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Electionline Weekly March-18-2021

Legislative Updates

Alabama: The Constitution, Campaigns and Elections committee approved legislation from Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville), that would allow county absentee election managers to open additional places for people to cast absentee ballots. Shortly after, the committee approved a bill from Rep. Alan Baker (R-Brewton), to shorten the time to mail absentee voter applications from five days before an election to 10 days. Both bills passed on voice votes and head to the House for further consideration. Garrett’s bill would allow counties to designate places besides courthouses where individuals could turn in their absentee ballots. The absentee election manager would have to be present at the locations for the votes to be cast. Garrett said during the committee debate over the bill that people living in suburban Jefferson County had to travel. Baker’s legislation would change state law on absentee ballot applications. Alabama law requires all absentee ballot applications to be delivered five days before an election. Baker’s bill would require mailed applications to be delivered 10 days before an election. Absentee ballot applications could still be delivered in person up to five days before an election.

California: The Legislature is considering whether to make it more difficult for local election officials to reject ballots because a voter’s signature doesn’t exactly match what’s on file. Voters who cast ballots by mail must now sign their ballot. Election officials then compare that signature to the one in the voter’s registration file. Election officials can disqualify ballots if the signatures don’t match. The secretary of state’s office issued temporary rules for the November election presuming a voter’s signature was legitimate, making an exact match unnecessary. To reject a ballot, election officials had to believe “beyond a reasonable doubt” that signatures didn’t match. Those rules are set to expire in July. A bill before the California Legislature would make them permanent. Of the more than 17.7 million ballots Californians cast in the November general election, 49,816 ballots were rejected because a signature did not match. More than 86% of all ballots cast in that election were vote by mail. “This gives confidence to all Californians that their votes are counted,” said State Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park), the bill’s author

Colorado: The House State, Civic, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee voted 6-3 to move a proposal forward to the Appropriations Committee that would lower the threshold at which counties are required to provide sample ballots in multiple languages. Under the Voting Rights Act, that threshold sits at over 10,000 voting age citizens or over 5% of the total voting-age population in a county who speak a common language and do not speak English “very well” as defined by the American Community Survey. The bill would lower those standards to 2,000 voting-age citizens or 2.5% of the total voting-age population in a county. That would broaden the number of counties required to provide multilingual ballots from four: Denver, Conejos, Costilla and Saguache – to 22. The bill would also require the secretary of state’s office to set up a multilingual ballot hotline to provide access to translators by the November 2022 election. The bill won support from a number of advocacy groups and county clerks, including the top election officials in Denver, Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties. Adams County Clerk Josh Zygielbaum explained while his county was already moving to institute multilingual ballots, others might not because of costs. “Once this bill goes into effect, hopefully it goes into effect, those costs will actually be reimbursable through the secretary of state’s office, thereby making it easier for counties to actually afford from a cost perspective,” he said.

The House Finance Committee voted to approve a proposal from Rep. Chris Kennedy (D-Lakewood), seeking to increase access to ranked-choice voting at the local level. The bill also features Rep. Jeni Arndt (D-Fort Collins), Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg (D-Boulder), and Sen. Faith Winter (D-Westminster), as sponsors. Cities are already allowed to use ranked-choice voting, but only three actually do. That’s because locals often rely on their county clerks to administer elections, and county clerks are required under state law to administer standard first-past-the-post elections. Kennedy’s bill would allow cities who opt into instant runoff elections to continue to have their county clerks administer their elections. The proposal last month cleared the House State, Civic, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, which Kennedy chairs, before winning the approval of the Finance Committee on Thursday. It now heads to the Appropriations Committee.

Delaware: State Sen. Kyle Evans Gay (D-Talleyville) has introduced a bill that would create an automatic voter registration system through the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV). It would let all driver’s license or identification card applications serve as voter registration applications when the applicant shows proof of U.S. citizenship. People registered through the automatic system the bill would establish could opt out or affiliate with a political party through a follow-up mailer. They could also affiliate at a polling place during the next primary election after their registration. If passed, the bill would take effect two years after being signed by the Governor or five days after the state Election Commissioner certifies that the systems needed to implement it are functional, whichever comes first. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Elections & Government Affairs Committee. “Really this legislation is meant to set our system up for success today and success in the future,” Gay said. “In my mind, if we’re missing one potential voter, if we can improve the system and bring that person into the system and give them the ability to vote and participate, then we are doing something right.

