Thursday, February 3, 2022

Electionline Weekly February-4-2022

Legislative Updates

Arizona: Under HB2596, offered by Rep. John Fillmore (R-Apache) would allow lawmakers to set aside election results if they believe there was fraud or other irregularities. The 35-page bill would also: Require that ballots for all future elections be counted by hand; Mandate that votes be cast only on Election Day; Repeal laws allowing anyone to get an early ballot, instead saying they need a specific excuse, like being outside the state, unable to get to the polls because they are in a hospital or nursing home, or have a visual impairment; and Prohibit the practice used in many counties of setting up Election Day voting centers where anyone can cast a ballot, restricting people to voting only in their home precinct. “We need to get back to 1958-style voting,” Fillmore said separately during a hearing on election issues. House Speaker Rusty Bowers told Capitol Media Services that he is not killing HB 2596. That’s something he could do by simply refusing to assign it to any committee to be considered. Instead, Bowers has taken the unprecedented step of assigning the proposal to each and every one of the 12 House committees, saying he knows full well there is no way it can secure approval of each of them. This move will all but kill the bill.

The House Rules Committee has approved House Bill2238 that prevents ballots dropped at some unmonitored boxes from being counted. The bill was amended to exclude boxes at polling places and voting centers where voting staff are present or at facilities used by county recorders. “This bill doesn’t prohibit ballot drop boxes as long as they are staff monitored. As long as they have someone there, we have existing laws in place regarding and governing the dropping off of early ballots,” said Rep. Jake Hoffman, sponsor of the legislation.

The Senate Government Committee gave its approval to proposed legislation that would punish election workers who misplace ballots and penalize contractors who don’t meet the terms of their contracts. Senate Bill 1055 states that a contractor who provides election-related services to the state or a county “and that fails to perform its obligations under the terms of the contract” is liable for damages equal to the value of the contract, and could even face criminal charges in the form of a class 2 misdemeanor.

The committee also approved Senate Bill 1056, which states that any ballots that are not included in election officials’ tallies because they were misplaced can’t be counted, and that anyone who misplaces a ballot is guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor. If an uncounted, misplaced ballot is found and the voter can be identified through the envelopes used for early or provisional ballots, that voter can sue whichever government entity administered the election.

Lawmakers advanced legislation requiring voters to show identification when they drop off a mail ballot at a polling place, a move that election officials say would lead to longer lines on Election Day. Republicans on the House Government & Elections Committee approved the measure in a party-line vote. Democrats said it serves no purpose but would make it harder for people to use the early voting system.

Florida: Sen. Travis Hutson (R-St. Augustine), unveiled legislation with a slew of changes to Florida’s voting laws, including a proposal sought by Gov. Ron DeSantis to establish a new office investigating election fraud and a mandate to purge voter rolls more frequently. The legislation is being proposed as an amendment to SB524. The amendment also makes changes to mail voting by requiring additional personal information to be included with submitted ballots, either the last four digits of the voter’s driver’s license or the last four digits of the person’s social security number. The amended legislation also would require elections officials in each county to update voter rolls every year, instead of every odd year. It also gives added power to DeSantis. The governor would appoint a special Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent in each of the agency’s seven regions who would be “dedicated to the investigation of alleged violations of election laws.” It would also include new state reporting requirements for potential elections violations, detailing the number of complaints received, independent investigations started and the number referred to prosecution. The proposal also would increase misdemeanor penalties to felonies for various election violations, including collecting the mail-in ballots of other people or paying petition gatherers, based on the number of signatures collected. It would also ban ranked-choice voting. The proposal would create the Office of Elections Crimes and Security within the Florida Department of State. The office would employ election fraud investigators, although they would not be sworn law enforcement officers, as sought by the governor. Instead, the investigators would send their findings to FDLE. The bill was approved on a party-line vote by the Senate panel, the first stop for another overhaul of Florida elections laws poised to be embraced by the Republican-controlled Senate and House.

