Thursday, March 17, 2022

Electionline Weekly March-17-2022

Legislative Updates

Alabama: The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would make it a crime for state and county election officials to accept money or services from private groups or individuals to help with election-related expenses and with voter education, outreach, and registration. The bill is by Rep. Wes Allen, a Republican from Troy and candidate for secretary of state. The House passed the bill 72-28 with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposed. It moves to the Senate. The vote came after the Republican majority voted to end debate on the bill. HB 194, bill says: “Notwithstanding any other law, no state or local public official responsible for the conduct of an election, nor his or her employee, may solicit, accept, or use any donation in the form of money, grants, property, or personal services from an individual or a nongovernmental entity for the purpose of funding election-related expenses or voter education, voter outreach, or voter registration programs.” A violation of the law would be a misdemeanor. Several organizations including the League of Women Voters of Alabama, Black Votes Matter and the ACUL of Alabama testified against the bill.

Alabama state law allows county and state elections, ending in a tie vote, to be decided by drawing lots or similar random methods. But state law does not require the same in municipal races or runoffs whenever a tie occurs. A special election, or a second runoff, would take place. Under HB144 settling a tied municipal election would be done through lots similar to state and county elections. Secretary of State John Merrill supports the legislation, Merrill said the advantage of HB144 is to save on the costs of a municipality holding a special election. A fiscal note attached to the bill says that a cost savings would be realized through HB144, but an exact amount was “undetermined.” The estimate to hold a special election in Mobile, for instance, is around $134,000. The bill is awaiting consideration before a Senate committee, and Merrill said he is hopeful it gets a hearing this week.

Arizona: The Senate voted down a plan to require the state auditor general to conduct an exhaustive review following every election. The audit bill would have appropriated nearly $4 million a year for a staff of 29.25 full-time equivalent positions to conduct an audit of nearly every aspect of the election in Maricopa and Pima counties as well as two randomly selected smaller counties. The bill would have essentially made the Senate Republicans’ 2020 election review a permanent fixture following elections, but would have put it in the hands of a respected government agency. The bill also would have required the public release of ballot images stored by the machines that count them and made changes to the procedures for keeping voter registration rolls up to date. The measure failed when all 14 Democrats and two Republicans voted against it.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has passed a bill that requires voters to provide satisfactory evidence of U.S. citizenship to cast a ballot. It also requires proof of residency within the state. The measure also makes it a felony for election workers to process incomplete voter applications, or knowingly register non-citizens. After passing the House, the measure now needs to be approved by the full Senate.

Colorado: Colorado Democrats introduced a bill that aims to shore up election security further in Colorado in the face of alleged security compromises in Mesa and Elbert counties by the clerk and recorders in those counties. SB22-153, called the Colorado Election Security Act, is sponsored by Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, and Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver. It is a measure that Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold has pushed for in the wake of the alleged breaches of election equipment in Mesa and Elbert counties, which state and federal investigators are looking into. The measure, as introduced, would strengthen some existing security laws and add new ones to try to better keep people from potentially compromising election systems, including making accessing voting equipment without proper authorization, or publishing confidential election information like system passwords, a class 5 felony. Supporters of the newly introduced Senate bill say it is an attempt to push back at the election conspiracy theories that have permeated facets of the Republican party in Colorado and across the country.

A GOP-heralded bill aimed at limiting the average voter’s ability to submit an early ballot by mail in Colorado has failed in committee. The main goal of HB22-1204, introduced by Rep. Ron Hanks, was to limit both the option to partake in early voting and the option to vote by mail in Colorado. The bill was postponed indefinitely in the House State, Civic, Military and Veterans Affairs committee. This restriction on voters would have been compounded with the execution of the bill’s measure that would have required the secretary of state to withdraw from any electronic registration information systems within 30 days of the bill’s implementation.

Connecticut: By a 126-12 vote, House passed a bill that redefines “sickness” in general rather than a personal “illness” as an appropriate excuse for absentee voting. Under the bill, “An Act Revising Certain Absentee Voting Eligibility Statutes,” rather than referring to an individual voter’s specific illness, the statutes would just say “sickness.” With the broader term, the sickness excuse could apply to fear of catching a disease like COVID-19 and allow for caretakers to vote absentee, House leadership said during a news conference Wednesday morning. The summary of the bill describes the language that would be changed in the statutes: “qualified voters may vote by absentee ballot if they are unable to appear at their polling place during voting hours because of (1) sickness, rather than because of their own illness, or (2) physical disability, rather than because of their own physical disability.” The bill also will make it so people don’t have to be away from the town where they’re registered to vote all day to vote absentee, and can instead be gone for just part of the day. Members of the military, election workers and people with religious reservations can vote absentee as well. The state Senate is expected to vote on the measure next week.

