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Electionline Weekly July-8-2021

Electionline Weekly July-8-2021

Legislative Updates

California: Two bills by state Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park) drafted “to advance voter equity” advanced in the state Assembly, his office announced. Senate Bill 503, which would implement a uniform statewide signature verification standard for mail-in ballots, passed the Assembly Elections Committee in a 6-1 vote and will head to the Appropriations Committee. SB 503 would require timely outreach to voters whose ballots are rejected. For a ballot to be rejected because of an invalid signature, elections officials would need to determine “beyond a reasonable doubt” when comparing signatures that they do not match. It would also prohibit elections officials from taking a voter’s party preference, race or ethnicity into consideration when comparing signatures. Senate Bill 504, which would take steps to ensure that those who have been released from incarceration would not inadvertently be removed from voter rolls, was approved by the committee unanimously and will head to the Public Safety Committee. SB 504 would also ensure that members of the military, California residents living overseas and those living with disabilities would have the same access to remote same-day voter registration as other residents.

Guam: Early, in-office, absentee voting could also become a permanent option for future elections if Sen. James Moylan’s Bill 120 is signed into law. It would allow for a 30-day window, prior to Election Day, for residents to come in and cast their ballots. Early voting is an option for those who can’t vote on Election Day, but the bill waives the requirement. The measure could help drive up Guam’s voter turnout, Guam Election Commission Director Maria Pangelinan told lawmakers June 22.

Illinois: Rep. LaShawn Ford (D) announced his plans to introduce a bill that will call for voter registration cards to include a photo ID. “I am filing a bill to make the voter’s registration card official with a photo ID,” Ford told the Crusader. The problem, Ford said, is that every state has different election laws. He is hoping his bill can be a national model to make it easier, not more restrictive, for voters to cast their votes. Ford said his bill is also important because “our voter registration card would be an official ID for people in prison. They can leave prison with an official Illinois ID,” he said. “If a person can’t afford a traditional ID card, an official registration card with a photo seems like a smart approach.” While marshaling support for his proposed bill, Ford said he would introduce it during the October veto session.

Louisiana: Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that he vetoed 28 of the 505 bills the Louisiana Legislature sent him during the 2021 legislative session including several elections-related bills. Edwards House Bill 138, sponsored by Rep. Les Farnum (R-Sulphur), requires voter registrars to conduct a “supplemental annual canvas” of all voters and purge the voter registration rolls of any residents who move without updating their voter registration with their current address. It would have placed such voters on an inactive list until the registrar confirmed their new addresses. In vetoing the bill, Edwards said each parish’s registrar of voters is already required to conduct an annual canvas of all registered voters. The “supplemental annual canvas” is “repetitive and unnecessary,” he wrote and creates a “significant unfunded mandate” on the secretary of state. House Bill 704, sponsored by Rep. Valarie Hodges (R-Denham Springs), would allow a political party to place a poll watcher in every precinct on election day and place “super watchers” in every parish. The watchers and super watchers would be appointed by the state central committee of each political party with at least 25% of the registered voters in the state. Edwards also vetoed Senate Bill 63, sponsored by Sen. Robert Mills (R-Minden). Minden said he intended his bill to clarify current law by allowing a voter to hand deliver an absentee ballot to any employee at the registrar’s main office, branch or early voting location. “However, as finally passed, it is now unclear as to whether hand delivery can only take place during the period for conducting early voting or whether hand delivery can take place at an early voting location if it is during the time period for conducting early voting. Access to voting is too important for this uncertainty, and so I have vetoed this bill,” Edwards wrote. Sen. Heather Cloud (R-Ville Platte) said her Senate Bill 220 was in the name of so-called “election integrity.” It would have required the legislative auditor to conduct annual audits of elections. The bill is an unnecessary “expansion of government” that creates separation of power issues, Edwards wrote. He said “there has been no legitimate allegation that statutory election processes have not been followed.” Senate Bill 224, another bill that Sen. Cloud said would bolster “election integrity” would have required voters to include the last four digits of their social security number or driver’s license number on the outside of an absentee mail ballot envelope. That same information would be required for a voter sending an application for an absentee ballot. Edwards said the bill “would require more stringent requirements to make application to vote absentee by mail than what is currently required to actually vote absentee by mail.” The governor said the bill was hastily drafted and “without proper debate. He said, “Louisiana election law being changed overnight and without proper vetting is an incredible disservice to the people of the state.”

