The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, May 8

by Liz Avore

May 8, 2023

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Today is Monday, May 8. We are tracking 1,765 bills so far this session across all 50 states, with 380 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 831 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: New mail voting restrictions were enacted in Indiana. Georgia and Montana made it a felony-level crime to use private grant money to fund elections. The Texas legislature continues to advance legislation targeting the state’s largest county. The Alabama house of representatives passed a bill that would make it a felony to return a completed mail ballot on behalf of a friend or neighbor.

The Good News: A bipartisan majority of the Connecticut House of Representatives passed H.B. 5004, which would establish a two-week early voting period for November general elections. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill into law that ensures that mail ballots cast by uniformed and overseas voters are counted, provided they are postmarked by Election Day (and received within six days of the election). The Delaware Senate approved S.B. 3, which would amend the state constitution to allow for no-excuse mail voting. A U.S. District Court permanently enjoined a Kansas restriction on pre-filling mail ballot applications.

Looking Ahead: The Alaska Senate Finance Committee will consider S.B. 138 on Tuesday, an elections omnibus that would substantially improve mail voting access. S.B. 138 cleared the Senate State Affairs Committee last week. The Michigan House Elections Committee will hear H.B. 4210 to expand electronic return of absentee ballots to military voters and spouses. Washington Governor Jay Inslee is expected to sign S.B. 5112 (a bill improving automatic voter registration in the state) this week, following its passage last Thursday.

Here are the details:

Indiana enacts new law restricting mail voting. Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed H.B. 1334, which restricts mail voting access. Among its changes, the bill prohibits election officials from mailing mail ballot applications to voters who did not specifically request one, and requires an applicant for a mail ballot to provide more information when applying than was required under previous law. On a more positive note, the bill creates procedures for a cure process for a defective application for a mail ballot.

Connecticut House advances bill establishing early voting. After the public voted overwhelmingly last year to amend the state’s constitution to allow for early voting, a bipartisan majority of the Connecticut House of Representatives passed H.B. 5004, which would establish a two-week early voting period for November general elections, with shorter periods for primary and special elections. If enacted, same-day registration would be available during early voting for general elections but not for primaries. Today, Connecticut is one of only four states that does not currently offer in-person early voting.The bill now awaits consideration in the Senate.

Texas continues to target its largest county. S.B. 1750 passed out of the House Elections Committee last week. The bill would eliminate the position of county elections administrator in any county with a population of 3.5 million or more, which currently only applies to Houston’s Harris County, and would redistribute the administrator’s duties to other officials. The Senate also passed S.B. 1993, which would require the secretary of state to order a new election in Harris County if the secretary has good cause to believe that at least two percent of polling places ran out of ballots and did not receive supplemental ballots within one hour of making a request for more.

Michigan makes it easier for military and overseas voters to vote by mail. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed S.B. 259 into law last week, ensuring that mail ballots cast by uniformed and overseas voters (often referred to as UOCAVA voters) will be considered timely provided they are postmarked on or before Election Day and received no later than six days after the election. This brings Michigan statute into agreement with language added to the state constitution last year. The bill additionally specifies that if a ballot postmark is missing or unclear, the ballot is timely if the ballot return envelope or the voter certificate are dated on or before Election Day by the voter.

Georgia makes it a felony for county and municipal governments to use private grant funds for elections. Governor Brian Kemp signed S.B. 222 into law late last week, prohibiting all county and municipal governmental bodies from accepting private grant funds for election administration. Previous law enacted by 2021 S.B. 202 only prohibited grants directly to boards of elections. A violation of the new law would be a felony punishable by a minimum of one year in prison and a fine of at least $10,000.

Delaware Senate advances a constitutional amendment that would allow no-excuse mail voting. The Delaware Senate voted to approve S.B. 3, which would amend the state constitution to allow for no-excuse mail voting. In order to take effect, the House of Representatives must also approve the amendment, and then both chambers must approve it again in the next legislative session after an election. The state enacted legislation allowing no-excuse mail voting last year, but the state supreme court blocked the bill, ruling that the state’s constitution required voters to have an enumerated reason in order to apply for a mail ballot. Delaware is one of only 15 states that does not give all voters the option to vote by mail.

Montana bans private election funding and enacts election worker protections. Montana ended its legislative session last week with a flurry of activity. Governor Greg Gianforte signed into law S.B. 61 (expanding an existing misdemeanor crime to protect more election workers against a broader range of interfering behaviors) and S.B. 117 (making it a felony for election officials to use private grant money to fund election administration). Meanwhile, the legislature sent H.B. 892 to the Governor – the bill appears to make it a crime if a voter fails to include a prior registration address on their voter registration form.

Alabama House passes legislation that would make it a felony for people to return completed mail ballots on behalf of a friend or neighbor. The Alabama House of Representatives passed H.B. 209, which would prohibit individuals other than a family member, household member of more than six months, a guardian appointed by a probate court, or various government officials, from distributing, requesting, collecting, completing, obtaining, or delivering a mail ballot application or mail ballot other than their own. Violations of this prohibition would be a Class D felony. The bill would also criminalize payments for mail ballot assistance. Eleven states have enacted legislation restricting voters’ ability to have a trusted individual return a mail ballot on their behalf since the 2020 election.

U.S. District Court enjoins Kansas mail ballot application restrictions. In 2021, Kansas enacted S.B. 2332 over Governor Laura Kelly’s veto and was promptly sued over some of its provisions. Last week, a provision that prohibited pre-filling any part of a mail ballot application in any respect was permanently enjoined, following a preliminary injunction in November 2021. Provisions limiting who could mail ballot applications to voters were permanently enjoined in February 2022.

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