Delaware: The Senate Elections and Government Affairs Committee has approved Senate Bill 233 which will require Delaware cities and towns to use the state’s voter registration system for local elections. Proponents say the bill will increase voter turnout and eliminate a problem wherein voters arrive to vote in municipal elections only to be turned away because they did not know they had to register with the town. Opponents say the bill infringes on municipalities’ autonomy and that cities should be able to decide how to run their own elections. The bill has exceptions that provide for local control, including a provision that allows municipalities to maintain their own voter rolls for non-resident voters like business owners and seasonal-resident property owners.

Georgia: An elections bill that would authorize paper ballot inspections and GBI fraud investigations cleared its committee, setting up a likely vote in the state House within days. The committee vote was split along party lines, with Republicans saying the legislation would improve security and Democrats criticizing another round of changes to voting rules following last year’s sweeping elections overhaul. The 39-page Georgia elections measure, House Bill 1464, focuses on election security after last year’s 98-page bill limited drop boxes, required more ID for absentee voting and allowed state takeovers of local election boards. Under the legislation, original paper ballots would become public records available for members of the public to request and review. Under current law, ballots can only be unsealed by a judge’s order, though digital ballot images are already available. The GBI would gain jurisdiction to investigate election cases and subpoena records, supplementing investigators in the secretary of state’s office. The bill also would restrict nonprofit funding for elections offices, require chain-of-custody paperwork when election officials handle ballots and make it a felony to threaten violence against poll workers and election officials. The bill was approved by the House on a 98-73 party line vote.

Idaho: Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, who is running for Idaho Secretary of State in this spring’s primary elections, is making her third attempt to make widespread changes to voter registration and identification laws in the name of election security. Moon sponsored House Bill 761. The House State Affairs Committee voted to put it on a fast-track and send it straight to the floor of the Idaho House of Representatives, skipping the committee public hearing process. Moon’s new 21-page bill would make several changes if it is passed into law. Some of the changes include: Student IDs will no longer be accepted to vote, as they are in current law; Voters will no longer have the option to sign a sworn affidavit at the polls to verify their identity; A concealed weapons permit would now be accepted for voting; To register on Election Day at the polls, voters would need to bring additional documents to prove their citizenship, address verification and identification, such as a U.S. passport or birth certificate, a utility bill (not including cell phones) that is no more than six months old or a lease agreement or mortgage and a current Idaho driver’s license or active duty United States military ID card. The bill would also create a $200,000 fund to pay for state identification cards that would be accepted for voting and available free of charge for people who do not have a driver’s license or one of the other accepted forms of identification. The bill passed in a 47-21 vote. If passed by both chambers, it would go into law on July 1.

Two bills proposing sweeping changes to Idaho’s voting laws were killed in a Senate committee, amid an outcry from county clerks, voting rights advocates, a victim of domestic violence and others. With numerous similar bills pending, lawmakers are now discussing a possible interim study of Idaho’s election laws. Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, sponsor of both bills and a candidate for Idaho Secretary of State, said her bills would “make sure we don’t have the problems that we see across the country.” She was particularly critical of absentee voting, saying it’s an avenue for fraud. SB 1375, sought to ban ballot drop boxes; alter Idaho’s voter identification rules in numerous ways, including prohibiting the use of student or military ID’s and ending the use of affidavits for voters who don’t bring their ID, which she termed “not a safe system;” require proof of identity, residence and citizenship both to register to vote and at the polls; require a new application for an absentee ballot for each election with proof of identity, residence and citizenship; and require anyone registering to vote electronically or by mail to first vote in person before they’re allowed to vote by absentee ballot. SB 1376, was an anti-“ballot harvesting” bill that would make it a crime for anyone other than the voter’s caregiver, family member or household member to deliver their ballot, and for anyone to deliver more than six ballots including their own. It also would add new requirements for an affidavit on the envelope from the person delivering the ballot and require that person to show a photo ID if they’re delivering the ballot in person.

