Kentucky has long been one of the worst states nationally for voting access policies, but this bill should make it overall easier to vote in the Bluegrass State, although it doesn’t include another measure that was temporarily implemented in 2020 that waived the excuse requirement to vote absentee. More positively, this latest version of the bill left out a provision that would have purged registered voters from the rolls if they failed to vote in two consecutive election cycles even if they otherwise remained eligible to vote.
● Illinois: Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed a bill that will end the practice of “prison gerrymandering” at the legislative level by counting incarcerated people for redistricting purposes at their last known address instead of where they are imprisoned (and can’t even vote if they were convicted of a felony). However, the new legislation won’t take effect until the 2030s redistricting cycle even though there’s theoretically still time to implement reforms this year.
● Ohio, 2020 Census: Republican officials in Ohio have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to require the Census Bureau to release key population data needed for states to be able to conduct redistricting by the bureau’s original March 31 deadline. The bureau had recently announced that the data wouldn’t be released until at least Sept. 30 due to delays caused by the pandemic and Trump’s attempts to interfere with the census’ operations, causing a major disruption to redistricting timelines in a number of states.
Voting Access Expansions
● Arkansas: A state House committee in Republican-dominated Arkansas has unanimously passed a bill to establish online voter registration. Arkansas is one of just a handful of states still lacking an online registration option.
● California: Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill that will automatically mail a ballot to all active registered voters for elections taking place later this year, which could include a potential election to recall Newsom himself from office. Democrats had adopted universal vote-by-mail on a temporary basis in 2020 due to the pandemic.
● Hawaii: Hawaii’s Democratic-run state Senate has unanimously passed a bill to enable counties to operate more in-person voting centers after in-person voting was plagued by long lines amid the state’s transition to universal mail voting in 2020. Senate Democrats and the chamber’s lone Republican also unanimously passed a bill in committee to establish automatic voter registration via Hawaii’s driver’s licensing agency.
● Iowa: A state House committee in GOP-run Iowa has unanimously passed a constitutional amendment that would codify GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds’ executive order that automatically restores voting rights to people with felony convictions who have fully served their sentences, including parole and probation. The full state House passed a similar measure with bipartisan support in 2019 only for state Senate Republicans to refuse to take it up. The latest amendment would need to be approved by both chambers both before and after the 2022 elections before it could go onto the 2024 ballot as a voter referendum.
● Nevada: Democrats, including Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, are planning to introduce a bill that would permanently adopt universal vote-by-mail (with limited in-person voting remaining available) after Nevada’s Democratic-run state government temporarily implemented it last year due to the pandemic. Just under half of Nevada voters cast their ballots by mail thanks to last year’s temporary law.
● New Jersey: State Senate Democrats have passed a bill that would establish an early voting period, requiring each of New Jersey’s 21 counties to create at least three early voting locations while more populous counties would need more locations. The bill, which Assembly Democrats also passed in committee, would adopt 10 days of early voting for general elections, six days for presidential primaries, and four days for all other primaries.
● New York: State Senate Democrats have passed a bill along party lines to permanently eliminate the disenfranchisement of voters on parole by automatically restoring voting rights to anyone convicted of a felony who is no longer incarcerated. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo had previously issued an executive order in 2019 restoring voting rights to many parolees, but that order still left thousands of parolees convicted of certain crimes disenfranchised, and it could be rescinded by a future governor.
● Virginia: Democrats in both legislative chambers have passed several bills expanding voting access, including the permanent adoption of some measures temporarily implemented during the pandemic last year. The various bills include provisions for:
The bills now go to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who is likely to sign them into law.
● Washington: State House Democrats have passed a bill largely along party lines that would end felony disenfranchisement for anyone is not currently incarcerated. That means people currently banned from voting who are on parole, probation, or owe court fines and fees despite having served their sentences would automatically regain their voting rights if Democrats in the state Senate and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee also approve the bill.
● Post Office: The Washington Post reported this week that President Joe Biden plans to move ahead with filling three vacancies on the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, which could result in a new Democratic-leaning majority that is willing to fire Trump-backed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. DeJoy was instrumental to Trump’s attempt to sabotage mail voting last year by significantly worsening mail delivery times, and he thumbed his nose at Democrats this week at a committee hearing by vowing to remain on the job for a “long time.”
