● Iowa: Update: The post below was based on erroneous reporting that said Iowa Republicans wanted to ban college students from voting if they do not say on a required form that they plan to stay in Iowa after graduation. Later reports clarified that the Republican legislation would instead change such registrations to “inactive” status, which could pave the way for later cancellation but which still permits registrants to vote. Please see this post for full details.
True to form, Republican state senators have passed a bill out of committee that includes a range of provisions designed to make it harder or even impossible for many citizens to vote. Worst among these provisions is a measure that would ban college students at the state's three public universities—the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa—from voting if they don't answer on a required form that they plan to stay in Iowa after graduation.
However, a federal court struck down a nearly identical requirement in Texas four decades ago as a violation of the 26th Amendment, which sets the minimum voting age no higher than 18, and the Supreme Court later affirmed that judgment. Furthermore, the Iowa bill undermines the very premise its sponsor relied on to argue that supposedly temporary residents shouldn't be able to vote in state, since it exempts private colleges. Not only is this classist, by treating public and private college student differently, it could very well amount to a violation of another provision of the constitution: the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection.
The bill also bans these three public universities from serving as early voting locations, which would make voting much more difficult and time-consuming for students. Furthermore, it would mandate that polls close at 8 PM on Election Day instead of the current 9 o'clock closure, and it also would require that absentee mail ballots be received by Election Day. Under current law, ballots count if they're mailed no later than the day before Election Day and received by the Monday afterward.
Iowa Republicans have full control of state government, meaning there's a strong chance that this bill, or at least some of its provisions, will become law. If that comes to pass, lawsuits seem all but guaranteed.
● Delaware: Both chambers of Delaware's Democratic-run legislature have passed a bill to add the state's five Electoral College votes to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Democratic Gov. John Carney has previously said he would sign the bill.
● Nevada: Democrats in Nevada's state Assembly have passed a bill out of committee that would add the Silver State's six Electoral College votes to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Following the 2018 elections, Democrats hold the governor's office as well as sizable majorities in both legislative chambers, so there's a good chance the bill becomes law.
● New Mexico: Democratic state senators approved a bill on a party line vote to add New Mexico's five Electoral College votes to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, sending the bill to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's desk. The governor is likely to sign the measure into law.
Voter Registration and Voting Access
● Delaware: Democrats have passed two bills out of a state House committee that would finally create an early voting period and also allow same-day voter registration. Combined, these two policies would make it much easier to cast a ballot. Both of these proposals failed in last year's legislative session, but after Democrats expanded their majorities in 2018, their odds of success should be higher this year.
● Iowa: Iowa's Republican-run state House has unanimously passed a bill to require postal service barcodes on all absentee mail ballots so that officials can determine when exactly they were mailed. Iowa law requires absentee ballots to either be received by local officials on Election Day or to have been postmarked by the Monday before Election Day and received by the Monday following the election.
This bill aims to prevent a recurrence of problems that may have swung an extremely close state House race in 2018. Last year, the official count in the 55th State House District had Republican Michael Bergan ahead of Democrat Kayla Koether by only nine votes, but 29 absentee ballots from the bluest county in the district didn't have the proper barcode that would have let officials determine whether they had been mailed on time. A later analysis found that those ballots had indeed been posted on time, but state House Republicans voted along party lines not to count them in January when Koether appealed.
● Maryland: Maryland's Democratic-run state Senate has passed a bill to make voting more convenient by having the state prepay the postage costs on absentee mail ballots. Meanwhile, Democrats have also introduced a bill to let high schools register teachers and eligible students. Since Maryland already allows 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register so that they'll get added to the voter rolls when they turn 18, having high schools provide registration forms could help further increase youth voter participation, especially if it's combined with robust civics education.
● New Mexico: New Mexico's Democratic-majority state legislature has passed a bill that would enable voters to register on the same day they cast a ballot, including on Election Day itself. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected to sign the measure into law. Democrats in the Senate are still deliberating on a bill to automatically register eligible voters who interact with the state Motor Vehicle Division, which passed the state House last month.
● Texas: Election officials in Harris County, which is home to the greater Houston area and 4.7 million people, have announced the county will switch from traditional precincts to vote centers after reaching an agreement with the Texas secretary of state's office. Democratic County Clerk Diane Trautman campaigned on the idea last year when she defeated her Republican predecessor, and the plan will let voters cast a ballot in person at any vote center throughout the county rather than just their neighborhood polling place.
The county aims to test the policy in 2019's municipal elections before putting it in place in the higher-turnout state and federal elections next year. Proponents of the move have argued that it will make it easier and more convenient to vote. For instance, some voters might prefer to vote near where they work or send their kids to school instead of closer to home. It could also help prevent long voting lines in high-turnout areas. However, some skeptics contend that it risks exacerbating voting lines and could complicate the ability to audit results to verify their accuracy.
