Although the bills do modestly expand the availability of early voting in smaller jurisdictions, those less populous counties are disproportionately white and heavily Republican. By contrast, Texas’ several counties with populations of more than one million are disproportionately Democratic and home to large communities of color, and the bans on measures such as drive-thru or 24-hour early voting largely affect these Democratic strongholds instead.
Additionally, the House GOP’s bill but not the Senate’s would require monthly citizenship checks for the voter registration rolls to remove ineligible noncitizens using data from the state Department of Public Safety, but this sort of attempted purge landed the state in hot water two years ago when it swept up thousands of naturalized citizens whose latest legal status wasn’t properly reflected in the department’s records. Republicans ultimately desisted from that effort in 2019 in the face of multiple lawsuits.
However, following public backlash, the legislation no longer contains a ban on Sunday early voting and a provision making it easier for Republican officials to overturn election results, both of which were in the failed bill from earlier this year. Furthermore, the bills do ostensibly create a process for voters to correct supposed problems with their mail ballot signatures, but it remains to be seen whether it would truly be a standardized process or one that is still subject to the arbitrary whims of untrained local officials.
Meanwhile, the get-out-the-vote group Vote.org has filed a federal lawsuit challenging a new Republican-backed law that requires a physical “wet” signature for voter registration applications submitted electronically or via fax, which makes any form of online registration impractical. Texas is one of the last few states that lacks online registration available to most voters, containing a large majority of Americans who live in such states, and Republicans have repeatedly fought efforts to allow even limited forms of online registration, leading a federal court to require them last year to allow it for voters updating an existing registration address with the DMV in compliance with federal law.
● Michigan: Michigan’s Supreme Court has rejected a pre-emptive request by the new independent redistricting commission to extend key redistricting deadlines, despite the Census Bureau’s months-long delay in releasing the data to draw new districts. The release isn’t expected until Aug. 16 in an older format that may take some time to process, and not until Sept. 30 in a user-friendly format.
The ruling didn’t foreclose extending the deadlines later on but merely deemed it too early to grant the request relief, meaning the Sept. 17 deadline for the commission to make available its proposed maps for 45 days of public comments and Nov. 1 deadline for passing the maps remain in place for now. However, the commission’s spokesperson said they don’t anticipate asking for relief again even once they miss the deadline, and it’s unclear what would happen after that occurs.
● Virginia: Attorney Paul Goldman, who is a former chair of the state Democratic Party, has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to compel Virginia to hold special elections for the entire state House under new districts coinciding with next year’s midterms. Due to the census’ delayed release of redistricting data making it impossible for the new bipartisan commission to draw new maps in time for this year’s elections, Virginia is holding them under the districts drawn using 2010 census data by Republicans in 2011 and partially redrawn by a federal court in 2019.
However, Goldman’s suit argues that waiting until the next regular elections in 2023 to hold elections under a new map would violate both the federal and state constitutions due to impermissibly large population imbalances. If his lawsuit prevails, Virginia could end up holding state House elections three years in a row.
Three back-to-back elections happened four decades ago when a federal court in 1981 struck down the districts adopted that year with too little time to redraw them for that fall’s elections, leading to elections in both 1982 and 1983 under new districts. However, federal courts in more recent redistricting disputes such as in Kentucky and Pennsylvania allowed maps that had been drawn after the 2000 census to remain in place until as late as 2014 when mapmakers passed unconstitutional districts that were struck down with too little time to draw new legal maps for the 2012 elections.
Voting Access Expansions
● California: California Assembly Democrats have advanced two bills in committee, both of which aim to make voting easier and ensure that votes get counted. Both bills were already passed by the Democratic-run state Senate last month, but require approval by additional committees in the Assembly.
One of the measures would create a statewide standard for verifying mail ballot signatures and require officials to contact voters with signature issues to help resolve them. The second bill seeks to ensure that military and overseas voters, including those who have disabilities, have equal access to same-day voter registration. It also would install safeguards to prevent people with felony convictions who have been released from prison and are thus eligible to vote again from being wrongly removed from the voter rolls.
● Delaware: Democratic Gov. John Carney has signed a law that will establish automatic voter registration (AVR) via Delaware’s driver licensing agency, and the measure also gives the state election commissioner the power to extend AVR to other agencies. However, the new law won’t take effect until either two years after its enactment (July 2023) or five days after the election commissioner certifies that the systems needed to implement it are operational, whichever comes first, meaning it’s unclear whether it will be in effect by next year’s midterm elections.
A large number of states have adopted AVR since Oregon became the first to do so in 2015; following the passage and expansion of automatic registration this year in Connecticut, Delaware, and Hawaii, over 47% of Americans now live in states that have already implemented AVR or are slated to do so in the next few years. Although its passage has often been bipartisan in key legislatures including Delaware’s state House, Georgia and West Virginia (the latter of which hasn’t implemented it yet) are the only Republican-run states that have adopted AVR so far, and New Mexico is the only Democratic-run state that still lacks it.
● Guam: Guam’s Democratic-run legislature has passed a bill to permanently adopt in-person absentee voting after lawmakers temporarily adopted it last year during the pandemic. The bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero for his signature.
