Special Session: The Senate State Affairs Committee unanimously approved a bill intended to prevent mail-in ballot fraud. Senate Bill 5 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) would increase penalties for voter fraud committed via mail-in ballots, particularly for individuals convicted of prior or concurrent election fraud offenses or the victim was a voter aged 65 or older. The bill is expected to be debated on the Senate floor this week.

Redistricting: A two-day remedial hearing may be held in late August or early September, according to a filing in the ongoing federal lawsuit over the state’s federal and state House districts. The state and at least most of the plaintiffs’ attorneys indicated they were available during several stretches of weekdays between August 23 and September 8. A week-long trial concluded earlier this month without an indication of when a ruling or other further action might occur. It is generally believed that the judges do not want primaries to be delayed (as occurred in 2012) or voided and re-run (as occurred in 2006) as a result of any court-ordered maps.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Gill v. Whitford, the Wisconsin partisan gerrymandering case, on October 3. Last month, the high court announced it would hear the case, making it the first time it has addressed the issue of partisan gerrymandering in about 15 years. In November, a three-judge federal panel struck down the state Assembly’s districts after finding the maps were “intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters … by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats.” The court ruled that the “discriminatory effect is not explained by the political geography of Wisconsin” and thus “constitutes an unconstitutional political gerrymander.” The ruling does not touch on Senate districts, but they will be changed because each is comprised by three Assembly districts.

Filing Begins: The filing period has begun for offices on the November 7 ballot and runs through August 21.

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