Election law roundup, April 23

Highlights from N.C. and around the country this week

Voting access laws will remain in the headlines as long as legislatures (and Congress) are in session. 

Congressional Democrats are pushing H.R.1/S.1, the “For the People Act,” and ginning up support for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act (soon to be reintroduced). As the left-leaning Brennan Center reminds us, legislatures in 47 states are considering some 361 bills that would “restrict” access to the polls (in the center’s view) or enhance voter integrity (as bill sponsors see it). 

In a different set of 47 states, Brennan says more than 840 laws that would expand voter access (or undermine voter integrity?) are up for grabs.

With this in mind, I’m shifting the focus of Friday’s weekly entry to legislative action on voter access. Some weeks, I’ll do a roundup: What happened, what’s pending, and what’s headed to (or in) court. Other entries will dive deeper into the arguments about specific bills and what legal experts and advocates say, Still others will offer a bit of everything.

I’ll put these Friday newsletters behind the paywall, so after today, if you want to get the voting access entries first, you’ll need to become a paid subscriber. Value added!!

Please don’t expect a comprehensive view of everything that’s going on in every legislative committee or chamber. I’ll pick the bills and issues I find most compelling, and if I miss something one week, I’ll do my best to catch up soon. 

Consider this a “bleg” for leads, references, and potential scoops! 

Let’s get going.

N.C. advocates take the stage in Washington

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson made his first appearance on a national stage Thursday during a House Judiciary Committee meeting. The hearing laid the groundwork for that new version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act; if it resembles the 2019 version, then the bill would reinstate and beef up Section 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the provision requiring states to get “pre-clearance” from the U.S. Department of Justice before changing some election laws. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down that provision in 2013, saying it was based on formulas from 1964 that Congress should update. The new bill would do that.

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Robinson, a Republican, first-time elected official, and the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, was paired with the Rev. William Barber, a veteran civil rights activist in the state and continual irritant to conservative Republicans. (Read Robinson’s opening statement here; Barber’s testimony here.)

Not surprisingly, each side largely talked past the other. A great(?) drinking game: One team has the Democrats’ mentions of “voter suppression”; the other gets Republican references to “voter integrity.” Who’d pass out first?

Earlier this week, Robinson quashed rumors he’d seek the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2022. The announcement fueled speculation that he’ll run for governor in 2024, most likely against sitting Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein.

Robinson’s appearance Thursday in Washington put progressives and conservatives on notice. He’s flying closer to the sun; how well will he handle the heat?

Voter ID trial

While N.C. voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 requiring voter ID at polling places, the legislation setting rules for the ID documents hasn’t taken effect. It faces challenges in federal and state court.

The state lawsuit is wrapping up its second week. If interested, you can watch the proceedings on the Wake County Superior Court’s YouTube page, which includes videos of all the sessions.

I’ve stayed away from the back-and-forth, because whatever the three-judge panel hearing the lawsuit decides, their decision will be appealed to the N.C. Supreme Court. There’s federal litigation, too.

When the trial court’s opinion comes out, I’ll look into it.

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Montana law signed, heads to court

Speaking of lawsuits, within hours of Montana Gov. Greg Gianforto signing into law two election bills, the inescapable Democrat super-lawyer Marc Elias went to court

One law would end early voter registration at noon the day before an election, reversing a referendum voters passed in 2004 allowing same-day registration until 5 p.m. Election Day. Voters defeated a 2014 ballot measure that would have moved the registration deadline to the Friday before Election Day. 

The other law would require some voters to present two forms of ID at the polls rather than one.

Republicans and conservatives have come up with a catchphrase to describe their moves to enhance election integrity: Make it easier to vote and harder to cheat. Sounds unobjectionable, indeed a worthwhile goal. 

Unless I’m missing something, though, Montana’s voter registration law fails the first test. When introducing the bill, state Rep. Sharon Greef said, “To ensure good, clean elections, election officials should concentrate on one thing the day of the election and that is the election. We don't want frustrated voters waiting in a long line while folks ahead of them are registering at the last minute.”

News reports cited long lines at some polling sites last November. The reports also said the lines were longer than usual because poll workers were instructed to sanitize voting stations to prevent the spread of COVID — a problem that shouldn’t linger through 2022, especially since researchers now say extensive cleaning protocols weren’t necessary. 

Also, voters enacted and expected Election Day voting registration. Lawmakers took that away. 

The new ID law isn’t as worrisome. If I’m reading it correctly, voters who lack a driver’s license, state-issued photo ID, or Social Security number have to provide more documents than before when they arrive at the polls. Sounds reasonable.

I have no idea if the Democrat-filed lawsuits will prevail. That said, when state officials end a longstanding privilege — especially one voters fought for — officials better offer compelling evidence the inconvenience is justified.

Bring me dead flowers …

A lot of Hollywood birthdays today: Lee Majors; Blair Brown; Joyce DeWitt; Michael Moore; Valerie Bertinelli; George Lopez; Melina Kanakaredes; John Cena; John Oliver. 

But the big anniversary — The Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” turns 50. Who’d have thunk Mick, Mick, Keef, Charlie, and Bill would still be around to see it? 

The Waybacks chose to play “Sticky Fingers” for their second Hillside Album Hour at Merlefest in 2009. The band ran out of time and didn’t finish the album within the hour they had, but they ended with a bang: “Dead Flowers,” featuring John Cowan lead vocals, Rob Ickes dobro, and Sam Bush lead guitar. Enjoy!