Thursday, February 4, 2021

Electionline Weekly February-4-2021

Legislative Updates

Federal Legislation: A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill to ease a major financial burden on the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) by eliminating a requirement that it fund retirement benefits decades ahead of time. The USPS Fairness Act would do away with a 2006 law that mandated the USPS to form a $72 billion fund to pay for retirement health benefits for over 50 years, a requirement that is not imposed on any other federal agency. “The unreasonable prefunding mandate has threatened the survival of the USPS and placed at risk vital services for the millions who rely on it. The prefunding mandate policy is based on the absurd notion of paying for the retirement funds of people who do not yet, and may not ever, work for the Postal Service,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) said in a statement. The introduction of the legislation comes as President Biden faces pressure from the biggest Postal Service union to install new USPS leadership. The department was thrust into the national spotlight late in the Trump administration for changes to mail delivery that critics said would impact the collection of mail-in ballots in a way that would benefit then-President Trump.

Arizona: Rep. Shawanna Bolick (R), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced the bill, which rewrites parts of the state’s election law, such as sections on election observers and securing and auditing ballots, among other measures. One section grants the Legislature, which is currently under GOP control, the ability to revoke the secretary of state’s certification at any time before the presidential inauguration. “Notwithstanding Subsection A of this section, the legislature retains its legislative authority regarding the office of presidential elector and by majority vote at any time before the presidential inauguration may revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election,” according to the bill. “The legislature may take action pursuant to this subsection without regard to whether the legislature is in regular or special session or has held committee or other hearings on the matter.”

Arizona officials are once again at odds over the state’s elections procedures manual which the secretary of state updates every two years. The secretary of state must submit a draft of the manual by Oct. 1 of odd-numbered years. The governor and attorney general then have two months to review and approve the hundreds of pages of instructions. On 5-3 party line votes, Republicans on the Senate Government Committee advanced two proposals that would take oversight away from the governor and attorney general. Senate Bill 1329 would give oversight of the manual to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives that’s controlled by Republican lawmakers. Senate Bill 1068 would give oversight authority to legislative council, the attorneys for the Arizona Legislature, and the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council, a panel of officials appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey who traditionally review new rules or amendments that dictate state agency operations.

Republican Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita is proposing restrictions on the ability of county recorders in Arizona to hold voter registration drives on non-government property. Ugenti-Rita said this takes politics out of the equation by precluding recorders from picking and choosing where to set up shop based on which group they hope to get registered. The bill, SB 1358, passed on a 5-3 party-line vote in the Republican-dominated Senate Government Committee on Monday and now goes to the full Senate.

Rep. Shawna Bolick, R-Phoenix, would only allow emergency voting \in times of war, civil unrest or a natural disaster. The proposal, House Bill 2722, would also allow voters to videotape and photograph election workers inside polling places, something that is expressly forbidden in current law. The bill also removes sections from the current law that allows a county recorder to establish an emergency voting center without approval from the board of supervisors in times of an emergency.

Arkansas: The Arkansas House approved legislation making the state’s voter ID law stricter by no longer allowing people without identification to cast a ballot, even if they sign a statement affirming their identity. The majority-Republican House voted 75-20 in favor of the bill revising the state’s 2017 voter ID law, sending the measure to the state Senate. The proposal needed at 67 votes in the 100-member House since it changes an amendment voters approved in 2018 that places the voter ID requirement in the state’s Constitution. It will need at least 24 votes in the 35-member Senate.

Georgia: Republican state senators introduced a package of bills to ban automatic voter registration, ballot drop boxes and no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia. One measure would prevent voters from being automatically registered to vote when they get their driver’s licenses. Another would ban drop boxes, requiring absentee ballots to be returned through the mail or at county election offices. In addition, a proposal would roll back a state law allowing registered voters to cast an absentee ballot for any reason. Absentee voting would be limited to those over 75 years old, voters with disabilities or anyone required to be absent from his or her precinct. “We’ve got to restore confidence in the ballot box. When people lose confidence in the ballot box they ultimately lose confidence in their government,” said Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, a Republican from Gainesville and co-sponsor of the bills. “Our goal is to be sure every vote is accounted for, accurate and legal.” Democrats said the bills mark a concerted effort to reduce voting access. “It’s voter suppression. If you restrict access, then people get discouraged and they don’t vote. They don’t come back,” said Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a Democrat from Stone Mountain. “We have to make the argument that it’s a good process. People were able to vote, and they voted in record numbers.”

