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New Developments in Voting and Election Law

New York Voter Rights Expansion

The New York state Legislature passed a sweeping election reform package with the Democratic Majority. The reforms include early voting and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, in addition to giving initial authorization to constitutional amendments to enact Election Day registration and “no excuse” absentee voting[1]. The latter of which must be approved by voters later. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pledged that he will sign the bills. You can find full text of the reforms here.

New Jersey VBM

The Legislature returned to session for a rare August meeting to pass vote-by-mail (VBM) reform (A 5759) after the state Division of Elections decided that the vote-by-mail law approved last year did not apply to requests for mail-in ballots that came in after the 2016 presidential election. Governor Murphy signed it into law. The plan calls for the state to spend $2 million on the reform[2]. The bill passed 44-14 in the Assembly, with three of the Republican minority speaking out. The bill passed the Senate 20-10, along party lines.

Georgia Voting Machine Election Security Case

Georgia has been in the throws of an ongoing election security case involving its voting machines and the legal fight has now involved the US District Court. District Judge Amy Totenberg imposed a deadline on Georgia to junk its obsolete ballot machines. Judge Totenberg also ordered the state to create voting backup plans that do not include the obsolete machines, in the case that a new system is not implemented in time for the 2020 election[3]s. However, a federal judge denied a request to move all of Georgia’s fall municipal elections away from “unsecure, unreliable and grossly outdated technology”[4] to paper ballots and hand-marking coupled with the use of optical scanning and counting. The older voting machines were deemed vulnerable to hacking and other election interference. The Georgia secretary of state’s office was also directed to develop a plan to address problems with the voter registration database and have paper poll books at each voting precinct as backups.

Florida Felon Voting Law

Florida has been engaged in an ongoing legal battle over whether convicted felons should be required to pay court-ordered financial obligations before voting rights are restored after they have served their time.

The state law that carries out the constitutional amendment granting voting rights to felons “who have completed all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation” is being challenged[5]. The amendment was approved in November by voters and excluded those “convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense” from regaining their voting rights.

The lawsuit alleges that tying the right to vote to finances amounts to an unconstitutional “poll tax” aimed at preventing the economically disadvantaged and people of color from participating in elections.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said he wants both sides to address whether the amendment itself is unconstitutional, and what that means – something that was unacknowledged in court filings. Parties were ordered to address the matter by August 29, 2019.

Illinois Governor Signs Laws to Expand Voting Education and Access in Prisoner Facilities

Re-Entering Citizens Civics Education Act – a new bill that requires Illinois Department of Corrections facilities to provide civics and voting rights education to soon-to-be-released prisoners – was enthusiastically passed through both the Illinois House and Senate. It was signed into law by Governor J.B. Pritzker via ceremony in Chicago’s Near West Side[6].

The bill, which takes effect in January 2020, will add mandatory workshops at all prison facilities to instruct inmates that their voting rights are restored as soon as they finish out their prison sentences.

This new workshop will operate similarly to existing programs that instruct inmates on health care and housing, but will instead focus on civics and voting. The new curriculum is broken into three 90-minute sessions which will be taught by peer inmates inside the prison.

The bill builds on the other legislation Pritzker recently signed, Senate Bill 2090, which improves voting opportunities for pretrial jail detainees not yet convicted of a felony. The bill also provides those leaving Illinois prisons with a voter registration application and “know your rights” guides for individuals with records.

California Tax Voting Law

A new California law required President Donald Trump to release his tax records if he wants to be on the California primary ballot. Trump’s campaign responded with a lawsuit against the California secretary of state and the state attorney general. The new law, signed on July 30 by Governor Gavin Newsom, requires any presidential candidate wishing to get their name on a California ballot to turn over five years’ worth of income tax filings by November in order to secure a spot in the March 3 primary. Similar measures have passed or been introduced in other states. You can find the full court filing here.


[1] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/elections/new-york-lawmakers-approve-election-reforms-including-early-voting-n958861

[2] https://www.nj.com/politics/2019/08/murphy-signs-law-fixing-mail-in-ballot-glitch-in-time-for-the-november-election.html

[3] https://www.npr.org/2019/08/15/751419405/judge-denies-request-to-scrap-georgias-outdated-electronic-voting-machines-for-2

[4] https://www.law.com/dailyreportonline/2019/08/15/federal-judge-imposes-deadline-on-georgia-to-junk-obsolete-ballot-machines/

[5] https://www.npr.org/2019/07/01/737668646/aclu-sues-over-florida-law-that-requires-felons-to-pay-fees-fines-before-voting      

[6] https://www.nprillinois.org/post/illinois-reinforces-prison-voting-rights-expands-inmate-education#stream/0

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