The state of voting: Oct. 11, 2022
This weekly update summarizing legislative activity affecting voting and elections is powered by the Voting Rights Lab. Sign up for VRL’s weekly newsletter here.
The Voting Rights Lab is tracking 2,201 bills so far this session, with 580 bills that tighten voter access or election administration and 1,054 bills that expand the rules. The rest are neutral, mixed or unclear in their impact.
A U.S. Supreme Court decision issued Tuesday may result in the rejection of timely mail ballots cast by registered Pennsylvania voters who simply forgot to date their mail ballot envelopes. And the high court in Delaware ruled that new laws granting no-excuse mail voting and same-day voter registration violate the state’s Constitution.
Meanwhile, a Texas court ordered Bexar County – home to about 2 million people – to open over 100 more polling places than originally planned for the upcoming election. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Witmer signed an election reform package on Friday that includes legislation to allow clerks to start processing mail ballots prior to Election Day. The North Carolina Supreme Court ensured that voters who had their mail ballots witnessed or notarized will not also be subject to signature matching.
Following an appellate court order issued Monday, Wisconsin voters can still cancel their returned mail ballots prior to Election Day. And in Kentucky, the Louisville Metro Council is considering a resolution calling for a mail ballot drop box inside the local jail for inmates who have been charged – but not convicted – of a crime.
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Looking ahead: A new lawsuit in Nye County, Nev., challenges hand count procedures, including a process that involves live-streaming the reading of ballots starting two weeks before Election Day.
Here are the details:
Supreme Court decision may result in the rejection of timely mail ballots cast by registered Pennsylvania voters who forgot to date their mail ballot envelopes. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court vacated an appellate court decision, and as a result Pennsylvania counties may be able to reject timely ballots cast by eligible, registered voters if the voter forgot to date their mail ballot envelopes. The 3ird U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that counties cannot reject otherwise valid ballots simply because they are missing a date. The circuit court found that the date next to the signature is immaterial since it was not used to determine the timeliness of the ballot and the Voting Rights Act prohibits states from rejecting ballots for immaterial reasons.
Delaware high court invalidates election reforms. The Delaware Supreme Court struck down legislation enacted earlier this year establishing no-excuse mail voting and same-day voter registration. The court held that the state Constitution does not allow the General Assembly to institute these policies. Delaware will be one of 15 states where voters must provide a special reason – or “excuse” – to vote by mail this election, and one of 22 states where voters cannot register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day.
Texas county ordered to open more than 100 additional polling places than originally planned. A Texas court ordered Bexar County to open at least 388 polling places on Election Day, ruling that number to be the minimum required under state law. The county had planned to open as few as 259 voting locations. Bexar County is home to about 2 million people, three quarters of whom live in San Antonio.
Michigan governor signs election reform package, including legislation to allow clerks to start processing mail ballots before Election Day. Whitmer signed several bills to implement changes to the administration of mail voting for this November’s election. Most notably, H.B. 4491 will allow clerks in jurisdictions with at least 10,000 residents to begin processing and verifying mail ballots two days before Election Day. Prior to the enactment of the bill, election officials had to wait until the morning of Election Day to begin processing mail ballots. The bill also ensures that people who have died are removed from the voter registration list and clarifies rules about drop boxes. The bill passed with nearly unanimous support in both chambers of the Legislature and will be in place for the Nov. 8 general election. The governor also signed legislation to enable military voters to return their ballots electronically, beginning in 2024.
North Carolina Supreme Court rejects request for signature matching. The North Carolina Supreme Court rejected a request by the state’s Republican Party to allow counties to conduct signature matching on absentee ballots. The State Board of Elections issued a directive earlier this year stating that the law does not allow for signature matching. North Carolina law already requires that ballot envelopes be signed by two witnesses or a notary.
Nevada County sued to stop hand count procedures that include live-streaming the reading of ballots for two weeks before Election Day. The ACLU of Nevada sued Nye County because the announced hand count process involves live-streaming the reading of ballots starting on Oct. 25, two weeks before Election Day. Premature release of results is a crime. In addition, the suit challenges the county’s decision to limit who can use electronic voting machines to those whom election workers determine have “special needs.” Additionally, the process the county intends to use to match voters’ signatures on ballot certificates also allegedly violates state law. The suit seeks an order to stop these proposed practices.
Wisconsin voters can still cancel their returned mail ballots prior to Election Day. Under current law, Wisconsin voters may cancel or “spoil” their returned mail ballot before Election Day if they realize they made a mistake or change their mind about how they wish to vote. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a lawsuit seeking to end this practice, and on Oct. 5 a Waukesha County judge granted a injunction that would temporarily ban it. However, on Monday the Wisconsin Court of Appeals granted a temporary stay to that decision, meaning the practice can continue this election.
Louisville Metro Council considers providing a mail ballot drop box in jail. In Kentucky, the Louisville Metro Council is considering a resolution calling for a mail ballot drop box inside Metro Corrections. The jail houses some inmates who are legally eligible to vote, including those who have been charged – but not convicted – of a crime. Kentucky law prohibits people from voting if they are incarcerated following a conviction, but those who have only been charged with a crime may still vote.
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