The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Tuesday, October 12

by Liz Avore

October 12, 2021

We’re back with a special Tuesday edition of The Markup due to yesterday’s observance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. We’re glad to be with you again. Will you help get this weekly newsletter into more hands by forwarding it along?

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Today is Tuesday, October 12.

We’re tracking 2,691 voting bills. There are 523 anti-voter bills and 1,523 pro-voter bills, with the remainder being either neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: Michigan legislators amended S.B. 303 to restrict mail voting access by including provisions from the state’s anti-voter ballot initiative. The Texas Senate passed bills that would increase penalties for illegal voting and allow losing candidates to challenge election results.

The Good News: The Massachusetts Senate passed an omnibus pro-voter bill that adopts same day registration, expands early voting, and allows all voters to vote by mail. The U.S. Senate introduced its version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which incorporates the Native American Voting Rights Act and protections for elections workers and polling places.

Looking Forward: The Michigan House is expected to vote on SB 303, H.B. 5007 and S.B. 304 this week. These bills would increase the number of provisional ballots by taking away an option to sign a sworn statement if a voter does not have ID, and then requiring the voter to verify their identity after Election Day in order to have their ballot counted. The Texas House has until October 19 to pass the elections bills that the Senate has passed during the current special session.

Here are the details:

Texas Senate passes legislation to increase criminal penalties for election crimes and create standardless, partisan reviews of election results. Last week, the Texas Senate passed S.B. 10, which would make illegal voting a second degree felony, penalized at the same level as homicide, robbery, and kidnapping. The Senate also passed S.B. 47 – a bill that would create a procedure for partisan-motivated reviews of the 2020 election, as well as for future elections up and down the ballot. Both bills have now gone to the House. The current special legislative session ends October 19.

Massachusetts Senate advances omnibus pro-voter bill. On Wednesday, the Massachusetts Senate passed S.B. 2545, known as the VOTES Act. S.B. 2545 would codify temporary reforms made for the 2020 election, including no-excuse vote by mail and expanded early voting periods. The bill would also create same day registration, and it includes provisions that increase ballot access for eligible, incarcerated voters (those serving misdemeanor convictions or being held pre-trial). The bill passed on a 36-3 party-line vote in the Senate and now heads to the House, which also has a Democratic supermajority. If approved by the House, the Democratic-controlled legislature can comfortably override any gubernatorial veto.

Michigan amends voter ID bills to include measures restricting mail voting. Last week, the Michigan Senate offered a substitution for S.B. 303.The bill would now require voters to include a state ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number on absent voter ballot applications. It also prohibits local and state officials from sending absent voter ballot applications to voters who do not first request them, and specifies that the ballot return deadline is the close of polls. Like previous versions of the bill, the substituted bill would also tighten voter ID requirements for in-person voters. Current law allows voters to sign an affidavit to verify their identity if they do not have identification. This is a rarely used option, but allows individuals without ID to be able to cast a regular, non-provisional, ballot. This bill would take away that option, and require voters to present identification or only be able to cast a provisional ballot.

The Senate also passed S.B. 304 and H.B. 5007 last week. S.B. 304 shifts the burden to verify provisional ballots after Election Day from election officials to voters themselves. Voters would need to bring their identification to the clerk’s office to ensure their provisional ballots are counted, rather than election officials verifying the voter’s eligibility through their own investigation. This creates a new barrier for voters and, particularly when combined with S.B. 303, would result in many voters not having their ballot counted. H.B. 5007 waives the fee for a new, renewed, or updated state ID card and prioritizes IDs requested during the provisional ballot verification period. It is intended to facilitate the strict voter ID law created under S.B. 303. These bills will be voted on by the House this week. Governor Gretchen Whitmer will then likely veto them.

U.S. Senate introduces its version of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and 47 co-sponsors introduced their version of the same bill introduced by the U.S. House last month. This bill reinstates Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by updating the preclearance formula. It also creates universal preclearance for certain election practices, including stricter voter ID laws. In addition, the Senate version includes provisions of the Native American Voting Rights Act and creates protections for polling places and election workers.

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

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