State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Voting Early in Arizona? Make Sure You’re Still on the List First.

By: Mike Arnone

In the wake of the 2020 Election, states across the country have enacted a variety of more restrictive voting laws. Over 400 bills that make voting more difficult have been introduced in 49 states. 30 of these have become law in 18 states. Arizona is no exception to this trend.

In May 2021, Governor Ducey signed SB 1485 into law, making significant changes to the state’s early voting procedures. Effective after the 2024 election, the new law will recast Arizona’s former Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL) as the Active Early Voting List. As the former’s name suggests, voters could indefinitely remain on Arizona’s early voting list and automatically receive a ballot in the mail for any election in which they were eligible to vote. Now, if a voter doesn’t use their early ballot once in two election cycles (once in four years), county election officials are required to purge them from the early voting list if they do not respond  within 90 days to a notice warning them of their impending removal. A voter can still be removed from this list if they have voted in person instead of using their early mail ballot in two election cycles. Voters would still remain registered to vote whether or not they were removed from the early voting list.

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Minnesota Redistricting: A Process Without History On Its Side

By: Cullen Enabnit

Minnesota’s heated legislative redistricting process is starting to ramp up. After being delayed due to the pandemic, the US Census data is beginning to be sifted through in the great state of Minnesota. While other states like Texas and New York have released proposed plans for how their reimagined districts should look, Minnesota is working in a split government and will have to take more time to draw their maps.

In terms of the fight state legislators are about to face, there is reason for relief and reason for concern. The major headline for Minnesota’s eight House Representatives was that the state was able to maintain all of its Congressional seats by a tight margin. If this number were to have changed, the difficult task of redistricting would have become even harder as the existing map would have needed to be reimagined from the ground up. While this feared situation did not come to pass, Minnesota lawmakers are still facing a challenge that does not have history on their side. Minnesota has not drawn legislative boundaries without court intervention a single time in 140 years. In fact, for at least the last 20 years, and maybe even the last 50 years, the courts have ended up drawing the final lines when the legislature failed to draw a bipartisan map.

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Ohio’s Voting Reform and New Election Law Proposals

By: Jayde Morgan

Following an overwhelming Republican victory as a result of the 2020 presidential and state-wide elections, the Republicans in Ohio began to look closely at the election laws within the state. In August 2021, the Ohio House of Representatives proposed House Bill 387. The bill was introduced by House Republican Representative Bill Dean in response to allegations of voting fraud in the 2020 election. More recently, on September 16, 2021, the bill was referred to the Government Oversight Committee as a part of the process to eventually get the bill passed. If the bill is passed, it would drastically change several aspects of the election process.

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A Proposed South Carolina Bill to Continue COVID-19 Expansion of Voting Accessibility

By: Anna Miller

In February 2021, the South Carolina House of Representatives began to consider several fundamental changes to the voting process through the general reform bill, H. 3822. As the temporary measures adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have expired, representatives have debated extending and even expanding these measures. Reform proponents argued in support of increasing accessibility to absentee voting, including eliminating the requirement that the absentee voter sign their ballot in the presence of a witness, and then get that witness to also sign the ballot. This bill seeks to codify that change and to further increase ease of access to absentee voting. For example, absentee voters would no longer be required to provide a reason for casting their ballot from outside the state- the bill would completely repeal Section 7-15-320 of the 1976 Code, which provided a list of approved reasons for casting an absentee ballot.

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Ninth Circuit Brings Out-of-State Donors In From The Cold

By: Ellie Halfacre

When Wes Keller ran for re-election to the Alaska House of Representatives in 2015, his brother-in-law David Thompson tried to support his candidacy and donate $500 to the campaign. However, due to §15.13.072(e)(3) of Alaska’s elections statute, he was unable to do so. Under this law, Keller’s campaign had already received the maximum dollar amount it could accept from nonresidents—$3,000—according to the state’s restrictions on campaign contributions. Thompson, a Wisconsin resident, sued, challenging Alaska’s campaign finance laws under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The law that barred Thompson’s donation, §15.13.072, specified several fundraising limitations on out-of-state donors: candidates could not accept more than $20,000 a year from nonresident donors for gubernatorial campaigns, $5,000 a year for state senate campaigns, and $3,000 a year for campaigns for state representative, or municipal or other office.

