Welcome to the February edition of On the Docket: my monthly newsletter focusing on voting rights, redistricting and election protection. If you missed any of the previous versions, you can find them here.
At long last the primary season is upon us and voting has begun — and with that, we are witnessing a tidal wave of voter suppression.
Most recently, the Republican National Committee announced that it will spend more than $10 million during the 2020 election cycle to combat Democratic voting rights lawsuits. Never before have we seen a political party publicly pledge to oppose voting rights in the courts. Their first target is Michigan, where the RNC and the Michigan Republican Party recently filed a motion to intervene in one of the voting rights cases we brought on behalf of Priorities USA.
Simultaneously, Republican-controlled legislatures continue to introduce consequential election and voting law-related legislation. Here are two statehouses you should keep on your radar:
- Arizona: Republican lawmakers introduced HB 2461, a bill that would prohibit students living in dormitories from being considered residents for purposes of voter registration. Another proposed bill – SB 1032 – would gravely reduce the time frame for ballots with missing signatures to be corrected and counted.
- Florida: The Republican legislature quietly added a provision to a new voting law easing qualifications required of poll watchers. Currently, poll watchers must be registered voters in the county they intend to serve on Election Day. The new provision would only require that they be a voter in the state, allowing Republicans to mount more aggressive challenges at the polls in counties where they have fewer supporters.
Florida Republicans are also advancing a bill that would prohibit people from helping with or returning any mail ballots outside their own family if they received any “benefit” for doing so. It would allow law enforcement to arrest individuals on the spot with probable cause for a vote by mail violation. A similar version of this bill proposed even harsher penalties: it would make it a felony to knowingly collect a mail ballot from another person, unless that person was immediate family.
We are currently tracking the bills discussed above, as well as many others coming down the pike. I will continue to provide updates throughout the year and evaluate how these new laws may impact the 2020 election.
My goal in this newsletter remains to provide thoughtful updates on important voting rights cases and initiatives, as well as to highlight topics and trends that are developing but might otherwise be overlooked in a busy election year. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter for updates between newsletters.
This March, We’re Going to Court
Thanks to the growing support for our voting rights litigation, we now have twenty-one different lawsuits challenging specific voter suppression laws. In the January edition of On the Docket, I noted that Kansas’s Republican Secretary of State quietly stalled an election reform bill so it couldn’t be implemented in time for the 2020 election. We sued on behalf of the DNC, the DSCC, the DCCC and the Kansas Democratic Party to ensure this pro-voting law is enacted for Kansans by Election Day.
As we head into March, we have a busy calendar in court. A week from today, a federal court will hear our motion to block Arizona’s unconstitutional ballot order regime. This case follows our recent win in Florida, where the court found the current ballot order unconstitutional. In the Arizona case, our expert found that, on average, Republican candidates have enjoyed a 2.2 percentage point advantage when listed first based on a regression analysis or 2.9 percentage points based on a matching analysis. This advantage was even higher for Republicans when no incumbents were on the ballot: 5.6 percentage points according to the regression analysis, and 4.2 percentage points according to the matching analysis.
Where We’re Litigating
In early April, we will be in Michigan federal court challenging the Democratic Secretary of State’s effort to dismiss our lawsuit challenging the state’s signature matching law. Under existing law, election officials in Michigan reject absentee applications and absentee ballots if they believe the signature provided does not match the voter’s signature on file. The State has refused to develop uniform standards or procedures for reviewing signatures, thereby allowing election officials throughout the state to use arbitrary criteria. These election officials lack sufficient training to accurately compare signatures. In addition, the law does not require election officials to notify voters when their absentee applications or ballots have been rejected, nor does it provide voters with an opportunity to contest a wrongful rejection or fix an alleged mismatch.
Finally, on March 24th, the motion to dismiss our Texas ballot order lawsuit will be heard. Our expert found that, on average, Republican candidates in Texas have enjoyed a 3.7 percentage point advantage when listed first on the state’s general election ballots under the Ballot Order Statute. The advantage is even higher in down-ballot statewide races, where it averages 4.6 percentage points. And, as we know, the advantage persists even in high profile top-of-the-ballot races. Just last week, we filed our most recent ballot order case in Maine, bringing the total count to six active ballot order cases for this cycle.
Be sure to follow my Twitter to receive real time updates on these cases and several others we intend to bring to fight Republican voter suppression ahead of 2020.
February Spotlight: Journalists Focusing on Voting Rights in 2020
Now more than ever, we rely on journalists who report on voting rights and voter suppression. Slate launched a project for 2020 to focus specifically on this effort. “Who Counts?” features stories on voting rights, immigration, the 2020 census, gerrymandering and redistricting. So far, they have covered voting online, Republican lawmakers’ attempt to require a poll tax for ex-felons in Florida, and even some of our litigation wins in Arizona and Missouri. You can check out Slate’s “Who Counts?” section here.
What I’m Reading
A recent academic article prepared for the Georgetown Law Journal, “Thin and Thick Conceptions of the Nineteenth Amendment Right to Vote and Congress’s Power to Enforce It,” explored how the Nineteenth Amendment could be used by voting rights plaintiffs to challenge suppressive voting laws burdening women. The article discusses how strict state voter identification laws may disproportionately impact women. For example, “women change their names more frequently than men when they get married. As a result, women will need to obtain updated documents before voting more frequently than men, which imposes a burden on women who would like to vote.”
In Illinois, a group of high school students’ passion for voting rights inspired the state legislature to pass a new bill that will expand how students can vote in the state. Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed the law on January 22, 2020. The new law allows students to be excused from school for up to two hours to vote in any primary, general, and special election. The law will go into effect June 1, 2020.
Hasen, Richard. Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy. Yale University Press, 2020.
What Bode’s Barking About
“Tidal wave of voter suppression washes over states, DNC lawyer says.” NBC News. 2020, Feb. 3.
“Voting rights suits cause budget pain in Georgia, attorney general laments.” The Fulcrum. 2020, Jan. 28.
“On primary day, out-of-state college students largely unaware of new voting residency law.” Concord Monitor. 2020, Feb. 11.
“Florida Republicans quietly stir up more election mischief.” Sun Sentinel. 2020, Feb. 21.
Both chambers of Virginia legislature have now passed automatic voter registration. Really important election reforms happening with Dems in control of VA now
— Ari Berman (@AriBerman) February 12, 2020
BREAKING: NC Appeals Court blocks NC’s voter ID law, saying it would “disproportionately impact African American voters to their detriment” — now the second court to stop this discriminatory limit to voting access for 2020 https://t.co/ZaY7DwgCuM #ncpol pic.twitter.com/NSHWVTQR7k
— Democracy NC (@democracync) February 18, 2020
Correction, Feb. 27, 2020: This newsletter originally stated that the Michigan signature matching hearing would be in March. The hearing will be on April 8.