I. In Focus This Week
New Year brings lots of new election administration legislation
State lawmakers get to work on election reform
Like the first day of school, state legislators are returning to work in statehouses across the country and are using those freshly sharpened No. 2’s to craft a myriad of election administration legislation.
According to Jennie Bowser with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the amount of election reform legislation is about on par with what it was two years ago.
“It’s evident that there is always a spike in the number of election administration bills after an election year,” Bowser said. “This can be partially attributed to the fact that legislators are more aware of the election process and potential problems having just been through the process themselves.”
Bowser said election administration legislation also seems to spike in off-years because it provides election officials to prepare for new requirements during “off” years.
In addition to numerous voter ID bills around the country, Bowser said she has been seeing a number of bills on primary elections — open vs. closed, primary dates, eliminating presidential primaries — and bills on military and overseas voting, electronic and universal voter registration and proof of citizenship.
“It’s hard to say though this early in the game that something is a trend because you’ll see a lot similar bills introduced and that looks like a trend, but then none of them may end up getting approved,” Bowser said.
Bowser added that NCSL is currently working on a database that will easily allow those interested to view and track election administration around the country. The web portal should be available shortly.
The following is by no means a compendium of proposed legislation, but merely a snapshot of what’s going on in statehouses across the country right now.
Faced with growing budget gaps and what seems like an unending number of special elections, one California lawmaker has introduced legislation that would require the state to reimburse counties for special elections.
One day after the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the state must conduct a special gubernatorial election in 2011, legislation was filed to set the timeline for the special election with a primary in May and the general election in August.
In Indiana, making vote centers a permanent part of how Hoosiers cast their ballots is working its way through the state legislature. This week, the Senate easily approved a proposal that would allow all counties in the state — currently five counties use vote centers as part of a pilot program — to use vote centers for all elections.
New Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has wasted no time in his fight against voter fraud. Kobach told The Associated Press that he is currently working with legislative staff to introduce a bill that would require a voter to provide a driver’s license number, identification number or some form of ID when submitting a request for a ballot by mail.
Montana Secretary of State Linda McCullough worked with elections administrators statewide to craft legislation that would take the state to all vote-by-mail elections beginning in 2012. House Bill 130 was introduced by Rep. Pat Ingraham, a former county clerk and election administrator. The bill has already received bipartisan support.
Once again Washington Rep. Sam Hunt has filed legislation to force Pierce County to conduct its elections by mail only, as the remainder of the state’s counties do. HB 1002 was the third bill filed for the 2011 session.
Military and Overseas Voting
Although their 2010 efforts failed, legislators are once again working on an effort in Washington to allow military and overseas voters to vote by email. Legislation has been filed in multiple other states including: Montana, Nevada, New Jersey (II, III, IV, V), North Dakota, South Carolina, Virginia (II, III), and Wyoming.
Proof of Citizenship
Although both Georgia’s and Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship laws have met with resistance from the U.S. Department of Justice and the courts, that has not stopped a number of states are jumping on the citizenship bandwagon including: Colorado, Oregon, and South Carolina.
In Oklahoma, legislators on both sides of the aisle have introduced a variety of bills that would open up the state’s primary elections under certain circumstances to cross-party and independent voting, extend the in-person absentee voting period and make county elections nonpartisan.
The Kentucky Senate has approved legislation that would move the state’s primary election back to August. The bill now moves to the House.
Update on Voter ID
Since last week’s electionlineWeekly story about proposed voter ID legislation in states across the country, two more states have joined in by introducing photo ID legislation. Within hours of the publication of electionlineWeekly’s voter ID story, legislation was introduced in Minnesota requiring a photo ID. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has had a piece of legislation introduced that would not only require a voter to show photo ID, but would also give his office prosecutorial powers. Also since the story has published, legislation has been introduced in Colorado, Iowa, Montana, and Nebraska.
Miscellaneous Election Administration
While New York’s new optical-scan voting created a firestorm of problems in the September primary and again on a somewhat smaller scale in November, one of the biggest complaints seemed to be about the size of the print on the ballot. State Sen. Joe Addobbo has filed legislation that would require ballots to be printed in a “simple, easy-to-read type” and in at least 12-point type.
In addition to going vote-by-mail statewide, two pieces of legislation also introduced in Washington would speed up the overall process. One bill would require all ballots returned by 8p.m. on election night and another bill would allow local election officials to begin counting ballot prior to the 8 p.m. polling closing time.
In Virginia, if a voter casts a paper absentee ballot and dies before Election Day, the ballot is supposed to be voided, but if a voter casts an absentee ballot electronically at a registrar’s office, the vote counts. One legislator is trying to fix the law to make sure all ballots are counted.
(Special thanks to the Election Legislation e-Digest.)
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.
California: Vote centers
Hawaii: Election reform
Iowa: Ex-felon voting rights
Kansas: Voter fraud initiative
Ohio: Lucas County BOE
Oklahoma: New voting machines
South Carolina: Voter ID
West Virginia: Vote-by-mail
V. Job Openings