Thursday, November 11, 2021

Electionline Weekly November-11-2021

Legislative Updates

District of Columbia: Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) introduced the Elections Modernization Amendment Act of 2021, a bill he says is intended to make voting in D.C. accessible to more residents. The legislation, co-sponsored by six of Allen’s colleagues, would give every registered voter access to mail-in voting, distribute more ballot drop boxes citywide, bring back the vote centers used during the 2020 election cycle, and make Election Day a holiday for D.C. public schools. The bill would also create a new election data portal on the D.C. Board of Elections’ website and require the board to provide more support to Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners who are currently incarcerated (as one currently is, representing the residents of the D.C. Jail), among other measures. The Elections Modernization Amendment Act will be assigned to a committee and receive a hearing at a date to be announced. “There are times when necessity is the mother of invention, and that’s exactly what we saw when a pandemic and a general election collided,” Allen wrote in a statement. “D.C. held a safe, secure, and accessible election by making it easier to vote and safe to vote from home. These are common sense and popular changes we need to make a permanent part of our elections moving forward.”

Georgia: State Sen. Billy Hickman told constituents that the provisions laid out under Senate Bill 202 may need some “tweaking” in 2022. While praising the controversial new law as “a very tight election bill,” that has served as a model for a couple of other states, Hickman said there should be some changes made during the Georgia General Assembly’s regular January-March session. He referred particularly to the requirement that counties and cities host 17 days of early voting, including two Saturdays, for all elections, even for council member elections in small towns. “Then we go right back in January for a long January through March session, and that’s probably when we’ll make some tweaking on the election bill,” Hickman said.

Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania House State Government Committee advanced a bill that would end the use of private money to fund county elections. Under the measure, the Department of State and individual counties would have to refuse any “private donations” that would be used for “operating elections, employing staff or selecting and equipping a polling place or for use in voter education or outreach.” State Rep. Jim Struzzi (R-Indiana) is among those sponsoring the ban on private election grants. He said he took issue with how the money was handed down, and argued it’s unfair that places like Philadelphia got $10 million in grant money while Lancaster got just under $500,000. Rep. Seth Grove (R-York), who chairs the State Government committee, said the practice opens the door for well-resourced counties to have unfair election operation advantages over those that aren’t.

The House State Government Committee approved House Bill 1482 that would create a Bureau of Election Audits within the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s office, tasked with conducting “result-confirming” audits of every election in the state. “This will continue on our efforts that we’ve made for the past several years to ensure that our processes are consistent, and every legal vote is counted, and every voter can have faith in our election processes,” said House Speaker Bryan Cutler, the prime sponsor of House Bill 1482. Cutler’s legislation would require the new election audit bureau to complete “result-confirming” audits of every election in the state by the third Friday after the election. The bureau would be tasked with conducting risk-limiting audits of each uncontested election, as well as audits of election machine logs and of returned mail-in and absentee ballots in each county. The proposal would also require the Bureau of Election Audits to conduct performance audits of election machines and processes – including reviews of county election offices, the state’s voter registration system and the Department of State’s certification process for election machines – once every five years. The new bureau would also be authorized to conduct “any other audit deemed necessary … to ensure the public trust” in both elections and election administration, according to the legislation. This is Cutler’s second attempt to advance similar legislation.

Legal Updates

Mississippi: In May, the Mississippi Supreme Court voided the state’s citizen-lead ballot initiative process. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that Section 273 of the Mississippi Constitution, which is the part that outlines the way ballot initiatives work, “cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress.” When voters adopted the process in 273, the state had five congressional districts, but lost one due to slow population growth after the 2000 Census. Now, a group of plaintiffs has filed suit in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Mississippi in Jackson seeking to have the ballot initiative process reinstated. The suit says “the initiative petition rights of the people of Mississippi have been wrested from them.” The federal court, the motion says, inadvertently made that possible years ago when it redrew Mississippi’s congressional districts after the Legislature failed to propose a four-district map that complied with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. “Left to a state legislature unable to adopt a constitutionally compliant redistricting plan for the last thirty years …, the initiative petition rights of the people of Mississippi have been sideswiped and killed,” the motion says.

