The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Tuesday, February 21

by Liz Avore

February 21, 2023

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Today is Tuesday, February 21, the birthday of civil and voting rights hero John Lewis. We are tracking 1,173 bills so far this session, with 260 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 577 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation expanding the authority of the state’s new Office of Election Crimes and Security. Texas filed legislation banning polling places on college campuses

The Good News: The Virginia legislature sent a bipartisan bill that would improve mail voting to the governor, while the North Dakota House passed a bill to improve its mail voting system. Earlier this month, Maryland introduced legislation that, similar to the federal Voting Rights Act, would put procedures in place to protect against race- and language-based discrimination.

Looking Ahead: Today, Missouri H.B. 783, which would improve in-person early voting and protect election officials from harassment, is scheduled to be heard in a House committee.

Tomorrow, Connecticut’s joint Government Administration and Elections Committee will hear legislation that would establish early voting, no-excuse mail voting, and a cure process for common mistakes on mail ballot envelopes. Also scheduled tomorrow are hearings for Montana S.B. 61, which would protect election workers from intimidation, and S.B. 77, which would end prison gerrymandering.

Here are the details:

Maryland introduces comprehensive Voting Rights Act. Today, February 21, 2023, is John R. Lewis’ birthday. Though Congress’ attempt to restore key aspects of the federal Voting Rights Act with a bill named in his honor has stalled, states have moved similar initiatives forward. Most recently, Maryland introduced legislation to create strong preclearance, anti-dilution, and language access provisions to protect against race- and language-based discrimination at the county and municipal levels. Last year, New York enacted the New York John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, while the year before that Virginia enacted similar protections.

Florida governor signs legislation expanding the authority of the state’s new election crimes unit. In 2021, Florida created a special statewide office to investigate and prosecute election crimes. The office’s first enforcement effort, targeting people who incorrectly believed their voting rights had been restored after the state improperly issued them registration cards, foundered because the statewide prosecutors lacked the authority to bring the cases. S.B. 4a, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis last week, enables the new Office of Election Crimes and Security to prosecute these types of cases going forward.

Virginia legislature sends bipartisan bill to facilitate mail voting to the governor. The Virginia State Senate voted to pass H.B. 1948, which would repeal the requirement that mail ballot envelopes be signed by a witness, instead requiring voters to provide their date of birth and the last four digits of their social security numbers. The bill will now go to Governor Glenn Youngkin for his signature. Meanwhile, a number of restrictive bills passed by the House of Delegates died in a Senate committee this week. Among the defeated legislation are bills that would have ended same-day registration for most voters (H.B. 2234); eliminated the permanent mail voting list (H.B. 1947); ended automatic voter registration at the DMV (H.B. 1793); ended the use of ballot drop boxes (H.B. 1693); and established a strict photo ID requirement for in-person voters (H.B. 1444).

Connecticut set to consider a package of bills that would establish in-person early voting, no-excuse mail voting, and a notice and cure process for mail ballots. On Wednesday, February 22, Connecticut’s joint Government Administration and Elections Committee will hold a hearing on numerous pieces of legislation that would establish between 10-18 days of in-person voting (S.B. 1057, H.B. 5004, and S.B. 1064); create a notice and cure process for mail ballot envelopes missing the voter’s signature (H.B. 6693); and propose an amendment to the state constitution allowing for no-excuse mail voting (H.J.R. 1 and S.J.R. 29).

New Mexico moves to protect election officials from intimidation. The New Mexico Senate passed S.B. 43, which expands the scope of the state’s existing intimidation crime to reach  harm, and threats of harm, made against the secretary of state, a county or municipal clerk, or an employee or agent of any of those officials. Under existing law the crime applies to threats made against voters, challengers, watchers, and members of precinct boards. Legislators in over a dozen states have filed bills to protect election officials, often by criminalizing acts of intimidation or threat.

North Dakota House advances legislation to improve mail voting. The North Dakota House passed H.B. 1192, which would give voters more time to fix issues with their mail ballot certificates, and give election officials more time to verify and count mail ballots.

Texas bill filed to ban polling places on college campuses. In Texas, H.B. 2390 was filed, which would prohibit a polling place from being located on a college campus. By contrast, H.B. 644, filed earlier this session, would require the establishment of polling places on college campuses of a certain size.

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