This Week in 200 Words

This week, a federal judge upheld Georgia’s purge of nearly 100,000 voters from its voter rolls. A North Carolina voter ID law was struck down with references to the state’s history of racist voter suppression. A Texas voter registration law is also facing challenge in court. The voting rights of many formerly incarcerated Iowans are in limbo as they await individual approval by Iowa’s governor. Pennsylvania’s voting machines will get a paper trail update, while Michigan’s voting systems face new security challenges. New Jersey legislators are considering a proposal to end “prison gerrymandering”. Democracy reform advocates in Alaska are working to get ranked choice voting, campaign finance reform, and other initiatives on the November ballot. Voting machine vendors appeared for an oversight hearing on the Hill this week. And Seattle officials will consider a proposal to stem the pervasive flow of corporate money into the city’s elections.

National News

Politico – Election vendors, Facebook head to the Hill

The House Administration Committee will start off the new year with a bang on Thursday when it convenes a hearing with the presidents of the three largest election technology vendors.

[…] Vendor oversight has been a top concern of voting security experts and activists, because the three largest firms have historically shunned transparency, downplayed security concerns and threatened competitors with lawsuits. House Administration Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) first told POLITICO that she was planning this hearing in August, after a bipartisan group of activist organizations pressed her panel and its Senate counterpart to scrutinize the vendors more closely.

State Updates

Georgia – New York Times – Federal Judge Backs Georgia’s Purge of Nearly 100,000 Voters

A federal judge on Friday backed Georgia’s removal of nearly 100,000 names from the state’s voter rolls.

The decision comes as state officials face accusations of voter suppression, particularly against black and low-income voters. Scrutiny of voting rights in Georgia has been heightened since the governor’s race in 2018 brought long lines at polling sites and criticism of outdated voting machines.

Texas – CNN Politics – Texas Democrats file lawsuit challenging voting rights requirement

Texas Democrats filed a federal lawsuit on Monday challenging the state’s voter registration requirement that bans applications with electronic signatures.

[…] “Republicans know Texas is changing, that’s why they continue to enact arbitrary rulings such as banning lawful electronic signatures,” said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa.

The lawsuit also cites the increased accessibility electronic signatures provide to voters looking to register. Hinojosa said in a statement that the wet signature rule disproportionately “harms rural voters who don’t have access to regular mail service.”

New Jersey – NorthJersey – Where do inmates fall in Census count? NJ moves to end ‘prison gerrymandering’

In the wake of this decade’s Census count — which impacts how U.S. congressional districts are drawn — New Jersey lawmakers are grappling with the question: Where do prisoners count?

New Jersey and a majority of states currently count incarcerated people in the districts where the prisons are located, boosting population numbers in those districts at the expense of their home districts. Critics call the practice “prison gerrymandering.”

A New Jersey Assembly committee plans to consider a bill Monday that would count prisoners in the last-known address before they were incarcerated, joining California, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New York and Washington, according to a tally by the Prison Policy Initiative, which tracks the issue. The bill passed the Senate in February, largely on party lines.

Iowa – Des Moines Register – As Iowa caucuses approach, hundreds of people await decisions on their voting rights

It’s been about a decade since Jarvis Guyton served two years in prison for a drug conviction. The recent college graduate, who played football at Grand View University, says he’s getting his life back in order, and he wants to participate in Iowa’s Feb. 3 presidential caucuses.

But his name is one of 330 on a backlog of convicted felons waiting for Gov. Kim Reynolds to approve restoration of their voting rights.

Since newly elected Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear last month abandoned the practice, Iowa is alone among U.S. states in requiring that the governor individually approve each application for restoration of voting rights.

Iowa’s bottleneck threatens to deny Guyton and many others the chance to have a say in the state’s first-in-the-nation nomination process.

Alaska – KTUU – As deadline approaches, initiatives make final pushes for signatures

With the Jan. 21 deadline to get an initiative on the state’s November ballot quickly approaching, groups supporting different initiatives around the state are making one last push to get the required 28,501 signatures. One group supporting an election reform initiative, says they’ve hit that number.

The initiative looks to reform Alaska’s elections by opening up primaries to all voters and switching to a ranked-choice voting system for the general election. It would also put additional scrutiny on the sources of campaign contributions.

North Carolina – Common Dreams – Federal Judge Blocks NC’s Voter ID Law, Citing State’s ‘Sordid History’ of Racist Voter Suppression

The latest effort by Republicans to require specific forms of identification at the polls would have allowed voters to present a driver’s license, passport, or military ID in order to vote, but not a public assistance ID card. Biggs described the latter stipulation as “particularly suspect,” as nearly 29 percent of North Carolinians who use SNAP benefits are black.

“The evidence suggests that minority voters are not just less likely to have an acceptable form of ID, but that the legislature excluded photographic ID that could have greatly reduced that discrepancy,” the judge wrote.

Michigan – Times Telegram – State, local officials face challenge in updating old, insecure voting machines

After Russian hackers made extensive efforts in 2016 to infiltrate the American voting apparatus, some states moved to restrict internet access to their vote-counting systems. Colorado got rid of barcodes used to electronically read ballots. California tightened its rules for electronic voting machines that can go online. Ohio bought new voting machines that deliberately excluded wireless capabilities.

Michigan went in a different direction, authorizing as much as $82 million for machines that rely on wireless modems to connect to the internet. State officials justified the move by saying it is the best way to satisfy an impatient public that craves instantaneous results.

The problem is, connecting election machines to the public internet, especially wirelessly, leaves the whole system vulnerable, according to cybersecurity experts. So Michigan’s new secretary of state is considering using some of the state’s $10 million in federal election funds to rip out those modems before the March presidential primary.

Pennsylvania – Connect Radio – All of PA’s counties will get new voting systems with paper trail

Governor Tom Wolf announced that all 67 Pennsylvania counties have taken official action toward acquiring new voting systems. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other national security and election security experts have urged Pennsylvania and other states to use new voting systems with advanced security and a paper trail.

“This is a tremendous accomplishment, and I applaud all 67 counties for their commitment to protecting our elections,” said Gov. Wolf. “These new modern machines are an important step to strengthen the accuracy of our voting systems and the integrity of our elections.”

Washington – The Stranger – Super PAC Spending Is Exploding in Seattle. Will a Proposal to Contain It Hold Up in Court?

Now that the dust has settled on last month’s Seattle elections, the sheer scale of the record-breaking super PAC spending, spurred on by Amazon’s incredible $1.5 million donation, is coming into sharper focus. Super PACs spent more than $4 million in this year’s Seattle City Council races. That’s more money than all of the 55 candidates themselves spent—combined.

[…] But just as super PACs seem to be growing limitlessly, there’s a plan to stop them.

Seattle Council Member Lorena González has introduced legislation that would cap super PAC donations at $5,000 and entirely bar multinational companies like Amazon from spending in Seattle elections. If approved, her legislation will almost certainly face a legal challenge. But she thinks it can survive in court, and maybe even change the face of elections nationwide.