Thursday, February 25, 2021

Electionline Weekly February-25-2021

Legislative Updates

Federal Legislation: Reps Andy Kim (D-NJ) and Donald Norcross (D-NJ) introduced the Alice Paul Voter Protection Act, which will protect a citizen’s access to vote by prohibiting the interference of voter registration efforts. The Alice Paul Voter Protection Act protects voter registration efforts by making it unlawful for any person to hinder or prevent another person from registering or aiding another person in registering to vote. The legislation also encourages the establishment of best practices to ensure that states protect these critical rights. “Alice Paul was a leader in ensuring and protecting the right to vote. It’s important we honor her legacy by continuing her work, and I’m proud to introduce a bill inspired by that legacy that stands up for the rights of all Americans to have unfettered access to the ballot box,” said Kim. “This bill is also just one step in a larger fight to make our democracy work better for the people. I look forward to working with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to make it easier for every American to participate in our democratic process.”

Alabama: Rep. Laura Hall (D-Hunstville) has introduced legislation that would permanently remove an excuse requirement for absentee voting. The bill has the support of Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, a Republican, and would not remove other absentee voting requirements, like photo identification or an affidavit and witness requirement. Supporters cited the success of last year’s election, which saw record numbers of absentee ballots cast in Alabama, and said dropping the excuses would improve ballot access in a state. But circuit clerks and probate judges who spoke against the measure suggested that it could weaken current voter laws, and encourage new ways of casting ballots they lacked the resources to implement. “By removing the (excuses), it essentially establishes early voting,” said Carla Woodall, circuit clerk of Houston County. “We have no foundation to support early voting.”

Alaska: Lieutenant Gov. Kevin Meyer recently introduced Senate Bill 83, an election integrity bill that he said would provide additional tools for the Alaska Division of Elections in increase Alaskan’s trust in elections and the voting process. The bill allows for increased post-election audits, stronger requirements for absentee ballot voter certificates and limited by-mail voting in communities under 750. Additionally, it requires the division to determine the costs of recounts in regulation instead of statue.

Arizona: House Bill 2373, introduced by Rep. Tim Dunn, R-Yuma — would require every person and group that registers people to vote to get a unique identifier number from the county recorder if they submit more than 25 voter registration forms in a calendar year. The groups or people then have to place their unique identification numbers on every voter registration form they submit. The bill cleared the House Government and Elections Committee Feb. 17 on a party-line vote, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. “This is a very clear attack on the voter registration groups that have come together since SB1070 to completely change the State of Arizona for the better by bringing hundreds of thousands of new voters of color to the table, empowering them, walking them through the process … and making sure they actually have a voice,” said Randy Perez of LUCHA. “We’ve increased turnout among the Latino electorate by double while expanding the electorate. This is very clearly targeted at the work that we do every day.”

The Senate has revived a stalled bill that would purge about 200,000 people from a list of voters who automatically get mail ballots. The measure died on the Senate floor last week when Republican Sen. Paul Boyer joined all 14 Democrats in opposition, holding it short of a majority. But a Senate committee revived the proposal on Tuesday and Boyer said on Feb. 24 his concerns have been addressed. The measure would end the popular permanent early voting list, requiring people to vote at least once in every two election cycles to stay on the list. Boyer was said he was concerned that people would be dropped from the list for missing just one primary or general election, but legislative lawyers have assured him that a voter would need to miss both the primary and the general for two consecutive cycles. State election officials say about 200,000 voters currently meet that criteria. They’ll get a letter asking them whether they want to remain on the permanent early voting list and will be removed if they don’t respond.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted along party lines to shorten the period for voting by mail by requiring counties send out ballots 22 days ahead of an election, instead of 27 days. Senate Bill 1593 also would require mail ballots to be postmarked no later than the Thursday before Election Day. Currently, election officials count ballots that are received up to 7 p.m. on Election Day. Critics argued the measure would disadvantage those who vote by mail from rural areas, where mail service can be delayed. And others noted that not all mail is postmarked.

Arkansas: The Senate gave final approval to legislation making the state’s voter ID law stricter by no longer allowing people without identification to cast a ballot if they sign a statement affirming their identity. The majority-Republican Senate approved the measure by a 25-9 vote, sending it to GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk. The majority-Republican House approved the measure earlier this month. Hutchinson said he’ll review the measure and make a decision on it next week. Under the state’s current law, a voter who doesn’t present photo identification but signs a statement can cast a provisional ballot that will be counted unless the county election commission finds it invalid. If enacted, the law will still allow someone without ID to cast a provisional ballot that will be counted only if they present an ID to the county clerk or election board by noon the Monday following the election. Supporters of the change said it was needed because of the lack of a standard for matching the signature on the affidavit to the voter’s registration.

