Voting Rights Roundup: Mississippi’s Supreme Court kills off ballot initiatives for an absurd reason

Voting Rights Roundup: Mississippi’s Supreme Court kills off ballot initiatives for an absurd reason

Leading Off

Mississippi: On Friday, Mississippi’s conservative-dominated state Supreme Court obliterated the state’s entire ballot initiative process by striking it down on the most dubious technicality. In the process, the court invalidated a 2020 initiative that voters had passed to legalize medical marijuana, which will also have the effect of killing an ongoing effort to adopt early voting and one launched on Tuesday to expand Medicaid. The court’s ruling in favor of conservative activists, which did not break down neatly along ideological lines, also opens the door for every initiative approved by voters in the last two decades to be invalidated (though not measures that lawmakers themselves had put on the ballot).

Under provisions of the state constitution adopted in the 1990s, organizers must gather signatures from each of the state’s five congressional districts in order to qualify for the ballot. However, because the state lost a congressional district in the 2000 round of reapportionment, the court ruled that it’s now impossible to comply with that requirement because the state only sends four members to Congress.​

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​Most preposterously, the majority opined, “It is wholly within the realm of possibility that the drafters foresaw or even hoped for a drop in congressional representation that would render the ballot-initiative process unworkable,” a line of reasoning that simply beggars belief.

In a scathing dissent, Republican-appointed Justice James Maxwell wrote that regardless of what federal law says, Mississippi’s legal code still defines five congressional districts, and while those were superseded by earlier federal court orders for the purposes of congressional representation (because lawmakers were unable to pass laws drawing new maps themselves), there are no federal election issues or questions of federal supremacy at stake in this lawsuit.

Adding insult to injury, the court’s majority said that the state constitution must be amended for the initiative provisions to be enforceable. But by killing the existing initiative process, the court just handed exclusive power to amend the constitution back to the gerrymandered Republican legislature, which has little reason to want to diminish its control over the lawmaking process.

While this ruling potentially imperils a 2011 ballot initiative that voters passed to require voter ID, Republicans won control over the legislature in that same election and subsequently passed an implementing statute that could prevent opponents from having the standing to sue. And even if the voter ID amendment is ultimately struck down, Republican lawmakers could simply put a new amendment on the ballot, which voters in this conservative and polarized state would likely re-approve.

This ruling makes Mississippi the latest in a long line of states over the past decade where Republican legislators and conservative activists have responded to voters using ballot initiatives to try to pass progressive policies and democracy reforms by trying to make future initiatives exceedingly difficult to the point where they are practically impossible. However, none of those states have yet seen Republicans succeed in making all future initiatives literally impossible the way that this ruling does.

Redistricting

Arizona: For the second time this year, the ostensibly unaffiliated chair of Arizona’s redistricting commission, Erika Schupak Neuberg, has sided with Republican members over Democratic opposition to offer a key post to an applicant with ties to GOP partisans. Neuberg voted with the two Republican commissioners to hire the two firms, the Timmons Group and National Demographics Corporation, as mapping consultants to help commissioners draw maps and provide data. Previously, she joined with the GOP to hire an executive director who had failed to disclose his involvement with paid efforts to elect Republican candidates such as former Sen. Martha McSally.

Democrats blasted the firms for their involvement with the redistricting commission after it first came into being in 2001, when the board’s original districts were blocked as discriminatory by the George W. Bush administration Justice Department. The firms had also helped draw maps in Kern County, California that were struck down by a federal judge in 2018 for discriminating against Latinos.

NDC president Douglas Johnson also served as an expert witness in defense of the North Carolina GOP’s legislative gerrymanders, which were ultimately struck down for discriminating against Democrats and redrawn in 2019. In that case, Johnson even had part of his testimony struck from the record after he admitted to making data errors.

In 2011, when the commission’s previous tiebreaker, Colleen Mathis, sided with Democrats to pass maps, Republicans became apoplectic and accused her of conspiring to pass pro-Democratic gerrymanders, even though those maps gave neither party a material advantage. Republicans in the legislature tried to impeach Mathis, a move that was overturned by the state Supreme Court, then tried to eliminate the commission altogether in an unsuccessful lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2015.

