The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, February 6

by Liz Avore

February 6, 2023

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Today is Monday, February 6. We are tracking 817 bills so far this session, with 177 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 421 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: Committees in both Arizona chambers passed legislation that would limit ballot return options near or on Election Day. A South Dakota Senate committee passed a bill that would give a partisan body influence over legal challenges to state election law. The majority-Republican North Carolina Supreme Court will rehear a case which struck down a restrictive voter ID law when the court was under Democratic control just last year.

The Good News: Washington advanced improvements to their online voter registration system. The North Dakota House passed legislation that would give mail ballot voters additional time to cure issues on their ballot envelope. Bills that would protect election officials and prevent prison gerrymandering passed the Montana Senate.

Looking Ahead: Two states’ supreme courts heard arguments this week on major election cases, with decisions expected later this year. In North Carolina, the court heard a case on the voting rights of individuals with felony convictions who are no longer incarcerated but remain on probation or parole. In Georgia, the court heard a case on whether mass, unsubstantiated challenges of voters constituted illegal voter intimidation. In Arizona next week, a House committee will hear a bill that will require publishing voter lists and ballot images online. The Florida legislature will conduct a special session to hear and attempt to pass legislation to expand the jurisdiction of statewide prosecutors over election crimes.

Here are the details:

Florida bills introduced to make it easier for state prosecutors to bring election crimes cases. In Florida, election law has long been enforced by local prosecutors, as cases brought against residents of the Villages illustrate. Last year’s 2022 S.B. 524 created a special state-level office to investigate election crimes and empowered state prosecutors to bring them to trial. However, judges have dismissed cases brought by the state prosecutors because the state officials did not have the jurisdiction to bring them; only local prosecutors did. On February 6, 2023, legislators introduced S.B. 4a and H.B. 3a to expand the jurisdiction of state prosecutors in an effort to resolve the jurisdictional issue.

Arizona committees approve measures aimed at “late early” ballots and ballot counting. Reacting to criticisms of election administration during the 2022 election, committees in both chambers passed bills designed to reform the handling of ballots returned near or on Election Day (“late early” ballots), in-person voting, and ballot counting. H.B. 2304 would take the drastic step of eliminating all vote centers and requiring all in-person voting to be conducted at precinct voting locations. H.B. 2307 would require all ballots to be counted by hand and prohibit the use of automatic tabulators. S.B. 1135 proposes several changes, including eliminating the option for ballots to be verified via signature matching when dropped off at polling locations on Election Day, as well as eliminating emergency vote centers that allow Arizonans to vote in person on the final weekend and Monday before Election Day. One bill designed to eliminate an unnecessary redundancy is S.B. 1178, which would eliminate the current requirement for voters to submit a signature for verification when returning an early ballot, as they will have already shown ID in order to receive their ballot.

Washington State Senate votes to improve online registration. The Washington State Senate passed S.B. 5208, which would improve the state’s online voter registration system by enabling people to use the last four digits of their Social Security number to register instead of a driver’s license or state ID. The bill would also improve upon existing systems to register using a state or Tribal ID, allowing applicants to submit an image of their signature online. Under existing law, the system pulls an applicant’s signature from the state’s DMV file, and only ID numbers that allow the state to retrieve a signature from that database can be used to register online. Tribal IDs are not always linked to signatures at the DMV.

North Dakota House passes a bill to improve cure and ballot processing.The North Dakota House passed H.B. 1192, which would give mail ballot voters an additional week to cure signature issues with their mail ballot certificate. The bill would also allow election officials to begin scanning mail ballots three business days before Election Day, if the election is a “mail ballot election.” In a North Dakota mail ballot election, all voters are mailed ballot applications –  although most people vote by mail, in-person voting is also offered.

South Dakota Senate committee passes election litigation interference bill. The South Dakota Senate Committee on State Affairs passed S.B. 116, which would authorize the partisan Executive Board of the Legislative Research Council to join and control any litigation challenging a state election law. The Board would act in the name of the Legislature, and its agreement would be statutorily-required for any settlement or consent decree to be accepted. Finally, the Board would be allowed to use public funds to hire private lawyers in place of counsel from the Attorney General’s office.

Montana Senate passes several improvements to election administration. Three bills that would meaningfully reform Montana elections received bipartisan support in the state senate last week. S.B. 61 would protect election officials and elections workers from harassment and interference. S.B. 77 would eliminate prison gerrymandering by requiring state officials to include incarcerated Montana residents in census counts related to their last known address rather than their place of incarceration. Finally, S.B. 86 would limit precincts to no more than 2,000 registered voters.

North Carolina supreme court to rehear voter ID case. After changing from Democratic to Republican control last month, the North Carolina supreme court will reconsider a December ruling that the state’s 2018 voter ID law violated the state constitution.

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