I. In Focus This Week
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.
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.
II. Election News This Week
- Three towns in Maine — Litchfield, Greenville and Winterport — will continue to hand-count ballots on election night after they turned down an offer from the state to provide each locality with a free ballot-counting machine. The machines were offered to all municipalities with more than 1,500 voters. Officials in Litchfield told the Kennebec Journal that elections were too important to rely on machines. “Litchfield is very much not a technology-oriented group,” Rayna Leibowitz, chair of the Board of Selectmen told the paper. Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn said funds for the machines are coming from a Help America Vote Act grant. “I don’t know why you’d pass it up,” Flynn told the paper. “The cost for the state election is completely borne by us. We’re just offering them the freebie. This is like Christmas.”
- Takoma Park, Md. is considering pushing the envelope again, this time by lowering the voting age for local elections to 16. “I really care about making elections easier,” Tim Male, council member for Ward 2, told the Takoma Patch. “I have honestly been interested in this since I’ve been campaigning. You meet young people who are really engaged but cannot vote.” According to the Patch, these election proposals are within the city’s domain as long as they do not go against pre-existing state or national laws. It is unconstitutional to deny anyone 18 or older the right to vote on the basis of age but nothing deters the government from make less restrictive voting laws. Male told the paper lowering the voting age will benefit Takoma Park. He said it would increase voter turnout, start positive voting habits and diversify the voting demographic in Takoma Park.
- About 100 voters in Bel Aire, Kansas will be taking a mulligan on ballots they’ve already mailed-in for the city council election. Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman told The Wichita Eagle a new ordinance changed how city council candidates are listed on the ballot. But when her office received candidate information from the Bel Aire city clerk’s office, she said, the candidates were listed the way they used to be. Lehman told the paper her office is sending out new advance mail-in ballots, and the clerk’s office also is notifying people who have returned their ballots to cast a new one.
- The Simpson Voting House in Derry Township, Pa. may be back in business for the May 21 primary. The building had been used as a polling place for 122 years before 2004 when it had to be taken out of service for a variety of reasons. Although the building still needs some work — handicapped accessible railing and the parking lot paved — local officials expect it to be ready for about 500 voters in May. “It’s been a long time coming, but I think it’s a unique voting experience for the people in the Simpson district of Derry,” Ted Kopas, county commissioner, told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “These are minor things that need to be taken care of, and they will.”
- Even though this is technically “personnel news” it really needs its own paragraph. This week, all three sitting members of the Lenior County, N.C. board of elections resigned. Earlier this year, the board petitioned the State Board of Elections to allow them to fire Elections Director Dana King. The board alleged mismanagement. According to WRAL, Gary Bartlett, executive director of the state board denied the request and said both sides were to blame for poor communications and personality conflicts. County leaders will need to find three individuals to replace Sharon Kanter and Kim Allison, both Democrats, and Oscar Herring, a Republican.
- Personnel News: The Miami County, Ohio board of elections has parted ways with longtime Deputy Director Pam Calendine. Sharon Benjamin has been appointed acting deputy supervisor of elections for St. Thomas-St. John, USVI. Also in the Virgin Islands, James Weber, III has stepped down as the deputy elections supervisor for St. Croix. Dana Dumezich and William Fine are joining the Lake County, Ind. board of elections. Former Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla was formally appoint as Contra Costa County, Calif.’s next clerk-recorder and registrar of voters. Rob Frost, head of the Cuyahoga County, Ohio GOP will replace Debbie Sutherland on the county board of elections. Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos has appointed Will Senning to serve as the director of elections and campaign finance. Senning replaces Kathy Scheele who is retiring at the end of the month after 13 years on the job. Matt Crane has been appointed the new clerk and recorder for Arapahoe County, Colo. Crane had previously served as the deputy clerk. Eric Morgan has been hired to serve as the new deputy director of elections in Miami County, Ind.
- Get Well: Although the media reports don’t mention it, the elections grapevine has informed us that retiring Vermont Elections Director Kathy Scheele is recovering from a fall. We wish Kathy a speedy recovery.
