Democrats in other states where similarly restrictive voting laws have passed are coming to the same conclusion. Interviews with more than three dozen Democratic elected officials, party operatives and voting rights activists across the country reveal growing concern bordering on alarm about the potential impact in 2022 of the raft of new laws passed by Republican legislatures, particularly in some of the nations most competitive battleground states.
Im super worried, said Max Wood, founder and CEO of Deck, a progressive data analytics company that analyzes voting behavior. I try to be optimistic, and I do think there are times when this kind of stuff can galvanize enthusiasm and turnout. But I dont know that that will be enough, especially with how extreme some of these laws are.
Democratic efforts to model midterm turnout under the new laws remain in their infancy. But even without a sophisticated understanding of the practical effect, there is widespread fear that the party isnt doing enough to counter these efforts, or preparing for an election conducted under, in some instances, a dramatically different set of rules governing voter access.
If there isnt a way for us to repeat what happened in November 2020, were f—ed, said Nsé Ufot, CEO of the Stacey Abrams-founded New Georgia Project. We are doing what we do to make sure that not only our constituents, our base, the people, the communities that we organize with, get it. Were trying to make sure that our elected officials get it as well.
Since Jan. 1, at least 18 states have passed laws that restrict access to the ballot, according to the Brennan Centers voting laws tracker, ranging from voter I.D. requirements to provisions making early and absentee voting more difficult.
Demonstrators stand outside of the state Capitol building in opposition to House Bill 531 on March 8, 2021 in Atlanta, Ga. HB531 will restrict early voting hours, remove drop boxes and require the use of a government I.D. when voting by mail. | Megan Varner/Getty Images
In Michigan, voting rights activists are fighting a push by Republicans to require voters who cast ballots without a photo I.D. to take additional steps to verify their identity within six days of voting. In 2020, about 11,400 voters cast ballots without a photo I.D. a tiny proportion of the electorate, but almost exactly the margin by which Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the state in 2016.
If you make all of those people vote by provisional ballot and you make them go back to their clerks office, some number of people are not going to take that extra step, said Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, a Michigan-based ballot initiative which has shifted its focus from redistricting to voting rights.
Republicans, Wang said, are trying to peel away Democratic-leaning voters wherever they can. Its sort of death by 1,000 cuts.
Georgia Democrats are rushing to develop a strategy to work around their states voting law, which GOP Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law in March, on the heels of unexpected Democraticvictories. It has been widely viewed as a blueprint for similar measures in other states.
The state Democratic Party aims to confront the law by building on their voter education program established after the 2018 midterms. They are training county chairs, volunteers and voters on the laws terms in Zoom and in-person sessions. The goal, according to one party official, is to train volunteers on how to obtain a voter I.D. in all 159 of Georgias counties. The party also brought on three new deputy political directors for Black, Latino and Asian American outreach.
This Novembers mayoral election in Atlanta represents a test-run of the law and how its requirements will impact voters. While Democrats aim to apply lessons from this election to next years midterms, they recognize that the heavily Black, safely Democratic city is a far cry from a statewide race.
Certainly, the city of Atlanta is very different than other parts of Georgia, said Saira Draper, voter protection director for the Georgia Democratic Party, pointing out that Fulton County is Georgias most populous. The fact that theyre going to have this opportunity to go through the process, that’s a good thing. And the problems that they encounter, if they encounter problems, it might be a way for us to steer other counties away from these problems.
Whats missing, however, is an overarching tactical plan to counter the restrictions in the states where they stand to wreak the most harm on Democratic chances. The party and its affiliated interest groups are preparing to spend millions of dollars litigating against restrictive voting laws and bolstering turnout operations, but Democrats have been largely splintered in their response. One reason: widespread hopes and expectations that Washington or the courts will provide some remedy.
I dont think the Democratic Party as a whole is prioritizing this issue and its potential damage in the way that they should, said Doug Herman, who was a lead mail strategist for Barack Obamas 2008 and 2012 campaigns. We just went through an insurrection that was stoked by voter fraud lies, and the reaction to that from the Republican Party is to restrict the voting process so severely that only their voters can participate. And I dont understand the lack of fierce resistance to that from Americans and Democrats.