● Washington: Democrats in Washington have advanced several bills to protect and expand voting rights this month, starting with the Native American Voting Rights Act, which both chambers passed with near-unanimous support. This law, which Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee signed on Thursday, would require the state provide at least one drop-box for mail voting on any tribal reservation at the tribe's request. It would also let enrolled members use tribal identification cards and non-traditional addresses when they register, which is important because many living on rural reservations lack a traditional residential address or a driver's license.
Meanwhile, Democrats passed two more bills in the state Senate, the first of which would end the practice of prison gerrymandering by counting prisoners at their last address instead of where they're incarcerated for the purposes of redistricting. The second bill would require inmates be provided with voter registration forms upon release from prison if they would be eligible to vote. However, Democrats failed to pass a bill that would have ended the disenfranchisement of those on parole and probation.
● Georgia: The ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit against Georgia's four most populous counties, alleging that they violated voters' rights in last November's general election by failing to allocate adequate resources to election administration and voter registration. These inadequacies resulted in hours-long voting lines in many precincts and absentee ballots that were mailed to voters too late for them to be able to vote. The plaintiffs are asking the court to order the counties to take steps to prevent those problems from repeating in future elections.
Those four counties are Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett, which cover much of Atlanta's sprawling metro area and collectively account for one-third of the state's population. They're also a Democratic stronghold: Collectively, the four counties wen 67-32 for Democrat Stacey Abrams in last year's gubernatorial contest, one in which voter suppression efforts by Republican Brian Kemp and his allies drew national condemnation.
● North Carolina: Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-run state legislature swiftly passed a law this week to delay the implementation of the state's photo ID requirement for voters until early 2020, meaning it won't be in effect for this year's municipal elections and the upcoming special election in the state's 3rd Congressional District. (The do-over election in the 9th District had already been set to take place without the ID requirement in effect.) This abrupt decision to delay the requirement comes after election officials had been struggling to implement the GOP-backed requirement this year.
However, it's entirely possible that the ID requirement won't enter into effect next year, either, because a lawsuit arguing the ID statute violates the state constitution recently survived the GOP defendants' motion to dismiss it. That case will now proceed to trial, and it will be one of the first big voting lawsuits where newly appointed Democratic state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley will get to pick the three lower-court judges to sit on the panel that oversees the trial instead of her Republican predecessor, Mark Martin, who retired from the bench on March 1.
Democrats recently expanded their state Supreme Court majority to a six-to-one advantage after Beasley replaced Martin and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper appointed Justice Mark Davis to fill Beasley's vacant associate justice seat (both justices will face elections next year for a full eight-year term). While the Democratic majority is no guarantee the plaintiffs will prevail, it does give them a fair chance to make their case.
There are also still two other ongoing lawsuits over the voter ID issue, one of which is challenging the statute in federal court. The second lawsuit is even more unusual: It has already seen a state trial court strike down the voter ID constitutional amendment that Republicans convinced voters to pass in 2018, deeming that it violated the state constitution because the legislature that placed it on the ballot it was elected under illegally gerrymandered districts that have since been redrawn. Consequently, there is a long way to go before this voter ID litigation is over.
Meanwhile, Republicans are considering one measure that could actually make it easier to vote by having the state prepay the postage for absentee mail ballots. This move comes in the wake of the election fraud scandal in the 9th District, where an operative working for Republican Mark Harris was caught engaging in absentee ballot fraud that disenfranchised voters. The proposal could potentially deter fraud by encouraging people to turn in their ballot themselves rather than giving it to someone else in exchange for postage and would generally make absentee voting more convenient.
Lower Voting Age
● Congress: On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed lowering the voting age in federal elections to 16. While Democrats recently passed a historic voting rights bill called the For the People Act earlier this month, House members rejected an amendment to lower the voting age. However, the measure nevertheless received support from a majority of Democrats, and now that it has Pelosi's imprimatur, we could soon see a greater willingness among Democrats to explore this policy in blue states and cities where Republican opposition can't block it from passing.
● Census: On Friday, the Supreme Court announced that it would consider the question of whether the Trump administration's effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census violates not just federal law but the Constitution as well. The Supreme Court is already hearing an appeal next month of a case from New York where a lower court deemed the measure a statutory violation, but a more recent ruling in a case from California saw a federal judge strike down the provision as unconstitutional. The high court will likely rule on the issues raised by both cases next month, before a key June deadline to print millions of census forms.
● Georgia: As expected, Republican legislators have passed a bill that would have the state spend at least $150 million to purchase new electronic voting machines. The measure advanced largely along party lines, and GOP Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign it. However, this deal to replace Georgia's paperless voting machines is a debacle.
As we have previously explained, election security experts have condemned the deal as a corrupt taxpayer giveaway to Kemp's cronies at a cost of at least three times more than what it would take to implement paper ballots—the method that is, unsurprisingly, the most secure from threats such as hacking. Furthermore, experts have lambasted the decision to purchase machines that print a barcode instead of text that voters themselves can read and verify to ensure they cast their ballots accurately.
Programming Note: The Voting Rights Roundup will be on hiatus the week of March 22. It will return the following week.