Florida: Under legislation now under consideration by Florida lawmakers, county elections supervisors would be able to withhold information about the ever-present possibility of systems being hacked and voter records being altered. Voting rights groups, government watchdogs and members of Florida’s congressional delegation have pushed for greater transparency in disclosing those security breaches, but a measure by Sen. Doug Broxson (R-Gulf Breeze), would go the opposite direction. “We’ve seen in past elections a real invasion from outside sources to try to intimidate and change certain information,” Broxson said Tuesday in introducing the bill (SB 1704). “It happened in my county.” In its first committee hearing, the bill was cleared without debate or objection. It has two more committees before it reaches the Senate floor. Because the bill expands an existing public records exemption, it will need a two-thirds vote for final passage. The measure has the full backing of the statewide Florida Supervisors of Elections association, which has made it a legislative priority.

Georgia: Georgia Republicans have introduced yet another omnibus bill that would drastically change the state’s voting laws, this time transforming a two-page proposal about absentee applications into a 93-page omnibus released an hour before a committee meeting. As it passed the Senate, SB 202 would prohibit third-party groups from mailing multiple absentee applications to Georgians that have already requested, received or returned a mail-in ballot. Violators would face a fine. But Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) introduced a substitute that adds 50 other sections to the bill, including banning people from giving food and water to voters waiting in line, limiting early voting days for larger counties, and adding ID requirements to absentee ballots. According to Georgia Public Broadcasting, in Wednesday’s Special Committee on Election Integrity, Fleming walked through several additions to the bill but left some out. The first section reads that the General Assembly “finds and declares” a number of things about the 2020 election cycle and proclaims that “the changes made in this legislation in 2021 are designed to address the lack of elector confidence in the election system on all sides of the political spectrum, to reduce the burden on election officials, and to streamline the process of conducting elections in Georgia by promoting uniformity in voting.” The most controversial language in the bill would standardize early voting days and hours, forcing most counties to be open longer and add a weekend day of early voting, while preventing larger, more Democratic-leaning counties from having a full slate of weekend voting. Some of the eliminated days include the highest proportion of Black voters during early voting, and county officials large and small have expressed concerns with the changes.

Illinois: The Illinois House Ethics and Elections Committee advanced a bill Monday that would expand ballot drop boxes and curbside voting throughout the state. House Bill 1871 would make changes similar to those passed ahead of the 2020 presidential election during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill was introduced last month by Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville). Under HB 1871, Illinois may use federal funds distributed to states for election administration through the 2002 Help America Vote Act to create and maintain secure collection sites for mail ballots. If enacted, the legislation would allow for voters with temporary or permanent disabilities to engage in curbside voting on election day or on early voting days. A curb-side voting program must have at least two election judges, with at least one from the Democratic Party and one from the Republican party, present at each vehicle where curbside voting is taking place and the ballots must be filled out without interference from the election judges. The bill would also expand mail voting by mandating that all election authorities accept any mail ballot, even if it is returned with no postage or not enough postage. Election officials would also have the option to legally maintain postage-free collection sites where voters can return their mail ballots. The law would postmark ballots received after business hours as having arrived the next day, except for ballots dropped off after hours on election day, which will be treated as having arrived on election day.

Iowa: Iowa residents with felony convictions whose sentences have been discharged may regain voting rights automatically if a bill introduced March 11 becomes law. If passed, HF 818 ensures voting rights would be reinstated once a person convicted of a felony has completed sentencing, parole and probation and paid any owed monetary damages prior to his or her sentence is discharged. Individuals convicted of child endangerment that resulted in the death of a minor or election misconduct in the first degree would need to receive a pardon from the governor. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order Aug. 5, 2020, that restored the rights of citizenship, except for firearms, to all convicted of a felony – except for “homicide and related crimes” under chapter 707 – who had discharged their sentences by that date. Anyone seeking a pardon or to have firearm rights restored has to send an application to the Iowa Board of Parole. The bill, however, would provide a permanent policy fix.