Guam: Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero’s administration is reviewing two measures passed by the legislature that proposed earlier deadlines for candidates seeking elected office, and allow for the cancelation of certain primary races. Bills 173-36 and 174-36 were both authored by Sen. Jim Moylan, at the request of the Guam Election Commission. The first bill eliminates a primary election for any race if fewer or equal to the maximum candidates that can advance for that contest qualify for a primary election ballot. he proposed elimination policy won’t apply to all elections, only those for: The legislature, Governor and lieutenant governor, Washington delegate, Mayor, Vice mayor, Public auditor, and Attorney general. The second measure pushes up the primary election and deadlines associated for candidates and residents looking to participate in a local election. Bill 174-36 proposes that the primary election be held on the first, and not last Saturday in August. The legislation moves the final day to file nominating papers for those seeking elected office from 60 days before a primary election to 90 days prior as well. The legislation would also push up the first day to file nominating documents by 30 days.

Idaho: One of the sponsors of a bill that would have changed the voter registration deadline for unaffiliated voters says the bill will not be heard this session. Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy (R-Genesee), confirmed in an email that House Bill 439 is dead for this session, but did not elaborate on the reason why. Troy presented the bill to the House State Affairs Committee on Jan. 13, and it was printed the following day. Under existing Idaho law, voters in the state’s four recognized political parties — Republican, Democrat, Constitution and Libertarian — who want to change their party affiliation or become unaffiliated can do so by filing a request with the respective county clerk office by the candidate filing deadline before a primary election. The bill also included an emergency clause, meaning the law would have affected the 2022 primary election.

Indiana: The House has reversed course, restoring language in a bill that will move up the deadline for counties to install a vital election security measure. Current law requires counties to have paper backup systems for their electronic voting machines by 2030. A bill this session, HB 1116, would move that date up to July 2024. But the House Ways and Means committee eliminated that change because it costs money – about $12 million. Then, on the House floor Thursday, Ways and Means Chair Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) put the July 2024 deadline back into the bill. “We heard complaints about this bill as we’re going through the process,” Brown said. “And we listened.” But the bill doesn’t include any money to help counties with the cost of adding the paper backups. And House Republicans rejected an attempt by Democrats to supply that funding. The bill also includes language on absentee voting. As approved by the House, Hoosier must now attest that they are unable to vote during all of the days available for early, in-person voting and on Election Day. Previously, absentee ballots were permitted for those who had conflicts with Election Day and didn’t inquire about early voting days. Counties vary on how many days they offer early voting and at what locations but may offer up to 28 days of early voting.

Maryland: Senate Bill 73, sponsored by Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard County) is the latest attempt to fill legislative vacancies by election. Vacancies are currently filled by gubernatorial appointments based on party central committee nominations. Lam’s bill would require that, if there is a vacancy in the state Senate or House of Delegates at least 55 days before the candidate filing deadline for regular statewide elections held in the second year of a lawmaker’s four-year term, the governor would need to declare special primary and general elections to decide who will fill the vacancy.

Senate Bill 101, an omnibus reform introduced by Vice Chair Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery County), would ban candidates for petitioning for a recount if they lose an election by more than 5% of total votes cast or if there is a 5% gap in the amount of votes cast for the prospective winning candidate and the losing candidate. It also redefines when a candidate must pay for the cost of a recount as opposed to a county. Counties currently need to pay for the recount if the difference in the number of votes between the candidates is 0.1% or less. Kagan’s bill would change that to less than 0.25%. The bill would also add costs and assistance associated with recounts to candidates’ campaign finance disclosures.

Senate Bill 158, another election reform from Kagan, would codify the longstanding election cost-sharing agreement between state and local boards of elections. The bill requires counties to pay half of the cost of election-related goods and services that are mandated by the State Board of Elections. Existing provisions, which aren’t enshrined in state law, require counties to pay half of the state’s voting system costs. The Department of Legislative Services estimates the bill would save local governments $500,000 in the 2022 fiscal year and roughly $3 million annually after that — with those costs shifted to the state government. Kagan said the bill would also require expenditures of more than $50,000 to be voted on by the State Board of Elections, and every expenditure be reported to them.

