Welcome to the 19th edition of The Markup – on the 19th! Welcome back to our loyal readers and hello to those of you just joining us. Will you forward this post along to any friends or colleagues who may be interested in subscribing?
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Today is Monday, July 19.
The Bad News: Texas’s special session continues and the Senate passed the omnibus anti-voter S.B. 1 last week. It now heads to the House, where the lawmaker exodus to Washington, D.C. has so far prevented quorum. Governor Greg Abbott has pledged to continue to call special sessions until the legislators return.
The Good News: Maine residents will soon be able to register to vote online with the passage of H.B. 804, which was signed by the governor last week. Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed into law a bill that requires voter pamphlets (provided with mail ballots) to be translated into the five languages spoken most commonly across the state and in each county. In California, four pro-voter bills advanced last week.
Looking Forward: Since most in-session legislatures are on summer recess, we don’t expect much to move this week. The Texas special session continues, however, and if the House establishes quorum they are likely to quickly move on S.B. 1 or on the House omnibus bill, H.B. 3.
Here are the details:
Texas special session continues. Many Texas lawmakers left the state last Monday in an attempt to deny the legislature the necessary quorum to pass any legislation (and to encourage federal action to protect voting rights). The Senate was nevertheless able to establish quorum and passed S.B. 1 on a party-line vote. S.B. 1 would restrict Texans’ ability to participate in elections and leave election officials and administrators hamstrung when it comes to keeping partisanship out of Texas elections. Specifically, it would:
- Threaten election officials with criminal prosecution for enacting procedures to meet local community needs;
- Threaten organizations and caregivers with felony prosecution for providing needed assistance to voters at polling locations and with mail ballots;
- Limit the ability of election judges to remove disruptive or intimidating partisan poll watchers;
- Allow partisan poll watchers to take election officials to court over perceived obstruction;
- Require voters using mail ballots to include an ID number when applying for or returning mail ballots;
- Strictly limit the type of assistance a person – even a family member – may provide a voter when casting their ballot;
- Restrict outdoor and drive-through voting locations; and
- Ban mail ballot drop boxes.
The next step for this bill is the Texas House. The House failed to establish quorum when it convened last week and may not take action on bills until quorum is re-established.
Maine enacts online voter registration. Last week, Maine Governor Janet Mills signed a bill creating the state’s first online voter registration portal. The bill directs the secretary of state to establish an online registration system that can accept applications from anyone who submits a DMV-issued number or the last four digits of their social security number. The deadline for online registration would be midnight on the 21st day before Election Day. The system will launch by November 1, 2023. Maine joins 40 other states offering online voter registration.
Oregon makes voting more accessible. Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown signed a bill that requires the secretary of state and county election officials to cooperate to ensure that county voter pamphlets are translated into the five most popular languages spoken in Oregon and the five most popular languages spoken in each county. These voter pamphlets are included with mail ballots, which all registered voters in the state receive each election. Oregon joins Hawaii and Colorado in passing legislation this year to increase language accessibility for their vote by mail elections.
California advances pro-voter bills. Last week, the California Assembly voted out of committee a bill that expands same day registration to overseas and military (UOCAVA) voters, as well as voters with disabilities who register by mail. This bill also streamlines voter list maintenance for people with felony convictions and ensures that people with felony convictions are informed when their voting eligibility has been restored. The Assembly also advanced a bill to strengthen California’s signature match process. Both bills already passed the Senate.
California’s Senate advanced two bills last week. One improves the automatic voter registration process at the DMV. The other would ensure that ballots postmarked by Election Day, and received 7 days after the election, are counted. It also makes permanent a number of changes from the 2020 election by:
- Requiring all voters be mailed a ballot in all elections;
- Requiring all counties to continue to use comprehensive ballot tracking;
- Providing all voters use of a remote access ballot system; and
- Allowing earlier ballot processing.
Both bills already passed the House.
This update is powered by VRL’s State Voting Rights Tracker: tracker.votingrightslab.org