Senate File 531, approved by the Senate 30-17 has also been moved forward by a House State Government subcommittee. The bill would give the secretary of state more flexibility when conducting elections during an emergency. Currently, any changes the secretary of state wants to make have to be approved by the Legislative Council. The 2020 election made lawmakers aware “there are all sorts of noncontroversial, but important, changes that can be made that we shouldn’t necessarily need the Legislative Council to convene to approve every single one,” Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton), said. The council would be able to address changes it believes were improper, he added. “It makes sense to give the SOS some flexibility while maintaining some oversight,” Kaufmann said.

Kentucky: By a 33-3 vote, the Senate has approved a measure that would give Kentucky voters three days of no-excuse, early in-person voting, Including a Saturday, before Election Day. But it backed off from the temporary, pandemic-related accommodations made last year that allowed widespread mail-in absentee balloting. The bill also seeks to strengthen election security protections. The legislation would relax pre-pandemic voting law to make it easier to vote. It would allow counties to establish vote centers, where any voter in the county could vote regardless of precinct. It would maintain an online portal for Kentuckians to request a mail-in ballot but keep existing restrictions on who can vote by mail. On the election security side, the bill would result in the statewide transition toward universal paper ballots to guarantee a paper audit trail. It enhances the ability of state election officials to remove nonresident voters from voter rolls. It expressly prohibits and penalizes ballot harvesting, the practice of collecting ballots from likely supporters and returning them to election offices. The bill was returned to the House however it didn’t come up for a potential final vote before the House adjourned shortly before midnight. That means supporters will have to wait until lawmakers reconvene for a two-day wrap-up session in late March to take up the measure. If it clears the legislature, it would be sent to Gov. Andy Beshear (D).

Maine: The Maine Legislature’s Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs held a work session today on several bills regarding voting. One would allow the legislature to create a process for early voting that municipalities could adopt if they choose to do so. Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn answered questions regarding the process. She says Mainers would vote in the same manner they do on election day, but ballots wouldn’t be counted until election day. Flynn says early voting can be more efficient than absentee voting, but many Maine towns may not be able to handle early in-person voting. “It’s as convenient for the voter, and as long as you have the right security measures, it’s as secure for the voter as early in-person absentee voting, but it’s a heck of a lot more efficient for the town, and I would say less costly to administer,” said Flynn. The committee voted eight to four to recommend the bill pass.

Massachusetts: The Massachusetts Senate unanimously voted to extend mail-in voting through June 30 after adding an amendment meant to offer accommodations for voters with disabilities. The bill extends the mail-in voting option to the general public due to COVID-19 past March 31. It also lets cities and towns with a municipal caucus before June 30 to postpone the caucus up to Aug. 1. Local officials could also vote to eliminate a municipal caucus that’s happening before July 30 and rely on nomination papers to nominate candidates, according to the bill. The proposal is meant to give lawmakers more time to debate permanent election reforms, including whether the expanded mail-in voting option should stay or whether the state should offer same-day voter registration. The mail-in voting bill now goes back to the House to vote on final passage. The Senate vote, 40-0, came after discussions about potential barriers affecting voters with disabilities. The Disability Law Center raised the issue in testimony submitted to the Senate Ways & Means Committee before the Senate took up the bill. The amendment requires local election officials, when notified or requested, to make accommodations for voters with disabilities “every way possible, to every extent possible,” said Senate Ways & Means Committee Chairman Michael Rodrigues. Gov. Charlie Baker has signed the bill into law.

A new bill co-sponsored by state Sen. Susan Moran (D-Falmouth) would cover the upfront costs for cities and towns to provide for early and mail-in voting on a permanent basis. The bill, numbered SD.1378 in the Senate and HD.449 in the House, would see the state preemptively cover costs, including salaries for overtime work and hiring additional staff. State Sen. Rebecca Rausch (D-Needham) and Rep. Steven Ultrino (D-Malden) have filed the bill in each chamber, respectively. Currently, cities and towns can ask the state to be reimbursed for election costs, but still have to foot the bill upfront, Rausch said.