Illinois: Lawmakers are considering a bill, SB 828, that would allow people to vote while serving a felony sentence in county jails or state or federal prisons. The same bill failed last year, coming up three votes short in the Democratic-controlled Illinois House, but voting advocates say they hope the vote will go differently this year. House sponsor La Shawn K. Ford, a Democrat who represents the state’s 8th District, said he hasn’t given up hope that it could still be passed by the end of the month. If it makes it through the House, the bill will likely pass in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats and already approved it last year. Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, has not yet said whether he would sign the bill.

A bill in the House would allow the voters with disabilities to use their assistive technology to cast their ballot remotely, similar to vote by mail. It would go into effect for the November 2022 general election. However, blind community members argue this should go into effect in time for the June 28 primary. “There’s no reason, in my opinion, this could not be done in June,” witness Ray Campbell said. He cited several federal laws that require accessible voting, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. Bill sponsor Rep. Katie Stuart said she shares the desire to implement electronic return voting. The bill previously passed unanimously out of the Senate and now is waiting in the House Ethics and Elections Committee. There’s a deadline to have all bills out of committee by next Friday.

Indiana: Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a bill recently that requires all counties using MicroVote voting machines to have a paper trail before the next presidential election in 2024. More than half of the counties in Indiana now use MicroVote voting machines – machines that have no paper record showing votes cast, making it impossible for election workers or outside officials to do a risk-limiting audit following an election, or to recount votes in the event of a close election or a legal contest. The new law requires counties using MicroVote machines to have external printers for all of these machines by July 1, 2024 – printers called vvpats, for voter verified paper audit trail. Before the bill being signed this week, counties had until December 2029 under state law to either replace their MicroVote voting machines or buy vvpats for all of them.

Kansas: By a 27-11 vote, the Senate approved a senator’s efforts to ensure all voting systems in Kansas use a paper ballot with a distinctive watermark. Senate Bill 389, introduced by Sen. Richard Hildebrand, R-Galena, also requires a hand audit of these ballots after the election. Currently, Kansas requires election clerks to physically stamp each ballot, but Hildebrand brought the bill to ensure human error does not come into play. In a hearing earlier this month, voting rights advocates raised concerns about the impact of the bill on Kansans with disabilities and the cost for counties to print new ballots. The concerns were echoed by Senate Democrats who said this would not address any real issue. The state would not incur any costs, although counties would incur costs related to ballot printing and additional wages for election board workers. A provision in the measure authorizes a risk-limiting audit. This provides a confidence assessment for each race to allow election offices to focus their attention where it is needed most.

Kentucky: House Bill 564 and Senate Bill 216 both want to make it illegal for election voting machines to be connected to the internet. Secretary of State Michael Adams said that’s already in practice in the commonwealth, but writing it in law can help dispel future allegations. House Bill 564 would also make it a Class D felony if someone does connect one to the internet. The Senate’s bill proposes requiring clerks switch to only paper ballots by Jan. 1, 2024. It would also double the number of counties that get audited and it could add surveillance cameras to watch ballots overnight. The cameras would not watch how people vote. Senate Bill 216 would also remove credit cards as a valid form of ID for a Kentucky voter. Adams said only 167 voters used this method in 2020, so he doesn’t see it being harmful. He also said if someone has a problem paying for a photo ID, his office can help get them one for free. House Bill 564 would boost the number of days for in-person absentee early voting, require the voter to be a U.S. citizen and further define “election officers” to protect them from threats and intimidation.

Maine: Portland’s Charter Commission advanced a proposal that would allow noncitizen residents to vote in municipal elections. While the group was largely in agreement that immigration status shouldn’t prevent someone from voting, the group’s legal advisor expressed doubts about the city’s ability to extend voting rights in this way. The Commission voted 10 to 2 in support of the universal resident voting proposal. The measure now heads to the commission’s legal advisors to draft the official language, and will ultimately be put to voters as a ballot question. Maine state law requires residents to be U.S. citizens in order to cast ballots in municipal elections. Attorney Jim Katsiaficas, the commission’s legal advisor, said the question is whether local governments can overrule state law based on their home rule authority. The commission will have to vote on the measure again after attorney Katsiaficas drafts the precise language that will be submitted to the city council along with the group’s other recommendations. Those recommendations will then be presented to voters as ballot questions.

