I. In Focus This Week
Florida counties brace for impact of new election-reform law
League of Women Voters considers litigation, vows to stop registrations
Following the disastrous 2000 election and the implementation of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), elections supervisors in the state of Florida have been faced with a host of election administration rules and regulation changes every election cycle and 2012 appears like it will be no different.
Today, Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed sweeping election-reform legislation that will decrease the length of time for early voting, create more reasons to cast a provisional ballot and will alter how third-party registrations are conducted.
“As a Supervisor of Elections in Florida, I had secretly hoped that there would be little to no legislation introduced this year that would have a major impact on elections and election administration,” said Linda Harrington, Lee County supervisor of elections. “We have been dealing with major changes to our election processes and equipment on both the federal and state level since 2002 when the Help America Vote Act was enacted. I don’t think any of us anticipated the enormity of these legislative changes to the Election Code.”
The legislation was controversial from the beginning because it was introduced late in the session and the debate was highly charged politically. The House version of the legislation (HB1355) was approved 77-38 along party lines while the Senate voted 25-13 with two Republicans breaking ranks to vote against the legislation.
"I want people to vote, but I also want to make sure there's no fraud involved in elections," Scott said at the time of the signing. "All of us as individuals that vote want to make sure that our elections are fair and honest."
Although the bill was highly partisan in nature, David Stafford, supervisor of elections for Escambia County did point out that it did include some provisions put forward by the Division of Elections and supervisors of elections. Still, Stafford and many members of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections were opposed to the legislation as a whole and not only testified against it, but also tried to work with their local electeds.
“I appeared before the legislature several times on behalf of our state association (FSASE) during consideration of a variety of election law changes,” said Stafford. “We spoke out against specific provisions, several of which unfortunately were included in the final bill. Among those were: changes to early voting, forcing certain voters who change their address on election day to vote provisionally, enhanced powers granted to the appointed Secretary of State over the independently-elected supervisors of elections, changes to how constitutional amendments may appear on the ballot, and new and enhanced reporting requirements, to name a few.
One of the biggest concerns facing many elections supervisors is the increased number of provisional ballots this legislation will create. The legislation will require voters who have moved from one county to another within Florida to use a provisional ballot instead of a regular ballot if they want to update their name and address at the polling place.
“This is a procedural change that will affect instructions given to poll workers during their required training classes, which means that the instructional manuals we use for these classes will have to be redone,” said Harrington, “Each provisional ballot must be verified for eligibility of the voter manually and must be done within a very short period of time so that those ballots that are eligible can be included in the certification of results.”
Because of that, staff may have to work overtime to complete the verification process in a timely manner. Increasing the usage of provisional ballots will increase costs because of the special envelopes required to provide elections supervisors with the information they need to verify each ballot and printed instructions given to the voters on how they can find out if their ballot was verified and accepted.
Although Florida isn’t the only state seeking to decrease the time provided for voters to cast a ballot early, elections supervisors are concerned about the impact the decreased time and flexibility of time will have on voters.
Under the legislation, early voting will begin 10 days prior to each federal and state election and will last for eight days. Supervisors have the option of offering it for six to 12 hours per day.
“I can see issues and confusion if the county my north and the county to my south offer different hours than Sarasota,” said Kathy Dent, supervisor of elections for Sarasota County. “Especially in multi-county or state races.”
Although early voting times will change for all state and federal elections (primary and general) Dent said that the greatest impact will be on the general elections, noting that in 2008 and 2010 her county had lines for early voting even with two full weeks of time. In Lee County, Harrington said 66,000 residents voted early in 2008 with long lines at all five of the early voting sites.
“The decrease in the number of days we will be able to offer early voting next year, coupled with the increase in its popularity places us in a difficult position of trying to accommodate a large segment of the registered voters in a shorter span of time,” Harrington said.
Dent and Harrington said that keeping their offices open to accommodate more people in fewer hours will put a strain on their budgets for additional personnel costs, overtime and fees for facilities and equipment.
According to Stafford, one reform elections supervisors have advocated consistently, to no avail, is greater flexibility in the types of locations they can utilize for early voting. Current law restricts early voting to elections offices, city halls, and public libraries.
The bill would require third-party groups such as the League of Women Voters, that sign-up new voters to register with the state, file regular reports and turn-in completed voter registration forms within 48 hours or face fines of $50 for each late form. The Florida League of Women Voters has said that it will cease registering voters should Scott sign the legislation.
“It’s because of the red-tape and the punitive restrictions that have been put in place,” Deidre Macnab, president of the FLWV said in a statement. “That, very candidly, we felt were designed not to control it as much as to suppress voter registration and to entrap groups and individuals.”
The League has an online petition opposing the legislation and calling on Scott not to sign it. To-date more than 15,000 residents have signed the petition. The League has also not ruled out the possibility of litigation to stop the legislation.
“We will indeed be exploring and investigating litigation which is the last route we wanted to take that ends up utilizing taxpayer money,” Macnab said.
The supervisors of elections that electionlineWeekly spoke with were uncertain exactly the third-party registration provision and the League’s threat to stop registering voters would impact their offices because many of their registrations come the department of motor vehicles.
Stafford did note that his county does see a spike in third-party registrations closer to elections — especially presidential elections — and that could potentially present added work during an already busy time
The legislation creates a committee of 10 people that has until October 1 of this year to select the date of the presidential preference primary for 2012. There has been a lot of discussion about Florida giving New Hampshire a run for its “first-in-the-nation” money and that has supervisors in the Sunshine state concerned about how they are going to pull this off.
“The primary could be anywhere from the first Tuesday in January [Jan. 3, 2012] to the first Tuesday in March [March 6, 2011],” Dent said. “This creates issues for the 67 supervisors in planning, especially for poll workers and polling locations.”
