Thursday, June 17, 2021

Electionline Weekly June-17-2021

Legislative Updates

Connecticut: A provision in the 800+ page budget bill would allow people on parole to vote, completing a decade-long effort to end felony disenfranchisement in Connecticut. Lawmakers attempted to restore access to the ballot box for people on parole during the regular legislative session that ended last week, but the omnibus bill failed to come up for a vote in the House. Instead, the bill — a wide-ranging proposal intended to broaden the state’s voting rules, allowing different state agencies to automatically enroll new voters and giving people time off work to vote — made it into the budget implementer that was approved in the Senate Tuesday evening and is scheduled for a vote in the House Wednesday. The current law on who is disenfranchised is confusing, said Michael Lawlor, former undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning under former Gov. Dannel Malloy and now a professor at the University of New Haven. “There are all these different statutes, and I think people mistake ‘parole’ for all forms of supervised release, which is definitely not the case.” According to Lawlor, the current felony disenfranchisement statute only bars people from voting who are incarcerated for a felony or on parole, not other forms of paroled supervision, like special parole, transitional supervision. That confusion over eligibility was part of the reason why the Secretary of State’s Office supported the bill during the legislative session. Gabe Rosenberg, spokesman for the office, said that uncertainty over who was and who wasn’t eligible potentially made people hesitant to vote, choosing to instead err on the side of caution and not cast a ballot. “As people return to their community from incarceration, the earlier they vote, the more likely they are to continue to vote and be more connected civically to their communities, and that’s a public good,” Rosenberg said, noting that the proposed language makes it simple: if you are incarcerated for a felony, you cannot vote, but if you are not locked up for a felony, you can cast a ballot.

Delaware: The second leg of a constitutional amendment to allow no-excuse absentee voting fell short of the two-thirds vote needed to pass in the House. No Republicans voted for the amendment, even though many of them were in the House in 2019, when the first leg of the amendment was approved in a landslide 38-3 vote. Democratic Rep. David Bentz, sponsor of the bill, suspects the national debate over mail-in voting likely played a role in the GOP members switching their votes this time around. “Unfortunately, I think the rhetoric around this particular policy has been tainted … over the last year,” he said on the House floor Thursday. “From 2019 until now, nothing has changed about the efficacy, the security of absentee voting in Delaware or nationwide. The only thing that has changed, unfortunately, is the political rhetoric around it.” Currently, Delaware law permits absentee ballots only if people won’t be able to vote in person because they are participating in “public service” of the state or nation, working elsewhere, are on vacation, have an illness or physical disability, or have a religious reason. Republican House Minority Leader Danny Short said members of his caucus reexamined the amendment since that 2019 vote and came up with significant reservations about the bill. “I believe they intend to turn no-excuse absentee voting into a ‘vote-by-mail’ system — a scheme that will benefit Democrats. Any doubt about the partisan nature of this issue was erased after today’s vote,” Short said. “We may not have seen the last of this bill, but House Democrats have given us even less reason to trust their good intentions on this issue.”

District of Columbia: Ward One Councilmember Brianne Nadeau has re-introduced a bill allow non-citizens to vote in local D.C. elections. The bill would expand voting eligibility to legal permanent residents — Green Card-holders — and would apply to the elections for mayor, D.C. Council, State Board of Education, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, and attorney general. “People who have made their permanent homes here should have a hand in who represents them in government,” Nadeau said in a press release. “The District of Columbia has long been a place that has welcomed immigrants into our community, and it’s time to allow for their full participation in our institutions.” At-Large councilmembers Elissa Silverman, Robert White, and Christina Henderson, along with Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto, Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George, and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen co-introduced the bill. Similar bills have been introduced in the D.C. Council several other times.

