The Markup: Weekly Election Legislation Update for Monday, October 18

by Liz Avore

October 18, 2021

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Today is Tuesday, October 18.

We’re tracking 2,707 voting bills. There are 527 anti-voter bills and 1,529 pro-voter bills, with the remainder being either neutral, mixed, or unclear in their impact.

The Good News: Pennsylvania legislators introduced H.B. 1971, which contains a number of pro-voter provisions.

The Bad News: The Michigan House passed two strict voter ID bills (S.B. 303 and S.B. 304), which now head to the governor’s desk. Pennsylvania’s H.B. 1971 also contains a number of anti-voter provisions, including moving up the mail-in ballot application deadline to be among the earliest in the country, and the creation of additional election crimes.

Looking Forward: Tomorrow is the last day of the current Texas special session. It does not look very likely that any additional elections bills will pass before sine die. We are expecting the U.S. Senate to vote on the Freedom to Vote Act this week. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is likely to veto the anti-voter bills on her desk.

Here are the details:

Pennsylvania House introduces new elections bill. The bill, H.B. 1971, would create six days of true, Election Day-style early voting, starting in 2025. Current Pennsylvania law allows voters to request an absentee or mail ballot and fill it out at an elections office, but does not provide for true early voting. The bill also would create a permanent mail-in ballot list, which would allow voters to sign up to automatically receive a ballot by mail each election. Under current law, voters must reapply to receive mail-in ballots each year. In addition, the bill would create a voter bill of rights, senior voter bill of rights, and disabled voter bill of rights and require these to be posted at every polling place.

H.B. 1971 also contains several problematic provisions. It would give Pennsylvania one of the earliest mail-in ballot application deadlines in the country, by moving up the deadline to return ballot applications from 7 days prior to Election Day to 14 days prior to Election Day. It doubles the penalties for existing election crimes, and creates two new felony crimes, which threaten election officials with up to 14 years in prison.

Michigan legislature passes strict voter ID bills. The Michigan House passed S.B. 303 and S.B. 304 last week. These bills now go to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who will likely veto them.

S.B. 303 would tighten voter ID requirements for in-person voters, require voters to include a state ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number on absent voter ballot applications, and prohibit local and state officials from sending absent voter ballot applications to voters who do not first request them. Current law allows voters to sign an affidavit to verify their identity if they do not have identification. This is a rarely used option, but allows individuals without ID to be able to cast a regular, non-provisional ballot. The bill would take away that option, requiring voters either to present identification or only be able to cast a provisional ballot. 

S.B. 304 would shift the burden to verify provisional ballots after Election Day from election officials to voters themselves. Voters would need to bring their identification to the clerk’s office to ensure their provisional ballots are counted, rather than election officials simply verifying the voter’s eligibility through available information. This would create a new barrier for voters and, particularly when combined with S.B. 303, would result in many voters not having their ballot counted.

Texas Senate special session nears the end. In the final week of the third special legislative session, the Texas House has not yet moved on S.B. 10, which would make illegal voting a second degree felony, penalized at the same level as homicide, robbery, and kidnapping. They are also yet to act on S.B. 47, a bill that would create a procedure for partisan-motivated reviews of the 2020 election, as well as for future elections up and down the ballot. The session ends tomorrow. The governor still holds the power to call any additional special sessions, but none have been called to date.

U.S. Senate to vote on the Freedom to Vote Act. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer indicated the Senate will vote on the Freedom to Vote Act this week. The bill, which would create a massive sweep of changes from expanded early voting to universal no-excuse absentee voting to automatic voter registration in every state, is likely to be blocked by a filibuster.


This update is powered by VRL’s State Voting Rights Tracker: tracker.votingrightslab.org

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