The Markup: Election Legislation Update for Monday, July 1, 2024

by Chris Diaz

July 1, 2024

Welcome to The Markup, our weekly insights and analysis of the latest election policy issues and trends.

Please consider sharing Voting Rights Lab’s legislation update with colleagues and friends, so we can get this valuable information into more hands.

As a reminder, The Markup is now following a summer schedule. As legislative sessions wrap up, we’ll be publishing on the first and third Mondays of each month before resuming weekly updates after Labor Day.

Today is Monday, July 1. We are tracking 1,785 bills so far this session across 44 states and D.C., with 312 bills that restrict voter access or election administration and 891 bills that improve voter access or election administration. The rest are neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Bad News: A new law in Louisiana will make it more difficult for community groups to register voters. The North Carolina Senate advanced a bill that would make the state’s mail ballot verification process – which is already the most burdensome in the country – even stricter, risking legitimate ballots being tossed. Meanwhile, the North Carolina House passed a bill that would require officials to cooperate with unqualified third-party activists to purge voters from the rolls. A court in Michigan struck down guidance from the secretary of state to treat voter signatures on mail ballot envelopes with a presumption of validity, risking that legitimate ballots will not be counted. In Tennessee, the secretary of state sent 14,000 registered voters intimidating letters, asking them to provide proof of U.S. citizenship.

The Good News: The Delaware Supreme Court reinstated in-person early voting and a permanent mail voter list, overturning a lower court decision. Voters in Rhode Island will have expanded ballot drop box access and more time to apply for mail ballots under new laws signed by the governor. A judge in Nevada dismissed a lawsuit brought by political groups seeking to force officials to conduct voter purges. The Wisconsin attorney general issued guidance allaying concerns from election administrators that a recently enacted constitutional amendment would interfere with their ability to conduct elections.

Looking Ahead: This week, the California legislature will hold hearings on seven bills that have already passed one chamber: A.B. 2050 (allows the state to join ERIC), A.B. 544 (establishes a pilot program for in-person voting a select jails), A.B. 2724 (expands voter registration opportunities for high school students), S.B. 1174 (prohibits local governments from imposing their own voter ID requirement), S.B. 1328 (expands the scope of felonies related to interference with voting machines and systems), S.B. 299 (alters automatic voter registration procedures), and A.B. 884 (expands voting access for non-English speakers). New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu has until Wednesday, July 3 to sign or veto H.B. 1264, a bill that – if signed – will ensure voters with disabilities have accessible voting systems available at each polling place.

Here are the details:

Delaware Supreme Court reinstates in-person early voting and permanent mail voter list.

The Delaware Supreme Court on Friday held that in-person early voting and a permanent mail voter list are permissible under the state’s constitution, overturning a lower court ruling from earlier this year. With this decision, only three states will not offer in-person early voting this November. Delaware joins 26 states and Washington, D.C. in sending mail ballots to all voters or allowing at least some voters to apply to receive mail ballots on an ongoing basis.

Louisiana imposes new restrictions on voter registration efforts and criminalizes assisting community members with mail ballot certificates.

Governor Jeff Landry signed additional elections bills into law, bringing the total number enacted in the state this year to 22. H.B. 506 requires organizations that conduct voter registration drives to register with the state and increases the risk of criminal liability for those groups. H.B. 581 makes it a crime for an individual to serve as the mandated witness on the mail ballot certificate for more than one friend, neighbor, or community member.

Rhode Island enacts bills facilitating mail voting and expanding access to partisan primaries for unaffiliated voters.

Governor Dan McKee signed several bills into law. S.B. 2780 makes ballot drop boxes available to mail voters starting 35 days before statewide and federal elections, which is 15 days earlier than prior law required. S.B. 2778/H.B. 7756 creates a three-day grace period for mail ballot applications postmarked by the deadline, so long as they are received within three days. Another bill pair allows unaffiliated voters to participate in a political party’s primary without joining that party.

North Carolina moves closer to making the strictest mail ballot verification law in the country even stricter and requiring the board of elections to work with dubious organizations pushing voter purges.

The North Carolina Senate passed an amended version of S.B. 88. The bill would require all counties to use software to verify the legitimacy of voter signatures on mail ballots envelopes and would extend a 10-county pilot program for this year’s primary elections through the November general election. North Carolina law – already the strictest in the country –  requires mail ballot envelopes to be signed by a witness and include a copy of a photo ID. The bill now heads to the House for consideration. The House, meanwhile, passed H.B. 1071, a bill that would require the state board of elections to work with unspecified “election integrity organizations” to purge voters from the rolls. This bill now heads to the Senate.

Michigan court blocks secretary of state guidance designed to protect mail voters from having their ballot rejected.

A judge on the Court of Claims struck down a portion of a guidance manual, published by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, that directs officials to treat voter signatures on mail ballot applications and envelopes with an initial presumption of validity. The court left in place additional guidance under which officials comparing signatures are required to consider possible explanations for signature variation such as trembling, the use of initials, or haste. The court’s decision may be appealed to the Court of Appeals.

Fourteen thousand Tennessee voters receive letters from the secretary of state asking for proof of U.S. citizenship.

Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins sent letters to over 14,000 registered voters this month, warning them that they may not be U.S. citizens and may therefore be ineligible to vote. The letter – which was sent to many naturalized citizens – includes a form asking the voter to verify their citizenship by including a copy of their birth certificate or other document or a request to have their name removed from the voter rolls. Several lawmakers have expressed outrage over the letters, arguing that they constitute voter intimidation and have demanded an investigation. Tennessee and other states already have systems in place to protect against noncitizen voter registration. A 2019 effort in Texas to purge alleged noncitizens from the voter rolls using DMV data improperly flagged over 100,000 citizens for removal and led to the resignation of the secretary of state.

Nevada court dismisses lawsuit brought by political groups seeking to compel voter purges in jurisdictions across the country.

Recently, a federal judge in Nevada dismissed a lawsuit seeking to force officials to conduct additional voter list maintenance activities. The judge held that the Republican National Committee and Nevada Republican Party lacked standing to file the suit and that the state did not have any way to resolve the plaintiffs’ complaints. Similar lawsuits have been filed in recent months in many states, including Arizona, Maryland, and Michigan. Election officials across the country routinely update voter rolls by monitoring for death notices, changes in motor vehicle records, and mail being returned as undeliverable. Many states are also members of the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), an interstate compact that helps keep voter lists up to date. Legal experts have warned that these lawsuits, as well as other frivolous voter challenges, will overwhelm election officials in the weeks and months leading up to Election Day.

Wisconsin attorney general issues guidance reassuring local officials that new constitutional amendment will not disrupt regular administration of elections.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul released guidance on what constitutes an “election official” after voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring that only lawfully designated election officials can perform work on primaries, elections, and referendums. While there had been concerns that the amendment would disrupt the regular administration of elections, the guidance means that the amendment should have little practical effect on how elections are conducted.

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