Colorado: Under Senate Bill 21-007, sponsored by Sen. Paul Lundeen (R-Monument), Coloradans would be required to vote in-person beginning in 2022 unless a mail ballot is requested. Under the legislation, which is titled the “Improve Public Confidence Election Validity” bill, registered voters would also be required to select which way they prefer to cast their general election ballot at a polling location within the county of the elector’s residence. All votes must also be counted by the end of Election Day. Lundeen described the bill as legislative hardball, adding that the legislative process is driven by dialogue and amendment, two things the bill was meant to achieve. “Senate Bill 21-007 would disenfranchise Coloradans by reducing voter access to mail ballots and making it harder to vote,” said Secretary of State Jena Griswold, noting that 94% of Coloradans voted in the November general election with a mail ballot. A Senate panel killed the bill this week.

A Colorado House committee has advanced a bill to make it easier for cities and counties to transition to a ranked choice voting system. House Bill 21-1107 would require the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office to come up with a uniform set of rules for the implementation and certification of this type of voting. The bill does not require cities or counties to take up the voting system. The office would also establish an audit process for it and find a software provider for counties to use to run these elections.

Connecticut: At a hearing this week, a legislative committee that oversees election law heard testimony from dozens of people about several bills that supporters say would improve access to the ballot. House Joint Resolution 58 would allow for “no-excuse” absentee ballots. Under current law, people seeking mail-in ballots must provide a reason why they cannot be at the polls on Election Day. Valid excuses include military deployment, travelling out of state for business and illness. House Joint Resolution 59 would allow for early voting. The two bills actually would not establish early voting or no-excuse absentee voting, but they would amend the state constitution to allow for such changes. The measure allowing for early voting has already cleared both chambers, although not by a three-fourths vote. So it needs to be approved by a simple majority this year to earn a spot on the November 2022 ballot.

Florida: Sen. Janet Cruz joined Rep. Susan Valdes in filing identical versions of the bill, SB 1528 and HB 869. The legislation would alter current state election law, which does not require prepaid postage to be enclosed in vote-by-mail ballots. It is currently up to each county’s supervisor of elections whether or not to provide the postage. Valdes said the bill was partially inspired by Hillsborough County’s Supervisor of Elections office, which does provide paid postage for return. “It works phenomenally in Hillsborough County, so we figured if we can do it in Hillsborough County, why can’t we just do it all across the state,” Valdes said.

Legislation filed this year would shield registered voters’ emails, addresses, date of birth and phone numbers. Mark Earley, vice president of the association representing Florida’s election supervisors, supports the effort. “We need to have better protections. Our voters are trusting us with their data. If they can’t trust that they can get registered to vote and still maintain some kind of personal privacy that’s a bad statement about where we are,” said Earley. There’s one notable exception in the bill. Political parties and candidates could still access the voter registration data.

Georgia: Republicans in the Georgia House have released an omnibus elections bill that proposes tougher restrictions on both absentee and in-person early voting. HB 531, filed by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) was introduced directly into the Special Committee on Election Integrity. Section 12 of the bill would provide “uniformity” to the three-week early voting period, requiring all counties to hold early voting from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for three weeks before the election, plus a mandatory 9-to-5 period of voting the second Saturday before the election. It would allow counties to extend hours to 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., but would prohibit counties from holding early voting any other days — including Sunday. In HB 531, voters would need to include their driver’s license number, state ID number, or a copy of acceptable form of photo ID. The driver’s license number or state ID number is already required for the newly created online request portal, and photo ID is required to vote in person. The proposal would also shrink the window voters can request an absentee ballot and limit the timeline that county officials can mail them out. No absentee ballot could be requested earlier than 11 weeks before an election or later than two Fridays before the election, and absentee-by-mail ballots would not be sent out until four weeks before day of the election. The bill restricts the location of secure drop boxes to early voting sites, and limits the use of those drop boxes to just the days and times where early voting takes place. Another section would ban county elections offices from directly accepting outside funding for elections. Legislators did amend the bill this week to restore Sunday early voting.

The Senate has approved Senate Bill 67 that would require more identification for absentee voting. Under the bill, which was approved 35-18 mostly along party lines, voters would have to provide a driver’s license number, state ID number or a copy of photo ID when requesting absentee ballots. Currently, absentee ballots are verified based on voters’ signatures and registration information rather than an ID.

A bill that would create a chief elections assistance officer, a state employee who would work with local elections offices on training and evaluating voting processes, has passed the Georgia Senate.

