Thursday, August 5, 2021

Electionline Weekly August-5-2021

Legislative Updates

Federal Legislation: Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) has introduced the “Right to Vote Act,” which he said would create the first-ever affirmative Federal voting rights guarantee for all U.S. citizens. The bill’s intent, Ossoff said in a statement, would establish a statutory right to vote in federal elections. Americans would be able to challenge, in court, any policy that restricts ballot access. The bill raises the bar for states to justify policies that might make it harder for citizens to vote in federal elections. It also provides measures to aid Americans with registering to vote, obtaining an ID required to vote, casting a ballot and ensuring that ballot is counted. “The Right to Vote Act will for the first time enshrine the right to vote in Federal statute and allow U.S. citizens to challenge in court any policy that makes it harder for them to participate in elections,” Ossoff said.

Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) have introduced legislation that would would create a new task force at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to combat deepfake technologies. The Deepfake Task Force Act would charge the DHS task force with creating a coordinated plan to explore how a “‘digital content provenance’ standard could assist with reducing the spread of deepfakes, develop tools for content creators to authenticate their content and its origin, and increase the ability of civil society and industry leaders to relay trust and information about the source of the deepfakes to consumers.” The senators said the task force would include experts from academia and the public and private sectors. “Deepfakes represent a unique threat to our national security and our democracy,” said Sen. Portman. “For most of human history seeing meant believing, but now that is becoming less and less true thanks to deepfakes. Combined with the network effects created by social media, fake videos or pictures can travel around the world in an instant, tricking citizens. I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation because establishing a deepfake task force at the Department of Homeland Security will help solve this problem by making progress to develop standards so that companies, tech platforms, journalists, and all Americans can track and authenticate content so we can better separate the truth from the lies.”

Alabama: A bill by Rep. David Wheeler (R-Vestavia Hills) and Senator Will Barfoot (R-Pike Road) took effect this week that allows precinct election officials who are registered to vote in a given county to now serve in any precinct in that county. Previously, poll workers served only in the precinct where they are registered to vote. The legislation provides that first priority may still be given to those who want to work in their own precinct.

Maine: Westbrook residents will vote on using ranked choice voting at the municipal level in November. City Councilors voted unanimously Monday to put the measure on the ballot. Council President Gary Rairdon, who previously spoke against it, and Councilor Elliot Storey were absent. No members of the public spoke on the topic at the meeting. If approved by voters, ranked-choice voting would be used in the mayor’s race and to elect city councilors and other applicable local seats when there are three or more candidates and no candidate has won by more than 50% of the votes. The change would cost about an additional $30,000 per election. City Clerk Angela Holmes said ranked choice voting would have been applicable in four elections between 2013 and 2019, including two mayoral races.

Massachusetts: Gov. Charlie Baker has signed a bill extending early and mail-in voting practices, adopted during the pandemic, through the end of 2021. A spokesman for the governor confirmed that he signed a supplemental budget including “a section extending expanded early voting and no-excuse mail-in voting until December 15, 2021.”

New Hampshire: Gov. Chris Sununu has signed a handful of elections-related bills into law.

House Bill 77, a measure requiring town and city clerks to provide daily notifications to the Secretary of State’s Office of any filings for elected office. Rep. Ralph Boehm (R-Litchfield), was the prime sponsor.

House Bill 223, which was also signed into law, authorizes political parties to subscribe to a list of absentee ballot requests, which will be provided by the secretary of state. Sponsors of the bill include Rep. Joe Sweeney (R-Salem Republican), and Rep. Joe Alexander (R- Goffstown). Previously, candidates who were running for statewide office could request the list. The bill also adds the date the absentee ballot was returned to the information that will be provided by the secretary of state.

House Bill 285, modifies how voter checklists are verified. Current law requires the secretary of state to submit a list of every city or town that has a registered voter matching a given death record. The new law adds the requirement that the secretary of state provide information to municipalities where the name on the death certificate is a partial match to their voter checklist.

House Bill 476, loosens the requirement that election officials live in the same voting district as the additional polling place where they are working. Instead, it requires election officials to live in the same town they are serving. For cities, the law requires election officials to live in the same city ward where they are working.

Sununu has vetoed House Bill 98 which would have moved the state’s primary from the second Tuesday in September to the first Tuesday in August. In his veto message, the governor said the change would move the election and campaign season into the middle of summer. This is a time when many Granite Staters are enjoying their vacations and are far less likely to be involved in the electoral process,” Sununu wrote in his veto message. “This change could lead to depressed voter engagement in the election and reduced turnout.” The bill had bipartisan support in the House and Senate and supporters said it would help level the playing field for challengers with little time to mend party fences, raise money or get their message out, while incumbents have name recognition and an existing fund-raising apparatus.

Legal Updates

Alaska: Anchorage Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller ruled that Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system and top-four open primary are legal and may be used in the 2022 statewide general election. The Alaskan Independence Party, a Libertarian politician and a Republican attorney had sued to stop the state from implementing Ballot Measure 2, which voters approved last year. Alaskans for Better Elections, the group that backed the measure, joined the state in defense. Attorney Ken Jacobus represented the plaintiffs argued that the new law forces candidates to run together and violates their freedom of association. Miller rejected that argument, saying candidates can pick and choose who they want to run with. “No candidate is being ‘forced’ to team up with another candidate; rather, they choose, early on,’” Miller wrote. Plaintiffs also argued that a four-person open primary violates political parties’ freedom of association by allowing a candidate to identify with a political party that did not nominate them. Miller rejected that argument, saying in part that the Alaska Constitution’s freedom-of-speech section “says nothing about political parties’ right to mandate what words appear on a ballot.”

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

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