Senate Bill 112, also sponsored by Kagan, would make establishing fake ballot drop boxes a felony punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine up to $10,000 — a similar penalty to other already existing election-related offenses like damaging voting equipment. Drayton said there was a “meteoric rise” in mail-in ballot and drop-off box use during the 2020 elections, and said the bill would deter interference with drop-off boxes. Kagan said fake drop-off boxes weren’t a problem in Maryland during the last election, but a few cropped up in other states.

Senate Bill 163, yet another election reform from Kagan reviewed by the Senate committee Wednesday, would allow election officials to begin processing mail-in ballots eight days before the start of early voting, although they wouldn’t be able to tabulate those ballots. Kagan’s bill would also require election officials to provide precinct-level results. She said her bill also allows mail-in ballots to be cured, or fixed by voters, if they forgot to sign the oath on the ballot envelope. Kagan said she plans to introduce an amendment to the bill that would require local boards of elections to notify voters within three business days after election officials find that a voter didn’t sign the oath. The bill would allow voters to correct that error by text message, an accessible online portal, a mailed form, or an in-person visit to the local board office. The bill would require that a ballot without a signed oath be rejected if a voter doesn’t fix it before 10 a.m.10 days after the election.

Delegate Robert Long (R-Baltimore County), is the sponsor of HB0099, which would require residents voting by absentee ballot to furnish a signature and have it verified. Long also is the sponsor of HB0113, legislation that would require proof of identity for in-person voting. Long said the bills were drafted in response to concerns he heard from constituents about voting integrity.

Massachusetts: By a vote of 124 to 34, the House approved a major overhaul of the state’s voting laws that will make mail and early voting permanent. The legislation will allow for the broad use of voting by mail and expand in-person early voting options. Communities would be required to allow early voting during business hours and all weekends during the early-voting period. The bill would also mandate that the incarcerated be informed about their voting rights. House Republicans filed amendments to the proposal to scale back the mail and early voting provisions, toughen penalties for voter fraud and require voter ID to cast ballots, but the Democratic majority rejected their proposals. A majority of the 41 proposed amendments to the bill were either rejected or withdrawn. An amendment that would have added same-day voter registration—something included in the Senate version of the bill—failed.

Michigan: A progressive-backed voting rights coalition has launched a campaign to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. The campaign submitted its petition language Monday to the state Bureau of Elections. If the proposal makes the ballot and is approved by voters, the amendment would require at least nine days of in-person early voting, funding for ballot drop boxes, and a system that allows voters to track mailed-in ballots. It would also guarantee people the right to vote either by presenting a government issued ID or signing an affidavit. “We must create a voting system that secures options for voters, equitable access to the polls, and ensures that all voters are heard in our election system,” said Promote the Vote campaign president Khalilah Spencer during an online press conference. The campaign would have to gather a little more than 425 thousand signatures to get on the November statewide ballot.

Nebraska: A bill was proposed to shorten early and mail-in voting in Nebraska by almost two weeks, but no one testified in favor. In a Government, Military and Veterans Affairs committee hearing, state Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte sponsored the bill. It proposes a reduction in the time window for early and mail-in voting, from 35 days to 22 days. The bill also limits people to collecting a maximum of two ballots on behalf of others and submitting them to county election officials. Groene said this will still give voters time to complete the necessary steps in voting, and it would reduce the influence of advocacy groups. All of the committee members voted against this bill. Advocacy groups for voting rights, retirees, and disabled voters pointed out it would go directly against all of the progress Nebraska has made to increase voter participation. County officials also said the bill could.

New Hampshire: Republican state representatives are bringing forward legislation to conduct a full forensic audit of New Hampshire’s 2020 election, and supporters want donations to cover what election officials believe would be a multimillion-dollar price tag. Granite Staters who are convinced that the 2020 election was fraudulent, despite there being no evidence, alternately pleaded with and threatened state representatives to pass legislation for a full forensic audit of the results, paid for by donations and nonprofits. New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan said New Hampshire’s voting systems are decentralized and administered locally. He said that if the dedicated volunteers who run elections thought something was amiss, they would have spoken up.

