The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Tuesday, February 20 2024

by Liz Avore

February 20, 2024

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Today is Tuesday, February 20. We are tracking 1,530 bills so far this session across 43 states and D.C., with at least 275 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and at least 761 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: An Arizona House committee advanced a bill that would eliminate all pre-Election Day voting options for most residents. The Alabama Senate passed a bill that would criminalize helping voters apply for, or return, mail ballots. The West Virginia Senate passed a bill that would likely result in more cancellations of valid voter registrations – and more work for election officials. The Tennessee Senate advanced a bill that would make the deadline to request a mail ballot earlier.

The Good News: The Wisconsin Senate passed a bill that would make it more difficult to change or close polling places without consensus and the consideration of potential consequences. In Washington, the Senate passed a bill improving language accessibility for voting materials. The Georgia State Election Board declined to recommend an end to no-excuse mail voting.

Looking Ahead:

Today, the Arizona Senate is considering for final passage S.B. 1240 (make cast vote records public records) and S.B. 1286 (requires precinct-based polling places instead of, or in addition to, countywide vote centers), among other bills. Also today, the Arizona House has several bills on the floor for final passage: H.B. 2482 (requires that voters are notified of changes to their registration); H.B. 2404 (prohibits mailing voter registration forms out of state); H.B. 2405 (allows officials to place voters on the inactive list based only on a “reasonable cause” to believe they are ineligible); H.B. 2472 (expands the grounds for contesting election results to include claims based on voter signatures and chain of custody issues); H.B. 2580 (requires that election officials be recertified every two years); and other bills.

Tomorrow, the Florida House State Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on a proposed bill that would place new restrictions on mail ballot return and introduce primary runoffs. Also tomorrow, the Michigan Senate Committee on Elections and Ethics will hold hearings on two bills (H.B. 4127 and H.B. 4128) restricting firearms in polling places that have passed the House.

A federal court scheduled a trial date of May 6 for a lawsuit alleging that North Carolina’s 2018 strict photo ID law is racially biased. The law had been blocked by state courts from its enactment until a reversal by the state supreme court last year. The outcome of the trial could potentially affect the rules in place for the November election.

Here are the details:

Arizona bill that would eliminate in-person early voting and no-excuse mail voting passes committee.

The House Committee on Municipal Oversight and Elections advanced H.B. 2876, a bill that would eliminate in-person early voting and take away the option to vote by mail without providing an approved justification. This bill would have significant consequences for Arizona voters, 75% of whom received a mail ballot in 2022. Under the bill, only elderly voters, voters with disabilities, and those who can prove they must be out of their precinct on Election Day would be allowed to vote by mail. The bill would also prohibit countywide vote centers and shorten the time voters have to correct minor errors on their mail ballot envelopes from five days to two. Of states that allow voters to correct – or “cure” – such errors, a majority allow at least four days after Election Day. The bill now goes to the full chamber for consideration.

Georgia’s State Election Board declines to recommend an end to no-excuse mail voting.

Georgia’s State Election Board voted 3-2 against a proposed recommendation that the state legislature end no-excuse mail voting, which has been available in the state for nearly 15 years. In 2021, the state Senate passed legislation that would have eliminated no-excuse mail voting that failed in the House. Georgia is currently one of 36 states where all voters can vote by mail with no special reason – or excuse – required.

Alabama Senate passes legislation that would criminalize providing assistance with mail ballots and applications.

S.B. 1, passed by the Alabama Senate, would make it illegal for a neighbor, friend, or other trusted community member to assist a voter in requesting or returning a mail ballot. The bill would impose penalties of up to one year in jail for violations. Opponents of the bill argue that this would disenfranchise voters who require assistance, including elderly voters and individuals with disabilities. Since 2021, 11 states have restricted the ability of friends, neighbors, and others to return completed, sealed mail ballots on behalf of other voters. The bill now heads to the House for further consideration.

A Wisconsin bill that would protect against polling place changes passes the Senate.

The Wisconsin Senate advanced A.B. 298, a bill that would require, depending on the timing, greater levels of consensus or a public hearing before officials could close or change Election Day polling places. The bill now heads to the Assembly for further consideration. Meanwhile, a bill passed by the Assembly that would allow election officials to start processing mail ballots the day before Election Day appears unlikely to advance in the Senate.

West Virginia Senate passes bill to accelerate voter registration cancellations.

The West Virginia Senate passed S.B. 622, a bill that could lead to more cancellations of legitimate voter registrations – and more work for election officials. Under this legislation, not voting or signing a candidate petition for two years would trigger an address confirmation process – meaning that election officials would be required to send address confirmation mailers every midterm election to all voters who only vote in presidential elections. If a voter does not respond to the address confirmation mailing – and does not vote for an additional four years – the bill would require election officials to cancel that voter’s registration. Under current West Virginia law, this process is triggered after four – rather than two – years of no election activity. In most states – 28 states and D.C. – non-voting is never a trigger for a removal process. This bill would make West Virginia one of only seven states to initiate removal processes due to two or fewer years without voting. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

Tennessee Senate advances legislation to shorten deadlines for mail ballot applicants.

The Tennessee Senate passed a bill which would require voters to submit an application for a mail ballot, or an application to be placed on the permanent mail voter list, no later than seven days before an election. Under current law, voters may submit applications up to 10 days before Election Day. The bill now heads to the House for further consideration.

Washington legislature advances bills that would increase access to non-English language voting materials and create a ballot verification pilot program.

The Washington Senate passed H.B. 2023, a bill that would require the secretary of state to provide certain counties with voting materials in languages other than English. The House passed S.B. 6269, a bill that would establish a pilot program allowing counties to test new methods for verifying that a ballot was filled out and returned by the intended voter, with approval from the secretary of state. The bills both now go to the other chamber for consideration.

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