Massachusetts: Massachusetts voters would be required to present identification to prove their identity at polling places, under an initiative petition that the head of the state Republican Party hopes to place on the 2022 statewide ballot. MassGOP Chairman Jim Lyons, a former state representative, announced the campaign in a Sunday, July 4 email in which he put out the call for at least 2,000 volunteers to help gather enough signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. Petitioners must collect an initial round of 80,239 voter signatures by early December, and a second round of 13,374 signatures next spring in order to keep their petitions on the 2022 ballot track.

The Lowell city council voted unanimously to send a home-rule petition to the Legislature seeking to continue one-week in-person early voting, no-excuse mail-in voting and drop-box options that were used due to the coronavirus pandemic. The vote immediately followed an Election Laws/Redistricting Subcommittee meeting held earlier in the evening where councilors heard from several residents and candidates for office who oppose a proposed plan to temporarily reduce the city’s polling locations from 13 to eight for the 2021 preliminary and general municipal elections.

Michigan: According to The Detroit News, A proposal that would force in-person voters in Michigan to undergo signatures checks, even if they have photo ID with them, will likely be removed from a bill in the state Senate, its sponsor said this week. The signature requirement was not in the original proposal by Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, but Republican lawmakers in the state House added it. In an interview, Barrett said he believes a consensus has been reached in favor of dropping the policy and moving forward with a focus on photo ID alone. “It’s just simpler to have people bring their ID,” Barrett said. “If they don’t have their ID, we’re going to make them available for free.” Barrett’s legislation is part of the 39-bill Senate Republican package to overhaul Michigan’s voting laws after the 2020 presidential election. It’s already passed the Senate and the House but because of the changes made in the House, it will have to be voted on again.

Nebraska: Republican leaders, spearheaded by Sen. Julie Slama of Sterling, have decided to take the party’s long-sought quest for voter photo ID requirements in Nebraska to a vote of the people. The GOP trio — including Republican National Committeewoman Lydia Brasch of West Point, a former state senator, and former Douglas County Republican Chairwoman Nancy McCabe of Omaha — filed an initiative petition with the secretary of state’s office launching the Citizens for Voter ID drive. The proposal would place the issue on the 2022 general election ballot in the form of a constitutional amendment. Supporters of the initiative said they expect to begin collecting petition signatures in August.

Pennsylvania: According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the point person on election issues for state House Republicans says he’s done considering election legislation until 2023, after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf last week vetoed the bill he wrote. “It is over until we get a new governor,” Rep. Seth Grove (R., York), chair of the House State Government Committee and author of the proposed Republican election overhaul, said in an interview late last week. That would leave the state’s election system effectively unchanged for next year’s nationally watched open-seat races for governor and U.S. Senate. And it leaves local elections officials in both parties across Pennsylvania without the two things they have consistently pleaded for: earlier processing of mail ballots, which would avoid prolonged vote counts as the world saw last year, and an extension of tight mail-ballot deadlines that don’t align with Postal Service standards and leave thousands of voters unable to return them on time. “We’ll still be in the same boat. We’ll just use the same paddles to row further,” said Karen Barsoum, the Chester County elections director. “It’s unfortunate that there were clear areas that could have been improved upon, that we had basically the whole year to prepare for the next big election.”

Texas: As the Texas Legislature prepares to convene a special session expected to focus on Republican voting restrictions, the House has filed a bill that closely resembles a sweeping GOP-backed measure that died in May but removes some of its most controversial provisions. House Bill 3, filed Wednesday by state Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, does not contain highly controversial provisions making it easier for judges to overturn elections or limiting early voting hours on Sundays. However, many elements of the original GOP elections package remain intact. They include bans on drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting, and criminal penalties for election officials who proactively send out vote-by-mail applications — methods that were pioneered by Harris County in 2020 for greater convenience during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill also still contains limitations on early voting hours, new ID requirements for those who vote by mail, and provisions affording “free movement” to partisan poll watchers at polling places.

