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Disclosure Digest: Tennessee General Assembly passes donor disclosure bill

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On April 21, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed SB1005, a bill creating additional disclosure requirements for 501(c)(4) organizations and candidate committees. The Tennessee Senate passed the bill on April 14, and the legislation now heads to Gov. Bill Lee (R).

What the bill would do

Current state law requires all candidate committees to report individual contributions if the group’s total contributions or expenditures exceed $1,000 during a filing period. If a committee’s contributions or expenditures total more than $1,000, the law requires the committee to disclose the identity of each person contributing more than $100. Under SB1005, state candidate committees would have to report each contribution and expenditure regardless of the amount, and the current regulations would only apply to local candidate committees. If a local candidate’s contributions or expenditures exceed the $1,000 limit, the candidate must report each contribution and expenditure, regardless of the amount. The bill requires political groups to report all in-kind contributions, amending the present law which only requires these contributions to be reported if they exceed $100.

The bill would also amend the reporting requirements for the period 10 days before an election. Currently, candidate committees must report contributions, loans, or transfers of more than $5,000 for state offices and $2,500 for local offices. The bill would change applicable contributions to “each one that, in the aggregate, equals or exceeds the following amounts: $5,000 for a committee participating in the election of a candidate for any statewide office; $3,000 for a committee participating in the election of a candidate for senate; and $1,000 for a committee participating in the election of any other state or local public office.” Candidates and elected officials must disclose all sources of income of more than $5,000 in a 12-month period. 

Organizations with 501(c)(4) status would be considered political committees under the bill if they spend more than $5,000 on communications containing the name or a visual depiction of a state or local candidate within 60 days of an election. 

Legislative actions

Sen. Randy McNally (R), who also serves as the lieutenant governor of Tennessee, introduced SB1005 on Feb. 10, 2021. Senate Speaker Pro Tem Ferrell Haile (R) also sponsored the bill. The bill remained in the Senate State and Local Government Committee until April 5, when the committee voted unanimously to advance it. The Senate passed the bill 25-3 on April 14. The House voted 87-3 in favor of the bill on April 21.

The Tennessean’s Adam Friedman said legislative action on the bill “closely follows increased scrutiny on activities by former Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, and Casada’s former top aide Cade Cothren” as part of a three-year FBI investigation. Smith pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud in March, and several other lawmakers were served with federal grand jury subpoenas.

Rep. Cameron Sexton (R) introduced a companion bill, HB1201, on Feb. 11, 2021. Eleven other representatives, three Democrats and eight Republicans, sponsored the bill. After the Senate passed SB1005, the legislature substituted the Senate bill for the House companion bill. 

Tennessee has a Republican trifecta, meaning Republicans control the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature. Republicans hold a 27-6 Senate majority and a 73-25 majority in the House. This means Republicans have veto-proof majorities in both chambers. 

Reactions

Sen. Haile said the bill will prevent 501(c)(4) groups from shielding their donors’ identities. “If you’re going to be a player in the process, people need to know who you are and what you’re doing,” Haile said.

Lt. Gov. McNally said, “While no new legislation can prevent a bad actor from being deceitful or dishonest, I believe this bill will increase openness and accountability where it is badly needed. Voters deserve to know who is pushing the messaging they receive and whose money is behind it. This bill seeks to open up the political process and ensure voters have the information they need to make informed decisions.”

In a statement opposing the bill, the National Rifle Association said, “Disclosure of this type of information potentially can subject donors to unwarranted harassment,” and, “[if] it is enacted, this legislation will be a mess for the Registry of Election Finance, the courts, and the regulated community, including NRA and countless other advocacy groups. Its final effects could be significantly different than what was intended.”

Tennessee Stands, a conservative 501(c)(4) group, said, “Republican leadership is running a bill that would in effect censor small conservative groups across the state 60 days prior to every election. Are we living in China?”

What we’ve been reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state: We’re currently tracking 141 pieces of legislation dealing with donor disclosure and privacy. Of these bills, 114 are primarily focused on disclosure, and 27 are primarily focused on privacy. To reflect this distinction, the charts in this section and the recent legislative actions below are divided between disclosure legislation and privacy legislation. On the maps below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking. 