The Senate approved a bill this week that would allow the state to take over local election offices that fail to meet standards. Senate Bill 89 would allow the State Election Board to establish criteria for “low-performing” election offices and, if they don’t improve, to replace the local officials with new election superintendents indefinitely. Supporters said the bill would mean more support for local election officials, as well as accountability for those that have repeatedly had election problems. Critics said the state already has the authority to investigate and hold local officials accountable. They say the proposal would usurp local control of elections guaranteed in the Georgia Constitution.

Hawaii: The Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced a bill that would automatically register to vote eligible U.S. citizens who apply for a driver’s license or state identification card, unless the individual declines to be registered. The Hawaii bill says officials would not process applications for an identification card or driver’s license until an applicant fills in a section related to voter registration. Officials would automatically send an applicant’s information to election officials unless the applicant specifically indicates he or she does not want to be registered to vote. The seven members of the committee unanimously passed the legislation, which heads to the full Senate for consideration saying it would increase access to voter registration. It would also help ensure the accuracy of voter registration rolls by sharing data between the driver’s license and ID database and the statewide voter registration system, the office said.

Idaho: Legislation to make permanent changes in Idaho’s absentee ballot counting procedure passed the Senate and is headed to the House. The Senate voted 35-0 to approve the bill intended to speed absentee vote counting. It was used in the last general election and spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. Under the legislation, elections officials would be allowed to open and scan, but not count, absentee ballots beginning seven days before Election Day. The law would also require that if any absentee ballots are opened before election day, they are maintained in an electronically accessed and secured area that is under 24-hour video surveillance livestreamed to the public. Also, a minimum of two election officials must be present whenever the absentee ballots are accessed. The law would also require the video to be archived for at least 90 days after the election.

The Senate also approved another election bill 35-0 involving absentee ballots that have a problem preventing them from being counted. Typically, county clerks contact a voter when they discover they have done something that prevents their vote from being counted, such as forgetting to sign the outside envelope. The legislation puts into law the ability of clerks to contact voters when an issue is discovered with a returned absentee ballot. The proposed law sets a deadline of 8 p.m. on Election Day to fix any problems with absentee ballots, the same deadline used for other ballots cast.

A revamped version of a proposed law making it a felony in Idaho for third parties to collect and return multiple ballots to election officials headed to the full House for debate and a vote after it passed in committee this week. The House State Affairs Committee approved the bill that has several significant changes from the bill that was pulled from the House floor earlier this month after debate tilted toward almost certain defeat. The new bill changes from two to six the number of ballots a single family member can deliver. It also redefines family to include adopted children. The proposed law limits who can handle multiple ballots to election officials, U.S. postal service workers and parcel delivery services.

Iowa: The Iowa House has restarted the process of amending the Iowa Constitution to restore voting rights for felons who have discharged their sentences. “I would just say this is my third time so I don’t have a lot to offer that I haven’t said before,” Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said at a Judiciary subcommittee on House Study Bill 143. In fact, most of the comments offered, according to The Gazette, at the subcommittee hearing were very similar to those heard over the past two years since Gov. Kim Reynolds’ called for the amendment in 2019. The House overwhelmingly passed it, but the Senate has yet to take action to put the issue on the ballot. Before voters get a chance to weigh in, the amendment must be approved by the House and Senate in this two-year General Assembly and again in the 2023-24 session.

By a 30-18 vote, the Senate has approved Senate File 413 that would limit early voting in the state. The bill would cut early voting from 29 days to 20, require most mail-in ballots to be received by county election officials by the time polls close on Election Day, instead of allowing votes to be counted as long as they were postmarked by Election Day and arrived by noon on the Monday following the election. The bill also prohibits the use of a U.S. Postal Service postmark as a way to verify when a ballot was mailed. Polling times also would be reduced by an hour, closing at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. And the bill would also prohibit county auditors from mailing absentee ballot request forms to eligible Iowa voters-something that was widespread during the pandemic-unless a voter requests a form. It would reduce the mail and in-person early voting period, tightly regulate how absentee ballots can be returned and require polls in all elections to close at 8 p.m., an hour earlier than currently for general elections. On a strict party-line vote, the House approved by bill 57-37.

Kentucky: Lawmakers filed election reform legislation this week that would keep certain voting features adopted last year because of the pandemic but no longer allow all registered voters to obtain and cast an absentee ballot by mail. Secretary of State Michael Adams backs both versions of the legislation —House Bill 574 and Senate Bill 259. Both bills would allow four days of no-excuse early voting before elections — fewer than the three weeks made available last year through an executive order — but the first time such early voting would be allowed under state law. While both bills would keep the state’s new online absentee portal where voters can request an absentee ballot, they would no longer allow any and all registered voters to use that method — as most Kentucky voters did in last year’s election, helping to create the largest total turnout in state history. Under both bills, only the individuals previously allowed under state law to vote absentee because of age, illness, disability or temporary residence outside the county or state could use the online portal. Adams, a Republican, called the bills “the most significant election reform legislation in the past quarter-century” for Kentucky.

