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II. Election News This Week
- Elections officials in West Virginia are working on a new maintenance contract for the state’s voting machines, but not everyone is happy with the process. According to The Charleston Gazette, in 2005, under the direction of Secretary of State Betty Ireland, election officials entered a single-source contract with Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems & Software to provide touch-screen and optical-scan voting machines. The deal gave ES&S a virtual monopoly on voting systems in West Virginia. The deal also gave ES&S exclusive maintenance contracts to take care of the voting machines. The maintenance contract is set to expire in September. Under the proposed contract, maintenance will cost Kanawha County (one of the largest) $60-$70,000 per year. "It's preposterous," Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, who has been critical of giving ES&S exclusive rights to West Virginia's election machines since the company first won the contract told the paper. Carper said the company's monopoly on voting machines allows ES&S to charge whatever they want to service their machines. "I've jumped up and down and sideways about this all along," Carper said. "What if the company goes out of business? What will [the state] do then?"
- In a case that has drawn strong criticism from Republican conservatives, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) has found no evidence that politics played a role when department attorneys dismissed three defendants from a voting rights lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party. "We found no evidence to support allegations — which were raised during the course of our investigation — that the decision-makers, either in bringing or dismissing the claims, were influenced by the race of the defendants," said a letter from OPR addressed to chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Lamar Smith (R-Texas). The lawsuit stemmed from complaints that New Black Panther Party leaders intimidated white voters at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day in 2008.
- In other Department of Justice news, this week several jurisdictions continued their pursuit to opt-out of the Voting Rights Act. Bedford County, Va. received approval this week to opt out of the 1965 legislation. The county’s attorney had argued that pre-clearance requirements were too costly and time-consuming. Also in Virginia, debate continued over whether or not Fredericksburg should be allowed to opt-out of the law. Proponents have argued that opting out will save the city $1500 per year in administrative costs where as opponents have pointed out that it will cost the city at least $3500 in legal fees just to pursue the option. Across the country in California, Merced County officials are seeking to opt-out of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act claiming that the county’s inclusion makes it appear racist.
- Voter ID Update: It was an up and down week for voter ID this week. After being approved by the House last week, voter ID was expected to come before the full Senate this week in Alabama. A Senate committee in Arkansas voted down legislation that would have required a photo ID at the polls after poll workers spoke out in opposition to the legislation. Auditors in Iowa continue to speak out about legislation that would require a photo ID at the polls. In Kansas, the much-debated voter photo ID bill introduced by Secretary of State Kris Kobach was approved by the Senate and is now on the way to the governor’s desk. Gov. Sam Brownback has said that he will sign the legislation. More than 100 Minnesotans showed up for an early Saturday morning debate on the state’s proposed voter ID legislation. Although the debate continues over voter ID in North Carolina, lawmakers agreed to a bit of a compromise this week by removing the photo ID requirement. The Pennsylvania State Government Committee is reviewing two House bills calling for voters to show photo identifications before they can cast their ballots. Photo ID legislation in Rhode Island apparently has support from both sides of the aisle as it makes its way through the legislative process. A coalition of groups opposing voter photo ID in South Carolina spoke out this week saying that the measure would prove too costly for the residents of the Palmetto State.
- Personnel News: Rockford, Ill. Board of Elections Director Nancy Strain is preparing to retire after 32 years with the board including 14 has director. Another elections official stepping down after 32 years is Morton County, N.D. Auditor Paul Trauger Also stepping down after 24 years on the job is Whatcom County, Wash. Auditor Shirley Forslof. Stabile Harwood was named to the Trumbull County Board of Elections. It was announced this week that LaVera Scott and Kelly Mettler will run the Lucas County, Ohio board of elections while a search is conducted to replace the staff fired last week. Rob McNutt was elected to join the Knox County, Tenn. election commission. California Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani announced this week that she will run for secretary of state in 2014.
- In Memoriam: Things are a little less special this week at the Summit County (Ohio) Board of Elections after the cat the staff had adopted and named Special died suddenly during surgery. Staff took her to the vet after they noticed she was having difficulties breathing and the vet surmised that at some point before being adopted by the BOE, Special had been hit by a car and was suffering ongoing complications. The staff at the BOE requested her ashes.