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Happy New Year from all of us at Voting Rights Lab! Today is Monday, January 10. Eighteen states convened their 2022 legislative sessions last week. We are actively tracking new bills and our 2022 legislative tracker will be live soon. In the meantime, you can see the bills that have carried over from the 2021 sessions here.
The Bad News: Legislative interference with election administration, a trend in 2021, is set to continue as a threat to our democracy in 2022. We’re tracking bills that would interfere with election administration in our 50-state chart with new and improved categorization for 2022. Bills introduced or prefiled in South Carolina and Tennessee would require sham audits of the 2020 election.
The Good News: Ending 2021 on a positive note, New York enacted several bills that increase voter access, and work is underway to extend flexible voting policies established during the pandemic until the end of 2022. In Mississippi, several bills have been introduced to restore voting rights to individuals with disenfranchising felony convictions. In Washington State, a prefiled bill would establish a preclearance system to prevent discriminatory local policies. And Maryland lawmakers are looking to pass legislation to ensure all absentee ballots cast by registered voters are counted.
Looking Ahead: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Washington, Virginia, and West Virginia open their legislative sessions this week.
Here are the details:
New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed four bills into law on December 22 that continue the modernization of New York’s elections:
- A.B. 6970 allows voters to apply for absentee ballots online;
- S.B. 4306 requires more early voting sites in most counties and requires additional weekend hours for early voting;
- A.B. 4186 creates comprehensive ballot tracking; and
- S.B. 1027 overhauls how mail and affidavit (provisional) ballots are processed to increase the number of ballots cast by eligible voters that are counted, while speeding up ballot tabulation.
Last week, the Senate Rules Committee adopted amendments to a bill that would extend no-excuse absentee voting until the end of 2022 due to the ongoing pandemic.
The Missouri Senate introduced legislation at the secretary of state’s request that would establish early voting in the state for the first time, but would also restrict voter access and interfere with election administration. S.B. 670 would:
- Establish early voting in the form of in-person, no-excuse absentee voting;
- Require photo ID for all in-person voting, eliminating voters’ ability to demonstrate their identity using other forms of ID;
- Prevent election officials from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications;
- Create new criminal offenses for election officials; and
- Grant the secretary of state the power to audit a local election official’s voter roll nearly any time, order changes the secretary deems necessary, and withhold funds from local election officials if they do not timely comply
A prefiled Voting Rights Act in Washington State would establish a preclearance system to prevent racially discriminatory local practices. Covered jurisdictions under S.B. 5597 would be required to get approval from a court or the attorney general before closing or moving voting locations or drop boxes; changing methods of organizing government or conducting elections; or redrawing jurisdictional boundaries, particularly in ways that could impact protected classes of voters. Last year, Virginia became the first state in the nation to establish a statewide preclearance regime.
Legislators in both South Carolina and Tennessee have prefiled bills creating partisan reviews of the November 2020 general election. South Carolina has two bills that would establish legislative committees to review the results and conduct a review of the 2020 election. Meanwhile, Tennessee’s S.B. 1657 would direct the secretary of state to conduct an audit of the 2020 election.
Several states are seeking to increase penalties for crimes against election officials. In Illinois, Maine, and New Hampshire, new or active bills would elevate threatening election officials or interfering with election officials’ performance of their official duties from misdemeanors to felonies.
Bills introduced in Mississippi would reform a national outlier in disenfranchisement. Several bills introduced in Mississippi last week – H.B. 145, H.B. 196, and H.B. 268 – would make it easier for citizens with past felony convictions to regain their right to vote. Across the 50 states, Mississippi is an outlier in its harsh treatment of citizens with felony convictions, requiring both legislative chambers to act on individuals’ applications for rights restoration.
In Maryland, a prefiled bill would ensure voters who forgot to sign their mail ballot envelopes have a chance to correct their error so their ballot can be counted. Under current Maryland law, election officials do not begin processing mail ballots until after Election Day. A new, prefiled bill would require county boards of election to begin processing mail ballots eight days before early voting begins, and to notify a voter within three days of discovering a missing signature. Voters would have until ten days after Election Day to address the issue by submitting a signature in person, by mail, or digitally, including by email or text.
This update is powered by VRL’s State Voting Rights Tracker: tracker.votingrightslab.org