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Electionline Weekly September-23-2021

Legislative Updates

Federal Legislation: U.S.Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming) testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in support of her bill to name the Cheyenne federal building after women’s rights pioneer Louisa Swain. The bill was unanimously approved by the committee today and will next be considered on the Senate floor. S. 2126 would rededicate the federal building located at 308 W 21st Street in Cheyenne, Wyoming in honor of Louisa Swain’s historic vote. In 1869, Wyoming became the first state or territory in the U.S. to continuously recognize women’s voting rights as equal to the voting rights of men, and Louisa Swain was the woman who cast the historic first vote under that law on September 6, 1870. At 70 years old, Swain – a Laramie resident – cast her vote in the general election of 1870, which was 50 years before women’s voting rights were recognized in the rest of the country.

Alaska: The Kenai, Alaska City Council approved election legislation that included the correction of absentee ballot affidavits, authorization for the city clerk to determine candidate qualifications and shorter retention of candidates’ personal information. In addition to codifying some of the city’s existing election processes, the new legislation also means the City of Kenai is more closely aligned with the Kenai Peninsula Borough regarding the administration of elections. The city already collaborates with the borough to administer municipal elections. The new code — Chapter 6 — contains 11 sections that outline, respectively, general provisions, voter qualifications, filing for office, administration of elections, polling site procedures, absentee voting, ballot counting procedures, canvassing and certification of election results, election recount, contest of election and special elections. The legislation, which Kenai City Clerk Jamie Heinz has described as the city being given a “blank slate,” completely repealed and replaced Kenai’s existing code related to elections. Heinz participated in a work session with the city council earlier this month in which she provided a sectional analysis of the new code and fielded questions from council members about the policy.

Florida: In 2007, 77.6% of city voters cast ballots in favor of a charter amendment that calls for the use of instant runoff voting in municipal races. Although the amendment was adopted, the city never made the change to ranked-choice ballots — because the necessary technology wasn’t available. This week the Sarasota city commission voted 4 to 1 to partner with Rank My Vote Florida to seek a declaratory judgment that affirms local governments have the authority to use ranked voting for their elections. A majority of the board supported the idea Monday, noting the electorate had codified a change to ranked-choice elections more than a decade ago. But on Tuesday, Commissioner Erik Arroyo expressed a desire to revisit that decision despite his vote in favor of the legal challenge. As a result, the city has not made a final decision on the declaratory judgment, and the commission will discuss the topic again at a future meeting.

Michigan: Wayne County Commissioners approved a pair of resolutions proposed by Commissioner Jonathan C. Kinloch (D-Detroit) supporting efforts to expand voting access and opposing a proposed ballot proposal that would essentially repeal a 2018 voter-approved initiative that reduced restrictions, specifically regarding absentee voting. “This sends a message that we stand up for access to the ballot box,” Kinloch said. The first resolution specificall­­y supports the Advancing the Vote, Protecting Democracy agenda proposed by Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. The second opposes while the second opposes a ballot proposal currently under consideration that would not only overturn the 2018 initiative but prevent the governor from vetoing any new voter access restrictions. The vote on each resolution was 14-1, with Commissioner Terry Marecki (R-Livonia) casting the lone no vote in each instance.

Pennsylvania: The prime sponsor of a vetoed voting reform bill said he reintroduced the measure after Gov. Tom Wolf shifted his public opinion on some components of the legislation over the summer. Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, said House Bill 1800 would bolster voting rights “through three broad concepts of increased access, increased security and modernization.” “We know access and security are not mutually exclusive,” he said. Grove began circulating a co-sponsorship memo for his bill, dubbed the Pennsylvania Voting Rights Protection Act, after Wolf told the Philadelphia Inquirer he “pre-judged” a prior version and refused to negotiate on it because he doubted GOP leaders’ sincerity.