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Voting Rights and Ancestry in the Virgin Islands

By: Leo Jobsis Rossignol

Thanks to recent media developments, more people are becoming aware of the bizarre fact that, in U.S. territories, citizens cannot vote for the president. However, the vote on the federal level is not the end of the story. There are many further oddities to the voting system in the territories, and we’ll take a moment to explore one of them in this post.

The United States Virgin Islands is one of those territories, and the voting system in place has undergone many changes over time. Originally, those living in the islands had no right to vote or to self-government. Before 1954, the territory was governed by two “municipal” or “colonial” councils (see §5 annotations – prior legislative bodies), one for St. Thomas and St. John, and another for St. Croix (the three main islands), with some positions held by local community leaders. Once a year, or more often if called by the federally-appointed governor, both councils would meet and pass legislation. In the U.S. Virgin Islands Revised Organic Act, passed into law that year, all citizens above the age of twenty-one were granted the right to vote in local elections for both the newly-unicameral legislature and the governor. The law also contained a provision allowing the voting age to be dropped to 18 by popular referendum, which it soon was.

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The VOTES Act

By: Adriana Dunn

On October 6, 2021, the Massachusetts Senate overwhelmingly passed the VOTES Act, aimed at expanding the temporary rights granted to citizens as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the highlights of the bill include permanent no-excuse mail-in voting, expanded early voting options, same day voter registration, a correction to the automatic voter registration system implemented in 2020, and assistance for incarcerated individuals to exercise their right to vote.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic produced brand new challenges, with the temporary implementation of many of the provisions found in the VOTES Act, Massachusetts citizens set record voter participation numbers. 3.7 million votes were cast in the 2020 election, a majority being either early ballots or mail-in ballots.

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“Colorful Colorado”: State Redistricting Maps In The 2020 Election

By: Weston Zeike

“Colorful Colorado” is one nickname of the “Centennial State.” Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that the state has been making headlines on the way it decided to color in its maps during the 2020 redistricting process.

Redistricting reform has received increasing attention in recent years, with Colorado being no exception to the national trend. In 2018, Colorado voters amended the Colorado Constitution to task an independent redistricting commission with drawing lines. Requiring 55% of the vote while receiving over 70%, these amendments gave the new independent redistricting commission authority to draw both state and congressional lines. Three years after the vote (and only months after the release of the requisite decennial census data release), we have a final congressional redistricting plan drawn by the commission.

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Independent (Advisory) Commission: Utah State Legislators Gradually Loosen Grip on Redistricting

By: Maxfield Daley-Watson

After the 2010 census, Utah gained one congressional district, giving the state a total of four federal congressional seats. In 2011, when the state drew its new legislative map, the process was conducted by the state’s Republican controlled legislature. This process resulted in the creation of three heavily conservative districts and one Republican leaning district. In 2018 voters narrowly approved Proposition 4, a ballot initiative directed at creating an independent bipartisan commission with the intention of creating fairer maps. The plan for this independent commission was then edited and eventually implemented through the passage of Senate Bill 200. As a result, SB 200 appropriated 1 million dollars for the independent redistricting commission. In a less positive move, the bill also shifted the independent commission to an advisory role with the ability to draft maps that are then voted on by the state legislature. This is possible because Utah allows the state legislature to amend any enacted statute with a simple majority vote. According to Better Boundaries, the organization behind Proposition 4, the impetus for the legislative overhaul on the redistricting commission centered around the unwillingness of state law makers to place a prohibition on partisan gerrymandering in the redistricting process. Furthermore, the Utah Constitution vests redistricting power in the hands of the legislature, which added an additional wrinkle to the implementation of Proposition 4.

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In the Midst of Election Chaos, Mississippi Stays Stagnant

By: Theo Weber

2021 has been a year of rapid, substantial change to state election laws throughout the country. Whether acting to restrict voting rights because of unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, or acting to expand said rights in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, states have been legislating at a feverish clip. The Brennan Center for Justice notes that between January 1, 2021, and July 14, 2021, 18 states have enacted 30 laws restricting voting access, while 25 states have enacted 54 laws that expand it.

However, one state has been notably absent from passing any legislation in 2021. That state is Mississippi.

The lack of change to voting requirements in Mississippi should not come as much of a surprise though; Mississippi already has some of the most restrictive voting requirements in the country. Mississippi was listed as one of the 6 most difficult states to vote early in by the Center for Election Innovation & Research, and a 2018 study published in the Election Law Journal listed Mississippi as the most difficult state to vote in.

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