Louisiana: The will be moving to elections using paper ballots under legislation finally approved about 90 minutes before the Legislature adjourned Thursday at 6 p.m. Senate Bill 221, by state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, had been negotiated behind closed doors for about two weeks. Agreement came in the closing moments of the two-month-old legislative session. The result merged much of the language from two similar House-passed bills with the Senate measure. Louisiana’s current fleet of voting machines are aging and replacement parts aren’t easy to find. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin has been trying to nail down a deal for new machines. Hewitt’s SB221 would set up commissions to review and make recommendations about the types of systems available as well as bids from vendors. The Secretary of State would still make the final decision. But state law currently requires the Secretary of State to only purchase direct-recording electronic voting machines, the variety now being used. The legislation merged House Bill 653, by Central Republican Rep. Barry Ivey and House Bill 704, by Denham Springs Republican Rep. Valarie Hodges, with Hewitt’s bill. Both House bills had more detailed versions of how new voting machines should be chosen and used along with when paper ballots could augment the voting procedures. Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, who handled the legislation in the House, tamped down some opposition by saying the structure set up in SB221 allows more participation by the public and ensures that the next voting machines the state purchases are more in line with what other state have bought.

Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill into law that would extend early voting periods for presidential elections in the state. Edwards signed House Bill 286, authored by Democrat state Rep. Frederick D. Jones, which extends the early voting period by three days. Louisiana law previously allowed for early voting from 14 to seven days prior to a scheduled election. Edwards said he was proud to sign the bill amid the Republican Party’s efforts to limit access to voting across the country. “That’s not the case here in Louisiana, where we are now adding more early voting days for one of the most consequential and popular elections people vote in – the presidential election,” Edwards said. The governor said the new law will give Louisianans more opportunities to cast their votes and make their voices heard. “I am thankful the Legislature sent me this bill and I will continue to advocate to expand access to voting,” Edwards said. HB 286 was approved by a 91-7 vote in the House and a 35-0 vote in the Senate.

Maine: Maine will join a growing number of states in allowing online voter registration if a bill approved by the state Senate moves forward. The Senate approved the bill 22-12 without debate, with minority Republicans in opposition. In the House, the measure passed on a vote of 81-61, also on party lines. Both chambers must still cast final votes on the bill. The online voter registration bill is sponsored by Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth. Currently Maine voters can request an application to register online but must return that application to their local election officials by mail or in person. Maine residents can also register in person on Election Day. The bill, L.D. 1126, also has the support of Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat. Bellows said that while Maine already enjoys one of the highest voter participation rates in the U.S., online registration would make voting even more accessible.

A push to have Maine’s attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer elected by voters stalled on Tuesday after only a narrow majority of the House of Representatives backed sending a proposed constitutional change to the ballot. The bill from Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, would put the amendment before Maine voters to ask if they would prefer the secretary of state, the treasurer and the attorney general to be elected by a majority vote. The Maine Legislature — assembled together — currently picks those officeholders and it is the only state to pick an attorney general that way. The chamber initially passed an earlier version of the bill in a closely divided 74-68, which fell short of the two-thirds vote that would be required to send a constitutional amendment to voters. When a ranked-choice voting provision was added, the body rejected it in a 81-62 vote.

Additionally, the Legislature has approved a semi-open primary system that would let independent voters participate in Democratic and Republican primaries in the state. Sponsors said all voters pay for elections. While independents, which represent 32% of Maine voters, registered Democrats and Republicans could not cross over and vote in the other party’s primary without changing their affiliation with the state. The bill has bipartisan support.

Massachusetts: The House has approved legislation to make mail-in voting and early voting before the biennial state primaries and general elections permanent. The amendment to but the supplemental budget would establish the framework for early voting and mail-in voting, which proved popular last year with many voters during the pandemic, for state primaries, state general elections and any municipal elections held at the same time, meaning the provision would take effect with the 2022 primary. The House adopted the amendment filed by Election Laws Committee Chairman Dan Ryan as part of a policy-heavy budget bill it passed Thursday after Ryan presented it as a time-sensitive matter, which irked Minority Leader Brad Jones.

