The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, March 20

by Liz Avore

March 20, 2023

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Today is Monday, March 20. We are tracking 1,607 bills so far this session across all 50 states, with 353 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 764 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: The Idaho governor signed a bill into law that prohibits the use of student ID cards as voter ID. Meanwhile Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi all moved to increase the criminalization of elections. Mississippi sent a bill criminalizing ballot return to the governor’s desk. The Arkansas attorney general announced a new Election Integrity Unit, similar to the one Florida created last year. And the Texas Senate passed its first election bill of the year – one that makes it a felony to mistakenly vote, or attempt to vote, while ineligible.

The Good News: In contrast to Texas’ efforts to criminalize ineligible people who voted in the good faith belief that they were citizens, Idaho advanced a bill that would protect non-citizens who voted based on a reasonable belief that they were citizens. Utah enacted a number of election bills, including legislation that will make it easier for voters with disabilities, voters experiencing homelessness, and military and overseas voters to register and cast their ballot. West Virginia sent a bill extending the deadline for online voter registration to the governor. Maryland advanced legislation to protect against polling place overconsolidation, ensure voters can correct minor errors on their mail ballot envelopes, and increase poll worker compensation.

Looking Ahead: In Missouri, the Senate Elections committee unanimously approved S.B. 376, legislation to restore voting rights to people with past felony convictions upon their release from incarceration, just moments ago. New Hampshire H.B. 460 – which would limit the availability of same-day registration – is scheduled for a vote on the House floor on Wednesday. Later this week, the Arizona Senate Elections Committee is set to consider several bills that have already passed the House, including H.B. 2415, which would make it easier to remove voters from the state’s mail voting list. Meanwhile, the Arizona House Committee on Municipal Oversight and Elections will take up several bills that have already cleared the Senate, including S.B. 1597, which would give voters in Maricopa and Pima counties the option of verifying their mail ballot by either completing a signature match or showing ID.

Here are the details:

Idaho prohibits the use of student ID cards as voter ID, while advancing a bill to protect non-citizens who voted based on a reasonable belief that they were citizens. Governor Brad Little signed H.B. 124 on Wednesday, March 15, repealing a provision of law which enables voters to use a student ID card issued by an Idaho high school, university, college, or technical school as voter ID. Remaining forms of acceptable voter ID include permits to carry concealed weapons, driver’s licenses, state ID cards, tribal ID cards that include a photo, and passports. The new law takes effect on January 1, 2024. In better news, the Idaho House passed H.B. 239, which provides an affirmative defense to illegal voting if a non-citizen reasonably believed they were a citizen at the time they cast their ballot. H.B. 239 now moves on to the Senate for further consideration.

Texas Senate fast tracks legislation that makes it a felony to mistakenly vote, or attempt to vote, while ineligible. The Texas Senate passed its first election bill of the year, S.B. 2, on Tuesday, March 14 in a party-line vote. Under current Texas law, a person is guilty of a misdemeanor if they vote when they know they are not eligible to do so. S.B. 2 would reverse a change made in the omnibus S.B. 1 during a special session in 2021, reinstating the felony classification for such a crime. It would also change the standard so that the crime applies to anyone who knows of the circumstance that made them ineligible to vote, even if they did not know they were in fact ineligible.

Utah makes it easier for voters with disabilities, voters experiencing homelessness, and military and overseas voters to register and cast their ballots. Last week was a busy one for changes to Utah election law. The governor signed a number of election bills, including S.B. 17, which makes it easier for military and overseas voters and those experiencing homelessness to register to vote; S.B. 162, which ensures that voters with disabilities can vote by mail (and have their ballot counted); and H.B. 69, which provides voters with earlier notification of dates, times, and locations for early voting and voting on Election Day. Other bills passing the legislature included H.B 347 (increasing the offense of tampering with a ballot drop box from a misdemeanor to a felony), H.B. 269 (increasing the frequency of voter roll audits), and H.B. 37 (a variety of changes to the cure process for mail ballots).

West Virginia bill extending online voter registration deadline heads to governor. The West Virginia House passed S.B. 631, which would move the deadline for online voter registration from the close of business to 11:59 p.m. on the 21st day before an election. The bill now awaits the governor’s signature.

Mississippi bill criminalizing ballot return goes to governor’s desk. The Senate concurred with the House-amended version of S.B. 2358, which would prohibit friends and neighbors from mailing, or otherwise handling, another voter’s completed mail ballot. The bill creates a criminal penalty of up to a year in county jail, a $3,000 fine, or both, for violations of this prohibition, and includes an exception for relatives, household members, and caregivers. The bill now awaits the governor’s signature.

Arkansas moves to intensify the criminalization of its elections. Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin announced last week that his office will establish an Election Integrity Unit dedicated to the investigation and enforcement of alleged election offenses in the state. A similar unit established in Florida last year (and expanded this year) has proven expensive and unnecessary, and has led to the harassment of voters, particularly voters of color. Legislation to create similar election crimes units are also pending in Texas and Missouri. Last week the Arkansas Senate also sent S.B. 272 to the House, a bill that would create an extensive biennial election integrity review process, in which a handful of randomly-selected counties in the state would be closely investigated and audited in a search for potential fraudulent activity.

Maryland advances legislation to create a cure process, improve polling place siting, and increase poll worker pay. Last week, the Maryland Senate passed S.B. 379, which would create a robust cure process for mail ballots. The bill would ensure voters are notified of issues with their mail ballot envelopes and given a chance to correct them so that their ballot is not thrown out. The bill would also lift a prohibition on processing mail ballots before Election Day. The previous week, the House passed H.B. 535, which proposes similar cure and pre-processing provisions. In 2022, the governor vetoed similar legislation, but the State Board received emergency authority for ballot pre-processing. Also last week, the Maryland House passed H.B. 1200, which would raise poll worker compensation, and H.B. 410, which would create more protections around polling place overconsolidation and enable public participation in proposed changes to polling place sites.

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