Rep. Ron Stephens said the local delegation is considering introducing legislation that would combine the Chatham County Board of Elections and the Board of Registrars. Most counties in Georgia combine the various elections duties into one department. Chatham County is the largest county in the state that still has a separate Board of Elections and Board of Registrars. Board of Elections Chairman Tom Mahoney says both boards are operating as efficiently as ever and working well with each other. But he adds combining the two entities might help clear up the public’s confusion about what components of an election each is responsible for.

Indiana: Senate Bill 398, authored by Sen. Greg Walker (R-Columbus), is a massive piece of legislation that would address and tweak several state laws regarding elections to make the process smoother and more standardized. This 63-page bill has 25 different components, so far. The bill is a cumulative response to a collection of election laws that needed to be tweaked based on issues Walker noticed the last two years, particularly during the 2020 presidential election when a record-number of Hoosiers voted by mail. A main piece of the legislation is standardizing the process of counting and verifying absentee ballots. Many of the details in the bill outline more specific procedures for handling absentee ballots, particularly if a signature on the envelope is questionable. If the bill becomes law, an absentee board would have to agree unanimously whether to keep or throw out a ballot if a signature is disputed. If a ballot is rejected, the voter must be notified by mail or phone so they have enough time to come in and verify their signature, according to the proposed legislation. Notifying voters that their absentee ballot is rejected is not required by state law.

Rep. Tonya Pfaff (D-Terre Haute) has introduced legislation that would extend the voter registration deadline. Currently law requires Hoosiers to register to vote at least 29 days before an election, Pfaff’s bill would potentially allow voters to register the day before election day. “For me that’s just way too long. People don’t start paying attention to elections until about a week before,” Pfaff said. “So get it down to a week before. That’s fine. But 29 days to me is just built on a very antiquated system.” The bill is currently waiting to be heard by the Election and Appointments Committee.

Kansas: Senate Bill 35 would remove the option for extending the deadline to receive advance ballots in Kansas. Right now, ballots must be postmarked by election day in Kansas. But, they only count if they arrive at the county election office within three days after the election. The current law also allows the Secretary of State’s office to extend the deadline. Lawmakers held a senate committee hearing Thursday for a new bill, Senate Bill 35, that would remove this option. some lawmakers fear it’s an act of voter suppression, explaining that the chance for delays with the U.S. postal service prior to election day could be an issue where the extension is needed. supporters of the bill say three days should be enough time for the advance ballots to come in, making the option for an extension unnecessary.

Maine: A bill that would give Maine municipal clerks more time to process absentee ballots ran into opposition from some Republican lawmakers who raised concerns about whether it would increase the risk of voter fraud. The processing time for absentee ballots was extended from four days to seven for the last election under an executive order issued by Gov. Janet Mills in response to high demand from residents who wanted to avoid voting in person to reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19. A bill to make the seven-day processing period permanent is among dozens of measures before the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee that would affect elections and voting. The bill is supported by Secretary of State Shenna Bellows and several nonprofits that support changing ballot-processing procedures.

Maryland: Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) has introduced Senate Bill 72 that would require all executive branch agencies and local boards of elections to live-stream their meetings. In addition to the live-streaming requirement would require those agencies to post all of their meeting materials and agendas online at least 48 hours before each open meeting, and allow public access to archived meeting recordings and minutes. The bill, which is cross-filed in the House by Del. Marc Korman (D-Montgomery) allows state agencies and local boards of elections leeway in the event of emergencies and other “unanticipated situations.”

