Election law roundup, May 21

Action in Kentucky and Ohio, but not in N.C.

An encouraging story of bipartisan harmony from Kentucky in ... The American Prospect. The Republican-heavy Bluegrass State legislature enacted election reforms that embraced some of the changes COVID-19 made necessary during last year’s election season.

Before the pandemic, Kentucky’s election laws were downright retrograde. No early voting. Getting absentee ballots was tough. In 2016, 96% of votes were cast on Election Day — impossible to imagine during the pandemic.

Prospect writers Miles Rapaport and Cecily Hines say Democrat Gov. Andrew Beshear and Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams, who worked (with legislative backing) last year to adopt emergency measures to expand absentee and other nontraditional forms of voting, continued cooperating.

The result? A law that passed 91-3 in the House and 31-3 in the Senate. Highlights include three days of in-person, no-excuse early voting at voting centers, so people can vote outside their precincts. An online portal to request absentee ballots (though you still have to jump through some hoops to get a mail ballot). A process for voters to “cure” absentee ballots if election officials discover problems.

The law also outlaws ballot harvesting and makes it easier for the state to remove nonresidents from voter rolls. 

The ACLU and NAACP weren’t wild about the law, but they didn’t openly oppose it, either.

The lesson? Kentucky voters appreciated new voting options and embraced them — a mere 22% of ballots were cast in person on Election Day. They wanted to keep some of those measures in place.

Voting should be easier and more secure. Let’s see this success replicated.

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It’s not as sunny in Columbus

The Ohio legislature held its first hearings on House Bill 294, the Ohio Election Modernization and Security Act. Among other changes, the bill would make voter registration automatic for any Ohioan getting a driver’s license or state ID unless the resident says no; enable same-day registration and voter-record updates; set up an online portal for requesting absentee ballots; make it easier for disabled voters to cast ballots in person; and let each county elections board provide as many as three drop boxes during the final 10 days of the election, monitored 24/7, to let voters submit absentee ballots.

It also would shorten early voting by one day and move the limit for requesting an absentee ballot from three days before an election to 10 days.

While the new voter registration options have gotten widespread praise, some of the usual suspects claim the bill amounts to voter suppression. They say drop boxes were more widely used and for longer periods in 2020. Bill sponsors counter that the boxes were added by election officials to make it safer to vote during the pandemic. And, if I’m reading the bill correctly, drop boxes weren’t around at all before 2020, so this law would actually make absentee voting easier than it was in 2019 and before.

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The drop box complaints don’t hold water. The bill gives the secretary of state, who oversees elections, the power to modify voting procedures during statewide emergencies, as that official did last year without any statutory authority. Putting that flexibility in the law is better than leaving the responsibility for changing the rules unsettled.

Local election officials back the bill and Secretary of State Frank LaRose is working with lawmakers as the bill advances.

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  • The Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro has an excellent takedown of the charges of voter suppression in the recently passed Georgia election law.

  • In Florida (man … ) and Texas, bills are moving that would require voters to register separately before they could vote in federal and state elections. The bills are trying to pre-empt some of the loopy and probably unconstitutional overreach in H.R.1/S.1 (“For the People,” which I’ve covered extensively). But the federal bill hasn’t passed, it’s unlikely to pass, and if it does it’s unlikely to survive court challenges. That said, even if H.R.1/S.1 never becomes law, the states would require dual registration. SMH.

  • In a footnote Wednesday, I mentioned the Cooper v. Berger lawsuit the governor filed late last years challenging the constitutionality of the state Rules Review Commission. Not only hasn’t the lawsuit gone forward, a spokeswoman for state Senate leader Phil Berger also told me the panel of judges who’ll handle it hasn’t even been picked. 

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So, Pete Townshend turned 76 this week …

And one of his most compelling recent performances was on The Tonight Show in 2019, playing a plastic ukulele with Daltrey, Fallon, The Roots, and a bunch of classroom instruments. YEEEEEAAAHHH. Click here for the video link.