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

by Liz Avore

April 17, 2023

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Today is Monday, April 17. We are tracking 1,732 bills so far this session across all 50 states, with 372 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 817 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: The Texas Senate passed bills that would expand the investigation of purported election irregularities and allow for state takeovers of local election activities. The Arizona legislature sent a bill to the governor that would require ballot verification to be livestreamed.

The Good News: The governor of Virginia signed legislation repealing the requirement that voters get their mail ballot envelopes signed by a witness. The Washington governor signed a bill expanding the state’s voting rights act – and has two new bills that would improve the state’s voter registration systems on her desk. Following in the steps of her North Dakota counterpart, the Arizona governor vetoed a bill that would have prohibited ranked-choice voting. The Minnesota House passed an omnibus elections bill that would create automatic voter registration and a permanent mail voting list.

Looking Ahead: The Montana Senate State Administration Committee is hearing H.B. 892 today, a bill which could result in criminal penalties for voters who forget to put a former address on their registration form. The bill already passed the House. In New Hampshire, House committees will consider S.B. 70, which would establish an online portal for voter registration and mail ballot requests, and S.B. 158, which would allow election officials to begin pre-processing mail ballots earlier. Both bills have already passed the Senate. The Arizona House paused its consideration of election bills over the next few weeks while it awaits the replacement for Liz Harris, who was expelled from the body last week by a bipartisan vote due to ethics violations related to espousing conspiracy theories at a joint committee meeting in late February.

Here are the details:

Virginia repeals witness requirement for mail ballots. Governor Glenn Youngkin signed H.B. 1948 into law on Wednesday, ending the requirement that mail voters have a witness sign their ballot return envelopes. Instead, mail voters will provide the last four digits of their Social Security number and their year of birth. Voters without Social Security numbers could instead use an ID number issued by the state’s voter registration system.

Washington expands its state voting rights act and sends bills that would make voter registration more accessible to the governor. On April 13, Governor Jay Inslee signed H.B. 1048, which expands the enforcement mechanism for the state’s voting rights act and improves the remedies available under it. Also last week, the legislature sent S.B. 5112 (which would improve the state’s automatic voter registration and standard voter registration processes), and S.B. 5208 (which would improve the state’s online voter registration system) to the governor’s desk. S.B. 5208 would enable people to register to vote using  the state’s online portal by providing the last four digits of their Social Security number or any tribal ID issued by a Washington State Tribe. Current law only allows voters to register online if they have a driver’s license or Washington State ID.

Arizona governor vetoes legislation that would prohibit ranked-choice voting, legislature sends her a bill that would require live-streaming of ballot verification. The Arizona legislature continued this session’s trend of passing legislation via strictly-partisan votes as the Senate gave final approval to H.B. 2691, which would require county officials to provide a livestream of each stage of the ballot verification process. County officials have argued that these proposals are costly, unnecessary, needlessly time-consuming, and threaten the secrecy of ballots. The bill is expected to meet the same fate as all of the other election bills passed on partisan lines this year: a veto by Governor Katie Hobbs. Last week, Governor Hobbs vetoed H.B. 2552, which would prohibit the use of ranked-choice voting in local, state, and federal elections in Arizona.

Texas Senate passes legislation to increase investigation of alleged election irregularities and allow for state takeover of elections. The Texas Senate sent three bills to the House last week. S.B. 1039 would enable a wide range of people to demand an investigation into alleged election irregularities, and if unsatisfied with the explanation, to make a report to the secretary of state. The secretary would then be empowered to conduct an audit and install a conservator to take over elections for two federal election cycles. S.B. 1933 would grant the secretary of state unprecedented authority over county elections officials, as well as the ability to appoint conservators to serve in the place of those officials. In better news, S.B. 477 would facilitate voting by people with disabilities by allowing them to skip the line at a polling place, by facilitating curbside voting, and by partially digitizing the process of applying for a mail ballot.

Minnesota House passes omnibus elections legislation that would establish automatic voter registration at multiple agencies, create a permanent mail voting list, and expand pre-registration. An omnibus elections bill, H.B. 3, passed the Minnesota House last week and now heads to the Senate for further consideration. The bill would make a wide variety of changes to Minnesota election law including the establishment of automatic voter registration at multiple state agencies (including those providing medical assistance) and the creation of a permanent mail voter list. The bill would also extend pre-registration for future voters younger than 18 and facilitate the provision of translated ballot materials.

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