The sprawling Republican effort to make voting more difficult has been derailed for the first time by a Democratic governor.
Laura Kelly of Kansas has vetoed two bills, one curbing the number of ballots third parties may collect and deliver and the other giving the Legislature total control over election rules. Both were drafted in response to developments in other states last year — decisions by courts and governors to ease access to the ballot during the pandemic, and Donald Trump's baseless claims that widespread fraud had robbed him of a second presidential term.
The measures now return to the capital, where both have more than enough support for a veto override in the Senate but appear to be a handful of votes short of the necessary two-thirds majority in the House. Kansas' 2021 legislative session lasts three more weeks.
While Georgia has been the focus of this year's intense nationwide fight over election legislation, in part because it was one of the purple states key to President Biden's win, the battle is also being fought in plenty of states Trump carried — with new curbs already enacted in Iowa and Montana and steadily advancing in Texas and Florida.
But the GOP holds all the levers of lawmaking power in all of them. Kansas is one of eight states with Democratic governors and Republican statehouses. Biden took 42 percent there last fall, only the sixth time since World War II when the Democratic nominee got more than two of every five votes.
This got the state's GOP agitated and fueled conspiracy theories — many about cheating at the hands of so-called "ballot harvesters" — that Republican Secretary of State Scott Schwab has labored to tamp down. He says voting in 2020 was "free and fair."
One of the vetoed measures would take Kansas off the roster of 26 states that permit voters to entrust anyone they like to deliver their completed absentee ballot. Both political parties and various campaign organizations use such laws to collect envelopes from sympathetic voters — mainly the elderly, poor and disabled as well as people living in remote areas such as Indian reservations.
But Republicans, fueled by Trump, have turned against the practice with a vengeance in recent years, arguing without much evidence that it encourages fraud. (The biggest such case of cheating, by far, involved a 2018 GOP congressional campaign in North Carolina.) The Supreme Court is now deliberating whether Arizona's curbs on third-party collection amounts of racially discriminatory voter suppression.
The Kansas bill would limit to 10 the number of ballots anyone could deliver, and also stiffen signature-match requirements on mail-in forms.
"Although Kansans have cast millions of ballots over the last decade, there remains no evidence of significant voter fraud," the governor said in a statement on Friday. "This bill is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. It is designed to disenfranchise Kansans, making it difficult for them to participate in the democratic process, not to stop voter fraud."
The other bill she vetoed would prevent her from changing election laws or procedures by executive order, and would bar the secretary of state from negotiating any settlements of election-related lawsuits without approval from the Legislature. But Kelly decreed no such alterations to voting procedures in 2020 and none were mandated in the state by the courts — putting Kansas in a distinct minority of just 16 states where neither thing happened in response to the Covid-19 crisis.
In her veto message, Kelly warned such a law could imperil the business climate in the state, as more and more companies have spoken out this spring against legislation that would curb ballot access.
The bill would respond, however, to the most prominent recent case of election malfeasance in Kansas, by requiring a brick-and-mortar residential address for all registered voters. The congressional career of Republican Steve Watkins came to an abrupt end after one term in 2020, partly after it was revealed he'd listed his home as a UPS store so he could vote illegally for a friend running for the city council in Topeka.
Kelly is running for a second term but is seen as one of the most electorally vulnerable governors in 2022.
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Efforts to make voting more complicated have lurched forward this week in the Republican-run legislatures of three additional major partisan battlegrounds.
The Arizona House voted Tuesday to purge inconsistent voters from the roster of people who are sent a mail-in ballot before every election. Hours later in Florida, a Senate committee advanced a package of fresh restrictions on voting. And GOP powers in Ohio put the finishing touches on their own multifaceted plan to make access to the ballot box more difficult.
Business executives have joined Democrats and civil rights advocates to excoriate all those efforts as aiming to disenfranchise voters of color — an argument that has not stopped fresh curbs from being enacted this year, in the name of bolstered election security, in purple states from Georgia to Iowa and most recently Montana.
