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Expert Brief

Voting Laws Roundup 2019

With most legislatures closed, major positive reforms were enacted, but a handful of states made it more difficult to vote.

  • Brennan Center for Justice
Last Updated: July 10, 2019
Published: July 10, 2019

At this point in the year, 42 state legis­latures have concluded their last regu­lar legis­lat­ive session in the leadup to a pres­id­en­tial elec­tion year. Look­ing back at this session, three new, Demo­cratic trifectas – New York, Nevada, and Color­ado – were respons­ible for an outsize portion of the most impact­ful expans­ive voting laws enacted so far this year. foot­note1_46061gz 1 This docu­ment tracks certain voting legis­la­tion making it easier or harder to register or vote, as well as certain legis­la­tion related to elec­tion secur­ity. Eval­u­at­ing which laws to include requires exer­cising judg­ment and is not suscept­ible to precise quan­ti­fic­a­tion. Note that there are several types of elec­tion- and voting-related legis­la­tion that we do not track, includ­ing: redis­trict­ing, ballot design, enfran­chise­ment of people under 18 or non-citizens, or public or indi­vidual notice require­ments. The docu­ment also does not track admin­is­trat­ive changes that could expand or restrict access.

At the same time, a late-session surge in legis­la­tion cutting back voting access was success­ful in creat­ing new restric­tions in five states. Most signi­fic­antly, in Flor­ida, a new restric­tion cuts back on the gains made by Amend­ment 4. This new restric­tion could dramat­ic­ally curtail the number of people who get their voting rights back under Amend­ment 4 and it flies in the face of the voters’ decision last Novem­ber to expand voting access. In addi­tion, in Tennessee, lawmakers added new burdens on voter regis­tra­tion drives. And in Texas, lawmakers pushed through a new restric­tion on early voting, but it could have been even worse, if a power­ful coali­tion had not come together to stop an even more restrict­ive bill that was moving toward passage.

Over­all, since the start of the session, 46 states have intro­duced or carried over 688 bills expand­ing access compared to 29 states have intro­duced or carried over at least 87 bills restrict­ing voting access. In addi­tion, 33 states have intro­duced or carried over at least 108 bills related to elec­tion secur­ity.

Expans­ive Voting Bills

The massive burst of pro-voter bills intro­duced this session – 688 bills in 46 states – trans­lated into signi­fic­ant reform across the coun­try. As a group, states with new, Demo­cratic trifectas led the way in terms of expans­ive laws this year – and, within that group, New York, Color­ado, and Nevada enacted multiple, high-impact reforms. In addi­tion, Delaware and Virginia enacted early in person voting. And a number of other states – under Demo­cratic, GOP, and mixed control – enacted reforms that are either more incre­mental or alle­vi­ate past voter suppres­sion.

(Click here for a list of expans­ive bills that have passed at least one house and are still alive – as we are now deep into the legis­lat­ive calen­dar, bills that have seen signi­fic­ant move­ment are gener­ally the ones to watch for passage.)

Expansive Bills Enacted in 2019

A couple of other trends emerged as well. States enacted a number of bills provid­ing notice and cure oppor­tun­it­ies for absentee ballots and voter regis­tra­tions. In addi­tion, despite Flor­id­a’s decision to cut back on Amend­ment 4, rights restor­a­tion contin­ues to gain momentum. See below for more details:

  • New Demo­cratic Trifectas. Follow­ing the 2018 elec­tion, Demo­crats newly obtained trifecta control of state govern­ment in six states. At the start of 2019, U.S. House Demo­crats made demo­cracy reform a cent­ral part of the party’s agenda, by intro­du­cing (and then passing) a demo­cracy reform bill as H.R.1 – the first bill in the new House. Each of the six states with new Demo­cratic trifectas states has enacted (or is shortly expec­ted to enact) major pro-voter reforms.
    • New York passed the most signi­fic­ant reforms 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.
    • Color­ado enacted a law restor­ing voting rights to indi­vidu­als on release from incar­cer­a­tion (HB 19–1266) and a law expand­ing AVR and writ­ing that reform into the stat­ute books (it had previ­ously been put in place as an admin­is­trat­ive meas­ure by elec­tion and DMV offi­cials) (HB 19–235). In addi­tion, the state enacted a law improv­ing voting access for voters with disab­il­it­ies (SB 19–202) and a law with several addi­tional reforms, includ­ing new stand­ards for vote centers and improve­ments to the regis­tra­tion process for voters living on Indian reser­va­tions (HB 19–1278).
    • The Illinois legis­lature sent Governor Pritzker a bill that would enhance voting access for eligible voters confined in jails (SB 2090).
    • Maine enacted AVR (HB 1463).
    • Nevada enacted a law provid­ing imme­di­ate rights restor­a­tion to people on release from incar­cer­a­tion (AB 431) and a law that author­izes same day regis­tra­tion, improves the provi­sional ballot process and extends early or absentee voting dead­lines, among other reforms (AB 345).
    • New Mexico enacted same day voter regis­tra­tion (SB 672).
  • Addi­tional Notable Reforms. Several states passed addi­tional expans­ive reforms through their legis­lat­ive process. Both red and blue states took steps to expand access this year – continu­ing a trend we have seen through­out the decade. While GOP-controlled states passed a wide vari­ety of pro-voter meas­ures, the most common were reforms to enhance absentee voting and access for voters with disab­il­it­ies. Reforms include:
    • Delaware enacted early in-person voting (HB 38).
    • 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).
    • Virginia enacted no-excuse early in-person voting (SB 1026/HB 2790).
    • Wash­ing­ton enacted a Native Amer­ican voting rights act (SB 5079).
  • Notice/Cure Process. States’ processes for determ­in­ing the valid­ity of voting mater­i­als like absentee ballots or regis­tra­tion applic­a­tions are crit­ic­ally import­ant but can result in improper disen­fran­chise­ment. For example, some states require elec­tions offi­cials to compare the voter’s signa­ture on an absentee ballot with the signa­ture they have on file and to reject the ballot if the signa­tures do not match. In some cases, though, states offer inad­equate guid­ance to offi­cials to make the compar­ison and inad­equate recourse to voters whose ballots have been rejec­ted.

This year, several states enacted laws 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), includ­ing: Arizona (SB 1054), Flor­ida (SB 7066), Geor­gia (HB 316), Kansas (SB 130), and Virginia (HB 1042).

  • Rights Restor­a­tion Momentum Contin­ues. Last year, Flor­ida voters enacted the paradigm-shift­ing Amend­ment 4, and New York and Louisi­ana also made major improve­ments to their rights restor­a­tion laws. This year, while Flor­ida lawmakers cut back on Amend­ment 4, lawmakers in other states pushed forward.
    • As noted above, Color­ado and Nevada enacted rights restor­a­tion laws. In addi­tion, Arizona enacted a law that would elim­in­ate the oblig­a­tion for people with only one felony convic­tion to pay certain types of legal finan­cial oblig­a­tions before having their voting rights restored (HB 2080). People are still required, however, to pay any outstand­ing resti­tu­tion.
    • Cali­for­nia (AB 646) and New Jersey (SB 2100) continue to consider rights restor­a­tion legis­la­tion.
    • Moreover, even though efforts in Iowa (HJR 14) and Tennessee 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.

Restrict­ive Voting Bills

While some states are expand­ing voting access, others are cutting it back. At least seven restrict­ive bills in five states have been signed into law. All of the five states with new restric­tions are under Repub­lican trifecta control, and all of them had already passed restric­tions making it more diffi­cult to vote previ­ously since we star­ted system­at­ic­ally track­ing anti-voter legis­la­tion in 2011.

(Click here for a list of restrict­ive bills that have passed at least one house in states with open sessions.)

Restrictive Bills Enacted in 2019

The most note­worthy restric­tions that passed this year are in Flor­ida, where lawmakers cut back on Amend­ment 4, and Tennessee, which enacted new restric­tions on voter regis­tra­tion drives. Arizona, Indi­ana, and Texas also signed new restric­tions into law. Oppon­ents, however, were able to stop a major addi­tional piece of legis­la­tion in Texas.