Michigan: House lawmakers approved a series of proposals that would tighten voting rules and restrict ballot access. The measures would limit absentee ballot mailings, require physical signatures on absentee ballot applications, bar outside funding for elections, expand poll watchers’ access and subject poll workers’ party affiliation to public inspection. The package — similar to measures already vetoed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last year — will almost certainly fail according to Bridge Michigan. The bills also received opposition from Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office. Opponents of the measures have argued the bills could mean more workload on local clerks, according to a House fiscal analysis of one measure.

House Bill 5288, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Beeler, R-Fort Gratiot, would require those who wish to vote absentee to physically sign their ballot applications instead of offering electronic signatures. It would also allow voters to apply for absentee ballots in person, by mail, email or fax. The absentee ballot application would not be made available under this bill more than 75 days ahead of an election. There is no limit on when ballots can be sent out under the current law.

House Bill 4876, sponsored by Alexander, would require poll workers to disclose to the public their political party affiliations, which they currently disclose on their applications for the position submitted to local clerks. The bill would require applicants to attest to their party affiliations and make that information available to local political party chairs and the public.

House Bill 4897, carried by Rep. Julie Calley, R-Portland, would allow party committees, organizations or “interested citizens” to appoint additional poll watchers at stations where absentee ballots are processed and at local clerks’ offices at any given time during an election day. Political candidates, who are not currently allowed to serve as poll watchers, would be allowed to do so as long as it’s outside the jurisdiction they run in.

House Bill 5268, also sponsored by Calley, would prohibit a local clerk’s office from sending out absentee ballots unless they had been requested by email, mail, fax or in person. The bill would ban the Secretary of State’s office from giving out absentee ballots. Currently, the law leaves it to the discretion of clerks to send out unsolicited absentee ballot applications.

House Bill 5253, by Rep. Sarah Lightner, R-Springport, would prohibit the Secretary of State and local election officials from accepting any election-related equipment as gifts. That would include tabulators, voting booths, and absent voter ballot drop boxes.

House Democrats have introduced a 9-bill package that would allow for early in-person voting, prohibit petition signature gatherers from making false statements and ban guns from polling locations. The package would require nine days of early in-person voting for eight hours a day and prohibit petition signature gatherers from making misleading statements about the petition while speaking with signers. The bills also would codify in state law several rules Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has attempted to usher in before and after the November 2020 presidential election. Those bills include a process for clerks to verify signatures on absentee voter ballots and applications, requirements that clerks notify voters of a potential signature issue and the creation of an online absentee ballot application system that allows for the online tracking of absentee ballots. The legislation also would prohibit the possession of a firearm inside a polling location or within 100 feet of a polling location, a rule Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel tried to put in place before the November 2020 election. The legislation also is expected to require the state to pay for special state legislative elections, rather than have the local municipalities pay for the election, and prohibit pre-registered voter information for voters under the age of 18 to be accessed through a public record request.

Mississippi: A proposal that would clarify how some formerly convicted felons have their voting rights restored is hanging on by a thread in the Mississippi Legislature. House Bill 630, which would have allowed former felons who have had their crimes expunged to automatically gain their voting rights back, died in committee last week. But House Judiciary B Chairman Nick Bain, R-Corinth, slipped the felony expungement provision into an unrelated bill — Senate Bill 2066. The original intent of that bill was to increase the salaries of district attorneys in the state. “They (district attorneys) are not too happy about it,” Bain said. “But none of them have said they disagree with the bill.” Current state law requires a person to petition a court to expunge a crime from their criminal record five years after they have completed their sentence requirements and paid all of their fines. But some legislators are claiming that there are some circuit clerks who have not acknowledged expungement orders as sufficient evidence to grant suffrage back to people who try to register to vote again. “This bill takes a very tiny baby step and clarifies that once a person has had an expungement, they are entitled to have the right to vote,” Rep. Shanda Yates, I-Jackson, said at a committee meeting earlier this year. The legislation will head to a conference committee, so the final details will be worked out toward the end of the session and come back before both chambers for a vote.