After failing in the courts, Republicans changed tactics and sought to do everything in their power to install a partisan-minded tiebreaker on the commission. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey resorted to stacking the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, whose members screen the applicants for the redistricting commission, by refusing to appoint any Democratic members to the appellate board. Instead, he only named Republicans and nominally unaffiliated members with ties to the GOP.

While Neuberg was chosen unanimously by the four partisan redistricting commissioners, the process shaped by Ducey that led to her selection limited the options available to commissioners; the other applicants for the job of chair had even more obvious ties to Republicans. We can’t know, of course, whether Neuberg will vote with the two GOP commissioners to pass gerrymandered districts, but her votes so far have done little to put to rest concerns about her independence.

Colorado: The Census Bureau says it won’t be able to release key redistricting data until mid-August, which conflicts with Colorado’s constitutionally mandated redistricting deadlines. As a result, the state’s new independent congressional redistricting commission voted unanimously on Monday to use data estimates to devise initial proposals before using more accurate data at a later date to draw final maps. Preliminary maps must be approved by mid-September, and final maps must pass by mid-December.

However, concerns exist over whether this approach complies with the 2018 constitutional amendments that created new congressional and legislative redistricting commissions. To address this issue, the Democratic-run legislature passed a resolution last week with bipartisan support asking the state Supreme Court to determine whether it’s acceptable to use estimates for preliminary maps. State senators also passed a separate bill directing the commissioners to proceed with their plan, with a House vote expected next week. Lawmakers are considering whether to amend that bill to postpone a 2020 law that banned prison gerrymandering to next decade if implementing it would add further delays.

Connecticut: Both chambers of Connecticut’s Democratic-run legislature have passed a bill to end prison gerrymandering starting with the upcoming redistricting cycle. The measure enjoyed almost unanimous support in the state Senate but Republicans were widely opposed to the bill in the state House. The bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont for his expected signature. In an unusual move, this bill would still have people serving life sentences, who make up 4% of the total incarcerated population, counted where they are imprisoned for redistricting purposes.

Michigan: Michigan’s new independent redistricting commission has launched an online public comment portal where state residents can submit testimony, proposed district maps, and maps defining communities of interest.

Ohio: Republican legislators announced they are dropping a plan to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in August that would have modified redistricting deadlines to ensure mapmakers have the ability to meet them, leaving legislators little recourse but to petition the state Supreme Court to delay the deadlines until sufficiently later than when the census releases the data needed to draw new districts in mid-August.

Wisconsin: Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court, which has a 4-3 conservative majority, rejected a petition by conservative activists that sought to ensure that the high court would take over redistricting instead of leaving it up to either a state or federal lower court in the probable event that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers blocks Republican legislators from passing new congressional and legislative gerrymanders.

Conservatives had asked the justices to change state court rules to ensure the Supreme Court would exercise original jurisdiction over any redistricting dispute, meaning that lower courts would be cut out of the process—something the justices refused to guarantee. However, the ruling specifically said the court would not preclude a later request that it use its power of original jurisdiction. It’s also possible that disputes could bypass the state courts if a lawsuit is filed in federal court.

Redistricting: Our friends at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project are hosting a new contest that will be of interest to many Voting Rights Roundup readers:

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project at the Electoral Innovation Lab is proud to announce the launch of its Great American Map Off, a contest challenging the public to draw redistricting plans for seven crucial states—Wisconsin, Colorado, Ohio, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, and New York—in anticipation of the 2021 redistricting cycle. Maps will be judged in the contest’s four unique categories: partisan fairness, stealth gerrymander, competitiveness, and communities of interest. Participants can enter any or all categories, which are fully detailed within the contest rules on the group’s website. The site also includes links for mapping tools and resources, including Representable, Dave’s Redistricting, and All About Redistricting. The competition will formally open on May 15, 2021. All competitors should submit their prospective maps by the deadline of 11:59 PM ET on June 15, 2021. Prizes will be awarded.

Full details here. Let us know if you submit!

