Thursday, May 21, 2020

Electionline Weekly May 21-2020

Legislative Updates

California: The San Diego City Council’s Rules Committee Voted 3-2 last to week to allow further Evaluation of a Measure that would Shift City Elections to a Ranked-Choice Voting System. The Ballot Measure will Return to the Committee for Second Debate June 10th and if Approved by the Committee a Second Time, the Full Council would have until Aug. 7th to Place the Measure on the November Ballot.

Louisiana: A House Committee Rejected 9-5 a Bill by Rep. Mandie Landry (D-91st District), that would have Allowed All Registered Voters to Vote-by-Mail in All State Elections, including this Fall’s Presidential Contest. Landry’s Bill would Not Mandate Voting by Mail but simply Allow it to be used more Broadly. The Bill Failed in a Party-Line Vote, with Republicans Against it and Democrats For it.

Missouri: With the Deadline for Action looming, the House Approved a Bill that will Allow for the Expanded use of Absentee Ballots during the Global Pandemic. All Voters will be given the Option of Casting an Absentee Ballot in August and November Regardless of the Reason why. Despite the Expanded Ability to Cast an Absentee Ballot, Voters wishing to Vote Absentee will still need to get their Ballot Notarized. In Addition to the Absentee Voting Changes, the Bill also gives the Secretary of State Subpoena Power when Investigating Suspected Election Offenses.

Pennsylvania: The House has Approved Legislation that would Require the Department of State to Produce a Report Documenting any Problems associated with the Unprecedented Number of Mail-In Ballots in the June Primary. Under House Bill 2502, which Passed by a Vote of 201-1, the Department of State would have 60 days to Issue a Report on the Number of Absentee and Mail-In Ballots, as well as Incidents in which Ballots were sent to the Wrong Address or there were Allegations that Someone tried to use a Mail-In Ballot to Vote for Someone else. State Rep. Mike Carroll (D-118th District, Luzerne), was the only Negative Vote. The Legislation’s prospects in the State Senate aren’t clear. A Spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-34th District, Centre), didn’t immediately Respond on Wednesday to a Question about whether the Senate Plans to Act on the Bill. Much of the Data that would be Mandated in this New Report is already included in an Annual Report completed by the Department of State. The House Proposal would Require the State to generate that Information more quickly, so that it’s Available ahead of the Presidential Election.

Texas: The Harris County Commissioner’s Court is considering a Proposal that would Move Election Responsibilities for the County from an Elected Clerk to a Nonpartisan Election Administrator. The Move would put a Single Office-in-Charge of Running Elections and Managing the Voter Roll, both gargantuan Tasks in the State’s Largest County, which has 4.7 million Residents. Voter Registration is currently the Responsibility of the Tax Assessor-Collector, owing to the Office’s Historic Role Collecting Poll Taxes. The County Clerk’s Office Administers Elections. The County Attorney’s Office prepared a Four-Page Memorandum last week Detailing how to Switch to an Elections Administrator. Of the 10 most Populous Counties in Texas, only Harris and Travis, have yet to Adopt the Elections Administrator Model.

Wisconsin: Reps. Staush Gruszynski (D-90th District, Green Bay), and Joel Kitchens (R-1st District, Sturgeon Bay), have introduced Bipartisan Legislation that would Direct how Elections should be held in the Event of an Emergency such as the Current Public Health Emergency. The Bill would Ensure that, during a Statewide Emergency, an Absentee Ballot Application is Mailed to Each Registered Voter who has Not already Requested one. It would also Mandate that a Certain Number of Polling Places remain Open so People who Wanted to Register on Election Day could do so. Mailing Ballot Applications would be the Job of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Voters would then Complete the Ballot Request Forms and Send them to their Local Clerks to Receive the Actual Ballots.

Wyoming: The Sweetwater County Commission Vote to Approve a Resolution to Establish the Sweetwater County Courthouse as an Absentee Polling Location and Counting Center. People will be Allowed to go to the Courthouse Prior to Election Day, Fill Out an Absentee Ballot and put it into a Voting Machine. The Machine will Accommodate Voters from all Districts and Precincts within the County. The Resolution states that the Polling Place will be Open the same hours as the Courthouse on Normal Business Days during the Time Period allowed for Absentee Voting.

