The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, October 17

by Liz Avore

October 17, 2022

Welcome to The Markup. Please consider sharing this update with colleagues and friends today so that we can get this valuable information into more hands.

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

Today is Monday, October 17. We are tracking 2,201 bills so far this session, with 580 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 1,054 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: A new state lawsuit seeks to force Pennsylvania counties to reject mail ballots if they are undated or misdated. An Arkansas law that prohibits polling place translators from assisting more than six voters each will go into effect this election, despite the fact that a lower court found that it violates the federal Voting Rights Act. Wyoming’s new interim Secretary of State sent a nonbinding letter asking that counties cease providing mail ballot drop boxes this election. Following the 2021 enactment of legislation enabling limitless challenges to voter registrations, Georgia counties have been faced with tens of thousands of frivolous challenges.

The Good News: Counties in Georgia seem to be rejecting these frivolous challenges to voter registrations. A federal judge ordered the Alabama Secretary of State to turn over records related to voter purges. A new Michigan law prohibits polling places from being placed on property owned by a candidate.

Here are the details:

Republican Party sues to invalidate Pennsylvania mail ballots with undated or misdated signatures. Pennsylvania law requires voters to “date and sign” their ballot certificate. However, counties disagree about whether to count ballots when the voter leaves the date line blank. After multiple lawsuits, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that timely ballots from eligible voters with missing signature dates must be counted because the date is not “material,” and the federal Voting Rights Act prohibits rejecting ballots for immaterial reasons. On October 11, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated that decision without reversing it, preventing it from being binding on future cases. Yesterday the Republican National Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee, and Republican Party of Pennsylvania petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to rule that timely mail ballots from eligible voters must be rejected if their signature isn’t dated or is misdated (for example, if the voter inadvertently put their date of birth, instead of the date they signed the certificate).

Michigan enacts new siting rules for polling places. Governor Whitmer signed MI H.B. 6071, which allows a legislative body to consolidate up to six precincts in a single polling place when “convenient for voters.” Such consolidation, however, cannot happen for the election this November because another rule prevents changing polling places within 60 days of an election. The new law also ensures polling places cannot be placed on property owned by a candidate.

Alabama forced to produce records on voter purges. U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson ordered Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill to turn over records relating to voter purges to a plaintiff non-profit organization, the Greater Birmingham Ministries.

Federal appeals court allows Arkansas restrictions on polling place translators to go into effect. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit stayed a ruling by a district court judge who found that Arkansas’s law prohibiting translators from assisting more than six voters each on Election Day violated the federal Voting Rights Act. The stay means the restrictive law can go into effect while the state’s appeal is pending.

Wyoming Interim Secretary of State requests that counties cease using ballot drop boxes, questioning legality. Secretary of State Karl Allred, who assumed the office on an interim basis after his predecessor was appointed to a judgeship, sent an introductory letter to the state’s 23 county clerks in which he expressed disagreement with his predecessor’s determination that drop boxes were permissible under the state code. In the letter, Allred asked that counties stop making them available to voters. This letter is not binding and does not block clerks from offering drop boxes for the November election if they wish to do so.

Georgia counties continue to reject thousands of challenges to voter registrations. Georgia S.B. 202, enacted in 2021, clarified that challenges to voter registrations can be limitless. Counties are now facing – and rejecting – tens of thousands of frivolous challenges. According to the League of Women Voters, out of over 25,000 challenges to voter registrations made by the group VoterGA, only 1,800 registrations have been canceled. On October 4, Gwinnett County in suburban Atlanta rejected all of the pending challenges.

Columbus City Council passes ordinance to protect poll workers. The Columbus, OH, city council enacted an ordinance establishing a mandatory sentence of three days in jail for those convicted of harassment of election workers, members of their household, or their immediate family. Secretary of State Frank LaRose criticized the ordinance as unnecessary, claiming that existing state law provides adequate protections for poll workers.

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.