Two bills, sponsored by Senator Scott Martin (R-13) were approved by the Senate State Government Committee The first of the two bills, Senate Bill 56, will require successful write-in candidates to receive at least the same number of write-in votes as would be required if they had filed signed nomination petitions. The second bill, Senate Bill 551, “amends the Pennsylvania Constitution to eliminate a mandate that requires a separate ballot or a separate column on voting machines when voting for the retention of justices, judges or justices of the peace.” Both bills will now go to the full Senate for consideration. Since it is a constitutional amendment, Senate Bill 551, must pass both the House and the Senate in two consecutive legislative sessions before being placed on the ballot for voters. “It is important that we continue to take incremental steps to improve our elections,” Martin said. “We must ensure that we reduce ballot confusion, reduce wasted ballot space and provide the opportunity for qualified interested candidates to hold public office. These bills do just that.”

Sens. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) and Dave Argall (R-Pottsville) have introduced bipartisan legislation that would allow counties to begin pre-canvassing ballots three days in advance. New bar codes would track mail-in ballots and certain deadlines would be extended to help the counties. Right now, voters can request a mail-in ballot up to one week before Election Day, leaving a small amount of time to verify the voter, send out the ballot and get it back. The proposal would move that back to two weeks before Election Day if the ballot is being requested by mail and not in-person. The in-person deadline would stay at one week. SB878 was scheduled for a public hearing at press time and according to Argall, if all goes well, plans to call for a committee vote to advance the measure.

Wisconsin: A new state Assembly bill is proposing to move the Wisconsin Elections Commission from Madison to Wausau. State Rep. Steffen, R-Green Bay, one of eight sponsors for Assembly Bill 511, testified before the Committee on Government Accountability and Oversight at a public hearing on Wednesday. “By having (the Elections Commission offices) centrally located in the state, we can guarantee access to all candidates,” said Steffen. “It will save the state of Wisconsin taxpayers well over $100,000 every year. And it also provides an opportunity to take that very first step, one that has been attempted for well over a decade, to move our state government a little closer to people.” The Elections Commission is one of more than 60 state agencies and commissions. Under current state law, all commissions must be located in Madison. The bill’s sponsors argue that moving the offices to Wausau, where rents are cheaper, would save taxpayers money. In addition to cost saving, Steffen said the move to Wausau would benefit elected officials on both sides of the aisle. Come election season, all elected officials must submit their nomination papers in-person to the Elections Commission. Moving the offices closer to the geographic center of the state would make this easier, said Steffen.

Legal Updates

Arizona: The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and Arizona Senate leaders have reached a settlement related to the review of the 2020 general election. The county will answer the Senate’s questions about its routers and will no longer seek Senate repayment for potentially compromised voting machines. The agreement, approved in a 4-1 vote by the county’s board of supervisors on Friday ends weeks of debate over the county potentially losing a large chunk of money from the state. The county will answer the Senate’s questions about its routers through a special master — former U.S. Rep. John Shadegg — who will have access to the routers and Splunk logs, which are logs showing internet activity. The agreement marks an end to months of quarreling between county and Senate leaders about the Senate’s review of the county’s 2020 election. The audit wrapped up in July, and results are expected Sept. 24. As part of the agreement, Fann will send a letter to Brnovich saying the county has now complied with the Senate’s outstanding subpoenas and no further action on his part is warranted. Also under the agreement: Shadegg will have the “sole authority” to hire one to three computer technology experts to assist him; The questions will be limited to the county’s routers and Splunk logs in relation to the election; Non-public information about the Sheriff’s Office or law enforcement, courts and personal identifying information will not be provided; The county will pay for the cost of the special master; and The county will provide any digital images of ballot envelopes demanded by the Senate, but not yet provided by the county.

Colorado: Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters has denied wrongdoing and requested to remain in her role overseeing elections this fall. Her attorney said Peters was well within her legal right to share information about the county’s Dominion Voting Systems equipment with a non-employee during an annual system upgrade. Data from the machines were featured in screenshots shared by QAnon supporters and released by the right-wing website Gateway Pundit, by those eager to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 presidential election. A court filing in response to an effort to remove Peters from overseeing elections in Mesa said the leak of information was not Peters’ intent, but rather she was trying to preserve records and to better analyze how the state conducted system updates. “Unfortunately, there was an unauthorized release of information on one or more publicly available web sites,” said a filing in District Court in Mesa County from attorney Scott Gessler. In the filing, Gessler, a Republican and former Colorado secretary of state, said the decision by current Secretary of State Jena Griswold to file a lawsuit to remove Peters from overseeing this fall’s election as a result was “wholly disproportionate” and violates Colorado law, “which vests local control over elections in a locally-elected official.”

