News Analysis: States tackle early voting
Early voting legislation biggest response to November lines so far
By M. Mindy Moretti
Following the November election, just about every politician from the president on down vowed to do something about the lines some voters faced during the 2012 general election cycle.
Now, with most Legislatures back at work — some have even completed their work for 2013 — altering, or allowing, early voting seems to be the most popular way legislators have chosen to tackle the problems of lines.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures 32 states and the District of Columbia allow voters to cast a ballot in person in advance of an election and Oregon and Washington offer all vote-by-mail thus making early voting a moot point.
Of the remaining 16 states that did not offer early voting at the time of the November 2012 general election legislatures in more than half of those states are considering legislation that would allow voters to cast an early ballot.
Bipartisan efforts to advance early voting have begun making their way through several statehouses.
New Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) convened a bipartisan special panel earlier this year which recommended the state adopt early voting Kander is working with Rep. Myron Neth (R-Liberty) who agreed to sign on as co-sponsor to early voting legislation.
“This has a lot of merit, and there’s no reason that we shouldn’t look at it,” Neth told St. Louis Today.
Although there is initial bipartisan support, previous attempts to advance early voting legislation in the Show Me State were bogged down by the state’s ongoing debate over voter ID.
A bill to allow Minnesotans to vote early is slowly making its way through the Legislature. The proposed legislation would give voters two weeks before an election to cast an early ballot. Under the proposal, polling stations would have to be open some evenings and at least two Saturdays.
A Democratic Senator introduced the legislation and the Legislature is controlled by DFLers, but Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) has warned that unless the legislation has “broad bipartisan support” that he would not sign it.
“If it has that bipartisan support, that’s a pretty good indicator that it is good for Minnesota, good for election participation and protects the integrity, both of which are laudable goals,” Dayton told The Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
A poll conducted by the Star-Tribune in February found that 54 percent of Minnesotans support the idea of early voting.
For the first time in numerous attempts, South Carolina seems closer than ever to having early voting. The Senate recently approved a bill that would allow every county to open at least one early-voting center starting two Saturdays before a primary and general election.
Previous attempts to enact early voting have failed in the House, but supporters of the bill are hopeful that problems with lines experienced in Richland County and throughout the country on Election Day in November will spur positive action in the House.
In some states, the proposed legislation has met with resistance from lawmakers and area elections officials.
In New York and New Jersey, where voters were dramatically impacted by Superstorm Sandy, legislators and in some cases local elections officials, are not keen on the idea of early voting.
Two bills, S-2364 and A-3553 that would call for three to seven early voting polling sites in each county to be open for 15 days prior to elections in New Jersey, are being met with resistance from lawmakers who fear the costs of implementing such a program.
“If there were one main issue, it is the potential cost,” Matt Weng, staff attorney for the League of Municipalities told the South Jersey Times. “It introduces a new and expensive process as far as early voting goes.”
The Senate version of the bill was approved this week by a 24-16 vote.
Although two early voting bills introduced in New York have the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), they have met with resistance from state and county legislators and county elections officials.
A689 and S01461 amend state election law to allow for seven to 14 days of early voting.
Local elections officials argue that the cost of money and manpower to implement such a program is too high.
“In person voting is going to costs thousands and thousands of dollars,” Herkimer County Board of Elections Commissioner Kathleen Farber told the Observer-Dispatch.“There is no place in any of these bills that the state is going to pay for these costs. This is going to be another unfunded mandate passed down to the county.”
Other states introducing some form of new early voting legislation include Delaware (no-excuse absentee voting), Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. The Virginia General Assembly defeated a measure to allow for no-excuse absentee voting.
Altering existing laws
A number of states that already have early voting on the books are working to alter it, by-and-large to allow for more opportunities to cast an early ballot, but there are two, North Dakota and Nebraska that are seeking to limit early voting.
Of course early voting in Florida mad the most news during the 2012 election cycle and legislators in the Sunshine state are slowly working on making adjustments to the state’s early voting procedures.
Numerous pieces of legislation have been introduced that will do everything from reinstate early voting to the Sunday before election day to increase the number of early voting days from eight to 14 and to increase the hours of early voting per day from 12 to 14.
On the Senate side, election-reform legislation that was introduced with bipartisan support has hit a rough patch in committee. The legislation calls for a minimum of eight days of early voting for a minimum of eight hours a day. Elections supervisors may provide up to 14 days of early voting and up to 12 hours per day, but they are not required to.
Although it isn’t without controversy, the Maryland General Assembly is halfway to approving legislation that would increase the number of early voting sites in some jurisdictions. Under a bill approved by the Senate, which now heads to the House, counties larger than 400 square miles, but with fewer than 125,000 registered voters would be permitted to increase early voting sites from one to two.
The New Mexico Legislature is also considering a bill that will allow counties to increase the number of early voting sites in order to accommodate scores of voters. The bill requires the establishment of an early voting site for a population center of more than 1,500 people if that population center is more than 50 miles from the nearest previously established early voting site.
In Nebraska, Secretary of State John Gale is supporting legislation that would decrease the number of early voting days from 35 to 25. That bill remains in committee. In North Dakota, House Bill 1400, which would have decreased the number of early voting days from 15 to 8 failed in the House by an 80-13 vote.
Ohio Senator Nina Turner (D-District 25) introduced legislation that would create uniform early voting regulations with early voting beginning 35 days before the election.
Legislation in Arizona would allow counties to purge people from early voting lists if they don’t vote in a primary and general election in the same year. SB 1261 is meeting with controversy from advocates, but support from local elections officials.