U.S. elections could change more this year than they have in the past decade thanks to dozens of state bills that could impact voting rights in next year’s election, some constricting ballot access and some expanding it.
Fully 389 restrictive bills have been introduced in 48 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. At least 880 bills with expansive provisions have been introduced in 49 states. Some estimates put those numbers much higher. In Congress, one federal bill that could dramatically impact voting rights has passed in the House, but appears unlikely to pass in the Senate.
The bills are part of a flood of state legislation considered and passed in every corner of America in 2021. The number of bills passed by state legislatures increased 59 percent this year over last, going from 14,212 bills from January to June of 2020 to 22,579 in the same period this year.
The conclusion is inescapable: legislative tracking has never been more important.
Government affairs teams that need to monitor a broad range of issues under ordinary circumstances must now add a swarm of voting rights bills to that list, each of which could impact voter turnout, convey partisan advantage and severely impact next year’s GOTV efforts. Yet for companies, associations and nonprofits that want to step up their tracking game, there is much that can be done.
Monitoring is Getting Complicated
Monitoring legislation is complicated, and perhaps getting more so as the number of bills swell. Consider what it takes to stay on top of voting rights this year:
- At least 14 states have already enacted 22 new laws that restrict access. Another 14 states passed 28 bills that expand access.
- At least 61 bills with restrictive provisions are moving through 18 state legislatures, with 31 already passing at least one chamber and 30 having some form of committee action (hearings, passage, etc.)
- At least 115 bills with expansive provisions are moving in 25 states, including 45 that have passed in at least one chamber and 70 that have had committee action.
You get the idea. While many of these bills will go nowhere, and organizations with casual interest can monitor casually, it could very easily be a full-time job—perhaps more than one—at an organization that wants to actively support or oppose bills. Moreover, the need for monitoring is not likely to end anytime soon. Even as states begin to close down sessions, some of these bills will carry over or resurface next year. And legislatures are still in session in more than 20 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Professional Tools Can Help
Organizations that are serious about monitoring bills at all levels often implement a professional tracking system. While many organizations use free tools to track legislation, professional tracking software largely eliminates human searches and manual work, creating a digital safety net based on a curated flow of inbound information. The result is a more efficient way to track a larger number of bills. The advantages are many:
- Inbound information. Rather than relying on staff to hunt down information, professional tracking is a system that brings information to you. You establish the bills and issues you want to track, and the system monitors for you, saving time and freeing staff to concentrate on analysis, strategy and response.
- Early warning. Email alerts provide quick warning when actions are taken, such as a bill moving into or out of a committee. Early warning dramatically increases situational awareness, allowing you to tip your ground teams quickly, mobilize faster and drive meaningful action.
- Increased capacity. Professional tracking reduces staff effort but increases the amount of issues you can monitor. Using targeted searches and alerts, you can keep an eye on second- and third-tier issues without diverting resources from those that are a top priority.
- Time savings. Perhaps the most important benefits of professional tracking systems is that they save time and increase productivity. By eliminating the time it takes to conduct hours of searching each day, you gain the ability to pursue more effective and creative intelligence gathering.
Effective Tracking is Strategic
Of course, there is much your organization can do in addition to tracking software. Often, the key to effective tracking comes down to strategy. For solo trackers and small teams, how you allocate your time determines how effective you can be. Here are some ideas to increase your efficacy:
- Be extremely clear about priorities. A single tracker cannot effectively monitor a dozen issues and scores of bills being considered under different rules by different legislatures, many of them moving from committee to floor passage in a matter of days. Trying to do too much is a rookie mistake that will hurt your ability to serve your team. A better strategy is to focus narrowly on your organization’s very top priorities—two or three—and go deeper on those issues. This may require buy-in from leadership, but the effort is almost always worthwhile.
- Narrow the states you monitor. If you can further pare down the landscape by addressing only states that matter to your organization, you can increase focus and deliver more valuable information. Of course, not every organization can do this. But anything you can do to keep your time and effort trained on priority issues will help.
- Develop relationships on the ground. Human intelligence is often the most valuable information you can get. It allows you to beat the news cycle. If you know the right people, you can find out with a phone call or a text whether a bill is moving, whether it is stalled, how negotiations are progressing and a bevy of other crucial information. Unfortunately, these relationships are difficult to build, and they often get left out of the tracker’s tool kit. But they are well worth pursuing. Take a tactic from news reporters and talk to experts before bills are headed to a vote. When the action starts, they’ll know who you are—and perhaps take your call
- Increase your tracking team. If your organization can hire, growing your ability to monitor is straightforward. If it can’t, there are still ways you can increase capacity. Consider cross-training one or more members of your team to track legislation. This gives you flexibility. You can throttle up during legislative sessions and dial back when the action tapers off.
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