● New Hampshire: New Hampshire Republicans have approved an amendment to a bill along party lines in a state House committee that could pave the way for the creation of two separate systems for election administration, one for federal races and one for state and local contests. Republicans are pushing this approach as a way to resist new voting reforms if Democrats in Congress pass H.R. 1, which would enact a sweeping expansion of voting access measures.
H.R. 1 relies heavily on Congress' power to regulate federal elections under the Constitution's Elections Clause, but those powers provide a much more limited basis for extending any reforms to the state and local levels. The GOP's bill still has ways to go before it can become law, but with Republicans regaining their gerrymandered majorities last fall, and with Gov. Chris Sununu expressing strident opposition to H.R. 1, there is a good chance that it will ultimately pass.
This effort by conservatives state officials to thwart the adoption of federal civil rights law by fomenting the adoption of a two-tiered system harkens back to the days when segregationists resisted the imposition of school integration following the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision. Opponents responded by pulling their children out of public schools and sending them to all-white private schools to maintain the charade of "separate but equal" education. The ultimate goal of New Hampshire Republicans bears further similarities since both efforts are intended to prevent the establishment of a true multiracial democracy where all citizens have the rights and resources necessary to participate in civic life on an equal basis.
The GOP's plan would not only undermine voting rights but create new administrative problems due to the burdens of potentially maintaining separate systems for two sets of elections, including registration records, ballots, and more. Arizona Republicans became embroiled in litigation after pursuing a similar strategy over the past decade by permitting voters who lacked proof of citizenship to register only for federal elections, not state elections. (Such proof is prohibited for federal elections under the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, commonly known as the "Motor Voter" law.) A lawsuit ultimately required the state to stop offering separate voter registration forms for state and federal elections and instead provide a single form.
● Illinois: Elections next year for the Illinois Supreme Court, which already feature a high-stakes battle for its thinly divided majority, will also have critical implications for the future of redistricting in the Prairie State, as Stephen Wolf details in a new analysis.
Malapportionment of the map used to elect justices—which hasn't been adjusted for population changes in more than half a century—means that the current judicial districts effectively function like a GOP gerrymander. As a result, Republicans have a strong shot next year at gaining their first majority in decades, which they could then use to greenlight a flawed redistricting ballot initiative that could pave the way for GOP minority rule in the state legislature.
Ideally, Democrats would use their legislative majorities to pass systemic reforms both to redistricting and to judicial elections (if not eliminate the latter outright), but either would require going through the cumbersome process of amending the state constitution. However, they can take one simple step to make elections fairer simply by passing a bill to equalize the population of the judicial districts that make up the court map. Doing so would reduce their partisan distortion and give Democrats a better chance of preserving their 4-3 majority next year.
● Louisiana: Louisiana's Republican-run state Senate and a state House committee have passed a constitutional amendment with almost universal support that would redraw the state's Supreme Court districts for just the second time in eight decades. The amendment would require redistricting after every decennial census to prevent future malapportionment. It would also expand the court from seven to nine districts by adding two seats, partly to make it easier to draw a second predominantly Black district, which advocates have been seeking to compel the state to draw in a federal lawsuit filed two years ago.
The amendment would still need a two-thirds supermajority to pass the state House, but if both chambers approve it, it would go before voters on Oct. 9, when Louisiana will hold its regularly scheduled general elections. If approved, the amendment would take effect on Jan. 1, 2025, although the amendment's text does not specify when the new districts would be up for election. Democrats objected to that implementation date, noting that three court seats will be up for election before then, but Republicans rejected a proposal to move it up.
While the amendment advanced with widespread support, even if it ultimately yields two largely Black districts, that would be a smaller share than the proportion of the state's population made up by African Americans, which is one-third. In fact, it's feasible to draw a map with three districts that would elect Black voters' chosen Supreme Court candidates, just as it is to draw two such districts out of the current seven.
It's therefore unclear whether the amendment's adoption will moot the ongoing lawsuit or whether the plaintiffs will continue their challenge. If adopted, a second heavily Black district would likely double Black representation on the bench and give Democrats a second safe seat on the court, which currently has five Republicans, one independent, and one Democrat who is also the court's lone African American.
● Montana: Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte has signed a law that interferes with Montana's existing bipartisan redistricting commission by imposing additional criteria, such as more heavily prioritizing compactness, which Republicans appear to believe will favor them. The measure also prohibits commissioners from using partisan data to ensure fairness. This bill is likely to face a lawsuit since previous GOP attempts to shackle the commission, which was created by a 1972 constitutional amendment, have been struck down.