Dent also noted that the legislation moves the state’s primary from August 28 to August 14 which would mean that UOCAVA ballots must be mailed no later than July 1.
“Our candidate qualifying ends June 22. This leaves eight days to finalize the ballot, get it to the printer, proof and test, and get ready to mail,” Dent said. “It could be crunch time.”
Despite all the hurdles presented by the new legislation, elections supervisors seemed confident that some way they will make it all work.
“The simple fact is we provide the service according to the laws established. If poor performance occurs it is either a bad law requirement or poor planning to the change requirements meeting the new law,” said Mark Andersen, Bay County supervisor of elections. “Somehow election supervisors always find away to meet the challenges.”
II. Election News This Week
- This week, a Mississippi man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for voting in two elections in 2009, although his status as an ex-convict prevented him from doing so. Following the sentencing, Madison County DA Michael Guest said that he hoped this would stand as a warning to anyone else wishing to commit voter fraud. "What we're hoping this does is have a chilling effect on anyone who is contemplating any sort of voter fraud," Guest said. "We want people to know this is a serious offense." Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann also weighed in on the case lauding Guest for his work. "Madison and Rankin County District Attorney Michael Guest sent a strong message to election cheats everywhere that their actions will be severely punished," he said in a press release. "Voter fraud will not be tolerated in Mississippi any longer and I applaud the efforts of D.A. Guest for prosecuting individuals who try to steal your vote."
- Legislative Update: Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell signed legislation that allows the state to use its own discretion when counting write-in ballots. Late last week the Connecticut House approved legislation that many hope will eliminate ballot shortage problems. Under the legislation registrars must certify with the secretary of state that they have enough ballots on hand for an election and there must also be an emergency contingency plan for elections. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed two election-reform bills into law this week; one will shorten the early voting period from 45 to 21 days and the other bill make Georgia only the second state to allow the secretary of state to set the date for the presidential preference primary. The North Carolina House narrowly approved a measure that will shorten the state’s early voting time from two and a half weeks to one and a half weeks; the bill now moves to the Senate. The Ohio House approved a sweeping elections reform piece of legislation this week along party lines. The legislation, if signed into law, would decrease the length of time for early voting, prevent county elections officials from automatically sending absentee ballots to voters, lessen the need to cast provisional ballots, allow elections boards to save money through bulk purchasing and let voters update registrations online. The Senate is working on a similar bill and a committee vote was expected at press time.
- Primary Day: Half of the nation’s commonwealths held primary elections this week and the one consistent theme coming from both states was low voter turnout. In Kentucky there were no lines at polling places and only a few minor problems reports, although the attorney general’s office did receive two calls to its voter fraud hotline. In the primary secretary of state contest, Republican Bill Johnson, a former BP executive, narrowly defeated Hilda Legg (Legg has indicated that she will seek a re-canvass of the vote) and Democrat Alison Grimes, an attorney, defeated incumbent Elaine Walker. Walker is the former mayor of Bowling Green and was appointed by the governor after Trey Grayson resigned earlier this year. Although rainy weather was blamed for low voter turnout in Pennsylvania, primary day was not without its troubles. Problems with two precincts delayed the vote count in Crawford County; and Adams County also faced vote-tallying issues. Power outages plagued several polling places including one in Franklin County. And it wouldn’t be an election in Pennsylvania without the police showing up at a polling place for some reason or another. This time was for a ruckus over sign location at one Delaware County polling site.
- Voter ID Update: Even though a bill that would require New Hampshire voters to show ID has not yet become law, that didn’t stop one town clerk from posting signs at polling places during a special election telling voters they needed to provide photo ID; the attorney general’s office is currently investigating. While still debating the merits of early voting, a North Carolina Senate panel gave initial approval to voter photo ID legislation this week. The Senate’s bill mirrors a bill currently being debated by a House panel. Late last week, the Rhode Island Senate approved a version of voter ID. The legislation now moves to the House where a similar piece of legislation is also being debated. Although South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed the Palmetto State’s version of voter ID into law this week, final implementation remains in flux awaiting approval from the U.S. Department of Justice and the money to pay for the legislation. After multiple tries during multiple legislative sessions in Texas, a voter photo ID bill is finally headed to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk for signature. Perry is expected to sign the legislation. After more than 10 hours of debate the Wisconsin Senate gave tentative approval to a voter ID bill. Senate Democrats were able to delay a final vote until press time.
- Personnel News: In Marshall County, Tenn. Jo Ann Henry was forced to resign from the position of elections administrator. Clatsop County, Ore. clerk Cathie Garber is resigning from her position in Oregon to become the assistant elections supervisor in Clark County, Wash. Jason Corwin has been named the new voter registrar in Mecklenburg County, Va.
III. Research and Report Summaries
Guidelines for Understanding, Adjudicating, and Resolving Disputes in Elections (GUARDE) – Edited by Chad Vickery, IFES, May 2011: This report provides seven standards that are important elements of any election complaints adjudication process.
Final EAC Management Decision for West Virginia and New York – Election Assistance Commission, May 5, 2011: The EAC issued management decisions for both West Virginia and New York concerning the resolution of the Office of the Inspector General audit reports on the administration of payments received under the Help America Vote Act. The EAC has an archive of previous management decisions.
National: Voting Rights Act
Arizona: Online voter registration
Indiana: Voting process
Kentucky: Secretary of state
Louisiana: Secretary of state race
New Jersey: Mail-in ballots
New Hampshire: Voter ID
Ohio: Mahoning County
Pennsylvania: Voter ID
V. Job Openings