The restrictions advanced by Republicans affect so many facets of voting that Democrats cannot agree on which provisions are the most problematic. Some Democrats cite signature-matching laws. Others point to fewer drop boxes or shorter time frames for early voting. Still more consider voter identification requirements especially crippling.
A voter submits a ballot in an official drop box during early voting in Athens, Ga., on Oct. 19, 2020. | John Bazemore/AP Photo
Aneesa McMillan, Priorities USAs deputy executive director, who runs the groups voting rights program, said the most ridiculous thing weve had to sue over was a Michigan law that prevents hiring people to transport voters to the polls.
Yet its difficult to project the effect of various laws on 2022 turnout because the rules are so new and because the last election was held under pandemic conditions that are unlikely to be as severe in 2022.On top of that, even if Democrats can get their voters to the polls, stricter I.D. requirements and other restrictions in some states could make it easier to disallow their votes.
Jaime Harrison, chair of the Democratic National Committee, said that in addition to portions of laws seemingly designed to curb turnout, what is even more nefarious is what happens once people, if they can get through all the hurdles that theyve set up, what happens to their vote once it has been cast?
Citing a provision of the law in Georgia giving Republican lawmakers more power to intervene in local elections operations, he said, That is not America, thats Russia. I mean, that is some straight-up dictator-type stuff.
Vice President Kamala Harris this month announced a $25 million expansion of the DNCs I Will Vote campaign to bolster voter registration, turnout and election protection programs. Harrison said the DNC in 2022 will have the largest voter protection program it has ever had, doubling the size of its staff, including embeds in states.
Over the last 3 decades we have witnessed the Republican Party, especially at the state level, put up enormous roadblocks to the freedom to vote for every citizen and part of the problem is that there is one party that believes every American citizen deserves the freedom to vote while the other party erects barriers to the ballot box, said Donna Brazile, a former DNC chair.
Some statewide elected officials expect a possible blowback effect on Republicans, saying that once Georgia Democrats understand the new rules in place, they will be even more motivated to turn out.
That may incentivize more voters to turn out and do what needs to be done, to ensure that their ballot is cast, said state Rep. Sam Park, whose district includes suburban Atlantas populous Gwinnett County, the states most diverse. When you see politicians coming after your ability to cast your vote, it’s a reminder of how much power you really have, how powerful the vote really is.
Harris met with a group of voting rights activists at the White House in mid-July to discuss protecting ballot access, particularly among Black voters. Veteran civil rights leaders have also pulled the presidents ear on the issue, suggesting a number of filibuster workarounds to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act or For the People Act.
Vice President Kamala Harris this month announced a $25 million expansion of the DNCs I Will Vote campaign to bolster voter registration, turnout and election protection programs. | Evan Vucci/AP photo
But even the White Houses heightened attention isnt enough to erase the pessimism among many on the left.
Im pretty well convinced that its going to hurt Democrats significantly in the long run, said Brian Fallon, co-founder and executive director of Demand Justice, which supports Supreme Court reform. Theres definitely no combination of lawsuits or Biden remaining popular or voter registration thats going to overcome that, so I think its pretty bleak.
Congressional Democrats have yet to reintroduce the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore a requirement that certain jurisdictions receive approval from the Justice Department or D.C. district court before making changes to voting laws.
Senate Democrats used a first-in-two-decades field hearing last week in Atlanta to draw attention to voting rights and say they plan to continue holding field hearings in other places where state lawmakers are considering or passing legislation that limits access to the ballot.
Yet they did not provide a clear strategy for how Democrats could counter Georgias law and the nearly two dozen newly passed laws like it.
Hope is quickly turning into frustration, said Latosha Brown, co-founder of the Georgia-based voting rights group Black Voters Matter. Constantly, we are showing up to protect democracy. When in the hell are those who claim that they are committed to democracy going to show up to protect those that protect democracy?
Brown and Ufot pointed to Texas, where statehouse Democrats vacated the state in protest of its voting bill, as one example of the heights they would like to see other Democrats go to in pushing back against punitive voting measures in other battleground states.
Texas Democrats were out of moves, and the only thing they could do to deny quorum was to take their families and leave the state in the middle of the night, Ufot said. Thats the kind of response and leadership that this moment requires, and I am waiting for the administration to match the energy of state and local Democrats across the country who are fighting these fights.
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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