Maryland: A proposal by Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles) would change how the political makeup of local election boards is determined. Under Ellis’ proposal, the makeup of election boards would be based on the party affiliation of the majority of voters in each jurisdiction, rather than the governor’s political party. At a Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee meeting, Ellis argued that his proposal is needed to make local boards of elections reflect the counties they represent. In Maryland, all local election boards have five regular members. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have alternates who only vote if a member is absent. “In order for the social contract to be upheld, there needs to be a democracy that respects and abides by the opinions of the majority of people in that area,” Ellis said, arguing that election boards should reflect voters’ preferences rather than the governor’s. “We just don’t want any kind of hegemony, one group having dominance over the other,” he said. The proposal received bipartisan interest, with Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) calling it a “fairer way” to select the leadership of local boards of elections.

Massachusetts: Sen. Cindy Creem, D-Newton filed legislation, SD.1002, in the Massachusetts Senate heralded by the Election Modernization Coalition as the most comprehensive next step for Massachusetts elections. A companion bill, HD. 1536, was also filed in the House of Representatives by Rep. John Lawn, D-10th Middlesex. The legislation to be known as The VOTES Act, would make permanent many of the short-term reforms implemented for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, including allowing voters the opportunity to request a mail-in ballot and expanding early voting options. The VOTES Act also establishes same-day voter registration, ensures that eligible voters who are incarcerated are able to request a mail ballot and vote and creates a risk-limiting audit system to replace Massachusetts’ dated method of post-election audits.

Michigan: State Reps. Padma Kuppa (D-Troy), Jim Haadsma (D-Battle Creek) and Kara Hope (D-Holt) introduced bills today to improve transparency and access to voting in Michigan elections. The Vote at Home legislative package (HBs 4360-4362 ) would make it easier for Michigan voters to receive and return absentee ballots, help local clerks strengthen the absentee voting process and hold circulators accountable for lying about the contents of petitions. HB 4362 would amend Michigan Election Law to require local clerks to send absentee ballot applications with prepaid return postage to every registered voter with the costs to be reimbursed by the state. The bill would also allow clerks to tabulate absentee ballots up to 22 days before election day, counting ballots or establishing results would be prohibited, and notify absentee voters about a problem with their signature and establish a process to fix the problem. HB 4361 would ensure voters automatically received absentee ballot applications by requiring local clerks to maintain a permanent absent voter list. The bill would also help clerks establish polling locations based on likely in-person voters.

Missouri: Under a proposal that won preliminary approval in the House this week, only people with photo IDs would be allowed to cast a regular ballot. People without a photo ID would instead cast a provisional ballot that would be counted only if their signature on it matches the one on their voter registration file. The measure, sponsored by Rep. John Simmons, R-Washington, needs one additional vote in the lower chamber before moving to the Senate for further debate. It comes in response to a decision last year by the Missouri Supreme Court that “eviscerated” a 2016 ID law requiring a photo ID at the polls. The court’s opinion called the statutory language “misleading and contradictory.” The House approved the bill this week.

Montana: Under House Bill 429, the power the governor has to make emergency election changes would be subject to approval by the Legislature. The bill would put the brakes on future emergency orders affecting elections until majorities in both the House and Senate vote to allow them. The governor would have to request the Secretary of State conduct a poll of legislators to decide whether the emergency order can be enacted. No one testified as an opponent or proponent to the bill.

Senate Bill 170 would direct counties to check their rolls for inactive voters every year, rather than the current every-other-year requirement. The Montana Association of Clerks and Recorders remained neutral on the bill. The group’s legislative chair, Regina Plettenberg, said they generally have no problem cleaning their rolls more often, as long as the new law wouldn’t conflict with existing statute.

Senate Bill 169 proposes making Montana’s voter identification laws stricter by adding new restrictions on the types of photo ID that are acceptable to register or cast a ballot in person. Newly elected Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen alled that bill her “No. 1 priority” this session, while voting rights groups and Democrats have cast the measure as an attempt at voter suppression that would erect new barriers to voting for specific groups, including college students and Native Americans. It cleared the Senate last week on a 31-19 vote, with Democrats unified in opposition.

