● Arizona: Republicans have passed a bill in committees in the state Senate and House that would strip Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of the power to defend the state in election lawsuits and transfer that authority to Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich. In a move exposing the transparently partisan motivation behind this power grab, Republicans are setting the change to expire at the end of Hobbs' term after 2022 in case a Republican is elected to replace her (Hobbs is a potential candidate for governor), or a Democrat wins the attorney general's race next year.
Republicans have sought to undermine Hobbs' powers ever since her 2018 victory made her the first Democrat to hold Arizona's top elections office in 24 years, and she has repeatedly clashed with Brnovich over how or whether to defend against lawsuits challenging several voting restrictions backed by Republicans. Stripping her of the power to handle such lawsuits and giving it to Brnovich ensures that Republicans will have the legal standing to intervene in future lawsuits and prevent Hobbs from settling them or declining to appeal court rulings that strike down voting restrictions.
However, not all of the GOP's election schemes proceeded as planned this week after two state House Republicans sided with the Democratic minority to block a bill that would have added voter ID requirements for absentee voting. While the proposal isn't entirely dead yet, the Associated Press reports that it is unlikely to pass before lawmakers adjourn this year's legislative session.
● Connecticut: Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont has signed a bill passed by the Connecticut's Democratic-run legislature with some bipartisan support that will effectively end prison gerrymandering in legislative and local redistricting starting with the upcoming redistricting cycle. People serving life sentences will still be counted where they are imprisoned for redistricting purposes under the new law, but they only make up 4% of the total incarcerated population.
● Illinois: Democratic lawmakers in Illinois have unveiled proposals for new state legislative districts, as well as a map that would redraw the districts used to elect state Supreme Court justices for the first time in many decades. Democrats are using population estimates to produce new legislative maps before the state constitution's June 30 deadline, but doing so instead of waiting until the census releases official population data in August risks a lawsuit.
We'll have more to say about the political impact of these maps once Democrats pass them, which they could reportedly do within days.
Voting Access Expansions
● Colorado: Democratic Gov. Jared Polis has signed a bill that will allow people with certain disabilities to vote online. While this bill is intended to address the complicated problem of how to ensure every voter can cast a ballot privately and without assistance, security experts have widely concluded that current technology renders any online voting system vulnerable to potential security threats.
● Connecticut: State Senate Democrats have passed a major voting access bill largely along party lines that would adopt automatic voter registration; end the disenfranchisement of anyone with a felony conviction who is not in prison by restoring the rights of people on parole; allow online applications for absentee ballots; and make absentee drop boxes permanent after their temporary adoption last year during the pandemic.
Meanwhile in the state House, Democrats and about half of Republicans have passed a bill that would ease some statutory restrictions on absentee voting, such as ending a prohibition on people who are caregivers for sick or disabled people to vote absentee. However, a separate constitutional amendment is needed to repeal the absentee excuse requirement entirely. That amendment recently passed in the state House, but thanks to insufficient GOP support, it must win legislative approval both before and after the 2022 elections before going to a 2024 voter referendum.
● Louisiana: Louisiana's Republican-run legislature has passed a bill with widespread bipartisan support to extend the early voting period in presidential elections from seven days to 11, sending the bill to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards for his expected signature.
● Nevada: Assembly Democrats have passed a bill out of committee that would make universal mail voting permanent following its temporary adoption last year due to the pandemic. The bill would also mandate a minimum number of in-person polling places to protect voting access for those who can't easily vote by mail or prefer not to.
In the state Senate, Democrats have passed a bill along party lines that would establish a straight-ticket voting option, which allows voters to check a single box to vote for all candidates on the ballot affiliated with a single party without having to mark every race. If the voter also checks the box for a particular candidate from the opposite party, that vote would supersede the straight-ticket vote in that instance. The straight-ticket option has been important in other states for preventing long voting lines in communities of color by reducing the time needed to fill out a ballot.
The same bill would also require the governor to select a same-party replacement appointee for any future U.S. Senate vacancies. Many states including Nevada already require same-party appointees for legislative vacancies. Earlier this year, Kentucky joined the list of states that impose a similar requirement for the Senate.
● Oregon: Oregon's Democratic-run state House has passed a bill that would allow mail ballots to count so long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received up to a week later. Ballots that are missing a clear postmark would be presumed to have been mailed by Election Day. Currently, ballots must be received by Election Day in order to count.
● New York: Assembly Democrats have passed two bills that would strengthen access to absentee voting by allowing voters to request ballots online and track the status of mailed ballots or applications online. State Senate Democrats previously passed other versions of both bills earlier this year, but both chambers must pass the same version before the bills can proceed to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
● Texas: Texas' Republican-run state legislature has passed a bill with bipartisan support that would allow voters to track the status of their absentee ballots online.
● Alabama: Republican Gov. Kay Ivey has signed a bill passed by GOP lawmakers that will 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.
● Minnesota: A panel of three judges on Minnesota's Court of Appeals has unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that rejected a challenge to Minnesota's disenfranchisement of citizens on parole or probation for a felony conviction, with the appellate judges ruling that the state constitution does not require the automatic restoration of voting rights upon release from prison. The plaintiffs subsequently announced that they will appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Minnesota's Supreme Court has a 5-2 majority appointed by Democratic governors. However, since this Court of Appeals ruling was issued by a panel with a 2-1 majority of Democratic appointees, the high court's partisan lean is no guarantee that the plaintiffs will obtain a different outcome on further appeal.
● Texas: With Republicans poised to pass a major new voting restriction bill in the legislature, a new analysis by the Texas Tribune finds that one measure would significantly reduce the number of polling places in urban communities of color.
This provision would target voters only within the state's five largest counties—Bexar, Dallas, Harris, Tarrant, and Travis—which are home to a disproportionate share of Texas' voters of color. By contrast, heavily white areas within these same counties would see their number of poll sites increase.
The bill would redistribute voting locations "based on the share of registered voters in each state House district within the county," explains the Tribune. While these districts are drawn to have equal populations, they don't necessarily have similar numbers of voters.
That's because many urban areas tend to have a much larger proportion of noncitizen immigrants and children who are ineligible to vote, as well as a much younger Latino citizen population that is less inclined to vote than their older peers. These communities consequently end up with far fewer voters per resident than in older, whiter areas. As a result, to illustrate one example, District 141 in Houston, which is almost entirely Black and Latino, would lose 11 polling places under the GOP's new proposal, while District 132 on the suburban edge of Harris County, which is home to a white plurality, would gain 18.
The bill's Republican supporters claim that they're reallocating polling places to areas where more registered voters live, but this approach ignores the fact that a large majority of Texas voters can now vote at any polling place countywide thanks to recent reforms. Consequently, many voters who don't live in dense urban cores may nonetheless cast their ballots there if it's more convenient to do so (such sites may be closer to where they work or attend school, for instance).
Administrators in these urban counties have tended to assign polling places based not just on voter registration statistics but also on factors such as closeness to public transportation or major thoroughfares and accessibility for people with disabilities. The GOP's bill would restrain the ability of local officials to locate voting sites where they see fit, effectively moving them away from populous urban centers to the suburban or exurban periphery. That may result in a less efficient distribution of resources while simultaneously reducing access to voting in communities of color.