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electionlineWeekly--September 29, 2011

Table of Contents

I. In Focus This Week

A primary cause for concern
2012 primary questions worry election administrators

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While the national parties work to shore up their bases and GOP candidates jockey for position and those on the fringe just try to take it all in, local elections officials are busy preparing for the 2012 election season.

Some of these officials have numerous concerns about when the primary will be held, how much it will cost and whether or not new laws will impact part of the preparation equation.

Who’s on first?
In 2008 states across the country jockeyed to be among the first to hold presidential primaries with some of the primaries being held before some people had even taken down their up-too-long Christmas decorations.

Four years later, while the race to be first may not be as frenzied, the battle over when to hold primaries still has some local election officials in a holding pattern for preparations for 2012.

The national parties have told the Sunshine State that it cannot hold its primary until March 6, however, a task force to choose the primary date — scheduled to meet Sept. 30 — seems to be leaning toward a February primary.

Elections supervisor throughout the state, already concerned about how/if new election reforms will impact the primary are in a worried holding pattern while waiting on the task force.

“We supervisors of elections wrote to the governor, president of the Senate, speaker of the house, and the secretary of state back in May to urge them to appoint the committee as soon as possible so we could plan appropriately,” said David Stafford, election supervisor of Escambia County and president of the Florida State Association of Election Supervisors

Although there may be some budgetary impacts by the delay, Lori Edwards, supervisor of elections in Polk County said her greatest concern is securing polling locations.

“It's difficult,” Edwards said. “Our biggest challenge is not being certain that rooms and buildings we use for polling locations or training rooms will be available. If a polling location is unavailable it can inconvenience voters.”

Stafford pointed out that it’s not just counties that are in a holding pattern because many municipalities have tied their elections to county elections and they too must wait on a decision.

Up the road a piece in Forsyth County, Ga., Barbara Luth, supervisor of voter registrations and elections said her county is doing the best it can to prepare, but like her counterparts are in a wait-and-see mode until Secretary of State Brian Kemp makes a decision—earlier this year the Georgia Legislature gave the responsibility of scheduling the presidential primary to the secretary of state’s office.

“We are actually starting to prepare for the presidential preference primary now, by getting supplies together for that election,” Luth said. “We do have to start mailing out ballots 45 days prior to the election, notify our polling locations of the election dates for advance voting and election day voting, and have enough time to get the ballot back from the printer. The sooner we know the better.”

Luth may get her wish as a press release from the secretary of state’s office said Kemp will announce his decision today. News reports have indicated that date will be March 6.

It costs how much?
One thing is certain about the South Carolina GOP primary — it is scheduled for February 28. What isn’t certain is how much it will cost and who will pay for it.

Cash-strapped counties are up-in-arms about having to foot the bill themselves with some even threatening not to hold the primary at all.

According to Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the South Carolina State Election Commission (SEC), the state and counties conducted the 2008 primaries, and the state paid its expenses — including reimbursements (poll managers, polling places, ballots, absentee postage, etc.), and the counties paid for their expenses (overtime, extra county poll managers, office supplies, etc.). 

The difference this year is that the state only partially funded the state cost, and the Republican Party has agreed to pay the difference.  These state and party funds will pay all state expenses for the primaries, including the reimbursements to counties.

This leaves counties once again footing the bill for their own expenses, which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Many have complained that counties should not be paying for purely partisan elections. Although some have threatened to not hold a primary, Whitmire said that based on a recent ruling by the state’s attorney general, it’s the SEC’s view that state law requires the SEC and county election commissioners to conduct the election.

“The SEC is moving forward with carrying out our primary duties under the law and preparing for the 2012 presidential primaries, and I would believe most counties are doing the same.” Whitmire said.

Several counties are planning to meet next week to discuss how, if at all, to proceed.

More is not always better
While elections officials in Florida and Georgia are dealing with an unknown election day and most likely short timeline to prepare for the primary, elections officials in Ohio may have more time on their hands than they know what to do with.

As it stands right now, the primary is slated for March 6, however language in House Bill 194, which was approved by the legislature, signed by the governor and set to take effect tomorrow, would push the primary back to May.

House Bill 194 also includes an assortment of other controversial elections reforms and is being challenged by advocates and Democrats due to concerns over potential voter disenfranchisement.

Advocates have until today to submit the required number of signatures to put the law on ballot initiative. If advocates gather enough signatures — which media reports indicate they have — the law will not be implemented tomorrow and instead would be on hold till after the November 2012 election.

“We are working with the boards of elections in all 88 counties to be prepared that the law will be suspended,” said Matt McClellen, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office.

McClellen said the secretary’s office will work closely with county boards of elections to confirm the signatures as quickly as possible, although there is no set timeline for when a determination will be made. While concerned about the impacts this may have on the presidential primary, many Ohio elections officials are faced with an upcoming November election.

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