A bill from Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, R-Great Falls, would require voters to request absentee ballots in-person, every election year, instead of signing up to be on a permanent list to receive absentee ballots in the mail. Supporters said under the current system, absentee ballots often continue to be mailed to addresses, even though the voter has moved or died, creating opportunities for voter fraud. But opponents – including county election officials, and advocates for the disabled, students and Native Americans – told the House State Administration Committee that Montana’s system has plenty of built-in security checks to prevent voter fraud. The House State Administration Committee voted unanimously to table the bill.

House Bill 406 proposes changes to the Ballot Interference Protection Act (BIPA), which was passed overwhelmingly by Montana voters in a 2018 ballot referendum. It placed a variety of restrictions on the practice of collecting and turning in other voters’ mail-in or absentee ballots. BIPA restricted ballot collection to family members, caregivers, household members and acquaintances, while limiting them to dropping off no more than six ballots. It also instated fines of up to $500 for each unlawfully collected ballot. HB 406, sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark Noland, of Bigfork, would remove the six-ballot limit, while adding new restrictions for people who submit other voters’ ballots.

Nebraska: Sen. John McCollister has introduced LB125 would allow voters in the Cornhusker State to rank their preferences in elections for the Legislature, governor, Congress and the Senate. If approved, the legislation would put ranked-choice voting in place in Nebraska for elections to those offices where three or more candidates are running. McCollister told the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee he believed ranked-choice voting would increase voter satisfaction, provide for efficiencies by eliminating the need to hold separate runoff elections and ensure fairness in elections.

Legislative Bill 590 introduced by Sen. Mike Groene, would cut the period when early ballots can be sent out from 35 to 20 days before an election. The bill also would cut from 30 to 20 days the pre-Election Day time period when Nebraskans can vote at their county clerk’s or election commissioner’s office, the North Platte senator told the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. “Without 100% proof,” Groene said in his opening comments, “I cannot adhere to any of the conspiracy theories that have been brought forward” regarding the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. “But I do believe our national leaders owe all Americans a rigorous examination of our election process,” he said. “I do believe we have allowed the election process to be distorted by extending the time allowed to cast a ballot.”

The right to vote would be returned to ex-felons sooner than later in potential legislation proposed by State Senator Justin Wayne of Omaha. Right now ex-felons must wait two years after completing their sentence or probation before they can cast a ballot. Wayne’s legislation would cut those two years down to none so that ex-felons would once again be allowed to vote immediately after finishing their sentence or probation.

Nevada: A proposed bill in the Nevada Legislature would require a voter to provide proof of identity at the polls, but with Democrats controlling both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office, it likely dead on arrival. Republican Assemblywoman Jill Dickman introduced AB 163 on Monday. Major provisions of the legislation would require the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue voter identification cards to Nevadans without IDs. If a person’s identity is questioned at the polls, a person would have to “furnish proof of identity to respond to such a challenge,” a preliminary version of the bill reads. The proposed law would also require Nevada’s Secretary of State to match voter registration lists with records from the State Registrar of Vital Statistics, specifically to crosscheck the names of dead Nevadans at least once a month. This process already happens at the county level, but not with a statewide standard other than to be “regularly maintained.” Current law also requires the DMV to work with the Social Security Administration to update the list.

New Jersey: The state Senate passed a bill that would require early voting by machine be available for the first time in New Jersey. If it passes the Assembly and is signed by the governor, the state would join about half in the U.S. to offer it. Voters could have access to machine voting 10 days ahead of the official Election Day, Nov. 2. Counties would need to buy electronic poll books and optical-scan voting machines that read hand-marked paper ballots, or other voting machines that produce a paper trail, according to the bill. Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, whose Assembly State and Local Government committee passed the bill in October, said it would be a mandate funded by the state. “It would be in the neighborhood of the upper $30 millions,” Mazzeo said of the cost statewide. The bill would require each county to set up at least three designated early voting locations, with the number based on population. Atlantic County would need five and Cape May and Cumberland counties would require three.

New York: The Senate Corrections Committee has advanced legislation that would extend voting rights to formerly incarcerated people. The bill would restore voting rights to parolees, post-incarceration to facilitate community reintegration and participation in the civic process, rather than requiring a parolee to wait until he or she has been discharged from parole or reached the maximum expiration date of the underlying sentence.

North Dakota: The House passed an updated version of House Bill 1447. The bill, which previously sought to voluntarily print residency information on identification cards, would allow the state’s public colleges and universities to issue students a printable document containing “the institution’s letterhead or seal using a self-service process,” according to the legislation. The bill passed 87-7 and now heads to the Senate. The document must include the student’s legal name, current residential address in the state, the date the residential address was established and date of birth. When issuing the document to students, the school would also provide each student with information regarding voter eligibility requirements. Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, said the document would act as a “utility bill” for students when they need to supplement their North Dakota ID while voting in a district to which they recently moved. Voters who have a valid North Dakota driver’s license but may not have an updated address can bring a utility bill or some other form of verification that they live in the district in which they are attempting to vote. This bill would give students, who would typically not have access to a utility bill if they live in a residence hall, access to a document to prove they live in their district.

