The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, April 1, 2024

by Liz Avore

April 1, 2024

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Today is Monday, April 1. We are tracking 1,691 bills so far this session across 44 states and D.C., with 299 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 846 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: A federal court ruled that Pennsylvania officials cannot count mail ballots that do not have the correct date accompanying the voter’s signature, even if they are received on time. A bill that would require Kentucky to leave ERIC in 2025 was sent to the governor’s desk. A Mississippi House committee declined to advance a bill that would have established in-person early voting that passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. The Louisiana Senate passed a bill that would eliminate the permanent mail voter list for the limited number of voters who are currently eligible. The Kansas Senate passed a bill that would prohibit state and county election officials from using federal grant funds for election administration without authorization from the legislature.

The Good News: The Montana Supreme Court struck down four 2021 laws that collectively eliminated Election Day registration, placed new restrictions on mail voting, and restricted the use of student IDs as voter ID. An Oklahoma Senate committee advanced a House-passed bill that would expedite restoration of voting rights for citizens with past felony convictions.

Looking Ahead:

Tomorrow, voters in Wisconsin will consider two proposed constitutional amendments: one that would prohibit state and local governments from accepting private grant funds for election administration, and another that would risk making common forms of voter assistance illegal. Also tomorrow, the Missouri Senate Committee on Local Government and Elections will hear a bill that would allow active duty military stationed in the state, as well as their spouses, to serve as poll workers regardless of where they are registered to vote. Two New Hampshire House committees will consider bills to establish a secretary of state-directed grant program for municipal purchases of election equipment and allow public access to ballot images.

On Thursday, the Alaska Senate State Affairs Committee will consider a bill that would require disclaimers on artificial intelligence-generated “deepfakes” used in campaign communications – a topic covered in our March Hot Policy Take. Also on Thursday, the New Hampshire Senate is expected to pass a bill allowing pre-processing of mail ballots to begin the Thursday before Election Day.

Here are the details:

Federal court rules Pennsylvania officials must reject otherwise valid mail ballots if their envelopes are undated or dated incorrectly.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled last week that a state law requiring officials to reject mail ballots that do not have a correct date alongside the voter’s signature is not preempted by the federal Civil Rights Act. This decision overrules a November 2023 lower court finding that rejecting ballots solely due to missing or incorrect dates violated a citizen’s right to vote based on an “error or omission” that is “not material.” The Court of Appeals did not hold that the date was “material” – but that this provision of the Civil Rights Act only applies to determinations regarding eligibility to vote, not whether an eligible voter’s ballot shall be counted. The impact of this ruling is magnified by the fact that Pennsylvania is one of only 18 states without a statewide process allowing voters to correct minor errors on their ballot envelopes, although two pending bills would create one. An appeal is expected from the ACLU, which is challenging the state law on behalf of the Pennsylvania State Conference of the NAACP.

Montana Supreme Court strikes down laws restricting same-day registration, voter ID, and mail voting.

The Montana Supreme Court struck down four restrictive voting laws enacted in 2021. The court struck down portions of H.B. 176 (eliminated Election Day registration); S.B. 169 (restricted the use student IDs as voter ID); H.B. 530 (prohibited giving or accepting payment for distribution or collection of mail ballots); and H.B. 506 (prohibited mailing ballots to otherwise eligible 17-year-olds who will turn 18 by Election Day). These policies have not been in effect since a trial court blocked their implementation in October 2022.

Georgia legislature sends governor bills that would remove the secretary of state from the State Election Board, require online posting of ballot images, and require all counties to have boards of elections.

The Georgia legislature sent three notable bills to Governor Brian Kemp. S.B. 189 would remove the secretary of state from the State Election Board, clarify standards for voter registration challenges, and establish standards regarding ballot chain of custody. The state legislature already enacted a bill in 2021 that removed the secretary of state as the chair of the State Election Board. H.B. 974 would require the secretary of state to post scanned ballot images online after each election. S.B. 212 would require all counties to have boards of elections and election superintendents, ending a system where partisan probate judges administer elections in some counties. These bills now go to Governor Kemp to sign or veto.

Kentucky legislature sends bill that would require the state to leave ERIC to governor’s desk.

The Kentucky legislature passed H.B. 44, a bill that would prohibit the state from being a member of any interstate organization to maintain accurate voter lists that also requires the state to meet certain proactive registration outreach requirements.. This would include the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a bipartisan interstate compact meant to ensure accurate voter rolls. The bill now goes to Governor Andy Beshear to sign or veto.

Mississippi House Committee declines to advance bipartisan bill establishing in-person early voting.

Last week, the Mississippi House Committee on Apportionment and Elections declined to advance S.B. 2580, a bill that would establish a two-week early voting period. Mississippi is one of only four states where all voters will not have the option to vote in person before Election Day this November. The bill passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Oklahoma Senate committee advances bill expediting restoration of voting rights for citizens with past felony convictions.

The Oklahoma Senate Judiciary Committee advanced H.B. 1629 over one year after the bill passed the House. The bill would restore the voting rights of citizens with past felony convictions upon discharge of their sentence, a pardon, or a commutation from a felony to a misdemeanor with no additional time of imprisonment left to serve. Current state law disenfranchises citizens convicted of a felony for the full number of calendar days they were sentenced to imprisonment, even if they are released early, pardoned, or had their sentence reduced. The bill will now be considered by the full Senate.

Louisiana Senate passes bill ending permanent mail voter list for the limited number of voters who are currently eligible.

The Louisiana Senate passed a bill that would eliminate the state’s permanent mail voting list. Current Louisiana law permits elderly and disabled voters and participants in the state’s address confidentiality program to apply to receive a mail ballot indefinitely. Under this bill, those voters would need to re-apply annually if they want to receive mail ballots for elections in that calendar year. The bill would also create new crimes, including one for returning mail ballot applications on behalf of a friend or neighbor, and another for providing a mail ballot application to a voter who did not request one. The bill now proceeds to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

Kansas Senate passes bill giving the state legislature control over whether election administrators may use federal grant funds.

The Kansas Senate passed S.B. 367, a bill that would prohibit county and state election officials from using funds provided by the federal government for election administration without authorization from the legislature. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

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