New York: Assembly Member Kevin Byrne (R-Mahopac) has introduced a bill that seeks to change the wording in Article 2, Section 1 of the New York State Constitution from “every citizen shall be entitled to vote” to “only citizens shall be entitled to vote.” If approved this would block noncitizen voting in the state including in New York City where it was recently approved by the city council. “My proposed amendment would supersede any effort to expand voting rights to non-citizens at the local level. I encourage my fellow state legislators to sign on to support this amendment,” says Byrne

North Carolina: Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has vetoed a bill that would have moved the state’s primary elections to June. The Democratic governor had said last week before the General Assembly approved the legislation that it was a bad idea for lawmakers to interfere as the state’s highest court considers litigation challenging congressional and legislative boundaries. The justices last month already postponed primary elections originally set for March 8 until May 17 to allow time for them to hear the lawsuits claiming that illegal partisan gerrymandering and the dilution of Black voting power favor Republicans. The state Supreme Court plans to hear oral arguments in the case this week. The bill was approved on party lines by Republicans, who said a further primary delay to June 7 was needed to reduce confusion as the state awaits the court’s decision. With the GOP lacking veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, the chances of an override are slim. The State Board of Elections has said it needs final maps by Feb. 18 in order to keep the May primary on schedule. Republicans note a state law that requires the General Assembly be given at least two weeks to redraw the maps if they are struck down, before judges could step in and draw their own. Registered Democrats hold a 4-3 majority on the Supreme Court.

Virginia: Delegate Margaret Ransone is sponsoring HB 185, which repeals a law that would allow Virginians to register to vote on the day of the election. The original bill wasn’t set to go into effect until October first. Ransone’s bill includes exceptions for Virginians temporarily abroad and active duty military. The bill is also cosponsored by two Republican Delegates that attended a rally near the US capitol before rioters stormed it last January, seeking to overturn the election.

The committee also sent a bill that would allow voters to opt-in to a system requiring their photo identification be shown at a polling place. Delegate Amanda Batten (R-Virginia Peninsula), sponsored that bill. Another photo ID law sponsored by Republican Delegate Lee Ware also was forwarded to the subcommittee to the full committee earlier this week. HB46 requires a photo ID to vote.

A bill to remove dead people from voter rolls every week instead of once a month passed the Virginia Senate on a bipartisan vote. The legislation from state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) would require the state registrar of vital records to share an updated list of people who died in Virginia with the Department of Elections each week. Under the current system, these lists are provided to the department each month. If passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, general registrars would need to “promptly cancel” the voter registration for anyone on the list for updated voter rolls.

Senate Bill 3 proposes to change how absentee ballots are tallied in Virginia, reporting them by the precinct from which they are cast. Currently, all absentee votes are lumped into their own centralized precinct, which is often counted last. The bill received a 15-0 vote from the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, allowing it to advance to another Senate panel for financial considerations.

Delegate Phillip Scott (R-Spotsylvania) has introduced legislation that would limit early voting to two weeks before an election. Currently Virginia has a 45-day early voting window. Scott argues the 45 days puts an undue strain on elections officials.

HB 1727 would move most odd-year elections to even years. HB 1727 would apply to the vast majority of state, county, city, town, and district elections, excepting votes on levies, tax increases, recalls, and special elections to fill unexpired terms for departing members of Congress. It was passed out of the state House’s Governmental & Tribal Relations Committee.

State lawmakers heard testimony on Friday for a bill from Gov. Jay Inslee, which would make it a misdemeanor for elected leaders or candidates to spread unfounded allegations of election fraud. Inslee’s bill seeks to account for that legal precedent by focusing on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1969 Brandenburg v. Ohio decision, which established that any speech inciting “imminent lawless action” isn’t protected under the First Amendment. Using that standard, Inslee points to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol as proof that allowing election falsehoods to spread has the potential to directly incite lawless and harmful behavior. “We cannot afford, and we should not have to endure, another insurrection like January 6, 2021,” Inslee testified on Friday. “But violent insurrection is not the only threat to democracy. This bill takes on all attempts to spur violence through election lies. Diminished acceptance of election results threatens our system of government and the people who serve.”

