Voter Suppression Update for January 15, 2014

Many states came back from holiday recess or started new sessions last week, raising some challenges and opportunities for the coming year. In addition to the state legislative updates, we will also be watching the various lawsuits in Texas, North Carolina, Arizona and Kansas, the soon-to-be-released recommendations from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, and the possibility for national legislation to reform the Voting Rights Act after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision. For updates as these stories unfold please follow us on Twitter, our blog and subscribe to our daily election news clips.

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Alabama – Recipients of social services in Alabama will now be automatically given voter registration forms as a result of an agreement between the state and voting rights advocates. After a year of negotiations, the state will be appropriately following the National Voter Registration  Act, also known as “motor voter,” that requires voter registration services be provided when residents renew or obtain a driver’s license, or when they sign up for public assistance like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and disability benefits, among others. Previously, low-income voters were particularly impacted by Alabama’s non-compliance.

Iowa – Confusion around felons’ voting rights and a question at the top of Iowa’s voter registration form will soon be clarified. The current form asks, “If you have previously been convicted of a felony: Have your rights been restored?” A proposed change would remove the question and explain that unless the governor has restored the convicted felon’s rights, they are not eligible to vote. Iowa is one of only a handful of states that require the governor to restore voting rights to those convicted of felonies. Out of nearly 25,000 felony or aggravated misdemeanor offenders who finished their sentences since January 2011, only 40 offenders have applied and had their rights restored.

Kansas – State legislators started off the legislative session taking on the state’s contentious proof of citizenship requirementHB2428 and SB253 add a provision that would allow Kansans to sign an affidavit stating they are a US citizen or provide documents like a passport or birth certificate that prove their citizenship. The battle surrounding Kansas’ proof of citizenship requirement is playing out in the courts as well. Arizona and Kansas filed a joint federal lawsuitto force the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to add a proof of citizenship requirement to the federal registration form. The EAC currently has zero commissioners due to Congressional inaction and is therefore incapable of complying with U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren’s order compelling “final agency action” by Friday January 17. The ACLU has also filed suit in state court against Secretary of State Kris Kobach challenging the constitutionality of the state’s proposed two-tier voting system, one for voters who do not provide evidence of citizenship and can only vote in federal elections and another for voters who prove their citizenship and can vote in all elections. The case was removed to federal court, but the ACLU is arguing it should be remanded to state court because the case does not turn on a federal question of law.

Mississippi – Senator David Blount has introduced a bill, SB2010, which includes online voter registration, the addition of early voting centers, and Election Day registration. For more information about online voter registration security see FELN’s issue brief here. The state’s June primary will be the first election where voters will be required to show photo ID before casting a ballot. Local election officials like those in Bolivar County are preparing to implement the new law and issue free photo ID cards for those who need them law before the primary.

New York – A variety of election bills were introduced in the New York legislature at the start of their session. Preregistration for 17-year-olds is proposed inAB306. Preregistration for 16-year-olds is proposed in SB2852 which would also require public high schools and colleges to provide voter registration forms for students. Election Day registration was proposed in AB2099. Changing the state constitution’s limits on absentee voting is proposed in AB2045 and AB4526, while AB5066 would establish early in-person voting in the state. A schedule for voter registration list maintenance and an individual’s options to address erroneous removals is outlined in SB1688.

Ohio – The secretary of state has settled a lawsuit concerning the state’s process to clean and maintain voter registration lists. The settlement will require Ohio to share information like deceased residents and those who have moved out of state to match records with states included in the Interstate Cross Check, and to use Ohio BMV data to identify registered voters who move within Ohio. The settlement also requires the state to dedicate resources to encouraging voters to use online tools to update their information. Recent efforts to use the Interstate Cross Check have shown high error rates among states participating in the system.

The House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee will hold hearings on three proposed election changes passed by the Senate just before the holiday recess. SB238 would eliminate the week when Ohioans can register to vote and cast an early ballot in person referred to as “Golden Week.” SB216 would preserve full rejection of provisional ballots cast in the wrong polling place, even if the error is attributable to the poll worker and shorten the time a provisional ballot voter has to show proper identification and ensure their ballot is counted from 10 days to seven. SB205 would forbid counties from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters. All of these bills would reduce voters’ access to the ballot.

 

Virginia – Legislators introduced a variety of election reform bills at the outset of the new session, but the makeup of both houses makes it unlikely positive reforms will be passed. No-excuse in-person absentee voting is included in HB75HB119HB601 and HB692. With the impending implementation of Virginia’s voter ID law, two bills have been introduced that will clarify some requirements. HB83 would allow suspended but unexpired driver’s licenses, while HB564 would clarify the standards for matching a voter’s name on their ID to the voter roll. In response to concerns raised during 2013’s voter purge, two bills have been introduced to outline Virginia’s participation in the Interstate Cross Check program. The bills, HB665 and SB191, set limits on how close to an election list maintenance procedures may occur, require corroborating evidence that a voter has moved before their registration can be cancelled, and require notice of cancellation be given to voters. Preregistration for citizens who are at least 16 years old would be established with HB694