The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, August 7

by Liz Avore

August 7, 2023

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Today is Monday, August 7. We are tracking 1,885 bills so far this session across all 50 states, with 397 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 898 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: None to report.

The Good News: A federal appellate court found that Mississippi’s law permanently disenfranchising citizens with past felony convictions violated the U.S. Constitution. Voters with past felony convictions will now be able to vote upon completion of all terms of their sentence. New laws in Oregon improve the state’s voter registration systems. In Illinois, the governor signed a new omnibus law improving voter access. This November, Maine voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution to repeal a provision prohibiting voting by people “under guardianship for reasons of mental illness”.

Looking Ahead: Tomorrow is Election Day in Ohio. Voters will decide Issue 1, a proposed constitutional amendment that would raise the requirements for amendments to get on – and pass – the ballot. The Arizona secretary of state released a draft Election Procedures Manual for two weeks of public comment. The speaker of the North Carolina House has indicated that the House Elections Committee would take up voting bills next week, potentially including S.B. 747, S.B. 749, and H.B. 772.

Here are the details:

Federal appellate court finds Mississippi’s permanent disenfranchisement for felony convictions is unconstitutional. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit held that sections of the Mississippi state constitution causing the permanent disenfranchisement of individuals convicted of certain enumerated felony convictions violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” Under the court’s order, impacted individuals’ right to vote will be restored upon completion of all terms of the sentence imposed. Mississippi was one of only three states where the voting rights of citizens with past felony convictions were never automatically restored.

Oregon expands automatic voter registration, online voter registration, and protects voters moving within the state from having their registrations canceled. Governor Tina Kotek signed into law H.B. 2107, which will make the Oregon Health Authority an automatic voter registration agency. Under the new law, eligible individuals who enroll in the state’s Medicaid program will be automatically registered to vote unless they opt out. The bill also expands online voter registration by allowing all applicants to submit an electronic image of their signature. Governor Kotek also signed S.B. 166 into law, protecting voters moving within the state from having their registration canceled. S.B. 166 also allows voters who will be absent from their home district during the period mail ballots are distributed to receive their ballot earlier. Finally, Governor Kotek signed S.B. 1094, which authorizes the secretary of state to apply for federal funds for a pilot project to provide live-streams of drop boxes and ballot counting facilities.

Illinois governor signs omnibus legislation improving voter access. Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois signed S.B. 2123 into law on Friday. Among its provisions, the bill increases the number of vote centers in large jurisdictions, expands curbside voting at vote centers, and establishes pre-registration for 16-year-olds. The bill also improves notification requirements when polling places are moved within 10 days of the election and establishes Election Day as a state holiday. In addition, the new law requires that task forces be created to study the possible implementation of ranked-choice voting, as well as the plausibility and security of sending voters their ballots electronically, to be voted and returned electronically.

Maine legislature adopts resolution proposing a state constitutional amendment that would end disenfranchisement of individuals under guardianship orders. Both chambers of the Maine legislature adopted S.B. 658, which proposes an amendment to the state constitution to repeal a provision disenfranchising individuals “under guardianship for reasons of mental illness.” The amendment will go before voters for approval in November of this year.

Arizona legislature concludes longest ever session, while the Secretary of State releases draft Election Procedure Manual for public comment. Last Monday, the Arizona legislature finally concluded its 2023 session after 203 days (the state constitution only requires 100 days). Though the legislature passed many election-related bills during the session, few were ultimately signed into law by Governor Katie Hobbs. She vetoed more than 20 election bills, including bills that would have required Arizona to withdraw from ERIC and effectively prohibited the use of automatic tabulation equipment in the state.

The following day, Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes publicly released a draft version of the Election Procedures Manual (EPM) to allow for public comment until August 15. The 259 page document provides guidance to county election officials. If approved, it would carry the force of statutory law on various aspects of election policy, including early voting; security and availability of ballot drop boxes; requirements around certification of election results; and the production, distribution, collection, counting, and storing of ballots. Following the public comment period, Secretary Fontes must submit the EPM to Governor Hobbs and Attorney General Kris Mayes for approval no later than October 1.

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