This piece is part of our weekly Prime series on voting rights, but it has been moved outside of the paywall while we cover COVID-19.
After rejecting a bipartisan plan from state officials to expand absentee voting for the pandemic, the Louisiana legislature approved a scaled-back version of the measure that will allow absentee voting for only a limited set of people. The new version was approved by the chambers of the legislature last week. They passed it by voting by mail, and several Republicans still voted (remotely) against it because they thought it went too far in expanding absentee voting. The original plan, hammered out by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, would have let anyone who was concerned about spreading the coronavirus — as well as those caring for children due to the virus and those who were 60 or older — to seek a mail-in ballot. The final version was far narrower, letting only those with high risk conditions, with medical orders to quarantine, who are caring for someone subject to a quarantine order or who are seeking a diagnosis for coronavirus-like symptoms to vote absentee.
Pandemic Voting Meets The 26th Amendment: Proponents of expanding vote-by-mail due to the pandemic are setting their sights on restrictions that let only older people claim the coronavirus as their reason to vote absentee. A federal lawsuit was filed Wednesday against Texas challenging its policy of letting voters over 65 vote absentee, while refusing to let voters younger than that to cite coronavirus as a reason for a mail-in-ballot. (Texas’ broader refusal to relax its absentee voting limits during the pandemic is also being litigated). The lawsuit points to the Constitution’s 26th amendment, which prohibits age-based voter discrimination against Americans 18 years and older. Six other states have similar age-based absentee voting regiments.
Here are some other developments in the coronavirus legal war over election policies:
- Disability groups teamed up with voter advocates to file a lawsuit seeking a one-week extension to Pennsylvania’s deadline for returning absentee ballots in its June’s primary.
- Virginia has agreed to relax its absentee voting witness requirement as part of a settlement with the ACLU, but now faces a bid by the state GOP to block the settlement.
- A judge rejected a lawsuit brought by a voter fraud alarmist group that challenged Nevada’s plans to hold its coming election-by-mail.
- Democrats are suing South Carolina to remove “four pillars” of restrictive absentee voting policies: its witness requirement, lack of paid postage, its ban on certain ballot assistance activities, and its requirement that ballots be received on Election Day.
Appeals Court Rules Against KS Voter Restriction Championed By Kobach: A federal appeals court Wednesday issued a long-awaited opinion backing a trial judge’s decision to strike down a Kansas proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement. The restriction was championed by then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who had vowed to go all the way to the Supreme Court to defend it. The state, which has backed away from some of Kobach’s other aggressive election policies, has not yet said whether it will appeal the decision.
MO GOP Has Another Go At Watering Down Voter Approved Redistricting Reform: The pandemic has not stopped Missouri Republicans’ efforts to reverse anti-gerrymandering reforms that were approved by voters in 2018. The legislature is considering a measure similar to one it failed to pass last year that would undo key measures in the “Clean Missouri” constitutional amendment. If the measure, already approved by the state Senate, passes the Missouri House by May 15 (the deadline for legislative activity) it will then need to be approved by voters in the fall to become law.
Appeals Court Revives FL Policy That Will List GOP First On 2o2o Ballot: A federal appeals court reinstated a Florida law that’s allowed the placement of GOP candidates above Democratic ones in the last several elections. A district judge, in a case brought by Democrats, had previously blocked Florida’s practice of listing candidates of the party that won the last governor’s race first on the ballot. Holding the top spot on ballots has earned Florida Republicans up to an extra five point boost, one expert in the case testified.