The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, October 4

by Liz Avore

October 4, 2021

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Today is Monday, October 4.

We’re tracking 2,675 voting bills. There are 519 anti-voter bills and 1,522 pro-voter bills, with the remainder being either neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: In Pennsylvania, the Senate introduced and the House amended separate resolutions proposing constitutional amendments that would make it harder to vote in the Keystone State.

The Good News: California Governor Gavin Newsom signed three pro-voter bills into law last week, including one that requires all counties to send voters mail ballots, making California the seventh state to send mail ballots to all voters for all elections. Meanwhile, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would have prevented the attorney general from settling election-related lawsuits without the legislature’s approval.

Looking Forward: Today, the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee is hearing legislation that would pave the way for standardless, partisan reviews of election results and a bill that would make illegal voting a crime on par with homicide.

Here are the details:

California enacts new pro-voter legislation expanding access to mail voting and improving automatic voter registration. Last Monday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed three bills that will expand access to the ballot in the Golden State. A.B. 37 requires all voters to be mailed a ballot at least 29 days before an election. It also gives voters more time to return their mail ballots and requires counties to continue using comprehensive ballot tracking. S.B. 503 improves the process for matching signatures to validate mail ballots. Finally, A.B. 796 improves the process for automatic voter registration at the DMV, including by requiring the agency to designate an employee as the National Voter Registration Act coordinator.

North Carolina governor vetoes bill that would have shifted election authority to the legislature. Last week, Governor Roy Cooper vetoed S.B. 360, which would have required parties for any litigation challenging a statutory or constitutional provision to seek the approval of the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate prior to entering a consent judgment in most cases. This move would have shifted power away from the attorney general and the State Board of Elections, who previously could have settled these lawsuits without any additional approval.

Texas aims to increase criminal penalties for election laws and create standardless, partisan reviews of election results. Last week, the Texas Senate introduced S.B. 9, which would make illegal voting a second degree felony, penalized at the same level as homicide, robbery, and kidnapping. The Senate is holding a hearing on this bill today. Late Friday afternoon, the Senate added S.B. 47 to today’s hearing – a bill that would create a procedure for partisan-motivated, standardless reviews of the 2020 election, as well as for future elections.

Pennsylvania looks to amend its constitution with voting barriers. Last week, the Pennsylvania Senate introduced a bill to propose three separate constitutional amendments: one to end no-excuse mail-in voting, one to require signature verification of absentee ballots, and one to ban the use of a permanent absentee voter list. Under existing law, voters may be placed on a list to permanently receive absentee or mail-in ballot applications. The Republican-led General Assembly first brought no-excuse mail voting to Pennsylvania in 2019 in order to bring Pennsylvania in line with most states, including Ohio, Michigan, and Florida.

The House amended its own constitutional amendment resolution to now include five distinct amendments rather than the previous version, which just had one. The House bill would require voter ID and signature verification, create an earlier voter registration deadline and mandatory audits by the auditor general, prohibit private funds for election administration, and make the secretary of the commonwealth an elected position – rather than an appointed one. In Pennsylvania, constitutional amendments have to be passed by a majority in two consecutive legislative sessions then submitted to voters as a ballot question. This means the soonest these proposals could make it to the ballot is 2022.

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

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