Missouri: The Legislature is taking another shot at requiring voters to present a photo ID before they cast their ballots. The House voted 96-35 to approve a bill requiring an approved photo identification, such as a non-expired driver’s license or a state-issued ID in order to vote. The bill now goes to the Senate. In addition to in-person voters, the new requirements would apply to those voting absentee. The bill also creates a process in which a person without a photo ID could vote through a provisional ballot. The voter would be required to fill out an affidavit before casting a ballot. The affidavit allows the voter to return the same day with a valid photo ID for their vote to count. Alternatively, an election official would be able to verify a voter’s identity by comparing their signature on the affidavit to an on-file signature. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Simmons, R-Washington, said the state has an easy process for residents to get a photo ID that’s acceptable for voting. The House on Thursday also passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would put the same question, requiring a photo ID to vote, to voters in the November election.

Nevada: Nye County commissioners voted 5-0 to have the 2022 primary and general elections use only paper ballots and count those ballots by hand — the latest response by a rural Nevada county to greatly overhaul election administration in response to unproven conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. Republican Commissioner Debra Strickland’s request for the agenda item points to “concerns about the integrity of the voting process” raised by many Nye County citizens and states that it “will help reassure voters that their voice is heard, and their votes are accurately recorded.” Strickland told The Nevada Independent in an interview Monday that the proposal would eliminate the use of the county’s Dominion Voting Systems electronic machines during the elections, if accepted by Nye County Clerk Sandra Merlino. “No one in the state of Nevada does this,” Merlino said. “They don’t hand count and use only paper ballots.”

New Hampshire: The House passed a handful of voting bills this week, with bipartisan support:

Over-voted ballots – ballots that have corrections, stray marks, or too many selections – would be counted by hand if House Bill 1163 becomes law. The aim is to create a standard among towns that use machine scanners, which accept these ballots but don’t count them, and towns that don’t use machine scanners, where the ballots are already being hand-counted.

House Bill 1457 directs town clerks to store and log ballot materials after an election in case of a recount. The version passed by the House on Tuesday was pared back from the original bill, which would’ve had ballots shipped along with a police escort to Concord for storage in a secure room with barred windows, motion-activated cameras, and restricted access. And recounts that do happen would be expanded to include a partial recount of one or two additional offices, such as votes for president, U.S. senator or representative, governor, or executive councilor, if House Bill 1467, which passed the House, becomes law.

New Jersey: The Paterson City Council advanced an ordinance authorizing early voting in this May’s municipal election, at their Tuesday Regular meeting. If approved at their March 22 meeting, the Ordinance will authorize an early voting period for the election in accordance with the provisions of the Early Voting Act. The Ordinance was since amended to include one voting site in each Ward to accommodate Paterson residents. As of now, it is unknown where the locations will be. Those who were opposed to putting it on the agenda in the workshop meeting on March 1, voted in favor of the Ordinance due to the amendments of the site locations. If the Ordinance for Second Reading is approved, voting will begin three days before election day which is May 10.

Ohio: In a 26-2 vote, the Senate finished off a measure to change deadlines for overseas and military Ohioans to submit their absentee ballots. The body concurred with changes by the House, and granted Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s request to allow absentee ballots to be sent up to 30 days before the election and to expedite delivery of those ballots to and from the voters as part of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. The amendment was made to a previously passed bill, Senate Bill 11, which was originally written to designate a week for congenital heart defect awareness. The bill included a $200,000 appropriation for the secretary of state’s office. It has been signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine.

Vermont: Bill S.229 aimed to have ranked choice ballots in the hands of voters by the 2024 primary, but Secretary of State Jim Condos said the timeline is unrealistic given how busy his office is with this year’s elections. “I worry that this on-ramp before us is too short to replicate these enhancements,” Condos said. “As a former legislator, I believe strongly it would be irresponsible to pass legislation this year that you know you have to come back and fix next year.” Condos has been a vocal advocate of ranked choice voting. As a state legislator, he spent several years trying to build support for the system, but never managed to get the momentum his bills needed. That change in outlook was due to Condos learning that a ten year contract for the state’s election management system will expire January 2024, and the process for finding a new one could take up to 18 months. The bill failed to go to a vote in committee, meaning that ranked choice voting in Vermont has suffered the latest in a long line of setbacks.

