Claims mischaracterizing a federal voting rights bill have been circulating on social media. The proposed law would not “ban” state voter ID laws, bar states from removing ineligible voters from their rolls, or allow minors to vote.
Proposed voting laws are advancing in state legislatures and in Congress following false accusations of fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
State-level bills have been introduced across the country. Republican-led proposals that would, for example, limit absentee voting or require early ballots to be hand-delivered rather than mailed, are moving ahead in many so-called swing states that had close results in the last election. Those states include Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida and Texas.
On the federal level, House Democrats passed a bill on March 3 that would expand voting rights and reform campaign finance and redistricting rules. Now it goes to an evenly divided Senate where it is expected to fail.
That bill — H.R. 1, the For the People Act — has been misrepresented in posts on social media.
One widely shared example falsely claims that the bill: “BANS VOTER ID; PREVENTS REMOVAL OF INELLIGIBLE VOTERS FROM REGISTRATION ROLLS; ALLOWS FELONS AND MINORS TO VOTE.”
Voter ID Laws
We’ll start with the first claim, which has also been repeated by Republican lawmakers, such as Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
He wrote on Twitter shortly after the bill passed in the House, “Democrats just voted to ban voter ID nationwide.”
When we asked for support for that claim, Lauren Fine, a spokeswoman for Scalise, told us: “The exceptions are so wide that it renders voter ID laws unenforceable and useless in the states that have it.”
But H.R. 1 wouldn’t ban state laws that ask voters to show identification at the polls, as Scalise and others have said. It would modify the effect of some of those laws, though.
A total of 35 states have active laws with a range of standards regarding identification, according to a list compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
For example, Washington’s law requests ID (a school or work ID card is sufficient), but the state holds its elections mostly by mail, so the ID law affects few voters. On the other end of the spectrum, Tennessee voters must show a government-issued ID in order to vote and, if a voter can’t show ID on Election Day, that person must produce a valid ID within two days in order to have his or her provisional ballot counted.
Referring to strict versions of voter ID laws, H.R. 1 says, “[O]nerous voter identification requirements” have “eroded access to the right to vote.” It goes on to add that those requirements more heavily impact minority communities.
This is a common criticism of voter ID laws, as opposed to the equally common justification for them, which is to cut down on fraud and strengthen faith in the election process. As we’ve explained before, though, voter fraud in any form is rare and in-person voter fraud is even more rare.
Central to the debate about the impact of such laws is ownership of identification cards. A 2014 report from the Government Accountability Office surveyed 10 studies on the issue and found that most registered voters had ID, but the rate was generally lower among Black and Latino voters.
The House bill would allow those who don’t have an ID to present a statement “signed by the individual under penalty of perjury, attesting to the individual’s identity and attesting that the individual is eligible to vote in the election.” This option would apply only for federal elections.
Because this would apply only to federal elections, Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Marymount University who worked on voting rights as a deputy assistant attorney general, pointed out in an email to us that “states can keep other procedures for other elections.”
He also noted that a sworn, written statement is a form of proof of identity that is acceptable in many other contexts. But, Levitt said, the provision “would also preclude states from turning voters away because they don’t have documents other than a sworn written statement.”
So, there’s no blanket “ban” on voter ID laws in the bill, but there is an option for those who don’t have ID to offer a signed statement instead during federal elections.
Removing Ineligible Voters from the Rolls
The second claim — also promoted by Republican lawmakers, such as Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York — isn’t true, either.
Stefanik took to Twitter to claim that the bill would: “Prevent removal of ineligible voters from registration rolls.”
Her office told us that her claim was based on Section 1071, which deals with voter registration issues.
That section of “HR 1 would criminalize the refusal to accept a voter registration application, even if the application does not meet the requirements,” spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt told us in an email. “This would most certainly prevent/deter local officials [from] removing ineligible voters out of fear of being imprisoned.”
But the bill wouldn’t block states from taking ineligible voters off the rolls and an expert told us that Stefanik’s reading of the proposed law isn’t “plausible.”
Section 1071 addresses voter registration, not voter roll maintenance, said Rebecca Green, professor of the practice of law at William & Mary Law School and co-director of its election law program.
The section prohibits “hindering, interfering with, or preventing voter registration,” according to the bill text.
“That is an entirely separate question from what a state can do once it receives the registration,” Green said. “The state will not add the person to the voter roll until it determines the voter is eligible. Once the person is added to the voter roll, states regularly conduct comprehensive list maintenance to ensure that its voter roll is accurate and only eligible voters remain on the voter roll.”
“Even states that do not use ERIC take great pains to identify individuals on their list who are ineligible to vote,” Green said.
The National Voter Registration Act, passed in 1993, requires states to make a “reasonable effort to remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists.” It also includes safeguards to keep eligible voters from being removed.
“List maintenance is a process that every state takes very seriously and will continue to take seriously regardless of whether Congress takes steps to protect people from interference when they register to vote,” Green said.
Additionally, Levitt, the Loyola Marymount University professor, explained to us that Stefanik’s interpretation isn’t “all that plausible.”