Biden will reportedly nominate Ron Stroman, who recently retired as deputy postmaster general in protest of the Trump administration’s efforts; Amber McReynolds, who is one of the nation’s leading advocates for expanded mail voting as head of the National Vote at Home Institute; and Anton Hajjar, who is the former general counsel of the American Postal Workers Union. The board is currently entirely composed of white men, meaning Biden’s appointments would add much-needed diversity to its membership: McReynolds would be the only woman, while Stroman is Black and Hajjar is Syrian American.
● Arkansas: Republican state legislators have approved a bill over Democratic opposition that would make Arkansas’ voter ID law stricter, sending it to GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson for his signature. The bill removes the option for voters who lack an ID to vote by signing a sworn statement under penalty of perjury, instead mandating an ID in order to have one’s vote counted.
● Arizona: Republican state senators have revived a bill that would purge roughly 200,000 voters from the state’s “Permanent Early Voting List,” which automatically mails participating voters a ballot in all future elections. The bill would remove voters from the list who fail or refuse to vote in two consecutive election cycles. Crucially, the lone Republican senator who opposed the bill earlier this month now appears to have gotten on board with the proposal, making it likely to pass the Senate.
Republican state senators have also passed a bill in committee that would shorten the mail voting period from 27 to 22 days before Election Day and require such ballots be postmarked by the Thursday before Election Day. Voting advocates have warned about its particularly harmful impact on Native American voters living in remote rural areas with limited or unreliable mail service.
In the state House, meanwhile, Republicans have passed several new voting restrictions in committee, including a bill that would require people and groups who are registering more than 25 voters in a given year to themselves register with the state, mandating that they put unique identifying numbers on every registration form they submit. Advocacy groups condemned the bill and argued it risked leading to registration forms being thrown out. Other bills would ban election officials from automatically registering voters or mailing ballots to all voters without their request.
- Restrict absentee ballot drop boxes;
- Ban people other than immediate family members from collecting and submitting absentee ballots on behalf of another voter;
- Ban election officials from mailing ballots to all voters instead of just those who’ve requested one;
- Bar absentee ballot request forms from applying to two full election cycles, meaning voters who requested an absentee ballot in 2020 will retroactively have their requests canceled for the 2022 election cycle;
- Require absentee ballot signatures to match the one on the voter’s file, meaning officials with no formal handwriting-analysis training could make subjective decisions about matches; and
- Ban private third-party organizations from giving grants to local election officials to help increase voter turnout.
Republicans control both legislative chambers and are likely to pass at least some of these restrictions into law.
● Georgia: State House Republicans passed a bill in committee enacting a spate of new voting restrictions that had been introduced with almost no advance notice before legislators took it up for consideration. The bill adopts measures that would:
- Require that voters provide the number on their driver’s license, state ID, or a photocopy of their ID when requesting an absentee ballot and a photocopy of their ID when returning an absentee ballot;
- Limit weekend early voting;
- Restrict absentee ballot drop boxes to only the inside of early voting locations or county election offices, making them unavailable outside of regular business hours;
- Set a minimum of one drop box per 200,000 registered voters (other states such as California require one drop box per every 15,000 voters);
- Shorten the runoff period in federal elections from nine weeks to four weeks, with the apparent intent of giving campaigns less time to mobilize voters (instant runoffs would be used for overseas civilian and military voters to avoid running afoul of federal law mandating that their ballots be sent out 45 days before an election;
- Ban state officials from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot request forms to all voters after Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger did so in the 2020 primary;
- Disqualify ballots that were cast in the wrong precinct but in the right county, which currently may be counted as provisional ballots;
- Limit mobile early voting buses to only emergency situations;
- Bar counties from receiving private funding to help administer elections; and
- Block officials from distributing food and drinks to voters waiting in line to vote.
This legislative blitzkrieg bill drew widespread condemnation from Democrats and voting rights advocates. It’s unclear just which provisions stand a chance of achieving final passage after Republican state senators and some legislative leaders expressed skepticism over some of the provisions.
In the state Senate, Republicans have passed a bill that requires voters to provide the number on their driver’s license, state ID, or a photocopy of their ID when requesting an absentee ballot, but unlike the above provision in the House’s legislation, this bill only concerns requesting absentee ballots, not returning them. Republicans also passed bills in state Senate committee to repeal automatic voter registration and reinstate an excuse requirement for absentee voting, but it would only apply to voters under age 65 (elderly voters typically favor Republicans).