Michigan: Republicans who control the Senate passed contentious legislation this week that would mandate a photo ID to vote in person and add identity requirements for people who want to vote by mail. The bills, which were sent to the GOP-led House on party-line 19-16 votes, are among a wave of Republican-sponsored measures to tighten voting rules in various states. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will veto the bills if they reach her desk, but the GOP could eventually sidestep her with a maneuver that lets the Legislature enact citizen-initiated ballot proposals, Michigan voters without a photo ID now can sign an affidavit and cast a ballot at their polling place. More than 11,400 of nearly 5.6 million voters did that in the November election. Under the legislation, they would instead vote a provisional ballot and have to either verify their voter registration or their identity and residence within six days for it to count. Voters currently seeking an absentee ballot by mail or at an election clerk’s office must sign the application, and the signature is matched to the voter file. The legislation would require applicants to include a copy of their photo ID, their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number. Those who do not would get a provisional ballot. The $10 fee for a state ID card already is waived for certain people, including the elderly, those on welfare or disability assistance, the homeless and veterans, she said. GOP senators on Wednesday introduced bills they said would remove all financial barriers to getting a card. Michigan’s existing voter ID requirement was first enacted in 1996, declared unconstitutional by a Democratic state attorney general in 1997, reenacted in 2005 and upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2007.

Nevada: Governor Steve Sisolak signed multiple bills into law that expand accessibility to elections in Nevada. Assembly Bill 121 requires the Secretary of State to allow voters with a disability to register to vote and vote through an approved online system. The system is currently used to for overseas military members and will now be expanded to those with disabilities. Assembly Bill 126 moved Nevada’s caucus to a primary election. Assembly Bill 422 requires the Secretary of State to create a centralized voter registration database, and requires all counties to use the same database. Assembly Bill 432 was approved in the 2018 general election, also known as the Automatic Voter Registration Initiative, and requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to create an automatic voter registration for those who apply for a driver’s license or ID.

New Hampshire: Legislation asserting the state’s right to conduct its own elections and rejecting the federal elections reform bill known as the For the People Act is headed to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu. Stopping short of promising to sign it, Sununu said at a news briefing he will confer with Secretary of State William Gardner, local elected officials and legislative leaders before making a decision. But he said he is “praying” the For the People Act “gets shot down in Washington and we don’t have to deal with it.” Senate on Thursday concurred with an amendment passed by the New Hampshire House a week ago that says that if the federal bill, S.1, passes the U.S. Senate and becomes federal law, New Hampshire will retain the authority under its state constitution to control all aspects of its elections for state and county offices. The amendment says that if the For the People Act becomes federal law, ““all procedures and requirements relating to elections conducted pursuant to the New Hampshire constitution and as prescribed by New Hampshire law shall remain in full force and effect for all state and county officers.” The procedures include those related to voter eligibility, voter registration, absentee voting, conducting the voting and counting of votes. The state would most likely not have authority over the conduct of federal elections for federal offices – setting up the possibility of a two-tiered elections system, one for federal offices governed by federal law and another for state and county offices governed by state law.

A state Senate-House conference committee reached agreement on legislation that both clarifies a specific absentee voting provision and ensures that people who vote in New Hampshire but previously voted in another state are removed from their former state’s checklist. Senate Bill 31, which will return to the House and Senate for final votes, includes language ensuring that people who are in penal facilities awaiting trial or serving a misdemeanor sentence can cite their incarceration as a reason to receive absentee ballots. The bill, as agreed to, adds to the absentee voter request affidavit a new line stating: “I am confined to a penal institution for a misdemeanor or while awaiting trial.” On a separate issue addressed in the bill, Senate Bill 31 says that in cases in which an individual reports previously having been registered to vote in another state but is now registered to vote in New Hampshire, the Secretary of State’s Office will have the responsibility of notifying election officials of the other state that the person is now registered in New Hampshire.

House and Senate conferees have agreed to move the date of the state primary election from the second Tuesday in September to the first Tuesday in August and left open the possibility of having the new date in place in time for the 2022 midterm elections. As it stands, the agreement reached Tuesday by the conference committee calls for the new primary date to not take effect until Jan. 1. 2023, which would mean the first early August state primary would not be held until 2024. The deal must now be approved by the full House and Senate – and if it is, it would then go to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu. Sununu has voiced clear opposition to any change in the primary date from the current second Tuesday in September.