Legal Updates

Arizona: A federal judge erred when he blocked Arizona county recorders from throwing out unsigned ballots at the end of Election Day, attorneys for the state and the Republican Party told a three-judge Ninth Circuit panel this week. “Arizona, like three other states, allows curing until polls close,” said Drew Ensign of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, referring to the process of verifying ballot signatures. “That is an eminently reasonable practice and more generous than a majority of states.” The appeal stems from a June 2020 lawsuit in which the Arizona Democratic Party, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic National Committee asked the court for a permanent injunction to stop the state from throwing out the ballots. The plaintiffs eventually won the case against Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and the 15 county recorders. But ballots with no signatures are tossed if they aren’t cured by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Claiming the restriction disenfranchises thousands of voters, the plaintiffs are asking for five days after Election Day to cure unsigned ballots. In a letter to the court last week, the state of Arizona, an intervenor appellant, reiterated its position that the state voting system, which includes wide access to mailed ballots and three weeks of early in-person voting, as well as Election Day polling places, inherently protect voting rights. In the context of this system, tossing unsigned ballots is not an undue burden on anyone, the state argued. U.S. Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima questioned whether the state should treat these ballots differently from other ballots with mistakes, such as mismatched signatures. Yes, Ensign said.

Georgia: U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee denied an effort to invalidate parts of Georgia’s voting law, the first court ruling upholding new rules passed after last year’s elections. Boulee wrote in his order that he wouldn’t “change the law in the ninth inning” amid ongoing runoffs for the state House. Boulee reserved judgment about future elections. The lawsuit by the Coalition for Good Governance, an election security organization, opposed new requirements that voters request absentee ballots at least 11 days before election day, a deadline that limited the time available to vote by mail in the runoffs. The case also asked for court intervention to prevent restrictions on election observation. “Election administrators have prepared to implement the challenged rules, have implemented them at least to some extent and now would have to grapple with a different set of rules in the middle of the election,” Boulee wrote in an 11-page order. “The risk of disrupting the administration of an ongoing election … outweigh the alleged harm to plaintiffs at this time.” The plaintiffs had sought an injunction to halt enforcement of the voting law, Senate Bill 202, which Gov. Brian Kemp signed March 25. Though Boulee ruled against the plaintiffs’ request for immediate action, the underlying lawsuit against Georgia’s voting law remains pending in federal court. The judge’s order relied on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said courts generally shouldn’t change existing rules when elections are imminent. Known as the Purcell principle, based on the 2006 case Purcell v. Gonzalez, the court found that altering election rules could bewilder voters and discourage them from participating.

New Hampshire: The New Hampshire Supreme Court has struck down in its entirety the 2017 Republican-authored voter registration law known as Senate Bill 3, finding it imposes burdens on voters that are in violation of their rights under the state constitution. The law created a new process for people to prove that they are residents of New Hampshire if they registered to vote within 30 days of an election or on Election Day without a photo ID. The state’s highest court agreed with a 2020 Superior Court ruling that the new requirements and forms involved in the process are confusing, could deter people from registering and voting and “imposes unreasonable burdens on the right to vote.” “We affirm the trial court’s ruling that SB3 violates Part I, Article 11 of the New Hampshire Constitution,” Associate Justice Patrick Donovan wrote in a unanimous, 4-0 opinion. The constitutional article cited guarantees each “inhabitant” of the state 18 years of age and older an “equal right to vote.” The court concluded that, given the burdens, Senate Bill 3 “must be stricken in its entirety”

Tennessee: The Davidson County Election Commission voted 4-1 to settle a lawsuit from last fall with petition group 4 Good Government, which unsuccessfully pushed for an anti-tax hike referendum last year. The move means the election commission will not seek at least $6,000 in legal cost that 4 Good Government may be responsible for if the group loses the case. The petition group-backed referendum – a controversial attempt to restrict Metro government’s power over future property tax increases, among other initiatives – was struck down by a judge last year. While the petition failed, other claims included in the lawsuit remain unresolved, said Election Commission Chairman Jim DeLanis. The election commission offered to settle the case in April with each party covering its own expenses and attorney’s fees, court documents show.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker


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Electionline Weekly July-8-2021