Tennessee: Sen. Janice Bowling has introduced legislation that would eliminate the early voting period and un-digitize the voting process for all Tennesseans. Bowling filed the bill (SB1510) for introduction in the Tennessee General Assembly Feb. 11. According to Bowling, the impetus for filing the fill was to address concerns over the integrity of the state’s elections. “There are a lot of people across the nation, but also right here in Tennessee that are concerned that the integrity of the vote is compromised, partly due to the electronics,” she said. The text of the bill says county election commissions “shall not use voting machines” and instead must use specially watermarked paper ballots for all elections. Bowling ended up pulling the bill.

Two state lawmakers have filed a bill to allow state and local election commissions to use fingerprints to verify voter identity at the polls. House Bill 1239, by Mt. Juliet Republican Rep. Susan Lynn and Republican Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains, would authorize election commissions to use existing fingerprint databases to verify the identity of voters. “We’ve been identifying people with fingerprints obviously for a very long time. There’s nothing unusual about it,” Lynn said. “In order to provide voters with more confidence that each person cast their ballot, why not open it up and allow fingerprint registries to be used?” House Bill 1239 does not include fingerprinting voters at voter registration, but Lynn considers this bill a first step.

Vermont: A bill to make universal mail-in ballots a permanent feature of Vermont general elections, and to make it easier for voters to fix mistakes on those ballots, cleared a key legislative hurdle this week. The Senate Government Operations Committee voted 4-1 to support the bill, S.15, which now heads to money committees that will assess the cost. The measure would require town clerks to mail out ballots to all active, registered voters for general elections, pandemic safety issues or not. Every voter would have the chance to return their ballot by mail, deliver it to the polls, or vote as they always have in person. A key element of the bill would allow people who make errors when filling out their ballots to fix the problem and still have their votes count. During last year’s dramatic expansion of voting by mail, the rate of defective ballots also spiked.

Virginia: Legislation that would prohibit most people from possessing guns near a polling place passed the Virginia Senate and is heading to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk for his signature. If signed into law, House Bill 2081, sponsored by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, would prohibit knowingly possessing firearms within 40 feet of the locations beginning one hour before polls are open and an hour after they close. Violation would be a Class 1 misdemeanor if convicted, which is punishable by up to 12 months in jail, a fine up to $2,500 or both. Exceptions to this rule would include qualified or retired law-enforcement officers, a person occupying his own property if it falls within the boundary or a licensed armed security officer performing his duties within that boundary. The bill would also prohibit possessing firearms within 40 feet of a meeting place for the electoral board meeting to determine the results of an election or a place used for a recount.

Legislation that would allow third-party contractors to handle the distribution of absentee ballots is headed to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk. Senate Bill 1239, sponsored by Sen. John Bell, D-Broadlands, would allow general registrars to contract to these third parties for printing, assembling and mailing the ballots. This would not allow third parties to handle ballots that have already been cast. The Democratic-led bill passed with some bipartisan support, clearing the Senate 27-12 and the House of Delegates 70-30. The legislation would also direct the State Board of Elections to adopt emergency regulations set in the bill to ensure secure and timely delivery of voter information to the contractors and reports of mailed absentee ballots from the contractors.

Washington: House Bill 1156 would permit the use of ranked choice voting in local elections. The bill permits the use of ranked choice voting in elections for offices in counties, cities, towns, school districts, fire districts, and port districts, and establishes certain requirements for RCV ballot design and vote tabulation; Adds a cost-recovery provision to the Washington Voting Rights Act (Act) to allow a person who files a notice alleging a violation of the Act to recoup research costs, up to $30,000, if the political subdivision adopts a remedy in response to the notice; and Permits the secretary of state to provide grants to local governments to implement RCV, switch to even-year elections, or make changes to their electoral system in response to a notice filed under the Act, subject to appropriation. Evers wants to allow clerks to count absentee ballots on the day before election day if they want.