Voting Access Expansions

Congress: Senate Democrats this week began their committee markup on the For the People Act (designated S. 1), which is the sweeping election reform bill that House Democrats passed earlier this year as H.R. 1 to enact a wide range of new voting protections, ban congressional gerrymandering, and enact new campaign finance and ethics restrictions. HuffPost’s Paul Blumenthal also outlined a number of key changes proposed by Democrats in their so-called managers’ amendment, which are intended to address concerns raised by local election officials from both parties about potential problems with its implementation.

Among the major changes, the amendment would alter the 2023 deadline for states to pass laws adopting automatic voter registration by allowing them to obtain a waiver until 2025. It would also delay the requirement that state agencies actually implement automatic registration from 2023 to 2025 and likewise offer a waiver until 2028. Similarly, a requirement to offer same-day voter registration by 2022 would be modified to only apply to county election offices while pushing back a requirement to allow same-day registration at all polling places to 2024; again, states would be able to receive a waiver until 2026.

Additionally, the amendment would shrink the requirement for 15 early voting days in small jurisdictions. It also would reduce the length of time allowed for voters to fix supposed problems with their mail ballots from 10 days after Election Day to three days. As well, it would shorten the amount of time after Election Day for officials to receive ballots that are postmarked by Election Day from 10 days to seven days instead. These two changes are intended to ensure that vote counting does not interfere with election certification timelines.

The amendment would also replace a requirement that states provide prepaid postage on absentee ballots with a requirement that the U.S. Postal Service delivers all mail ballots free of charge, paid for by the federal government. A requirement that counties or other election jurisdictions offer at least one drop box per 20,000 residents would change to one per jurisdiction and an additional one per every 45,000 registered voters, but only for 2022 and 2024. After that, the 45,000 registered voters threshold would change to every 15,000 voters who voted by mail in the prior election.

Finally, the amendment would postpone a 2022 requirement for adopting a voting method that produces a voter-verifiable paper trail, instead giving states until 2026 to implement new guidelines in this area that were issued by the federal Election Assistance Commission. States could apply for a waiver to delay implementation until up to 2030.

Senators deadlocked 9-9 in committee along party lines over passing the managers’ amendment and whether to pass the underlying bill itself, only approving a handful of smaller changes such as a GOP-backed amendment to exempt people convicted of crimes against children from a provision that otherwise restores voting rights to everyone with a felony conviction who is not currently imprisoned. However, the power-sharing agreement between the two parties means that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can still bring the bill to the floor, where Senate Democrats could add the mangers’ amendment at a later date.

However, the bill’s ultimate odds of passage remain in doubt thanks to obstinacy by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and others who oppose filibuster reform. Manchin said last month that he opposed the bill in its current form but did not specify what changes he would like to see made. He also has steadfastly refused to consider curtailing the filibuster to overcome guaranteed GOP opposition to whatever form the bill ultimately takes. Manchin has argued that any voting reforms must be bipartisan, handing the GOP an effective veto at the federal level; meanwhile, Republicans in state legislatures across the country are passing a raft of new voting restrictions along party lines.

Manchin said on Wednesday that he supports a separate bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore a key protection that the Supreme Court’s conservatives gutted in 2013 that required voting changes in states and localities with a history of discrimination to be “precleared” by the Justice Department.

Manchin said he’d only back the bill if it were amended to extend the preclearance requirement to the whole country instead of just certain jurisdictions that have had a certain number of voting rights violations in recent years. Extending preclearance nationally could help address Chief Justice John Roberts’ nominal concerns in that 2013 ruling, but Roberts could nevertheless concoct another pretext for curbing voting rights.

Manchin’s comments may indicate that he supports the bill to restore the VRA at the expense of the For the People Act, but the former is not a substitute for the latter. Preclearance would only stop Republican-run jurisdictions from enacting new voting discriminatory restrictions. It wouldn’t eliminate the horde of restrictions across the country that are already law, which the For the People Act would address by enacting several new voting protections.

Furthermore, merely restoring the VRA would do very little to curtail partisan gerrymandering, which the For the People Act bans. Relying on preclearance alone is also a dangerous strategy when future Republican presidents are likely to appoint partisan crusaders such as former Attorney General Bill Barr to run the Justice Department.

