III. Election News This Week
The State of Florida has certified an initiative for the November 6 ballot that if approved, would automatically restore the voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences including parole or probation. Convicted murders and sexual offenders would continue to be barred from voting. Floridians for Fair Democracy successfully gathered more than 799,000 certified signatures, which was about 33,000 more than necessary. According to The Orlando Sentinel, Florida is one of just three states that permanently bans ex-felons from voting unless they apply for clemency. The initiative will need 60 percent of voters casting ballots in November to vote for it in order to pass. If approved, about 1.5 million ex-felons would have their voting rights restored.
This week, the Marion County, Indiana board of elections voted to move the county — Indiana’s largest by population — to vote centers and to expand early voting. The board is made up of one Democrat, one Republican and the county clerk. According to the Indianapolis Star, county Clerk Myla Eldridge called the decision reached Wednesday morning by the three-member board "one of the most monumental bipartisan agreements achieved in the history of Marion County." The resolution approved by the board will create an Election Administration Planning Committee that will develop a plan to implement vote centers by 2019. The county of nearly 1 million people will have about 300 vote centers with many opened for early voting. Currently, there is only one early voting vote center.
The elections offices on the islands of St. Croix and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands have resumed operations including voter registration, following the one-two punches from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Back in December, Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes said the offices would be closed “until further notice.” The St. John’s elections office was able to reopen in its original location, but the St. Croix office was moved to another government building. Both offices will be open for manual voter registration.
A fire at a Marshall County, Kentucky road department building not only destroyed the building and millions of dollars worth of road equipment, it also destroyed voting machines that were stored in the facility. Marshall County Clerk Tim York told WPSD that it’s a big loss, but it will not impact the upcoming primary election, which is in May. “If this had happened two weeks before the election, I would be pulling my hair out right now,” York told the station. “The fact that this is January, and we’ve got four months, and that I’ve talked to my vendor and they said there would be no problem about getting equipment, so that makes it a lot less stressful. Otherwise, it could have been a nightmare.” Firefighters were able to save about a dozen accessible voting machines, but York said he will replace those as well.
While this is personnel news, as folks like to say, “it’s complicated.” This week, the Wisconsin Senate voted 18 to 13 in a party line voted to fire Elections Commission Administrator Michael Haas citing his past connections to the now defunct Government Accountability Board (GAB). In 2016 Attorney General Brad Schimel (R) released a report critical of the GAB and recommended disciplinary action against several former employees, although Haas was not one. Following the Tuesday vote, the Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said the firings were effective immediately. However, on Wednesday, the bipartisan state elections commission voted to retain Haas as the state’s top elections official through April 30. What ultimately happens with the position may end up in the courts.
Personnel News: Mariann Penska has been sworn in to the Butler County, Ohio board of elections. Nathan Neblett is out as the Tarrant County, Texas elections administrator after just two weeks on the job. Brian McClendon, co-founder of Google Earth, has announced his candidacy for the Kansas secretary of state position. Linda Fahrendorf is retiring from the Bryan County, Oklahoma election board after nearly 30 years. Tracy Reams is the new Orange County, North Carolina elections director. Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray has announced that he will not seek a second term as secretary of state, nor will he run for governor. Oscar Villarreal has resigned as the Webb County, Texas elections administrator. Whitney Whittaker, chief deputy clerk for Lincoln County, New Mexico has announced that she will run for the clerk’s office.