Thursday, May 5, 2022

Electionline Weekly May-5-2022

Legislative Updates

Florida: The City of St. Petersburg is moving to algin municipal elections with the county, state and federal elections which would provide an early voting option and could save the city over $1 million. During a Public Services & Infrastructure (PSI) meeting, city council members discussed a draft ordinance to change the city’s municipal election cycle. The potential charter amendment referendum follows a letter sent by the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Office (SOE) late last year affirming the SOE’s authority to decline the city’s request to provide an early voting option for its municipal elections. “By shifting the election schedule from 2023 to 2024 – that would open up a six-month window in which a person who found themselves drawn out of a district for which they wanted to run could move into that district and reestablish residency in time,” he said. “The ordinance is not a permanent solution, nor does it address all of the issues coming out of redistricting.” Despite those challenges, the idea of increasing voter turnout while also saving money outweighed any trepidation.

Michigan: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed a bill that would have changed Michigan’s voter registration form to require applicants to attest that they understand it is illegal to attempt to vote more than once in the same election. The bill would have specifically required adding a statement to the voter registration form for the applicant to acknowledge “that it is a felony to offer to vote or attempt to vote more than once at the same election in the same or another voting precinct.” “Every citizen of Michigan has a constitutionally guaranteed right to vote and should be free to exercise this right without obstruction,” Whitmer wrote in her veto letter. She said the legislation “is part of a larger package of election bills that were not negotiated and aim to restrict or chill access to the ballot.”

Whitmer has also signed an executive directive to boost voter registration in Michigan. The directive instructs all state departments and agencies to identify and assess potential opportunities to help eligible Michiganders register to vote. It also instructs the departments and agencies to help people in Michigan gain access to reliable information about voting. This includes displays in public spaces, printed materials, online information, public announcements, and social media posts. State departments and agencies will also have to consider which of their offices could help register voters by distributing vote by mail applications, helping people in Michigan complete voter registration forms, and accepting voter registration applications.

Missouri: Local election authorities would be barred from accepting donations from nonprofits or political organizations under a bill debated by the Missouri Senate The language was added by Sen. Bob Onder (R-Lake St. Louis) to House Bill 1606. It would restrict county clerks and boards of election commissioners from taking or accepting “funding, grants or gifts of any kind from any source other than from the governing board of a political subdivision, the state of Missouri or the federal government.” House Bill 2140, which contains similar language banning the accepting or spending of private money “for preparing, administering or conducting an election including registering voters” passed the House and was sent to the Senate.

The House approved House Joint Resolution 131 that proposes to modify the state constitution as follows: Providing that “only citizens of the United States” may vote in elections for which they are eligible (existing language specifies that “all citizens of the United States” may vote in elections for which they are eligible). Providing that voters “shall have only a single vote for each office or issue for which such voter is eligible to vote,” thereby barring the use of ranked-choice voting and other alternative voting systems. Requiring that all voting machines “shall be tested and certified as secure prior to each election.” Requiring that all voting machines must provide “an individual, permanent paper record for each vote cast,” which must be preserved for use in any election audit. The House approved HJR 131 with a 97-45 vote largely along party lines. The bill is now pending in the Missouri Senate, where it has been referred to the Local Government and Elections Committee. If the proposed amendment is approved by both chambers of the state legislature, it will go to the voters for final approval in November. A simple majority vote is required to amend the state constitution.

By a 96-47 vote, the House has voted again to require photo identification at the polls. The proposal advanced last week allows voters to cast provisional ballots if they don’t provide valid photo identification. Missouri voters in 2016 amended the Constitution to allow lawmakers to require photo identification to vote. But the Missouri Supreme Court in 2020 permanently blocked a central provision of the 2016 law that required voters who lacked a photo ID to make a sworn statement in order to cast a regular, nonprovisional ballot.

New Mexico: The Town of Taos Council passed an ordinance by unanimous vote to opt in to the Local Election Act during a meeting April 26. The ordinance aligns the town elections with the November elections of odd-numbered years and will see all councilmembers’ and the mayor’s terms cut short by nine weeks. The ordinance was moved up on the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, as many of the public comments submitted were regarding the possible adoption of the act. Every one of the 10 people who spoke or submitted a comment said they were in favor. In the March election, Town Clerk Francella Garcia said the town spent “almost $23,000.” She also noted the additional costs to the town. “It involved other departments than the clerk’s office,” she said, referencing the IT department, the facilities department, human resources, the GIS analyst along with legal and finance help. Taos County Clerk Anna Martinez, who will now run the elections for the town, said it would help to streamline the election process, as in Red River, which adopted the act in January of 2019. “It’s nice to combine it all into one,” she said.

Pennsylvania: Following the announcement by the Lehigh County district attorney that detectives would be assigned to monitor ballot drop boxes, State Reps. Mike Schlossberg, Peter Schweyer and Jeanne McNeill, all Democrats, say they plan to introduce legislation that makes it legal for spouses and blood relatives to deliver absentee or mail-in ballots for family members. “I don’t think anyone can stay with a straight face that there is any voter fraud of anything ridiculous going on,” Schlossberg told WLVR. “It’s just a husband and wife doing what they have done for years or for decades — doing errands like picking up the groceries or picking up a prescription at the drug store.” The lawmakers did not elaborate on when they expected a bill to be introduced. They said language is being drafted now.