West Virginia: This week, the House of Delegates considered HB 4312, which would extend the option of electronic absentee balloting to first responders in certain emergency circumstances. Two delegates tried to broaden a bill to instead give all registered voters the right to submit absentee ballots by mail. The amendment was voted down overwhelmingly. “We had an experiment in the 2020 election due to covid, and in that experiment 145,000 West Virginians voted absentee,” De. Evan Hansen (D-Monongalia) said, noting that was the highest absentee participation ever. “We had an experiment. We proved we could pull it off and allow every West Virginian who’s qualified to vote easy access to the polls.” House Judiciary Chairman Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, pushed back on the amendment, saying West Virginians are more trusting of ballots cast at voting precincts. “Universal mail-in balloting in the state of West Virginia, I don’t think, is something the majority of West Virginians want to see,” Capito said, praising the Secretary of State and county clerks for pulling off a secure election under unprecedented circumstances.

Wisconsin: State Rep. Barbara Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc) and Sen. Kathy Bernier (R–Chippewa Falls), have introduced a bill sets in placing training requirements for clerks. Municipal clerks must receive three hours of training before conducting their first election. The governing body of a municipality shall notify WEC of clerk vacancies. The bill implements a regular schedule for data to be requested from the Electronic Registration Information Center and makes it clear that said information may be used by WEC to update state voter rolls. Additionally, this bill prohibits all voting machines from being connected to the internet, with the exception of one point-to-point contact between the machine and county election server after polls closed. Under the bill, WEC must promulgate rules for additional clerk training related to certain aspects of electronic equipment usage. Municipal clerks must notify both the county clerk and WEC whenever election equipment is rented.

A Republican bill authored by Sen. Kathy Bernier (R-Lake Hallie), Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Cedarburg), and Rep. Cindi Duchow (R-Town of Delafield) would make clear voters could not use a public health emergency to declare themselves indefinitely confined. The bill would strip away the status of all voters who received the status between March 12, 2020 and the November 2020 election. Barbara Beckert, Director of Advocacy for Disability Rights Wisconsin, said she worried that provision cast too wide of a net.

Other measures would codify rules for when special voting deputies must visit nursing homes and, if that’s not allowed due to a public health crisis, allowing nursing home workers to be designated care assistants who help residents vote.

Another would ban clerks from accepting outside money or equipment from private entities. That bill stems from GOP suspicions of more than $10 million that flowed into Wisconsin from the Mark Zuckerberg-funded Center for Tech and Civic Life; more than 85 percent of those dollars went to the state’s five biggest cities, prompting conservatives to argue that unfairly benefited communities that traditionally vote for Democrats.

A number of bills were introduced aimed at voting rights for those who are or used to be incarcerated. The Unlock the Vote Bill package was introduced by Emerson and State Senator Lena Taylor of Milwaukee. The package consists of four bills. Two of which focus on convicted felons and those in county jails. The main bill would address restoring voting rights to certain people who have been denied due to a felony conviction. Another bill involves those who are awaiting trial or are serving short sentences in county jail. The Unlock the Vote bill package is still in the co-sponsorship stage in the State Legislature. Emerson says after about a week or so, the package will go on a waitlist in hopes of going to a committee to be granted a hearing. “The Unlock the Vote is really about making sure that people who are incarcerated or have been incarcerated have the information that they need to be able to carry out their civil rights of voting,” Eau Claire State Representative Jodi Emerson said.

Republicans who control the Legislature want to close out the legislative session by giving themselves the power to take away staff and funding from state agencies deemed to have run afoul of election laws and taking control over guidance that comes from the state Elections Commission. One bill would give the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee the power to eliminate staffing positions and withhold funding from the state Elections Commission and state agencies that have a hand in administering elections if the committee and the governor determines those state officials “failed to comply with any election law” or if the commission provided “erroneous guidance” to municipal clerks. In another bill proposed by Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills and Rep. John Spiros of Marshfield, the state Elections Commission would allow the Republican-controlled Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules to have control over what kind of guidance the commission hands down to election clerks. In separate legislation proposed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, a Republican-controlled legislative committee would have the power to prevent the governor from distributing federal election funding if the lawmakers did not like the way the state elections agency planned to spend it.