And in the end, Manchin still refuses to consider curtailing the filibuster, which means even the new Voting Rights Act would go nowhere in the face of GOP obstruction. He insists that the only voting rights measures worth passing are those that win bipartisan support, but so far, Republicans have shown zero interest in offering any, and there’s no reason to think that will ever change.

Alabama: Lawmakers in GOP-run Alabama have indefinitely postponed the consideration of a bill that would have increased the number of locations where voters could return their absentee ballots in-person, which is currently only allowed at county courthouses. A state House committee had previously passed the bill with bipartisan support earlier this year, but the postponement means the legislation is now likely dead.

Colorado: State Senate Democrats have passed an election reform bill along party lines that aims to increase voting access while also adding new rules on recall elections to deter Republicans from continuing to abuse them for partisan purposes. The bill would automatically update voters’ registration data when they update relevant records with Colorado’s Medicaid or state health agencies. The measure would furthermore require colleges to give students information on how to register at the beginning of each fall semester and at the end of the spring semester.

Additionally, the bill adds limits on mail ballot drop boxes being placed at police or sheriff stations rather than other locations, which some voters may find intimidating in a state where universal vote-by-mail has led to widespread use of drop boxes. Drop boxes would also be required to stay open for people waiting in line on election night at the close of the polls just like in-person polling places are.

The bill would require recall petition signature-gatherers to wear a badge saying whether they’re a volunteer or are paid, and petitions would be required to have a cost estimate for the recall elections. The bill also strengthens a prohibition against false statements on recall petitions.

Separately, Democrats passed a bill in both chambers that would increase the availability of Spanish-language voting materials by lowering the threshold for determining which jurisdictions have language-minority populations large enough to require multilingual voting materials.

Finally, Democrats voted to send Democratic Gov. Jared Polis a bill that would allow online voting for people with certain disabilities. However, election security experts have widely warned that internet-based voting is inherently insecure under current technology.

Connecticut: Connecticut’s Democratic-run state House has passed two constitutional amendments with some bipartisan support that would remove the excuse requirement for absentee voting and allow an early voting period. If the Democratic-controlled state Senate follows suit, the early voting amendment would go before voters for their approval in November 2022 after both chambers previously approved it prior to 2020. However, because enough Republicans opposed the absentee voting amendment to deny it a three-fourths supermajority, lawmakers will have to pass the same amendment again after 2022 before it could appear on the ballot in 2024 (which is what happened with the early voting amendment).

Louisiana: Louisiana’s Republican-run state House has almost unanimously passed a bill that would extend the early voting period from seven to 10 days in presidential elections.

New Jersey: Democrats have passed a bill along party lines in an Assembly committee that would allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections starting next year so long as they will turn 18 by the general election.

New York: Assembly Democrats, over the objection of Republicans, have passed two constitutional amendments that would adopt same-day voter registration and remove the excuse requirement to vote absentee. Since Democrats in both chambers have now approved the two amendments both before and after the 2020 elections, they will go onto the ballot this November for voters’ approval, meaning both policies could be in effect for next year’s elections.

Separately, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a new law passed by Democrats in the legislature that codifies his 2018 executive order that had automatically restored voting rights to people on parole.

Oklahoma: Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt has signed a bill passed with bipartisan support that extends the early voting period in presidential elections from three days to four.

Vermont: Vermont’s Democratic-run state House has given preliminary approval to a bill that would permanently adopt universal mail voting in general elections following its temporary use last fall. State senators and Republican Gov. Phil Scott have already signaled their support for the bill.

Voter Suppression

Arizona: Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has signed a new bill that will end the permanence of Arizona’s popular permanent mail voting list shortly after state Senate Republicans passed the measure on a party-line vote.

For years, the state had allowed voters to automatically receive a ballot in all future elections, but the new law requires voters to vote at least once in a four-year period or respond to a single mailed notification within 90 days to avoid being purged from the mail voting list. Voters who only vote in-person instead of by mail during the four-year period would also be slated for removal.

