The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, April 29, 2024

by Liz Avore

April 29, 2024

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Today is Monday, April 29. We are tracking 1,729 bills so far this session across 44 states and D.C., with 303 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 865 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: A state board in Arkansas issued a rule prohibiting counties from accepting electronic signatures on voter registration forms.

The Good News: A new law in Kentucky expanded access to in-person voting in advance of Election Day for those with a qualifying excuse and ensures eligible voters who are in jail can request and cast mail ballots. The Mississippi legislature sent to the governor a bill that, if signed, would codify a process for voters to correct signature issues on mail ballot envelopes.

Meanwhile, a series of new court rulings will protect voter access across several states. A federal court in Tennessee overturned an unusually burdensome law that required qualified citizens with past felony convictions to show proof of eligibility to register to vote. A federal court in Montana blocked a new state law that made it a felony to register to vote without canceling any previous registrations. A federal court in North Carolina blocked enforcement of a law criminalizing citizens who inadvertently vote when they are ineligible to do so. An Arizona judge upheld state policies allowing for mail ballot drop boxes and protecting voters against erroneous mail ballot rejection.

Looking Ahead:

Legislative sessions adjourn for the year this week in Hawaii, Kansas, and Mississippi. The Michigan Senate will hear testimony this week regarding a package of bills protecting voter access known collectively as the Michigan Voting Rights Act. Today, the Colorado House State, Civic, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee will hear S.B. 72, a Senate-passed bill that would provide in-person voting opportunities for eligible voters in county jails.

Over the next two days in New Hampshire, committees will hear S.B. 537 (establishes a process for voters to correct minor errors on ballot envelopes and allows officials to begin verifying mail ballots prior to Election Day); H.B. 1264 (ensures accessible voting systems are available at all polling places); H.B. 1014 (adds education on election laws and voting to high school civics programs); H.B. 1310 (requires more frequent voter list maintenance); and S.B. 576 (requires executors of estates to inform election officials of the death of any resident over 18 years of age).

Here are the details:

Newly enacted Kentucky bill allows more residents to vote in advance of Election Day with a valid excuse and ensures eligible incarcerated voters are able to request and cast mail ballots.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear allowed H.B. 580 to go into effect without his signature. The bill will allow more voters to cast ballots in the week before the state’s three-day early voting period if they have a valid excuse. Kentucky’s three-day early voting period is one of the nation’s shortest. The bill also facilitates mail ballot access for eligible incarcerated voters by ensuring they are able to request ballots over the phone and by allowing jail employees to handle ballots.

Mississippi legislature passes a bill codifying a process for correcting issues with mail ballot envelopes, while the governor vetoes a bill that would have made the role of county election commissioner nonpartisan.

The Mississippi legislature sent the governor S.B. 2424, a bill that, if signed, will guarantee voters receive notice when there is an issue with their signature on their mail ballot envelope and be given an opportunity to correct it. Also last week, Governor Tate Reeves vetoed H.B. 922, a bill to make the role of county election commissioner nonpartisan and prevent candidates from campaigning based on party affiliation. Governor Reeves questioned the bill’s constitutionality in his veto message.

Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners prohibits the use of electronic signatures on  voter registration forms – and invalidates previously submitted applications.

The Arkansas State Board of Elections Commissioners issued an emergency rule prohibiting the use of electronic signatures on voter registration forms in response to uncertainty among county clerks over the practice. Under the new emergency rule, residents must provide a wet signature on their applications. The board’s declaratory order states that previously submitted voter registration forms are invalid if they have electronic signatures. The only recourse for the potentially tens of thousands of voters whose registrations may be canceled under this new rule is to submit a new application. The legislature would need to approve the rule for it to become permanent.

Federal court in Tennessee rules that election officials cannot require eligible citizens with past felony convictions to provide extra paperwork with their registration applications.

A federal court in Tennessee ruled that election officials cannot require citizens with past felony convictions to provide additional paperwork confirming their eligibility. Prior practice in Tennessee required all citizens with past felony convictions to submit documentation confirming their eligibility to register even if they never lost their right to vote or had their right to vote restored. This decision leaves Arkansas as the only state that imposes an administrative barrier like this on citizens with past felony convictions.

Court blocks Montana law criminalizing registering to vote without canceling past registrations.

A federal court in Montana blocked enforcement of 2023’s H.B. 892, a law making it a felony for a citizen to register to vote in Montana without canceling any prior voter registration they have in another county or state. There is no clear, uniform process for canceling prior registrations in Montana. This injunction will remain in effect until the court conducts further proceedings.

Court blocks enforcement of North Carolina law that would punish citizens with past felony convictions for inadvertently voting before having their rights restored.

A U.S. District Court in North Carolina issued an order prohibiting prosecutions of citizens under a state law that makes it a felony to vote in an election if the person has been disenfranchised due to a past felony conviction and has not had their right to vote restored. The court found that the law was enacted with discriminatory intent, disproportionately impacts Black voters, and does not provide clear standards to prevent arbitrary enforcement. The State Board of Elections has not yet announced whether they intend to appeal the decision.

Arizona court rejects challenge to the use of mail ballot drop boxes and improved signature comparison process for verifying mail ballots.

A state court in Arizona issued a joint ruling in two cases seeking to upend mail voting procedures prior to the November election. Plaintiffs asked the court to prohibit the use of mail ballot drop boxes and impose signature matching rules that would make it more likely for voters’ mail ballots to be improperly rejected. The judge found the state’s procedures for both drop boxes and signature matching to be in compliance with Arizona law.

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