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Key states making moves to change election laws and voting options

By Kelly Mena and Fredreka Schouten, CNN

The Supreme Court took action this week in one state’s redistricting case that could have broad repercussions for the voting rights of African Americans and other minorities across the country.

The court on Monday reinstated an Alabama congressional map that a lower court had said diluted the political power of Black voters.

But the justices also announced they would revisit a portion of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act in the months ahead — sparking fears among voting rights activists that the court could erode a key provision of the law ahead of the next presidential election in 2024.

The court’s move comes against a backdrop of Republican-controlled states moving to adopt new voting restrictions in key battlegrounds.

Policing elections

Republicans in states such as Florida and Arizona have launched their new legislative sessions by pressing for changes to election laws.

In Florida, for instance, a catchall bill introduced last week includes plans for a new office to investigate election crimes. It’s a slimmed-down version of an elections police force sought by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Keep in mind: There’s no evidence that widespread fraud tainted the results of the 2020 election in Florida — a state former President Donald Trump won handily. But Trump’s supporters in the Sunshine State have clamored for GOP officials to investigate his falsehoods about election fraud.

Similar ideas for election police units have cropped up from Trump allies in Arizona and Georgia.

Other states to watch

Bills under consideration in Arizona would prohibit the use of unmonitored ballot drop boxes, require additional identification to vote and mandate that the state auditor general carry out “election integrity audits” of county election operations.

Arizona, a state that flipped blue in the 2020 presidential election, has been at the red-hot center of battles over voting. The GOP-led Senate last year authorized a widely panned “audit” of the election results in Maricopa County that failed to uncover fraud. This year, the battleground state will host one of the marquee Senate races of the midterms as Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly seeks reelection.

But one controversial bill that would have empowered the legislature to reject election results was effectively killed last week after a bit of parliamentary maneuvering by the House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican.

In another political battleground, a Pennsylvania state court recently struck down as unconstitutional an election law that allowed no-excuse mail-in voting. Gov. Tom Wolf immediately appealed, and as of this writing, voters can still request mail-in ballots for the May 17 primary.

A new look at an old law

A bipartisan group of senators is working behind the scenes on an update of an arcane 19th century law, known as the Electoral Count Act, that governs how Congress counts the Electoral College votes for president.

A bit of recent history: On January 6, 2021, then-Vice President Mike Pence resisted calls by Trump and his allies to insert himself into the vote-counting process to toss out Joe Biden’s slate of electors.

Pence, of course, refused to go along. And last week, the former Vice President issued his strongest rebuke yet of those efforts, saying Trump “is wrong” to claim Pence had the power to overturn the election results.

Among other things, lawmakers working on the re-write want to clarify a future Vice President’s role before the next presidential election. Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican helping to lead the talks, say lawmakers also may add stiffer penalties for threatening or interfering with election workers — following a raft of death threats and harassment since the 2020 election.

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Dates to watch

It’s hard to believe, but the nation’s first primary of the congressional midterms is just weeks away. Voters head to the polls in Texas on March 1. Early voting starts February 14.

February 18, meanwhile, is the deadline for election clerks to receive applications from voters who want to cast absentee ballots by mail.

Only certain categories of voters can vote by mail in Texas. They include people who are 65 and older, those who are sick or disabled and those who will be out of the county and unable to vote in person. The full list of eligible folks and instructions on how to apply can be found here via the Texas Secretary of State’s website.

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