Wisconsin: Gov. Tony Evers’ state budget would expand early voting, allow clerks to count absentee ballots before election day and require a voter bill of rights to be posted at every polling station. Evers wants to allow local officials to decide when early voting should begin, instead of limiting it to the two weeks before election day. Evers is seeking to add a provision to state law that would require polling stations to post notices telling people they have a number of rights, including the right to vote if eligible, review a sample ballot before voting, cast a secret ballot, get assistance if they are disabled and report illegal activity. The notices would also have to alert people that they are allowed to vote if they are in line before the polls close. Evers also wants to allow people to vote from a polling precinct as long as they have lived there for at least 10 days. Evers’s budget would tweak the state’s voter ID law and would drop the requirement that students using current college IDs provide proof of enrollment. In addition, his plan in some cases would allow students to use expired IDs for voting, just as other voters can use expired driver’s licenses for voting. The governor would require state technical colleges and University of Wisconsin System schools to ensure they issue IDs that are valid for voting purposes. Evers also wants to change how special elections are scheduled. Evers’ new schedule would allow more time between primaries and special elections to ensure military and overseas voters had more time to return absentee ballots, as the federal law requires. The governor is also seeking to establish automatic voter registration, following the example of some other states that place people on the voter rolls as soon as they turn 18 or move to the state, provided they are eligible to vote.

Republican lawmakers are introducing a package of bills that would make significant changes to absentee voting after a surge in mail-in ballots last fall led to unfounded allegations of voter fraud by then-President Donald Trump and his allies. The package of legislation, introduced by Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, would create a number of new rules for absentee voting after President Joe Biden won the state with more than 20,600 votes. Trump tried unsuccessfully to get courts to reject ballots based on allegations that absentee ballot laws weren’t followed. The legislation would attempt to address some of Trump’s complaints. Overall, the Trump campaign sought to throw out more than 220,000 ballots cast in heavily Democratic Dane and Milwaukee counties. The bills would limit who can certify themselves as an indefinitely confined voter. Current law allows those who are indefinitely unable to vote in person due to age, physical illness, infirmity or disability an exemption from having to provide a photo ID to vote.

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is seeking to blow up how Wisconsin chooses members of Congress by making primaries nonpartisan and establishing ranked-choice voting for general elections. Backers say the changes would foster bipartisanship because candidates would be inspired to appeal to the broadest slice of the electorate, not just those in their party. The effort is being led by two Republicans and two Democrats. Under legislation unveiled this week, in House and Senate races people could vote for any candidate, regardless of party. The five candidates who got the most votes in the primary would get on the general election ballot. In that election, voters would rank the candidates. If the top candidate had a majority, he or she would be the winner. If no one had a majority, the lowest-performing candidate would be eliminated and those who backed that candidate would see their second choices assigned to the remaining candidates. The process would be repeated until one candidate had more than 50% of the vote. The Wisconsin proposal would change how House and Senate candidates are chosen, but not candidates for governor, the Legislature or other offices.

Wyoming: The House Committee on Corporations ,Elections and Political Subdivisions, by a 6-3 vote, advanced a photo ID bill this week. Sponsored by Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, the legislation has been floated several times in recent years, and has been unsuccessful in each case, failing by a narrow margin in the House of Representatives last year. This year’s version of the bill, however, has gained the support of 55 co-sponsors in the House and Senate. Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan voicing his support of the bill as a “proactive” measure to increase voter confidence in the integrity of the state’s elections. The bill has undergone numerous improvements – including an expanded definition of government identification that includes tribal identifications and Medicare cards – several argued the bill still had loopholes that could potentially marginalize voters over a non-existent concern over Wyoming’s election security.

Legal Updates

U.S. Supreme Court: The United States Supreme Court brought a formal end to eight lingering disputes over the 2020 election. The cases the justices rejected involved election challenges filed by former President Donald Trump and his allies in five states President Joe Biden won: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Other than two Pennsylvania disputes, the justices’ decision not to hear the cases was unsurprising but ends months of legal wrangling. The court had previously taken no action in those cases and in January had turned away pleas that the cases be fast-tracked, again suggesting the justices were not interested in hearing them. Some of the justices, however, had strong feelings about the court’s decision not to hear two cases from Pennsylvania in particular Justice Clarence Thomas. In his 11-page dissent on Monday, Thomas referred to “fraud” 10 times and emphasized alleged flaws in ballots that arrive by mail. He said review of them may be particularly subjective, for example on the validity of signatures, and require state officials to sift through millions of ballots. Each state determines its own election procedures, for balloting in person or by mail, within the safeguards of the federal Voting Rights Act and Constitution. It should be noted that Thomas’ wife Ginny is a vocal supporter of Trump and an early backer of the rally that resulted in the insurrection at the Capitol.