Section 1071 says (emphasis ours): “It shall be unlawful for any person, whether acting under color of law or otherwise, to corruptly hinder, interfere with, or prevent another person from registering to vote or to corruptly hinder, interfere with, or prevent another person from aiding another person in registering to vote.”
Levitt pointed out that, “here, the word ‘corruptly’ implies that there has to be improper purpose behind hindering or preventing someone from registering: as in, it’s improper to hinder or prevent someone from registering if they’re eligible to vote.”
He went on, “It’s not realistic to think that any federal court — or any federal prosecutor’s office — would interpret this statute to force registrars to register ineligible voters.”
So, Section 1071 doesn’t bar states from removing ineligible voters from their rolls.
A different section of the bill does prohibit one controversial method for removing or challenging voters’ registrations.
H.R. 1 would prohibit the use of “voter caging,” which involves sending mass mailings to registered voters, then removing or challenging the registrations of voters for whom the mailings were returned as non-deliverable.
As we said, this particular method for removing voters from the rolls is controversial. Levitt wrote in a 2007 piece for the Brennan Center for Justice that it is “notoriously unreliable” and “almost always pursued with partisan aims,” since caging lists are often targeted at registered members of the opposing party.
He noted an example of a party memorandum from 1986 that was uncovered during a lawsuit in Louisiana. The memo described the likely effect of a caging scheme in a Senate race this way: “I know this race is really important to you. I would guess that this program will eliminate at least 60-80,000 folks from the rolls. . . . If it’s a close race, which I’m assuming it is, this could keep the black vote down considerably.”
So, the bill would prohibit the use of that one method for removing voters from the rolls.
Minors Wouldn’t Be Allowed to Vote
The third claim also includes a falsehood and this, too, has been repeated by Republican lawmakers.
Rep. Ted Budd of North Carolina tweeted that the bill, “Allows minors to vote.”
His office didn’t respond to our request for comment and neither did Stefanik, who had made a similar claim on Twitter.
H.R. 1 includes a provision that would allow those who are at least 16 years old to submit an application to register to vote, but it doesn’t actually allow them to vote until they are 18.
This preregistration program already exists in 14 states and the District of Columbia as a way to improve traditionally low youth turnout, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Four states allow 17-year-olds to preregister and five states set other ages for preregistration.
As for the other part of the claim — that felons would be able to vote — this would affect fewer than 11 states, which don’t automatically restore voting rights to those convicted of certain felonies, depending on the nature of the crime, even after their sentences are finished. In most states, though, those who have been convicted of a felony have their right to vote restored at some point after incarceration.
Specifically, in two states and the District of Columbia, felons never lose their right to vote and may cast a ballot from prison, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 18 states, felons have their voting rights restored upon release from prison. In 19 states, felons can have their right to vote restored after finishing parole. And in 11 states, felons lose their right to vote indefinitely or face further restrictions to having the right restored.
So, the bill does include a provision that would uniformly restore voting rights to those convicted of a felony after they have finished serving their sentence. But that is already the case in many states.
U.S. House. “H.R. 1, For the People Act of 2021.” (as passed by the House 3 Mar 2021.)
Scalise, Steve (@SteveScalise). “Every single American should be OUTRAGED by this: Democrats just voted to ban voter ID nationwide and force every state to permanently expand mail-in voting.” Twitter. 3 Mar 2021.
Fine, Lauren. Spokeswoman, Rep. Steve Scalise. Email exchange. 22 Mar 2021.
National Conference of State Legislatures. “Voter Identification Requirements | Voter ID Laws.” 25 Aug 2020.
Farley, Robert. “Trump’s Latest Voter Fraud Misinformation.” FactCheck.org. 10 Apr 2020.
United States Government Accountability Office. “Issues Related to State Voter Identification Laws.” Sep 2014.
Stefanik, Elise (@RepStefanik). “H.R.1 WOULD: Use taxpayer $ to fund campaigns Ban voter ID Prevent removal of ineligible voters from registration rolls Allow felons and minors to vote Allow 15 days of early voting Accept absentee ballots 10 days after Election Day Legalize ballot harvesting.” Twitter. 3 Mar 2021.
Leavitt, Karoline. Spokeswoman, Rep. Elise Stefanik. Email exchange. 22 Mar 2021.
Green, Rebecca. Professor, William & Mary Law School. Email exchange. 22 Mar 2021.
U.S. House. “H.R.2 – National Voter Registration Act of 1993.” (as signed into law 20 May 1993.)
Levitt, Justin. Professor, Loyola Marymount University. Email exchange. 22 Mar 2021.
Levitt, Justin. “A Guide to Voter Caging.” Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law. 29 Jun 2007.
Budd, Ted (@RepTedBudd). “#HR1 rigs election rules to favor Democrats: – Eliminates voter ID. – Allows felons to vote. – Allows minors to vote. – Expands ‘no excuse’ absentee voting. This disastrous bill should never become law. #ElectionIntegrity.” Twitter. 2 Mar 2021.
National Conference of State Legislatures. “Felon Voting Rights.” 8 Jan 2021.