As occurs every few years, this past November millions of people cast their votes for a wide range of offices. However, a major difference this year was that many of these voters cast their ballots in a way they may have never done so before—by mail. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced nearly all states to expand their absentee voting and early voting procedures. Yet, even before COVID, voters in Montana routinely voted well before election day.
While not a fully mail-in voting state, such as Washington and Oregon, Montana has robust mail and early voting accommodations that a majority of voters take advantage of. In Montana’s 2018 general election, 73 percent of the votes cast were by absentee ballot sent in before election day.
Election season may not be upon us quite yet, but that doesn’t stop some from prematurely speculating that Virginians may find shorter lines at the polling precincts in November of 2020. This prediction seems counter intuitive given the political turmoil and controversy that has galvanized voters in recent years, but it can be explained by the passage of SB-1026 in February of 2019. This bill, now set to take effect in November of 2020, creates an exception to Virginia’s excuse requirements for absentee ballot voting. Democratic State Senator Lionel Spruill, the sponsor of SB-1026, postulates that shorter lines and increased voter access are possible results when the law takes effect. Despite these predictions, the actual impact of this law is questionable, as it does little to curb the effects of excuse-required absentee voting laws in Virginia. As enacted, the law simply carves out a narrow exception to an arbitrary practice that violates ideals of personal privacy and widespread access to voting.
As discussed in my previous blog post, Alabama passed a law in 2017 prohibiting crossover voting, which occurs when voters vote in the primary of one party and then the primary runoff of another party. The stated purpose behind the law is to keep members of one party from having an undue influence on the other party’s candidate. “It helps Democrats choose Democratic candidates, it helps Republicans choose Republican candidates,” said Senator Tom Whatley, who sponsored the bill.
Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, narrowly avoided contempt charges in September 2016 which would have been the cherry on top for those in opposition to Kansas’s proof-of-citizenship requirement. The requirement, which requires anyone registering to vote in Kansas provide proof of citizenship via one of thirteen documents, was enacted under the Secure and Fair Elections Act of 2011, and was enforced beginning in 2013.
Amidst ongoing litigation, North Carolina recently passed a new law that changes its controversial voter I.D. laws. The 2013 voter laws were swept in with other changes to elections and, were considered to be the most stringent in the nation at the time. By North Carolina Board of Election’s estimation, over 300,000 voters, 34% of them African American, lacked the necessary photo I.D. The restrictive voter I.D. law sparked public outrage, leading thousands to protest outside the state capitol building in Raleigh in what have become to be known as ‘Moral Mondays.’ On August 2013, the very same day that North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed the bill into law, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. That case is still ongoing.
In August of 2015, California restored the voting rights to approximately 60,000 former felony offenders who had been improperly disenfranchised as a result of a glitch in the political process. In the whirlwind of California’s recent prison reform acts, these citizens had been inappropriately classified as ineligible to vote in violation of California’s Constitution and election laws. Although the case had already been decided in the voters’ favor by a trial court, it was not until California’s current Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, decided this summer to drop the appeal that these former felony offenders could feel safe registering to vote. But how did such a large number of potential voters end improperly disenfranchised in the first place?
The public’s sentiment toward sex offenders has long been overwhelmingly negative, fueling an ever-increasing number of legal restrictions. Perhaps the most reviled of all offenders are child molesters, which have been the target of national registration programs (though such registries are often over-inclusive). Those registries are widely used to restrict sex offenders from being anywhere near schools, parks, or youth centers. But what happens when sex offenders want to exercise their right to vote and are not allowed into their polling place because it happens to be a school?
On Wednesday, May 27th, 2015, the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature eliminated capital punishment through LB 268. The bill was approved over a veto by Governor Pete Ricketts, by a no-votes-to-spare 30-19 margin, and marked the end of State Senator Ernie Chambers’ 39-year effort to end the death penalty in Nebraska. The repeal made Nebraska the first conservative state to eliminate capital punishment in more than 40 years. However, immediately after the repeal, State Senator Beau McCoy, a conservative, expressed his frustration over the vote and announced his intent to pursue a ballot initiative to reinstate the death penalty. Less than one week after the repeal and Sen. McCoy’s statements, a group named Nebraskan’s for the Death Penalty (“NFDP”) filed the appropriate paperwork with the Secretary of State to reinstate the death penalty by referendum.
The State of New Hampshire filed an appeal on September 9th with U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit seeking to overturn the New Hampshire District Court’s decision in Rideout v. Gardner, Opinion No. 2015-DNH-154-P. There, the court struck down RSA § 659:35, I, which prohibited voters from “taking a digital image or photograph of his or her marked ballot and distributing or sharing the image via social media or by any other means.” The plaintiffs in that case, namely a state representative, Leon Rideout, a disgruntled dog-lover, Andrew Langlois, and a patent-attorney, Brandon Ross, who posted his photo after the investigations started with the tagline “Come at me, bro,” were being prosecuted under the law.
On May 11, 2011, the South Carolina General Assembly passed Act R54. The new law would require individuals to present photo identification to vote. Governor Nikki Haley signed the bill a week later. The Department of Justice has yet to pre-clear the new law, stating that it needs proof from South Carolina that Act R54 would not disenfranchise voters. Valid forms of identification include a South Carolina driver’s license, a passport, military identification, a voter registration card with a photograph, or another form of photographic identification from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Chris Whitmire, Director of Public Relations and Training at the South Carolina State Election Commission (SCSEC), spoke to me about the preparations taking place if the law is pre-cleared. These preparations include training county election officials, notifying registered voters without proper identification through direct mail, and a social media campaign about the new law. The General Assembly allocated $535,000 to the SCSEC for the voter education campaign and the creation of new voter registration cards that contain a photograph of the voter.
Registered voters would be able to obtain the new voter registration cards with the same documents they now use to register to vote (these include a photo ID or documents like a utility bill or pay stub with their address printed on it.) This makes the new identification easier to obtain than other government-issued forms of identification. Another unique feature of the new card is that it will not expire. Continue reading