Voters head to the polls in four states that are making it easier to cast ballots
On Tuesday, four states — Maine, Nevada, North Dakota and South Carolina — will hold primary elections to determine candidates for various seats. Changes in voting laws that have either restricted or increased access to voting in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and unfounded allegations of election fraud in the 2016 and 2020 presidential election have played a part in every primary election around the country, these four states being no exception.
While issues like the economy and inflation, abortion, and gun violence may decide who wins these races, the mechanics of elections will play a significant part in who votes and how they cast their ballots. All of these states have taken steps in recent years to make it easier to vote (although some have also tightened rules).
Maine is ending its closed primary system (but not this cycle), Nevada is shifting to all-mail voting, North Dakota is allowing the use of tribal IDs for voting services and South Carolina just moved to allow early, in-person voting.
What follows is a breakdown of the most important races and how these states have adapted their elections laws to the current political landscape.
Former Rep. Bruce Poliquin faces Liz Caruso for the Republican nomination to represent the 2nd district, in the state’s highest-profile contest this week. The winner will face the incumbent, Democratic Rep. Jared Golden.
Poliquin lost to Golden in 2018, when Maine became the first state to use ranked-choice voting for congressional elections. Despite trailing after the initial tally, Golden picked up enough votes when a third candidate was dropped and votes were redistributed because no one had initially received a majority of support. (Maine uses RCV for all federal and state elections.)
Other notable races include contests in the Legislature. In the House, Drew Gattine and Jean-Marie Caterina will face off for the Democratic nomination to represent the 126th district , and the Democratic nomination for the 119th district has come down to Charles Skold and Susanne Robins. Across the Capitol, the 27th Senate district will also see a fight for the Democratic nomination between Ken Capron and Jill Duson.
This is expected to be the final year of Maine’s closed primary system, because the state enacted a law in May that creates semi-open primaries starting in 2024. Unaffiliated voters will be allowed to participate in the primary of their choice.
In 2019, Maine implemented a number of changes to election laws to expand ballot access. The state created an online voter registration system and expanded the options for voting by mail. Maine also created a method through which voters can correct a defective ballot.
In addition to the change in the primary system, Maine enacted two other bills to alter elections in the state.
Two more bills were enacted in 2022, according to the Voting Rights Lab. One allows for the use of tribal IDs for voting purposes and provides election officials some leeway to make it easier for people in elder-care facilities to vote. The other deals with election crimes and threats to election workers.
Nevada’s closed primary is proving to be the most significant of Tuesday’s elections as many of its races are competitive and could swing the balance of power in Congress.
Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto will face the winner of the Republican primary, likely either former state Attorney General (and MAGA favorite) Adam Laxalt or Sam Brown, who was endorsed by the state GOP. Cortez Masto will find herself in a vulnerable position but she is more likely to maintain her seat than her Democratic colleagues in the House.
The House seats currently held by Democrats Steven Horsford, Susie Lee, and Dina Titus are all very competitive, but only Titus faces a meaningful primary challenge. Her opponent Amy Vilela was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The Republican primaries to challenge Horsford and Lee are both competitive. One of the candidates in Horsford’s 4th district is Annie Black, who has been censured by the state Assembly for refusing to comply with Covid-19 mask protocols and attended the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021, though she maintains that she did not participate in the storming of the Capitol.
In 2021, the Nevada Legislature enacted a number of election-related laws. Most significantly, the state transitioned from a caucus to a primary system for presidential elections, more in line with the traditional closed primaries conducted for other federal, state and local races in the state.
The state expanded access to voting for individuals with disabilities and implemented permanent mail voting, which ensures that every registered and active voter will receive a mail ballot before every primary or general election. That bill also shortens the time frame that voters have to mail in their ballots or fix any issues with their ballot.
Election officials will also face a time crunch with only seven — instead of nine — days to finish their final count after Election Day. It will also strengthen the authenticity of elections with electronic devices that validate signatures on ballots.
The GOP primaries in North Dakota are far more important than November’s general election, because the state has been one of the most reliably Republican bastions in the past decades. The winners on Tuesday are virtually guaranteed of being elected in the fall.
Sen. John Hoeven faces token opposition in his renomination bid after already fending off a stronger challenge at the state convention.
In 2017, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgun signed a voting bill that introduced stricter voter ID requirements, ultimately hindering voting access from Native Americans. Following lawsuits from two tribes and a number of individual voters in 2020, the secretary of state decided to recognize tribal IDs as well as tribally designated street addresses as acceptable forms of identification.
Then, in 2021, the state passed two bills on election crimes. One covered election deceptions and destroying election equipment, and the other banned the use of private funding for elections.
The state also tweaked the rules related to absentee voting in 2021.
The Palmetto State's biggest primary is the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, featuring Joe Cunningham and Mia McLeod. Disputes arose when House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford endorsed Cunningham, upsetting McLeod, a fellow legislator. The winner is expected to face the incumbent, Republican Henry McMaster.
In other races, three women — Catherine Fleming Bruce, Angela Geter and Krystle Mattews — are competing for the Democratic nod to take on GOP Sen. Tim Scott, and a pair of Republican House members face internal challenges.
Rep. Nancy Mace, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, faces Katie Arrington, who is backed by former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. And Rep. Tom Rice, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, is being challenged by Trump-backed Russell Fry.
Since 2019, South Carolina has implemented very few permanent changes to its election laws. However, the state did make one major move just before this year’s primaries.
In May, McMaster signed a bill establishing early, in-person ballots in time for the 2022 primaries.
While South Carolina enacted new voting rules during last year's pandemic-era election, such as allowing no-excuse absentee voting, these changes were temporary.
It was a long fight, with major disputes between the two chambers of the Legislature beginning in May 2020. But lawmakers reached a compromise in time for the primary.
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