The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, May 17

by Liz Avore

May 17, 2021

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Today is Monday, May 17. We’re tracking 2,158 voting bills that have been introduced so far this session. There are 407 anti-voter bills and 1,262 pro-voter bills, with the remainder being either neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: After weeks of legislative in-fighting, Arizona’s legislature passed a bill purging voters from the state’s very popular Permanent Early Voting List, and the governor swiftly signed it the very same day. Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the Senate passed two bills that would restrict mail voting and create felony-level crimes for voters and election officials. Criminalizing behavior by voters and election officials is a part of a larger trend this year, with 232 bills introduced that would create or expand election-related crimes.

The Good News: Connecticut’s bill to end prison gerrymandering has passed each chamber and heads to the governor’s desk. In New York, voters will now decide on same day registration and no-excuse absentee, with the legislature passing bills last week that put these issues on November’s ballot.

Looking Forward: This week, we’re expecting Texas to call a conference committee to reconcile the very different House and Senate versions of the anti-voter elections omnibus bill. And on Wednesday, the North Carolina Senate’s Redistricting and Elections Committee will hear a bill that would require voters to return their completed mail ballots much earlier and shorten the absentee ballot request window.

Here are the details:

Arizona enacts legislation to purge voters from permanent vote by mail list. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed S.B. 1485 into law last week, paving the way to purge more than 100,000 voters from the state’s extremely popular Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL). Over three million Arizona voters (and 73% of those who voted in the 2020 election) are enrolled in PEVL. The new law will remove voters from the list if they fail to vote using a mail ballot in two consecutive election cycles — and will rename it the “active early voting list.”

New York takes election reform bills to the voters. New York passed bills last week that propose constitutional amendments to allow same day registration and no-excuse absentee voting. This was the last step to get these measures on the ballot in November. If the voters ratify each of them, the state constitution will be amended so that it no longer prohibits these common-sense policies.

Oklahoma simultaneously expands early voting and restricts vote by mail. On Tuesday, Oklahoma enacted a bill that adds a day of early voting for even year general elections. However, the legislation also significantly shortens the window a voter has to apply for a mail ballot — moving the deadline from the Tuesday before Election Day to the thirdMonday before Election Day.

Wisconsin’s legislature advances bills to restrict mail voting. In Wisconsin, the Senate passed two anti-voter bills last week. One would severely restrict drop box availability, create a new felony-level crime for people who help others return their ballot, and prohibit “Democracy in the Park”-type events where voters safely and securely drop off absentee ballots. (One event in Madison last year collected nearly 11,000 ballots.) The other bill would threaten election officials with a number of felony-level crimes. These bills now head to the Assembly. Meanwhile, the state Assembly passed a bill to restrict the ability of elections officials to use private grant money to smoothly run elections. That bill now heads to the Senate.

Connecticut moves closer to ending prison gerrymandering and allowing no-excuse absentee voting. A bill that would end prison gerrymandering heads to the governor’s desk after passing the Connecticut House on Wednesday. The House also passed a resolution to amend the constitution to allow no-excuse absentee voting, by a vote of 104 to 44. Because it passed with just under 75% support, it will not reach the ballot in 2022. It will be on the ballot in 2024 if the state Senate passes the resolution this session and both chambers pass it by a simple majority in 2023.

Texas moves forward with new felony election crime; conference committee on anti-voter omnibus bill expected this week. In Texas, the Senate passed a House bill that would create a second degree felony for counting invalid votes or not counting valid votes. An amendment on Wednesday improved the bill by adding the requirement that the violation be “knowing.” The bill, which started in the House, returns now to the House for concurrence. This week, we expect Texas to call a conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions of their anti-voter elections omnibus bill.

Mail voting restrictions are expected to be heard in North Carolina this week. On Wednesday this week, North Carolina’s Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee will hear S.B. 326, a bill which will require all absentee ballots to be received by 5 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. Current law requires absentee ballots to be postmarked by Election Day and received within three days after Election Day. The bill would also shorten the mail ballot request period by a full week.

This update is powered by VRL’s State Voting Rights Tracker:

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