I. In Focus This Week
2011 Legislative Update
State legislative sessions begin to wrap-up
With summer on the way, many state legislative sessions are beginning to wrap-up for the year with some already finished. It’s been a busy year for election administration legislation across the country with many pieces of legislation inspired by party changes in state houses.
The following is a snapshot of what states have done so far and what is still on the books and needs to be approved before sessions end.
The South Carolina Senate approved a second reading of legislation that would allow the state to offer 11 days of early voting. The Georgia legislature approved and Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill that reduced the number of early voting days in the Peach State from 45 to 21.
Florida election reform
A sweeping piece of election reform legislation is quickly making its way through the Florida legislature and would bring many changes to the way Floridians register and vote in the Sunshine state. In particular, the legislation would cut early voting from 14 to seven days. Other provisions include limiting a voters’ ability to change their address at the polls, change third-party voter registration rules and make it more difficult for citizen groups to put amendments on the ballot.
NevadaAssembly Bill 132 would move all municipal elections to coincide with the federal, state and county elections held in November of even years. Currently many municipalities in the state conduct elections in odd years, with the primary in April and the general in June.
The Oklahoma legislature is considering two bills that would help the state comply with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Act. On piece of legislation would move the primary to June and maintain a runoff system and another would eliminate the runoff system.
In Tennessee, the state’s GOP is on the verge of repealing much of a 2008 law that would have required the state to move to all paper ballots. Many Republicans that supported the legislation in 2008 have since soured on the law. They say paper ballots can easily be manipulated after a vote and argued that it would be too costly for counties to implement. The state election coordinator estimates the start-up cost for paper-ballot voting to be $7.6 million and the ongoing cost to be nearly $4.2 million every two years. In Vermont, legislation is pending that would require towns with more than 2,000 residents to use optical-scan voting machines to count ballots instead of the traditional way of counting them by hand.
The Washington legislature voted to eliminate the state’s primary for 2012. Instead Democrats and Republicans will choose their nominee via a caucus and the state will save approximately $10 million by not having to conduct an election.
The Colorado House has given initial approval to a piece of legislation that would require potential voters to show some form of proof-of-citizenship in order to register to vote.
Secretary of state succession
After a judge ruled that the state’s recount panel must consider whether or not current Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White was eligible to run for the seat he eventually won, the state’s GOP introduced legislation in the Senate that would have the governor appoint the next secretary of state should White prove ineligible. The House is resisting the change.
In 2011, voter ID legislation was on the agenda in more state’s than it was not. In Colorado, Senate Democrats were successfully able to defeat a proposed voter photo ID law. In Kansas, the legislature approved a voter photo ID law that was signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback. The Minnesota legislature is considering putting voter ID on the ballot in 2012. The North Carolina legislature continues to debate a proposed voter ID law with many advocacy and student groups speaking out against it. This week, a Rhode Island Senate committee delayed taking action on the Ocean State’s voter ID proposal for another week. Despite constitutional questions raised by the state’s attorney general, the Tennessee House approved photo voter ID legislation. In South Carolina, the House approved a compromise on a proposed voter ID bill. The bill moves next to the Senate where it is expected to be approved. After hundreds of residents attended and testified at a public hearing on Wisconsin’s proposed voter ID bill, the lawmakers announced that they plan to vote on the legislation in May.
In the wake of the 2010 write-in campaign for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska legislature has approved a bill that makes it clear a voter’s intent takes precedent when casting a write-in ballot.
Although elections are not under the purview of the Illinois secretary of state, for years people have been able to register to vote at their local secretary of state offices. Current state law lists the secretary of state offices’ as “temporary” voter registration offices, but Senate Bill 90 would make them permanent places to register. The Maryland General Assembly approved legislation allowing the state to offer online voter registration. Currently in Hawaii both the House and Senate have approved their own versions of legislation for online voter registration. The legislation is before a House committee and could be approved by the whole legislature at press time.
II. Election News This Week
- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has agreed to reconsider its decision to strike down Arizona's requirement that residents provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote. A three-judge panel of the Appeals Court ruled in October that the National Voter Registration Act pre-empts Arizona's Proposition 200, which was passed by voters in 2004 and requires residents to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote and voters to show proof of identity at the polls on Election Day. On Wednesday, the court agreed to rehear the case "en banc" before an 11-judge panel of the court. A hearing date has not been scheduled.
- The Louisiana auditor released a report this week saying that the state had spent more than $1 million on special legislative elections in the past five years. In response, Secretary of State Tom Schedler said his office is pushing several pieces of legislation that would limit the number of special elections permitted. Schedler told The Advocate he is seeking a proposed state constitutional change that would allow for temporary appointments when there are legislative vacancies. Under the change, elections to fill vacancies would then be held on the next regular scheduled election date. “We’ve cut back employees here. They ask us repeatedly to come up with ways to save. It’s an easy way for us to do so,” said Schedler. Louisiana had more special elections than any other southern state between 2005 and 2010, the audit report said. Louisiana had 32 special elections — six more than the next highest southern state, Florida. North Carolina and South Carolina had no special elections. All of the Louisiana elections were for legislative seats.
- Recount: After the Government Accountability Board laid out the rules, the recount in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race got underway late this week. In Waukesha County, which was at the center of the controversy, the process got off to a bit of a rough start when a numbered seal on the first bag of ballots did not match the number recorded for that bag. Fond du Lac County anticipates that it will cost the county an additional $5,000 to conduct the recount. County clerks throughout the state expressed concerns about being able to complete the recount in the amount of time allotted by the state. In Dodge County, where turnout was particularly high, the clerk anticipates the county taking time to count right up till the deadline.
- Tennessee Personnel Issues: If it’s springtime in Tennessee, then it must be time for a new round of hirings and firings of county election administrators. In Cumberland County, Suzanne Smith was returned to her position of election administrator after being fired from that same position two years ago. After receiving only one application for the job, the Putnam County election commission voted to re-appoint Debbie Steidl as election administrator. In Knox County, Clifford Rodgers was chosen to replace long-time administrator Greg MacKay who was fired on April 15. And in Rutherford County, the search for a new administrator has been narrowed down to six applicants.
National: Election Assistance Commission
District of Columbia: Special elections
Massachusetts: Voter ID
Michigan: Election reform
New Hampshire: Voter fraud
New Jersey: Primary election date
North Dakota: Efficient voting
Oklahoma: Voter ID
South Carolina: Voter ID
Tennessee: Voting machines
IV. Job Openings