Voting rights changes since MLK and their impact on the 2024 election

More than 560 new election laws have been introduced since 2020, and in 2023 over 40 states passed new voting laws.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a gathering in the riot-torn area of Los Angeles, Aug. 18, 1965.
Posted at 9:23 PM, Jan 11, 2024

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of a democracy that works for all Americans still holds significance today.

From the mid-1950s on, Dr. King championed the battle against segregation, advocating for democracy and unity. His vision was a "Beloved Community," where people of all backgrounds could vote together for the common good.

But as new voting laws emerge across the United States, concerns arise about how these changes might impact the 2024 election outcome and pose a threat to his dream of a fair democracy for all people.

In 2023, over 40 states passed new voting laws, some boosting voter rights and others creating barriers, influencing election participation in key battleground states targeted by Democrats and Republicans.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 14 states have implemented 17 restrictive laws for the general elections, including measures targeting mail-in voting. Additionally, six states implemented election interference laws, all of which will be effective before November.

For example, Nebraska now mandates mail voters without a state ID to include a copy of an acceptable photo ID with their ballot application and marked ballot, while in Mississippi, a law imposes obstacles for people with disabilities to vote by mail, and in Texas, a law was passed that allows certain counties to consolidate polling places.

The center says that in 2023, more restrictive laws were put in place than in the entire previous decade, except for a surge of changes in 2021 following the last presidential election.

On the flip side, however, 23 states have passed 47 expansive laws, including pro-voter measures in Colorado, Michigan, and New York, with all but one taking full effect this year.

"There remains a stark divide between states. On one side are those that are broadening democratic participation. On the other are those making it harder to vote and easier for partisan officials to interfere in democratic processes. Many states passing new restrictive laws are the places where it is already hard to vote," the Brennan Center notes. 

The stricter voting laws in many states stem partly from former President Donald Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election results.

According to a report from the Voting Rights Lab, more than 560 new election laws have been introduced since 2020, concentrated in eight competitive swing states: Wisconsin, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, and New Hampshire. While Nevada and Michigan have expanded voting access, Georgia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Wisconsin have imposed new restrictions.

The U.S. elections in 2018, 2020, and 2022 marked some of the highest-turnout elections of their kind in decades, according to the Pew Research Center. So to keep Dr. King's memory alive, the best thing we can do for our democracy is to continue the trend, and head to the polls in November.

“So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself,” Dr. King said in his “Give Us the Ballot” speech in May 1957. “I cannot make up my mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact — I can only submit to the edict of others.”