Restrictive State Laws Making It Hard For Voters of Color

Latino and Black voters on the mail voting list are more than twice as likely to be at risk of removal as white voters.
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Photos: Black Voters Matter\ YouTube

Since the Janu­ary 6 insur­rec­tion, dozens of states have enacted restrict­ive voting laws. Race played a big role in where these meas­ures were intro­duced and passed, and their effects will fall espe­cially hard on voters of color.

Two laws — one in Arizona and one in Geor­gia — demon­strate how the legis­la­tion will dispro­por­tion­ately impact communit­ies of color, making it more diffi­cult for them to vote.

Before Arizona legis­lat­ors passed Senate Bill 1485 last year, registered voters could sign up to auto­mat­ic­ally receive a mail ballot for every elec­tion. Whether or not the voter actu­ally parti­cip­ated, they could still count on getting a ballot for the next contest, which made voting easier.

Under the new law, however, voters will be booted off the mail voting list if they go four years without cast­ing a mail ballot — even if the state has no reason to think they’ve moved or are other­wise ineligible.

Our analysis shows that this change will have major, racially dispar­ate effects. Latino and Black voters on the mail voting list are more than twice as likely to be at risk of removal as white voters. The changes spell prob­lems for the state’s large Native Amer­ican community too: Arizon­ans who reside on tribal lands are twice as likely to be at risk of being dropped from the mail voting list as those living else­where. While it’s import­ant to note that these voters would­n’t be “purged” — they could still vote in person or renew their request for a mail ballot — low-frequency voters might not real­ize they didn’t receive a mail ballot until it’s too late to get to a polling place.

Geor­gia presents a slightly more complex picture. There, state lawmakers passed multiple restrict­ive voting bills. In the recent primary, however, turnout increased. Some pundits declared this proof that the restrict­ive voting bills didn’t matter because people were still voting.

Not so fast.

While over­all turnout did increase, so too did the white-Black turnout gap. This year, white turnout was 6 percent­age points higher than Black turnout, far higher than in any primary in recent years.

This does­n’t prove that Geor­gi­a’s new restrict­ive bills caused the turnout gap to widen, but it does show that things are moving in the wrong direc­tion in the Peach State.

We’re less than 90 days away from the first major general elec­tion in which these new bills will be in effect around the coun­try, and activ­ists and research­ers will need to study their impacts. But the early returns suggest that the restrict­ive voting bills adop­ted in so many states will dispro­por­tion­ately impact voters of color, and those impacts may have power­ful effects on our elec­tions.

The situ­ation is another reminder of how the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act, which would likely have preven­ted many of these laws from taking effect, has hurt the most vulner­able voters.

Only Congress can fix this mess, and the time until the midterms is tick­ing away.

By Kevin Morris\Brennan Center

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