The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, September 20

by Liz Avore

September 20, 2021

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Today is Monday, September 20.

We’re tracking 2,648 voting bills. There are 511 anti-voter bills and 1,511 pro-voter bills, with the remainder being either neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: Sham reviews of the 2020 certified election results are on the rise: A bill prefiled in Florida for the 2022 session would bring the sham election review trend to the Sunshine State. In Pennsylvania, a State Senate committee is advancing subpoenas in their own Cyber Ninjas-inspired partisan review of the state’s 2020 presidential election results. The Pennsylvania legislature also introduced omnibus elections bills on Friday: S.B. 878 in the Senate and H.B. 1800 in the House. Finally, in Michigan, the House advanced a bill that would expand the grounds for challenging voters’ ballots and would allow partisan actors to designate additional challengers for precincts.

The Good News: The U.S. Senate unveiled the Freedom to Vote Act, federal legislation that seeks to address voting access, election subversion, redistricting, and election integrity. In Nebraska, the legislature introduced a bill last week that would end prison gerrymandering. The bill would require that people incarcerated in Nebraska be counted where they lived in the state prior to incarceration. And early voting has begun in Virginia, the first election since its new elections laws have gone into effect.

Looking Forward: We expect a vote on the Freedom to Vote Act as early as this week.

Here are the details:

U.S. Senate introduces new voting rights bill. On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate introduced its new voting rights bill, the Freedom to Vote Act. The bill includes provisions requiring states to provide:

  • Early voting starting 15 days before Election Day;
  • Expanded mail ballot access, including no-excuse mail voting, secure drop boxes, and an opportunity to correct errors on mail ballot envelopes
  • Automatic, online, and same day voter registration;
  • Guidelines for voter ID in states that choose to require it;
  • Restoration of voting rights for people who are no longer incarcerated;
  • Better access for voters with disabilities; and
  • Uniform standards for drawing congressional districts.

For a look at how these provisions compare to current state law, please read our detailed analysis. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated the bill will come up for a vote as soon as this week.

Florida legislators pre-file sham review bill. Legislators in Florida have pre-filed a bill to create a sham review of the 2020 election for counties of 250,000 or more – currently covering at least 23 counties. The bill targets Democratic strongholds rather than the entire state. The first Florida interim committee week, where legislators set priorities for the 2022 legislative session, begins today.

Pennsylvania introduces new anti-voter omnibus bill; moves forward on its own sham review. The Pennsylvania Senate introduced a bill Friday afternoon that would make it harder to vote in many ways. Specifically, the bill would end the permanent mail-in voter list, move up the deadline to request an absentee ballot in many cases, and require secure drop boxes to be monitored. The House also introduced an updated omnibus elections bill with many similar provisions to the vetoed H.B. 1300. Additionally, last week the Pennsylvania Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee voted to advance subpoenas in its sham review of the 2020 election results.

Michigan advances partisan challenger bill and bill restricting election administrators from sending absentee ballot applications. The Michigan House advanced a bill that would allow parties and committees to designate additional challengers for precinct polling locations, place challengers in clerk’s offices, and expand grounds for voter challenges. The bill is advancing to its second reading in the House. Additionally, the House will conduct a hearing on H.B. 5268 tomorrow. This bill would prohibit any local clerk from sending an absentee voter ballot application unsolicited, unless the voter is on a permanent absentee voter application list. It would also prohibit the secretary of state from sending any absentee ballot application to any voter at any time.

Nebraska introduces prison gerrymandering reform bill. As part of its special session on redistricting, Nebraska legislators have introduced a bill that would require that people incarcerated in Nebraska who were Nebraska residents prior to incarceration be counted, for districting purposes, in the municipality where they lived prior to incarceration. Though the bill is not explicitly restricted to individuals incarcerated in Nebraska state prisons, it does not provide any process for obtaining pre-incarceration residency data from federal prisons.

Virginians begin early voting. In the first election since a package of pro-voter reforms were enacted earlier this year, Virginians began early voting last Friday. State law allows for early voting to occur for 45 days before Election Day, and, for the first time ever, allows municipalities to offer early voting on Sundays. Virginia is one of 18 states to offer at least 21 day of early voting. Minnesota, Wyoming, and South Dakota offer the longest early voting period: 46 days.

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

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