Legal Updates

Alabama: Alabama’s bid to pause a court order requiring the state to redraw its congressional map was denied late last week, setting the potential for the Supreme Court to quickly intervene in case. “We discern no basis for a finding that this case is the extraordinary case in which we must allow an election to proceed under a map that we have determined — on the basis of a substantial evidentiary record — very likely violates the Voting Rights Act,” a panel of three federal judges said. The panel includes two appointees of former President Donald Trump. Earlier in the week, Alabama was ordered to redraw its congressional map after the regime it adopted last year, using data from the 2020 Census, was found in two cases to have likely violated the Voting Rights Act. The order gives the legislature 14 days to draw a new map that includes “two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”

Florida: A federal trial challenging recent changes to Florida’s voting laws began this week with voting rights groups claiming the laws have made it harder to register voters. During a day of testimony advocates claimed that one of the lesser-discussed changes to the state’s voting laws has created a chilling effect on both potential voters and those who try to sign them up to vote. The trial is over Senate Bill 90, passed by GOP lawmakers last year at the urging of Gov. Ron DeSantis. The legislation targeted the state’s vote-by-mail process and the use of ballot drop boxes, which were the basis of some of former President Donald Trump’s widespread claims of voter fraud. On the first day of the trial, testimony focused on an aspect of the bill that has been given less public attention. The legislation required third-party groups to issue a warning when trying to register voters. The groups now have to tell voters that their registration application might not be turned in before the voter registration deadline or within the required 14 days. And they have to inform potential voters how to register on the Secretary of State’s website and how to determine whether the application has been delivered. The trial is being overseen by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee and is expected to last two weeks and involve nearly 30 witnesses

Georgia: Georgia election officials and critics of the state’s voting touchscreens asked U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg to release a confidential report that describes how a hacker could attempt to change votes. The calls for disclosure come a day after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an article on the findings of University of Michigan computer science professor Alex Halderman, who detailed vulnerabilities of Georgia’s voting equipment in a sealed court document. There’s no sign of tampering with the state’s Dominion Voting Systems equipment in the 2020 election, according to audits and experts, but Halderman’s report outlined risks for upcoming elections this year. Totenberg said in a court teleconference Thursday that she will review a version of Halderman’s report that redacts sensitive information and decide whether to make it public by Monday. Totenberg said she was displeased that the report, which has been discussed in public court hearings but remains under seal, became a “political football.” “I’m unhappy with the political treatment of the report,” Totenberg said. “… The entire purpose of having hearings was to maximize transparency but at the same time trying to be mindful of the risks involved of disclosure.”

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones denied motions to dismiss three lawsuits challenging Georgia’s new political maps. The lawsuits allege that Georgia’s redistricting in the fall violated the Voting Rights Act’s protections against discrimination of Black voters, weakening their voting strength by splitting populations into different districts. Defendants for the state of Georgia disagree, saying the new districts are fair. The cases were filed by a variety of civil rights, religious and political groups soon after Gov. Brian Kemp signed new redistricting plans into law. Attorneys for the state had argued that the cases should be dismissed because they were assigned to Jones instead of a three-judge panel of judges. But Jones ruled that federal law doesn’t always mandate three judges in redistricting cases. “The plain language only requires a three-judge court to hear cases challenging the constitutionality of a statewide legislative body, not purely statutory challenges to the apportionment of a statewide legislative body,” Jones wrote.

