Thursday, December 23, 2021

Electionline Weekly December-23-2021

Legislative Updates

Alaska: The Anchorage Assembly postponed a vote on an ordinance that would update the city’s election laws and make several changes to rules for observers. Assembly members passed a slew of amendments to the ordinance Tuesday night before adjourning when the clock hit midnight and postponing its vote to a meeting next week. The Assembly’s debate on Tuesday night was preceded by extensive public testimony from people in support of and against the changes. The ordinance would require election observers to complete city-provided training and tour of the election center. The changes would also enshrine in code that observers must follow the Election Observer’s Handbook and that the municipal clerk, with “good cause,” can limit the number of observers. Many who criticize the changes say they put too much power in the hands of the municipal clerk and could mean the clerk could limit the public’s ability to observe the election process. Some questioned why the Assembly changed language in city code to restrict election observers from having devices capable of recording images or sound within certain areas of voting and ballot processing locations. “The ordinance does not change the number of observers allowed or the times when observers are authorized to observe election activities. It does not change the reasons why an observer may be asked to leave an election location or the MOA election team’s commitment to ensuring that observers understand the election process and showing them all aspects of that process,” Assembly chair Suzanne LaFrance said.

Missouri: State Sen. Bill White (R-Joplin) has filed Senate Bill 670 that calls for the official ballot in Missouri to be a paper ballot hand-marked by the voter. The legislation would also bans the use of touchscreen and electronic vote-counting machines starting in January 2024. It also would prohibit the use of direct-recording voting machines. “Actually, I think it’s great that we are banning direct recording electronic voting machines. Nobody is using them anymore. Everybody has purchased the newest versions of voting equipment,” says Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon said.

Oregon: Rep. Lisa Reynolds (D-Portland), says that she plans to introduce legislation in February that would restore voting rights to thousands of felons while they’re still incarcerated. “There is a segment of our population who have had this fundamental right stripped from them,” she said. “The right to vote is fundamental. It upholds the foundation of our democracy and democracy works better when everyone has a voice.” If passed, roughly 12,000 to 15,000 incarcerated people would have their right to vote restored. The reform would mean that all people incarcerated in the state, whether in state prisons or county jails, could vote while in detention. Oregon has barred inmates from voting since the territory created the disenfranchisement law in an 1857 constitutional convention. Although the proposal never made it out of committee in the 2021 Oregon session, advocates predicted it stands a better chance in February and they expect most Democratic lawmakers to sign on as sponsors. This year, Reynolds said she’s intent on proposing a policy change that shouldn’t trigger any fiscal impact and is talking to the Corrections Department to assuage concerns about needing additional staff.

U.S. Virgin Islands: A bill that seeks transparency in V.I. elections, instead sparked debate among senators over who should have access to information. Bill No. 34-0149, sponsored by Sen. Alma Francis Heyliger, seeks to make official election records accessible to the public through cloud-based services, but at a Rules and Judiciary Committee hearing, lawmakers voiced concerns the information could be misused. “We have a responsibility to ensure that we protect the information we gather in public records,” said Sen. Carla Joseph. “We use the states to compare to the Virgin islands, but we have to look at this very carefully and customize it locally.” The bill was held by the committee for further consideration. Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes said the Election’s Board and her office did not support the legislation, and argued only registered voters should have access to the information.

Utah: Utah lawmakers are set to consider a bill that would further protect the right to vote for people with disabilities. The legislation would require election officials to provide accessible voting options — like auditory machines for people who are blind. They would also have to make rules about how to verify signatures for people who can’t sign their name consistently. Weber County Clerk/Auditor Ricky Hatch said this is already common practice in election offices around Utah, but putting it in state law is especially important as more election officials leave their jobs. “Twenty-five percent of our county clerks have retired or resigned in the past 12 months,” Hatch said. “It’s hard coming in. … Sometimes you’re going to miss things when you’re new and having it in code is one way to help ensure these voters are being served properly.”

Legal Updates

Federal Lawsuits: Judge Eric Davis of the Delaware Superior Court has found that Fox News’ coverage of election fraud after the 2020 election may have been inaccurate, and is allowing a major defamation case against the TV network to move forward. Davis declined to dismiss Dominion Voting System’s lawsuit against Fox News in a significant ruling last week. The ruling will now allow Dominion to attempt to unearth extensive communications within Fox News as they gather evidence for the case, and the company may be able to interview the network’s top names under oath. At this stage, the court must assume Dominion’s claims about Fox News are true. Still, Davis called out, in the 52-page opinion, that Fox News may have slanted its coverage to push election fraud, knowing the accusations were wrong. Dominion alerted the network’s anchors and executives to information that disproved accusations of widespread vote-switching following Donald Trump’s re-election loss, the judge noted. “Nevertheless, Fox and its news personnel continued to report Dominion purported connection to the election fraud claims without also reporting on Dominion’s emails … Given that Fox apparently refused to report contrary evidence, including evidence from the Department of Justice, the Complaint’s allegations support the reasonable inference that Fox intended to keep Dominion’s side of the story out of the narrative,” the judge wrote. The court rejected Fox News’ claims that it was able to discuss Trump advisers’ election fraud conspiracies under principles of news reporting.