Mississippi: Under current law, county election commissioners may remove a person’s name from a voter roll if that person has died, moved away, been judged mentally incompetent or been convicted of a disenfranchising crime. Under House Bill 4 and Senate Bill 2588 commissioners would also be required to remove the name of a person who fails to vote at least once during four-year period and fails to respond to certified mail from the election commission that seeks to confirm the person still lives at the address where they are registered. Voters’ names could not be purged from the rolls within 90 days of an election, and the county would have to maintain records for at least four years showing a purged name and the reason the name was removed from the rolls. This Violates the Voting Rights Act.

In addition to HB 4 and SB 2588 House and Senate members filed 27 bills pertaining to changes they believe need to be made to the way Mississippians can vote. The bills ranged in topics from early voting and restoring voting rights to felons to getting rid of partisan primaries and purging voter rolls.

Missouri: Roughly a year after the Missouri Supreme Court gutted a 2016 ID law, Rep. John Simmons (R-Washington), came with a new version. Under his proposal. 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. It’s not clear whether Simmons’ idea would survive another lawsuit. A 5-2 majority of high court judges deemed a similar concept “nonsensical” last year. Simmons did not appear to care. He said the provisional ballot option would offer a secured safety net for those without photo IDs while “protecting other voters who would otherwise be disenfranchised” by fraud.

Montana: The House State Administration Committee has tabled House Bill 176 that would have ended same day registration. The bill would have moved the last day for voter registration to the Friday before Election Day. It first failed to pass on an 8-11 vote. The panel then voted 13-6 to table the bill. Opponents of the bill said it disenfranchised Native communities who may have to travel long distances to the polls. Rep. Jessica Karjala (D-Billings), said closing access for vulnerable groups could expose the state to liabilities. Rep. Denise Hayman (D-Bozeman), said she wouldn’t vote for a bill that would overturn a 2014 statewide vote on same-day registration after 57% voted to keep it. However, on Tuesday, the House State Administration Committee voted first to bring back the bill, then amend it to close voter registration at noon the day before an election. The bill cleared the committee on a 10-9 vote and next heads to the House floor.

Senate Bill 169 is being carried by Sen. Mike Cuffe (R-Eureka) and would add new restrictions to the types of identification voters need when casting their ballots in Montana. Under Montana election law, photo identification that includes the voter’s name is already required to cast a ballot in person. But Cuffe’s bill would require a second form of ID if a voter shows up with certain forms of photo identification that are currently accepted, such as student IDs or membership cards, like those used at Costco. Other forms of identification, such as state driver’s licenses, state photo IDs, military IDs and tribal photo IDs would remain acceptable at the polls. Committee member Sen. Bryce Bennett (D-Missoula), suggested the change in law would disproportionately affect certain types of voters. “This is a new burden that you’re putting on people that don’t fit into those specific categories,” he said. “Why are some photo IDs more acceptable than others?” Cuffe responded that the bill attempts to provide a range of options for people who don’t fit into those categories, like allowing a student to pair their school ID with a paycheck or utility bill that includes their address. The bill similarly affects ID requirements for voter registration, but that provision would also accept the last four digits of the applicant’s social security number in lieu of a photo ID.

New Hampshire: A New Hampshire House committee is considering proposals to move the date of state primary elections. Currently, New Hampshire holds state primary elections on the second Tuesday in September. Bills in the Legislature would change that. One would move the primary to June and the other to August. Backers of the bills say holding earlier party primaries will boost political participation; critics say it could do the opposite.

New Jersey: Legislation sponsored by Senator James Beach and Senator Shirley Turner that would allow registered voters to submit an application to vote by mail electronically was approved by the Senate. The bill, S-2820, allows registered voters to submit an application to vote by mail using the state online voter registration website up to seven days before election day. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 27-3.