Legal Updates

Arizona: Yavapai County Superior Court Judge John Napper heard arguments last week in the lawsuit brought against Secretary of State Katie Hobbs by Attorney General Mark Brnovich over the publication of the state’s elections procedure manual. According to the Associated Press, Napper seemed skeptical of Brnovich’s arguments, but did agree with Brnovich that at least some rules Hobbs included in the Election Procedures Manual she drafted last year were not legal. The judge said he wants a valid document in place soon. He seemed confounded, however, at many of the wholesale deletions Brnovich demanded, saying the attorney general gave no explanation for much of them and at least some seem to follow the law. “I need some explanation of why you think certain, all of it, specifics, why you think it should be out,” he told attorneys for Brnovich. Napper sided with Brnovich on a rule that allowed unmonitored ballot drop boxes, saying that seemed clearly outside of what the law required. But he said the attorney general’s demand that Hobbs provide a whole new section that outlines how signatures are verified didn’t pass muster. “The manual tracks the statute almost verbatim,” Napper said. “What I need from the attorney general first (is) why each of these provisions needs to be struck. That’s the starting point,” Napper said. “Some of the things that you say need to be struck, as I sit here right now I don’t see why they need to be struck.”

Georgia: Judges on the Georgia Court of Appeals questioned why they should allow a lawsuit alleging fraud in the 2020 election to continue after a lower court threw out the case. The appellate court hearing was the latest attempt by several voters to inspect paper absentee ballots in Fulton County so they can search for alleged counterfeit votes. Election investigators conducted their own review that couldn’t find any illegitimate ballots. “You’re alleging … that there are various discrepancies that caused some suspicion, at least in the minds of the plaintiffs, that there might have been some misconduct. But there’s no evidence that that’s actually occurred, right?” Presiding Judge Christopher McFadden said during the 30-minute oral argument. A superior court judge dismissed the case in the fall based on the legal principle of standing, finding that plaintiffs hadn’t suffered a specific injury that would give them a right to sue. On appeal, the plaintiffs say their votes would have been illegally diluted if there were counterfeit ballots. Defense attorney Don Samuel asked the appeals court to uphold the lower court’s ruling because the plaintiffs have failed to show they suffered any individual harm.

Montana: Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen’s office asked Supreme Court justices to stay a district court order that blocked two new regulations: one eliminating Election Day voter registration, and the other requiring voters using student IDs for identification to bring additional documents. Plaintiffs – including the Montana Democratic Party, tribal advocates and youth-voting groups – challenged the laws as unconstitutional restrictions on voting. They specifically argued the requirements would disproportionately affect Native Americans and young voters. In April, District Court Judge Michael Moses of Billings granted their request for a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of those laws until a final ruling on their constitutionality. Moses said his order would prevent possible “constitutional injury” to affected while the case is litigated. Jacobsen’s office said in their request for a stay that election officials across the state have already been trained on the new laws, and they have been doing outreach to voters explaining the new requirements. They noted that municipal elections were successfully conducted last year with the laws in place, and they argued allowing a change so close to an election would create unnecessary confusion.

Nevada: Republican activists in Clark and Washoe counties filed lawsuits against state and county election officials last month, arguing that election observation in 2020 was inadequate and seeking greater opportunities for “meaningful voter observation” this year. Specifically, they want provisions that would allow election observers in both counties to “visually inspect each ballot,” stand within 2 feet of any ballot-counting system and demand the counting process be stopped, if an observer affiliated with any political party has an issue they cannot resolve. Plaintiffs in both cases, who are represented by Adam Fulton from the Las Vegas-based Jennings & Fulton law firm, made identical claims — referencing alleged election misconduct and fraud during the 2020 election and arguing that observers in the state’s two most populous counties were denied “‘meaningful observation’ of the ballot counting process” in 2020. They argued that observers were placed too far to see the counting process, that ballot boxes were moved without giving observers the chance to review the ballots and that observers could see technological issues occur with the counting process but were provided no opportunity to understand those issues. With those obstacles in mind, they argued that “being ‘in the same room’ as the ballot processing operations does not equate to ‘meaningful observation’ as required by law.”

Virginia: Paul Goldman, a former chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party who is seeking Virginia House elections this year under new maps wants a federal judge to reject the attorney general’s office’s argument that his legal effort would also require the state Senate to have elections, calling it the state’s “latest red herring.” In its final motion to dismiss the case, Attorney General Miyares’ office argues Goldman has not provided evidence that he has personally suffered injury as a voter due to the decision to hold last year’s House elections under districts not updated with new population data. The state attorneys wrote in the filing that Goldman has refused to offer evidence that he voted in the last election, which they argue he must do to prove that his right to vote was injured. Goldman filed a brief calling for the state’s Department of Elections to provide the evidence and to share which state delegate represents him. Susan Beals, Virginia’s new elections commissioner, claims in a declaration attached to the motion to dismiss that she is unaware if Goldman voted in last year’s elections.

Wyoming: An attorney and former Democratic lawmaker filed suit over Wyoming’s voter ID law, arguing it violates multiple sections of the state’s constitution. The lawsuit alleges the law, which went into effect last year, is inconvenient and unnecessary. “(The voter ID law) trammels the constitutional right essential to suffrage both in passage and operation,” the suit states. The law, which requires voters to show ID at the polls, was passed in the 2021 legislative session and has been in effect for less than a year. “This is not the last century,” the lawsuit read. “The government needs to show why the first acceptable photo ID cannot display automatically to the poll workers when people vote, so voters can be welcomed and thanked for voting—rather than challenged.” The law was enacted via House Bill 75, whose prime sponsor was Casper Rep. Chuck Gray. Notably, 40 members of the House of Representatives and half of the 30-member Wyoming Senate signed on as co-sponsors.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

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