In Arizona, Republicans have passed a constitutional amendment in a state House committee that would raise the threshold needed for initiatives to be approved from a simple majority to 60%. GOP state senators passed another amendment along party lines that adds a two-thirds supermajority requirement for tax increases. These proposals come in the wake of successful recent efforts by voters to use initiatives to increase the minimum wage and raise income taxes on the rich to fund public education, both of which would have failed to pass had the supermajority requirements been in effect.
One obvious GOP target is a separate effort to enact automatic and same-day voter registration that sought to get on the ballot last year but was unable to gather sufficient signatures during the pandemic thanks to adverse rulings by conservative judges, but supporters could try again soon. Proponents of all initiatives, however, still have a chance to pass their measures with a simple majority next year, since the GOP’s amendments would first have to be approved by voters in November of 2022 before they could take effect in subsequent elections.
In Florida, meanwhile, Republicans have introduced and fast-tracked a constitutional amendment that would raise the threshold needed for voters to approve ballot initiatives from the current three-fifths to two-thirds instead. This proposal comes after the GOP raised the threshold for initiatives from a simple majority back in 2006, and it follows successful efforts to increase the minimum wage last year and one that sought to restore voting rights to more than 1 million people in 2018, both of which would have failed had the two-thirds requirement been in effect.
Republicans won the three-fifths supermajorities needed to put amendments on the ballot without Democratic support in 2020, so it seems likely that this will appear on the ballot next year.
Lastly, in conservative-dominated Missouri, Republicans have passed multiple constitutional amendments in a state House committee that would require either 60% or two-thirds voter support for ballot initiatives to pass instead of a simple majority. The various proposals would also increase the number of voter signatures required to get onto the ballot, from 8% of all voters in six of the state’s eight congressional districts to 10% or 15% of voters in every district. Since Democrats and Black voters are heavily concentrated in just two of those eight districts, this geographic distribution requirement would make it even harder for progressives to put measures on the ballot.
Another proposal would require approval by the heavily Republican state legislature before an initiative could even appear on the ballot, while a further measure would bar judges from altering the ballot summary text for ballot measures.
These efforts follow in the wake of successful initiatives to reform legislative redistricting and impose new ethics restrictions on state legislators in 2018. Republicans in fact already repealed that measure last year with an amendment of their own, aided by a deceptive ballot summary that was partially rewritten by a judge to more accurately reflect what it would do. Another 2018 initiative raised the minimum wage, similar to measures in both Florida and Arizona.
As in the other two states, supporters of using ballot initiatives for progressive policies or democracy reforms in Missouri would still have the 2022 cycle to attempt initiatives under the existing requirements, since the GOP’s proposals themselves would have to be approved by voters next year before they could take effect for future election cycles. After that, however, it could become almost impossible to fight back at the ballot box if Republicans’ new plans are successful.
● Montana: State House Republicans have given initial approval to a constitutional amendment that would effectively gerrymander the Montana Supreme Court by switching from nonpartisan statewide elections to elections using districts drawn by GOP legislators. If Republicans in both chambers pass the amendment, it would appear on the 2022 ballot, and if it takes effect, the party would be favored to gain a majority on the court.
● Pennsylvania: Republicans have failed to pass a constitutional amendment that would effectively gerrymander Pennsylvania’s appellate courts in time for it to appear on the May primary ballot, but the measure could still go before voters in November. Republicans had passed the amendment in state House committee earlier this year, and if enacted, it would switch Pennsylvania from using statewide elections to using districts drawn by lawmakers.
This proposal to change the way judges are elected comes as retaliation for the state Supreme Court’s Democratic majority striking down the GOP’s congressional gerrymander in 2018 and protecting voting rights in 2020.
Voting Access Expansions
● California: California’s Democratic-run state legislature has passed a bill that would automatically mail a ballot to every active registered voter for elections this year, which could include a possible recall election targeting Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. California has been in the process of transitioning to universal mail voting over the last several years, a process Democrats accelerated by sending mail ballots to all voters in 2020 due to the pandemic.
● Iowa: Legislators in Iowa’s Republican-run state House have passed a constitutional amendment in a subcommittee that would codify Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ 2020 executive order that automatically restores voting rights to people with felony convictions who have completely served their sentences, with the exception of those convicted of homicide offenses. The House overwhelmingly passed a similar amendment in 2019, but GOP state senators refused to follow suit.
● New Mexico: State House Democrats passed a bill along party lines to end felony disenfranchisement for people on parole or probation. If their counterparts in the Senate and Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also approve the bill, only people who are currently incarcerated for a felony conviction would remain unable to vote.
● New York: Democratic state senators in New York are set to consider a bill that would automatically restore voting rights to people with felony convictions upon release from prison. Current state law disenfranchises voters who are on parole, but Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order in 2019 that automatically restored voting rights upon release from prison for people convicted of certain crimes. However, that order still left thousands of parolees convicted of other crimes disenfranchised, and it could be rescinded by a future governor.
● Virginia: Democratic lawmakers have passed a state-level equivalent of the federal Voting Rights Act, sending the bill to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who is likely to sign it into law. The bill would ban any voting rules that discriminate against voters based on race or language group. It would also require localities seeking to implement voting changes that affect protected racial or language groups to submit the proposed changes for public comment for a period of at least 30 days or seek the state attorney general’s approval to make alterations on shorter notice.
Separately, Democrats have sent another bill to Northam that would move all municipal elections that are held in the spring to November, when turnout is typically much higher. This measure is intended to boost participation in local elections and could also save money by reducing the total number of elections.