New Jersey: Passaic County Superintendent of Elections Shona Mack-Pollock locked hundreds of electronic poll books inside voting machines on Election Day; now, she’s asking for a court order to get them back out again. The poll books, which are new technology for the state as of this election, are meant to be secured and transported in designated carrying cases, but Mack-Pollock said the vendor supplying the cases to Passaic County could not deliver them in time for the election. Thus, Mack-Pollock made the decision to store the electronic poll books in the back of the voting machines themselves. But state law requires that voting machines be locked for a period of 15 days after the election unless ordered opened by a Superior Court judge, prompting Mack-Pollock’s request for a court order to open them earlier.

Pennsylvania: Delaware County Court of Common Pleas Judge Kelly Eckel ruled that the integrity of the Nov. 2 election was intact, in part due to the safeguards put in place, as county leaders discussed the case recently. Republican county council candidates Frank Agovino and Joseph Lombardo filed suit Oct. 29 after being notified of irregularities in the mail-in ballots, something they contended impacted the integrity of the Nov. 2 election as they requested thousands of votes to be sequestered and counted by court-appointed individuals. County staff had testified that impacted ballots were being sequestered and that observers from both parties are present and watch the counting of the votes. The judge ruled that was adequate. After the decision, county Solicitor William F. Martin issued remarks. “As anticipated by the county, Judge Eckel confirmed that the petition filed by the Republican candidates was moot, as the matters complained of had been appropriately remedied by the county Board of Elections,” he stated. “The judge confirmed the role of ‘watchers’ to monitor the count of ballots the county had already agreed to sequester. Finally, the judge extended to 8 p.m. on Nov. 5, 2021, the period where the county can tabulate ballots, only as the deadline relates to the small number of ballots that had been re-mailed, or mailed late, as long as the ballots are postmarked on or before Election Day. As to the petitioners’ proposal to take the election out of control of the Board of Elections, and rest such control in the courts, the judge recognized such request as unneeded, since the county was already following the law.”

Texas: Disabled, elderly and non-English speaking voters risk disenfranchisement under Texas’ new voting law passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice claims in a lawsuit filed challenging the legislation known as Senate Bill 1. The suit, filed in San Antonio federal court, argues that both provisions “will curtail fundamental voting rights without advancing any legitimate state interest.” “These vulnerable voters already confront barriers to the ballot box, and SB 1 will exacerbate the challenges they face in exercising their fundamental right to vote,” the suit argues, saying that the law would negatively impact voters with disabilities, elderly voters, members of the military who are deployed, voters with limited English proficiency and voters residing outside of the country. “There is a history of discrimination against voters with disabilities in Texas,” the lawsuit claims, noting estimates that 28% of Texans have conditions impairing their mobility, cognition or vision. The suit also takes aim at SB 1’s new rules for mail-in voting. Texas traditionally has placed more limits on mail-in voting than other states. The legitimacy of mail-in ballots was largely determined by comparing signatures on applications and ballots.

Wisconsin: Dane County Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn ordered Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to turn over records within 10 days about a secretive review of the 2020 election that Republicans have been conducting since this summer. Bailey-Rihn ruled the Rochester Republican and Assembly Chief Clerk Ted Blazel were required to release calendars, e-mails, internal reports and other documents maintained by the team conducting the election review. Bailey-Rihn accused Vos of trying to hide records by conducting a “shell game” that changed who was technically responsible for the records. She ordered Vos to turn over records that were created between May and late August. She suggested he’d given up his opportunity to argue he could withhold a subset of the documents because of attorney-client privilege or other reasons. She said he’d likely waited too long to make such arguments. “These need to be produced unless there is a darn good reason why not and I don’t see one at this point,” Bailey-Rihn said. The team reviewing the election has a taxpayer funded budget of $676,000 and is headed by former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who claimed without evidence last year that the presidential election was stolen.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

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