Feds Activate More Voting Rights Lawyers: Ballots & Boundaries

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U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland says he’s doubling the number federal lawyers assigned to putting state voting laws under a microscope. And Arizona, the feds are already looking at you.

“Some jurisdictions, based on disinformation, have utilized abnormal post-election audit methodologies that may put the integrity of the voting process at risk and undermine public confidence in our democracy,” Garland said in a speech to Justice Department staff. The Civil Rights Division “expressed concern that the audit may violate a provision of the Voting Rights Act that bars intimidation of voters.”

Arizona’s Senate used its subpoena power to take custody of 2.1 million Maricopa County ballots and hired a company, Cyber Ninjas, that’s doing its first-ever election audit. (Those examiners will photograph the ballots in search of irregularities, the Associated Press reported.)

Photographer: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images
Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.

Garland made a point of noting that the Civil Rights Act requires the safekeeping of federal election records. READ the speech transcript.

WISCONSIN: VETO BAIT

The Wisconsin Assembly could take up bills this week that would create new ballot drop-box rules, make it harder for some people to vote absentee, and make voting at long-term care facilities more complicated.

The GOP holds a majority in both the Assembly and state Senate, but not enough seats to override a veto without help from Democrats. And a veto from Gov. Tony Evers (D) is almost certain.

Related story: G.O.P. Bills Rattle Disabled Voters (New York Times)

During floor debate, Republicans said their goal is to enhance voting integrity. Democrats accused them of trying to manipulate turnout. “How many barriers are going be thrown up so you can cancel 20,000, 30,000, however many votes it takes so the Republicans can stay in power in the legislature through redistricting and changing these election laws?” said state Sen. Tim Carpenter (D). President Joe Biden (D) won Wisconsin by 20,682 votes.

The bills to watch are S.B. 204, S.B. 205, S.B. 206, S.B. 209, and S.B. 211. — Stephen Joyce
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CALIFORNIA: UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Though congressional seats are the big kahuna of redistricting, other kinds of political boundaries get revised after each each Census. In San Diego, the next city council district map could threaten the livelihoods of some marijuana retailers.

City statute limits each council district to four dispensaries, raising the possibility of no legal way for those seller to renew as permits expire. — San Diego Union-Tribune

NEVADA: PRIMARY GAMES

Nevadans will get to vote in primaries rather than party caucuses for the 2024 presidential nominees under a new state law (A.B. 126) that also throws down a challenge to New Hampshire.

The law sets the primary date for the first Tuesday in February, which in theory would make it the first state to express a presidential preference. But check the fine print: changes would have to be backed by each party’s national committee, and there’s a New Hampshire law that pushes that state’s primaries ahead of the next earliest state. — Brenna Goth

OREGON: SEVEN-DAY REPRIEVE

Ballots postmarked by Election Day in Oregon, which has all mail-in elections, would be counted if county clerks receive them within seven days under legislation (H.B. 3291) headed to the state Senate. The change would mean saving thousands of ballots from the trash bin. — Joyce E. Cutler

ILLINOIS: SEE YOU IN COURT

Republican lawmakers and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund are suing the Illinois Legislature’s Democratic leadership, arguing that new statehouse maps violate the U.S. Constitution’s “one person, one vote” principle.

The GOP complaint asks U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall to order the Legislature to appoint members to a bipartisan redistricting commission or grant other relief “that allows for the drafting and implementation of a redistricting plan based on the official 2020 decennial census counts.” The defense and education fund lawsuit seeks an injunction against using the maps for any future election.

Democrats who revised the maps largely relied on American Community Survey data, not the 2020 Census details, which aren’t yet ready for release.

Republicans in the Legislature complained they found out about the majority-drawn lines when the maps were released to the general public. — Stephen Joyce

TEXAS: ‘ZUCKERBUCKS’ NOT WELCOME

Texas counties will have to get permission from the state before accepting an election-equipment grant worth more than $1,000.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed a measure (H.B. 2283) capping donations from private groups (such as the one supported by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg) unless approved by the Texas secretary of state. “That is a government function not to be messed with by election influencers,” Abbott (R) tweeted. — Paul Stinson

OHIO: CREATIVE COURT TWIST

Trying to keep track of the ground rule for gerrymandering lawsuits? Pay attention to the budget process in Ohio.

Majority Republicans in the state Senate propose giving the GOP sole authority to respond to redistricting litigation, according to Ohio Capital Journal.

The language would let the state House speaker and Senate president hire private legal counsel on the taxpayers’ dime. — Ohio Capital Journal

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To contact the reporters on this story: Brenna Goth in Phoenix at bgoth@bloomberglaw.com; Stephen Joyce in Chicago at sjoyce@bloomberglaw.com; Paul Stinson in Austin, Texas at pstinson@bloomberglaw.com; Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at jcutler@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tina May at tmay@bloomberglaw.com; Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com

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