Voting Rights Roundup: Iowa GOP wants absentee voters to provide PIN that no one knows

Voting Rights Roundup: Iowa GOP wants absentee voters to provide PIN that no one knows
Shutterstock/ fizkes


 Iowa: With no advance notice, Republican legislators in Iowa passed a budget bill just before adjourning that included an expansion of the state's voter ID requirementviolating a compromise that the GOP had reached with Democrats to remove proposed voting restrictions from the final bill. The new bill adds an ID requirement for voters who go to their county government offices to vote early in-person.

The bill also requires absentee ballot applications to include the voter's "voter ID PIN," a state-issued four-digit number that few voters are aware of. Under current law, county officials can verify voter identities using other information on their applications or the state's registration database, but this bill would disallow that. Instead, officials would have to contact the voter individually to confirm their identity, which could cause significant delays in processing absentee requests and lead to voters not receiving their ballots in time to vote by mail.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has not indicated whether she will sign the budget into law, but if she were to veto it, Republicans likely lack the votes to override her. However, in anticipation of the bill becoming law, prominent Democratic voting rights lawyer Marc Elias promised to sue.


 District of Columbia: On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced that the full U.S. House will vote on granting statehood to Washington, D.C. on June 26. With a majority of House members already in support, Washington, D.C.’s statehood is expected to soon pass a chamber of Congress for the first time in U.S. history.

While Senate Republicans have vowed to block statehood for Washington, D.C. so long as they control the chamber, Senate Democrats are increasingly unified in support. In the weeks following George Floyd’s death at the hands of the Minneapolis police that sparked the wave of protests nationally, four Democrats—Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, Montana's Jon Tester, and Nevada’s Jacky Rosen—have all signed on as co-sponsors. As shown on this map, these new additions mean that 40 senators have now signed on, while just seven Democratic holdouts remain.

If Democrats win back the Senate in November, statehood supporters come within striking distance of a majority, especially since Democratic candidates who’ve come out in support of statehood—such as Montana’s Gov. Steve Bullock—could flip Republican-held seats. If Democrats eliminate the filibuster, it would only take a simple majority vote to admit Washington, D.C. as a state, and if statehood-supporter Joe Biden wins the White House and his vice president breaks a tie in favor, statehood would only need 10 more Senate votes to pass.


 Maine: Republicans have submitted 72,000 signatures in their attempt to put a veto referendum on the ballot to block a law that extends instant-runoff voting to presidential elections (it would remain in use for Congress in November regardless). If approximately 63,000 of these signatures are determined valid within the next 30 days, instant-runoff voting will be automatically suspended for November's presidential election regardless of whether voters opt to keep the law at the ballot box this fall.

However, Republicans may yet fail in their quest to prevent instant-runoff voting from being used this year depending on the outcome of a lawsuit that instant-runoff supporters filed in state court earlier this spring. That lawsuit argues that it's too late for Republicans to use the veto referendum process instead of attempting to repeal the statute through a regular ballot initiative, the latter of which wouldn't suspend the law for November even if it qualified for the ballot.

 Massachusetts: Supporters of instant-runoff voting have submitted 25,000 additional signatures to qualify for November's ballot. In the likely event that at least 13,000 of them are valid, voters would get a chance to weigh in on whether to adopt instant-runoff voting for congressional and state offices, which would make Massachusetts the second state to adopt this electoral reform after Maine voters passed it through a 2016 ballot initiative.

 San Francisco, CA: San Francisco's Board of Supervisors has unanimously passed an amendment to the city's charter out of committee that would lower the voting age in city elections to 16. A majority of board members have already signaled their support, and once it clears a vote by the full board, it would appear on the November ballot. San Francisco voters narrowly rejected a similar proposal in 2016 by a 52-48 margin.


 Delaware: Delaware officials have decided to abandon the use of an online voting system for absentee voters that the state had implemented for its July 7 presidential primary. Delaware had adopted the system in part to make it easier for disabled voters who can't easily vote by mail to be able to cast their ballots while maintaining their right to secrecy, but officials reversed course in the face of widespread opposition by computer security experts, who have broadly warned that no internet-based voting system is secure.

Although online voting is still novel in the U.S., interest has grown in the idea in recent years, and West Virginia implemented it for military and overseas voters in 2018. Subsequently, other states have begun considering such a system for voters with disabilities. However, Delaware is just the latest in a list of jurisdictions—including West Virginia—that have had second thoughts this year after hearing from security experts.