North Carolina: The state Senate approved a series of changes to North Carolina election laws, including moving up the deadline for mailed absentee ballots to be considered valid. Under Senate Bill 326, dubbed the Election Day Integrity Act, all absentee ballots must be received by the time polls close on Election Day to count. Currently, ballots can arrive up to three days late, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day. According to the state elections board, 11,635 ballots arrived within three days of Election Day last fall. The bill passed on a 28-21 party-line vote and now heads to the House.

Two other measures also passed on party-line votes and move on to the House: Senate Bill 724 would provide a mobile unit to help people get photo identification cards that they could use once legal issues over North Carolina’s voter ID requirement are resolved and IDs are required at the polls. It also writes online voter registration into state law and expands voting access for visually impaired people. Senate Bill 725 prohibits state and county officials from accepting money from private sources to run elections.

Pennsylvania: The House of Representatives could vote on a sweeping election reform bill that introduces early in-person voting and expanded voter identification requirements. Details of the 149-page bill, dubbed the Voting Rights Protection Act, bill grew out of testimony offered to the House State Government Committee through 10 hearings it held on election reform. The same committee gave the legislation its first approval this week over objections of Democrats. Among the highlights of the plan:

It would allow voters to visit a staffed county voting center on the Monday through Friday of the week before the election to vote in person. Counties would be allowed to set the hours and establish one polling center for every 100,000 residents, with a maximum of 10. It would allow for mail-in ballot return receptacles — a new term for drop boxes that are staffed by poll workers who can review mailed ballots to ensure they are signed and dated correctly. It would require counties to reach out to voters whose mail-in ballots have issues that would prevent them from being counted to allow them the opportunity to fix them by 8 p.m. on Election Day. In the November 2020 election, some counties did this and others didn’t. Grove said this would ensure uniformity across the state. It would allow counties to begin preparing mailed ballots for counting five days before Election Day, which is a change counties have demanded to ensure a more timely release of election results particularly when there is a large voter turnout. This was a priority to counties along with another provision in the bill that moves up the mail-in or absentee voter application deadline to 15 days before an election, instead of the current seven days. It allows for curbside voting on Election Day at all polling places to ensure access for voters with disabilities. Under this bill, all voters choosing to vote in person would be required to produce a driver’s license, or a PennDOT-issued non-license photo ID, or a free Department of State voter identification card, or a free county-issued scannable, durable voter registration card. Or a voter could sign an affidavit affirming their identity under penalty of perjury. Moving up of the voter registration deadline to 30 days before the election that is intended to give county election officials more time to process applications.

Washington: Metropolitan King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay is introducing legislation seeking to amend the county charter to allow for ranked-choice voting for county positions. If the ordinance passes the council, voters would get the final say in the November election. If approved, the change would take effect on Jan. 1, 2022. While Washington state law bars certain local governments from enacting such reforms, King County has the authority to do so as a charter county. A legislative effort to allow all cities and counties to adopt ranked-choice systems failed earlier this year.

Wisconsin: Democrats are introducing a pair of election bills after Republican lawmakers recently passed proposals that create restrictions on absentee ballots and implement new penalties for those who violate election laws. Democrats are circulating two bills at the capitol to allow 17-year-olds to vote in a primary election as long as they turn 18 when the general election is held. Another bill would require K-12 schools to teach students a course on voter education, such as the importance of voting, how to vote and additional information to prepare them for when they become eligible to vote. The Department of Public Instruction would be responsible for developing the curriculum about the electoral process which would be at least one hour of voter education every school year, under the bill. “I think it’s a great way to help young people pay attention earlier to help education themselves and to learn more about the candidates,” said Democrat Senator Kelda Roys of Madison, a co-sponsor of both bills. “Democracy works best when more people can participate, especially young people.”

