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News Analysis: Gloves come off as general election approaches
State and local election officials butt heads over variety of issues
With only 75 days until the November 6, 2012 General Election, more and more news stories are focusing on the increasingly contentious nature of the administration of that election — especially between state and local officials.
From voter purges to early voting to a general lack of confidence, state election officials seem to be clashing with local elections administrators on a more frequent basis as summer turns to fall.
Interestingly enough — or not — most of these state/local clashes have occurred in swing states.
One of the more high profile instances has been in Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott recently threated to remove from office Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Harry Sawyer for Sawyer’s failure to agree with the state’s early voting law.
Scott and several elections supervisor butted heads over the state’s plans to review information from the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security and purge voter rolls of potential non-citizens, but it never reached the height that it has over early voting.
The administration is attempting to get all counties, including five covered by the Voting Rights Act to offer eight, 12-hour days of early voting. Four of the counties agreed to the change in early voting, but Monroe did not.
"What I told them is that the days are more important than the hours," Sawyer, who has held the post for 24 years, told The Miami Herald.
According to the paper, in every election in the Keys, Sawyer said, early voting participation has increased. "It's working for us," he said. "I told them, if it's not broke, don't fix it."
In a statement released by his office, Scott said he is willing to ““take all necessary and appropriate action to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed, that supervisors are fulfilling their duties, and that the voters of this state have free and fair elections.”
"He is trying to intimidate me. There's no doubt about it," Sawyer told the Herald/Times. "As of right now, this law (mandating eight days of early voting) has not been pre-cleared (in Monroe). He is going to have to wait just like the rest of us. His statement is inappropriate at this point."
On Wednesday, the state’s Democrat Party accused Scott of bullying Sawyer—a Republican.
"At this point, the only person doing precisely what he's supposed to do is the Monroe County supervisor of elections," State Senator Dan Gelber told the News-Press.
Early voting is at the heart of the battle in Ohio as well where late last week Secretary of State Jon Husted suspended two Democrats from the Montgomery County board of elections for failing to comply with his directive make uniform early voting hours throughout the state.
After Democrats Thomas Ritchie Sr. and Dennis Lieberman voted to extend early voting hours beyond the state mandate, Husted, a Republican, sent the Democrats a letter saying in part:
"You therefore leave me no choice but to begin the process necessary to remove you as members of the Montgomery County Board of Elections."
Ritchie and Lieberman appeared at a hearing on Monday in attempt to stop their firing.
"To have board members in the context of a forced meeting that would violate the Sunshine Law, and requiring the board members to do essentially something that is unlawful, and penalizing them because they didn't do what you wanted them to do in this unlawful meeting is something that just doesn't seem to smell right," attorney Don McTigue argued before hearing officer Jon Allison.
Allison said he hopes to make his recommendation by the end of this week.
In Colorado, Secretary of State Scott Gessler recently issued a report giving Teller County Clerk JJ Jamison a “no confidence” evaluation. In response to his report, Gessler assigned former Arapahoe County Deputy Clerk of Elections Al Davidson to assist Jamison and her staff.
According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, Gessler’s spokesperson said the secretary decided Jamison “needs additional help from a seasoned elections administrator.”
“Al (Davidson) is there on our behalf,” Rich Coolidge told the paper. “The secretary has mandated that he be our official election observer.”
Arkansas clerks are fighting mad over comments made by Secretary of State Mark Martin’s spokesman Alex Reed who, according to the El Dorado News-Times told a partisan group in Union County that he believes illegal immigrants are able to register and vote in part because of apathetic county clerks.
Reed, who said he was speaking to the group on his own time and not in an official capacity, is active in the state’s GOP politics and a party delegate.
Following Reed’s comments, the Arkansas Association of County Clerks (AACC) polled its members and found no problems with undocumented immigrants registering and voting in The Natural State.
“[R]ather than simply reacting in the heat of the moment to these comments, we thought it would be in the best interest of Arkansas taxpayers to have a conversation statewide among county clerks,” Rhonda Cole, AACC president and Clark County clerk said in a statement from the group. “In doing so, we found no evidence of illegal immigrants registering to vote."
"I think that an apology is probably due to all of my employees, to all of the people that work so hard to make this process work, to all of the election officials that are part of it," Crane told Arkansas Matters.