 Florida: The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to expedite Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' appeal of last month's district court ruling that struck down the GOP's poll tax on people who have served their felony sentences but owe court fines or fees, with oral arguments scheduled to begin the week of Aug. 10. DeSantis also asked the 11th Circuit, which now has a majority of GOP appointees, to hear the appeal "en banc" where all judges on the circuit participate, but the court has not addressed that request yet.

 Iowa: Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds promised this week to issue an executive order ending lifetime felony disenfranchisement in Iowa for people who have served their sentences after the Republican-run state Senate refused to pass a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights before they adjourned this month. Reynolds, however, declined to outline the specifics of what her order will entail, and given her track record on this issue, it's uncertain how extensive such an order might be, or even when it might be issued.

Reynolds and the state legislature passed a modern-day poll tax earlier this month, which Senate Republicans had sought as a precondition before they'd approve the rights restoration amendment. But even though the poll tax became law, the Senate didn't follow through on passing the amendment.

The poll tax, at least, will not take effect because it was contingent on the amendment itself becoming law, but it would have placed serious burdens on those seeking to have their voting rights restored. In particular, it would have maintained the ban on voting for people who have served their sentences but owe court-ordered restitution to victims. It also would have preserved the lifetime ban for those convicted of the most serious offenses, who would have still required the governor's individual approval to vote again.

The Iowa GOP's poor track record on the issue goes back years. Iowa's last two Democratic governors, Tom Vilsack and Chet Edwards, had both used executive orders to automatically restore voting rights upon the completion of sentences, but former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad rescinded that order upon taking office in 2011. After succeeding Branstad in 2017, Reynolds refused to issue her own order restoring voting rights despite pressure from activists and obstinacy from the Senate that made a legislative fix impossible to pass.


 Nebraska: Due to their inability to gather voter signatures as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, redistricting reformers have reportedly given up on trying to put a constitutional amendment on the Nebraska ballot this November to create a bipartisan redistricting commission. The amendment would have created a nine-member commission of three Democrats, three Republicans, and three unaffiliated members chosen by legislators. Commissioners would have been tasked with drawing congressional and legislative districts using several nonpartisan criteria.

The failure to reform the redistricting process ensures that Republican legislators will have a large say in the process next year just as they did after 2010. However, it is unclear if Republicans will be able to gerrymander the lines once again because Nebraska has a strong legislative filibuster that would take a two-thirds supermajority to overcome. Republicans were able to surpass that threshold after 2010 but currently couldn't attain without Democratic votes.

Republicans could change the rules to curtail the filibuster with a simple majority and thus be assured of having full control over redistricting. However, given that they have not done so in recent years despite Democratic filibusters that have repeatedly defeated proposals like voter ID, it's unclear if the GOP will be able to muster the votes to change the rules next year.

 New Jersey: Democratic officials in New Jersey have agreed to settle a federal lawsuit over the state's signature-matching process for mail ballots. The settlement will have the state agree not to reject ballots for problems with a voter's signature either missing or not matching the one on file without notifying the voter and giving them a chance to correct the problem.

Giving voters the opportunity to fix signature problems took on heightened importance after local elections in a number of municipalities in May saw nearly 10% of ballots statewide rejected and not counted—a far higher rate than is typical—with the most common reasons involving signature problems. That election was the first in which the state chose to mail every voter a ballot, something New Jersey plans to do again for its July 7 primary.

 North Dakota: A federal district court has declined to allow supporters of a ballot initiative to reform elections to gather voter signatures electronically. With the July 6 deadline to submit signatures fast approaching, this ruling could defeat the ballot effort if it isn't overturned.

The initiative in question would amend North Dakota's constitution to transfer control over redistricting from the Republican-dominated legislature to the state's bipartisan Ethics Commission. It would also replace the existing electoral system with a primary where the top four finishers would advance to an instant-runoff general election.

 Ohio: Supporters of a ballot initiative to expand voting access have announced they're calling it quits for 2020 after a 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that blocked initiative supporters from gathering signatures electronically to make it onto November's ballot. Although backers of a separate marijuana decriminalization effort are appealing to the Supreme Court in an effort to be able to gather signatures electronically, their odds of success appear low, and voting reformers aren't joining the appeal.

The voting access measure would have enacted automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, a guaranteed number of early voting days, a ban on tightening Ohio's voter ID law to exclude non-photo IDs, and a requirement to carry out routine audits of election results. Its failure makes Ohio the third of three states, after Missouri and Arizona, where the pandemic has prevented those planning a major expansion of voting access from gathering the necessary signatures to appear on the ballot.

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