The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, September 11

by Voting Rights Lab

September 11, 2023

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Today is Monday, September 11. We are tracking 1,895 bills so far this session across all 50 states, with 398 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 901 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: A Wisconsin judge ruled that the federal voter registration application could not be used in the state. A ruling by an Arizona judge raises concerns that that state may be forced to adopt more stringent standards for verifying signatures on mail ballot envelopes.

The Good News: The California legislature sent bills to the governor that, if signed, will improve mail voting and increase in-person voting access for people with disabilities.

Looking Ahead: In North Carolina, a House committee is likely to considerS.B. 749 this week, following a postponement last week. This bill, which has passed the Senate, would overhaul state and county boards of elections.

Here are the details:

California legislature advances bills to improve mail voting and increase voting access for people with disabilities. Last week, the legislature sent two election-related bills to the governor’s desk. If signed, A.B. 398 will make it easier for a mail voter to receive a replacement ballot if their original mail ballot was lost, destroyed, or never received. A.B. 545 will facilitate in-person voting by voters with disabilities by allowing them to vote outside their polling place using a ballot marking device. In addition, the Assembly voted out S.B. 77, which would improve the state’s cure process by ensuring that election officials notify voters of errors on their mail ballot envelopes by phone, text message, or email. Because the Assembly made amendments to the bill before passing it, S.B. 77 now heads back to the Senate for concurrence.

Two significant North Carolina elections bills remain likely to move this session. The House Rules Committee is likely to consider S.B. 749 in an amended form this week after a postponement last week. The bill, which has passed the Senate, would overhaul state and county boards of elections, potentially resulting in gridlock on certification decisions. Meanwhile, following a veto by Governor Roy Cooper, S.B. 747 was referred to the Senate Rules Committee as the first step toward an expected veto override – although the timing of future override votes is unclear. S.B. 747 would require officials to toss out mail ballots postmarked on or before Election Day but received in the three days after, expand challenges to early and mail ballots, expand poll watcher access, and introduce a signature-comparison pilot for mail voters, among other changes.

Use of federal voter registration form blocked in Wisconsin. A Wisconsin circuit court judge barred the use of the federal National Mail Voter Registration Application, a form used by nearly every state in the country. A conservative law firm filed a lawsuit alleging that the form was never properly approved by the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC) and also omits information necessary to register voters under Wisconsin law. The court agreed that the WEC had not properly prescribed or promulgated the form. The court did not reach the question of whether the information on the form was sufficient to comply with Wisconsin statute.

Arizona ruling raises concerns that the state may be forced to adopt more stringent standards for mail ballot signature verification. Judge John Napper of the Superior Court of Yavapai County denied Secretary of State Adrian Fontes’ motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that the Election Procedures Manual does not follow Arizona law when it comes to verification of signatures on mail ballot envelopes. Under state law, the county recorder must compare the signature on a mail ballot envelope with the signature on the voter’s “registration record.” In its implementation of this law, the secretary of state’s Election Procedures Manual instructs county recorders to look at signatures on the voter registration form, as well as other documents, such as signature rosters and mail ballot request forms. The state filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that those additional documents qualify as “registration records” and that the term itself is ambiguous. The Court denied the motion to dismiss, ruling that the definition is clear and unambiguous. As a result, the case will proceed.