Legal Updates

California: The Supreme Court rejected a case challenging California’s electoral process in another instance of the high court shying away from election-related disputes. The case, brought by comedian Paul Rodriguez, Rocky Chavez, League of United Latin American Citizens and California League of United Latin American Citizens, sought for the high court to consider whether the state’s winner-take-all approach to selecting its presidential electors was constitutional. Attorneys argued that “by diluting and discarding votes” the method “violates Petitioners’ right to cast an effective vote” and that it “severs the connection between voters and presidential candidates” allowing candidates to ignore California voters. The court’s action, made without comment, comes amid calls to change the electoral process and as former President Donald Trump along with GOP allies continue to push lies of election fraud despite no evidence after President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory. California, which has the largest population of any state, currently has 55 electors — the most electoral votes in the country.

Federal Judge Andre Birotte dismissed with prejudice a lawsuit filed by California Republicans that echoed false allegations made by former President Donald Trump about the validity of the 2020 election. The lawsuit, filed in January by a conservative election watchdog group and 10 failed GOP congressional candidates against a slew of state and county elections officials, claimed the November election in California was rife with “mass irregularities and opportunities for fraud.” The plaintiffs argued that such conditions have been brewing in California for years, but were exacerbated by changes made last year to make sure all voters in the state had access to a ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic. Birotte wrote in a 13-page ruling published Tuesday that the plaintiffs didn’t offer concrete evidence that problems affected the outcome of California’s November elections. Birotte also said he agreed with the defendants’ statement that the lawsuit amounted to “an incremental undermining of confidence in the election results, past and future.”

Florida: A lawsuit, filed on behalf of the groups HeadCount and the Harriet Tubman Freedom Fighters Corp. is the fourth federal lawsuit filed against Florida’s new election law. The latest case is narrowly tailored to one section of the law that involves what are known as third-party voter-registration organizations. The law, in part, requires the organizations to inform voter-registration applicants that the organizations might not meet legal deadlines for delivering forms to elections officials. Also, the organizations are required to tell applicants how to register online. The challenge, filed in federal district court in Tallahassee, contends the law (SB 90) requires a “misleading warning” and violates First Amendment rights. “The mandatory disclaimer serves no legitimate governmental function or purpose, as there is no evidence that Floridians have been confused about the nature of community-based voter registration activity,” said the lawsuit, filed by attorneys for the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Fair Elections Center. “There is no suggestion that plaintiffs or similar voter registration groups have regularly turned in late forms or that they would make anything other than their best efforts to timely submit forms.” The lawsuit also said the requirements “serve to significantly impede plaintiffs’ mission of connecting with new voters and those without Florida driver’s licenses and printer access (who must print, sign, and submit their applications created online in order to register to vote) because in-person registration is more effective for reaching these prospective voters and field registration using paper forms is the most effective means of promoting voter registration at the events, festivals, and communities where plaintiffs operate.”

Michigan: The Michigan Supreme Court unanimously ordered the state elections board to certify a veto-proof initiative that would let Republican legislators wipe from the books a law Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to issue sweeping pandemic orders. The decision came after two Democrats on the Board of State Canvassers opposed ratifying the ballot measure in April, despite a finding from the elections bureau that enough signatures had been collected. The justices said the four-member panel “has a clear legal duty to certify the petition.” The board’s Democrats had called for further investigation into alleged wrongdoing by some circulators. The canvassers will meet soon to certify the petition. The GOP-controlled Legislature will likely enact the measure rather than let it go to a public vote in 2022.

Mississippi: Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Kenny Griffis on June 3 dismissed an election challenge appeal from a D’Iberville City Council race. In that challenge, incumbent Craig “Boots” Diaz, believed that his challenger, Zack Grady, was wrongly certified to appear on the ballot. The crux of the legal challenge centered around a recent opinion from the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office interpreting a 2019 law to mean that candidates for municipal offices must live in the ward they wish to represent for at least two years before qualifying to hold office. The Secretary of State’s office has previously interpreted the 2019 law to only require a two-year residency somewhere within the municipality, not within any particular ward. The attorney general’s opinion was issued days before the municipal qualification deadline, which drew a rebuke from Secretary of State Michael Watson and caused three candidates in Oxford to drop out of their respective races.

