OK, New Mexico, Do You Really Mean It? Ballots & Boundaries

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Over the weekend, New Mexico’s Legislature decided it’s time for an independent redistricting commission. Its legislation (S.B. 304) awaits the signature of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) as commissions in some other states stall, sputter, or annoy.

In Michigan, the state Republican Party is asking a federal court to shut down the remapping panel before it even gets started, arguing that the eligibility criteria for commission members is illegal. In Arizona, Democrats are crying foul after the state’s independent redistricting commission voted 3 to 2 to choose an executive director with Republican ties.

And in New York, the state’s new commission hasn’t yet been given the money to hire staff, buy computers, or plan the hearings required by law. Commissioners wanted to do some preliminary work last year. Instead, they’re waiting for budget negotiations to wrap up. “I think we’re all frustrated about getting started here and concerned and anxious to do work,” New York commission member Charles Nesbitt said.

Not that it may matter in the end, since the New York system lets the Legislature ignore all map suggestions. So does New Mexico‘s bill. — Brenna Goth, Keshia Clukey, and Alex Ebert.

OPPOSITE APPROACHES NORTH AND SOUTH

Vermont lawmakers are working to make mail-in balloting permanent, at least for general elections. In Massachusetts, voters will be able to cast their ballots by mail through June 30, instead of March 31.

In Georgia, legislative debate is focused on cutting back rather than expanding. This morning the final committee approved legislation to add more voter ID requirements, amp up the state’s authority over local election boards, and make it against the law to bring food or water to the people standing in line to vote (H.B. 531). Killed from that bill was a proposal to curtail early voting on Sundays, so the legislation ready for a Senate floor vote would let “souls to the polls” efforts continue.

A performer who goes by Aviva testifies before a Georgia Senate committee, March 16, 2021.

HERE’S A VIDEO taste of the citizen comment offered as some of the Georgia Senate hearings got underway.

And then there’s Florida.

The Senate’s considering a bill (S.B. 90) that would ban ballot drop boxes, which Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has called “a big problem,” and a House committee is proposing to keep them under round-the-clock monitoring. — Jennifer Kay

AYUDA? HILFE? HELP?

Tens of thousands of eligible voters in Colorado have trouble with English-only ballots, state Rep. Yadira Caraveo (D) said in pushing her bill (H.B. 1011) designed to help ease the situation. Her measure would create a multilingual hotline and require certain counties to print ballots in languages other than English.

The legislation, which has been approved by the first of the required committees, would set the threshold for an extra ballot printing at 2,000 eligible voters or 2.5% of those eligible speaking a language other than English. Federally, the Voting Rights Act has a threshold of 10,000 voters or 5% of those eligible. — Tripp Baltz

SO MANY CHOICES

Utah will let more cities try ranked-choice voting in local elections this year, thanks to a bill (H.B. 75) signed by Gov. Spencer Cox (R) March 16. The system lets voters rank candidates by preference instead of just choosing one per office. Two Utah cities, Payson and Vineyard, already have adopted the practice, and Payson elected three city council members using it in 2019, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. — Tripp Baltz

MAYOR SUES CITY—HIS OWN

Aurora, Colo., Mayor (and former congressman) Mike Coffman has sued Aurora, Colo., saying its recent revamp of political campaign rules violates his free-speech rights. A new city ordinance bars many former and future candidates from pushing for ballot issues or helping other candidates with their campaigns. — Tripp Baltz

Must Reads

REPRIEVE WITH A CATCH: States may be able to get Census data in August—more than a month earlier than expected—but not with the preferred setup. “Given the difficulty in using data in this format, any state using this data would have to accept responsibility for how they process these files, whether correctly or incorrectly,” James Whitehorne, chief of the Census Redistricting and Voting Rights Data Office, said in a court filing. — AP

STICKER SHOCK: Utahns really like to show they’ve voted, even if they don’t do it in person. “Over the years the biggest complaint we receive by far is that voters did not get an ‘I voted’ sticker through the mail,” said state elections director Justin Lee. Some counties have cut the number of complaints by including a sticker with the ballot. — Deseret News

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER—NOT: Four months after the general election, a Towson, Md., man finally received his mail-in ballot. He had given up waiting last November and drove to a county Board of Elections site to get a ballot so he could vote. “If worse came to worst,’’ he said, “I was prepared to go in and vote in person.” — The Baltimore Sun

Ballots & Boundaries is your check-in on what states are doing to change voting laws and reconfigure political boundaries in once-a-decade redistricting.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jennifer Kay in Miami at jkay@bloomberglaw.com; Brenna Goth in Phoenix at bgoth@bloomberglaw.com; Keshia Clukey in Albany, N.Y. at kclukey@bloomberglaw.com; Tripp Baltz in Denver at abaltz@bloomberglaw.com; Alex Ebert in Columbus, Ohio at aebert@bloomberglaw.com; Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bgov.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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