Lastly, Democrats in a state House subcommittee have rejected a bill passed with bipartisan support in the state Senate that would have required officials to assign early and absentee votes to each voter’s geographic precinct, which is important for conducting accurate analysis of election results. In Virginia, absentee votes are currently only recorded at the county level, which means that determining how specific areas or districts within a jurisdiction voted becomes difficult-to-impossible to do with accuracy.
● Arizona: Republican state senators failed to pass a bill that would have purged approximately 200,000 voters from the state’s permanent early voting list after a single GOP senator, Paul Boyer, sided with Democrats to block the measure. Had this bill become law, voters on the list, which is very popular in Arizona, would have been removed if they failed to vote in two consecutive elections.
● Florida: Republicans have passed a bill along party lines in a state Senate committee that would end the current system of letting voters request absentee ballots for two full election cycles with a single application, instead requiring voters to request a new ballot every cycle. This bill would retroactively cancel requests from 2020 that were valid for 2022 as well, risking voter confusion for a large number of Floridians who may be expecting an absentee ballot to arrive next year.
Mail voting in Florida has historically been favored by elderly Republican-leaning voters, and it was GOP lawmakers who initially expanded it to allow absentee ballot requests for multiple cycles with a single application. However, after 2.1 million Democrats voted by mail in 2020 compared to just 1.5 million Republicans, the GOP appears to be targeting mail voting as a way to make it harder for Democrats to vote, though there’s no guarantee that least year’s trends will continue once the pandemic is over.
● Georgia: Georgia Republicans have advanced a number of new voting restrictions this week, including bills passed in a state Senate subcommittee that would end no-excuse absentee voting for voters under age 75; require voter ID for absentee voting; restrict the use of mobile early voting buses; and give the GOP-run secretary of state’s office more power to take over the operations of county election offices. State House Republicans also held a hearing with almost no advance notice almost immediately after introducing a sweeping bill that would adopt many more voting restrictions, including measures to:
- Require voter ID for absentee voting;
- Limit the availability of absentee ballot drop boxes;
- Disqualify votes cast in the wrong precinct but in the right county;
- Outright ban Sunday early voting, which is disproportionately used by Black voters and churches via “souls to the polls” voter drives after Sunday services;
- Cut the number of remaining early voting hours of operation under the guise of standardization across counties;
- Shorten the absentee voting period by barring ballots from being sent out more than four weeks before Election Day;
- Ban election officials from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters after GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger did so in the 2020 primary; and
- Prohibit private organizations from donating funds to help officials administer elections after multiple groups donated tens of millions to do so in 2020.
Republicans have been considering a number of voting restrictions after losing high-profile elections in Georgia in the 2020 election cycle, but thanks to their earlier victory in the 2018 election for governor that was itself tainted by voter suppression, they have the ability to pass these restrictions into law.
● Indiana: Republicans have passed a bill in a state Senate committee that would strip the governor and state Election Commission of the power to implement emergency election changes after the election commissioners and GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb used their power to temporarily expand voting access last year. Instead, the bill would transfer that power to the heavily Republican state legislature.
● Iowa: Republican legislators have passed bills in committee in both legislative chambers that would implement several voting restrictions. The identical bills (here and here) would:
- Reduce the period for early and mail voting from 29 days to 18;
- Limit counties to one mail ballot drop box regardless of population size;
- Remove counties’ ability to set up satellite early voting locations and instead require voters to request them;
- Bar counties from sending absentee ballot request forms to voters, even if voters ask for one, meaning those who lack access to transportation or a printer could have difficulty obtaining an application;
- Ban third parties from collecting and submitting mail ballots on a voter’s behalf; and
- Prevent political parties and other get-out-the-vote groups from pre-filling any portion of absentee ballot request forms on behalf of voters, something Republicans banned county officials from doing last year.
These provisions are a direct response to attempts by officials in multiple large Democratic-leaning counties to mail absentee ballot application forms last year to all voters with partially pre-filled information. As noted just above, Republicans last year clamped down on pre-filling applications but now seek to extend that ban more widely. A separate GOP measure in 2020 also prohibited county officials from using the state’s voter database to fill in missing information on absentee ballot applications such as the PIN for a voter’s ID, which few voters know, thereby requiring officials to waste time contacting voters.
● Kansas: Republican legislators have introduced a bill that would make it a felony for a third party, other than a family member or caregiver, to collect and submit an absentee ballot on behalf of another voter. Republicans have pushed for similar voting restrictions in several states following the surge in Democrats voting by mail in 2020, even though Republican campaigns had previously used this practice to help their voters cast their ballots.
● North Dakota: Republican legislators have withdrawn a proposed bill that would have required voters to be a resident of their jurisdiction for a full year in order to be eligible to vote, leaving the current 30 day residency requirement in place. Had this bill gone into effect, it could have disenfranchised college students, active-duty military members, and even new residents who intend to remain in the state long-term.
● Kentucky: Republican lawmakers, with the backing of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have introduced a bill that would require the governor to fill future U.S. Senate vacancies with an appointee from the same party as the departing senator. Currently, Kentucky’s governor is Democrat Andy Beshear while both of its senators are Republicans, meaning this bill would prevent Beshear from replacing either McConnell or fellow Sen. Rand Paul with a Democrat if either were to leave office. Republicans easily hold enough seats to override a potential veto by Beshear.
The bill would allow the party committee of the departing lawmaker to send a list of three names to the governor, who would be required to pick a replacement from that list.
Ever since Beshear’s narrow 2019 win, Kentucky Republicans have advanced a series of moves to strip him of his executive power, and this proposal is part of the same partisan effort to constrain Beshear’s authority. However, despite the GOP’s self-interested motives, the proposed system is already used in many states for legislative vacancies and a handful of states for Senate vacancies and better ensures the will of voters is respected.