Georgia: Superior Court Judge Brian Amero asked Georgia election investigators and the GBI to provide an update about any investigations into allegations involving the casting of counterfeit ballots in last year’s presidential election. Amero’s request came during a hearing on a lawsuit seeking to inspect about 147,000 absentee ballots cast in Fulton County in an effort to find fraud. “It is important to me that we know whether or not counterfeit ballots have been introduced into the mix,” Amero said in court. The lawsuit is based on sworn statements by two Republican election auditors who alleged there were “pristine” ballots with perfectly filled-in ovals during an audit in November. Two other Republican ballot counters claimed some absentee ballots lacked creases from folding ballots into envelopes. Amero put the lawsuit on hold for 20 days to give the secretary of state’s office and GBI time to respond. Amero previously dismissed the case against Fulton’s elections board and the county itself, but he allowed the lawsuit to continue against individual members of the elections board.

Kansas: Shawnee County District Court Judge Teresa Watson declined to block part of a controversial voting law from being enforced, rejecting arguments it could criminalize voter registration events conducted by civic organizations in Kansas. The ruling came two days after both parties sparred over HB 2183, which contains a range of provisions related to who can collect and return advance ballots, among other items. That bill is one of two new election laws passed this year under legal challenge from four groups — the League of Women Voters Kansas, Loud Light, Topeka Independent Living Resource Center and Kansas Appleseed — in state court. Their core objection centers on a provision in the bill that criminalizes impersonating an election official, arguing they have been forced to shut down their efforts to register Kansans to vote over fear they could be charged with a felony. They pushed to block that part of the law from being enforced so they can restart their work as the lawsuit moves forward. Watson rejected their core arguments in a 15-page ruling, noting the statute requires an individual “knowingly” misrepresent themselves as an election officer in order to break the law. Because the groups clearly identify themselves as non-governmental bodies, Watson wrote they wouldn’t run afoul of the law — even if an individual misinterpreted their purpose. She said the civic groups “downplay the word ‘knowingly’ … almost to the point of ignoring it.” She said this also undercut their claims that the law in question is overly sweeping and vaguely written. “The scenarios described by Plaintiffs in their affidavits do not help them,” Watson wrote.

Mississippi: The authors of Mississippi’s 1890 constitution had racist intent when they stripped voting rights from people convicted of some felonies because they chose crimes they thought were more likely to be committed by Black people, an attorney argued Wednesday in a federal appeals court. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals should overturn most of Mississippi’s felon disenfranchisement plan, attorney Donald B. Verrilli Jr. argued on behalf of people with felony convictions. The case could affect thousands who have lost voting rights. “Because the 1890 provisions were unconstitutional, they were invalid from the moment that they’re enacted,” Verrilli said. Attorneys representing the state said Mississippi dropped burglary from the list of disenfranchising crimes in 1950 and added murder and rape to the list in 1968. They said in written arguments that those changes “cured any discriminatory taint on the original provision.” The Mississippi Constitution strips voting rights from people convicted of 10 felonies, including forgery, arson and bigamy. The state attorney general issued an opinion in 2009 that expanded the list to 22 crimes, including timber larceny, carjacking, felony-level shoplifting and felony-level bad check writing. In the case heard this week, the plaintiffs did not challenge disenfranchisement of people convicted of murder or rape. Judges asked several questions during the hourlong hearing but did not indicate how or when they might rule.

Montana: Labor organizations, disability rights advocates and voters have announced another lawsuit challenging a new state law that ends Election Day voter registration in Montana. The Montana Federation of Public Employees, Montana AFL-CIO, Montana Association of Centers for Independent Living and ten individual voters from around the state have filed suit in the state’s 8th Judicial District Court in Cascade County. They argue the elimination of same-day voter registration creates a particular burden for working people and those with disabilities. “House Bill 176 should never have been passed and signed into law,” said MFPE President Amanda Curtis in a statement. “The unconstitutional law is a slap in the face to more than 70,000 Montanans of every political stripe who have used election day registration and to the large bipartisan majority of Montanans who voted to maintain election day registration in 2014. Not only that, but HB 176 unfairly targets working Montanans, many of whom do not have the luxury to visit county election offices during regular business hours. We will do everything within our power to oppose this law on behalf of all working Montanans and their families.” The individual plaintiffs have all used same-day registration, and in many cases claim they would not have been able to vote if it had not been in place.