Colorado: The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office is asking a Denver District Court Judge to dismiss as frivolous a lawsuit filed against the office alleging irregularities in the 2020 general election. The suit, filed by Rep. Ron Hanks (R-Canon City) and several local elected officials, contends the office failed to properly test voting equipment before the 2020 election, deleted election files and are obstructing counties’ ability to conduct independent audits of election results. In its motion to dismiss the case, the Secretary of State’s office says the allegations are all based on unfounded election conspiracy theories. “The plaintiffs’ allegations are patently false, and their legal justifications without merit,” Secretary of State Jena Griswold said. “Nationwide, bad actors are abusing the judicial process to spread disinformation, undermine confidence in elections and suppress the right to vote. It is extremely concerning to see elected officials here in Colorado spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.” Griswold’s office says state law requires it to certify, or de-certify, a county’s election equipment; it is the job of county clerks to maintain copies of election files, and not the state; and counties aren’t barred from conducting audits, just not by those who are not qualified.

On Tuesday, they Mesa County Commission filed suit against Clerk Tina Peters because she hadn’t attested to a legal action taken by the Mesa County Board of County Commissioners last week to extend a contract with Runbeck Election Services to print ballots and envelopes for the 2022 primary and general elections. As clerk, one of her duties is to supply a clerk to the board, which is to prepare agendas, maintain minutes, preserve and catalog official public records and documents, and to attest to documents signed by the board chair that are approved by the county’s three commissioners. After a week had passed, and when Peters had attested to everything else the board did at its Dec. 13 commissioner meeting except the Runbeck contract, the county sent her a letter warning her that if she didn’t do the job the law requires of her, she would be sued. On Tuesday, a day after the county’s deadline for her to attest to the board’s decision, it filed its lawsuit. According to The Daily Sentinel, the suit was withdrawn on Wednesday after Peters completed the legally required tasks.

Florida: Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker has rejected the state’s motion for summary judgment in cases brought by the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Florida Conference of the NAACP, Disability Rights Florida and a number of other groups against the state’s new voting law (SB 90). Walker said he needed to hear arguments from both sides during a trial next month so he can decide whether the law meets constitutional muster. The court’s “task is to balance defendants’ proffered justifications for the challenged provisions against the burdens, if any, those provisions place on those voters for whom the provisions present an impediment to voting,” Walker wrote in a 21-page order. Walker, who consolidated four challenges in a trial scheduled to start Jan. 31, said the plaintiffs “have come forward with evidence suggesting that the challenged provisions impose at least some burdens on Florida’s electorate.”

Mississippi: Special Circuit Judge Andrew Howorth has vacated the results of Nettleton’s mayoral race and ordered the town to hold a new election. In a signed order obtained by the Daily Journal Howorth found that five illegal votes were cast during municipal Democratic primary races in Nettleton held April 6. The judge also found that incumbent Mem Riley only won the race by four votes against challenger Phillip Baulch, and that those five illegal votes were not separated from the legally cast ballots. Howorth vacated the results of the election and ordered that a new one be held. Three ballots deemed illegitimate by Howorth were affidavit ballots that were not signed by a poll worker. In two other cases, Howorth agreed with arguments put forward by Baulch’s attorney, Sam Begley, that votes were cast by two people who are not residents of Nettleton and therefore were not eligible to vote in municipal elections there.

Pennsylvania: Following a telephone conference, Commonwealth Court Judge Mary Hannah sided with a lawyer for Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration and said that Fulton County must first work out an agreed-upon set of rules for an inspection. Leavitt gave them until Jan. 10, at the suggestion of a lawyer representing Wolf’s top election official in a separate lawsuit involving Fulton County’s voting machines. In that lawsuit, Fulton County is contesting the state’s decertification of voting machines it used in last year’s presidential election. State lawyers last week discovered that Fulton County commissioners had voted to allow a contractor hired by Senate Republicans to download data and software on the voting systems.

Wisconsin: The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit seeking to have the Wisconsin Elections Commission reinstate voter registrations for nearly 32,000 people who were deactivated this summer. The commission deactivated the registrations for the voters after a two-year legal fight. That lawsuit, filed in 2019 by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, argued that the commission should have deactivated voters flagged as potentially having moved within 30 days of notice being given. The new lawsuit argues that the 31,854 voters should not have had their registrations deactivated because they weren’t given notice that it could happen or a deadline to avoid it.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

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