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electionlineWeekly--November 3, 2011

Table of Contents

I. In Focus This Week

Voters head to the polls to vote on voting
Election admin ballot measures and ranked-choice voting in spotlight

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Voters in several states head to the polls on November 8 to elect a variety of offices and decide on a number of ballot measures.

While off-year elections don’t typically draw the same attention as their even-year counterparts, this election season will provide several election administration storylines worth watching.

Voter ID
Voters in Mississippi will decide next week whether or not they want to show photo ID on future election days.

Initiative 27, sponsored by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and State Sen. Joey Fillingane is appearing on the November ballot after the state senate failed to take up the matter in its last session.

If approved by the voters, the state’s Constitution would be amended to require voters to show a government issued photo ID in order to cast a ballot.

Following in the footsteps of Indiana and other states, if approved, the law would provide free identification through the state’s Department of Public Safety. It is estimated that it will cost approximately $1.5 million to provide the necessary free IDs.

Hosemann and other supporters argue that if approved, the measure will prevent voter fraud in the Magnolia State.

Opponents of the amendment disagree and contend that requiring photo ID will disenfranchise many Mississippi voters, especially minorities.

"Voter ID is one of those unnecessary barriers to the voting booth," Nsombi Lambright, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi told The Associated Press. "We believe it's going to represent a strong deterrent for communities of color, for the elderly and for poor folks to go to the ballot box.

According to the Commercial Appeal, Marty Wiseman, director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, predicted voters will approve the photo ID initiative.

Constitutional initiatives in Mississippi must be approved by at least 40 percent of the voters casting ballots in the election.

Same-day Registration
The ink was barely dry on the governor’s signature that outlawed same-day registration in Maine after 38 years when supporters of the practice set to work to repeal it.

In June, an application for a “People’s Veto Referendum” was filed with the Secretary of State’s office and less than two months later, Protect Maine Votes, a political action committee gathered almost 70,000 signatures in order to get the referendum on the ballot.

Question 1 would repeal state law LD 1376 and return to residents of Maine the ability to register and vote on Election Day.

As written, the referendum asks voters if they want to reject the law that “…requires new voters to register to vote at least two business days prior to an election?”

Proponents of Question 1 include the League of Women Voters, the Maine Municipal Association and the Maine Democratic State Committee. Those in opposition include current Secretary of State Charles Summers, the Maine Republican Party and Speaker of the House Robert Nutting.

The campaigns for and against Question 1 have raised more than half a million dollars with the bulk of the money coming from the pro-Question 1 groups.

Several polls that have been conducted in recent weeks show those in support of repealing the law that outlawed same-day registration—the yes to question one campaign—leading slightly.

Maine was the first state to adopt same-day registration in 1973 and although opponents of same-day registration often cite fears of voter fraud, a recent study by the secretary of state’s office found only one instance of voter fraud — a noncitizen who registered and voted in 2002.

Ranked Choice Voting
Ranked choice voting will get its biggest test on Tuesday as three cities employ it for local races: San Francisco, St. Paul, Minn. and Portland, Maine.

In March 2002 San Francisco voters adopted ranked-choice voting through a proposition vote and the voting system was employed for the first time in 2004 for a board of supervisors race and again in 2007 for the mayoral election.

Although not new to voters in the Bay Area, multiple media outlets have worked to explain the process to voters and the San Francisco department of elections has an excellent primer on its website.

What makes this election different is that in 2007, then-Mayor Gavin Newsome had no serious challenger. This year, there are 16 candidates on the ballot and although interim-Mayor Ed Lee is the frontrunner, there are several viable challengers among the bunch.

A poll conducted earlier this year by the Chamber of Commerce found that 55 percent of respondents were unclear as to whether or not their vote counted at all if the first, second and third choice candidate had been eliminated.

"It's clear that San Francisco voters understand ranked-choice voting about as well as they understand quantum physics," Nathan Ballard, a Democratic strategist who was a spokesman for Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom when he was mayor told the San Francisco Chronicle when the poll was released.

A consultant who worked on the creation of the ranked-choice voting system for both San Francisco and Oakland argued that the polling numbers were inconclusive.

"Most people don't understand how your car works, or how your computer works or how your phone works," Steven Hill told the Chronicle. "But they know how to use it, and they're comfortable with it."

Complicating all of this are allegations of voter fraud and a call from multiple candidates for the U.S. Department of Justice to step in and monitor the election.

All the way across the country although only about 3,000 residents of Portland, Maine had cast their ballot so far in the city’s upcoming mayoral election (via absentee), the city clerk told a local television station that of those ballots cast voters seem to be understanding the process of ranked choice voting.

Voters that the local television spoke with noted that with 15 candidates for mayor on the ballot, the sheer number of candidates was more overwhelming than using the ranked-choice voting system.

In St. Paul, Minn. ranked-choice voting will make its debut on Tuesday with all seven city council seats up for election.

This is not the first time ranked-choice voting have been used in the Gopher State as Minneapolis used it in its city elections in 2009.

Secretary of State Races
As previously reported in electionlineWeekly, the chief election position is on the ballot in Kentucky and Mississippi (Louisiana held its election in October).

In Kentucky, Democrat Alison Grimes will face Republican Bill Johnson and in Mississippi incumbent Republican Delbert Hosemann is unopposed.

Voter ID has been a major issue in both races.