State lawmakers have introduced at least 2,328 bills this year that would change the way elections are run at the local level. Some passed, some stalled. Some are mundane tweaks, others are controversial overhauls. But if election reformers want to prevent their laws from being held up by lawsuits, they would be wise to pay attention to how they’re written, says Ned Foley, an Ohio State University professor and election law expert. “Put clarity at the top of the list of things to achieve, maybe before fairness or integrity or access or whatever, because litigators can’t fight over things that are clear,” he said, speaking on an election law panel during a multi-day conference hosted by the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures in Washington, D.C. “It’s amazing how much ambiguity kind of seeps into laws that is unintended.” But while clear regulations are important, too much can backfire, said Alysoun McLaughlin, deputy director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections in Maryland.
The Voting News
States are gearing up for another battle over ballot access, and Florida, a key swing state, could again find itself in the middle. Florida’s next legislative session could be marked by fights over absentee ballots, online registration and early voting sites. Earlier this year, state lawmakers eased some voting restrictions enacted in 2011. Those restrictions, including a reduction in early voting days, had helped snuff out voter registration drives and contributed to lines as long as seven hours on Election Day in 2012. Now, a key Democrat in Florida’s House of Representatives wants the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature to go further by making it easier for residents to register and vote.
A group of state lawmakers on Wednesday met to develop policy proposals they say will promote voting rights as part of a 50-state effort aimed at enacting laws that expand voting and push back against laws the say restrict access to the polls. The Washington meeting of the left group American Values First’s Voting Rights Project was the first gathering of the task force that launched this summer. On Wednesday, the group identified areas it says states can improve on voting rights and that it will advocate for, including allowing registration on Election Day, online and pre-registering students, expanding early voting, distributing locations of polling places, including on college campuses, and reducing long lines at them, offering voting by mail and expanding absentee voting. The idea, the group says, is to create strategies that can be deployed in each state.
A few weeks ago, a friend and colleague emailed to ask me if the Senate’s recent changes to the cloture rules on nominations meant that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission – vacant since the resignation of two Republican commissioners in late 2011 – would finally get some new members. I replied that it was highly doubtful, saying that I didn’t think Congress was even paying attention to the EAC anymore and that I thought the Senate would save its new firepower for higher-profile posts. I was wrong. This week, the Senate Rules Committee announced that it will be holding a hearing next week to consider the nominations of two potential Democratic commissioners, Myrna Perez and Thomas Hicks.
Florida: U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson charges Gov. Rick Scott’s administration with voter suppression | Sun Sentinel
Even as Gov. Rick Scott’s top elections official suddenly backed away from a plan to restrict the way voters can return completed absentee ballots, Florida’s top Democrat accused the Scott administration of attempting to suppress voter turnout. ”It’s patently obvious. It’s an attempt to suppress the vote by people who otherwise might have difficulty getting to the polls on Election Day,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., at a news conference Wednesday at the Palm Beach County Elections Office headquarters. Americans’ right to vote is “precious” and guaranteed by the Constitution, Nelson said. “When you start making it more difficult to cast that ballot, that is interfering with that constitutional right.”
Voting Blogs: Florida Secretary of State Faces Uprising by County Election Officials After Absentee Ballot Directive | BradBlog
At this point, the slogan for Republican Secretaries of State around the country seems to be: “If it ain’t broke, break it!” That’s certainly the case in Florida, where Sec. of State Ken Detzner — fresh off his and Governor Rick Scott’s embarrassing and failed 2012 purge of supposed “non-citizen voters” from the rolls (with another more recent attempt underway since then) — is at it again. And this time, Detzner seems to be facing a full-blown uprising from county Supervisors of Elections (SOE) refusing to carry out a new directive which would make it more difficult for absentee voters to cast their ballot. The elected SOEs are claiming that the new directive by Detzner, an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott (R), was neither asked for nor necessary under state law. They Supervisors have also denied Detzner’s initial claim that the directive was issued in response to requests by two SOEs. Last week, Detzner issued a directive [PDF] to county SOEs instructing them that they may no longer allow voters to use secured remote absentee ballot drop-off stations created at locations like public libraries and tax-collectors offices. Suddenly, according to Detzner’s new rules, all absentee ballots must either be mailed in, or dropped off at county election offices.
Minnesota: Ritchie seeks dismissal of legal challenge to new online voter sign-up system | Star Tribune
A lawsuit contesting a new, Internet-based system for voter registration should be dismissed because plaintiffs lack standing to sue, attorneys for Secretary of State Mark Ritchie argued Wednesday. New documents filed in the case say those behind the lawsuit are seeking an extraordinary remedy and can’t show they’ve been injured. Four Minnesota Republican legislators and two advocacy groups filed the lawsuit last month. They argued that Ritchie, a Democrat, exceeded his power by creating the registration tool without explicit legislative consent. The formal response on behalf of Ritchie was filed ahead of a hearing next week in Ramsey County District Court.
The Mississippi Secretary of State’s office is set to roll out its new Voter ID initiative next week. More than 90 percent of Mississippians already have the proper identification needed for Mississippi’s new Voter ID law that goes into effect next year. That’s according to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who visited Lauderdale County on Wednesday. ”They have got a driver’s license, a passport, or a student ID,” Hosemann explains. “All the things that you would need to vote with. So, the first thing is to look at what’s required and necessary.”
A recount of the votes in the Virginia attorney general’s race will begin Dec. 16, but a number of jurisdictions, including Alexandria, are facing hand recounts thanks to voting machines considered outdated by the state’s electoral board. Only 165 votes of more than 2.2 million cast separate Democrat Mark R. Herring and Republican Mark D. Obenshain — a 0.007 percent difference that amounts to the closest finish to a race in Virginia history. A three-judge recount court in Richmond on Wednesday announced the process would begin Dec. 17 and 18 for a majority of the state’s voting districts, though Fairfax County, the state’s largest district, was given the go-ahead to begin its recount a day earlier, on Dec. 16. Donald Palmer, secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections, said officials would prefer the ballots be tabulated by optical scanners. In some cases, though, jurisdictions use machines that can’t isolate just one of the races that appeared on the ballot — in this case, the attorney general’s race.
Democrat Mark Herring’s 165-vote win over Republican Mark Obenshain in the close race for attorney general is headed to a recount Dec. 17 and 18, with Fairfax County getting a one-day head start. Richmond Circuit Judge Beverly W. Snukals scheduled the recount at a hearing Wednesday in which attorneys for both candidates debated the ground rules for what is expected to be the state’s most extensive recount ever in the closest statewide race in modern Virginia political history. Snukals also scheduled a tentative Dec. 19 date for a recount court to rule on disputed votes in the recount. Snukals agreed to allow Fairfax County to begin its recount Dec. 16, with the remaining localities joining in the following two days. Fairfax County is the state’s most populous and uses a variety of voting machines that could extend its recount beyond two days. Donald Palmer, secretary of the State Board of Elections, attended the nearly four-hour hearing to assist Snukals and attorneys for Obenshain and Herring navigate election law and various schedules to ensure local elections officials can conduct the recount. Asked outside court whether he was confident in an accurate recount, Palmer said, “Absolutely.”