These are the details of the developments in the states with the freshest legislative activity:
The measure is now one roll call, in the GOP-run Senate, away from the desk of Republican Gov. Steve Ducey.
The vote in the House was 31-29 along party lines, promoted mainly by Republicans who have continued to push the evidence-free allegation that fraud cost former President Donald Trump the state's 11 electoral votes last year.
Under their bill, people who don't return any ballot for any election for four years would be dropped from the roster of voters — which now includes three-quarters of Arizonans — who receive vote-by-mail packets before each election. (They would first get a warning they have 90 days to ask to stay on the list.)
About 200,000 voters, or one in five, sat out the primary and general elections in both 2018 and 2020 and would be subject to the purge. Republicans say the measure is justified to keep not-completed ballots out of the wrong hands. Democrats say the result would be confusion and ultimately suppression — especially of Latinos, Native Americans, young people and partian independents.
Greater Phoenix Leadership, a business group, and more than 50 company executives including the owner of the Arizona Cardinals have come out against the bill and two others that have not advanced as far in the Legislature, one to shrink the period for mail-in voting and the other to stiffen proof-of-identification requirements for those using the forms.
"These measures seek to disenfranchise voters. They are 'solutions' in search of a problem. They are attempts at voter suppression cloaked as reform — plain and simple," they said in an open letter last week, warning that passage could taint the state's reputation as a good place to live and work.
President Biden was the first Democrat to carry the state in six elections, albeit by just 10,000 votes out of 3.3 million cast, and after the November election Arizona has two Democratic senators for the first time since 1968.
The Senate Rules Committee approved the bill, 10-7. One Republican joined every Democrat in opposing it, despite GOP sponsors abandoning some of the more aggressive ideas in their original package — including intensified signature-matching rules for voters and an outright ban on drop boxes.
Instead, the bill would make drop boxes available only during early voting hours, not around the clock. It also would bar political operations from delivering water to voters within 150 feet of a polling place, add more ID requirements to vote-by-mail applications, end the ability of voters to be on a permanent roll to receive an absentee ballot for each election, limit third-party collections of ballots and boost the powers of partisan observers during vote tabulation.
As in other states, the debate was between Republicans who said they wanted to prevent cheating that otherwise "could happen," and Democrats who said that warding off a hypothetical was much less of a problem than suppressing the vote.
As approved, the measure is quite similar to a bill awaiting a vote in the Republican-majority House. But unless identical language wins passage in both chambers by the end of next week, when the Legislature adjourns, no voting bill will be presented to GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis this year. Florida has for a decade been considered the biggest purple state, but Republicans have won every topflight statewide contest in the past five years.
Republican legislators and GOP Secretary of State Frank LaRose say they are close to unveiling an election law overhaul proposal they believe can win bipartisan backing.
But a draft of the legislation that circulated last week prompted state House Democtatic Leader Emilia Sykes to send out a fundraising email describing the bill as "so draconian that the Georgia law looks mild in comparison."
That draft would ban ballot drop boxes, require two forms of ID to vote early or by mail, and eliminate early-in person balloting the Monday before the election. But negotiators say they are also considering a collection of proposals to ease voting, including a new online system and a later deadline to apply for an absentee ballot.
One draft version would prohibit the state from paying the postage on returned absentee ballots. Another would mandate postage-paid envelopes with all ballot request forms and ballots.
Unlike many other states, the Ohio Legislature meets all year — so there is plenty of time to alter rules ahead of the next election, when the marquee race in Ohio will be for an open, now-Republcian-held Senate seat. Trump secured its 18 electoral votes twice, meaning last year was the first time since 1860 that Ohio did not vote for the presidential victor.
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Resolving for good what had been the biggest fight in years over voter rolls, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Friday against making the state aggressively cull its registration lists.
The 5-2 decision means an estimated 72,000 people technically remain eligible to vote next year, when the state expects to host two of the hottest Senate and governor's races in the country. But that seeming victory for the cause of easy access to the ballot box may prove entirely symbolic: The Wisconsin Elections Commission says that not one of those people voted in the presidential election last year, suggesting they may all have died or moved out of state and might not really deserve spots on the roster any more.