Idaho: The Idaho Supreme Court has upheld the state’s new map redrawing Idaho’s 35 legislative districts, finding that four separate lawsuits against the Idaho Commission for Reapportionment failed to show that the way the map split some counties was unreasonable. The unanimous ruling was written by Justice John Stegner. Commissioners in Ada County also sued over the number of county splits, and Spencer Stucki, a Chubbuck resident, sued to challenge the way districts are redrawn in southeastern Idaho. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe in northern Idaho and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in southern Idaho filed a lawsuit as well, contending that the map wrongly split their respective reservations into different districts without regard for the fact that they are each “communities of interest” that should be maintained together as much as possible. In the ruling, the Idaho Supreme Court acknowledged the difficult job faced by the redistricting commission, especially given Idaho’s unique geography and the different federal and state redistricting rules at play. “Navigating this tension is no easy feat,” Stegner wrote, calling the work a “delicate balancing act.” “To perform that balancing act as quickly and thoroughly as the Commission did, resulting in a legislative plan with unanimous bipartisan support on behalf of all six commissioners, is certainly laudable,” Stegner wrote.

Missouri: A bipartisan coalition seeking to change how Missouri elects its top state officials has filed a lawsuit against Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft. The legal action by the team is focused on a maneuver Ashcroft could use in their bid to ask voters if they want to switch to a ranked choice voting system for electing statewide officials. The lawsuit, filed by attorney David Roland, raises concerns that Ashcroft will use a provision in state law to put the ballot question on the low-turnout August primary election rather than the November 2022 general election, when a larger share of voters go to the polls. Ashcroft, whose primary job is to oversee state elections and conduct other mostly clerical duties of state government, has injected himself into the debate by saying he opposes the idea. A spokesman said Ashcroft has not made a decision on how the signatures would be counted because the office has not yet received the signatures. The lawsuit says Ashcroft could move to fast track the referendum by altering the way signatures are typically counted when he certifies whether enough were collected to put a question on the statewide ballot. The lawsuit asks Cole County Circuit Judge Cotton Walker to require the secretary of state to introduce and then follow a formal rule-making process to establish how the sampling is conducted. “The secretary can arbitrarily determine on which initiatives to utilize random sampling. And because there are no promulgated rules, the secretary can use an opaque process to deny plaintiff access to the ballot,” the lawsuit notes.

North Carolina: The N.C. State Board of Elections and the Public Interest Legal Foundation have reached a settlement for the board to disclose records relating to foreigners registering and voting. The state elections board, PILF says in a news release, agreed to settle the case after a federal appellate court ruled that the registration act requires disclosure of documents relating to noncitizens registering and voting. The terms of the settlement also included an agreement to pay a portion of PILF’s attorneys fees. PILF is touting the settlement as a win for election transparency and the National Voter Registration Act, which requires election officials to allow inspection of all records related to the maintenance of the voter rolls. PILF, the release says, filed the lawsuit against the elections board in June 2019 for failing to disclose records showing noncitizens’ registration and voting. The lower court dismissed the complaint, saying that PILF could not obtain the records. In May 2021, PILF won its appeal to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court struck down the state’s mail voting law, saying the state constitution requires voters to cast ballots in person unless they meet specific requirements. The court notably did not rule against the merits of mail voting and its expansion — it focused instead on how that expansion occurred, saying the constitution must first be amended to allow it. “No-excuse mail-in voting makes the exercise of the franchise more convenient and has been used four times in the history of Pennsylvania,” Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote for the court. “Approximately 1.38 million voters have expressed their interest in voting by mail permanently. If presented to the people, a constitutional amendment … is likely to be adopted. But a constitutional amendment must be presented to the people” before legislation like Act 77 can take effect. Act 77 was negotiated by Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and was passed with widespread bipartisan support in 2019. It was the largest change to Pennsylvania election law in generations. In addition to the massive expansion of mail voting, the law extended the voter registration deadline from 30 days before Election Day to 15, and it removed the straight-ticket option that allowed voters to vote once for a political party and have that choice apply to every race on the ballot. By overturning the law in its entirety, the ruling would roll back all those changes. The decision was 3-2, with three Republican judges striking the law over the dissent of two Democratic ones. The state has filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has shut down an appeal by Democratic judicial candidate Zachary Cohen. It was earlier this month the court ruled hundreds of undated ballots from November’s election should not be counted. A decision needed to be made over 261 votes that were dated by the post office and submitted on time but were not dated on the return envelope. The Lehigh County elections board initially approved those votes. “The local judge thought that was sufficient but by the Supreme Court now ruling that it won’t take the case, they are saying no it wasn’t,” said Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong. After all this, Armstrong believes the state needs to come up with better instructions for the voting public moving forward. “They needed to put more exact rules in place which left a lot of things for the local counties to have this interpretation,” Armstrong noted. A bipartisan group of Lehigh County voters asked a federal court for an emergency injunction Monday to stop the Lehigh County Board of Elections from certifying November’s results on Tuesday. According to the filing, plaintiffs Linda Migliori, Francis J. Fox, Richard E. Richards, Kenneth Ringer and Sergio Rivas are among the 257 Lehigh County voters who did not write a date next to their signature on their mail-in ballots’ return envelope. In addition to asking the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to delay the certification, it asks the court to ensure the 257 ballots are counted. In the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the five voters, plaintiffs argue that discarding the ballots amounts to “disenfranchisement” that will “cause irreparable harm.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court took control of a redistricting lawsuit and will now decide how the state’s congressional districts will be drawn for the next decade. A lower court had been poised to select a new map from among 13 proposals this week because the normal redistricting process between the governor and state legislature had broken down. Now the high court will instead make the decision, exercising its “extraordinary jurisdiction” power to take over any case. That will likely speed up the selection of a final map, which was the stated goal of the plaintiffs who asked the Supreme Court to step in. The clock is ticking — there are less than four months until the May 17 primary — and uncertainty around district boundaries has kept candidates, voters, and elections administrators in limbo. The court cited both “the impasse between the legislative and executive branches” and the election timeline in its order.