● Idaho: State House Republicans have passed a bill making it a felony to collect and submit another voter’s mail ballot on their behalf, with only limited exceptions for family members, election officials, and postal workers. Spearheaded by GOP House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, who argued that “voting shouldn’t be easy” to justify the restriction, the bill limits family members to turning in no more than six ballots. It also imposes burdens on voters who lack sufficient access to transportation and other voting options, such as people with disabilities or those living in remote rural areas like Native American reservations.
● Indiana: State Senate Republicans have passed a bill that strips GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb and the state Election Commission of their power to implement emergency changes to election procedures after they had used that power to expand voting access last year due to the pandemic. Republican legislators in several states are considering similar measures to constrain the emergency election powers of governors from both parties who had expanded access to voting during the pandemic.
● Iowa: Republican state legislators have passed a bill along party lines that enacts a broad range of new voting restrictions, sending it to GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds for her expected signature. The bill would:
- Cut the early voting period from 29 to 20 days;
- Close the polls on Election Day at 8 PM instead of 9 PM, making it harder for working people and those with children to vote;
- Require mail ballots to be received by officials on Election Day instead of postmarked by Election Day and received a few days afterward, which would have disqualified roughly 6,500 ballots in 2020;
- Ban county officials from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot request forms to all voters (a previous version of the bill banned county officials from mailing even requested forms);
- Prevent county officials from mailing absentee ballots to voters more than 20 days before Election Day, a reduction from the current 29 days and a shorter window than in all but five states; and
- Bar voters from requesting an absentee ballot less than 15 days before Election Day instead of the current 10 days.
● Missouri: State House Republicans have passed a bill that would revive Missouri’s photo voter ID requirement in the wake of a state Supreme Court decision last year that gutted most of the GOP’s previous voter ID law. That ruling allowed voters to present non-photo ID such as a utility bill, but the new bill would require voters who lack a photo ID to cast a provisional ballot that would only be counted if they later return with a photo ID or if their signature matches the one from their voter registration.
While the GOP’s previous voter ID law was thoroughly curtailed by the state Supreme Court, it’s unclear if the court will block this latest voter ID restriction. Republican Gov. Mike Parson is set to appoint a replacement for Justice Laura Denvir Stith, who was appointed by former Democratic Gov. Bob Holden and is retiring on March 8 five years before her term was set to expire, which would give GOP appointees a majority on the bench. However, last year’s ruling saw GOP-appointed Justice Patricia Breckenridge side with her four Democratic-appointed colleagues against the law, so it isn’t a foregone conclusion that this latest bill will survive in court.
● Montana: Republican state senators passed a bill earlier this month that would make Montana’s voter ID law more restrictive. Photo IDs are already required under state law, but the GOP’s bill would require voters to present a second form of ID such as a paycheck or utility bill if they use particular forms of identification such as a student ID. Democrats and Native voting rights advocates have argued that this would make it more difficult for certain groups of people to vote.
Meanwhile, in the state House, Republicans and a handful of Democrats have passed a bill that would prevent the governor from making emergency election changes without legislative approval, as former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock did last year to authorize counties to adopt universal vote-by-mail during the pandemic. While newly elected GOP Gov. Greg Gianforte is unlikely to take steps like these expanding access, this bill would give GOP legislators a veto over similar attempts by any future Democratic governor.
House Republicans also narrowly failed to advance a bill that would require people who are claimed by another person as a dependent for tax purposes to vote at the claimant’s address in local elections. Under this proposal, many college students would have been unable to vote on campus or even in Montana altogether. (Similar laws have been subject to litigation in other states, with lower federal courts ruling that students have a right to vote where they go to school.) That bill had previously won initial approval in the House, and it could be revived if a few Republicans change their minds.
Finally, Republicans passed a bill in a state House committee that would limit who can turn in someone else’s absentee ballot on their behalf. This bill would bar anyone who isn’t a family or household member, caregiver, or an “acquaintance” who is a registered voter in the same county from turning in another person’s ballot, thereby preventing voter advocacy groups or political campaigns from organizing ballot collection efforts.
A previous Republican-backed law imposing similar restrictions was blocked in court last year for discriminating against Native American voters, who often live on remote rural reservations where mail service and transportation access are limited. This latest bill may therefore also face difficulty surviving a likely lawsuit.