That mixed outcome echoes the sharp partisan divide nationwide over voter rolls. Republicans say too many of them are outdated or riddled with inaccuracies and that democracy is best served with proper "maintenance" that rules out any possibility of cheating. Democrats say that the risk of fraud does not merit sweeping "purges" that would end up denying eligible but infrequent voters their rights.
The suit focus on a state law that regulates voter registration and applies to county officials only, not the state's election administrators, the high court majority concluded in an opinion that ended more than two years of litigation.
In early 2019, the bipartisan Elections Commission sent letters to about 232,000 voters who it believed might have changed Wisconsin addresses, left the state or passed away. It asked them to register at their new address or confirm they were no longer eligible in the state. But the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty sued, arguing the state had to drop all those people from the rolls right away.
A judge in suburban Milwaukee agreed, but a state appeals court reversed his decision and the state's top court heard arguments in the case just before Election Day.
By that time, the list of questionable voters had been reduced by nearly three-quarters. Almost 160,000 either registered at a new address, said they hadn't moved, said they had moved, went to prison, were revealed to be deceased or came off the rolls for other reasons.
The remaining 72,000 voters were scheduled to come off the rolls this spring. Meagan Wolfe, the commission's director, said the agency would review the decision to determine how to treat those names now.
But the ruling's long-term effect may be to give municipal clerks as long as 18 months to decide when to cull people from registration lists in one of the nation's premier political battlegrounds. Last fall, for example, President Biden carried the state with just 21,000 votes to spare out of 3.2 million cast, an outcome that survived a two-county recount and numerous lawsuits. Four years before, Donald Trump won its 10 electoral votes by a similarly tiny margin.
"This decision is a clear win for Wisconsin voters," Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul said.
The law in question says voters should come off the rolls if they have not responded within 30 days to notifications after there is reliable information they have moved. If the court had ruled the opposite way, thousands of deactivated registrations would have happened automatically every two years.
The decision was authored by Justice Brian Hagedorn, a Republican who was elected last year and has emerged as a swing vote on the court.
Foraging for voter fraud has found scattered crimes across North Carolina — but they occurred five years ago, when Donald Trump won the presidency, not when he says he was cheated out of re-election last fall.
Federal prosecutors in Raleigh have announced charges against 24 more non-citizens since last year, with several new cases brought last week. But only two have recently been accused of voting illegally, bringing to 21 the number of foreigners who appear to have wrongly cast ballots in 2016 in one of the premier battleground states. All the others were charged with falsely claiming citizenship, or falsifying immigration papers, in order to register to vote.
But the Justice Department has made no allegations of a conspiracy to tilt the outcome. And given the minuscule numbers involved, such a scheme would not have been worth the effort, no matter the purported beneficiary.
Trump bested Hillary Clinton by 174,000 votes in North Carolina in 2016, while fellow Republican Richard Burr won reelection to the Senate by 267,000 votes. Last year, Trump took the state's 15 electoral votes by a smaller but still decisive 75,000 votes.
The state GOP went on an extensive social media campaign after the election in support of Trump's wholly unsubstantiated allegations of fraud in states he lost. In fact, one of the most palpably improper actions of the campaign took place when the president encouraged North Carolinians to vote twice, once by mail and once in person — to test the resilience of the state's election system, he asserted.
The 43 people who have been charged — after a highly publicized and aggressive investigation — are listed as being from Mexico and several Central American countries as well as France, Yemen, Iraq and Nigeria.
Between his appointment by Trump and the 2018 midterm election, U.S. Attorney Bobby Higdon used subpoenas, issued on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in an effort to obtain millions of voting records from the state Board of Elections and more than 40 counties in the half of the state under his jurisdiction.
The state board rebuffed the demand, labeling it overly broad and unreasonable, while voting rights activists said they suspected a partisan fishing expedition. After extensive negotiations, two years ago the state agreed to turn over its records for about 800 people.
The federal prosecutor's office, under new management since the start of the Biden administration, did not connect the charges to the documents they received.
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