Wisconsin: Absentee ballot drop boxes will continue to be allowed in Wisconsin for the state’s Feb. 15 primary following a ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Justices also agreed to hear an expedited appeal of the case, meaning they’re likely to decide sooner rather than later whether drop boxes will be allowed for the state’s higher-turnout elections in August and November. The state Supreme Court was asked to weigh in on drop boxes following a flurry of lower court rulings this month put their future in doubt. A coalition of groups including Disability Rights Wisconsin, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice appealed, arguing in part that the ruling had “created a mess” because it was handed down too close to Wisconsin’s Feb. 15 spring primary. A unanimous state appeals court agreed, issuing a stay of Bohren’s ruling that would keep drop boxes in use, at least in February. WILL appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court, and while justices didn’t issue a final decision in the case, a majority ruled that it was too close to the Feb. 15 primary to change the rules for voting by banning drop boxes. While the majority opinion was unsigned, it was supported by liberal Justices Ann Walsh Bradley, Rebecca Dallet and Jill Karofsky, and concurred in by conservative swing Justice Brian Hagedorn. Hagedorn wrote separately to explain that regardless of the merits of the case, it was too close to an election to change the rules for voting. “Whether the circuit court’s decision to deny a stay constituted an erroneous exercise of discretion or not, further judicial relief would be inappropriate at this time,” Hagedorn wrote. “As a general rule, this court should not muddy the waters during an ongoing election.”

Dane County Judge Rhonda Lanford has ruled an immigrants’ rights group can join a lawsuit challenging the subpoena power of a Republican hired to investigate the 2020 election. Lanford granted a request to intervene in the case filed by attorneys for Voces de la Frontera, which was recently subpoenaed by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman. Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly hired Gableman to lead a taxpayer-funded investigation of the 2020 presidential election at a cost of up to $676,000. In a court hearing Wednesday, Voces de la Frontera attorney Dan Lenz argued the group was raising some of the same issues as the Wisconsin Elections Commission. “They all get to the same question which is: What are the rules for these subpoenas?” Lenz, an attorney for the liberal firm Law Forward, said. George Burnett, the attorney for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, argued allowing Voces to join the case would slow it down, which could defeat the purpose of Gableman’s investigation.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

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