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I. In Focus This Week
Legislation round up
State Houses across the country are rumbling back to life for the 2013 legislative session and of course that means an assortment of election administration related legislation.While some legislatures are addressing the problems of voting efficiency that caused long lines in a handful of states in November 2012, others are addressing voter ID, pre-registration, voting rights and a host of other issues.This is just a snapshot of some of the legislation that is currently being debated or has been pre-filed. We’ll take another look in the coming months to see what else has been introduced and what has passed or failed. Same-day registrationAlthough Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) had threatened to introduce legislation to repeal same-day registration in the Badger state, he eventually pulled back on that proposal although some legislators still seem eager to move that direction.Legislation has been introduced in Montana to repeal that state’s same-day registration law. The bill, which would end voter registration at 5 p.m. on the Friday before an election, has drawn widespread opposition. At a recent hearing on House Bill 30, 20 people testified in opposition to the bill while only two testified in support.State Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) has introduced a bill in the Texas Legislature that would allow voters in the Lone Star state to register to vote on election day. HB 464 was introduced on the first day of the session and Johnson said it is just one tool to help enfranchise voters. Voter IDThe second bill filed in the Arkansas Senate (SB 2) this session would require all voters to show a valid government photo ID. The bill would also require those voting by mail to enclose a copy of their government ID with their completed ballot. A similar bill was approved in the House in 2011, but failed in the Senate. Senator Bryan King (R-District 5) who filed SB 2 also filed a bill that would put the issue of voter photo ID to the voters as a constitutional amendment. When the Nevada Legislature returns to work on Feb. 4, Secretary of State Ross Miller (D) will introduce SB 63 that is sort of a photo ID lite. Under the proposal, using electronic poll books, voters would no longer be verified by their signature, but with the photo they have on record with the Dept. of Motor Vehicles and other government agencies. Although the North Carolina Legislature is not in session until Jan. 30 you can expect that one of the first items on the GOP-controlled legislatures agenda will be undoing former Gov. Bev Perdue’s (D) veto of photo ID legislation.Even though legislators in West Virginia don’t get back to work until Feb. 13, the state GOP delegation has already made it clear that voter photo ID legislation will be one of the first items on their agenda. Legislation introduced in 2012 failed in committee.A proposal by the Frederick County legislative delegation to use the county as a pilot for voter photo ID won’t see the light of day in the Maryland General Assembly after the delegation decided not to introduce the bill. Although the county commission supports voter ID for the county that serves as an exurb for both Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, the state legislators felt the support would not be at there on the state level.On Jan. 9, Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan (R-59th) introduced SB100 in the New York State Assembly that would require voters to show a photo ID in order to vote. The legislation allows for a variety of government-issued IDs, but does not allow a voter to cast a provisional ballot if they do not have the proper ID with them at the polls.Under current law, Montana voters may provide a variety of forms of ID to vote—anything that essentially shows the voter’s name and address—but under legislation recently introduced (HB108) voters would have to show a current Montana or tribal ID card only. Virginia Delegate Mark Cole (R-88th District) introduced legislation that would limit the type of ID that is acceptable. Currently Virginia law requires voters to prove their identity through a variety of means including photo ID or utility bills. Under the proposal (HB 1337), items such as bank statements, utility bills and paychecks would not be acceptable, but social security cards and voter registration cards would remain acceptable. Although she had previously said she would not introduce voter ID legislation this session, New Mexico Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R-Carlsbad) has had a change of heart and now says she will introduce a bill requiring photo ID to vote. Late in 2012, legislation was introduced in the New Hampshire legislature that would repeal the state’s voter photo ID law.And even though voters in Texas have yet to cast a ballot under the state’s new voter ID law (it’s hung up in litigation), some Democratic legislators are trying to get rid of it. On the first day of the session HB 465 was introduced that would prevent the implementation of the 2011 law regardless of what the court system does. Early VotingWith the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), two bills have been introduced into the state Assembly that would allow for early voting. A689 and S01461 would allow voters to cast their ballots one week in advance of a primary or special election and two weeks in advance of a general election.Although Minnesota’s legislature just got back to work this week, chairman of the House Elections Committee Steve Simon (DFL-St. Louis Park) told Minnesota Public Radio to expect the committee to take up legislation providing Minnesotans