● Ohio: The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court ruling that had dismissed Ohio officials' lawsuit seeking to compel the Census Bureau to release the granular data needed for states to conduct redistricting sooner than planned, sending the case back to the lower court. However, the impact of this ruling may be limited, since Ohio officials have already conceded that the bureau's planned Aug. 16 deadline "would allow it to complete its redistricting process" ahead of the Sept. 1 and Sept. 30 deadlines for legislative and congressional redistricting, respectively. The Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, has not said whether it will appeal the ruling.
● Oklahoma: Last week, Oklahoma legislators swiftly passed new legislative districts into law that rely on preliminary population estimates to meet a May 28 deadline set by the state constitution. However, because the Census Bureau won't release firm population counts until mid-August, the move could invite a lawsuit over whether the new maps are invalid. Had lawmakers not rushed to meet this deadline, the Republican-run legislature would have been compelled to appoint a bipartisan backup commission with an even number of members from both parties, threatening the GOP's ability to gerrymander.
Democrats, however, mostly went along with the new maps, raising the question of whether they agreed to the GOP's plans in exchange for individual Democratic legislators getting favorable districts despite the fact that the new lines overall hurt the party's interests.
● Oregon: Oregon's Democratic-run state Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would align a statutory congressional redistricting deadline with a deadline for legislative redistricting that had been agreed to by the state Supreme Court, which this cycle will be Sept. 27. Oregon is one of several states where the Census Bureau's delayed release of key redistricting data (now expected by Aug. 16) conflicts with redistricting deadlines set in state law, which is why lawmakers have acted.
Voting Access Expansions
● Alabama: Alabama's Republican-run legislature has adjourned without the state House passing a bill that had won bipartisan approval in the GOP-controlled state Senate to make the process for restoring voting rights for people with felony convictions more automatic than the current system, which requires affected citizens to apply to have their rights restored.
The bill would have also softened a requirement that those who have completely served any prison, parole, or probation sentence must also pay off all court fines and fees before regaining voting rights. It would have instead required that such citizens comply with a payment plan for a year before being eligible to vote.
● California: Assembly Democrats have passed a bill in multiple committees that would make universal mail voting permanent for all future elections after it was adopted on a temporary basis statewide for 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. Many California counties have already transitioned to mailing every active registered voter a ballot in recent years.
Assembly Democrats also rejected another bill in committee that would have made Election Day a state holiday, a proposal that has divided voting advocates. Other Democratic-run legislatures have rejected the idea in recent years after hearing testimony on how the disruption of schools and public services could create unintended negative consequences that either decrease voting access for certain groups or create unrelated burdens for them that other voting reforms could avoid.
● Colorado: State House Democrats have passed a bill in one of several required committees that aims to reform recall elections and expand voting access, which state Senate Democrats have already passed. As we've previously explained, this bill would add new requirements to recall elections with the intention of preventing Republicans from trying to abuse them to win races with low turnout. It would also expand voter registration opportunities through state health agencies and colleges and discourage placing mail ballot drop boxes at law enforcement buildings to avoid intimidating voters.
● Delaware: Following a bipartisan vote in the state House, Delaware's Democratic-run legislature has approved a bill that would establish automatic voter registration via the state's driver licensing agency, sending it to Democratic Gov. John Carney for his expected signature. The measure also gives the state election commissioner the power to extend automatic registration to other agencies. However, the bill wouldn't take effect until either two years after it becomes law or five days after the election commissioner certifies that the systems needed to implement it are operational, whichever comes first.
Meanwhile, a state House committee has passed a bill sponsored by Republican state Rep. Bryan Shupe that would end the very unusual requirement that voters in 45 of Delaware's 57 municipalities register separately for local elections in addition to registering for federal and state elections. This dual system is both burdensome and confusing and likely deters some people from voting in local elections. Remarkably, New Hampshire Republicans are moving in the exact opposite direction on this front, as discussed in our lead item.
● Louisiana: A committee in Louisiana's GOP-run state Senate has passed a bill that would extend the early voting period from seven to 11 days for presidential elections, a slight increase from the 10 days that was envisioned in an earlier version of the legislation. The Republican-controlled state House has already passed a version of the bill with wide bipartisan support.
● Maine: As expected, Maine Republicans have blocked Democrats from obtaining the two-thirds supermajority needed to put a constitutional amendment allowing early voting on the ballot. While Maine allows in-person absentee voting, which functions somewhat similarly to regular early voting, changes are needed because officials aren't able to begin counting absentee ballots until Election Day. That creates potential delays in reporting election results that could undermine public confidence.
