I. In Focus This Week
A look back at 2011
“Off-year” provides many headlines in build-up to 2012
Just because 2011 was an “off-year” for elections doesn’t mean lawmakers and elections officials sat back and enjoyed the lull.
From Alabama to Wyoming and everywhere in between, lawmakers and elections officials spent 2011 passing new election reform legislation, implementing new laws and ramping up for the 2012 election cycle. And in between all of that, many states held local elections well.
With the final days of the year upon us, we’ll take a look back at some of the biggest stories of 2011. And like most year-end review stories, this in no way captures all the work that went into elections in 2011.
Like it or not, agree with it or not, there is no denying that requiring voters to show photo identification was one of the biggest, if not the biggest elections administration news story of the year.
Missouri, New Hampshire and North Carolina’s state legislatures both approved voter photo ID legislation only to have those reforms overturned by their respective governors.
For South Carolina and Texas — which are both still awaiting preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice for their laws — the passage of voter ID laws capped years of contentious debate in their respective state houses that included one ill Texas member having his bed moved into the state house so he could vote against the measure and in South Carolina, Democratic Senators walked out at one point in time.
Several civil rights groups have sued over Wisconsin’s voter ID law and in Tennessee the governor recently expressed reservations over the new law.
In all the new voter photo ID states there have been reports of residents having difficulty in getting the required ID and state departments of motor vehicles offering additional service hours to fulfill the need.
With the pending lawsuits and several states pre-filing voter ID legislation for their upcoming sessions, voter ID looks to be one of the top news stories of 2012 as well.
Voter ID wasn’t the only controversial election administration legislation making its way through statehouses in 2011.
In Ohio the state legislature approved House Bill 194 that cuts early voting from 35 days prior to the election to 21 days in person and 17 by mail. It also limits in-person early voting by not permitting voting on Saturday afternoons, Sundays and the three days prior to the election.
Although approved by the legislature and signed by the governor, a people’s initiative to block the law prevents it from being implemented until after November 2012 should the initiative fail.
Maine was the first state to implement same-day registration almost forty years ago. In 2011, citing concerns of vote fraud the state legislature approved L.D. 1376 which eliminated same-day registration and banned absentee voting in the two business days before an election. The law was eventually repealed by voters (see below).
Like Ohio and Maine, Florida’s Republican-lead legislature overwhelmingly approved an election reform package that is currently the subject of a lawsuit and being reviewed by the Department of Justice.
The legislation HB 1355 and SB 2086 limits the number of days residents may vote, prohibits voters from changing their name and/or address at the polls on election day and created strict limitations for third-party voter registrations that have already gotten some school teachers in trouble.
Power to the people
The people — voters — took matters into their own hands on several fronts this year.
In Mississippi voters overwhelmingly approved the state’s new voter photo ID law.
Residents in Maine and Ohio put thousands of signatures on petitions to get new state voting laws on the ballot. In Ohio the ballot question will appear on the November 2012 ballot and in Maine the move to reinstate same-day registration was on the November 2011 ballot where it was approved by a large margin.
Fed up with the status quo, voters across the country worked to recall elected officials in dozens of states and counties. The recall process, especially in Wisconsin, proved challenging for election officials as well as costly, however based on current media reports appears set to be popular well into 2012.
Everyone in the elections world has November 6, 2012 circled on their calendars, but for elections officials in some states figuring out what date to circle for the primaries took a little bit longer.
More than 10 states and the District of Columbia had to move their primary in order to comply with the federal MOVE Act. For most states and the District the procedure involved a relatively quick legislative fix, but the process is ongoing in New York where a judge recently announced that he would rule sometime in January 2012 on when the state’s primary would be held because he did not trust the state legislators to get the work done.
For Ohio and Texas the issue was redistricting. Last week legislators in Ohio struck a deal to hold one primary on March 3 instead of two separate primaries. And with county elections officials growing increasingly concerned about planning, this week a deal was reached to hold Texas’ primaries on April 6.
And in South Carolina it wasn’t so much when the presidential primary would be, but how the counties were going to pay for it. Several counties went to court in an effort to not hold the primary altogether. However a judge ruled that they must hold the primary. The state GOP had pledged to help cover costs to counties that the state did not, but recently indicated they would not be able to help. The state estimates it will coast $1.5 million to hold the primary and the state only has just offer $1 million available. It remains unclear where the additional money will come from.
This year saw a host of new faces in the top state elections spot. New secretaries of state were installed in Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, South Dakota and Vermont.
In Kentucky, former Secretary of State Trey Grayson resigned at the beginning of the year to work with Kennedy School of Government and Elaine Walker was appointed to fulfill his term. Walker did not have the easiest of times in office. She lost the Democratic primary and was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Long-time Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne stepped down in order to seek higher office and deputy Tom Schedler was appointed on an interim basis to fulfill the term. Schedler successfully sought election to the seat in November. He will officially fulfill the remainder of Dardenne’s term as well as serve for four additional years.
Many of the new secretaries of state have been in the news for a variety of reasons. Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White will face trial on federal voter fraud charges in January 2012, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has butted heads on several occasions with county clerks and in Kansas, Secretary of State Kobach has been making a name for himself on the national level on immigration issues.
Also on the secretary of state front, two stalwarts of the elections business announced plans that they do not intend to run for re-election in 2012. Three-term Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed announced that he will retire at the end of his term in January 2012.
Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan announced in late September that she would not seek a third term in office. She has yet to indicate what her next steps will be other than a return to private life.
In Texas, long-time Elections Director Ann McGeehan has moved on after serving for early a quarter of a century and 13 different secretaries of state.
Next week: The List: What’s in and out for 2012.
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