III. Research and Report Summaries
electionline provides brief summaries of recent research and reports in the field of election administration. Please e-mail links to research to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Winning the Voting Wars – Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Issue #28, Spring 2013: This series of essays focuses on a variety of proposed election reforms, including:
- Playing Offense: An Aggressive Voting Rights Agenda, by Michael Waldman
- Make It Easy: The Case for Automatic Registration, by Heather K. Gerken
- The Missing Right: A Constitutional Right to Vote, by Jonathan Soros & Mark Schmitt
- Expanding Citizenship: Immigrants and the Vote, by Tova Andrea Wang
- A Temporary Victory: Looking Ahead to 2014 and Beyond, by Jeff Hauser
IV. Legislative Update
Alaska: A bill requiring Alaskans to show photo ID has cleared its first hurdle and now heads to the House Judiciary Committee. House Bill 3 would require voters to show a government-issued photo ID or, if they don’t have a photo ID, two other forms of ID such as a birth certificate, adoption record or tribal ID card. If a voter has none of those, if two elections officials at the polling place know the voter they may vouch for them.
Arkansas: The Senate initially delayed a vote on whether or not residents must show a photo ID in order to vote because there were questions about whether or not the legislation had to meet a higher vote threshold. But, on Tuesday, the Senate ultimately approved the legislation 22-12. The bill now heads to Gov. Mike Beebe’s (D) desk.
California: Currently, if the U.S. citizen box on a voter registration form is checked and the form is signed, but the place of birth box is left blank, some county officials set aside the card in a “pending” file, and then contact the individual by mail to ask the person to complete the form. Under Assembly Bill 131, a set of statewide rules would be created for how those forms would be processed.
Connecticut: Although it has yet to be fully drafted, lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow residents to vote early in municipal elections. The bill, if approved, would create a pilot program to allow a group of municipalities to determine the feasibility of early voting.
Florida: What had initially been touted as a bipartisan attempt to reform elections in Florida disintegrated into party-line votes in the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee when the committee approved SB600 an 8-5 vote. Under the proposed legislation, anyone voting absentee must have an adult witness their signature and anyone who wants an absentee ballot mailed to an address other than their voting address must fill out an affidavit.
Legislation pending in both the House (HB249) and Senate (SB1260) would allow local elections officials to email sample ballots to registered voters instead of mailing them. The legislation is supported by election supervisors, but the First Amendment Foundation has problems with it because the bills would keep voters emails private.
Kentucky: The Senate unanimously approved legislation (House Bill 222) that would allow victims of domestic violence to have their information redacted from publicly available voter registration records. The House had previously approved the legislation 93-0.
Michigan: This week, the House approved a bill (HB4171) that would move the responsibility of local canvassing boards to the county level. The bill is designed to eliminate the duplication of services and save local jurisdictions money.
Another bill making its way through the Legislature would allow voters with disabilities to sign their absentee ballots with signature stamps instead of an actual signature. The bill has the support of the secretary of state’s office.
Missouri: Following the recommendations of a bipartisan commission, legislation to allow early voting in the Show Me State was introduced this week by Rep. Myron Neth (R-Liberty). The bill, which has the support of Secretary of State Jason Kander (D), would allow no-excuse absentee balloting, early voting at a central polling place, satellite voting in presidential elections and would early voting lists confidential.
Minnesota: A House panel has advanced a package of election law changes that includes no-excuse absentee voting, higher thresholds for triggering taxpayer-funded recounts, tighter controls over felon voting rights and a reduction in Election Day vouching. The omnibus bill next moves to the Government Operations Committee.
New Hampshire: The House will vote this week on compromise legislation that, while still requiring photo ID to vote, would broaden the range of IDs –including student IDs—that would be allowed.
Ohio: The Legislature approved several election reforms this week that will now head to the governor’s desk for signature. Among the reforms would require polling locations to be compliant with the American with Disabilities Act, another would allow early voters, who are still in line when the polls close, to cast their ballot, would allow blind, disabled or illiterate voters to have help marking their ballots and give journalists reasonable access to polling places during elections.
Oregon: Secretary of State Kate Brown is proposing legislation that would allow the state to use DMV information to automatically register residents to vote.
Pennsylvania: Citing problems faced by voters on Election Day 2012 because of Superstorm Sandy, Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh) introduced legislation that will allow voters up to eight days to cast and early ballot.
This week the Senate State Government Committee approved legislation that would allow residents of the Commonwealth to register online to vote up to 30 days in advance of an election.
South Carolina: The Senate has given preliminary approval to allow early voting to start 10 days before an election and end after a week. Under the proposal, no early voting would be allowed on Sundays. The bill was approved 34-5 and needs a third reading before heading to the House.
With the U.S. Supreme Court deciding the fate of Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship law, South Carolina Senators this week delayed a vote on similar legislation pending in the Palmetto State.