Nevada: The Nevada Supreme Court upheld Clark County Commissioner Ross Miller’s 15-vote victory in the November 2020 election. Former Las Vegas Councilman Stravos Anthony had sued challenging the results. Chief Justice James Hardesty wrote the unanimous opinion for the court, disagreeing with Anthony’s attorneys, who argued discrepancies in the voting process met the definition of an election being “prevented.” “Because voters had the opportunity to vote in the November 3, 2020, general election and were not prevented from casting their votes for District C, we conclude that the district court properly found that the election was not ‘prevented” under (state law),” Hardesty wrote. “Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the district court.”

New York: An appeals court has rejected the state attorney general’s request for an injunction that would have required Rensselaer County’s Board of Elections to choose new polling places for early voting while the board appeals a lower court’s ruling that its plan for early voting violated state law. In an order issued late Wednesday, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court scheduled a June 23 hearing on the matter in Albany but rejected Attorney General Letitia James’ request for an immediate injunction that if granted would have required the elections board to comply with the lower court ruling while the appeal is handled. The hearing will be held three days after early voting ends for June’s primaries. On Monday, state Supreme Court of Claims Judge Judge Adam W. Silverman tossed out Rensselaer County’s three early voting locations as too remote and not providing equitable access for people of color and ordered the Board of Elections to have new polling places selected by Wednesday. But the board appealed the judge’s ruling, setting the stage for the Appellate Division order.

Pennsylvania: Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas Burke has ruled that there will be no recount of the May 18 primary in Luzerne County. Ronald Knapp, who lost a Republican nomination for county council by 57 votes, had filed paperwork seeking a hand recount and reconciliation. The county argued Knapp’s request must be rejected because his filing did not meet legal requirements. A recount would take the election bureau a week or two and require assistance from other departments, officials said. Burke said Knapp, who was representing himself, failed to comply with some fundamental legal requirements, including a state law mandate to post a bond or cash based on the number of machines involved in the recount. The judge said he admires any citizens willing to run for office and tries to provide some latitude with litigation filers representing themselves. However, Burke said judges take an oath to uphold the law, and he cannot overlook fatal legal defects in Knapp’s filing.

South Dakota: United States District Judge Lawrence Piersol has blocked the secretary of state from enforcing a 2020 state law requiring registration for paid petition circulators. In a 28-page ruling, Piersol ruled the “State did not meet its burden of showing that the burdensome requirements of SB 180 challenged by Plaintiff as violating the First Amendment are substantially related to the State’s interests in election integrity and avoiding fraud.” Piersol issued a preliminary injunction. Dakotans for Health, a group looking to get Medicaid expansion on the 2022 ballot, filed the lawsuit. “This court agrees that the State has an important regulatory interest in preventing fraud and its appearances in its electoral processes. But the record does not support the conclusion that SB 180’s public disclosure requirements combat actual instances of fraud or forgery committed by petition circulators in the signature gathering process,” the ruling said.

Texas: The Texas Supreme Court rejected a long-shot request to give former Dallas City Council candidate Donald Parish Jr. a chance at a new election. Parish, a pastor, came in third in last month’s election to represent South Dallas’ District 7, short by just 28 votes to advance to the runoff election, in which the candidate in second place, Kevin Felder, lost to incumbent Adam Bazaldua. In a complaint filed May 21, Parish claimed irregularities with voting locations made the race void. On June 11, the Supreme Court denied a petition by Parish for a new election and did not offer an opinion. Parish’s complaint argues the race’s tight election results made the problems reported at several polling places significant. Nine polling sites, many of which were in South Dallas, had problems ranging from broken voting machines, to workers who couldn’t access buildings or supplies because they didn’t have keys, to too few electrical outlets or extension cords for voting machines. Some voters were turned away.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

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