Lawmakers have started a process to override the governor’s veto on legislation to give younger Brattleboro voters the ability to participate in local elections. The Vermont House of Representatives voted 102 to 47 to override the veto. One-hundred votes were needed and now, the Senate will require 20 votes in favor. “Youth are affected by local political issues as much as anyone,” Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, D-Windham-2-1, said Friday in a speech from the floor. “They also work without limits on hours and pay taxes on their income, and can drive in most states. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds deserve the right to vote on issues that affect them. In paying income taxes, youth are contributing money to a system in which they have no voice.” Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the bill on Feb. 28, the day before annual Town Meeting Day in Vermont, citing concerns about how the charter change would further contribute to a patchwork of age requirements in laws. Kornheiser said Brattleboro residents approved a charter change that would lower the voting age in a 908-408 vote in March 2019.

Legal Updates

Colorado: Elbert County Clerk Dallas Schroeder and Douglas County Clerk Merlin Klotz, along with a few Republican County Commissioners from Park and Rio Blanco counties are suing Secretary of State Jena Griswold for access to election servers. They want to see if the election equipment software update, known as a “Trusted Build” deleted election data. “What we’re asking the court to do is allow us to get an image of the system as it exists today,” said John Case, the attorney representing Schroeder, Klotz and the county commissioners. Schroeder admitted in an affidavit last month that he made his own copies of his voting machine services before the Trusted Build. “I made a forensic image of everything on the election server, and I saved the image to a secure external hard drive,” Schroeder wrote. “Let’s see if the update erased records, that’s all we want to know,” said Case. “The Secretary (of State) is preventing that audit from taking place. She won’t allow the county clerks to hire their own experts to look at the system.” Last year, the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office approved emergency rules limiting who can access voting machine servers. They have to pass a criminal background check and be an employee of the clerk’s office, Secretary of State’s Office, voting system provider or an election judges. Denver District Judge David Goldberg said it would be more than a week before he decides if this case continues. “Politics has no place in this courtroom and we will look at it from a legal standpoint,” said Goldberg.

Indiana: U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson has struck down Indiana’s mandatory absentee voter traveling board as discriminating against voters with disabilities in advance of the May 2022 election. Blind and low-vision sued the state of Indiana, alleging the state’s voting system violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and deprives them of their right to vote independently and privately. Magnus-Stinson granted in part, and denied in part, a motion for a preliminary injunction. “The motion is granted to the extent that defendants are ordered to make the use of a traveling board permissive, rather than mandatory, for voters with print disabilities seeking to vote absentee by mail in the upcoming May 3 primary election,” according to the court’s order. Voters with print disabilities may complete mail-in ballots with the assistance of an individual of their own choosing, with certain limits the judge said. The person providing the assistance cannot be an employer or union officer of the voter, nor can they be an agent of the employer or the union. Further, the state must notify county election boards that they must accept and count such ballots if they are otherwise valid, the judge wrote.

Maryland: The Maryland Court of Appeals postponed the state’s primary election from June 28 to July 19, placing it in the middle of summer vacation season and shortening the general election campaign. The state’s high court acted as a series of continuing legal challenges to Democratic-created maps have created uncertainty about what the final districts will look like in state legislative, congressional and some county council districts. Those uncertainties made it increasingly difficult for elections officials to plan. In an order signed by Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty, the court also pushed the filing deadline for candidates from March 22 to April 15. That deadline already had been postponed once, amid legal challenges to redistricting plans. The primary will feature nominating races for governor, a U.S. Senate seat, all eight congressional seats, state delegates and senators, and a number of county and local positions.

Michigan: Kathy Funk, election supervisor in Genesee County has been charged by Michigan’s Attorney General with ballot tampering. The tampering occurred in 2020 when she was Flint Township clerk. Funk narrowly won the August Democratic primary to hold on to the clerk’s job. After the primary, Funk reported a break in at the township office. She claimed a seal on a ballot container had been broken. But after a Michigan State Police investigation, the Attorney General’s office now alleges Funk purposely broke the seal. Under state law, votes in a container with a broken seal cannot be counted in a recount. Funk is facing ballot tampering and misconduct in office charges. Each a five-year felony.