Donor disclosure legislation

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)

Donor privacy legislation

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)

Recent legislative actions

For complete information on all of the bills we are tracking, click here

Donor disclosure legislation

  • California AB2528: This bill would require elected officials to file campaign finance reports electronically with the secretary of state, and these reports would be available for public inspection. 
    • Republican sponsorship
    • This bill was referred to committee on April 20.
  • Louisiana SB473: This bill would require postsecondary education institutions to disclose the source of any foreign gifts. 
    • Republican sponsorship
    • This bill was referred to committee on April 20.
  • Michigan SB0788: This bill requires campaign committees to report contributions received by an individual acting on behalf of a committee no later than five days before the closing date of any campaign statement required to be filed by the committee. An independent committee or political committee must include in the name of the committee the name of the person or persons that sponsor the committee, if any, or with whom the committee is affiliated.
    • Republican sponsorship
    • This bill was referred to committee on April 21.
  • Tennessee SB1005: This bill would require candidate committees to disclose the source of their contributions. It would also require 501(c)(4) groups to disclose any expenses of more than $5,000 in the 60 days leading up to an election. 
    • Bipartisan sponsorship
    • This bill passed both chambers on April 21.
  • Tennessee HB1201: This bill would require candidate committees to disclose the source of their contributions. It would also require 501(c)(4) groups to disclose any expenses of more than $5,000 in the 60 days leading up to an election. 
    • Bipartisan sponsorship
    • This bill was referred to committee on April 21.

Donor privacy legislation

No actions were taken on donor privacy legislation this week. 

Thank you for reading! Let us know what you think! Reply to this email with any feedback or recommendations. 



All four Republican U.S. Representatives from Missouri face primary challengers

U.S. Reps. Ann Wagner (District 2), Blaine Luetkemeyer (District 3), Sam Graves (District 6), and Jason Smith (District 8) face primary challengers this election cycle. In the 2020 election cycle, two incumbents (Wagner and Smith) were unopposed in Republican primaries. 

Luetkemeyer and Graves face the most primary challengers at four apiece. Wagner faces four challengers, and Smith has one challenger. These primaries will take place on Aug. 2, with the winners advancing to general elections on Nov. 8.

There are at least two Republican candidates on the ballot across all nine of Missouri’s congressional races this year. In the U.S. Senate primary, 21 candidates will compete for the party nomination. Eight candidates each are running in both the District 4 and District 7 primaries where there is no incumbent seeking re-election. 

Incumbents are not seeking re-election in three of the races. Roy Blunt (R) is retiring from the U.S. Senate, while Vicky Hartzler (R-District 4) and Billy Long (R-District 7) are both running for U.S. Senate.

One U.S. Senate seat and eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for election in 2022. Democrats currently hold two of the House seats and Republicans currently hold both Senate seats and six House seats.



Six party committees surpassed $1 billion in cumulative fundraising for 2022 election cycle in March

Six party committees raised a combined $1 billion in the first fifteen months of the 2022 election cycle. In March, the committees raised $99 million, according to recent filings with the Federal Election Commission. Here’s a closer look at March’s fundraising numbers:

In March, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) reported its highest monthly fundraising numbers of the cycle, raising $21.3 million and spending $7.4 million. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) reported its highest monthly disbursements of the cycle in March, spending $9.7 million and raising $19.4 million. So far in the 2022 election cycle, the DCCC leads in fundraising with $198.7 million to the NRCC’s $180.9 million. At this point in the 2020 cycle, the DCCC had raised $168.4 million and the NRCC had raised $124.5 million.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) raised $12.5 million and spent $6.7 million in March, while the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) raised $13.3 million and spent $10.8 million. So far in the 2022 election cycle, the NRSC has outraised the DSCC with $147.8 million in receipts to the DSCC’s $129.4 million. At this point in the 2020 election cycle, the NRSC led in cumulative fundraising with $98.0 million to the DSCC’s $91.3 million. 

Between the national committees, the Republican National Committee (RNC) raised and spent more than the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in March. The RNC raised $17.6 million and spent $18.2 million, while the DNC raised $14.6 million and spent $10.3 million. So far in the 2022 election cycle, the RNC has raised $205.6 million to the DNC’s $186.6 million. At this time in the 2020 election cycle, the RNC led in fundraising by a larger margin, with $318.6 million in cumulative receipts to the DNC’s $146.7 million.