  • Flor­ida enacted a law that cuts back on the historic changes to the state’s felony disen­fran­chise­ment laws that voters passed over­whelm­ingly in Novem­ber 2018 (SB 7066). Voting rights advoc­ates, includ­ing the Bren­nan Center, have filed a lawsuit chal­len­ging the law.
  • Tennessee enacted into law wide-ranging new restric­tions on third-party voter regis­tra­tion (HB 1079 and SB 971). The initial version of the bill imposed new regis­tra­tion and train­ing require­ments on third-party regis­tra­tion groups, as well as civil and crim­inal penal­ties for, among other things, submit­ting too many “defi­cient” voter regis­tra­tion forms. The amended version improves on this by carving out volun­teers and organ­iz­a­tions that only use volun­teers from the new require­ments. Voting rights groups have filed lawsuits chal­len­ging these new restric­tions.
  • Arizona enacted laws that extend voter ID require­ments to early voting (SB 1072) and restrict 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.
  • Indi­ana enacted a law cutting the dead­line for submit­ting an absentee ballot applic­a­tion for most voters from eight days to 12 days prior to the elec­tion (HB 1311) and a law restrict­ing state court lawsuits to extend polling place hours (SB 560).
  • Texas enacted a law restrict­ing mobile early voting sites (HB 1888). Voters and voting rights advoc­ates joined in a power­ful coali­tion, however, to halt another highly restrict­ive bill that was moving towards passage. SB 9 would have signi­fic­antly increased penal­ties and risk of prosec­u­tion for elec­tion code viol­a­tions by voters; permit­ted poll watch­ers to inspect voter ID; and imposed new restric­tions on people assist­ing voters with phys­ical limit­a­tions or who cannot read the ballot, among other meas­ures.

Elec­tion Secur­ity Bills

In advance of the 2020 elec­tions, state legis­latures showed renewed interest in shor­ing up elec­tion infra­struc­ture and imple­ment­ing elec­tion integ­rity meas­ures. Ten states have signed into law 14 elec­tion secur­ity bills thus far this year, and another three states have passed bills through their legis­lature.

(Click here for a list of elec­tion secur­ity bills that have passed at least one house in states with open sessions.)

Election Security Bills Enacted in 2019

Several states have recog­nized the crit­ical import­ance of post-elec­tion audits to verify vote totals. The urgency of adopt­ing these audits has only increased in light of the foreign inter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion – and the like­li­hood that foreign powers will attempt to inter­fere in next year’s elec­tion. Still, more work remains in order for states to be ready for 2020.

The follow­ing bills have been enacted into law or passed through the legis­lature:

  • Arkan­sas enacted a law that requires post-elec­tion audits (SB 524).
  • The Cali­for­nia legis­lature passed a bill author­iz­ing the Secret­ary of State to require data secur­ity train­ing as a condi­tion of receiv­ing voter regis­tra­tion inform­a­tion.
  • The Delaware legis­lature passed a bill that makes the paper ballot is the legal ballot of record, enhances pre-elec­tion voting machine inspec­tion require­ments, and requires post-elec­tion audits (SB 121).
  • Flor­ida enacted a law requir­ing the Secret­ary of State to promul­gate secur­ity stand­ards address­ing chain of custody of ballots, trans­port of ballots, and ballot secur­ity (SB 7066). (Note that this bill also cuts back on Amend­ment 4, as explained above.)
  • Geor­gia enacted a law that requires voting machines to produce a paper record and author­izes a risk-limit­ing audit pilot program (HB 316), foot­note2_k4pk3g9 2 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. as well as a law that requires the Secret­ary of State to estab­lish secur­ity proto­cols to protect voter regis­tra­tion inform­a­tion (HB 392).
  • Indi­ana enacted a law requir­ing two-factor authen­tic­a­tion to access the compu­ter­ized voter regis­tra­tion list as well as requir­ing elec­tion vendors to disclose foreign owner­ship (SB 558); a law author­iz­ing a risk-limit­ing audit pilot program (SB 405); a law 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); and a law mandat­ing annual cyber­se­cur­ity train­ing for county elec­tions offi­cials (SB 560).
  • Iowa enacted a law direct­ing state and local elec­tion offi­cials to adopt new elec­tion cyber­se­cur­ity meas­ures (HF 692).
  • Mary­land enacted a law requir­ing vendors to disclose foreign owner­ship (SB 743).
  • Nevada enacted a law that would mandate risk-limit­ing audits start­ing in 2022 (and a pilot risk-limit­ing audit program for the 2020 elec­tion) and estab­lish a cyber­se­cur­ity train­ing require­ments for local elec­tions offi­cials (SB 123).
  • Oklahoma enacted a law: 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 Oregon legis­lature has passed a bill author­iz­ing risk-limit­ing audits (SB 944).
  • South Dakota enacted a law that requires vote centers and counties that use e-poll­books to have prin­ted paper copes of the regis­tra­tion list.
  • Texas enacted a law that would direct the Secret­ary of State to estab­lish new cyber­se­cur­ity rules for protect­ing elec­tions data, among other reforms (HB 1421).

End Notes