Voting Laws Roundup 2019

There’s continued momentum for expanding access to the ballot.

April 26, 2019

Last updated: April 26, 2019

Deep into state legislative sessions, bills on voting access reflect four key trends:

  1. There is an uptick in activity around measures to restrict voting access. Most notably, perhaps as a backlash to high voter turnout in the 2018 midterms, there has been a resurgence of efforts to restrict how civic groups can assist voters in registering, applying to vote absentee, or casting a ballot. A controversial bill just passed in the Tennessee Senate yesterday, after passing in the House earlier this month.
  2. At the same time, a striking number of states have been pushing legislative packages that contain multiple significant pro-voter reforms, reflecting broad national interest in expanding voting access, consistent with Congress’s passage of H.R. 1.
  3. Florida voters’ overwhelming passage of Amendment 4 last year has inspired nationwide momentum for rights restoration for individuals with past criminal convictions, with bills actively moving in five states. The Colorado Senate, for example, passed a restoration bill today with bipartisan support; that bill has already passed in the House. The Florida House, in sharp contrast, has passed legislation that would roll back the scope of rights restoration that voters enacted, and the Senate is considering a similar bill.
  4. State legislatures are advancing far more election security measures designed to protect election integrity than in previous sessions.

Since the start of the legislative sessions, 45 states have introduced or carried over at least 647 bills that expand voting access, compared to 28 states that have introduced or carried over at least 82 bills that restrict such access. As sessions wind down, bills that have seen movement, like passage through a committee, are the ones to watch – and more expansive bills are moving than restrictive bills so far. At least 115 expansive bills in 35 states have seen some movement this session, compared to 19 restrictive bills in 10 states.

Restrictive Voting Bills

As noted, at least 19 restrictive bills are actively moving in 10 states. Click here for a list of restrictive bills that have seen some movement (at least a hearing) and remain alive.

There are an unusually large number of moving bills that would restrict efforts by civic groups to assist voters, with legislation advancing in Tennessee, Arizona, Texas, and Missouri (HB 29, passed committee). Opponents have made some progress to blunt the worst impacts of the Tennessee restrictions, while advocates in Florida have helped to limit the scope of the Florida Senate bill that would undermine Amendment 4.

  • In Tennessee, the House and Senate have passed wide-ranging new restrictions on assistance of voter registration (HB 1079 and SB 971). These restrictions follow the efforts of a group called Tennessee Black Voter Project to register tens of thousands of voters in advance of last year’s election. A county election commission rejected thousands of the registrations submitted by the group, leading to a lawsuit. The initial version of the bill imposed new registration and training requirements on registration groups, as well as civil and criminal penalties for, among other things, submitting too many “deficient” voter registration forms. The amended version carves out volunteers and organizations that only use volunteers from the new restrictions.
  • In Arizona, lawmakers have enacted into law a bill that extends voter ID requirements to early voting (SB 1072) and restricts access to emergency early/absentee voting (SB 1090). These bills appear to be a GOP reaction to the use of emergency vote centers in Maricopa County during the 2018 Senate election. In addition, the House has passed a bill that would restrict voter registration assistance (HB 2616).
  • In Florida, the House and several Senate committees have passed bills (HB 7089 / SB 7086) that would cut back on the historic changes to the state’s felony disenfranchisement laws that voters passed overwhelmingly less than six months ago. Both bills would disenfranchise otherwise eligible voters by preventing an individual’s rights from being restored until they paid off certain financial obligations. The House bill is even more draconian and would likely result in substantially more people being disenfranchised. The Senate has amended its bill to narrow the definition of murder and the types of outstanding financial obligations that would preclude restoration of voting rights. The Senate bill now heads to the floor for a vote.
  • In Texas, there are a number of restrictions on the move. The Senate has passed a bill that: significantly increases penalties and risk of prosecution for election code violations by voters; permits poll watchers to inspect voter ID; and imposes new restrictions on people assisting voters with physical limitations or who cannot read the ballot, among other measures (SB 9). The Senate has also passed a bill that would require election officials to refer discrepancies between the voter registration list and other databases to be referred to the Attorney General and/or district attorney to investigate voters to determine whether they have violated state law by registering (SB 205). And additional restrictive bills related to list maintenance have had hearings or passed committees. For several years, Texas has attempted to find new ways to keep voters from the polls, in the face of rapid demographic change. In 2011, the state passed extreme restrictions on voter registration assistance, in 2013 it implemented a strict voter ID law, and earlier this year it attempted a massive and misguided voter purge that would have disproportionately impacted newly naturalized citizens. Voter intimidation has been a key ingredient in the mix, and these new bills up the ante.
  • In Iowa, a legislative committee has passed a bill that would continue to chip away at voting access, just two years after Iowa enacted a restrictive omnibus elections law. The bill would impose a wide range of new voting restrictions, including: weakening purge protections, restricting absentee voting, imposing restrictions on student voters, and cutting polling place hours (SF 575).