This election cycle, the RNC, NRSC, and NRCC have raised 3.7% more than the  DNC, DSCC, and DCCC ($534.4 million to $514.8 million). The Republican committees’ fundraising advantage was also at 3.7% last month.

Additional reading:



All Mississippi’s U.S. House incumbents face primaries for the first time since 2012

The filing deadline for candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Mississippi was March 1, 2022. This year, 24 candidates—an average of six for each of the state’s four U.S. House districts—filed to run, including 16 Republicans, seven Democrats, and one Libertarian. The six candidates per district average is more than it was in both 2020—3.5 candidates per district—and 2018 (4.75).

There are no open-seat congressional races this year in Mississippi, as all four incumbents are running for re-election. Mississippi has had one open-seat U.S. House race since 2012.

Here are some other highlights from this year’s filings:

  • This is the first election to take place under new district lines following the 2020 census. Mississippi was apportioned four seats in the House of Representatives, the same number it received after the 2010 census. Governor Tate Reeves (R) signed the state’s congressional redistricting plan on Jan. 24, 2022. After the state Senate approved the plan, Lee Sanderlin wrote in the Mississippi Clarion Ledger, “The bill preserves the current balance of congressional power in Mississippi, keeping three seats for Republicans and one for lone Democrat Bennie Thompson.”
  • All four U.S. House incumbents in the state face contested primaries for the first time since 2012.
  • There are seven contested U.S. House primaries—four Republican and three Democratic—this year in Mississippi. The only U.S. House district without a Democratic or Republican primary will be in Mississippi’s 3rd District, where Shuwaski Young (D) is unopposed for his party’s nomination.
  • For the second cycle in a row, Fourth District Rep. Steven Palazzo (R) is running in the state’s largest U.S. House primary, with seven candidates competing for that seat
  • All four U.S. House districts will be contested in the general election, as every district has both Democratic and Republican candidates.

{Chart of open seats – https://app.datawrapper.de/chart/nhUHz/publish]

Mississippi’s primary for U.S. House districts is scheduled for June 7, 2022. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in any race, a primary runoff will take place on June 28, 2022.

Additional reading:



Biden has appointed most federal judges through April 1 of a president’s second year

President Joe Biden (D) has appointed and the Senate has confirmed 58 Article III federal judges through April 1 of his second year in office. This is the most Article III judicial appointments through this point in all presidencies since 1981. The Senate had confirmed 29 of President Donald Trump’s (R) appointees at this point in his term.

The average number of federal judges appointed by a president through April 1 of their second year in office is 39.

  • The median number of Supreme Court appointees is one. Four presidents (Reagan, Clinton, Obama, and Trump) had made one appointment. Three presidents (H.W. Bush, W. Bush, and Biden) had not appointed any.
  • The median number of United States Court of Appeals appointees is eight. Biden had made the most appointees with 15, followed by Trump with 14. Clinton had appointed the fewest with four.
  • The median number of United States District Court appointees is 35. Biden had made the most appointees with 43, followed by Reagan with 40. Obama had appointed the fewest with 11.

Article III federal judges are appointed for life terms by the president of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate per Article III of the United States Constitution. Article III judges include judges on the Supreme Court of the United States, U.S. courts of appeal, U.S. district courts, and the Court of International Trade.

Additional reading:



The Disclosure Digest: April 5, 2022

Oregon groups ask state supreme court to reconsider campaign finance ballot measures

In a March 22 filing, three Oregon nonprofit groups asked the Oregon Supreme Court to reconsider its decision on a series of campaign finance ballot measures. On March 18, the court rejected the groups’ request to overturn Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s (D) decision barring the initiatives from appearing on the general election ballot. If the court rejects the groups’ request, the petitioners would have to start the initiative process over.

Background

Honest Elections Oregon, Portland Forward, and the League of Women Voters Oregon filed three versions of the Oregon Campaign Finance Contribution Limits Initiative on Dec. 6, 2021.  The initiatives would limit campaign contributions from individuals, multicandidate committees, political parties, legislative caucus committees, and membership organizations (e.g. unions). Groups would have to disclose the identity of every donor who contributed more than $5,000 in all political advertisements and communications and would also have to identify the people or entities who paid for them. One of the three initiatives would also establish a public campaign financing system where private contributions would be matched with public funds.