Mail voting is very widespread in Arizona, with roughly 75% of voters on the permanent mail voting list. An analysis by the progressive group Arizona Wins found that 127,000 people on the list voted in 2020 after not voting in 2016 and 2018. Those voters would have been at risk of being purged had this law been in effect last year.

Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias, whose firm has been involved in a large number of voting rights lawsuits across the country in recent years, stated that a lawsuit likely won’t be filed immediately since the law won’t begin purging voters until they’ve failed to vote by mail in the next four years and is not retroactive, according to the legislature’s legal counsel. However, Elias signaled that his firm would sue right away if county officials determine otherwise.

Ducey also signed another bill into law that requires voters to fix any problems with mail ballots by Election Day rather than up to a week afterward. Democrats are likely to challenge this new law in court as soon as possible.

Arkansas: The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has compiled an informative roundup of the more than 20 laws that Republicans enacted in their recent legislative session affecting elections. The barrage includes measures adopting multiple new restrictions on voting; giving partisan Republican officials more control over election administration; and undermining ballot initiatives. In particular, the new laws include provisions that will:

Eliminate the ability of voters who lack ID to sign a sworn statement and instead require ID for ballots to count;

Require voters to return their absentee ballots to election officials by the Friday before Election Day instead of by Election Day itself—all but one other state sets that deadline on Election Day or afterward;

Ban officials from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters;

Require a voter’s signature on an absentee ballot application to match their original signature on their voter registration form, even though voter signatures often change over time;

Effectively ban giving food or drinks to voters waiting in line to vote by restricting who may linger near polling place entrances;

Take away county clerks’ power to designate early voting locations;

Give partisan county election boards oversight over all local election officials; and

Place a constitutional amendment on the 2022 ballot that aims to block future progressive ballot initiatives by raising the support needed for passage from a simple majority to 60%.

However, GOP lawmakers failed to pass a bill before adjourning that would have eliminated the final Monday of early voting.

Florida: Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a new law that adopts multiple new voting restrictions, prompting voting advocates to immediately sue in federal court.

The GOP’s law restricts absentee ballot drop boxes to only being available at early voting sites during early voting hours instead of 24/7 availability and requires that they be staffed by election office employees. That change could further limit their availability and exacerbate early voting lines by funnelling more absentee voters into crowding into early voting locations at the same time as people trying to vote in-person. The law also restricts who may turn in someone else’s mail ballot on their behalf with only limited exceptions such as for family members but not trusted friends or neighbors.

The law additionally eliminates a policy initially passed by Republican lawmakers that allows voters to make a single request to receive an absentee ballot for all elections that take place in the next two federal election cycles. Instead, voters will now have to make a new request each election cycle, though requests from 2020 for the coming 2022 cycle wouldn’t be retroactively cancelled.

Furthermore, the law makes it effectively illegal for volunteers to give food or water to voters waiting in line to vote, which combined with the provisions making it harder to vote by mail and directing more voter traffic to early voting locations may increase the odds that some voters in hours-long lines simply give up on voting entirely.

Lastly, a provision gives DeSantis the ability to appoint Republican replacements when local elected offices such as county commission seats become vacant. This measure is a particularly impactful change because Florida for decades has required that lower level officials resign their seats whenever they run for higher office and be replaced in special elections rather than via appointment, meaning Democrats in those positions even in heavily blue constituencies who want to seek a promotion would risk automatically forfeiting their existing position to a GOP appointee until at least the next election.

It’s the norm among other states for voters or county officials themselves to fill such vacancies rather than for the state government to have the sweeping ability to handpick replacements that could create changes in party whenever local vacancies arise. While a future Democratic governor could theoretically take advantage of this change to replace Republican local officials whose seats become vacant, Republican lawmakers could simply change the law again in the future given that they’re positioned to gerrymander the legislature to entrench their majorities.

Idaho, Indiana: FiveThirtyEight has looked at the numerous voting restriction bills that have been introduced and passed in many states and determined that legislators, almost all of whom are Republicans, have introduced roughly 400 bills this year making it harder to vote. While most of those bills are either already dead or not likely to become law, GOP-run states have already enacted more than two dozen bills creating new voting restrictions and are poised to advance more, including two measures in Idaho and Indiana that we had not previously covered.