Meanwhile, a sufficient number of Democrats in the state Senate sided with Republicans to reject a bill that would have created an Election Day holiday after some voting advocates testified about potential unintended negative consequences it could have, such as shutdowns of certain public services.
● Vermont: Vermont's Democratic-controlled legislature has passed a bill with bipartisan support that would make permanent last year's temporary adoption of universal mail voting for all future general elections, though not primaries or certain local elections. Republican Gov. Phil Scott has said he supports the bill, which would also create a process for notifying voters and giving them a chance to fix problems with their mail ballot, such as a voter's signature supposedly not matching the one on file.
● Alabama: Shortly before adjourning, Republicans in the Alabama legislature passed a bill over Democratic opposition to ban curbside voting, a method that makes it easier to vote, especially for people with disabilities that limit their mobility. Republican Secretary of State John Merrill had previously barred officials from offering curbside voting in 2020, and voting advocates had unsuccessfully tried to get a court to order that it be made available due to the pandemic.
● Arizona: Republican legislators have passed a bill along party lines that would prohibit state or local officials such as Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs from modifying key election deadlines like the voter registration deadline. The new law would apply even during future emergency situations like the pandemic, instead only empowering judges to modify deadlines set by statute in such situations.
● Arkansas: The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan good-government group, has filed a lawsuit in state court challenging several of the new voting restrictions that Republicans enacted earlier this year. The laws they are challenging are set to:
● Florida: Voting advocates have filed a second and third federal lawsuit over Florida Republicans' new voting restriction law, which adds new limits on absentee ballots and drop boxes along with banning giving food or water to voters waiting in line. The plaintiffs argue that these restrictions violate voters' constitutional rights. A previous suit challenging the new law was filed earlier this month.
● Georgia: There are now no fewer than seven lawsuits challenging parts of Georgia's sweeping voter suppression law that Republicans passed in March, with election integrity advocates filing a new challenge in federal court on Monday. This latest suit, brought by the Coalition for Good Governance, focuses in particular on changes that would allow partisan Republican officials to take over election boards, as well as changes that the plaintiffs argue create security risks. You can find details about the other six lawsuits here.
● Iowa: Republican legislators have passed a bill in both chambers that would ban most people from turning in another person's absentee ballot. The bill allows only limited exceptions for registered voters who are immediate family members, or for people who assist voters who would have difficulty returning their own ballot, such as people with disabilities.
● Louisiana: Republicans have passed a bill in the legislature that would ban 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. Thanks to the defection of a Democrat, Francis Thompson, and one of the two independents in the state House, Roy Daryl Adams, Republicans are on track to obtain a two-thirds supermajority to override Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' veto if he rejects the bill.
● Montana: The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in state court seeking to block Republicans' recent repeal of Election Day voter registration and its new ban on most third-party ballot collection. Plaintiffs argue that both unconstitutionally discriminate against Native American voters, whom they say are disproportionately likely to rely on both practices. This is the second lawsuit over the two provisions, following a challenge backed by Montana Democrats that also opposes a third provision enacting a stricter voter ID requirement.
● Texas: A panel of three judges on the conservative-dominated 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court ruling and ordered the lower court to dismiss a Democratic-backed lawsuit challenging Texas Republicans' 2019 law that banned the use of mobile polling places that operate for only part of the early voting period. Democrats have not indicated whether they will appeal.
Nonetheless, state House lawmakers have passed a bill with almost all Democrats and half of Republicans in support that would partially reverse the ban in certain locations. Before Republicans barred them, mobile polling places had been particularly useful for places such as college campuses or retirement homes because they allowed officials to more efficiently allocate their limited resources to provide polling places when demand was at its highest or where locations were only available for use on a limited basis.
● Montana: Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte has signed a bill passed by the Republican-run legislature that aims to ward off future progressive ballot measures. The bill bans citizens from using ballot initiatives to expand eligibility for government programs such as Medicaid. It would also insert warnings on the petitions that voters must sign whenever a proposal would supposedly hurt businesses. It would further grant lawmakers the power to vote on whether or not they approve of proposed ballot initiatives before supporters could begin gathering signatures. The results of these nonbinding votes would also be included on petition signature forms.
Electoral System Reform
● Colorado: State Senate Democrats have passed a bill in two committees that would make it easier for local governments to adopt instant-runoff voting for local elections by providing state support for administering its use. Cities already have the option to use instant-runoff voting, but this bill would remove remaining hurdles to help facilitate the transition. State House Democrats have already passed the bill.