Michigan: The Senate approved a resolution urging Congress and President Joe Biden to oppose a federal election reform bill, H.R. 1. The federal bill would affect how Americans register to vote, how ballots are cast and how states conduct elections. Advocates say it will improve voter access to people of color and prevent gerrymandering. Opponents say it would federalize election administration. State Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly), sponsored Senate Resolution 25 which says H.R. 1 would “enshrine into law many misguided election policies.” “H.R. 1 would impede the maintenance of accurate voter registration lists and the enforcement of sensible voter identification standards,” she said. Johnson, a former Michigan secretary of state, said she fears H.R. 1 could prevent the removal of voters who have moved or died from voter rolls. She called H.R. 1 “an unnecessary and reckless federal overreach.” Michigan Senate Minority Leader Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), said H.R. 1 is not “misguided” but “sensible,” voicing support for measures such as modernizing systems to better track absentee ballots, enabling notifications when polling places change and ensuring that those who have completed criminal sentences are able to vote. Shirkey supported Johnson’s resolution, saying “Michigan not Washington should determine Michigan’s election laws.” He said the H.R. 1 gives the federal government authority not only over the election process but election results as well, calling it a “federal opportunistic power grab.”

While vaccine selfies are all the rage right now, a bipartisan group of state representatives introduced House Bill 4510 that would update Michigan law regarding ballot photography including ballot selfies. It would specifically state that Michigan voters are allowed to take photos, including selfies, of their completed in-person or absentee ballots. The new bill would specifically allow selfies with your ballot, whether in the voting booth or at home with an absentee ballot. You would not be able to display that photo within 100 feet of the polling place.

Montana: Under Senate Bill 196, which was narrowly approved by the Senate, voting precincts with less than 400 in-person voters, as opposed to 400 registered voters, to open at noon instead of 7 a.m. It would also add a requirement that precincts notify voters of the changed hours. Elections officials at the hearing said the goal of the bill is to keep more polling places open by making them easier to staff and manage. Regina Plettenberg spoke on behalf of the Montana Association of Clerk and Recorders, Election Administrators. She said allowing polling places to change their hours would help them keep polling places staffed with volunteers, who she said wouldn’t want to sit waiting for people who already voted by mail. The only opponent at the hearing was Patrick Yawakie, who represented the Blackfeet Tribe. He said allowing polling places more leeway in their hours could keep people in those precincts from voting, especially people who have to work on Election Day. “We can’t assume how the voter’s daily life is,” Yawakie said. “We can only make it easier for them to vote.”

Montana college students would still be able to use their school IDs when registering to vote and casting ballots, as part of a major revision to a controversial elections bill passed by a House committee this week. The amendment to Senate Bill 169 effectively removed one of the most contentious elements of the legislation, while also expanding acceptable forms of identification for voters to register and cast ballots. The changes, introduced in the House State Administration Committee Wednesday by Rep. Geraldine Custer (R-Forsyth), allow voters to register with photo ID issued by a Montana college or university, while also adding concealed carry permits to the list of acceptable ID. The bill already allows for registration with a Montana ID or driver’s license, tribal photo ID, military ID, driver’s license number or the last four digits of a social security number. Failing those forms of ID, the bill would still require voters to come up with some other form of photo ID, like a Costco membership card, and pair it with official documentation showing their current address, such as a utility bill or bank statement. Those changes also apply to voting, meaning voters would have to provide the same ID or information to cast ballots in person. Custer’s amendment also allows voters to cast provisional ballots if they don’t have sufficient identification at the polling place, as long as they fill out a form stating they have “a reasonable impediment to meeting the identification requirements,” including transportation, work schedule, a disability, or lost or stolen ID.

Nevada: Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), and Majority Floor Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno), introduced a mammoth elections bill that would make permanent emergency voting provisions passed last year to send mail-in ballots to every active voter in the state. Assembly Bill 321 would let voters opt out of receiving the mail ballots. It would also establish signature verification procedures and require county clerks and elections staff to take an annual forensic signature verification class. The secretary of state would also have to compare the statewide voter registration list with death records at least once a month. The return window for mail ballots would also shrink from 5 p.m. on the seventh day after the election to 5 p.m. on the fourth day after the election.