In Idaho, Republicans have passed a law to require that absentee ballot signatures match the original signature on a voters’ registration forms, even though voters’ signatures often change over time. In Indiana, meanwhile, Republicans adopted a law last month to restrict absentee ballot drop box locations, although that law also gives voters a chance to correct issues with their ballots such as a signature supposedly not matching.

Idaho: Idaho’s Republican-run state Senate has voted to adjourn for the year even though their House counterparts voted to instead take a recess that would allow them to return to session at a later date. The Senate’s decision therefore likely means that a House-passed bill that would have banned third-party absentee ballot collection in most instances is dead.

Kansas: Republican legislators have overridden Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s vetoes of two bills that will strip state judges and executive branch officials like Kelly of some of their powers over election procedures and enact new restrictions on absentee voting.

Responding to actions by Democratic executive officials in other states during the pandemic last year to improve voting access by extending key deadlines, altering election procedures, and agreeing to legal settlements, one of the Kansas GOP’s new laws will prevent the judicial and executive branches of state government from altering election laws or entering into legal agreements known as “consent decrees” without legislative approval. The law additionally imposes disclosure requirements for groups sending information about mail voting to voters.

Another of the GOP’s new laws will restrict who may collect and submit a completed absentee ballot on behalf of another voter, including making it a felony for anyone to return more than five ballots. That law also bans candidates from assisting voters to cast their ballots; bans the secretary of state (currently Republican Scott Schwab) from extending deadlines for absentee voting; and requires absentee ballot signatures to match the one officials have on file.

The overrides came even though Republicans lacked the necessary two-thirds supermajorities when they originally passed both bills, meaning that some previous opponents were convinced to switch sides.

Louisiana: Republicans have passed a bill in the state House and in a state Senate committee that bans private grants to fund election administration after nonprofits donated hundreds of millions around the country in 2020 to address the chronic underfunding of local election administration. Republicans in a number of states have enacted or advanced similar measures this year instead of increasing election funding and obviating the need for such grants.

Missouri: State Senate Republicans have adjourned their legislative session without approving bills that would have enacted new restrictions on voting and ballot initiatives, but Republicans are likely to return for a special session later this year on Medicaid funding, and some Republicans had already asked GOP Gov. Mike Parson to call a special session on election bills shortly before the session ended.

Republicans had previously passed two bills in a state Senate committee and in the state House that would have revived the state’s photo voter ID requirement after the state Supreme Court gutted it last year. One of the bills would have also banned officials from making emergency election changes within six months of a presidential election. It would have further prohibited counting absentee ballots until Election Day ballots are counted, which would have provided further fuel for Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories. However, the measure would have also removed the excuse requirement for absentee voting and created a three-week period of in-person absentee voting similar to traditional early voting.

GOP senators also adjourned despite failing to give final approval to a House-passed constitutional amendment that would have stifled ballot initiatives after activists used them in recent years to pass redistricting reform, raise the minimum wage, and expand Medicaid. The GOP’s amendment would have required two-thirds voter support instead of the current simple majority for passing constitutional amendments. It would have also required initiative proponents to obtain signatures equivalent to 10% of voters in all eight congressional districts instead of the current requirement of 8% of voters in just six districts, which would have penalized Democrats and Black voters in particular.

Montana: Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte has signed a bill into law that strips himself of the power to make emergency election changes without legislative approval. GOP legislators passed the measure not to hamper Gianforte but to prevent any future Democratic governor from doing anything like what former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock did last year, when he authorized counties to adopt universal vote-by-mail during the pandemic (almost all did).

Gianforte also signed another bill that restricts who may turn in someone else’s absentee ballot. Gianforte’s signature prompted Democrats to immediately amend their previous lawsuit that is challenging the GOP’s new voter ID law and repeal of Election Day voter registration to also challenge this new ballot collection law, since it is very similar to one that a court struck down last year for discriminating against Native American voters, who often live on rural reservations where access to transportation options and mail delivery service is limited.

