Inside the Democratic strategy to expand voting rights state by state

To be sure, not all Republican legislatures are opposed to expanding voting access. In Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear signed a sweeping electoral reform law passed by the Republican-controlled legislature that broadens early and absentee voting and establishes recount procedures.

More broadly, Republicans push back against criticism from Democrats that they’re engaged in a scheme to shrink the pool of eligible voters to keep their hold on power. The actual goal, they argue, is to put safeguards in place to prevent voting fraud and maintain public trust in election results.

The idea that only blue states are expanding access is “a false dichotomy that has a lot to do with political narratives instead of reality,” said Jason Snead, a former senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation and executive director of a new conservative group the Honest Elections Project.

“My concern is if a state is going to buy into this false dichotomy and only going to look at election rules as barriers, they’re not going to see that the public needs to be assured that they can trust the results,” he said, adding that the legislative push could backfire if voters are wary. “If you don’t think the process works or is rigged, you’re not going to vote.”

Democrats would beg to differ. In New Jersey, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy was elected in 2017 after promising to sign every single voting rights expansion that Republican Chris Christie had rejected over his two terms leading the state. Murphy and lawmakers moved quickly, with the governor enacting automatic voter registration legislation in 2018. The following year, he signed a law restoring voting rights to people on probation or parole.

This year, the Democratically-controlled statehouse passed two bills that expand voter access on the same day that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, signed some of the country’s most restrictive voting legislation. Murphy later signed the measures that authorize early in-person voting and mandate a broader disbursement of ballot drop boxes.

Having nine days of early, in-person voting ahead of November elections is crucial for marginalized communities and will allow Black residents in New Jersey to participate in “Souls to the Polls” drives on Sundays, said Henal Patel, director of the Democracy and Justice program at the nonpartisan New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.

“Election Day voting is a challenge for a lot of people,” Patel said. “People want to vote on Election Day, but it’s difficult to be able to take time out on a Tuesday for a number of people. Having flexibility to vote on other days is really crucial for voter access.”

Last month, Virginia became the first state to enact its own version of a voting rights act when Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signed a sweeping law that requires all local elections administrators to receive public feedback or approval from the state’s attorney general before making changes like moving voting precincts or elections registrars’ offices. The legislation also allows voters to sue over voter suppression and prohibits any racial discrimination or intimidation related to voting.

That law builds on more than a year of related actions from state leaders, such as repealing a voter ID requirement, enactment of 45 days of absentee voting and implementing automatic voter registration for anyone who receives a drivers license.

Virginia Del. Marcia Price, who has spearheaded voting rights legislation, said her attention is now turning to advocating for H.R. 1 (117) , the national voting rights proposal under consideration by Congress. Price, a Black woman whose family was involved in the civil rights movement in the South, said that it’s “very hard for me to stop at celebrating for Virginia knowing that, for family members in other states, their rights won’t be as protected as Virginians.”