New Jersey: The Assembly Labor Committee on Monday advanced a bill that would allow minors aged 16 and older to work the polls on election day. The bill would allow those between the ages of 16 and 18 to act as poll workers between 5:30 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. on the day of an election. It does not include provisions to allow minors to work at early voting stations that would be set up by a bill expected to see a final Senate vote on March 25. It cleared the Senate Labor Committee in a unanimous vote in October. “Becoming involved in the electoral process at a younger age would increase civic engagement and instill the importance of statewide and federal elections,” Assembly sponsors Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood) and Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City) said in a joint statement. “It has been clear that more people are participating in elections and we want to continue to grow political interest in our younger generations.”

New Mexico: House Bill 231, which is still up for consideration with the bill deadline looming, would amend the election code to provide protections for Native American voters by specifying that a polling place located on an Indian nation, tribal or pueblo land cannot be eliminated or consolidated with other polling locations without the written agreement of the Indian nation, tribe or pueblo. The bill also requires at least one polling location within an Indian nation, tribe, or pueblo to operate in the event that registered voters are unable to leave the Indian nation, tribe, or pueblo due to public health concerns.

New York: New York City Council Member Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), is introducing legislation to create a temporary poll-site task force that would examine measures to improve access to poll sites and to make them more efficient. The task force would be charged with studying the functioning of poll sites in the 2020 elections, the cost of running them, and the possible effects on the health of voters, and would recommend locations and the number of sites for future elections. The citywide task force proposed in Kallos’ bill would be required to meet at least once a month and solicit testimony from experts and community members about future poll sites. It would have to submit a report to the mayor and City Council within nine months of the bill being passed into law. The report would be made public on the Board of Elections website ten days after submission. Among the requirements for the report would be a list of poll sites from the 2020 general election where voters waited more than 30 minutes to cast their ballots, the reasons for waiting, and the cost of making sites temporarily or permanently compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It would also be required to include a list of poll sites that were considered for use in 2020 and which ones were accepted or rejected by the Board of Elections. The list would determine which buildings made their facilities available for use by the Board and which did not, and whether the city took any steps to revoke tax benefits.

North Dakota: Under House Bill 1373, introduced by Rep. Jim Kasper (R-Fargo), early voting would be reduced from 15 days to nine business days prior to an election. The bill passed resoundingly in the House in February, by a vote of 78-13 and will get a hearing before the Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee later this week.

Senate Bill 2142, introduced by Sen. Kristin Roers (R-Fargo) would allow county auditors and election workers to process absentee ballots up to three business days prior to Election Day. Roers said the bill would help ease pressure of counting and verifying votes on Election Day when a large number of absentee ballots are received.

House Bill 1447, introduced by Rep. Claire Cory (R-Grand Forks), would allow university students to vote in elections with their student ID card. The bill was amended in committee to have the schools give students a document to prove residency, and to have the bill apply only to North Dakota residents. The bill passed the House on a vote of 87-7. It has not yet had a Senate committee hearing,

Oklahoma: A bill that would expand in-person early voting by a day for presidential elections has cleared the state House. House Bill 2663 would expand in-person early voting from three days to four immediately preceding any presidential election. Under the measure, Oklahomans would be able to vote Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday instead of just Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Locations and the number of places for early voting vary from county to county in Oklahoma Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City), said voters in his precinct reported waiting longer than three hours to cast a ballot on Election Day, so he wants to make it easier for voters to access the polls. Echols said he wishes he could expand early voting access for every election, but during most there are rarely wait times. And, if he can find a way to fund it, Echols said he’d also like to expand early voting during presidential years to include Tuesdays too. A legislative budget analysis estimates that adding a day of in-person absentee balloting every four years would cost the State Election Board about $40,000 per presidential election. County election boards would also experience varying degrees of cost increases, the analysis found.

