing with election administrators. These states may be the first indications that the trend towards a two-tiered system of election policy – one red and one blue – may be reversing. As many states’ legislative sessions near conclusion, we hope the burgeoning bipartisan alignment in support of strong, comprehensive voting options proliferates.
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