Federal Lawsuit: Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell, accusing him of seeking to boost pillow sales by promoting false claims that Dominion’s voting machines were manipulated to rig the 2020 election against President Donald Trump. In interviews and other public appearances, the lawsuit says, Lindell repeatedly spread those claims while viewers were urged to buy his products. His company has offered discounts to customers who use the promo codes “QAnon” and “FightforTrump,” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit says Lindell contributed to a “viral disinformation campaign” about Dominion on social media, in broadcast interviews, at pro-Trump rallies and in a two-hour documentary about supposed election fraud — titled “Absolute Proof” — that he created and paid to have aired 13 times this month on One America News. Megan Meier, an attorney representing Dominion, described Lindell as a canny business executive with an interest in algorithms and game theory. “We don’t think he really believes it,” she said of the election fraud misinformation he has spread. “We think he’s making money off of it.” “Now I can get to the evidence faster. It’s going to be amazing,” Lindell told The Washington Post. He added that he plans to continue releasing “more movies, more documentaries” about alleged election fraud.

Georgia: Two Atlanta-area counties filed lawsuits against former President Donald Trump this week, seeking legal fees in his campaign’s failed voting fraud lawsuit against state election officials. Cobb County filed a motion in Fulton County Superior Court on Monday, followed by DeKalb County filing a similar motion against Trump and Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer. Cobb County’s Director of Registration and Elections Janine Eveler and DeKalb County’s Erica Hamilton were among a dozen of others named in the original complaint, which was filed in Fulton County Superior Court in December. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger was also listed as a defendant. The Cobb County motion calls the lawsuit “baseless and legally deficient” with “impunity, with no regard for the costs extracted from the taxpayers’ coffers or the consequences to the democratic foundations of our country.” According to the DeKalb motion, the lawsuit “repeats unsubstantiated and frivolous claims of violations of state laws and regulations related to voter, registration, absentee ballot processing, signature matching, and improper limits on the public and election monitors during the tabulation of the votes and the recount.”

Kansas: According to the Kansas City Star, The American Civil Liberties Union and other attorneys want to be repaid more than $4 million for their five-year legal battle with Kansas officials who fought to restrict voter registration under the false pretense of widespread voter fraud. The ACLU began court proceedings in January to seek $3.3 million in reimbursements for more than 10,000 hours of attorney labor. Mark Johnson is asking for $700,000 in fees, and another law firm that provided assistance asked for $100,000. Those figures will be negotiated before the court rules on a final bill for the cash-strapped state. Nadine Johnson, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, said Kobach and others who were determined to defend an unconstitutional law were to blame for the cost. “That’s a choice they made,” Johnson said. “They can’t then come back and say that it’s our fault. They made that choice. You can’t throw up all these roadblocks, and then complain that we’re pushing through the roadblocks.”

Michigan: Tony Daunt, a conservative activist and director of the Michigan Freedom Fund has dropped a lawsuit he filed in June 2020. claiming the voter rolls were sloppy and neglected by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and at least 16 county clerks across the state. Daunt, who was appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as a Republican member of the Board of Canvassers in January, on Tuesday agreed to dismiss the lawsuit. He claims victory, pointing to a recent announcement by Benson’s office that it plans to remove 177,000 outdated registrants from the voter files but maintains the lawsuit was legitimate. He said it’s “unfortunate” that Benson “had to be prodded through litigation” to fulfill her duty to keep an accurate voter registration file. State officials aren’t conceding Daunt’s allegations of improper maintenance. “It was clear when the suit was filed in June of last year when federal law barred most voter-list maintenance, that this was a press release masquerading as a lawsuit filed to undermine public confidence in the integrity of our elections,” Benson said. “The suit prompted no action from us. As we have said publicly all along, strong voter registration rates and accurate voter rolls are good for democracy. And we have continued taking steps to responsibly maintain the state’s voter list since my first day in office by joining the Electronic Registration Information Center, proposing bipartisan legislation to give clerks more tools to update registrations, mailing absentee voting applications to all registered voters and now using that mailing to carry out the largest and most transparent list cleanup in a decade.”

Nevada: Attorneys for the state of Nevada are seeking the dismissal of a lawsuit filed in December by several former Republican elected officials who allege their votes in the 2020 election were “diluted” by “many” ballots allegedly cast by noncitizens. A motion to dismiss filed last week by deputy solicitor general Gregory Zunino asks a Carson City judge to deny a request for an injunction against Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, asserting the lawsuit’s claims are based on the “demonstrably false” premise that the state does not verify the citizenship status of its electorate. The plaintiffs — former Assemblyman Al Kramer, former Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick and real estate developer Roger William Norman — claim votes were cast by noncitizens who registered through the state’s automatic voter registration program at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Their lawsuit accuses Cegavske of not removing noncitizens from the voter rolls, as required by state law, and is aimed at forcing her to do so.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

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