Connecticut has no early voting at all, and New York’s onerous rules force voters to change their registration months in advance if they want to participate in a party primary. In Rhode Island, Democrats enacted a decade ago the kind of photo-ID law that the party has labeled “racist” when drafted by Republicans; the state also requires voters to get the signatures of not one but two witnesses when casting an absentee ballot (only Alabama and North Carolina are similarly strict). According to a new analysis released this week by the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research, Delaware, Connecticut, and New York rank in the bottom third of states in their access to early and mail-in balloting.
The restrictions across the Northeast are relics of the urban Democratic machines, which preferred to mobilize their voters precinct by precinct on Election Day rather than give reformers a lengthier window to rally opposition. Democrats who have won election after election in states such as New York, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island have had little incentive to change the rules that helped them win.
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The party has been more concerned with expanding access to the polls in places where it has struggled to obtain and keep power (although it’s not clear whether Democrats’ assumptions about the impact voting laws have on turnout are correct). In Congress, Democrats are prioritizing legislation called the For the People Act, or H.R. 1, which seeks to curb GOP efforts to suppress voting. The bill would set national standards to loosen photo-ID requirements, guarantee early-voting and voting-by-mail options, and mandate automatic and same-day registration. Although Democrats have focused on how the bill would rein in red states, H.R. 1 would hit some blue states just as hard, if not harder.
Republicans love to call out Democratic sanctimony in the debate over voting laws, but this ignores the divergent directions the two parties are headed. Following their 2020 defeat and under pressure from Donald Trump allies, Republicans are pushing to restrict voting in states such as Texas, Iowa, Arizona, and Florida, which have recently been competitive. The Georgia law tightens ID requirements for absentee ballots and caps the number of drop boxes where they can be deposited. The measure also limits who can distribute water to voters waiting in line outside polling places. The effect of the bill is likely to make voting easier in Republican strongholds—by expanding early voting in rural areas, for example—but harder in Democratic urban centers, where lines at polling places tend to be longer and where voting by mail was more popular last year.
Democrats in charge of blue states are now racing to expand access in a way that matches the party’s rhetoric nationwide. In some cases, they’re trying to make permanent the temporary changes to voting laws that were put in place because of the pandemic. Delaware, for example, removed the mandate that voters cite a reason for casting an absentee ballot. Making the reform permanent requires the passage of an amendment to the state constitution, and Republicans who supported that proposal in the past are balking now, threatening its adoption.