Key battleground states set to change election laws before 24
Changes to election laws after a midterm or presidential contest are not uncommon. But the process has become more contentious — and contentious — in recent years, presaging tense battles. In particular, several states where one party holds the governorship and both houses of the state legislature are seriously considering changes. Despite single-party control, these states include presidential battlegrounds where rule changes could impact tight competition.
Red states – some closer than others – head for change
In Georgia, the push to change the state’s runoff system comes after two consecutive rounds of tight Senate runoffs that have resulted in notable Republican losses. Under state law, an election ends four weeks later when no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote.
Better Ballot Georgia, a nonpartisan group that advocates replacing the system with instant voting, is lobbying the legislature to pass the reform. Snap polls would allow voters to rank their favorite candidates up front rather than returning to the polls. The group also launched a digital advertising campaign to push for change.
“We’re suffering from election fatigue on a level that I don’t know about,” said Scot Turner, a former Republican state lawmaker involved in the effort. “If we could organize our elections in November at a lower cost with a higher turnout, I think there is a real message there.”
The call to change the current system has some notable reminders. Earlier this month, Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger called on the General Assembly to end the runoff general election. “Nobody wants to deal with politics in the middle of their family vacation,” he said in a statement.
Raffensperger floated a few ideas: instant runoff, or lowering the threshold needed to avoid runoff by 50-45%. Either decision would need the support of lawmakers and the governor.
The latest push comes after the implementation of SB 202, a state election law that Republicans passed last year that brought myriad changes, including shortening the runoff period from nine weeks to four. .
But even with one of the state’s top Republicans calling for a change to the runoff system — Republican Gov. Brian Kemp did not express a preference — there might not be enough support. Turner said he’s not sure if the legislature is ready to embrace the concept statewide, and that it may be better suited for the downside election at this time. Earlier this year, a bill allowing municipalities to opt for instant voting in the second round. And Democratic state Rep. Jasmine Clark has proposed a bill for the next session that, in part, calls for a six-week runoff. She said in an interview that she sees it as an interim solution while the legislature decides what to do to reform the current system.
Georgia isn’t the only Republican-led state considering electoral reforms. Ohio is the closest to changing the law with a bill that would require voters to show photo ID at the polls. Voters can now present other forms of identification, such as utility bills or bank statements. The measure would also limit the number of days to request and return an absentee ballot, as well as remove in-person early voting on the Monday before an election.
The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the bill, but it is still awaiting action from Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who has not indicated whether he will sign or veto the measure. But he has already drawn criticism from Democrats, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who said the bill “would infringe the fundamental right to vote”. Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic Party lawyer, said he would sue Ohio if the bill is signed.
Blue State Trifectas
Democrats are pursuing their own changes to election laws in states where they now control all the levers of government. This includes Minnesota and Michigan – two swing states where Democrats took full control in November, as well as the re-election of their Democratic secretaries of state.
It gives top election officials in both states a chance to push for the reforms they have long wanted, Minnesota’s Steve Simon and Michigan’s Jocelyn Benson said in separate interviews.
“I think the voters have really given us a mandate to continue to be a leader in democracy in Minnesota,” Simon said. “This is not a case of voters not understanding what the candidates were talking about.”
But that may not result in sweeping procedural changes in either state. Minnesota and Michigan already have fairly sweeping voter access laws that Democrats elsewhere would otherwise seek to pass. In particular, Michigan voters approved recent state constitutional amendments that codified early voting in 2022 and mail-in voting in 2018.
Benson said in an interview that his biggest priority for the coming year is to find ways to protect “the people in elections and to ensure they have all the support and resources they need. to continue to do its job in this threatening and challenging environment.”
His office is also focused on implementing state Proposition 2, which voters passed in November. This initiative amended the state constitution to guarantee nine days of early voting, postage on mail-in ballots, and mandatory access to drop boxes in the state.
That, Benson said, would require working with the legislature to secure funding for new voter-approved terms, educating local clerks on the new requirements, and guiding any administrative changes that need to occur.
In Minnesota, the changes Simon is advocating likely won’t come close to a complete overhaul of state election procedures, but will focus on how people can register to vote.
Simon listed a series of registration proposals that would effectively expand the pool of voters. They included restoring the right to vote for those convicted of crimes in the state – something that has seen crossover ideological support in other parts of the country. He also plans to advocate for automatic voter registration.
“These are proposals I’ve been talking about for years, even when Republicans controlled one or both of our legislative chambers,” Simon said. “They are not partisan in their origin, nor in their effects.”
States that do not have single-party control are also likely to consider election law changes, though they are much less likely to pass.
Pennsylvania State Senator David Argall, a Republican who chaired the state government committee this year, noted that there was bipartisan support in his state for increasing ballot preprocessing time. postal vote. Pennsylvania has been heavily criticized for the long pace it took to count votes in 2020 and such a move would allow election officials to manage mail-in ballots ahead of Election Day and speed up the release of results. unofficial.
Republican lawmakers included it in a broader package they passed that would have changed much of the voting process in the state, but incumbent Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed it in 2021.
“I’ve supported it in the past, I will support it in the future, but I don’t think you can do just this thing,” Argall said of the preprocessing. “I think there will be too many other people saying ‘more this, more that’, and that’s where it gets tricky.”