The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, September 13

by Liz Avore

September 13, 2021

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Today is Monday, September 13.

We’re tracking 2,624 voting bills. There are 511 anti-voter bills and 1,502 pro-voter bills, with the remainder being either neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: Texas’s anti-voter omnibus bill was finally passed and signed as the legislature’s second special session came to a close. In Michigan, Republicans launched a ballot initiative campaign to make the state’s voter ID laws much stricter.

The Good News: The California Senate passed Assembly Bill 37, which makes certain changes implemented for 2020 permanent, including sending mail-in ballots to all registered voters for every election and ensuring voters have access to secure drop boxes and online ballot tracking. In Arizona, activists are taking steps to undo S.B. 1485, enacted in May, which ended the state’s permanent early voter list.

Looking Forward: The U.S. Senate returns from recess this week, and a voting rights compromise bill is expected soon, with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer indicating it was a top priority for the September session. Meanwhile, we expect California Governor Gavin Newsom to sign a few voting bills this week – and tomorrow is the last day to vote in the state recall election.

Here are the details:

Texas anti-voter bill signed into law. Last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the S.B. 1, the state’s omnibus anti-voter bill. The bill was promptly challenged in a number of lawsuits, including four in federal court. Among the challenges are claims that the law disproportionately impedes the right of Black and Latino voters, as well as voters with disabilities, to exercise their right to vote.

Texas didn’t stop there. S.B. 97, which would authorize partisan officials to initiate county-level reviews of election results from November 2020 and future elections, passed the Senate in last special session. An identical bill has already been re-filed for the next special session, which begins September 20.

California advances several pro-voter bills. The California legislature passed a number of pro-voter bills recently. They include A.B. 37, which makes certain changes implemented temporarily in 2020 permanent. Under A.B. 37, all voters in all counties will be mailed a ballot in all elections, will be able to easily access a ballot from home and then securely return it as they would a ballot received in the mail, and will have access to online ballot tracking. The bill also gives counties the ability to start processing mail-in ballots earlier. In addition, the bill will ensure that ballots that are posted by Election Day are counted as long as they are received by seven days after the election. Prior law required that ballots be received within three days of the election.

The legislature also passed a bill improving signature matching, and one strengthening the automatic voter registration process at the DMV. These bills now go to the governor for signature.

Michigan Republicans begin gathering signatures for a ballot initiative to make voter ID more restrictive. At the end of August, Michigan Republicans launched a campaign to put restrictive voting laws on the ballot. Under current Michigan law, voters are asked to present identification when they vote in-person at the polls. If they cannot do so, they may prove their identity instead by signing an affidavit under penalty of perjury. The newly launched initiative proposes to eliminate that affidavit alternative. The initiative would also make it more difficult to register to vote and apply for a ballot by mail. The campaign must gather about 340,000 signatures within the next six months, after which the legislature may vote on it. This initiative is an attempt to sidestep Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who has indicated she will veto any anti-voting bills that reach her desk. Under the ballot initiative process, the bill does not require a governor’s signature and so it is not subject to a veto.

Arizona activists seek to undo new anti-voter laws. A group of Arizona activists are gathering signatures to try to put some recently passed legislation on the ballot in November 2022 and give voters a chance to reverse it. Among the bills they are challenging are S.B. 1485, which ended the permanent early voter list, and provisions in the budget appropriations bill that stripped election authority from the Secretary of State. Additionally, voting rights groups have sued the state to challenge some of the new laws passed this year.

U.S. Senate expected to pick up on voting legislation soon. The U.S. Senate is scheduled to reconvene today, and voting rights is at the top of the agenda. We’re waiting to see what the new compromise bill will contain. Senator Joe Manchin has expressed optimism that he can get some bipartisan support for a federal voting rights bill.

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

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