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Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., appeared on MSNBC on March 25, 2021. (Screenshot) Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., appeared on MSNBC on March 25, 2021. (Screenshot)

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., appeared on MSNBC on March 25, 2021. (Screenshot)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson March 29, 2021

James Clyburn misspeaks in saying 43 states have passed voting restrictions

If Your Time is short

• Clyburn’s office acknowledged that he misspoke. 

• In reality, bills to restrict voting procedures have been proposed in 43 states. That’s not the same thing as such laws being passed in 43 states.

One of the biggest political controversies today involves laws that govern voting and elections. 

In Washington, D.C., Democrats passed a bill that would use national standards to preempt many of the proposed state laws pushed by Republicans. State by state, Republican legislators have offered measures that tighten procedures for registering to vote and casting a ballot. 

Republicans say these proposals would target voter fraud, but Democrats counter that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent, and that these proposals would unfairly disenfranchise voters.

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the third-ranking Democrat in the House leadership, touted the House bill on MSNBC on March 25.

"There are 43 states that have now passed voter suppression laws," Clyburn said. "So I believe, and I've talked to Sen. (Jeff) Merkley about this, I said to him, if you’ve got 43 states, that’s only seven short of all 50 states. We ought to make the Voting Rights Act apply to all 50 states. Just put it out there and have it applied (to) all 50 states. Because 43 have now proved that they needed it to apply for it. Every state will be treated alike."

A reader emailed us, suggesting that we check the claim. The reader noted that if 43 states have enacted such restrictive laws, that number would include a lot of solidly Democratic states — and that would run counter to the conventional thinking that Democratic states favor easing restrictions on voting, not tightening them.

The reader was correct to question Clyburn’s statement. When we checked with Clyburn’s office, a spokesperson told us, "Yes, he misspoke."

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Clyburn appears to have been thinking of a widely shared finding by the liberal Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. In February, the group published a report detailing efforts at the state level to enact bills that either restrict or expand voting-related procedures. (The term "voter suppression" is hard to define and is subject to dispute, but for the purposes of this fact-check, we’ll stipulate that it means proposals to tighten registration or voting procedures.)

The group counted 253 voting-restrictive bills that had been proposed in 43 states. (It also found 704 bills to expand voting access in a different set of 43 states.)

Some states, notably Iowa and Georgia, have passed significant bills that tighten prior election rules. But because many state legislatures are still in session, most of the measures tracked by the Brennan Center have not yet had a final vote. And the restrictive bills proposed by Republicans in Democratic-controlled states face no clear route to passage.

The bottom line is that the standard used by the Brennan Center was to track laws that had been "proposed." Due to Clyburn’s mistake in the interview, a viewer would take away the message that many more states had actually enacted restrictive election laws than have done so in reality.

Our ruling

Clyburn said, "There are 43 states that have now passed voter suppression laws."

His office acknowledged to PolitiFact that he misspoke. Bills to restrict voting procedures have been proposed in 43 states — not passed. That’s a significant distinction, because any lawmaker in a chamber controlled by the other party can propose a bill, but it’s vastly harder to actually enact the legislation into law.

We rate the statement False.

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James Clyburn misspeaks in saying 43 states have passed voting restrictions

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