North Carolina: In a 2-1 decision, a panel of North Carolina judges struck down the state’s voter ID law, saying Republican lawmakers who passed it were motivated “at least in part by an unconstitutional intent to target African American voters.” The decision is another blow to nearly a decade of Republican efforts to require photo identification at the polls in North Carolina, but it’s not the final word. It likely will be appealed to the state Supreme Court, and there are two other cases pending – one in state court, one in federal – targeting the law. The decision doesn’t change anything at the ballot box for now, because the court had already forbidden the state from requiring photo ID at the polls while the issue works its way through the courts. Municipal elections scheduled for this fall were set to go without the requirement, despite a majority of North Carolina voters adding a photo ID requirement to the state constitution in a 2018 referendum. The judges, both Democrats, based their decision on much of the same logic used to strike down a previous North Carolina voter ID law, 2013’s House Bill 589. “In reaching this conclusion, we do not find that any member of the General Assembly who voted in favor of S.B. 824 harbors any racial animus or hatred towards African American voters,” the judges wrote. “But rather, as with H.B. 589, that the Republican majority ‘target[ed] voters who, based on race, were unlikely to vote for the majority party. Even if done for partisan ends, that constitute[s] racial discrimination.’” Superior Court Judge Nathaniel Poovey, a Republican, said in his dissent that “not one scintilla of evidence was introduced” during the April trial “that any legislator acted with racially discriminatory intent,” and he noted the bill had support from a handful of black lawmakers as it moved through the legislature.

Pennsylvania: Democrats in Pennsylvania’s state Senate sued in a state court to block a Republican-approved subpoena seeking voter information and to put a stop to what Republicans call a “forensic investigation” of last year’s presidential election. Democrats had said they would sue within days after the Republican-controlled Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee voted Wednesday to issue a subpoena. The subpoena seeks detailed state election records, including communication with counties and the names of who voted in last year’s presidential election, their birth date, address, driver’s license number and the last four digits of their Social Security number. The 53-page lawsuit, filed by all 21 Senate Democrats, contends that the Senate Republican bid to investigate the election illegally treads on the court’s duties, violates state law over election audits and seeks information that is barred from public disclosure. “The latest ploy by the Senate Republicans is unprecedented and completely unwarranted,” Democrats said in a statement. “All aspects of the certified 2020 election have been thoroughly reviewed and adjudicated in the courts with no findings of irregularities or fraud. The timeframe to contest the 2020 certified election results is long overdue.”

Texas: Harris County will not have to throw out potentially thousands of ballots from people 65 and older who received unsolicited mail-in voting applications, after the Texas Supreme Court denied a petition from a conservative activist and others. Activist Steven Hotze, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Houston ISD trustee candidate Gerry Munroe and a group of Harris County voters filed the petition earlier this month in an effort to keep Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria from sending more applications before the November election. Court documents show scans of applications the voters allegedly received in recent months without requesting them. The petition also asked the court to order Longoria’s office not to count any votes from people who received ballot applications without requesting one. “If the Legislature had wanted to require the clerk to send the application to vote early to all registered voters sixty-five or older, they could have done so,” the petitioners wrote. “Additionally, if they wanted the clerk to have this option, they could have provided it in the language of the statute. Instead, the Legislature limited the mandate to provide the application only to those who request it.”

Washington: In recent days, lawsuits have been filed in Snohomish, Whatcom and Clark counties alleging auditors used uncertified voting equipment and manipulated thousands of ballots in an unspecified statewide race last year. Each suit seeks a “full forensic audit” conducted in the same manner, and with the same technology, as one carried out in Arizona earlier this year — which has thus far yielded no evidence of widespread fraud. The legal pursuits in this state, expected to expand to more counties this week, are steered by Washington Election Integrity Coalition United, the lead plaintiff in the suits, and whose leader, Tamborine Borrelli of Gig Harbor, has crisscrossed the state in search of residents willing to join the effort.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker


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Electionline Weekly September-23-2021


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