Expansive Voting Bills

The push to expand voting access continues in many states across the country. Click here for a list of expansive bills that have seen some movement (at least a hearing) and remain alive.

In addition to major bright spots in states with new, post-2018 Democratic trifectas, particularly New York and New Mexico, pro-voter bills are moving or have been enacted in a wide swath of states. A few trends have emerged: pro-voter packages, rights restoration, and notice and cure efforts for absentee ballots and voter registrations. See below for more details:

  • Pro-Voter Packages. Several states are moving not just one, but several important pro-voter reforms through their legislative process. Here we focus on bills that have at least passed out of a committee:
    • New York led the way this year, enacting into law a package of voting reforms at the start of the legislative session, including: early voting (SB 1102), pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds (AB 774), and portability of registration records (AB 775), as well as a law that consolidated the dates for state and federal primaries and required ballots to be distributed to military voters farther in advance of elections (AB 779). The Legislature also passed constitutional amendments to permit same-day registration (SB 1048) and no-excuse absentee voting (SB 1049), which will need to be passed again and then ratified by the voters.
    • The Colorado House and Senate have passed a bill that would restore voting rights to individuals on release from incarceration (HB 19-1266) and the Senate passed a bill that would enshrine AVR in statute (it has already been implemented administratively) (HB 19-235). In addition, the Senate has passed a bill improving voting access for voters with disabilities (SB 19-202) and the House has passed a bill with several additional reforms, including minimum standards for vote centers, improvements to the provisional ballot process, and  improvements to the registration process for voters living on Indian reservations (HB 19-1278).
    • Connecticut legislative committees have reported out a slew of pro-voter bills, including: AVR (SB 24), rights restoration to people who are on parole (SB 25 and HB 7213), and a requirement that officials site polling places on campuses (SB 266), among several other reforms. In addition, committees have reported out proposed constitutional amendments that would permit no-excuse absentee voting (HJR 161 and SJR 27), early voting (HJR 161 and SJR 14), and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds (SJR 28).
    • The Delaware Legislature has passed early voting (HB 38), the House has passed a proposed constitutional amendment to establish no-excuse absentee voting (HB 72), and a House committee has passed election day registration (HB 39).
    • Georgia enacted into law reforms addressing a variety of problems with its voting systems (and the lawsuits that challenged them), including improvements to its “no match, no vote” policy, voter purges, absentee voting, provisional voting, voting for people with disabilities (HB 316).
    • A Minnesota House committee has passed an omnibus elections bill (HF 1603) that includes: AVR, rights restoration upon discharge from incarceration, and early voting, among other reforms.
    • The New Hampshire Senate has passed AVR (SB 7), the New Hampshire House passed a proposed constitutional amendment to permit no-excuse absentee voting (HB 611), as well as bills to repeal restrictions impacting student voters that were passed over the last couple of years (HB 105 and HB 106) and a bill that would ease restrictions on assisting voters with disabilities to vote absentee.
    • The Nevada Assembly has passed a bill that would provide for immediate rights restoration to people on completion of their sentence (AB 431). Legislative committees have also passed provisions on election day registration (SB 123, AB 345), along with same day registration during early voting and improvements of the provisional ballot process (AB 345).
  • Rights Restoration. Following Florida voters’ paradigm-shifting enactment of Amendment 4 last year, as well as improvements in New York and Louisiana, we are seeing significant momentum for further reform.
    • Several states have moved bills that would restore voting rights to people previously convicted of a felony at least through a committee—
      • The Colorado House and Senate passed a bill that would restore voting rights on release from incarceration (HB 19-1266).
      • A California legislative committee has passed a bill that would restore voting rights to people on parole (AB 646).
      • Connecticut legislative committees have reported out bills that would restore voting rights to people on parole (SB 25 and HB 7213).
      • A Minnesota legislative committee has passed a bill that would restore voting rights on release from incarceration (HF 1603).
      • The Nevada House has passed a bill that would restore voting rights to people immediately on completion of their sentence (AB 431)
    • Additional states have held hearings on rights restoration bills that remain live, including Missouri (HB 508), Nebraska (SB 711 and SB 83), New Jersey (SB 2100), and Texas (HB 1419).
    • Moreover, even though efforts in Iowa (HJR 14) and Tennessee (SB 0589 and HB 0547) came up short this year, the seriousness of those efforts, in states with extremely restrictive rights restoration regimes, is a further indication of the momentum behind this critical reform.
  • Notice/Cure Process. Several states have moved bills that require election officials to notify and/or permit voters to cure deficiencies in absentee ballots, absentee ballot applications, or voter registration applications (or improve their existing processes) through at least a committee, including: Arizona (SB 1054) (enacted), California (SB 523) (held hearing), Florida (SB 7066 / HB 7101) (passed committee), Georgia (HB 316) (enacted), Kansas (SB 130) (enacted), and Virginia (SB 1042) (enacted).
  • Additional Major Enactments. Several states enacted additional expansive reforms into law. Most notably:
    • New Mexico enacted same day voter registration (SB 672).
    • Virginia enacted no-excuse early in-person voting (SB 1026/HB 2790), as well as measures adding protections for absentee voters (HB 1790) and (as noted above) require notification to applicants whose voter registration applications are rejected (SB 1042).
    • Washington enacted a Native American voting rights act.