The Senate passed bipartisan legislation that would require classes on civics to be taught in the state’s middle schools. The bill passed by a vote of 33-0 with both sides calling the legislation important. The bill would direct the state’s department of education to require at least one course specifically in civics or United States government as part of the social studies credit requirement for middle school graduation. The bill — which would be named “Laura Wooten’s Law” for the late Laura Wooten, a woman from Mercer County who passed away in March of 2019 and holds the record as the longest, continuously serving poll worker in the United States — would also direct the New Jersey Center for Civic Education at Rutgers to prepare curriculum guidelines and provide professional development for high school teachers integrating civics, economics and the history of New Jersey into United States history courses.

New Mexico: The House Judiciary Committee voted 6-4 to support House Bill 74 which would restore voting rights for felons while they are still on probation or parole. The bill would also make it easier for felons to register to vote as they leave prison. The vote fell along party lines, with Democrats supporting the legislation and Republicans opposing it. The bill will head to the floor, its sponsor, Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, said Wednesday. Chasey said restoring voting rights to people who have served their time helps them “engage in their communities and not go back to prison.”

North Dakota: A proposal at the State Capitol aims to have more polling locations open on Election Day. House Bill 1238 states that any city that has a population of over 1,000 people must have at least one polling location on the day of statewide elections. During testimony, one question that was raised is whether it would be possible to staff so many voting sites. The Association of Counties said it expects that wouldn’t be an issue. Rep. Jim Kasper, who introduced the bill, says rural North Dakotans shouldn’t have to travel so far just to cast a vote. “We have inclement weather that you can’t travel 50 miles to vote. They’ve been looking all forward on Election Day and they can’t get there. So we need to have polls available for our citizens of our state to be able to vote. That’s one of the primary purposes of House Bill 1238,” said Kasper. The bill also would also require each legislative district to have at least one polling place.

Ohio: The Ohio Senate again is considering a bill that would toughen standards for the companies that provide software counties use to maintain their voter-registration lists, after a previous version failed during last December’s lame duck session. Senate Bill 14 would create the Board of Voting Systems Examiners, which would be responsible for vetting companies that provide voter-registration systems. The new agency is a rebranding of the Ohio Board of Voting Machine Examiners, which provides oversight to voting machines and electronic pollbooks used by poll workers. The bill also would give Secretary of State Frank LaRose authority to develop standards the voter registration systems would have to follow.

Oklahoma: Sen. Adam Pugh (R-Edmond), has filed Senate Bill 440 to extend in-person early voting from three days to one week. Under SB 440, voters could cast an early in-person ballot the entire week, Monday through Saturday, preceding any election at their county election board. Currently, this type of early in-person voting is only available the Thursday through Saturday before an election. Pugh argues that Oklahoma’s short in-person voting timeframe can deter citizens from voting. “I waited four hours to vote on election day, and I’m afraid most people are too busy or aren’t physically able to stand in line that long,” Pugh said. “We need to provide adequate time to vote early just like other states to give Oklahomans more flexibility, which will hopefully entice more citizens to participate in the election process.”

Texas: House Bill 1128 clarifies who is allowed in polling locations and protects the facilities where mail-in-ballots are counted from individuals who should not be there. According to the Jacksonville Progress, the bill will further secure Texas elections by explicitly listing which people are permitted into polling locations and ballot counting areas. Election judges, chosen by both major parties, have the ability to request security, technology assistance, translators, and other pertinent services. This bill securing Texas voting locations would preclude individuals and elected officials who have no role in the administration of elections from loitering inside facilities where election activities are taking place. Certain protected individuals, such as poll watchers, will continue to receive access to polling facilities.

Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D–Houston) has filed legislation that will allow voters to bring a cell phone with them into the voting booth and use it for voting assistance. Currently voters can only bring paper notes with them into the polling place.

Bills have been filed in the House and Senate that would allow voters to cure their mail ballots. Additionally, the legislation in both chambers would prevent a voters’ email address from being disclosed.

Rep. Cole Hefner is proposing House Bill 1314 requiring all components of voting equipment to be American-made. He says the bill would protect the integrity of Texas elections. Hefner calls HB 1314 simple and straight-forward. The bill not only requires all parts to be American-made but also the companies manufacturing the equipment, and their parent companies must be located and headquartered in the United States. Also, data and equipment storage must remain in the United States. Hefner said elections are the responsibility of each individual state making the bill a proactive preventative measure keeping Texas elections safe and secure.

