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II. Election News This Week
- This week, the U.S. Dept. of Justice approved 76 provisions of Florida’s controversial new election-reform law. However, the agency failed to pre-clear four additional provisions in the law, provisions that many consider the most controversial including reducing the number of days voters will have for early voting and new restrictions on third-party voter registration groups. Anticipating that DOJ may not pre-clear all pieces of the legislation, last month Kurt Browning, secretary of state, asked a federal court to approves those changes arguing that he didn’t think they would get a “fair hearing” from the agency. In a statement, Browning said the Justice Department decision "confirms what we already know, that Florida's new election laws are fair and not discriminatory. I expect the federal district court will also agree that the new laws are fair when it reviews the remaining provisions." The sections of the Florida law that are now before the court require third-party registration groups to submit voter registration cards within 48 hours or suffer large fines; largely discontinue name or registration changes at the polls; limit the number of days for early voting; and make it harder to verify voter signatures on petitions.
- Riverside County's new elections chief is facing an ironic twist. Kari Verjil took over as registrar of voters in February after serving as the top elections official in San Bernardino County. Now, she is eyeing ways to improve the county's vote-counting operations, which came under criticism last year amid the slow posting of results. Part of that effort is finding additional ballot-counting machines. The county currently has six Sequoia Optech 400C scanners to count paper ballots. By comparison, two other counties, which use the same machines, both have 14. Sequoia no longer regularly manufactures the Optech 400C scanners. The county was leasing two extra machines for the November 2010 election to help speed vote-counting efforts but the county cannot purchase those because they were bought by another county. "They went to San Bernardino when I was there," Verjil told The Press Enterprise. "I was ramping up operations in San Bernardino before I knew I was coming here."So those machines were bought by that registrar that used to be there," Verjil said she and her successor in San Bernardino County, Michael Scarpello, have joked about the situation, which she describes as odd.
- Many county and state election officials often lament of low voter turnout, but Surry County, Va. is anticipating 100 percent voter turnout for an upcoming Republican Primary — or a zero percent turnout. A quirk in redistricting means that the county will have to open a polling place for one voter for the upcoming primary. It will cost the county approximately $2,000 to open the polling place for the day and even if the lone voter shows up in the early moments of election day, the county must keep the location open till polls officially close across the state. Registrar Lucille Epps said she contacted the Virginia Board of Elections to ask if the lone voter could be sent to the next closest precinct but was told that was not possible.
- Moving on Up: Elections offices across the country are busting at the seams with staff, equipment and piles of paperwork. In Davidson County, N.C. the board of elections is making plans to move to a new government-owned building in the next couple of months. The new space will provide additional room for storage and parking. In Sequoyah County, Okla., the board of elections now shares a 6,400-sq. foot space with the county’s 911 operations. The board used to share a small space with the county commission, but now is enjoying a space that includes: a kitchen/break area, a large meeting/training room, separate storage, a small conference room, an office area behind the public service counter and a public reception.
- Personnel News: The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics took another hit this week with the announcement that board chairman Togo West would be stepping down. This follows the resignation last month of DCBOEE Executive Director Rokey Suleman. The board has also been without a minor party member for more than year. After 42 years of serving the voters of St. Johns County, Fla., long-time Elections Supervisor Penny Halyburton announced that she will retire as of the end of August.
- In Memoriam: Former Oregon Secretary of State Mark Hatfield died this week at the age of 89. In addition to serving as secretary of state, Hatfield served in the state legislator, was governor from 1958 to 1966 and served in the U.S. Senate for almost 30 years. Former Maine Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky died this week after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, he was 57. Gwadosky served as secretary of state from 1997 to 2005. He also served in the state legislature after first being elected at the age of 23. Former Hamilton County, Tenn. elections administrator Steve Conrad passed away this week. He was 87.