Court of Claims Judge Thomas C. Cameron dismissed a lawsuit challenging the legality of $16 million donated to nearly 500 Michigan clerks for the 2020 election. Republican voters from Macomb, Livingston and Oakland counties in October 2020 filed a lawsuit in Michigan claiming the funds amounted to a get-out-the-vote campaign focused “primarily on urban and Democrat jurisdictions.” Cameron, appointed to the court by former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in 2017, didn’t address the merit of the arguments, but said the plaintiffs didn’t have grounds to file the lawsuit and that the matter was mostly moot, since it focused on the 18-month-old election. “Notably, it appears to be undisputed at this time that no counties or jurisdictions — in particular, the jurisdictions in which plaintiffs reside — were denied access to the funds at issue,” Cameron said in his opinion dismissing the lawsuit. “This undermines plaintiffs’ assertion of standing with respect to the constitutional violations they have alleged. In other words, without the targeted access to funds that was once alleged, plaintiffs fail to state an injury that is different from that of the citizenry at large.”

Minnesota: The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the state’s appeals court properly dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Minnesota Voters Alliance against Ramsey and Olmsted Counties as well as the City of Duluth over absentee ballot concerns. In the 25-page ruling, Justice Barry Anderson ruled that Ramsey and Olmsted Counties did not violate state statute in their processes of appointing deputy county auditors to help process absentee ballots during the 2020 election. The Minnesota Voters Alliance filed lawsuits in June and July 2020 arguing that statutory requirements for how election judges are appointed, specifically off approved partisan lists, also apply to deputy county auditors. But in the ruling, Anderson wrote the statute was clear in distinguishing between deputy county auditors and election judges and the restrictions that may or may not apply to the roles. While election judges need to be appointed from a list of candidates supplied by major political parties and must disclose their personal political affiliation, that is not the case for deputy county auditors serving on absentee ballot boards. The case reached the state’s highest court after the civil lawsuits against Ramsey and Olmsted counties, as well as lawsuits against the cities of Duluth and Minneapolis, were dismissed in September 2020 by district courts on the grounds that the Alliance had not proven a violation of duty clearly imposed by law, a public wrong that was specifically injurious to the Alliance or a lack of other adequate remedies.

Montana: Attorneys on either side of a consolidated lawsuit challenging new state election laws delivered arguments before Yellowstone County District Court Judge Michael Moses, with much of the debate centering on one critical question: Do the laws, passed by the Legislature last year, infringe on Montanans’ constitutional right to vote? The case is a combination of three lawsuits filed separately against Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen last year by the Montana Democratic Party, the Indigenous rights nonprofit Western Native Voice and the voting rights nonprofit Montana Youth Action, as well as four Montana tribal nations and several other state-based nonprofits. The lawsuits were merged in December, and together the plaintiffs have sought a court order blocking laws that ended same-day voter registration (House Bill 176), changed state voter ID requirements (Senate Bill 169), outlawed paid ballot collection (House Bill 530) and prevented election officials from distributing ballots to minors who will turn 18 within 30 days of Election Day (House Bill 506). Moses closed the hearing saying he had “a lot of work to do.” He did not indicate when he might issue a ruling on the injunction request.

Oregon: Josiah Samuel Bridges, 23, of Portland got probation and a stern talking-to from a judge after pleading guilty to trying to sell his 2020 presidential election ballot. Bridges had listed the ballot for sale that fall along with a pair of tennis shoes on the mobile marketplace OfferUp. He later told investigators he did it to pay his rent and because he didn’t like either candidate up for election, former President Donald Trump and winner Joe Biden, court documents show. He didn’t think anyone would actually take him up on it, said Amy Seely, a special prosecutor for the Oregon Department of Justice. But several concerned Oregonians reported the ballot offer to a tip line through the state Justice Department, so agents set up a sting and caught Bridges at a Fred Meyer in St. Johns, the court records show. Bridges initially tried to sell the signed ballot for $200, but an undercover agent negotiated it down to $125 and completed the transaction as other agents watched from nearby. Bridges said he didn’t know it was illegal to sell a ballot. He pleaded guilty to one count of illegal sale of election material, in addition to fourth-degree assault in a separate case. He was sentenced to three years of probation and 120 hours of community service.