On Feb. 9, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum (D) certified the language of the three ballot initiatives. The certification came a day after Fagan rejected the measures, saying they did not include the entire text of the legislation they would modify. Rosenblum’s decision did not undo Fagan’s decision, but it allowed the initiative sponsors to challenge the ruling before the state supreme court without having to start over with new language.

Oregon Supreme Court ruling

In its March 18 opinion, the Oregon Supreme Court refused to overturn Fagan’s decision. “This is not a case in which exceptional circumstances persuade us that the issue that [the petition backers] raise is so novel and significant, and that immediate resolution is so imperative, that we should exercise our discretionary mandamus jurisdiction on an expedited basis.” The justices also said the measures’ supporters “could have begun the initiative process earlier, so that, if the secretary identified deficiencies, [the groups] could have taken timely steps to contest or cure them within the same election cycle.” 

Fagan said of the ruling: “Whether by legislators or through the public initiative process, making law takes time, and the Constitution sets the rule of law,” adding, “[t]here are no shortcuts.” Honest Elections Oregon co-founder Jason Kafoury said, “It’s a sad day for our local democracy. It means millionaires, and billionaires will continue to write six- and seven-figure checks, but hopefully we’ll get this fixed in the next couple of years.” Portland Forward President James Ofsink said, “Secretary Fagan’s interpretation of the Oregon Constitution denies Oregonians their only chance this year to vote on getting big money out of Oregon politics. Moving the bar also creates a high degree of uncertainty for future initiative petitioners.”

What comes next

The justices gave the petitioners the option to file a request for reconsideration, which they did on March 22. In the filing, the groups said, “Future initiative proponents have no guidance as to what form of drafting the ‘full text’ requirement demands. Such uncertainty chills the speech of all those who wish to participate.” If the court reverses its decision, the groups would have to gather 112,020 valid signatures by July 8 in order for the state to certify the initiatives for the November ballot. Otherwise, the petitioners would need to start the initiative process over. Kafoury said if the groups are unable to “move forward with ballot title challenges at the Supreme Court, then we’re toast.”

Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner (D) said if the measures do not move forward, he would work towards passing campaign finance legislation in the legislature. “I think it’s absolutely legislators’ responsibility to get this done and to send something out to the voters. We’ll see what happens this election cycle but we can’t give up on this. The voters are really clear that they expect reform,” Wagner said. House Speaker Dan Rayfield (D) said, “When we got that news [the measures were rejected] midway through the session, there was no way to really formulate the type of momentum that you need, and thread the needle on a topic that frankly, all 90 members have a different opinion of what that should look like. We’ve been trying to do that for years to try and get that done.”

Between 2010 and 2020, the average ballot initiative certification rate in Oregon was 8.3%. Between 1985 and 2020, 148 initiatives made the ballot and 35.8% were approved.

About the Oregon Supreme Court 

In 2020, Ballotpedia published a study on how state supreme court justices decided the cases that came before them. The Oregon Supreme Court decided 88.7% of all cases it decided in 2020 in unanimous rulings, according to our 2020 study Ballotpedia Courts: Determiners and Dissenters. Ballotpedia Courts: State Partisanship, also published in 2020, studied the partisan affiliation of state supreme court justices. It found that the Oregon Supreme Court included four Mild Democrat justices and three Strong Democrat justices.

What we’ve been reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state: We’re currently tracking 133 pieces of legislation dealing with donor disclosure and privacy. Of these bills, 108 are primarily focused on disclosure, and 25 are primarily focused on privacy. To reflect this distinction, the charts in this section and the recent legislative actions below are divided between disclosure legislation and privacy legislation. On the maps below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking. 

Donor disclosure legislation

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)

Donor privacy legislation

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)