● Georgia: A federal district court has rejected a request to temporarily block parts of the sweeping voting restriction law that Republicans passed earlier in spring, though the case will still proceed on the merits. The ruling held that it was too close to upcoming runoff elections on July 13 to change the rules, citing higher court precedents against changing election rules too close to Election Day even when the procedures in question are legally suspect. But of course, those conservative jurists haven’t enforced that same prohibition against GOP legislatures changing their laws just months before elections.
Unlike the seven other lawsuits that are mainly seeking to block the law’s voting restrictions, this lawsuit is largely challenging election security provisions in the law that the plaintiffs argue threaten voters’ privacy and election observers’ ability to monitor voting to ensure it runs smoothly, though it also is opposing the increased 11 day deadline before Election Day to request absentee ballots.
● Kansas: The League of Women Voters and other nonpartisan voting advocacy groups who are waging one of two ongoing lawsuits over legislation Kansas Republicans passed earlier this year to restrict voting have announced that they are suspending their voter registration efforts due to fear of prosecution under the new law. The GOP’s legislation makes it a crime to conduct activity that “gives the appearance of being an election official;” bans election officials from assisting or educating voters; bans out-of-state groups from sending absentee ballot applications to voters; adds new requirements for absentee ballot signature verification; and bans people or groups from helping more than 10 voters return their absentee ballots.
This is not the first time in the past decade that Kansas Republicans have intimidated voting advocacy groups into stopping their voter drive efforts. Back in 2013, Republicans passed a law requiring documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote, which was eventually struck down in federal court but had created a chilling effect on registration drives since few voters carry their passport or similar documents around day-to-day and led to the suspension of one in seven new registrations while it was in effect.
● Louisiana: Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has vetoed a bill passed by Republicans with some Democratic support that would require voters to include their driver’s license or state ID card number with their absentee ballot and application or include part of their Social Security number if they lack a state ID. Republicans are just shy of the seats needed to override a veto alone in the state House, but they might be able to win over a few Democrats or independents necessary for an override.
● Massachusetts: Bay State Republicans have announced they will attempt to place an initiative on the ballot next year that would adopt a voter ID requirement, which would require roughly 80,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot.
● Nebraska: Nebraska state Sen. Julie Slama and other GOP officials have announced that they are undertaking an effort to put a voter photo ID constitutional amendment on the ballot as an initiative next year. Republicans will need to obtain signatures equivalent to 10% of registered voters, meaning the exact number depends on when the signatures are submitted, but that proportion equates to roughly 124,000 voters according to the state’s most recent registration statistics.
Nebraska is the only state remaining where Republicans control both the legislature and governor’s office but have not yet passed a voter ID law. Past legislative attempts have repeatedly failed to obtain the two-thirds support necessary to overcome Democratic filibusters, and Republicans have shown little signs so far of a willingness to eliminate Nebraska’s unusually strong filibuster rule by majority vote.
● New Hampshire: Dealing a blow to Republican voter suppression efforts, New Hampshire’s Supreme Court unanimously struck down a 2017 law that imposed new voter residency requirements and made it more difficult for young voters and college students in particular to cast their ballots. The 4-0 ruling that the law violated the state constitutions’ right to vote guarantee comes despite GOP Gov. Chris Sununu having flipped the court’s previous Democratic-appointed majority to 3-2 Republican (Sununu-appointed Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald recused himself since he was previously involved with the litigation while serving as state attorney general).
The law in question required voters who registered to vote within 30 days of an election to show additional documentation that they live day-to-day at the residence they claim as their “domicile” and intend to do so long-term. Voters who lacked suitable documentation could only cast provisional ballots, which would only count if they could provide documents proving their residency met the law’s requirements at a later date. If they didn’t, the law empowered state election officials to visit their homes and refer them to the secretary of state’s office for potential investigation, which may have intimidated voters.
New Hampshire has the highest proportion of college students in the country, making up over 15% of their voting age population, and Republicans under Sununu passed this measure to make voting more difficult for various demographics such as students, who lean Democratic. However, with Republicans having regained their gerrymandered legislative majorities in 2020, there’s a considerable risk that they will simply pass new restrictions on young voters in the wake of this defeat.
● South Dakota: Native American plaintiffs are waging a lawsuit in federal court arguing that Republican-run South Dakota is violating the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, commonly known as the Motor Voter law, by failing to properly provide opportunities to register to vote at certain state agencies and sometimes even failing to forward registration applications to election officials even when they do. The plaintiffs first filed their case last year but recently updated it to expand the number of plaintiffs.
● Florida: A federal district court has granted a preliminary injunction blocking Florida Republicans’ new law that added $3,000 donation limits to ballot initiative campaigns, ruling that it violated the First Amendment based on past Supreme Court precedent. Republicans, who have yet to announce whether they will appeal, have repeatedly tried to stymie ballot initiatives over the years after voters used them to try to make elections fairer and to pass progressive policies.
This case over donation limits may play a key role in whether an ongoing effort is able to successfully put three measures on the ballot next year that would adopt automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and a de facto repeal of the GOP’s 2019 poll tax on people with felony convictions who owe court fines and fees.
● Louisiana: Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed a bill passed by the GOP-run legislature nearly along party lines that will see Louisiana transition from paperless voting machines to a paper-based voting system. Louisiana is one of the last remaining states to make widespread use of paperless voting machines, but the replacement system would entail using paper ballots that voters get scanned for tabulation.