The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, February 14

by Liz Avore

February 14, 2022

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Today is Monday, February 14.

We are tracking 2,091 bills so far this session, with 491 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 957 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral or mixed or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: Texas election officials are struggling to implement S.B. 1 in advance of the March primaries. In Harris County, nearly 40% of mail ballots received so far have been returned to voters as incomplete, in large part due to the new requirement that voters provide a specific identification number on their mail ballot envelope. In Wisconsin, eleven bills and a constitutional amendment were introduced at the beginning of February, and eight of those bills promptly cleared committee last week. None of these bills improve voter access, while several take direct aim at the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), a bipartisan state agency that helps municipalities conduct elections. Among other provisions, the bills heavily restrict where drop boxes can be located, prevent clerks from mailing out absentee ballot applications, and prohibit the use of grant funding to administer elections.

The Good News: West Virginia’s companion bill for S.B. 488, a voting rights restoration bill, was introduced as H.B. 4543. It includes the clarification that voters disenfranchised due to a criminal conviction automatically regain the right to vote after completion of incarceration, probation, parole, or pardon. The House bill has significant bipartisan support. Meanwhile, an Alabama bill that would facilitate absentee voting for incarcerated individuals passed out of committee.

Looking Ahead: More than 100 election-related bills have been introduced in Arizona and face a Friday deadline to be heard by the committee in their chamber of origin. The Florida omnibus bills (H.B. 7061 & S.B. 524) are headed to committee on Thursday. In preparation for the state’s primary elections in May, North Carolina’s General Assembly has until Friday to draw new maps after a 4-3 decision of the State Supreme Court to block the maps passed in November.

Here are the details:

Friday deadline will determine which of Arizona’s 106 voting bills stay alive. After Friday, the number of election-related bills to watch in Arizona will narrow because bills that are not heard in their chamber of origin by Friday will die. One of the bills we are watching is S.B. 1629, an omnibus bill that, among its provisions, would require the auditor general – an authority with no elections experience – to conduct a review of election results in Maricopa, Pima, and two other counties following each election. The bill includes criminal enforcement provisions aimed at election officials who do not cooperate, and would also require election officials to post images of all ballots cast shortly after elections. The bill does contain some provisions that improve election administration, including a provision that ensures election workers are trained in signature verification.

Florida omnibus bills headed to committee. H.B. 7061 & S.B. 524 will likely be heard in each chamber’s Appropriations committee on Thursday. These omnibus bills include provisions that would increase the chance that absentee ballots will be rejected, threaten voters with a felony for returning ballots on behalf of neighbors, and create an Office of Election Crimes & Security to investigate possible election law violations.

Wisconsin bills seek to give legislature more power over the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC). Eight bills advanced out of the Senate Committee on Elections, Election Process Reform and Ethics this week. Among these, S.B. 941 would require the WEC to retain as counsel both a Republican and Democratic attorney chosen by legislative leaders. Under current law, the WEC counsel is nonpartisan. S.B. 942 would fine WEC and other state agencies for perceived list maintenance failures and “illegal” guidance to clerks. This bill and others in the package aim to invalidate existing guidance and prevent the WEC from issuing guidelines that expand voter access and enable valid ballots to be counted. S.B. 939 would make major, restrictive changes to how voters apply for and return mail ballots, as well as forbidding the WEC and local clerks from proactively sending mail ballot applications to voters, as they did during the 2020 election.

West Virginia doubles down on rights restoration with companion bill introduction. The West Virginia House of Delegates introduced companion legislation to S.B. 488. The bills clarify that voters disenfranchised due to a criminal conviction automatically regain the right to vote after completion of incarceration, probation, parole, or pardon. The House bill has bipartisan support with a primary Republican sponsor, five Republican cosponsors, and three Democratic cosponsors.

Texas struggles to implement S.B. 1 ahead of primary elections. Election officials in Texas are facing challenges in conducting the first elections under S.B. 1 – the election overhaul passed last year. Among the required changes, S.B. 1 restricts early voting and bans unsolicited mail-in voting applications from being provided to voters. Texas officials have had less than six months to prepare for implementation and the secretary of state only recently released a guide to implementing the new law. Voters have faced significant ballot access hurdles including high rates of mail-in ballot application rejection to a temporary voter registration card shortage.

An Alabama bill that would make it easier for incarcerated people to vote passed out of committee. Alabama H.B. 167 would add inmate identification cards and other forms of identification issued by the detention facilities to the list of acceptable forms of voter ID in the state. It passed out of the House Constitution, Campaigns, and Elections Committee last Wednesday. Its next step is a full vote in the House.

North Carolina needs new maps (again). Legislators are expected to return to Raleigh this week to begin the process of redrawing legislative and congressional maps after the North Carolina Supreme Court, split along party lines, released its decision last week striking down the latest maps. The ruling requires the Republican-controlled General Assembly to submit new maps and provide proof that the new plan will give voters of all party affiliations an opportunity to translate votes into seats.

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

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