Voting Rights Could Swing the Pendulum
The Electoral College
Every four years, the Presidential Election inevitably comes down to a handful of states that are able to swing the outcome of the electoral college and choose the winner of the election. Changes to election law in swing states since 2020 has led voting rights activists to be concerned that new laws could change the outcome of the 2024 election. The American Electoral College is the only election system in the world where an executive president is not directly elected, and the system has been controversial for almost the entirety of its history. More resolutions have been submitted to change the Electoral College than any other part of the Constitution, and frustration with the system is largely bipartisan. The Electoral College grants each state a set amount of electors that is based on population. This number of electors is also equal to the number of congressional representatives the state has, two Senators and their representatives in the House of Representatives.
In every state except for Maine and Nebraska, the winner of the plurality of the votes will win all of the electoral votes for that state. This means that if a candidate wins a state by just 1,000 votes, they would still win all of the electoral votes for that state. A candidate needs 270 electoral college votes to win the election. This has led to many famous election controversies and close calls, such as George Bush’s 2000 election win after winning the plurality of votes in Florida.
This system means that so-called “swing states,” - states that have often changed which parties they elect to the Presidency - are the deciders of the majority of American Presidential elections. Many election analysts believe that the 2024 election will be determined by Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Michigan. These same states were the deciders in the 2020 election, with all but North Carolina voting for Joe Biden and securing his victory.
Who Can Vote
The basics of who can vote are simple: you must be at least 18 years old, a citizen of the United States, a resident of the state where you wish to vote, and often you must not be a currently incarcerated person. As a note: every state has different requirements for those with criminal records and who will qualify as a state resident. If you have any questions of your eligibility to vote in your home state or the state where you currently reside, please visit vote.gov to determine your registration ability or check your voter registration.
Election Analysts have identified Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Michigan as the states that will determine the upcoming 2024 Presidential Election. In all of these states you must be at least 18 years of age, not currently incarcerated, and a resident, but the qualifications of who can vote post-incarceration and who is a state resident vary. It is important to note that those experiencing homelessness are federally protected as state residents and are subject to the same state residency requirements as everyone else. Residency requirements in the swing states discussed are all different. In Arizona you must have lived in your Arizona county for at least the past 29 days before the election, not before registration. In Nevada you must have continuously lived in your county within Nevada for at least 30 days before the next election. In Pennsylvania, Michigan, and North Carolina you must have been a resident of the state and your election district at least 30 days before Election Day. Wisconsin requires voters to have lived in the state for at least 28 days prior to Election Day with no county residency requirements. Georgia only requires residency in the state and the county where you intend to vote, with no specific minimum requirements of how long one has resided there.
These differing requirements mean that in states like Wisconsin, college students can easily vote. When migrating populations such as college students are able to easily access the ballot, they can swing elections. Election analysts theorize that the Gen Z college population was a deciding factor in some of the 2022 congressional elections. These differing requirements also lower turnout, especially in states that require registration a month before the election or more. College students in these states are blocked from registering to vote in the state where they live most of the year, and are sometimes banned in the residency requirements. Many residents also find that they would like to vote, but have missed the deadline.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Michigan, formerly incarcerated individuals have their voting rights automatically restored upon release. Georgia, North Carolina, and Wisconsin do not restore voting rights until the completion of their sentence, which includes Parole, Probation, and fines being paid. Arizonans who have been incarcerated will have their voting rights restored after a first offense has been served in its entirety but must apply to the courts for a restoration of rights and have that granted to them by a judge if they have been convicted of more than one offense.
Different states also have different rules surrounding how soon before an election one must register to vote. Wisconsin, Michigan, and Nevada all have same-day voter registration, meaning you can register to vote while at a polling location. This is much more restrictive in other states, Arizona and Georgia require voters to be registered at least 29 days before an election. Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Nevada have Automatic Voter Registration, meaning citizens are automatically registered to vote upon applying for a drivers license or using other state services, and must opt-out if they do not wish to be registered.
Changes to Voting Rights Since 2020
After the 2020 Presidential Election and claims of election fraud across multiple states, all of these swing states have made changes to the way elections are operated. These changes have largely not been bipartisan, and many left-leaning advocacy groups have been quick to condemn those election changes pushed by Republicans and vice versa.
