Florida, Georgia, and Texas lawmakers passed significant 2021 election integrity laws but they may not remain intact as adopted—or in effect at all—for midterm primaries and November’s general election.
The three states approved election reforms amid heated Democratic opposition in partisan votes by Republican-controlled legislatures last year. All three are enacted, but face legal challenges in federal court.
Florida’s new election law is the first being tested in a trial that began Jan. 31 in U.S. District Judge Mark Walker’s Tallahassee U.S. courtroom in the third week of proceedings.
The Florida law adds identification requirements for requesting absentee ballots; requires voters request an absentee ballot for each election, every two years; limits who can collect and drop off ballots to prevent “ballot harvesting”; allows more partisan observers during vote-counting; and prohibits outside groups from providing items “with the intent to influence” voters at a polling location. Unlike the Georgia election bill, the Florida measure allows poll workers to provide water and other assistance.
The Florida section reforms were adopted by the state’s Senate on April 26 in a 23-17 partisan vote and the state’s House 77-40 on April 29 in an equally partisan tally. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed it on May 6 during a Palm Beach rally sponsored by Club 45 USA, a Donald Trump fan club, and covered live on Fox News while local media were denied access.
Less than 10 minutes after DeSantis signed the bill, the League of Women Voters, Black Voters Matter, and Alliance for Retired Americans filed a federal lawsuit arguing the new law violates the First and 14th Amendments. Numerous other suits followed.
The challenges were consolidated into a 38-page League of Women Voters v. Lee lawsuit. In October, Walker allowed the suit to move forward. The trial began Jan. 31.
Honest Elections Project Executive Director Jason Snead said the new Florida election law affirms improvements made since Florida’s “Come to Jesus moment” after the 2000 “hanging chad” debacle and includes “even greater security mechanisms to sustain confidence in elections.”
The new Georgia election law was approved by the state’s Senate on March 8 on a 32-20 note, and by the state’s House on a 100-75 vote on March 25. Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed the bill the same day.
The law imposes stricter voter ID requirements, drop box limitations, shorter absentee ballot request deadlines and a ban on handing out food and water to voters waiting in line. It allows any voter to challenge voter registrations.
Nine lawsuits were filed against the Georgia election law. In December, U.S. Northern District of Georgia Judge J.P. Boulee denied the state’s petition to dismiss and ordered a trial to proceed. No date has been set.
The suits argue the new Georgia election law violates the First and 14th amendments. The plaintiffs include the NAACP, League of Women Voters, Common Cause, Lower Muskogee Creek Tribe, New Georgia Project and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Among their lawyers is Marc Elias, one of the nation’s foremost Democrat elections law attorneys.
Georgia Senate President Butch Miller (R) told The Epoch Times Tuesday he was confident the state’s new election law would withstand scrutiny but is only “a good start.” He’s sponsoring a bill to outlaw drop boxes altogether.
With the new law in place, vote-by-mail plunged in Georgia’s fall elections with half as many absentee voters voting-by-mail in metro Atlanta compared to 2020, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
While the last of the three adopted, the Texas election reform law will be the first implemented in an election. The law went into effect Dec. 2 and remains in place with early voting beginning Feb. 14 for the state’s March 1 primaries despite federal lawsuits to be heard in the coming months.
The new Texas election law bans drive-thru voting, prohibits 24-hour early voting, distribution of ballot applications, imposes tighter ID requirements on ballot applications, allows poll watchers “free movement” within polling stations after mandatory training, and creates new rules for “voter assistants.” The law also establishes felony criminal penalties for lying on voter registration applications.
After two special sessions and a walk-out by Democrats, the state House approved the Texas election bill in an 80-41 partisan vote as did the state Senate on an 18-13 vote in late August.
The bill drew federal lawsuits lodged by the NAACP, Houston Area Urban League, Houston Justice, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and The Arc of Texas even before Gov. Greg Abbott signed it on Oct. 19. On Nov. 4, the U.S. Justice Department also sued Texas over “restrictive voting procedures imposed” by the law.
The Texas law is already having an effect, elections officials say. In Harris County, which includes Houston and is Texas’ most populous county, through last week about 16 percent of mail-in ballot applications had been rejected under the new rules, a seven-fold increase over 2018. In Travis County, about half of applications have been rejected, officials said.