The 2020 election saw record-breaking turnout, in part thanks to the expansion of early and absentee voting during the Covid-19 pandemic. But instead of embracing that victory for democracy, Republicans in many state legislatures are pushing bills that would restrict access to the polls.
Such is the case with a series of bills that institute new voter identification requirements, imposing extra steps to register to vote or to cast a ballot — a class of requirements many voting-rights advocates and some courts have said can effectively amount to a poll tax on vulnerable citizens who may be less likely to already have the required documentation, such as senior citizens or those living in poverty.
Idaho provides a ready example. The state’s 2020 primary election, which was conducted entirely by mail for the first time, saw the highest primary turnout in decades. The general election later in the year also attracted the state’s highest turnout this century.
The state already has a voter-ID law that critics say can be a barrier to voter access. Under Idaho’s current law, registered voters must present a photo ID or sign an affidavit to vote on Election Day. The state also allows same-day registration for voters who can provide a combination of documentation verifying their identity and residency. This could include “any document which contains a valid address in the precinct together with a picture identification card,” such as a school ID and mail addressed to their residence.
But the state legislature is weighing a proposal that would place further requirements on Idaho voters. A bill sponsored by state Rep. Brandon Mitchell, H.B. 344, would require those without a photo ID to have their photo taken by election officials. It would also require Election Day registrants to present photo identification that lists their current address, which may disenfranchise students in particular. American Oversight submitted an open records request for email communications from Mitchell’s office containing key terms related to the bill, including references to conservative legal organizations that promote voting restrictions such as True the Vote and the Public Interest Legal Foundation.
In New Hampshire, S.B. 54 would require voters to include a photocopy of identification both in applications for an absentee ballot and in the outer envelope when returning their ballots. We filed an open records request to the bill’s sponsors, state Sens. Bob Giuda and Gary Daniels, seeking impact assessments and communications concerning the legislation, including references to groups that back voter restrictions.
American Oversight also sent similar record requests in Nevada and Montana. We requested records from the Nevada secretary of state’s office concerning communications involving state Sen. Keith Pickard, who introduced a legislative package known as S.B. 225, which includes a photo-ID requirement for in-person voting on Election Day. And in Montana, we sent state Sen. Mike Cuffe a request for impact assessments and sent communications involving S.B. 169, another voter-ID proposal.