The Senate has approved a resolution formally objecting to H.R. 1. “But Title II, which is entitled Election Integrity, actually talks about doing away with this body’s ability to redistrict and moves it to an independent commission. It’s nothing but a power grab,” said. Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat. Conservative groups and Republican lawmakers have deemed the bill a federal takeover of elections. State Sen. George Young (D-Oklahoma City), who is Black, has a different view. “I appreciate the federal government coming into states and doing some things, because without them, people who look like me would not have the right and the benefit to do what others take for granted, and that is to vote,” Young said. Oklahoma’s Senate Resolution 9 passed by voice vote.

Texas: Senate Bill 7 proposes several new regulations for Texas elections, including the voter registration process, voting by mail, and “election security” items relating to polling place locations and facilities, voting hours and ballot auditing:

SB 208 would prohibit officials from sending out early voting ballot applications.

SB 1110 would require local judges to appoint a three-member panel of retired judges to serve as emergency election reviewers 60 days before an election. Candidates or political party chairs could then request a review of alleged election law violations by the panel within 45 days of an election.

SB 1111 would require voters to produce certain evidence of their residence at the address where they are registered to vote if requested by the voter registrar.

SB 1112 would bar elections officials from waiving signature verification requirements for early voting ballots.

SB 1113 would allow the secretary of state to withhold some funding if a voter registrar does not complete their duties related to voter registration cancellation in a timely manner.

SB 1114 would require voters to present proof of citizenship if their citizenship status was previously questioned though the jury selection process or in vehicle registration records.

SB 1115 would limit early voting hours.

SB 1116 would require counties and school districts to post election results online in a timely and accessible manner.

SB 1234 would require all voting systems to be subject to audits with paper records.

SB 1387 would require all Texas voting systems to be manufactured and produced by a company headquartered in the U.S.

SB 1508 would create an election integrity division within the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

SB 1509 would require photo identification to be submitted with early mail voting applications.

Senate Joint Resolution 51 would present a constitutional amendment barring officials from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot applications to Texas voters in this November’s election.

House Bill 1724 would expand the responsibilities and permissions of election watchers.

HB 1725 would ban in-person delivery of mail ballots.

HB 1979 would require mail ballots to be marked with unique codes for electronic identification.

HB 2263 would prevent voters or election officials from “curing,” or fixing, ballots that initially do not meet requirements for acceptance by the registrar and would require that those ballots be rejected.

HB 2264 would set a voting standard of four-fifths of a county elections commission to appoint, suspend or terminate an administrator.

HB 2265 would limit early voting hours.

HB 2266 would change some rules relating to the appointment of election judges, clerks and signature verification committee members.

HB 3105 covers a variety of topics related to social media platforms. The legislation includes provisions that would block such platforms from applying algorithms to limit the exposure of content relating to political candidates leading up to an election.

Utah: Gov. Spencer Cox has signed House Bill 70 into law. Under the new law, that state will be required to track mail ballots that are sent via the USPS or dropped in a drop box. Voters will be able to sign up to receive the information via text or email. The lieutenant governor’s office, that oversees elections in Utah, will set up the system and maintain a website to confirm the status of each ballot. Cox also signed HR11 which was a concurrent resolution honoring the state’s clerks and election workers for a job well done in the 2020 election.

Vermont: Bill S15 formalizes the voting process the state followed in the 2020 general election by requiring town and city clerks to mail ballots to all active registered voters. It would then be up to voters to choose whether to return the ballots by mail, deliver them by hand, or vote in person on Election Day. The bill makes other changes used in the 2020 general election permanent. It allows for outdoor or drive-up polling places, gives towns and school districts the option of conducting voting by mail, and allows clerks to process absentee ballots up to a month before Election Day. It also proposes an allowance for voters to correct “defective” ballots that could not be counted because the voting process was not followed correctly. Primary elections are not covered by the bill. S15 has passed a second reading voice vote by 27-3 and was set for a formal vote at press time.

