The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, January 22nd

by Liz Avore

January 22, 2024

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Today is Monday, January 22. We are tracking 1,084 bills so far this session across 40 states, with 183 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 550 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: A court upheld cuts to early voting during runoffs in Georgia, while lawmakers introduced bills to investigate the secretary of state and impose unworkable changes to election systems.

The Good News: Efforts to remove the Wisconsin election administrator stalled. A North Carolina judge blocked a policy requiring certain same-day registrants’ ballots to be thrown out. ERIC has some momentum with membership bills in Hawaii, New Hampshire, and New York.

Looking Ahead: The Minnesota Supreme Court expedited consideration of a state constitutional challenge to legislation restoring voting rights to residents disenfranchised due to criminal convictions upon release from incarceration. A pair of Wisconsin bills criminalizing activity by election officials are with the governor to sign or veto. On Tuesday, the Georgia Senate Ethics Committee will hear S.B. 358 (removes the secretary of state from the State Election Board and gives the Board the authority to investigate the secretary of state) and S.B. 189 (requires machines to tabulate ballots using text rather than a barcode), and on Wednesday, an Arizona House committee will hold a hearing on a bill and ballot measure that would end in-person early voting.

Here are the details:

Court in North Carolina enjoins provision that would cause the rejection of some ballots cast by qualified same-day registrants.

A federal court issued an order temporarily blocking the state from enforcing a provision of S.B. 747 – which became law over Governor Roy Cooper’s veto in 2023 – that requires a ballot cast by a same-day registrant to be removed if a single confirmation mailing to the voter is returned as undeliverable. The lawsuit alleges that most undeliverable mail is due to post office error rather than a faulty address, that the provision disproportionately disenfranchises demographics that are more likely to experience housing insecurity, and that the cancellation of a voter’s ballot without notice violates due process. Under the court’s order, the state must now develop a process for voters to receive notice and an opportunity to be heard before their ballots are discarded.

Wisconsin legislature sends a pair of bills criminalizing election workers to the governor’s desk while efforts to remove state election administrator are unsuccessful.

Two bills in Wisconsin cleared their second chamber this week: A.B. 570 would create multiple new felonies applicable to election officials and make procedural changes to voting in residential care facilities and retirement homes, among other changes. A.B. 543 would modify the observation area requirements for election observers and create new criminal offenses for election officials who violate those requirements. The bills now go to Governor Tony Evers’ desk to sign or veto. Meanwhile, separate attacks on Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe faced setbacks, with a Dane County judge ruling that she lawfully holds her position while a lawmaker’s attempt to begin impeachment proceedings failed.

Minnesota Supreme Court agrees to expedite review of voting rights restoration law.

The Supreme Court of Minnesota issued an order granting accelerated review of a newly enacted law that restored voting rights to residents convicted of a felony during any period in which they are not incarcerated for the offense. Plaintiffs claim that the law is unconstitutional because the state’s constitution requires those convicted of a felony to be disenfranchised “unless restored to civil rights,” while the challenged bill restored only voting rights.

Georgia legislators introduce bill to investigate the secretary of state and change voting systems, while a judge upholds cuts to runoff early voting period.

A Georgia state senator introduced a bill that would authorize the State Election Board to investigate the secretary of state and remove them as a non-voting member of the Board. A bill introduced in the state House would ban barcodes or QR codes on ballots which are currently scanned and read by vote counting machines – a change Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger testified would be “physically impossible” to implement before the November election. Meanwhile, a federal judge upheld a 2021 law that dramatically shortened the early voting period for runoff elections.

Bill elevating threats against Washington election officials passes House.

In Washington state, the House of Representatives passed H.B. 1241, a bill that would make it a Class C felony – punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine – to threaten an election official with injury through words or conduct. Under current law, this offense is a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

ERIC regains some momentum in legislatures.

After a tumultuous period in which nine states have departed the Electronic Registration Information Center and struggled to replace it, the interstate voter data sharing agreement may be regaining momentum. Lawmakers in New Hampshire and Hawaii have introduced legislation to join the organization, and the New York Senate passed S.B. 6173, which would require the state to join ERIC or a similar organization.

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