Tennessee: After the Senate, on a 21-8 vote approved a bill that would allow college students to use their student IDs to cast a ballot to vote, the House Local Government Committee amended the bill to strip out the language that would have allowed students to use their university issued IDs to vote.
Texas: Under House Bill 986, ballots mailed to Harris County voters would only be sent in the language requested by the voter. Currently ballots are sent in four languages that increases the costs of printing and mailing.
Utah: A bill that would allow residents of Utah—a state that traditionally has some of the lowest voter turnout in the nation—to register and vote on Election Day died on a 10-18 vote in the Senate. The bill had previously passed the House on a 58-14 vote.
West Virginia: A bill, championed by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, which would allow West Virginians to register online to vote at local DMV offices, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. SB 477 would allow secure electronic West Virginia voter registration at the Division of Motor Vehicles, and possibly in the future, at some county clerks’ offices as well, according to the committee’s lawyer.
Accessible Voting Technology Research Workshop — The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are sponsoring a two-day workshop to explore current and future research in accessible voting technology. The sponsoring organizations seek to have lively discussion on the following topics: Innovative assistive applications and techniques; new approaches to accessibility in voting; accessibility research benchmarks and results; transitioning research to industry; new and existing devices that provide accessible access to elements of the voting process and challenges in accessible voting. The workshop will provide an environment for interactive discussions among the attendees including researchers, election officials, government officials, and voting system manufacturers. The workshop will encourage attendee participation through panel discussions and breakout sessions, with trending research presentations to frame the topics to be explored. The goal of the discussions for the workshop is to foster collaborations in the testing, evaluation, and transition of accessible voting technology. Where: Gaithersburg, Md. When: April 1-2, 2013. For more information, click here.
NCSL Spring Forum — At the Spring Forum you’ll meet legislators just like you from around the country, get innovative ideas on how to approach critical problems, find the NCSL staff that can give you the research you need to turn your ideas into action, and begin the work of mapping out the strategy to set the state’s agenda on Capitol Hill. The issues you face can be daunting. At the NCSL Spring Forum you’ll meet with colleagues from around the nation to: Find the best solutions to pressing problems; hear from national experts; participate in in-depth briefings; and discuss what states need from the federal government. Where: Denver, Colo. When: May 2-4. For more information, click here.
Alaska: Voting rights
Georgia: School polling places
Hawaii: Election day registration
Minnesota: Instant-runoff voting
Montana: Voter registration
West Virginia: Voter ID
Wisconsin: Same-day registration
VII. Job Openings
electionlineWeekly publishes election administration job postings each week as a free service to our readers. To have your job listed in the newsletter, please send a copy of the job description, including a web link to email@example.com. Job postings must be received by 5pm on Wednesday in order to appear in the Thursday newsletter. Listings will run for three weeks or till the deadline listed in the posting.
Senior Information Technology Specialist, Montgomery County, Md. Board of Elections — lead permanent technology staff and directly responsible to and supervised by the Election Director. Responsibilities include: planning and implementation of technical programming, testing and preparation of the county’s allotment of the statewide voting system, voting equipment and voter registration system in collaboration with state, the contract holder; is experienced and familiar with system integration, functionality and usage of the Oracle database and preparation of Crystal reports, GIS, Word, Access, and Excel, and analyzing statistical data; supervises and works with permanent and temporary programming employees; evaluates alternative system and equipment funding sources; represents department and addresses election issues at election system related meetings and board meetings; and performs technology related duties as required and necessary, maintaining a high standard of accuracy. As required by the State Board of Elections, the successful candidate must be a registered voter in Maryland and successfully complete a background check. The successful candidate must possess a Maryland driver’s license and use of a vehicle. The employee must work with and supervise permanent and temporary employees in a secure environment and be able to responsibly handle sensitive equipment and related security in an orderly and timely manner according to prescribed procedures. Minimum Qualifications include: Five (5) years of experience in the information technology field in areas such as programming, systems analysis, and data/telecommunications. Education: Bachelor’s Degree in computer science or related field from an accredited college or university and/or certifications in specific programming languages or operating systems to include programming languages such as SQL, Oracle Developer 2000. Equivalency: An equivalent combination of education and experience may be substituted. For applicants possessing very hard-to-find skills that are a critical need to the department/agency, training and certification may be accepted in lieu of full degree requirements. Salary: $64,960-$108,343. Deadline: April 20. For a complete job listing and to apply, click here.