Ohio: Ohio Republicans have unveiled their proposed bill that adopts several new voting restrictions and a few improvements to voting access as expected. The measure would:

Limit absentee ballot drop boxes to one location per county at county election offices regardless of population size;
Limit drop box use to just the 10 days before Election Day instead of the current 30;
Ban third-party absentee ballot collection;
Require voters to return absentee ballots in a specific envelope and prevent them from fixing the problem if they return it in the envelope for voter ID;
Only allow absentee voters to use a Social Security number or other forms of ID for voter ID if they don’t have a driver’s license or state ID card;
Eliminate the final Monday of early voting and move those hours to other days;
Require legislative approval for the secretary of state to prepay the postage on absentee ballots;
Allow online absentee ballot requests but require providing two forms of ID;
Automatically update existing voter registrations when voters do business with the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles, though this measure falls short of true automatic voter registration because it wouldn’t cover unregistered-but-eligible voters; and
Allow voters to use electronic forms of bank statements or utility bills for voter ID instead of requiring hard copies.

Texas: State House Republicans have passed a bill that makes it a felony for election officials to send unsolicited absentee ballot applications to all voters and empowers GOP-appointed “poll watchers” to harass & intimidate voters, but the bill’s prospects are uncertain after state Senate Republicans passed a different version that focused more on cutting early voting hours and methods of availability; GOP senators are insistent on approving that version instead of the House’s proposal. State Senate Republicans also passed a separate bill in a committee that would ban the use of post office boxes for voter registration.

Ballot Measures

Austin, TX: Voters in Texas’ capital of Austin, which is home to roughly 1 million residents, voted on multiple ballot measures earlier this month that aimed to change the way local elections work. Most notably, voters approved a plan to move the timing of mayoral elections from midterm years to presidential years, which would boost turnout. Voters also passed a measure to adopt instant-runoff voting, but Republican legislators have shown little interest in changing state law to allow it to take effect.

Austinites did however reject a system of public campaign financing using “democracy vouchers” that would have given every voter a set of vouchers each election that they could use to donate to their preferred candidates, a system that Seattle, Washington became the first major U.S. city to adopt in 2015.

Florida: Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a new law that adds a $3,000 limit for individuals donating money to ballot initiative campaigns, prompting the ACLU to file a federal lawsuit to block the measure. The new law likely runs afoul of past U.S. Supreme Court and lower court precedents that have invalidated similar restrictions and have taken a much more skeptical view toward contribution limits for ballot measures on the grounds that there is less risk of corruption than when giving large amounts of money directly to candidates.

Meanwhile, Republican legislators have failed to pass a constitutional amendment that would have required two-thirds voter approval for amending the state constitution via ballot initiative instead of the current 60%, which Republicans passed in 2006 in place of the previous simple majority required for passage. Republicans in Florida have repeatedly tried to undermine ballot initiatives after voters used them to try to ban gerrymandering, restore voting rights to 1.4 million people, and enact other progressive policies.

Electoral System Reform

New York City, NY: A state court has dismissed a lawsuit backed by six City Council members seeking to block the use of New York City’s new instant-runoff voting law in next month’s primaries for city offices, ruling that plaintiffs had waited too long to challenge the 2019 law. The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that election officials and voters of color in particular were insufficiently prepared to use the new voting method, holding that blocking instant-runoff voting would only create voter confusion with the June 22 election quickly approaching.

The plaintiffs do not have appeared to indicate whether they will appeal.

Campaign Finance

Georgia: With little fanfare, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has signed a bill into law that effectively guts state-level restrictions on campaign donations. The measure allows candidates to create committees that can accept unlimited donations from individuals and also raise money during legislative sessions while lobbyists are trying to get bills passed, which was previously prohibited. All but a handful of states impose some sort of limit on how much money individual donors, corporations, or labor unions can donate to a campaign, but this law is likely to ensure a surge of contributions by ultra-wealthy donors in Georgia’s hotly contested 2022 elections.

From Daily Kos at Read More. This article is republished from DailyKos under an open content license. Read the original article at DailyKos.

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