Wyoming: A bill that would call for runoff elections for primaries in which no candidate got a majority of the votes passed a Senate Committee on Thursday and is now headed to the Wyoming Senate. Senate File 145 would apply to the five statewide elected offices: governor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, and state superintendent. It would also apply to legislative races and the state’s federal offices, U.S. Senator and U.S. House. But it would not apply to local races, such as county commission or city council. The original bill would have taken effect next year for the 2022 elections. Under the bill, Wyoming primary elections would be moved from August to May, and if any runoffs are needed, they would then be held in August. That would conceivably give clerks across the state less than two months to get ready for the primary election after the results of re-districting are known. In response to those concerns, the bill was amended so that it would not take effect until 2023.

Legal Updates

California: It’s not a taco truck on every corner but Judge Danny Chou has ruled in favor of East Palo Alto Councilman Antonio Lopez in a lawsuit that alleged he improperly gave away tacos to voters during the November election. Losing council candidate Webster Lincoln is suing Lopez, claiming that Lopez illegally electioneered by hiring a food truck and placing it within 100 feet of a polling place to get votes. Lopez beat Webster Lincoln by 69 votes. n a tentative ruling posted on the San Mateo County Superior Court’s website Chou ruled in favor of Lopez writing that the law only prohibits the “offering of consideration for voting for a particular candidate or ballot measure; it does not prohibit the offering of consideration just for voting.” The judge found that Lopez was not enticing anyone to vote for him, but was garnering goodwill from the community by arranging for the taco truck to be parked at St. Francis of Assisi Church, which was a polling place, on Election Day. Lopez paid about $4,000 for the truck to park at the church from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. where the workers handed out free tacos to anyone who asked for one, even children. Chou notes in his ruling that neither Lopez nor any of the taco truck employees associated the truck with Lopez.

Georgia: Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero may unseal absentee ballots in Fulton County so a government watchdog can investigate allegations of voting fraud in the November election. A lawsuit filed in Fulton County Superior Court contends that fraudulent ballots were cast and other irregularities occurred as workers counted ballots at State Farm Arena on election night. Those allegations were investigated and dismissed by the secretary of state’s office. Amero, who is overseeing the case, said he’s inclined to order the ballots to be unsealed and reviewed by experts hired by Garland Favorito, a voting-integrity advocate. At a hearing Monday, Amero sought a detailed plan for maintaining the secrecy and security of the ballots, which by state law, are under seal in the Fulton County Superior Court Clerk’s Office.

The Hall County Board of elections has sued the county over who supervises the county’s elections director. After publicly airing frustrations over the supervision and performance review of elections director Lori Wurtz at various board meetings over the past month, the elections board filed a lawsuit against the Hall County government and County Administrator Jock Connell on March 16. According to the 67-page civil action document, the elections board states that the Hall County Board of Commissioners had no legal authority in enacting home rule by amending state legislation in 2018. That amendment created the elections director position and established supervisory control of the position under the county administrator. The board believes that the oversight given to Connell through the amendment, which includes the day-to-day supervision, disciplinary action and termination of the elections director — should be a power held under the umbrella of the elections board.

Michigan: Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson last year said local clerks should start with a presumption of validity when verifying signatures on absentee ballot applications, but a court ruling says that rule wasn’t properly established. A Michigan Court of Claims judge ruled that clerks no longer need to follow those instructions for determining whether to send an absentee ballot to applicants. According to the March 9 opinion and order issued by Judge Christopher M. Murray, Benson issued instructions that constituted “rules” without following the process for creating a formal rule under state and federal law. Murray wrote that “the guidance issued by the Secretary of State on October 6, 2020, with respect to signature-matching standards was issued in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.” The Michigan Republican Party and Allegan County Clerk Robert Genetski, who jointly filed their complaint prior to the Nov. 3 election, claimed the signature standards allowed for “invalid” ballots to be counted. Murray noted in his opinion that Genetski, however, never claimed the “guidance caused him to accept a signature that he believed was invalid.” Benson’s guidelines focused on signature verification of absentee ballot applications and their return envelopes, which were to be compared against each other as well as against signatures in qualified voter files.

