The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, July 12

by Liz Avore

July 12, 2021

Welcome back to our loyal readers and hello to everyone who has joined us in the last few weeks. Will you forward this post along to any friends or colleagues who may be interested in subscribing?

If you’d like to get these weekly updates straight to your inbox going forward, please subscribe now.

Today is Monday, July 12.

We’re tracking 2,289 voting bills that have been introduced so far this session. There are 443 anti-voter bills and 1,311 pro-voter bills, with the remainder being either neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: Texas’s special session kicked off with a bang last Thursday with lawmakers introducing over 80 bills related to elections. Two omnibus bills, H.B. 3 and S.B. 1, were voted out of committee on Sunday after committee hearings that began Saturday morning stretched into early Sunday morning. Among their many anti-voter provisions, these bills would inject partisanship into the voting process and threaten criminal prosecutions for voters, election officials, and advocacy groups.

The Good News: Hawaii Governor David Ige signed an omnibus pro-voter bill which allows same-day online registration and requires notification for individuals on probation or parole that they are eligible to vote, among other provisions. The California House is advancing two pro-voter bills, one that improves the notice and cure process for mail ballots and one that expands same day registration to overseas and military (UOCAVA) voters, as well as voters with disabilities who register by mail. And the Wisconsin Senate introduced three pro-voter bills which would allow and facilitate 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote.

Looking Forward: The California notice and cure bill and the same day registration expansion bill will be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee and the Assembly Public Safety Committee, respectively, this week. And the Texas legislative squalls are just getting started; the special session will likely continue through August 7 with S.B. 1 expected to go to the Senate floor for a vote on Tuesday.

Here are the details:

Texas special session convenes. All eyes are on Texas as the special session accelerates. Lawmakers will have 30 days to pass legislation on a number of issues, including elections. Two omnibus bills – S.B. 1 and H.B. 3 – have taken center stage. Notable provisions in both bills include:

  • New criminal penalties for election officials, organizations, caregivers, and voters
  • Limitation on the ability of election judges to remove disruptive or intimidating partisan poll watchers
  • Cause of action for poll watchers to take election officials to court over perceived obstruction
  • Strict limit on the type of assistance a person – even a family member – may provide a voter when casting their ballot
  • Ban on outdoor and drive-through voting locations and mail ballot drop boxes, even in cases of a local emergency

Committee hearings on both bills were held over the weekend. The House committee met for nearly twenty-four hours straight before reporting the bill favorably on a 9-5 party line vote at 7:34 a.m. on Sunday morning. The Senate committee met for a 15-hour hearing, adjourning at 2 a.m. Sunday morning. They reconvened at 2 p.m. on Sunday and reported the bill favorably to the full Senate, also on a party line vote. Both committees heard testimony from hundreds of individual members of the public.

Another bill introduced in special session – S.B. 31 – would create a procedure for purging voter registrations on an annual basis. The bill contains no matching criteria or other means to verify the voters whose registrations would be cancelled. The Senate committee heard this bill along with S.B. 1 on Saturday, and it remains pending in committee without a vote.

Wisconsin introduces legislation to allow and facilitate voter pre-registration for high school students. In Wisconsin, the Senate introduced three bills aimed at allowing high school students to pre-register to vote. One would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register. Another would facilitate pre-registration at high schools by requiring the municipal clerk to designate a registration deputy at every public high school in the municipality. A third would require high schools to give a registration form to all students who become eligible to vote and non-partisan information about the role of a citizen and the importance of voting. Sixteen states currently allow 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote.

Hawaii enacts omnibus pro-voter legislation. Governor Ige signed S.B. 548 last week. This omnibus bill makes numerous changes to the election code, including requiring notification for individuals on parole or probation of their eligibility to vote, allowing same day registration online, extending the deadline for registration by mail, and requiring election officials to determine the optimal number and placement of voter service centers and drop boxes based on several factors.

This bill also allows pre-processing of absentee ballots 18 days before the election – eight days earlier than current law. Expanding pre-processing periods is a growing trend with bipartisan support: 10 states, including Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia, and North Dakota, have enacted bills this year on pre-processing.

California advances pro-voter bills. Last week, the California House voted two bills out of committee that advance voting rights. One improves the notice and cure process for mail ballots by establishing pro-voter principles for signature matching, including a presumption in favor of the signatures matching. This provision is in contrast to bills introduced in Texas and Michigan that change the burden of proof to create a presumption that signatures do not match. This bill also improves the ballot cure process by specifying processes previously left vague and requiring election officials to include a return envelope with prepaid postage with the notice of a mismatch or missing signature.

Another bill expands same day registration to overseas and military (UOCAVA) voters, as well as voters with disabilities who register by mail. It also would make changes to how the state cancels the registrations of people imprisoned for felony convictions and informs those no longer imprisoned that their voting eligibility has been restored. This bill was also amended to add protection against criminal prosecution for returning citizens who received erroneous official notice they were eligible to vote and relied on the notice to register and vote.

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

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Markup to get our updates straight to your inbox.