The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, March 25, 2024

by Liz Avore

March 29, 2024

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Today is Monday, March 25. We are tracking 1,678 bills so far this session across 44 states and D.C., with 296 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 842 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: The governor of Alabama signed into law a bill that will criminalize providing assistance to voters applying for a mail ballot. A Kansas Senate committee advanced a bill that would require officials to toss out mail ballots with timely postmarks received after Election Day. Bills in Arizona that would end no-excuse mail voting, eliminate in-person early voting, remove local discretion to establish countywide vote centers, and risk improper voter purges advanced in the state Senate. The Georgia Senate advanced a House-passed bill that would require officials to post scanned images of all ballots online.

The Good News: Governor Tony Evers of Wisconsin vetoed bills that would criminalize election officials’ correcting minor errors on voters’ ballot envelopes and require that observers be allowed within three feet of officials and voters, and signed into law bills requiring disclaimers on A.I.-generated content and establishing protections against polling places closures. The Nebraska legislature advanced a bill that would eliminate a waiting period before citizens with past felony convictions are eligible to regain their voting rights. New Hampshire voters rejected numerous municipal proposals to require hand counting of ballots.

Looking Ahead: Legislative sessions are set to adjourn for the year this week in Georgia and South Dakota. Today, the Arizona Senate Rules Committee is hearing H.C.R. 2032 (proposes a ballot initiative to limit eligibility for mail voting and require the state’s most populous counties to establish thousands of new polling places); S.B. 1286 (requires counties to move away from current model of countywide vote centers); and H.B. 2765 (allows military family members to serve as poll workers regardless of place of registration). Also today, the Missouri Senate Local Government and Elections Committee will hear S.B. 1415, a bill that would allow active duty military members and their spouses to serve as poll workers even if they are not registered to vote in the state.

On Wednesday, the Maryland Senate Committee on Education, Energy, and the Environment will hear H.B. 627, a bill that would establish automatic voter registration through the Department of Public Safety and Corrections for eligible citizens upon release from incarceration unless they opt out.

Here are the details:

Alabama Governor signs bill making it a crime to assist voters in applying for mail ballots.

In Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey signed into law S.B. 1, a bill that makes it a crime to return a completed mail ballot application on behalf of anyone except voters who experience a medical emergency within five days of an election. The bill also makes it a crime to give or receive compensation for obtaining, delivering, or completing a ballot application on behalf of another voter. Opponents of the bill argue that it will prevent elderly and disabled voters from obtaining the help they need to vote by mail, and that the bill was inspired by false claims regarding voter fraud. Including Alabama, 13 states have enacted legislation since 2021 increasing the criminalization of voter assistance.

Governor of Wisconsin vetoes several bills that would make election administration more difficult; signs bills requiring disclaimers for A.I. in political ads and protecting polling places from closure.

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers vetoed A.B. 570 (makes it a crime for clerks to correct minor errors on voters’ mail ballot envelopes); A.B. 543 (allows observers within three feet of voter check in and makes it a crime for election officials to keep them farther away); and A.B. 572 (changes requirements regarding voting in residential care facilities and for voters who have been determined to be ineligible to vote due to mental incapacity). Additionally, Governor Evers signed into law signed A.B. 298, a bill that will require public hearings and approval from the municipal governing body before polling places could be closed, and S.B. 644, a bipartisan bill requiring political ads with content generated by artificial intelligence to include disclaimers and establishing a $1,000 fine for violations. Supporters of the bill argue that it will prevent misinformation, but some critics argue that the $1,000 fine may not go far enough to deter groups seeking to influence elections. Wisconsin is the tenth state to pass a law aimed at artificial intelligence in political ads before the 2024 elections.

Nebraska legislature advances bill expediting restoration of voting rights for citizens with past felony convictions.

In Nebraska, the unicameral legislature gave first-round approval to L.B. 20, which would eliminate the two-year waiting period for restoration of voting rights following completion of a sentence for a felony conviction. If the bill becomes law, Nebraska would join the vast majority of states in restoring voting rights to individuals with past felony convictions either immediately after release from incarceration or after completion of probation or parole. The bill must be approved by the legislature two more times before going to the governor to sign or veto.

New Hampshire voters reject ballot hand count proposals as state House passes bill improving disability access for local elections.

New Hampshire voters at town meetings across the state rejected proposals – pushed by a group led by Mike Lindell – to ban the use of electronic ballot tabulators and require election officials to count ballots by hand. While research shows that hand counts lead to greater inaccuracy and significantly longer wait times to receive election results, six states have bills active that would ban the use of tabulators. Meanwhile, the state House passed a bill that would require cities and towns to make available at least one accessible voting system for local elections, so disabled voters may vote privately without the need for assistance as they can for federal elections. The bill now moves to the Senate for further consideration.

Georgia bill requiring online posting of ballot images clears committee in second chamber.

The Georgia Senate Ethics Committee approved H.B. 974, which would require the secretary of state to create and maintain a statewide program for posting scanned images of paper ballots online. Under the bill, all paper ballots would be scanned and posted within 10 days of the election. The bill will now be considered by the full Senate before returning to the House for concurrence with Senate amendments.

Arizona Senate advances bills to eliminate no-excuse mail voting and drastically reduce the number of vote centers, give county recorders authority to put voter registration on inactive status, and allow military family members to serve as poll workers regardless of registration.

The Arizona Senate Committee on Elections passed, with recommended amendments, H.C.R. 2032, a proposed ballot initiative which would require voters to have a special qualifying reason – or excuse – to vote by mail and prohibit officials in the state’s most populous counties from choosing to use countywide vote centers in lieu of thousands of precinct-based polling places. This resolution will now be considered by the Senate Committee on Rules, and would go to the ballot in November if approved by both chambers with no opportunity for a veto by the governor. Several other bills also passed their second Senate committee: S.B. 1286 (requires counties to move away from current model of countywide vote centers), H.B. 2405 (gives county recorders authority to place a voter’s registration on inactive status if they have cause to believe the registration is incorrect or fraudulent), and H.B. 2765 (allows military family members to serve as poll workers regardless of place of registration. These three bills head to the Senate Rules Committee for consideration.

Kansas Senate committee advances bill that would make the deadline for mail ballots earlier while codifying the use of drop boxes for ballot return.

In Kansas, the Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs passed H.B. 2056, a bill that would require officials to toss out mail ballots received after the close of polls on Election Day, even if they were postmarked on or before Election Day. Under current law, ballots with timely postmarks received by the third day after Election Day are counted. Eight states have active bills that would make their mail ballot return deadline earlier. The bill would also formally authorize the return of mail ballots to drop boxes, which are already widely used in practice.

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