I. In Focus This Week
The House (and the Senate) shall come to order
Legislators head back to work in statehouses across the country
By M. Mindy Moretti
From Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Missouri, many federal and state legislators headed back to work this week with the legislatures in all states (and the District of Columbia) but Louisiana being at work by the first week in February.
With the 2017 legislative season just kicking off, it’s hard to say what will be the hot topics for this “off-year” but some of the already filed or pre-filed legislation covers everything from early voting to automatic voter registration to vote-by-mail. Given the change in many statehouses, it looks to be a very busy legislative year.
And even though many folks are trying to forget 2016, a lot of elections-administration legislation made it’s way through statehouses and The Canvass, the monthly newsletter from the National Conference of State Legislatures has a great round up of all it.
Here is a quick round up of some of the bills we’ve already seen filed/pre-filed at the state level.
Although it’s just early days, so far early voting seems to be getting the most attention. Bills have been pre-filed, or legislators have stated their intentions to file early voting legislation in Alabama, Connecticut, and South Carolina which would allow those states to have early voting and in Wisconsin, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he would like to see changes to the state’s existing early voting law. Currently 37 states and the District of Columbia allow some form of early voting.
Automatic voter registration is making waves in statehouses across the country. So far legislation has been filed/pre-filed to allow for automatic registration in Georgia, Florida, Missouri, Texas and Washington.
Washington’s proposal comes from Secretary of State Kim Wyman and is supported by county election leaders. The proposed legislation would make it possible for elections officials to check the citizenship of people registering to vote in Washington. The proposal would tie-in with the state finally adopting REAL ID — Washington is one of only three states that has not made a move to comply with the REAL ID Act. The package also includes a plan for automatic voter registration of those who provide documentation of citizenship, with an opt-out provision.
Turning the calendar to a new year doesn’t mean we’ll stop talking about ballot selfies — every election geeks “favorite” topic. Although Tennessee’s attorney general has ruled that the state’s ballot selfie ban is in fact legal, a Memphis legislator has announced his intentions to introduce legislation making them legal. And in Florida, State Sen. Frank Artiles has introduced a bill (SB 224) that would make it a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by 1 year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine if a voter takes a ballot selfie.
Elements of vote-by-mail are also already on the agenda in some states. In Wyoming, a bill has been introduced that would give county clerks more time to count mail ballots. In Utah, Rep. Craig Hall (R-West Valley City) has said he will introduce legislation that will repeal the state’s new universal vote-by-mail system. In other Utah vote-by-mail news, Sen. Daniel Thatcher (R-West Valley City) has plans to introduce legislation that will allow county clerks to set up additional polling places in the days leading up to an election if fewer mailed ballots are being returned than expected. In Florida, Rep. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa) has filed legislation that will allow voters to fix mismatching signatures on their vote-by-mail ballots so they can be counted.
In Virginia, Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. announced his plans to introduce a constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights for some nonviolent felons, create new barriers for others, and strip future governors of the power to restore political rights. Under the amendment, violent felons would be permanently barred from voting. At the same time, De. Greg
Also Del. Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg), GOP chairman of the House of Delegates elections committee has pre-filed a bill that would add stricter paperwork and reporting requirements for NGOs that conduct third-party voter registration events.
In odds-and-ends, two legislators in Oregon have filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would require all of the state’s 2.5 million voters to re-register within two years and provide proof-of-citizenship to re-register. In Georgia, legislators will consider changing how the Bibb County elections board members are chosen. In Utah, one legislator wants voters to decide if their information may be sold or not. In Texas, in addition to automatic voter registration several other bills have been pre-filed on pre-registration for 15-year-olds and voter ID.
And finally, legislators in New Hampshire are anticipating so much election administration related legislation that during the Senate’s organizing week, they voted to create a new legislative committee to deal specifically with election-related legislation.
This is of course not a complete round up of every piece of election administration legislation that has been filed/pre-filed and we know that there will be a lot more to come, so check back each week and also sign up for NCSL’s The Canvass!
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