Utah: Under HB152 candidates would be limited to what nicknames they can list on ballots. bill would only allow the candidate’s given name or abbreviated version of it, middle name, surname, initials or an “acquired name” they can prove they are “generally known by” for five years or longer. Common nicknames such as Hank for Henry or Harvey, or Alex for Alexis or Alexander or Liz for Elizabeth would be readily accepted and are not considered nicknames, but shortened names. Titles like “boss” or “representative” wouldn’t qualify as nicknames because they are descriptions given to someone in certain positions of responsibility. According to the Desert News, “Tooter” would apparently be OK but “Frugal” may be a little too liberal with the rules. It’s unclear if “Frugal Tooter” though would pass the nickname smell test.

Rep. Mike Winder (R-West Valley City), is sponsoring HB127, which aims to use ranked-choice voting in partisan primary elections with three or more candidates. “Ranked-choice voting is popular on both sides of the aisle,” said Winder. “Both the Republican and Democratic conventions used it last year with a 90% approval rating. They loved it.” The Clerk/Auditor Association of Utah is wary of making another change to Utah’s elections on the heels of moving to an all vote-by-mail system in recent years. “The greatest lesson that was learned was the importance in consistency in voting methods,” the group said in a public statement. “The considerations currently being discussed provide for only occasional, or conditional implementation of an alternative voting method. This approach is problematic as it creates different rules for different elections, and changes voters’ expectations from election to election.”

Rep. Brian King (D-Salt Lake) has filed a bill that change the deadline for receiving and accepting mail ballots. For the primary election in June last year, lawmakers changed the deadline for post-marked ballots to Election Day, rather than the day before. It was just one of a number of election changes made by lawmakers due to the pandemic. But that change expired before the general election in November. King’s bill seeks to make that pandemic change permanent. He said changing the deadline for ballots to be postmarked to Election Day would clear up confusion and increase turnout.

Virginia: House Bill 1890, also known as the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, cleared the House in a 55-45 vote. Del. Cia Price (D-Newport News), modeled the bill after the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Price’s bill aims to eliminate voter suppression, intimidation and discrimination through changes in voting laws and practices by election officials. The bill prohibits localities from influencing the results of elections by “diluting or abridging the rights of voters who are from a protected class.” The measure defines the protected class as a group of citizens protected from discrimination based on race, color, or membership in a language minority group. The bill also requires voting materials to be made in languages other than English if certain criteria are met. The bill allows the attorney general to sue if a locality or official violates election laws. Fees or fines that are won in the lawsuit will go to a Voter Education and Outreach Fund established pursuant to the bill’s passage. The fine for a first offense cannot exceed $50,000 and fines for a second offense cannot exceed $100,000.

Washington: SB 5148 would provide added legal protections for election workers over and above what existing anti-harassment laws provide. The added protections are parallel what elected officials and law enforcement have including the confidentiality of home addresses. The bill proposed has added elements that protect elected officials from intimidation and harassment and includes any who “harasses an election official because of an action taken or decision made by the election official during the performance of his or her official duties”

Legal Updates

Arizona: The Arizona Coalition to End Jail-Based Disenfranchisement as sued the Apache County sheriff and recorder after not responding for nearly a year to public records requests on how eligible inmates in jail have access to vote. The coalition studies access to elections among eligible voters in correctional facilities. The Campaign Legal Center, a partner of the coalition, began requesting public records in March 2020 from all of Arizona’s 15 sheriffs and recorders to understand what voting procedures were in place for those incarcerated in jails and how many inmates had voted. The lawsuit was filed in Apache County Superior Court by the Campaign Legal Center and the ACLU of Arizona. The county did not immediately respond to The Arizona Republic’s request for comment.

