Programming Note: The Voting Rights Roundup will be taking a break the week of July 31 but will return the following week.
● Louisiana: Louisiana Republicans have narrowly failed to override any of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ vetoes in the legislature’s first-ever override session since the adoption of Louisiana’s current constitution in 1974. Republicans had been trying to undo Edwards’ vetoes of bills addressing several topics, including two that would have added voter ID requirements for absentee voting and banned private grants from philanthropic groups seeking to remedy the underfunding of election administration.
Thanks in large part to their existing gerrymanders, Republicans nominally hold a veto-proof majority in the state Senate and are just two seats shy of the two-thirds mark in the state House, where a trio of independent members hold the balance of power.
However, not only did GOP leaders fail to convince a sufficient number of Democrats or independents in the House to side with them, they were unable to even get their whole caucus to show up to override the vetoes in the upper chamber. (Overrides in Louisiana require a two-thirds vote of all members, not just those present.)
The failure of these override attempts is a small yet encouraging sign that Republicans might not have the votes to override Edwards’ likely vetoes of their forthcoming congressional and legislative maps, which are all but certain to be partisan gerrymanders that favor the GOP, as the current maps are. Given the higher stakes involved, however, the fate of any redistricting vetoes is very much an open question.
● Colorado: Colorado’s independent congressional redistricting commission has filed a petition asking the state Supreme Court to extend the Sept. 1 deadline for passing a final map to Oct. 28 in light of the Census Bureau’s delayed release of the data needed to draw new districts, which isn’t expected until around Aug. 16.
● Maine: Maine’s Supreme Court has extended the date for mapmakers to draw new congressional and legislative districts after the delayed release of census data made meeting the state constitution’s June 11 deadline impossible. The state’s advisory redistricting commission will now have 45 days after the data comes out to propose maps to legislators, who will then have 10 days to vote on them, putting those dates in late September and early October, respectively.
● New Jersey: The two parties on New Jersey’s bipartisan congressional redistricting commission have failed to agree on a tie-breaking member for the first time since the commission first came into being three decades ago, meaning that the state Supreme Court will now have to make the decision for them. The court has asked commission members to reconsider, but unless they reach a last-minute agreement on a consensus choice, the high court will have to pick one of the two candidates nominated by the parties (both former judges) by Aug. 10.
This impasse raises the winner-take-all stakes of New Jersey’s flawed approach, which has typically produced incumbent-protection gerrymanders. Sometimes the outcomes have been even more skewed: A decade ago, the tie-breaker (a former state attorney general who served under a Republican governor) chose a congressional map submitted by the GOP that amounted to a partisan gerrymander favoring Republicans.
There’s no telling what sort of pick the Supreme Court might make: It has three Democratic appointees, three Republican appointees, and an independent appointed by former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a moderate Republican. That Whitman appointee, Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, is retiring, which means Democratic appointees will soon become a majority on the bench, but that won’t happen until September at the earliest.
Voting Access Expansions
● Massachusetts: Massachusetts’ Democratic-run legislature has passed a bill to extend pandemic-era voting access measures through mid-December so that they’ll remain in place for upcoming local elections (such as Boston’s mayoral contest) while lawmakers decide whether to make them permanent. The provisions in question include expanded early voting and no-excuse mail voting.
Meanwhile, state Senate Democrats passed a separate bill in a committee that would permanently adopt those reforms along with same-day voter registration. That bill also aims to improve voting access for incarcerated people who still retain their voting rights, along with some other smaller measures.
● New York: Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed several voting and election reform bills, including one bill that will permanently allow voters to request absentee ballots online. Another measure takes steps to strengthen the existing process allowing absentee ballots to count so long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received up to a few days later.
● Oregon: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has signed a Democratic-backed bill that will allow mail ballots to count as long as they are postmarked by Election Day and received up to a week later. Ballots that are missing a clear postmark will be presumed to have been mailed by Election Day. Under the previous law, ballots had to be received by Election Day in order to count.
● Indiana: The conservative-dominated 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has unanimously upheld a lower court decision that blocked much of a voter purge law passed by Indiana Republicans last year—the second straight time such a law has been barred by the courts.
The GOP’s latest effort came about after a 2019 decision from the 7th Circuit that also sustained a ruling barring Republicans’ previous attempt to pass a similar voter purge measure two years earlier. The result this time was little different: The appeals court held that the new law “impermissibly allows Indiana to cancel a voter’s registration without either direct communication from the voter or compliance with [federal law].”
The newly blocked legislation had withdrawn the state from the now-defunct Interstate Crosscheck system championed by Republicans such as former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, which multiple federal courts had blocked Indiana from using over its security flaws and inaccuracy. The GOP’s replacement law, however, created a new system that was susceptible to the same shoddy design flaws that saw Crosscheck yield more than 100 false positives for every improper duplicate registration it found.
Republicans have not yet said whether they will appeal further.
● Ohio: In passing a new law banning private charities from making donations to help underfunded election administrators, Ohio Republicans went one step further by effectively banning election officials from almost any type of collaborations with outside groups to try to increase voter turnout. The provision is sweeping in its scope:
“No public official that is responsible for administering or conducting an election in this state shall collaborate with, or accept or expend any money from, a nongovernmental person or entity for any costs or activities related to voter registration, voter education, voter identification, get-out-the-vote, absent voting, election official recruitment or training, or any other election-related purpose.”
Although there are limited exceptions, such as using privately owned buildings like churches as polling places, this language would appear to prohibit programs like one promoted by Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose that distributed voter registration forms via barber shops and other venues.
LaRose contends that such programs are still allowed and says he’ll continue them, but he risks a lawsuit to compel him to stop. But regardless of what LaRose does, the new law gives Republicans—and Ohio’s conservative-controlled courts—yet another tool to prevent Democratic election officials from encouraging voter turnout in ways the GOP opposes.