Recent legislative actions

For complete information on all of the bills we are tracking, click here

Donor disclosure legislation

  • California SB1360: This bill would require certain political advertisements to identify the top contributors to the campaign committee paying for the advertisement with no minimum contribution threshold.
    • Democratic sponsorship
    • This bill was referred to committee on March 31.
  • California SB1439:  This bill would require parties in a license, permit, or other entitlement proceeding to disclose donations of more than $250 made within a year of a decision. It would also require parties in these proceedings to disclose any planned contributions in the year after a decision.
    • Democratic sponsorship
    • This bill was referred to committee on March 28.
  • Connecticut SB00431: This bill would require committees to report referendum spending as an independent expenditure. It would also require committees to disclose donors for certain types of referendum spending.
    • Democratic sponsorship
    • This bill was referred to committee on March 29.
  • Delaware HB366: This bill would require political committees’ contribution and expense report, provided to the Department of Elections, to include the primary employer and job title of each person contributing to the committee. 
    • Democratic sponsorship
    • This bill was referred to committee on March 31.
  • Kentucky HB740: This bill would require a candidate exempt from filing a campaign finance report to file a 30 day post-election report of receipts and disbursements. It would also require a candidate who is exempt from filing for the primary who advances to the regular election to refile for the filing exemption. 
    • Republican sponsorship
    • This bill was referred to committee on March 30.
  • Maine LD1754: This bill would exempt political action and ballot question committees already registered with the commission from filing the major contributor report. It would also clarify  the enforcement provisions regarding potential violations and the factors the commission must consider for each potential violation.
    • Democratic sponsorship
    • This bill was enacted on March 29.
  • Maine LD1782: This bill would prohibit a ballot question committee from making contributions to a candidate or political action committee if the contributed funds are derived from a business. 
    • Democratic sponsorship
    • This bill passed the upper chamber on March 31.
  • New Hampshire SB348: This bill would prohibit contributions made on behalf of another individual, from a labor union or affiliate of a labor union, or from an anonymous source. It would also establish maximum limits on contributions made by any single individual or entity.  
    • Republican sponsorship
    • This bill was referred to committee on April 1.

Donor privacy legislation

  • Colorado HB1156: This bill would exempt candidates from having to file an annual personal disclosure statement if they file their personal disclosure statement within 180 days of Jan. 10.
    • Bipartisan sponsorship
    • This bill was referred to committee on March 29.
  • Connecticut HB05222: This bill would repeal the requirement for paid solicitors to submit the text of planned solicitations and remove the ability of the Department of Consumer Protection to inspect contribution records upon request. 
    • Unknown sponsorship
    • This bill was referred to committee on March 30.
  • Kansas HB2495: This bill would prohibit a state agency from requesting or releasing the personal information of donors to 501(c) organizations.  
    • Unknown sponsorship
    • This bill passed the lower chamber on March 29.
  • Kentucky HB241: This bill would allow the Transportation Cabinet and the Energy and Environment Cabinet to receive, accept, and solicit contributions from a governmental agency, individual, nonprofit organization, or private business for the Adopt-a- Highway Litter Program or other statewide litter programs. These contributions would be treated as restricted funds and would not be subject to state disclosure restrictions. 
    • Republican sponsorship
    • This bill passed both chambers on March 30.
  • West Virginia HB4419: This bill would remove restrictions on candidate and campaign caucus committees’ donations to their affiliated state party executive committees or a caucus campaign committee.
    • Republican sponsorship
    • This bill was enacted on March 30.


School mask requirements since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic

Seven states ended their school mask requirements from Feb. 1 through March 1, leaders in seven other states announced these mandates would end between March 2 and March 12. Only one state, Hawaii, has not announced an end to its school mask requirement.

Thirty-five states have required masks in schools at some point since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some states issued mask requirements specifically covering schools. Other school mask requirements were by-products of a general statewide mask requirement.

Maryland and Washington were the first states to issue school reopening guidance requiring masks in schools, both on June 10, 2020. Governor Jay Inslee (D) announced Washington’s school mask requirement would end on March 12, and Maryland’s State Board of Education ended its mask requirement effective March 1.

Wyoming was the latest school to issue its first school mask requirement. It lasted from Dec. 7, 2020, to June 1, 2021. North Dakota had the shortest statewide school mask requirement. It lasted from Nov. 14, 2020, to Jan. 18, 2021.

Nine states have banned school mask requirements, five of which had previously required masks in schools. Arkansas’ ban was the first to take effect on April 28, 2021. The ban was later suspended by court action on Sept. 30, 2021.

Virginia most recently banned school mask requirements on Jan. 24, 2022. A court overturned Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) executive order to that effect on Feb. 4, but Youngkin subsequently signed a bill into law banning school mask requirements. That law takes effect on March 1.

