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electionlineWeekly--January 20, 2011

Table of Contents

II. Election News This Week

  • In one of his first acts in office, new Iowa Governor Terry Branstad fulfilled a campaign promise by rescinding a previous executive order which had established a process that gave voting rights and right to hold public office to felons and those who committed aggravated misdemeanors. The initial executive order was signed by former Gov. Tom Vilsack on July 4, 2005 and since then an estimated 100,000 Iowa ex-felons have had their rights restored. According to the Des Moines Register, Secretary of State Matt Schultz - who also serves as Iowa's election commissioner - asked Branstad to nullify Vilsack's order allowing felons in Iowa who have served their sentences to have their voting rights restored. Under Branstad's action, Iowa felons again will be required to petition the governor to have voting rights restored.
  • A legal battle in Ohio over how counties count provisional ballots could set a national precedent. The dispute — over a contested judicial race in Hamilton County — has already produced conflicting rulings from the Ohio Supreme Court and a federal court, and it could require the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in. "It's not a high-profile race, but it may create a high-profile precedent," Ned Foley, director of an elections-law center at The Ohio State University told the Columbus Dispatch. Ohio law says that for ballots to count, they must come from a voter's correct precinct. The board of elections decided to count 27 provisional ballots from the wrong precinct because they were cast at the county elections office and workers mistakenly gave voters the incorrect ballot for their precinct. The board decided not to count about 150 other ballots cast by voters who went to the correct polling location but apparently were mistakenly directed by poll workers to the wrong table for their precinct and also cast the wrong ballot. The U.S. District Court and the Ohio Supreme Court have both ruled on the issue, but differently. Foley said the case could break ground heading into the 2012 presidential election by clarifying for the state, and even the nation, how provisional ballots under these circumstances should be handled.
  • Last week, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant released a final report on the cost of the special election to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd. According to the Charleston Daily Mail, the state paid out just over $3.08 million in reimbursements to counties, an amount slightly ahead of the $3 million legislators had estimated for the election. Also in the report, was a list of indirect costs including the loss of $1 million in liquor sales and $110,000 in state sales tax. West Virginia is one of five states that prohibit the sale of liquor on Election Day and since the special election fell on a Saturday and the state prohibits the sale of liquor on Sundays as well, that was two lost days of sales. Needless to say, the loss has once again renewed the call to eliminate the state’s ban of liquor sales on Election Day. "Whether it's a special, primary, or general election day, this restriction is insulting to the elected officials of our state, as well as the consumers," Bridget Lambert, president of the West Virginia Retailers Association told the paper. "It implies that a citizen's vote can be bought with a bottle of spirits." State officials should probably just be grateful that it wasn’t a football weekend in Morgantown.