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ATLANTA — After Georgia Republicans passed a restrictive voting law in March, Democrats here began doing the math.

The state’s new voter I.D. requirement for mail-in ballots could affect the more than 270,000 Georgians lacking identification. The provision cutting the number of ballot drop boxes could affect hundreds of thousands of voters who cast absentee ballots that way in 2020 — and that’s just in the populous Atlanta suburbs alone.

It didn’t take long before the implications became clear to party officials and voting rights activists. In a state that Joe Biden carried by fewer than 12,000 votes last year, the new law stood to wipe out many of the party’s hard-fought gains — and put them at a decisive disadvantage.

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 nation’s most competitive battleground states.

“I’m 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 don’t 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 isn’t 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 isn’t a way for us to repeat what happened in November 2020, we’re 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. We’re 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 Center’s 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 Atlanta, Ga.
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.

 

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