I. In Focus This Wee
Feeling the Pain: States, EAC likely to see cuts in federal budget debate
The budget debate is in full swing in Washington, DC and around the country as the White House and a divided Congress spar over priorities for federal spending both right now and for the next fiscal year (which begins October 1, 2011).
Anyone following the debate is likely well-aware of the professed commitment to fiscal discipline at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill. To date, this commitment to discipline has translated into a focus on identifying budget cuts wherever they might be found in the federal budget. As a result, policymakers and stakeholders across the nation are learning that the concept of “shared sacrifice” – at the least the version that involves reduced or eliminated funding – is less rhetoric than reality.
The election community is no exception. Less than ten years after the federal government made its first-ever investment in state and local administration via the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, election officials are seeing the federal government take steps to reduce the flow of federal money for voting improvements across America.
One immediate casualty is the election reform grants established to help states meet the various mandates enacted as part of HAVA. The President’s fiscal year 2012 (FY12) budget formally zeroes out these funds, which have not been replenished for several budget cycles (beginning during President G.W. Bush’s second term) after about $3 billion went to states in the fiscal years following HAVA. These funds have been identified as consensus cuts and were included in both versions of the FY11 continuing budget resolution (“CR”) originating in the House of Representatives. The latest CR (H.J.Res.44) passed the House 335-91 on March 1, passed the Senate 91-9 March 2, and was signed by the President later the same day.
The President’s signature will leave the EAC with about $69 million in previously authorized funds for grants to the states – but no new funds. The CR also rescinds half of $10 million in grant funds for planned studies of pre-election logic and accuracy testing and accessible voting technology.
The other target for reduced funding is the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) itself. The President’s budget cuts the agency’s proposed budget $4 million from last year, authorizing $14 million - $3.25 million of which is to be transferred to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for voting system testing and guidelines. Barring any other negotiated changes, the EAC will be left with approximately $12 million for FY12. At press time it was not yet clear what impact the cuts would have on EAC operations.
When HAVA was enacted in 2002, there was some uncertainty about whether or not the nearly $4 billion authorized represented a down payment on a new and longstanding federal role in election administration. As the FY11/12 budget debates continue, it seems pretty clear that while the federal role created by HAVA may be longstanding, the level of funding will not.
II. Election News This Week
- This week, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted unveiled a series of election reforms, including allowing people to register to vote online. Husted also proposed statewide standards that would set the window for absentee voting at 21 days by mail currently it is 35 days and 16 days in-person prior to Election Day. All county boards of election would be required to open from 8 a.m. until noon on the two Saturdays during the in-person voting period and they would be closed on Sundays. All in-person voting would end the Friday before the election in order to give county boards time to update their poll books. According to the Columbus Dispatch, legislative enactments will be necessary for most, if not all, of Husted's proposed changes.
- Halfway across the country from Ohio, Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller was introducing his own set of election reforms. Although many of Miller’s reforms were related to campaign finance, he did also propose election administration reforms including online voter registration and stiffer penalties for those found guilty of voter fraud or accused of illegally attempting to influence an election. Voter registrars Larry Lomax of Clark County and Alan Glover of Carson City both told The Lahontan Valley News that they support online reporting and voter registration. Glover also backed centralizing all filings with the Secretary of State. “The biggest confusion we have is where to file,” he said noting that his office gets reports that should go to Miller's office and vice versa every election cycle.
- The Colorado Attorney General has opened an investigation into the November 2, 2010 election in Saguache County. Allegations that incumbent County Clerk Melinda Myers falsely certified the election, and that election laws and regulations were violated, were brought to the secretary of state’s attention in November. Staff from the secretary of state’s office traveled to Saguache County to work with the clerk to address the complaints. The secretary’s office reported that while there were problems with compliance, those could be addressed through election worker training. According to The Crestone Eagle, six citizens were not satisfied with the report and filed a complaint with the district attorney. Because the district attorney had a conflict—a member of his staff challenged Myers in the election—the matter was referred to the state’s attorney general. The attorney general has referred the matter to a statewide grand jury.
- Voto aquí. The U.S. Department of Justice has told the Lorain County (Ohio) Board of Elections to give Spanish-speaking voters greater access to the voting booth, including printing ballots and other election materials in both English and Spanish and hiring more bilingual poll workers. The recommendations stem from a review launched last year of the county’s compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “We note that while the County has undertaken some laudable efforts to serve the needs of its limited English proficient residents, it needs to significantly expand its bilingual elections program to meet its obligations under (the law),” Justice Department attorneys Ali Ahmad and Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez wrote in the letter. County elections board Director Paul Adams told The Chronicle-Telegram that although the board still needs to fully evaluate the Justice Department recommendations, he doesn’t believe the county has any choice but to comply or face a federal lawsuit similar to the one filed against Cuyahoga County’s elections board last year. “Their intention was to work with our county and get to the same place without having to go that route,” Adams said.
III. Research and Report Summaries
Making Reform a Reality: An After-Action Report on Implementation of the Omnibus Election Reform Act - District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics, February 17, 2011 – The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics describes and evaluates how it implemented multiple mandated changes to the voting process during the 2010 election season. These changes included introducing early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, new voting equipment, same-day voter registration, post-election audits, new poll worker management requirements and conducting several feasibility studies.
The Cost of Voter ID Laws: What the Courts Say - Vishal Agraharkar, Wendy Weiser, and Adam Skaggs, Brennan Center for Justice at The New York University School of Law, February 2011 – The Brennan Center examines, after reviewing every court case in which a photo ID law has been challenged, the costs states must incur if they decide to implement photo ID requirements for voters, including free photo IDs, ensuring that IDs are reasonably accessible to all eligible voters, and including sufficient voter education programs and poll worker training.
Assessing Electoral Performance in the New Mexico 2010 General Election – Lonna Rae Atkeson, R. Michael Alvarez, Alex N. Adams, and Lisa A. Bryant, The University of New Mexico, February 2011 – This report provides a systematic examination of New Mexico’s November 2010 general election. Both qualitative and quantitative methods are combined to analyze the state’s election process. Similar reports were produced following the 2006 and 2008 general elections.
Florida: Election proposals
Illinois: Voting Rights Act
Maryland: Motor Voter
New York: Lever voting machines
North Carolina: Voter ID
Ohio: Online registration
Texas: Voter ID
Vermont: Voting rules
V. Job Openings