The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Tuesday, February 22

by Liz Avore

February 22, 2022

Welcome to a special Tuesday edition of our weekly legislative update. Thank you to all of our readers for your continued interest and feedback. Please consider forwarding The Markup to colleagues and friends today so that we can get this valuable information into more hands.

If you received this email from someone else and would like to get these weekly updates straight to your inbox going forward, please subscribe here.

Today is Tuesday, February 22.

We are tracking 2,190 bills so far this session, with 526 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 983 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral or mixed or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: The Wisconsin Elections Commission voted on Wednesday to remove guidance to local clerks permitting the use of drop boxes. This decision was in response to the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s denial of a request to extend drop box usage through the primaries. In Arizona, the omnibus S.B. 1629 was heard and passed committee.

The Good News: In Arizona, some of the state’s most restrictive pieces of legislation failed to meet last week’s deadline for bills to clear committees in their chamber of origin. West Virginia’s S.B. 488, which advances post-sentence restoration of voting rights, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support. In Utah and Maryland, strong ballot cure bills passed their first chambers. Finally, a bill in the Oregon House improving the state’s online voter registration system also advanced.

Looking Ahead: Washington’s S.B. 5597, which would make Washington the second state to enact a state preclearance law to prevent race-based discrimination, has advanced through the Senate and is scheduled to be heard in a House committee this week. In Missouri, five elections bills heard by the House Elections & Elected Officials Committee are scheduled for committee votes tomorrow. In Arizona, the Appropriations Committees and Rules Committees in both chambers will meet this week – and likely most weeks until the close of session. Lawmakers can use these meetings to make changes to bills that have made it out of committee.

Here are the details:  

Arizona committee hearing deadline was Friday. Arizona legislative rules require a committee hearing by February 18 for all legislation introduced during the session. Bills that are not heard by this date cannot progress, although there is a possibility for the content of these bills to re-emerge in amendments to other pieces of legislation. Bills that did not make the deadline include H.B. 2571, which would eliminate in-person early voting, H.B. 2743 which would eliminate in-person early voting and vote centers, and H.B. 2596, which would empower the state legislature to reject the results of any election. However, S.B. 1629 – an omnibus bill that includes a problematic review of election results and criminal penalties aimed at election officials – was heard and did pass committee last week. The next deadline is March 25, when bills must be heard in committees of the other chamber in order to advance.

Wisconsin Elections Commission removes guidance allowing drop boxes. In a unanimous vote, the WEC removed guidance first introduced in 2020 allowing local clerks to use discretion in determining whether or not to permit the use of drop boxes. This vote came after the Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected a motion for a temporary stay of a lower court’s order banning drop boxes in the state. While this is not a final ruling on the merits, it is not a promising sign for the use of drop boxes in the state.

West Virginia advances legislation restoring voting rights. S.B. 488 would clarify that citizens can vote immediately upon completing their term of incarceration, probation, or parole. The bill would ensure citizens could vote immediately after completing their sentence, even if they still face monetary obligations. The bill is now headed to the Senate Rules Committee.

Washington State advances strong voting rights bill. Following Virginia last year, S.B. 5597 would make Washington the second state in the country to enact a state preclearance law to prevent racial and ethnic discrimination. Under this bill, localities would be required to get changes such as redistricting or restrictions on interpreter services reviewed and approved by the attorney general or a court. This protective mechanism would be temporary, self-repealing in 2029. The bill passed the State Senate a couple of weeks ago and is scheduled for an executive session in the House Committee on State Government & Tribal Relations this week.

Utah seeks to improve the process for voters to correct errors on mail ballot envelopes. H.B. 188, expanding the state’s ballot cure process, passed the House and was assigned to the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee last week. The bill would provide better standards and training for signature matching, give voters earlier notice of ballot defects than the current law, and add an additional method for voters to fix errors on mail ballot envelopes. Under the bill, a voter could make their ballot count by directly communicating with an election official, including by phone. Current law only permits cure by affidavit. Finally, the bill ensures that people with disabilities have accessible ways to vote in Utah’s mail ballot election system.

An Oregon bill that would improve the state’s online voter registration process passed the House. H.B. 4133 would allow a voter to use the last four digits of their Social Security number instead of only a driver’s license or state ID number during the online voter registration process. If passed, this legislation would expand use of the online voter registration to additional Oregon voters.

Maryland moves on legislation that creates a robust cure process for mail voters. Last week, the Maryland Senate passed S.B. 163, which would require election officials to notify voters of problems with their absentee ballot envelopes no later than three business days after discovery. In addition, boards of election would be permitted to begin verifying mail ballots earlier than under current law. That extra time would mean voters have additional time to be notified of errors and take steps to ensure their ballots count.

Five Missouri bills head toward committee votes. Five bills heard by Missouri’s House Elections & Elected Officials Committee are set for executive session tomorrow where they could potentially pass out of committee. Three of these bills restrict voter access, including by prohibiting unsolicited absentee ballots (H.B. 1455) and requiring photo ID for all in-person voting (H.B. 1878 and H.J.R. 94). One bill (H.B. 2113) would have mixed results; it would make the state’s voter ID law significantly more restrictive but would also create in-person early voting for the first time. Finally, one bill (H.B. 2140) would improve voter access by creating early voting; adding absentee voting excuses for first responders, health care workers, and law enforcement members; and allowing any registered voter to change their address to another jurisdiction in the state up to and including on Election Day.

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

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Markup to get our updates straight to your inbox.