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electionlineWeekly--February 24, 2011

Table of Contents

II. Election News This Week

  • According to reports obtained by The Baltimore Sun, nearly one in four Marylanders who attempt to register to vote through the state’s Motor Vehicle Administration are unsuccessful. State Board of Elections records requested by The Sun show that 144,442 would-be voters started the registration process at an MVA office during the past four years, but for some reason, their names did not get on the voter rolls. According to the paper, a disproportionate number of would-be voters came from Prince George’s County and Baltimore City. An MVA spokesman blamed the bulk of the problem on the applicants, who he said often tell clerks that they want to register to vote, but then fail to follow through by signing and returning the necessary forms. Elections officials are not satisfied."It is just not a good system," said Mary Wagner, the state's director of voter registration. "There are human hands involved. I'm sure that between the applicant and clerks at the MVA, papers get lost." Last year a state Senate panel suggested that the MVA move to an electronic system of registering voters, but officials at the MVA said it would be too costly and could increase wait times at the MVA.
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced legislation this week that would more than double the amount of time a governor has to call a special election. According to published reports, Cuomo is seeking a law to conform with federal law and allow enough time for military ballots to be mailed and completed in special elections. The issue has come up in recent special elections, and was cited as the reason why former Gov. David Paterson last year didn’t call a special election in the 29th District. Under current law, special elections are held between 30 and 40 days from when the governor announces one. Under the proposed legislation, that time would increase to 70 and 80 days. Also, federal law requires boards of elections to send out military ballots within 45 days of a special election—something that can’t be done under current New York law.
  • In some cities, people cast ballots in libraries. In others they cast ballots in grocery stores. Where people cast their ballots in El Paso, Texas just got a bit more limited for the upcoming May election when the city council voted that mobile-voting sites can only be located in publicly-owned buildings. According to the El Paso Times, in the past, the city allowed such sites to be located in churches and private businesses, prompting concerns about special-interest voting. For the May election, 20 sites were scheduled to be visited. Of them, 12 are privately owned, raising concerns. Of the 12, seven are churches, four are hospitals and one is hair products maker Helen of Troy. Spending $3,000 a day to bring voting booths to such private places "runs afoul of the equity of the vote," Rep. Steve Ortega told the paper.
  • Update on Voter ID: Voter photo ID legislation continued to make its way through statehouses across the country this week. The Kansas House Elections and Local Government Committee amended a voter ID bill this week to clarify documents that voters could use to prove citizenship when registering to vote. It also sets a process for first-time voters to prove citizenship if they lack documents when they initially register. The Colorado House voted to support legislation that would require voters to show a photo ID to vote and would disallow voters from using utility bills, birth certificates or naturalization papers from proving their identity on Election Day. In Wisconsin, Republicans are using voter ID as a bargaining trip to try and get Democrats back into the statehouse. In Iowa, where people live became an issue in the photo ID debate when Linn County Auditor Joe Miller set out to prove that people who list motels or hotels as their address actually do live in said motels. Late last week, Democrats in New Mexico closed ranks and a House committee voted to table voter photo ID on a party-line vote. Although a voter ID bill was approved by the Mississippi Senate in January, another bill making its way through the House would expand early voting and require voters to show ID at the polls — albeit not photo ID. Senators in South Carolina approved a new version of voter photo ID on Wednesday.