with the opportunity to cast a ballot in advance of election day.In some states, early voting hours vary from county to county, but in Texas they can vary even within a county. However, under a recently introduced bill (HB 467), early voting hours would have to be uniform at all early voting locations, whether it is the main early voting location or a “branch” early voting site.Two Florida lawmakers — Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R) and Sen. Gwen Margolis (D) — filed legislation that would reinstate early voting on the Sunday before Election Day. Diaz de la Portilla’s bill (SB 176) would also increase the number of early voting hours per day from 12 to 14. The Margolis (SB 82) legislation would increase the number of early voting days from eight to 14 and would increase the number of early voting sites. While some states are considering instituting or expanding early voting, one piece of legislation in Nebraska would actually decrease the amount of time to early vote. LB 271 would decrease the number of early voting days from 35 to 25. Secretary of State John Gale suggested the legislation. Voting RightsOutgoing Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) made restoring the voting rights for ex-felons one of the main talking points of his final State of the Commonwealth speech at the beginning of 2013. Del. Greg Habeeb (R-Salem) introduced HJ 539, a constitutional amendment that would restore the voting rights to ex-felons once they have fulfilled all aspects of their sentence.Although the legislation had the support of McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), a House panel rejected it and eight other pieces of legislation that would help restore voting rights. The Senate legislation survived a Senate committee vote essentially moving forward with no recommendation because the committee vote was 3-3.A plan to expand voting rights to ex-felons in Delaware is underway. The constitutional amendment, which is required to pass in two consecutive legislative sessions, would eliminate the five-year waiting period for eligible ex-felons to have their rights restored. House Bill 10 was introduced by Rep. Helene Kelley (D-Wilmington) and is identical to the legislation approved in 2012. MiscellaneousNebraska State Sen. Amanda McGill (District 26) worked with students from Omaha-area high schools to draft LB 127 that would give 16-year-old Cornhuskers the ability to pre-register to vote.Also in Nebraska, legislation introduced this week would give state lawmakers the authority to confirm election commissioners appointed by the governor in the state’s three largest counties—Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster. State Sen. Russ Karpisek (District 32) introduced LB 188 and LB 183 that would take the appointment process out of the hands of the governor and place it in the hands of the local county boards in charge.Virginia Sen. Chap Peterson (D-Fairfax) — in an attempt to deal with the lines many Virginians faced on Election Day — has introduced SB739. The bill would require that there be at least one voting machine for each 500 registered voters. The current standard is one machine per 750 voters.Two other bills introduced in Virginia would extend voting hours till 8 p.m. and allow for no-excuse absentee voting. With only 45-days in their session legislators got right to work on the no-excuse absentee voting legislation and the measure was killed — along party lines — in committee in both the House and Senate.An additional bill in the Virginia General Assembly would dictate the timing and scheduling of special elections. Introduced by Del. Bob Brink (D-48th), the bill would require special elections for the General Assembly to be held concurrently with the November general election if the seat is vacated 50 to 180 days before the general election.Senate Bill 1 in the Kentucky Legislature was introduced by Sen. Robert Stivers (R) on the first day of the session and would make it easier for military and overseas voters to cast an absentee ballot. Under the proposed legislation service members and their spouses would be able to cast their ballots electronically. Two Maine legislators—Rep. Janice Cooper (D-Yarmouth) and Sen. Dick Woodbury (U-Yarmouth)—have submitted draft legislation that would bring ranked-choice voting to the entire state. Currently the city of Portland uses ranked-choice voting for it’s mayoral elections.Florida Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) filed a bill that would in essence create automatic registration for the Sunshine State. SB 234 would require the state, using DMV records, to automatically register residents to vote upon their 18th birthday.Clemens also introduced SJR 254, a constitutional amendment that would limit to three the number of amendments the Legislature could put on a ballot in any one election. Many voters and elections supervisors cited ballot length as the cause for the lengthy lines on Election Day.Minnesota legislators will also consider changes to their election law on how constitutional amendments make the ballot. Sen. Tom Bakk (D-Iron Range) decried the “sign war” that marked the 2012 election when both marriage equality and voter ID amendments were on the ballot.Oklahoma Sen Randy Bass (D-Lawton) introduced three bills this week aimed at making the voting process easier for voters and elections workers. SB 279 would expand the period of in-person absentee voting for counties with more than 50,000 people, SB276 would allow a representative of an incapacitated voter to apply for an absentee ballot for the voter and SB277 would widen the pool of people who can work on election day.
An early look at state-level elections admin. legislation