Florida: A settlement has been reached between voting rights advocates and 32 counties over Spanish-language voting materials. The settlement provides for Spanish language ballots, election material, hotlines, options on websites, assistance at polls, and signs at election supervisors’ offices in the 32 counties. The Rivera v. Barton lawsuit filed in 2018 by racial and voter justice organizations argued that election officials had not complied with the Voting Rights Act when they didn’t provide ballots and information in Spanish to Spanish-speaking voters who had recently moved to Florida from Puerto Rico. The counties that settled the lawsuit are Alachua, Bay, Brevard, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, Duval, Escambia, Flagler, Hernando, Highlands, Indian River, Jackson, Lake, Leon, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Monroe, Okaloosa, Okeechobee, Pasco, Putnam, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Sumter, Taylor, and Wakulla. Only one of the 32 counties, Charlotte, opted not to be part of the settlement, which means they can be subject to further litigation.

Kansas: Kansas could be on the hook for nearly $3.3 million in attorney fees and expenses after losing a lawsuit that challenged a state law requiring documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote. The law was championed by former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The latest filing in the case asked the U.S. Court for the District of Kansas to award the plaintiffs’ attorneys fees of more than $2.9 million and non-taxable expenses of nearly $383,000 in litigation that spanned almost five years. The American Civil Liberties Union said in the court filing late Thursday that the case was necessary to remedy a “mass denial of a fundamental constitutional right” and an erosion of confidence in the electoral system caused by the Kansas law.

Michigan: Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed motions seeking sanctions over three Michigan lawyers and Sidney Powell from Texas. The attorneys are accused of attempting to overturn Joe Biden’s electoral victory in Michigan. Nessel’s office claims that the attorneys violated their oaths as well as court rules. Nessel wants to recover $11,000 in attorney fees as well as have professional disciplinary action taken on those lawyers.

Antrim County Circuit Judge Kevin A. Elsenheimer ordered Michigan election officials to turn over a wide variety of records related to the 2020 election cycle, including any communications with Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple as part of a recent lawsuit. Elsenheimer also ordered Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and her Bureau of Elections to turn over election-related communications between the offices and Antrim Township, Antrim County, state and federal legislators, as well as Dominion Voting System and Election Source, companies that supply voting machines and software used in Antrim County and much of Michigan. The records were requested by Portage-based Attorney Matthew S. DePerno on behalf of his client, William Bailey, an Antrim County voter who sued Antrim County over claims the election results were fraudulent and voting machines rigged.

Texas: The city of McAllen has filed a lawsuit in Travis County, fighting a law that requires cities to hand control of local elections to Hidalgo County. Joining in on the lawsuit is the city of Pharr. City attorney’s representing McAllen said the law is unconstitutional. The 2009 Texas Law, Senate Bill 1402, required the city to contract with Hidalgo County to run their May elections. The law says if just one percent of people who voted in the most recent city elections, file a petition, the city must contract with the county to run elections. The city said the law does not protect the rights of residents nor does it protect the integrity of the election. “We’ve asked the court to enter an injunction allowing us, and we anticipate that McAllen will host their own elections. We will challenge the statute till the end of the lawsuit,” said Tawil.

Virginia: Richmond’s former general registrar Kirk Showalter is preparing to file a lawsuit in state court against the Electoral Board that voted to remove her this week. Richmond’s Electoral Board voted 2-1 to dismiss Showalter from the post she’s held for 25 years. Showalter has hired a team of lawyers, Linda Woods and Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin County), to defend her and reinstate her position. “I asked they’d delay the hearing so we could have an appropriate due process,” Stanley said. “So we can gather the information we needed to defend her and also to have notice exactly what the charges are because they’re kind of vague.” Board Chair Jim Nachman told CBS 6 that he couldn’t talk specifics about Showalter’s performance citing personnel matters. He also said Showalter was not entitled to due process since the meeting was not a legal proceeding. Stanley disagrees. “The charges they made last night did not purport to any lawful reason to remove her from her office,” Stanley said. “It’s a position created by the statute and she had an absolute right to due process. We are going to fight to make sure her reputation is restored. We are going to fight to make sure her job is restored.”

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

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