● North Dakota: State House Republicans have rejected a bill that would have required an excuse for voters under age 65 to be able to vote by mail. Republicans have also withdrawn another bill that would have dramatically extended the residency requirement for voting by mandating that voters be a resident of their jurisdiction for a year before Election Day instead of the current 30-day rule.
● Pennsylvania: On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up Republicans’ appeal of a lower court ruling that had rejected their challenge to Pennsylvania’s 2020 election rules. The decision removes a barrier to counting roughly 10,000 absentee ballots from last November that had been stuck in limbo, but a separate challenge to those ballots remains and means they won’t be counted just yet.
Republicans had challenged a decision by the Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court to extend the deadline for returning absentee ballots, allowing ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within three days to count. Far-right Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch all dissented and would have taken the case.
Republicans had argued an extreme and unprecedented view of the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause, which gives the “legislature” in each state the power to set the “times, places, and manner of holding” federal elections. Republicans contended that this clause only empowers the state legislature itself, not those who hold the power to set laws under state constitutions such as state courts, voters (via the ballot initiative process), or potentially even governors when they exercise their veto powers.
The Supreme Court rejected this interpretation in a 5-4 ruling in 2015 upholding the right of Arizona voters to strip their GOP-run legislature of the power to control redistricting via a ballot initiative. However, two of the justices in the majority in that ruling, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy, are no longer on the court and have since been replaced by justices much further to their right.
Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch all signaled that they would have accepted this radical rejection of two centuries of federalism and given Republican-gerrymandered legislatures like Pennsylvania’s free rein to dictate federal election laws. If these hardliners had gotten their way, almost no force would have been left to check GOP legislators’ efforts to gerrymander and pass new voting restrictions.
Voting advocates had expressed significant fears that a majority of the court would sign onto this view after Justice Brett Kavanaugh indicated last year that he was amenable to the argument. However, Kavanaugh, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justice Amy Coney Barrett nonetheless didn’t agree to advance the case.
But the dispute over the Elections Clause remains unresolved. Election expert Rick Hasen opined that the court’s conservative majority may have refused to take up the Pennsylvania appeal because the specific issue is moot with the election resolved, or because the case’s association with Trump’s attempt to overturn his election loss makes it politically “radioactive.” But the issue could ultimately find its way back before the court in future litigation.
● Wyoming: Republicans have passed a bill in state House committee to require voter ID. Previous attempts to adopt a voter ID requirement had narrowly failed in recent years, but with a majority of the full House and half the state Senate sponsoring this latest bill, it is likely to pass this time.
● North Dakota: Republican state senators have passed a constitutional amendment that would raise the threshold needed for voters to approve ballot initiatives from a simple majority to 60% instead. If state House Republicans also approve the amendment, it would go onto the November 2022 ballot as a voter referendum and only require a simple majority for passage.
Had this supermajority threshold been in place in 2018, a successful ballot initiative to create a state ethics commission would have instead failed since it only won 54% voter approval. Voting reformers also tried to pass an initiative banning gerrymandering last year, and while conservative judges blocked it from appearing on the ballot, reformers could try again later this decade, meaning this 60% supermajority threshold could serve as an additional roadblock to taking redistricting out of the hands of legislators.
● Arizona: Proposed legislation that would have given Republican legislators the power to overturn democratic elections by rejecting future presidential election outcomes and having the legislature directly determine the state’s Electoral College delegates has failed to advance.
● North Dakota: Republican state senators have passed a bill seeking to undermine the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact by barring election officials from releasing the vote totals for presidential election results until the Electoral College has voted if the compact ever enters into effect. The bill specifies that only the vote percentages won by candidates would be available in the two months between Election Day and the Electoral College vote.
No other state does anything like what this bill proposes, and it would only further undermine public trust in the electoral process by adding secrecy to vote counting. The bill appears intended to do just that by seeking to make it impossible to know which candidate won the national popular vote, especially if other GOP-run states were to follow suit.
Electoral System Reform
● Colorado: Democrats in a state House committee have passed a bill along party lines that would make it easier for local governments to adopt instant-runoff voting for local elections, with state support for administering its use. Cities already have the option to use instant-runoff voting, but this bill would remove remaining hurdles to help facilitate the transition.