The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, March 27

by Liz Avore

March 27, 2023

Welcome to The Markup. If you find this useful, please consider sharing this post to get this this valuable information into more hands.

If someone else shared this post with you, and you would like to get these weekly updates straight to your inbox going forward, please subscribe here.

Today is Monday, March 27. We are tracking 1,652 bills so far this session across all 50 states, with 362 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 783 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin ended the decade-long practice of his three immediate predecessors, members of both parties, of automatically restoring the voting rights of citizens with past felony convictions upon completion of their sentences. Arkansas and South Dakota enacted legislation prohibiting the use of drop boxes. Arkansas also criminalized the sending of mail ballot applications, imposed a 24-hour deadline on ballot counting, and prohibited non-public election funding. Mississippi criminalized ballot return by friends and neighbors. A bill creating new ID requirements for people registering to vote in Idaho is moving quickly.

The Good News: Kentucky enacted safeguards against precinct consolidation. The governor of Wyoming vetoed a new criminalization bill out of concern that it would “inappropriately suppress absentee voting.” North Dakota passed a bill giving voters more time to cure – and election officials more time to process – mail ballots. Virginia enacted legislation protecting county election officials from inappropriate removal. A new law expanding automatic voter registration in Washington, DC went into effect.

Looking Ahead: The Georgia legislature is closing for session on Wednesday, March 29. On Tuesday, the Alaska House Affairs committee will hear H.B. 37, which creates same-day registration and increases mail ballot access. Also Tuesday, H.B. 248, a bill restoring voting rights to people with past felony convictions, will be heard in committee in Missouri.

A lot of bills will be heard in committees in Texas this week. Of note, the Senate State Affairs committee will hear S.B. 1039 (creating politically-motivated reviews of election results), S.B. 924 (allowing for considerable polling place consolidation), and S.B. 990 (eliminating the countywide polling places program, which is currently used in about 90 counties). The House Elections committee will hear H.B. 2020, which would allow the Secretary of State to suspend and replace county election administrators based on poorly defined criteria.

Both chambers of the Arizona legislature extended the deadline for committees in the second chamber to hear bills the first chamber passed. We are expecting a busy week, as bills now must clear a committee in the second chamber by Friday to be eligible for ultimate passage. Two bills we are watching: S.B. 1518, which unanimously passed the Senate last week, eliminates the need to do a signature match on ballots if the voter already showed ID; and S.B. 1324, which would make voter registration data public both before and after an election, as well as make ballot images and cast vote records public after an election.

Here are the details:

Kentucky enacts safeguards against precinct consolidation. Kentucky Governor Andy  Beshear signed H.B. 302 into law, granting the Secretary of State the authority to veto state board of elections approval of county petitions to consolidate precincts, as well as requiring that petitions for consolidation address the sufficiency of available parking when proposing a consolidation. Since the enactment of H.B. 574 in 2021 allowed counties to consolidate precincts, Secretary of State Michael Adams has called for more protections against excessive consolidation. The bill also directs the Attorney General to establish uniform guidelines for an existing post-election review system and modifies the state’s electioneering laws.

Virginia governor imposes additional hurdle on citizens with past felony convictions who are eligible for restoration of voting rights. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin has ended the decade-long practice of his three immediate predecessors, members of both parties, of automatically restoring the voting rights of citizens with past felony convictions upon completion of their sentences. Instead, individuals now need to submit applications to the governor that will be considered at his discretion without clear criteria. This break with his predecessors also goes against a national trend towards expanding voting access for people with past felony convictions. Virginia is one of only three states, along with Mississippi and Alabama, that have a lifetime ban on voting unless individuals apply to have their rights restored. In all other states where a person loses voting eligibility following a criminal conviction, voting rights are automatically restored once the person meets certain criteria.

Wyoming Governor vetoes legislation that would criminalize the provision of unrequested mail ballot applications. As passed by the Wyoming legislature, S.B. 131 would have created a new crime penalizing people who provided a mail ballot application to someone who did not request it. Governor Mark Gordon vetoed this bill on March 17, stating in his veto message that the bill as passed “could well result in unintended consequences that would compromise election confidence and integrity” and “might provide a means to inappropriately suppress absentee voting.”

Washington, D.C. expansion of automatic registration to go into effect. The review period during which the U.S. Congress, with the president’s signature, can block city legislation from going into effect has ended for Bill 951, which Mayor Muriel Bowser signed in December. This bill will expand automatic voter registration to the Department of Health Care Finance and modify existing automatic registration at the DMV. Everyone who interacts with the DMV, DHCF, or Department of Corrections and is not determined to be ineligible to vote will automatically be put on a preapproved-for-registration list that entitles them to vote and, upon Bill 507 becoming law, will result in their being mailed a ballot for each election.

Arkansas prohibits the use of drop boxes, criminalizes the sending of mail ballot applications, imposes a 24-hour deadline on ballot counting, and prohibits non-public election funding. Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed four election bills into law last week. S.B. 258 prohibits the use of a drop box for returning a mail ballot. H.B. 1411 makes it a crime for an election official to proactively send mail ballot applications. S.B. 250 imposes a 24-hour deadline for the counting of ballots and requires “no significant breaks” to be taken in the counting process. S.B. 255 prevents any state or county employee or official from accepting non-public money for the purpose of conducting an election.

Virginia enacts bills adding protections for county election officials. Also last week, Governor Glenn Youngkin signed into law H.B. 2471/S.B. 1514, which grants protections to election officials facing potential removal, after the bills received unanimous bipartisan support in the legislature. The bill establishes a standard for removal, where there had been none under existing law. The bill also guarantees state-provided counsel to any registrar or member of a local election board facing removal proceedings.

South Dakota prohibits the use of drop boxes and makes changes to registration and list maintenance practices. Last week, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem signed H.B. 1165, which, among other things, prohibits the use of drop boxes and enforces the prohibition with a new crime. She also signed S.B. 139, which creates a new requirement that people must reside in the state for at least 30 days before they may register to vote, and S.B. 140 which makes a series of changes to the state’s voter list maintenance practices.

Mississippi criminalizes ballot return. Governor Tate Reeves signed S.B. 2358, which prohibits 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.

North Dakota passes legislation to give voters more time to cure their mail ballots. The North Dakota legislature sent H.B. 1192 to Governor Doug Burgum last week. If enacted, the bill will give voters an extra week to correct issues with their mail ballot certificate to ensure their ballot counts and allow election officials to start processing mail ballots earlier for elections conducted by mail. Also last week, North Dakota enacted S.B. 2292, which clarifies poll watcher qualifications and access, and makes it illegal to obstruct a poll worker who is on the way to, or at, a polling place.

Idaho bill imposing new ID requirements for voter registration moves quickly. H.B. 340 was introduced in Idaho on March 20, and passed the House a day later. The bill would impose new identification requirements on applicants for voter registration, requiring them to present proof of identification and of residency from a list of approved documents at the time of registration. Under existing Idaho law, applicants must make an oath and prove residence.

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