Pennsylvania: A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed by the ACLU that had aimed to require Lehigh County to count 257 mail-in ballots from the 2021 general election that were disqualified because they were missing the handwritten date on the outer envelope. The ACLU had filed the lawsuit on behalf of five county residents who had not provided the handwritten date on the outer envelope. The five voters who filed suit had also asked the court to temporarily halt the county from certifying the results while the case is heard. The federal judge ruled that the handwritten date requirement does not pose an undue burden on the plaintiffs’ right to vote under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Texas: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals released three rulings this week, upholding Texas’ voting restrictions passed by GOP lawmakers. The first case concerns Texas’ House Bill 25, passed in 2017, which banned straight-ticket voting in the state. In their original suit, the plaintiffs argued this would violate the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. On appeal, the Secretary of State, John Scott, argued that the lawsuit is barred by sovereign immunity, and the plaintiffs failed to present a case that could overcome such protection. The appeals court agreed, finding that enforcement of the statute is the responsibility of local election officials and not the secretary of state. In the second case, plaintiffs argued that provisions of the election code that require voters to pay for postage, set postmark deadlines and create signature verification standards violate the First, Fourteenth and Twenty-Fourth Amendments. The Secretary of State moved to dismiss the claims on the ground of sovereign immunity. Denying the secretary’s motion to dismiss, the district court found that because the secretary is responsible for managing the state’s elections, he is the proper defendant in the suit. Scott immediately appealed the court’s denial of his sovereign immunity claim. Writing the court’s majority opinion, Stuart Duncan found that the secretary is not a proper defendant because he is not responsible for enforcing provisions of the election code when it comes to voting by mail. In this case, Duncan directed the lower court to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims outright, having found that Scott is not the proper defendant in this case as well. Finally, the court ruled nearly identically in a case filed by voting rights groups including the League of Women Voters of Texas, against the secretary of state over the state’s signature verification system. The plaintiffs, in that case, argued that the system violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court again denied the secretary of state’s motion to dismiss and issued an injunction in the plaintiff’s favor. The Appeals Court justices concluded that Scott is not responsible for enforcing the state’s signature verification system and therefore he is not the proper defendant in the case.

Vermont: Burlington City Council candidate Aleczander Stith is taking the Ward 7 election results to court, contending that the city may have violated election law by failing to contact voters who cast defective ballots. Stith, a Democrat, asked for a recount after losing the Town Meeting Day election to incumbent Councilor Ali Dieng, an independent, by just two votes. The recount, held at city hall on Monday, confirmed Dieng’s 795 to 793 victory. Stith filed his appeal in Chittenden Superior Court. At issue are seven ballots that local officials marked as “spoiled” and were not opened or counted on Town Meeting Day. City officials also didn’t consider them in the recount, despite a request from Stith’s attorney, Ed Adrian. All seven ballots were mailed in and were deemed defective because the voters didn’t sign the certification envelope; placed the ballot in the wrong envelope; or didn’t include a ballot at all.

The Vermont Supreme Court has ended Brian Judd’s bid to recount the ballots cast in the Ward 2 race he lost to Teddy Waszazak in March 2021. More than a year into what might have been Judd’s first two-year term on the City Council, he failed to persuade the state’s highest court that a superior court judge erred by denying his election-related appeal following a hearing last summer. Dissatisfied with Judge Robert Bent’s ruling, Judd took his man against machines appeal in an election that was close to the next level — representing himself in a Supreme Court appeal that produced a familiar result. In an unambiguous opinion that barely needed a fourth page, justices affirmed Bent’s months-old decision and ended Judd’s year-long quest to have the ballots cast in the Ward 2 race Waszazak won, 247-209, to secure his second two-year term on the council. The 38-vote margin was close, but well outside the 5% range that would have entitled Judd to the recount he requested, was denied, offered to pay for, and was denied again before filing the first of his legal appeals.

Virginia: A three-judge panel of the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has sent a case challenging the 2021 Virginia House elections back to a lower court to determine whether the Democratic activist behind the lawsuit has legal standing to sue. The court heard arguments last week from Paul Goldman, a lawyer and the former chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, and Virginia Solicitor General Andrew Ferguson after the state appealed a U.S. District Court’s ruling allowing the case to move forward. Goldman and Ferguson argued the case’s merits and whether Goldman demonstrated in his lawsuit how he was injured by the decision to hold last year’s House of Delegates elections under old district lines. The question before the appeals court was if Goldman had standing to sue members of the state’s Board of Elections and Virginia’s Elections Commissioner, a decision the judges punted back to the lower court. “It is apparent that a determination of the standing to sue issue ‘cannot be achieved simply by reviewing the plaintiffs’ pleadings and the limited record on appeal,’” the court wrote in an order.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

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