In Arizona, voters rejected Republican candidates like Kari Lake who claimed that the 2020 election was stolen. In retaliation, the Arizona state legislature processed multiple audits of Arizona counties; relying on the audit of Maricopa county, Arizona’s largest county which includes the Phoenix metro area, Republicans in the state proposed and passed Senate Bill 1485. Senate Bill 1485 removes voters from early voter rolls automatically if they vote on Election Day in two consecutive elections and also significantly restricts access to mail-in voting. Senate Bill 1485 was signed into law by former Governor Doug Ducey in May 2021. Arizona led the country in the number of proposed election changes in 2022, which included provisions to limit the availability of mail-in ballot drop boxes, strengthen voter ID rules, and expansion of purges of voter rolls. The bill that was most concerning to voting advocacy groups was House Bill 2492, which requires proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, to register to vote. Previous efforts by the Arizona State House and Senate to require proof of citizenship for voter registration have been overturned by the United States Supreme Court as unconstitutional. The Justice Department sued the state of Arizona, claiming HB 2492 is a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and as of September 16, 2023, HB 2492 has been officially struck down by a federal court.
Georgia was perhaps the closest state in the 2020 election, and it turning blue was a shock. Previous to the 2020 election, Georgia was considered a solidly Republican state, and this change redefined how Georgia was perceived within election analytics. Like Arizona, Georgia has been a hot spot for new legislation related to voting, and there have been many bills introduced in the state legislature in the past 3 years. In March of 2021, Governor Brian Kemp signed into law the “Election Integrity Act of 2021” or Senate Bill 202, which made significant changes to the way Georgia’s elections will operate. Mail in ballots will now need to be sent in 2 weeks before election day, but ballots will now also be sent out later by counties, only four weeks before election day as compared to the previous seven weeks. Voters must also now submit an acceptable ID with their mail in voting application and ballot, as well as signing an oath swearing your information is correct. Absentee ballot drop boxes are now only available during election hours on early voting days, rather than 24/7. Additionally, counties are only required to have one drop box, and are not allowed to have more than one box per 100,000 residents. SB202 also made mobile polling places illegal, polling places being open on Sunday optional where it used to be mandatory, and banned the distribution of food and water to those waiting in line to vote by outside groups. The number of polling places in Georgia, particularly in large metropolitan areas, has decreased within the past decade, leading to longer wait times to vote.
Poll Watching and Voter Intimidation
Only 11 states have explicitly banned poll watchers from being armed, although nearly all states have banned poll watchers from being armed inside a polling place. Of the swing states covered in this article, only Georgia and Arizona ban poll watchers from carrying guns in and around polling places. The Republican National Committee was barred by a 1982 court order from monitoring polling places for fraud after Democrats sued over alleged voter intimidation in minority communities, and this is a Nationwide order. While poll watchers may have a partisan skew or agenda, they are generally assumed to be non-partisan, and they cannot ask who you voted for or attempt to influence your vote. This is different from campaigners outside a polling place who may be working with a campaign or union and handing out election information.
Voter intimidation is illegal, but it is not uncommon for the behavior of poll watchers to walk the line of legality.
Voting in Massachusetts
The most recent election for Boston is Nov 7, 2023, and it is a City Council Election. Voters for this election could register to vote in MA if they are at least 18 and not currently incarcerated for a felony. For MA elections, no residency is required, and you must register at least ten days before the election to vote. Registration is available online, by mail, or in person. Polls are open from 7 am to 8 pm for state primaries and elections, but cities are allowed to open their polls as early as 5:45 am. Most of the time you won't need to show ID in order to vote, but you might need to if you are voting on a provisional ballot or if it's your first time voting in Massachusetts. For this ID you can use a driver's license, including an out-of-state license, a state-issued ID card, a recent utility bill or rent receipt, a lease, or any printed identification that contains the voter's name and address such as a piece of mail. There is always early voting and voting by mail in Massachusetts, which is protected by state law. If you have questions about voting in Massachusetts you can check the Vote 411 Massachusetts page.