For states with statewide mask requirements in place going into the 2020-2021 academic year, we used the release date of school reopening guidance as the beginning of the state’s school mask requirement. Note that some school mask requirement end dates are approximate since they were set to end on the final day of school for each school district in the state. The charts above also only show school mask requirements and bans that took effect, so bans and requirements that were overturned before their effective date are not included.



Two cities added to Ballotpedia’s coverage scope following 2020 census

Ballotpedia provides comprehensive coverage of all elections within the 100 largest cities in the United State based on population. Following the 2020 census, two cities—Spokane, Washington, and Santa Clarita, California—entered the top 100 and another two cities—San Bernardino, California, and Birmingham, Alabama—did not make the cut. As a result, Ballotpedia has added coverage of Spokane and Santa Clarita, although we plan to continue our existing coverage of San Bernardino and Birmingham as well.

Within the top 100 cities, Irvine in California saw the largest change in rank, jumping 19 spots up from the 84th-largest city based on population in 2013 to the 65th-largest in 2020. Irvine experienced the 11th-largest increase in population between 2015 and 2020 of any city in the top 100.

Between 2015 and 2020, 80 of the cities saw their population increase. The city with the largest increase was New York, which added 377,447 people since 2015 to reach its 2020 population of 8,804,190. New York maintained its rank as the largest city in the United States by population.

Detroit had the largest decrease, losing 50,963 people from 2015 to 2020. Detroit went from the 19th-largest city in the country to the 26th-largest city with a total population of 639,111 in 2020 according to the census.

Additional reading:



Pennsylvania court strikes down state’s no-excuse absentee/mail-in voting law


Welcome to The Ballot Bulletin, where we track developments in election policy at the federal, state, and local levels. In this month’s issue:

  1. Pennsylvania court strikes down state’s no-excuse absentee/mail-in voting law
  2. Federal court blocks Alabama’s congressional redistricting plan
  3. Mississippi enacts new congressional map
  4. Ohio Supreme Court strikes down congressional district plan

Pennsylvania court strikes down state’s no-excuse absentee/mail-in voting law

On Jan. 28, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court struck down Act 77, which made absentee/mail-in voting available to all eligible voters, as a violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The court voted 3-2, with Judges Mary Hannah Leavitt, Patricia McCullough, and Christine Fizzano Cannon (all Republicans) forming the majority and Judges Michael Wojcik and Ellen H. Ceisler (both Democrats) dissenting.

As a result, and pending action by the state supreme court, absentee/mail-in voting eligibility in Pennsylvania is governed by Article VII, Section 14, of the state constitution. This section allows absentee/mail-in voting for “qualified electors who may, on the occurrence of any election, be absent from the municipality of their residence, because their duties, occupation, or business require them to be elsewhere or who, on the occurrence of any election, are unable to attend at their proper polling places because of illness or physical disability or who will not attend a polling place because of the observance of a religious holiday or who cannot vote because of election day duties, in the case of a county employee.”

The court’s analysis

Leavitt, writing for the majority, analyzed Act 77 within the context of three provisions of the state constitution:

  • Article VII, Section 1, of the Pennsylvania Constitution says a voter must have “resided in the election district where he or she shall offer to vote at least 60 days immediately preceding the election[.]” Leavitt said, “Our Supreme Court has specifically held that the phrase ‘offer to vote’ requires the physical presence of the elector, whose ‘ballot cannot be sent by mail or express, nor can it be cast outside of all Pennsylvania election districts and certified into the county where the voter has his domicile.'” Leavitt added, “There is no air in this construction of ‘offer to vote.’ … Our Supreme Court has further directed that before legislation ‘be placed on our statute books’ to allow qualified electors absent from their polling place on Election Day to vote by mail, ‘an amendment to the Constitution must be adopted permitting this to be done.”
  • Article VII, Section 4 establishes that “all elections by the citizens shall be by ballot or by such other method as may be prescribed by law,” provided “that secrecy in voting be preserved.” Leavitt said, “To read Section 4 as an authorization for no-excuse mail-in voting is wrong for three reasons. First, no-excuse mail-in voting uses a paper ballot and not some ‘other method.’ Second, this reading unhooks Section 4 from the remainder of Article VII as well as its historical underpinnings. It ignores the in-person place requirement that was made part of our fundamental law in 1838. Third, it renders Article VII, Section 14, surplusage.”
  • Article VII, Section 14, allows absentee/mail-in voting for “qualified electors who may, on the occurrence of any election, be absent from the municipality of their residence, because their duties, occupation, or business require them to be elsewhere or who, on the occurrence of any election, are unable to attend at their proper polling places because of illness or physical disability or who will not attend a polling place because of the observance of a religious holiday or who cannot vote because of election day duties, in the case of a county employee.” Leavitt wrote, “Section 14 can only be understood as an exception to the rule established in Article VII, Section 1, that a qualified elector must present herself at her proper polling place to vote on Election Day, unless she must ‘be absent” on Election Day for the reasons specified in Article VII, Section 14(a).”