Ohio: The Stark County Board of Elections voted unanimously to initiate a lawsuit against the county commissioners to compel them to fund the purchase of Dominion voting machines. The board met twice in executive session before announcing its decision. After the first executive session, which lasted about 20 minutes, board members said they would not consider the commissioners’ apparent suggestion that they consider an updated price quote by Dominion’s competitor, Election Systems and Software (ES&S). According to the Canton Repository, Commissioner Bill Smith had invited ES&S to submit a new quote, which ended up being about $143,000 less than Dominion’s over a 10-year period, according to resolution language released by the commissioners last week. “I think it’s unfair to consider ES&S. We have no inclination to revisit the decision and recommendation that we made previously,” said Samuel Ferruccio, chairman of the Stark County Board of Elections and chairman of the Stark County Democratic Party. “When presented to our board, Dominion Voting Systems’ bid was lower than ES&S. The commissioners took it upon themselves to contact the company ES&S our board did not select and accepted a revised bid. That decision was ill advised and detrimental to the integrity of the process.” Board member William Cline, a Republican, agreed, saying “it was manifestly unfair to other bidders to allow a losing bidder to come in and take another bite at the apple. I think at best, unfair, and arguably not ethical either to solicit the bid or to make.”

Lorain County Democrats are taking Secretary of State Frank LaRose before the Ohio Supreme Court to try and force him to appoint their chosen candidate, Sharon Sweda, to the county Board of Elections. Party Chairman Anthony Giardini confirmed his party will proceed with a mandamus action to try and force LaRose to appoint Sweda, a former Democratic county commissioner, to the seat vacated by the resignation of former board member Tom Smith. The legal action should stop the clock and any further action by LaRose until the Ohio Supreme Court reaches a decision, Giardini said. After Sweda’s appointment was rejected March 3, Democrats had up until Friday to name a replacement candidate or else LaRose said he would choose for them. A mandamus action is filed to force an official to do their legally mandated duties. This action will go before the Ohio Supreme Court and could take three to six months to be resolved.

Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Middle District Chief Justice Christopher Conner has dismissed a lawsuit from political watchdog group Judicial Watch over alleged “dirty voter rolls” in three Pennsylvania counties. Judicial Watch Inc. sued the commonwealth and election boards in Bucks, Chester, and Delaware counties last April over what the conservative group described as suspiciously high voter registration rates. A moving goal post, an “implausible theory” and several other issues were cited as reasons for Conner’s case dismissal. The lawsuit alleged the three counties were not properly removing ineligible voters from registration lists in accordance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. Judicial Watch’s lawsuit relied mostly on the federal Election Assistance Commission’s 2018 Election Administration and Voting Survey, made up of responses from over 6,000 state, county and local jurisdictions collected every two years.

Vermont: Attorney Benjamin Luna has filed suit against the city of Burlington for three ballot measures approved on Town Meeting Day including the adoption of ranked choice voting. “Plaintiff alleges all three of these categories contributed to substantial, unconstitutional, election irregularities that arose from the extraordinarily confusing and misleading presentation of ballot information by the Defendant City in the lead up to the election,” the lawsuit states. The election documents were confusing and violated the state’s election law, Luna alleged. “Articles 2, 4, and 5 included language too long to fit on the ballot, and as a result the text of these measures were left off the Defendant’s warning,” Luna wrote in the lawsuit. Among the requests, Luna asked the court to: Find that Burlington published a misleading Town Meeting Day warning. Find that Burlington “published information that was impermissibly confusing, causing disenfranchisement of voter access to information.” And void results from items 2, 4 and 5.

Wisconsin: Jeré Fabick, a prominent Republican donor, is asking the state Supreme Court to stop municipal clerks from using ballot drop boxes and fixing absentee ballot envelopes that lack full witness addresses in the April election for state schools superintendent. In a lawsuit filed this week directly with the high court, Fabick also asked the justices to limit who can return absentee ballots to clerks on behalf of voters. The lawsuit seeks to address issues that became flashpoints in the November presidential election, when absentee voting hit a record. The new lawsuit seeks to get the court to take up the issues by focusing on the upcoming election, rather than one that has already occurred. Running in the April 6 election for state schools superintendent are Deborah Kerr and Jill Underly. Fabick filed his lawsuit directly with the Supreme Court rather than starting with a circuit court, where most cases begin. The justices have discretion on whether to take the case and could reject it without considering the merits.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker


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Electionline Weekly March-18-2021


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