Legal Updates

District of Columbia: Two Residents of the District’s Ward 8 have filed Suit against the City’s Board of Elections (BOE) over the BOE’s Pandemic-Primary Plans. The Suit, which Claims the Plans Violate the Voting Rights Act, alleges that the Plaintiffs have had Spotty Mail Service at their Homes for years and it has only gotten Worse since the Pandemic. The Suit claims that neither Plaintiff received a Voter’s Guide and that One Plaintiff has yet to Receive her Ballot. “COVID-19 has lead to a bunch of hastily implemented voting policies, and the District of Columbia didn’t adequately take into account the historical conditions of Ward 8, or the current reality of Ward 8,” Aristotle Theresa, an Attorney for the Plaintiffs said. “As a result, it’s had a negative impact on a protected class, in this case mostly African Americans.” The Lawsuit asks for the BOE to provide Additional Polling Locations in the more Populous Parts of Ward 8 and to Pay Attorneys’ Fees for the Suit.

Georgia: U.S. District Judge, Timothy Batten, Dismissed a Lawsuit that was seeking to once again Postpone Georgia’s Primary. Batten wrote that Elected Georgia Officials have the Authority to Decide how to Run Elections, Not the Courts. “The framers of the Constitution did not envision a primary role for the courts in managing elections, but instead reserved election management to the legislatures,” Batten wrote in a 12-page Order after a Hearing Earlier in the day.

Idaho: Congressional hopeful, Nicholas Jones, has asked a Federal Court to give Idaho Voters more time to get their Ballots after the State’s Online Portal was Overloaded with a Last-Minute Flood of Requests Tuesday. Jones’ Campaign said Secretary of State, Lawrence Denney (R) Failed to Fulfill his Duty as Idaho’s Elections Chief. His Attorneys asked the Idaho Federal District Court to Push Back the Deadline for Idahoans to Request their Ballots to Tuesday, May 26, at 8 p.m., a Full week Extension from the Original Cut-Off date.

Missouri: Civil Rights Groups on Tuesday, Appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, after a Local Judge Dismissed their Lawsuit seeking to allow all Missourians to Vote Absentee in Upcoming Elections to Help Reduce the Risk of Catching or Spreading the Coronavirus. The Lawsuit was filed in Jefferson City by: the ACLU of Missouri and the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition on behalf of the NAACP; the League of Women Voters; and Several Residents. It Claims that Requiring Voters to Appear at Traditional Polling Places during the Pandemic puts Lives at Risk. Cole County Circuit Judge, Jon Beetem, in a Monday Judgment, Tossed the Lawsuit, writing that the Civil Rights Groups who Sued were Asking for Widespread Absentee Voting for All Future Elections regardless of whether COVID-19 is still Around. Beetem wrote that the Plaintiffs sought “radical and permanent transformation of Missouri voting practices without the authorization of the Legislature.”

Minnesota: The League of Women Voters has filed Suit against Secretary of State, Steve Simon (D–Farmer–Labor Party), over the State’s Witness Requirement for Absentee Ballots. The Suit argues that Voters should Not need a Witness Signature during the Global Health Pandemic. “Minnesota consistently has the highest voter turnout in the nation, with many safeguards in place to ensure election integrity,” said Michelle Witte, Executive Director at the League of Women Voters Minnesota. “Making this small change to our witness requirements during this global pandemic will not damage that integrity — it will only make our elections stronger by ensuring that all voters have as few barriers as possible to exercise their constitutional right.”

Montana: Judge Jessica Fehr, of Montana’s Thirteenth Judicial District Court in Yellowstone County, Granted a Request from Five Tribal Governments and Two Native American Voting Rights Organizations to put a Temporary Hold on the Montana Ballot Interference Prevention Act. The Groups claim the Law, Passed in 2018, Wrongfully imposed Negative and Extreme Restrictions on Efforts to Collect Ballots throughout the State. Judge Fehr found that there was Merit to the Group’s Claims and Ordered to the State to Halt Enforcement of the Law Pending further Hearings on the Matter.