Election Security Bills

In advance of the 2020 elections, state legislatures have shown renewed interest in shoring up election infrastructure and implementing election integrity measures, including risk-limiting audits. Still, more work remains in order for states to be ready for 2020. At least 31 states have introduced 100 election security bills thus far this year, with 28 moving in 18 states. Click here for a list of election security bills that have seen some movement (at least a hearing) and remain alive.

The following bills have passed through at least one house of the legislature:

  • Arkansas enacted a bill into law that requires post-election audits (SB 524).
  • Georgia enacted a bill into law that requires voting machines to produce a paper record and authorizes a risk-limiting audit pilot program (HB 316).[i] In addition, the legislature has passed a bill that requires the Secretary of State to establish security protocols to protect voter registration information – it is awaiting action from the Governor (HB 392).
  • South Dakota has enacted a bill into law that requires vote centers and counties that use e-pollbooks to have printed paper copes of the registration list.
  • In Indiana, the Governor signed a bill authorizing a risk-limiting audit pilot program (SB 405) and a bill requiring risk-limiting audits, prohibiting the acquisition and, eventually, the use of direct recording electronic voting machines (“DREs”), and imposing new security measures for e-pollbooks, among other measures (SB 570). Both houses of the Indiana legislature have passed a bill requiring two-factor authentication to access the computerized voter registration list as well as requiring election vendors to disclose foreign ownership (SB 558).
  • Both houses of the Maryland legislature have passed a bill requiring vendors to disclose foreign ownership (SB 743).
  • The New Hampshire Senate has passed a bill requiring a study of new equipment to perform post-election audits (SB 286).
  • In Oklahoma, the Governor approved a bill authorizing the State Board of Elections to order post-election audits, requiring county election officials to undertake new cyber-security measures and authorizing the State Board to declare an election emergency in response to security threats or interference (SB 261).
  • The Ohio Senate has passed a bill requiring the Secretary of State to appoint a chief information security officer; requiring post-election audits, including authorizing risk-limiting audits as one audit option; and creating a “cyber reserve” as part of the state militia (SB 52).
  • The Texas Senate has passed a bill requiring risk-limiting audits and prohibiting the use of DREs without auditable paper record (SB 9).

[i] The bill, however, is highly controversial: It does not require the use of hand-marked paper ballots and critics are concerned that it would result in the state purchasing voting systems that only use ballot-marking devices.