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Efforts underway in key battleground states to return voting systems to pre-2020 rules

Legislators looking to roll back major changes to mail-in voting, early voter lists.

Updated: March 1, 2021 - 11:54am

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Significant legislative attempts are underway in multiple U.S. states, including key battleground states, to roll back major changes in voting rules and regulations to various pre-2020 status quo antes. The efforts come after an historically chaotic election process that has left millions of Americans doubtful of election fairness, security, transparency and accountability. 

Changes to election rules — some of them enacted prior to 2020 and others put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic last year — have included expansive mail-in voting, expanded early voting, relaxation of verification rules, and extensions to ballot receipt deadlines. 

Those rules likely contributed to a record 158,000,000-plus votes cast in the 2020 election. But the relaxation of various voting requirements has also led to significant distrust in the election system: Nearly 40% of voters believe that U.S. elections are beset by fraud, while a similar number claim that such concerns haven't been properly vetted by public authorities. 

Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona all considering bills to roll back rule changes

Legislators in numerous states are angling to address some of those concerns by pushing for legislation to shore up what critics claim are the vulnerabilities created by relaxed voting rules. 

In Georgia — which flipped blue for Biden this year in one of several razor-thin races that went in the Democrat's favor — the Senate passed a bill that would require voters to submit "photocopies of voter identification documents for absentee ballot applications."

The bill would do away with the current signature-matching system currently in place for absentee voting. Critics have accused that system of being ripe for fraud and abuse, particularly after the state's Gov. Brian Kemp agreed to activist demands last year to make it much more onerous for officials to reject disputed signatures. 

In Pennsylvania — which Trump lost by fewer than 100,000 votes — state lawmakers have signaled an intent to repeal the state's "no-excuse" mail-in voting system, first implemented in 2019. 

State Sens. Patrick Stefano and Doug Mastriano last month said in a Senate memorandum that they "intend to introduce legislation repealing the no-excuse mail-in ballot provisions" put in place two years ago via the state's Act 77.

"By removing the provisions of law that allow for no-excuse mail-in ballots, we can regain some trust in our elections' integrity," the senators argued. 

Stefano has also vowed to repeal Act 77's "annual mail-in voter list" and to mandate that "only the Pennsylvania Department of State may send applications for mail in ballots to eligible voters."

"By guaranteeing that eligible voters must apply for a mail-in ballot for each election, and that only the Department of State may distribute the applications to apply for mail-in ballots," he wrote, "we can address much of the confusion and frustration that surrounded our most recent election cycle."

In the Pennsylvania House, meanwhile, Rep. Dan Moul has vowed to codify into law "the only legal ways for a voter to utilize the vote by mail system," namely by returning a mail ballot either via the postal service or in person. Critics had criticized Pennsylvania's use of drop boxes during the 2020 election, claiming they posed a significant security risk, though the state Supreme Court ruled in a split decision that the boxes were allowed.

In some cases, legislators are attempting to get ahead of changes to voting law that were observed in some states during the 2020 election. For instance, a bill under consideration in Arizona — another flip for Biden, one that the Democrat won by just 11,000 votes — would make it a felony for any public official to proactively send out a mail-in ballot to any voter not on the state's early voting list.

Numerous states such as California and New Jersey automatically mailed every voter a mail-in ballot ahead of the November election.

In Arizona, meanwhile, Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes last March attempted to send mail-in ballots to every registered voter there, though he was ordered by a court to cease shortly before doing so. 

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