Nevada: True the Vote has Submitted a Revised Complaint Against the State over the Upcoming By-Mail Primary. The Suit argues that Mail-Only Balloting is No Longer Necessary to Limit the Risk of COVID-19 spreading among Voters. The Complaint also Argues that Clark County’s Procedures for Distributing Ballots and Conducting the Election unduly Favor that County’s Voters over those in Other Parts of the State.

New Hampshire: The State Supreme Court ruled that a Person who has a New Hampshire Home is considered a Resident when it comes to Elections, answering Questions posed by a Federal Judge who is Presiding over a Challenge to a State Law. The Law, which took effect July, 2019, requires Voters to be Full-Fledged Residents of New Hampshire and Ended State Law Distinctions between “residency” and “domicile.” The Case now Returns to the Lower Court.

New Jersey - Several Organizations have filed a Lawsuit seeking Changes to the state’s Vote-by-Mail System before the July 7th Primary. The Lawsuit asks that Every Voter be Informed if their Ballot is Rejected and be given a Chance to Prove their Identity and have their Vote Counted. It was filed on behalf of: the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and an Individual New Jersey Voter. “Covid-19 has been exposing deep cracks in our society’s foundation,” said Ryan Haygood, Director of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “Those cracks are causing earthquakes in black and brown communities here in New Jersey and so this lawsuit is really about making sure those cracks don’t reach our democracy.”

New York: Several Members of the, Monroe County Democratic Party Executive Committee, and a Former Party Chairman, Sued Democratic County Legislators, the Party Committee, and Party Leadership to try to Stop the Currently Planned Selection Process for a New Election Commissioner. “A stolen election always results in irreparable harm,” the Lawsuit Alleges. “Impropriety and the appearance of impropriety erode our community’s faith in our leaders and, more importantly, the democratic process itself.” The Previous Commissioner, Colleen Anderson, Resigned from the Post, and it has been Filled on an Interim Basis by Deputy Commissioner Lashana Boose since March 5th. Boose is One of the Candidates for the Full-Time Position.

Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have Sued to Overturn the State’s Absentee Voting Rules in the midst of the Coronavirus Outbreak. Requirements that Include, Notarized Ballots and a Photo Identification, create Barriers to Voters, State Party Chair, Alicia Andrews, said in a Statement. “Oklahomans deserve to make their voices heard safely without further barriers to the voting process as we continue to deal with a worldwide pandemic,” Andrews said. “The additional barriers to the mail-in voting process do nothing more than further suppress the votes of marginalized groups and put citizens in harm’s way under the false claims of reducing voter fraud.” The Lawsuit against the State Election Board and Election Board Secretary, Paul Ziriax, comes after a Bill Signed into Law earlier this Month imposed the Restrictions on Absentee Ballots.

Pennsylvania: The State Supreme Court Dismissed a Lawsuit seeking to Force Pennsylvania Elections Officials to Accept Absentee or Mail-In Ballots as long as they are Received within a week after the Primary or General Elections during the Pandemic. Disability Rights Pennsylvania, the Senior Law Center, and several Other Parties filed the Suit in late April 2020, arguing that Postal Delays from the Pandemic could Cause Ballots to be Received too Late to Count.

Judicial Watch has filed Suit against Several Counties and the Commonwealth over Voter List Maintenance. Common Cause PA and the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters have asked the U.S. District Court Judge Overseeing the Case for Party Status in order to Defend Bucks, Chester and Delaware Counties.

South Carolina: U.S. District Judge, Michelle Childs, heard Arguments last week in Court Proceedings seeking to Eliminate Two of South Carolina’s Absentee Requirements: Whether to Set Aside the State Legal Requirement that a Voter’s Absentee Ballot Envelope must Contain the Signature and Address of a Witness to the Voter’s Ballot; and whether to Allow Mailed-In Ballots to Still be Counted if they Reach Elections Officials after 7 p.m. on the Day of an Election. Currently, Mailed-In Absentee Ballots must get to Elections Officials by that Time or they aren’t Counted.