In a dissenting opinion, Wojcik disputed the majority’s reading of Section 4 specifically: “[The] plain language of article VII, section 4 specifically empowers the General Assembly to provide a distinct method of casting a ballot for electors who are present in their municipality on a primary, general, or municipal election day by permitting the use of no-excuse mail-in ballots. This method is distinct from an elector’s appearance at his or her district of residence to cast a ballot as provided in article VII, section 1, either by paper ballot or by the use of a machine pursuant to article VII, section 6, or the use of an absentee ballot by an elector who is absent from his or her municipality on the day of a primary, general, or municipal election as provided in article VII, section 14.”

Reactions

State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R) said, “Today’s ruling should serve as a call to action to open up a serious conversation about the reforms necessary to make voting both accessible and secure for all Pennsylvanians. Governor Wolf has ignored this debate for over a year, but hopefully this ruling will help bring him to the table so we can address concerns about our election system once and for all. ” State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R) said, “I welcome the end of ‘no-excuse’ mail-in voting in Pennsylvania and I introduced legislation this session that does just that.”

Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) said, “This opinion is based on twisted logic and faulty reasoning, and is wrong on the law. It will be immediately appealed and therefore won’t have any immediate impact on Pennsylvania’s upcoming elections.” Gov. Tom Wolf (D) also criticized the ruling: “The strength of our democracy and our country depends on eligible voters casting their ballot and selecting their leaders. We need leaders to support removing more barriers to voting, not trying to silence the people.”

Context

Seven states (shaded in blue on the map below) conduct their elections predominantly by mail (i.e., all voters automatically receive mail-in ballots. Twenty-five states (shaded in yellow) allow all voters to vote absentee/by mail, but voters must request a ballot themselves. The remaining states (shaded in gray) allow voters meeting specific eligibility criteria to vote absentee/by mail. 


Redistricting round-up: Congressional map update

In today’s round-up, we take a look at the following recent developments involving congressional district maps: 

  • Federal court blocks Alabama’s congressional redistricting plan
  • Mississippi enacts new congressional map
  • Ohio Supreme Court strikes down congressional district plan

Federal court blocks Alabama’s congressional redistricting plan 

On Jan. 24, A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama  issued a preliminary injunction barring Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R) from conducting the state’s 2022 congressional elections using the redistricting plan adopted on Nov. 4, 2021.

The court ruled unanimously that the plaintiffs in Milligan v. Merrill are substantially likely to establish “that Black Alabamians are sufficiently numerous to constitute a voting-age majority in a second congressional district.” The court also found it likely that plaintiffs would prevail in proving that “Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress,” in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

The court also postponed the qualifying deadline for U.S. House candidates from Jan. 28 to Feb. 11. The court directed the state legislature to devise a new congressional redistricting plan “that includes either an additional majority-Black congressional district, or an additional district in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.”

The panel’s three judges were Senior Justice Stanley Marcus of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and District Court Judges Anna Manasco and Terry Moorer. Marcus was first appointed to the federal bench by Ronald Reagan (R) in 1985; he was elevated to the 11th Circuit by President Bill Clinton (D) in 1997. Manasco and Moorer were appointed by President Donald Trump (R) in 2020 and 2018, respectively.

A representative for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) said, “The Attorney General’s Office strongly disagrees with the court’s decision and will be appealing in the coming days.”

For more information about redistricting in Ohio, click here.

Mississippi enacts new congressional map 

On Jan. 24, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) signed the state’s congressional redistricting plan (House Bill 384) into law. The state House of Representatives approved the plan, 75-44, on Jan. 6, with 73 Republicans, one Democrat, and one independent voting in favor and 41 Democrats, two Republicans, and one independent in opposition. The state Senate approved the new congressional map 33-18 on Jan. 12, with 33 Republicans voting in favor and 16 Democrats and two Republicans in opposition.

