I. In Focus This Week
State budget cuts impact vote-by-mail and registration in California
Counties must figure out ways to pay for popular voter options
Buried deep in the 2011-2012 California budget— page 602 to be exact — is a provision that will save the state approximately $30 million per year, but will potentially put a greater burden on the state’s counties and voters.
The recently approved budget includes cuts to voter services which will eliminate reimbursements to counties for vote-by-mail and mail-in voter registration.
In a letter to county registrars, Deputy Secretary of State Lowell Finley said, “County elections officials have the option of providing vote-by-mail ballots to any voter who requests one for any reason, but if they do they will not be reimbursed for the cost of doing so in 2011-2012 fiscal year.”
In November 2010, nearly half of the people who voted in California cast their ballot by mail.
County elections offices throughout the state are reviewing their options and more importantly their own budgets to see if they can continue to provide these services to voters — services that many agree have helped make election day go more smoothly and made the voting experience better.
"Voter access is already uneven from county to county, and the suspension of the mandates is only going to make it worse,” Kim Alexander president of the California Voter Foundationtold a local paper. “What do we tell voters when they want to know if they can vote by mail?"
However anecdotal evidence from registrars that electionlineWeekly spoke with and from media reports indicate that registrars will work with their county board of supervisors to pay for the vote-by-mail option through this current budget.
In Humboldt County, approximately 40 percent of the county’s registered voters are permanent vote-by-mail and in the November 2010 election approximately 47 percent of the county’s voters voted by mail. According to Kelly Sanders, with the county clerk/recorder/registrar of voters office, Humboldt County will continue business as usual.
“By continuing to provide vote-by-mail ballots to voters who have previously applied for them will lessen the impact on the voter,” Sanders said. “We expect that people who would like to apply to be permanent vote-by-mail voters and don’t find the application on their sample ballot will be a) disenfranchised, or b) call our office to find out how to apply thus increasing the workload on staff.”
Sanders said the money to continue the vote-by-mail program will have to come from the county general fund.
“We will continue to hope that funds are available to continue vote-by-mail voting as it is a secure and convenient method of voting,” Sanders said. “We will wait and see if we will be able to afford to accept more applications for permanent vote-by-mail status.”
According to the Orange County Register, Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley anticipated the possibility of such cuts and compensated for them in the budget approved by county supervisors. Kelley's budget for the current fiscal year, which includes the primary next June, is $10.5 million. About $600,000 of that will go to paying for the registration and mail-ballot services no longer being reimbursed by the state.
In Solano County, where they are still waiting on a more than half a million dollar reimbursement for vote-by-mail from the 2009-2010 budget year, Assistant Registrar Lindsey Williams said they expect no changes.
"Until the board tells me otherwise, it's business as usual," Williams told The Reporter.
II. Election News This Week
- For now at least, North Carolina voters still do not need to show a photo ID to vote after House Democrats fought off an effort to override Gov. Bev. Perdue’s veto of photo ID legislation. The vote to override the veto was largely among party and race lines with impassioned speeches coming from both sides. The vote on the veto override was 67-52, five short of the 72 votes needed. All Democrats voted against the override, as well as one Republican: Skip Stam. Not because he changed his mind on the bill, but for strategic reasons. Under House rules, any member who voted on the side of a bill that won the vote can move to reconsider the vote. Stam’s vote against the override put him on the prevailing side, and that's exactly what he did, recalling the measure and then leaving it in limbo to be reconsidered another day.
- Like alcohol during prohibition, it turns out that many Ohio voters actually liked many of the elections procedures recently banned by the state legislature. In Franklin County alone, 40 percent of the county’s voters will have to find a new time, place or way to cast their ballots in upcoming elections after election reform legislation was approved. Local election officials are concerned about the impact the changes will have on election day in 2012. "If we put 140,000 people back on Election Day, you have to wonder," said William A. Anthony Jr., director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, citing the approximate number of people who took advantage of the conveniences the county offered in 2010 that allowed them to vote without going to the polls.
- Free rides to the polls, free food on election day, candidates and political parties offer all sorts of incentives to get people to the polls, but one Michigan business has come up with a unique incentive to get people to register to vote — an incentive that is drawing some attention from local authorities. Your Healthy Choice Clinic in Lansing is offering medical marijuana to anyone who registers to vote. In a statement Wednesday, Attorney General Bill Schuette said his office was carefully reviewing the matter.
- Taking One For The Team: Indian River County Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan is putting her money where her mouth is by taking a pay cut of more than 20 percent to help her office balance it’s budget. Since 2008 the elections office has cut its budget by 30 percent. Full-time staff was reduced from 11 to six and the office rolled back expenses to 2005-06 levels. But that still wasn’t enough so Swan made the decision to cut her own compensation. “I want to lead by example,” Swan told a local newspaper.
- Personnel News: D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics Executive Director Rokey Suleman resigned this week. The DCBOEE has launched a nationwide search to fill the position (see below). No word yet on Suleman’s next moves. F. Roger Hoffman was appointed to serve on the Taunton City, Mass. board of registrar of voters. Attorney Bruce Lambka, who serves as the GOP legal representative on the Lake County, Ind. Elections Board, is prohibited from practicing law for 18 months, beginning Sept. 2. William A. McInerney, the Troy, N.Y. city clerk identified as a target in an election fraud investigation, abruptly submitted his resignation Monday from the job to which he was appointed in 2008. Colorado Springs Clerk Kathryn Young is retiring after 17 years on the job running the city’s elections.
National: Voter disenfranchisement
California: Budget cuts
Colorado: Saguache County
Minnesota: Instant-runoff voting
North Carolina: Proportional voting
Ohio: Better elections
Pennsylvania: Voter ID
South Carolina: Voter ID
Tennessee: Voter ID
Virginia: Election dates
Wisconsin: Waukesha County