Tennessee: The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, filed a Suit, on behalf of Several Residents, who believe their Health Conditions would make Voting during the COVID-19 Pandemic a Threat to their Safety. Currently, Eligible Voters Must Provide a Qualifying Excuse as to why they need to Vote-by-Mail, the ACLU said. The Suit pushes the State to Expand those Requirements and Allow All Eligible Voters to Vote by Absentee Ballot. “No one should be forced to choose between their health and their vote. Tennessee can simultaneously keep the public safe and protect democracy, but is refusing to do so. Eliminating the excuse requirement during COVID-19 is a common-sense solution that protects people’s health and their right to vote, which is why many other states have already made vote by mail and absentee voting available,” Dale Ho, Director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a Release.

Texas: Vote-by-Mail is Off Again. First, the Texas 14th Court of Appeals, Ruled that a Trial Court Order from April would Stay in Place and that Basically Anyone is Eligible to Vote-by-Mail during the Pandemic. But the State’s Supreme Court Temporarily put on Hold the Expansion of Voting by Mail. The State’s Supreme Court did Not weigh the Merits of the Case at this time. Then U.S. District Judge, Fred Biery, Granted a Preliminary Injunction that Allows All Registered Voters to Vote-by-Mail during the Pandemic after Finding the State’s Existing Election Rules Violate the Equal Protection Clause. Then the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans once again put the Expansion of Mail Voting On Hold. The Appeals Court’s Action is an Administrative Stay that is in place while the Court considers whether to Block the Lower Court Ruling while it hears the Appeal. So Today, Expanded Voting by Mail during the Pandemic is on Hold.

West Virginia: The West Virginia Supreme Court heard Arguments over a June 2019 Municipal Election in Harpers Ferry and whether or Not 11 Provisional Ballots should be Counted. If All of the Possible Votes on Four Ballots are Counted, Six Candidates have a Chance to either Win or Retain a Council Seat. In Oral Arguments in the Case, Streamed Live over the Internet, Supreme Court justices cited some Case Law but mostly asked
Questions about the Primary Issue of whether the Four Voters who Cast the Contested Ballots should have their Votes Counted due to Address Errors made at the West Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. The Address Errors Mistakenly add “West” to each of the Four Voters Washington Street Mailing Address, causing those Voters to be Registered Incorrectly in the Neighboring Voting Precinct for Bolivar Residents. The Errors prevented the Four Voters from Appearing in Harpers Ferry Poll Book of Qualified Voters on Election Day. Three current Harpers Ferry Town Council Members are Arguing, contrary to Legal Opinions of Jefferson County Judge, Debra McLaughlin, and West Virginia, Secretary of State, Mac Warner, that the Votes on the Provisional Ballots shouldn’t Count because those Voters were Not “duly registered” for the Election. What is Missing in this Case: What happens to their Votes for Candidates in their Correct District?

Wisconsin: Advocates for People with Disabilities and Minority Voters Filed a Federal Lawsuit Monday asking a Judge to Order that More Poll Workers be Hired, Every Voter Receive an Absentee Ballot Request Form, and a Host of other Changes be made to ensure the August Primary and November Presidential Election can be held Safely. The Lawsuit argues that Not Enough has been done to Ensure that the Upcoming Elections can be conducted Safely and Fairly. Proceeding without the Changes sought would Violate the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Lawsuit Alleges. The Lawsuit also wants to Require that: Absentee Ballot Drop Boxes be Installed in Every Community; State Elections Officials Work with the U.S. Postal Service to ensure Timely Delivery, Return, and Counting of Absentee Ballots; Notify Voters if their Absentee Ballots won’t be Counted in Time for them to Fix Problems; Increase Opportunities for Curbside Voting; and Launch a Public Education Campaign about Voting Options. It also wants to Allow for Absentee Ballots to be Counted for Up to a Week After the Election if they are Postmarked by Election Day or Don’t have a Postmark.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

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