The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, August 30

by Liz Avore

August 30, 2021

Scheduling note: We’ll be back with the next edition of The Markup on Monday, September 13.

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Today is Monday, August 30.

We’re tracking 2,607 voting bills.There are 502 anti-voter bills and 1,499 pro-voter bills, with the remainder being either neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: The Texas special session continues, with the House passing anti-voter omnibus S.B. 1 and the Senate calling for a conference committee to negotiate the final bill behind closed doors.

The Good News: H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, passed the U.S. House last week. This bill would restore the pre-clearance requirements in the Voting Rights Act that were gutted in Shelby County v. Holder. In North Carolina, a court ruled that people on parole or probation for a felony can register to vote. The ruling is estimated to affect 56,000 people. The Texas omnibus elections bill, while overall anti-voter, contained some pro-voter amendments which will help voters with disabilities, better train poll watchers, and facilitate ballot cure.

Looking Forward: This is the final week of the second Texas special session. It appears likely that S.B. 1 will pass – after a provision that would protect voters who cast a ballot not knowing that they are ineligible is removed.  

Here are the details:

Texas House passes S.B. 1. After adopting several amendments, the House passed the omnibus anti-voter bill, S.B. 1 on Friday and sent it back to the Senate for concurrence. Later that evening, the Senate refused to concur and appointed five senators to a conference committee where the final bill will be negotiated behind closed doors. The House appointed its five conferees before adjourning Friday night.

S.B. 1, as passed by the House, would:

  • Threaten election officials with criminal prosecution for enacting procedures to meet local community needs;
  • Threaten people with felony prosecution for providing needed assistance to voters with disabilities;
  • Limit the ability of election judges to remove disruptive or intimidating partisan poll watchers;
  • Allow partisan poll watchers to take election officials to court over perceived obstruction;
  • Require voters using mail ballots to include an ID number when applying for or returning mail ballots;
  • Prohibit outdoor voting locations, even during emergencies due to natural disasters;
  • Add new, unfunded audits disproportionately targeting larger counties that are duplicative of procedures already passed by the Legislature earlier this year; and
  • Prohibit drive-through voting locations and mail ballot drop boxes.

While the bill is overall anti-voter, there were some pro-voter amendments added in the latest House version. In particular, they would:

  • Require online training for poll watchers;
  • Protect the rights of voters with disabilities to request reasonable accommodations to election procedures; and
  • Establish a cure process to ensure voters can fix simple mistakes on their ballots.

Senators indicated that they opposed an amendment that would only allow criminal prosecution of a person who votes despite being ineligible if that person knew they were ineligible when they cast their ballot. This amendment was introduced to prevent harsh punishments for returning citizens who voted unaware of their ineligibility, such as the five-year sentence of Crystal Mason. It appears likely that amendment will be removed and S.B. 1 will pass this week. 

The U.S. House passes the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. H.R. 4, also known as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, passed the House last week. The bill would effectively restore Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) by requiring states and jurisdictions with a proven history of discriminatory voting practices to obtain certification, or “preclearance” before making changes to election procedures to ensure that the proposed changes are not discriminatory. In 2013, the formula that Section 5 used to determine which jurisdictions were subject to preclearance was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder. H.R. 4 would create a new, updated formula to determine which jurisdictions are subject to preclearance, and would establish other mechanisms for the federal government to oversee elections. Check out our in-depth write-up to learn more about the types of state legislation that H.R. 4 would address.

North Carolina court rules that people can vote while on probation and parole. Last week, a three-judge panel in North Carolina granted a request for a preliminary injunction to allow individuals on community supervision to register to vote. The ruling means that people with felony convictions may register to vote immediately upon release from prison. With this ruling, North Carolina joins 20 other states with automatic restoration of voting rights after incarceration (with an additional state, Washington, to join their ranks on January 1). This is estimated to impact around 56,000 North Carolinians. The legislature will now appeal the decision with the help of a private law firm.

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

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