The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, January 8th

by Liz Avore

January 8, 2024

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Today is Monday, January 8. We are tracking 947 bills so far this session across 34 states, with 154 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 489 bills  that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: Mass challenges to voter registrations in Georgia are not illegal voter intimidation, according to a federal judge.

The Good News: The New Hampshire House of Representatives passed a bill that would establish online voter registration for residents with disabilities and members of the armed forces. A Wisconsin court prohibited clerks from tossing legitimate mail ballots due to missing or incomplete information on ballot return envelopes. No-excuse mail voting in New York will remain in place while a legal challenge plays out.

Looking Ahead: Groups in Ohio and New Hampshire filed lawsuits challenging restrictions on third-party ballot return and same-day registration, respectively.

Here are the details:

New Hampshire bill to establish online voter registration for members of the military and people with disabilities passes first chamber. The New Hampshire House of Representatives passed H.B. 463, a bill that would allow voters with disabilities and active-duty members of the armed forces to use an online “election information portal” to submit a voter registration application, update voter registration information, and request a mail ballot. New Hampshire is one of only seven states that does not offer online voter registration, and it is the only state that requires most residents to appear in person in order to register to vote. The bill now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

Wisconsin court rules that rejecting mail ballots due to minor errors on return envelopes violates federal law. A Dane County judge ruled last week that a common practice among county clerks of rejecting mail ballots that are missing witness address information – or have incorrect witness address information – violates the federal Civil Rights Act. State law requires that a voter’s mail ballot may not be counted unless the certificate is signed by a person who witnessed the ballot being cast, and that the address of the witness be included with their signature. The court granted summary judgment for the challengers, holding that rejecting ballots due to issues with witnesses’ addresses constitutes an illegal deprivation of the right to vote on the basis of an immaterial error or omission.

Federal judge finds mass voter challenges in Georgia were not illegal voter intimidation. A federal judge in Georgia ruled in favor of an activist group that challenged over 360,000 voters’ registrations in the runup to the January 2021 U.S. Senate runoff election, holding that the group did not intimidate voters. The federal Voting Rights Act prohibits intimidating or attempting to intimidate any person for voting or attempting to vote. Despite stating that the group’s voter challenge list lacked reliability and that its use verged on recklessness, the judge found that there was not sufficient evidence of voter intimidation to find a violation of the law. This practice was also legitimized by 2021’s S.B. 202, which made clear that there is no limit to the number of registration challenges an individual can file.

New York court rejects initial attempt to block no-excuse mail voting. A New York trial court judge rejected a request by various Republican Party committees and elected officials to temporarily block implementation of the New York Early Mail Voter Act while litigation is pending. The New York Early Mail Voter Act, enacted by the legislature last year, allows all voters to request a mail ballot during the early voting period. The plaintiffs argue that the law violates the state constitution, which they claim limits mail voting to those who cannot appear in person due to absence from their county of residence, an illness, or a physical disability. They are appealing the ruling.

Democratic Party groups file lawsuit in New Hampshire challenging restrictions on same-day registration. National and state Democratic Party organizations filed a lawsuit challenging S.B. 418, a 2022 law requiring same-day registrants not possessing voter ID to vote a provisional ballot, which may only be counted if the voter mails a copy of their ID within 10 days of the election. The complaint argues both that the law violates a state constitutional requirement that results be reported within five days, and that the potential disenfranchisement of qualified voters violates due process.

Ohio lawsuit claims restrictions on third-party ballot return illegally discriminate against voters with disabilities. The League of Women Voters of Ohio filed a federal lawsuit alleging that H.B. 458 – a bill prohibiting any person besides a voter, certain relatives of a voter, or a postal worker from handling mail ballots – violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Voting Rights Act by depriving voters with disabilities from having a person of their choice assist them in returning their ballots. Last year, a similar – but even more restrictive – Wisconsin policy was found to violate the Voting Rights Act.

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