The Mississippi Clarion Ledger’s Lee Sanderlin said, “The bill preserves the current balance of congressional power in Mississippi, keeping three seats for Republicans and one for lone Democrat Bennie Thompson, D-Bolton.” Sanderlin added, “This is the first time since the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act … [that] Mississippi’s redistricting will go on without federal oversight after a 2013 Supreme Court decision ended the requirement [that] certain states get federal approval for redistricting changes. A federal judge drew the congressional districts in 2002 because legislators could not agree on a map, and again in 2011 because legislators felt they didn’t have enough time to do it during session.”

For more information about redistricting in Mississippi, click here.

Ohio Supreme Court strikes down congressional district plan 

On Jan. 14, the Ohio Supreme Court voted 4-3 to strike down the state’s enacted congressional map and ordered the Ohio Legislature to adopt a remedial map. Writing for the majority, Justice Michael P. Donnelly (D) said, “When the dealer stacks the deck in advance, the house usually wins. That perhaps explains how a party that generally musters no more than 55 percent of the statewide popular vote is positioned to reliably win anywhere from 75 percent to 80 percent of the seats in the Ohio congressional delegation. By any rational measure, that skewed result just does not add up.” Justices Maureen O’Connor (R), Melody Stewart (D), and Jennifer L. Brunner (D) rounded out the court’s majority.  

Justices Sharon L. Kennedy (R), Pat Fischer (R), and Pat DeWine (R) jointly dissented, writing: “The majority today declares the congressional-district plan enacted by the legislature to be unconstitutional on the basis that it “unduly” favors a political party and “unduly” splits governmental units. It does so without presenting any workable standard about what it means to unduly favor a political party or divide a county.”

For more information about redistricting in Ohio, click here.

Status of congressional redistricting: Twenty-five states have adopted congressional district maps. One state has approved congressional district boundaries that have not yet taken effect. Courts have blocked previously adopted maps in two states. Fifteen states have not yet adopted congressional redistricting plans. Six states were apportioned one U.S. House district each, making congressional redistricting unnecessary.Congressional redistricting has been completed for 271 of the 435 districts (62.3%) in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Status of state legislative redistricting: Twenty-nine states have adopted district maps for both legislative chambers. One state has adopted maps that have not yet gone into effect. The state supreme court in one state has overturned previously enacted maps. Nineteen states have not yet adopted legislative redistricting plans. Nationwide, legislative redistricting has been completed for 1,217 of 1,972 state Senate seats (61.7%) and 2,775 of 5,411 state House seats (51.3%).



Year-End campaign finance reports show NRCC outraised DCCC in December for the first time in five months

Six party committees raised a combined $792 million in 2021. In December, the committees raised $76 million, according to recent filings with the Federal Election Commission.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) raised $11.2 million and spent $8.5 million in December, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) raised $10.1 million and spent $4.6 million. December was the ninth consecutive month where the NRSC outraised the DSCC. The NRSC raised 13.9% more than the DSCC in 2021 ($104.8 million to $91.2 million). 

The House committees raised more than their Senate counterparts last month, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) raising $15.5 million and spending $6.8 million and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) raising $17.9 million and spending $6.7 million. December was the first month since June where the NRCC outraised the DCCC. In 2021, the DCCC raised 4.4% more than the NRCC ($146.3 million to $140.0 million). 

At this point in the 2020 election cycle, the NRSC led the DSCC in cumulative fundraising by a 7.3% margin ($67.7 million to $62.9 million). The DCCC led the NRCC in total fundraising by a 37.8% margin ($124.9 million to $85.2 million).

Between the national committees, the Republican National Committee (RNC) raised and spent more than the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in December. The RNC raised $11.3 million and spent $20.5 million, while the DNC raised $9.8 million and spent $12.1 million. In 2021, the RNC raised 4.7% more than the DNC ($158.6 million to $151.3 million).

At this time in the 2020 election cycle, the RNC led the DNC in fundraising by a larger 90.2% margin ($241.1 million to $91.2 million).

In 2021, the RNC, NRSC, and NRCC raised 3.7% more than the  DNC, DSCC, and DCCC ($403.5 million to $388.8 million). The Republican committees’ fundraising advantage is up from 2.7% last month.

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