I. In Focus This Week
More states move to adopt military and overseas voting legislation
Legislatures rally bipartisan support for troops
Earlier this month, we celebrated our nation’s independence with fireworks, parades and picnics. While many legislatures set off their own fireworks this year along party lines about issues ranging from budget to redistricting to voter identification, legislators rallied the troops in many states with widespread bipartisan support for military and overseas voting legislation.
Much of this legislation was in response to the 2009 federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which was in effect for the first time during the November 2010 election. Some of the MOVE Act’s key provisions include: sending absentee ballots to voters at least 45 days in advance of federal elections; allowing for electronic transmission of voting materials to voters; eliminating notary requirements; and expanding the use of the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB), a backup ballot for those who do not receive a full ballot in time, to all federal elections.
In 2010 many states hurried to pass legislation to meet these requirements; however some failed to fully comply and played “catch up” during the 2011 legislative session. And several states not only complied with the MOVE Act, but expanded some of the protections to further enfranchise military and civilian voters abroad—and at home in at least one instance.
In South Carolina, the legislature passed a law (S 404) that requires ballots for all elections, not just federal elections, to be sent electronically (at the voter’s request) 45 days in advance. Plus, the new law expands acceptance of the FWAB for all elections and removes the witness requirement for military and overseas absentee ballots.
And in Texas, the legislature enacted SB 100, which expands several MOVE Act provisions to many state and local elections, changes the date for federal run-off elections and extends all of the law’s protections to military voters who are absent from their county of residence but within the United States since they often face similar challenges to casting ballots that will be counted.
Additionally, the Uniform Law Commission’s Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act (UMOVA), a model act that would harmonize state election codes by removing further obstacles, adding more protections and extending key MOVE Act provisions to state and local elections, was on the table in several states.
The Pew Center on the States along with the Alliance for Military and Overseas Voting Rights, the Uniform Law Commission, the Federal Voting Assistance Program and the Department of Defense- State Liaison Office supported and encouraged MOVE Act compliance and UMOVA efforts across the nation. Six states adopted UMOVA in 2011: Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah. Of special interest is North Carolina, which has one of the highest active duty military populations in the nation (ranks 5th) and is the first state among those ranking in the top third to adopt UMOVA. Another six states introduced UMOVA.
As of June 24, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), legislatures in 17 states enacted MOVE-related legislation. Since that time, bills were also enacted in at least three additional states. NCSL also notes that in several states primary dates were shifted to better accommodate sending absentee ballots out at least 45 days prior to an election.
Ensuring that military and overseas voters are not disenfranchised is an ongoing challenge and responsibility for legislatures and election officials alike. While work remains, it is encouraging that many states took meaningful steps in 2011 to address the concerns that President Harry S. Truman voiced more than 50 years ago when he stated, “At a time when these young people are defending our country and its free institutions, the least we at home can do is to make sure that they are able to enjoy the rights they are being asked to fight to preserve.”
For more information on military and overseas voting, visit www.pewcenteronthestates.org/elections.
II. Election News This Week
- The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was active in several states this week. In New Mexico, the organization sued Secretary of State Dianna Duran, claiming she violated the state’s open records law by withholding public information about alleged wrongdoing by voters. Duran claims to have evidence that 37 people voted illegally in New Mexico. The ACUL filed a Freedom of Information Act request to review the questionable records. In its lawsuit filed in state district court in Albuquerque, the ACLU said that Duran's staff then illegally concealed many of the documents. Duran cited "executive privilege" in redacting requested emails and records. In South Carolina, the civil rights group was busy tracking down voters who may be affected by the states new voter ID law. The ACLU is holding town hall meeting across the state to educate people on the ramification of the new voter I.D. law, and gather testimony it hopes will keep the law from coming to fruition. According to a check of records by the DMV, approximately 7 percent of the state’s population does not have the ID required to cast a ballot.
- Budgets are tight all over and buried deep within California’s much-discussed budget (page 602 to be exact) are some cuts that could dramatically impact the way Californians cast a ballot. To save $33 million, the bill suspended several state mandates requiring counties to provide voting services that many Californians take for granted. The state no longer requires counties to process all voter registration applications they receive by mail or to send out vote-by-mail ballots to anyone who wants one. According to California Watch, counties still could provide these services, and many probably will, but they won't be reimbursed by the state. "There is a risk to voters that they could be treated differently county by county," said Nicole Winger, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Debra Bowen. Bowen opposed the budget cuts. "Some of these suspensions have to do with democracy itself, and some of them have had such minimal savings or even no savings, it wasn't clear why they had to impose them anyway."
- California Congresswoman Susan Davis has reintroduced a bill that would eliminate restrictions to absentee voting in all states. H.R. 2084 would require all states to offer no-excuse absentee voting. Currently 21 states require some sort of excuse to cast an absentee ballot. “There’s really no excuse for the government to ask for the private details of a person’s life just so they can vote,” Davis said in a statement. “Voters should not have to put their life on display or jump through a series of hoops just to participate in one of the most hallowed acts of a democracy – voting. And no one should be denied the chance to vote because they don’t have the proper excuse. This is not only a matter of privacy but fairness. Voters in one state should not be denied a privilege that voters in other states have when voting.”
- Less than a year after a fire swept through a Harris County, Texas warehouse destroying all 10,000 of the counties voting machines, officials in Harris have purchased a new building to house their new voting equipment. It is twice as large as the old warehouse, and will provide storage for several county departments. The $2 million cost is being picked up almost entirely by the insurance company.
- Personnel News: In Lucas County, Ohio, Ben Roberts and Dan DeAngelis will be the new director and deputy director of the county’s board of elections. Roberts and DeAngelis replace the previous director and deputy who were fired over the improper handling of provisional ballots. Long-time Huron County Clerk, Mich. Clerk Peggy Koehler will retire at the end of August. Gary Clemens was appointed this week to fill the vacant seat on the New Bern County, N.C. board of elections. Also in North Carolina, McDowell County got an entirely new board of elections when Rev. Dr. Carl Manuel, Jeri Sue Arledge and David Patneaude were sworn in this week. Effective Sept. 16, Mike Morley will no longer serve on the Mahoning County, Ohio board of elections. Former Election Assistance Commission member Gracia Hillman has launched her own consulting firm G.M. Hillman and Associates.