After dueling allegations that it was either a “protection against voting fraud” or a “disenfranchisement act,” Florida lawmakers on Thursday approved a 157-page overhaul of the state’s elections code. The House voted 77-38 along party lines to pass the bill (HB 1355); the Senate had voted 25-13 earlier in the day. Paula Dockery of Lakeland and Mike Fasano of New Port Richey were the only Senate Republicans to break ranks and vote against it. The measure now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to sign it into law. Among other provisions, the bill reduces early voting time to one week and requires groups that sign up voters to register with the state. Immediately after the vote, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson asked Scott to veto the bill. If Scott signs it, Nelson said he’ll ask the Justice Department to look into whether it violates federal voting-rights law. “There are just too many questions about whether this measure would disenfranchise an untold number of Floridians,” Nelson said. No matter their party affiliation, Floridians still smart over their state’s reputation from 2000, made famous by butterfly ballots, hanging chads and an aborted presidential-election recount. Rep. Franklin Sands, a Weston Democrat, summed up the view of his colleagues in the House: “This is a mean-spirited attempt to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters and no more.” Full Article
Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White’s office today released a report compiled by then Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita at the request of the Indiana State Democratic Party. Rokita had petitioned to have the report exempt from public record requests, and the move by White comes after final approval from the Indiana Inspector General regarding its release. Earlier today, the Indiana Inspector General issued a report clearing Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White of any wrongdoing regarding access to the report prepared by his predecessor. Prosecutors had alleged Secretary White had wrongfully accessed the report, yet the report indicates nothing improper. Furthermore, the Inspector General cleared the way to release the Rokita report per the request of Secretary White almost two months ago. Rokita had previously made the report inaccessible by public records request. In pushing transparency within the office, White’s administration had promised to release the report pending approval from the Indiana Attorney General, the Indiana Public Access Counselor and the Indiana Inspector General. With the Inspector General being the last to sign off as of this morning, the report is being prepared for public access. “As promised almost two months ago, we are providing the report in its entirety to allow Hoosiers an opportunity to see the facts for what they are,” White spokesman AJ Feeney-Ruiz said. “We continue to push for transparency and we applaud the Inspector General for allowing us to do so.” Full Article
Recent events remind us that Florida truly is a Southern state. Legislation that would radically revise Florida’s election laws was passed Thursday by the Senate (SB 1355) and now is headed back to the House for likely fast-tracked approval. These changes include:
Removing provisions in place since the 1970s that allow registered voters to change their names and addresses in elections records on Election Day and still vote using a regular ballot.
Allowing poll watchers to challenge the legitimacy of voters, which would automatically require those voters to fill out provisional ballots, which are less likely to be counted than standard ballots.
Severely restricting the ability of grass-roots groups to register new voters by enacting new restrictions and fines.
While technically neutral in their intent and effect, the proposed “reforms” hark back to a dark era in Florida’s history. For most of the 20th century, Florida — like the rest of the South — tried to deny the right to vote to black citizens. Reasons ran the gamut; from race-specific vote denials to technically race-neutral rules that just happened to have the effect of excluding black voters. Read More
A controversial GOP-sponsored elections bill requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls is nearing the governor’s desk after clearing the Minnesota House Thursday. The measure passed on a 73-to-59 largely party-line vote after the Senate approved a similar bill last week. The unified show of Republican support is just the latest signal that the issue has become a top GOP priority. Anticipating a likely veto from Gov. Mark Dayton, Republican lawmakers have already introduced a constitutional amendment proposal that would bypass the governor and put the issue on the ballot in 2012. “Minnesotans are yearning for a voting system in Minnesota that removes the uncertainty that we’ve seen in the past few elections” said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa. The bill would also eliminate vouching for Election Day registrants and create a new system of provisional balloting. The state would begin doling out free voter identification to people without an appropriate ID if they could prove their citizenship and provide a “photographic identity document.” Read More
North Carolina currently ranks high in election integrity, but it wasn’t always so. Prior to 2000, we had no uniform standards for voting systems and election administration. Our 100 counties used 18 different types of voting machines, some nearly 40 years old. Four suppliers of the machines were no longer in business, maintenance was limited, vendor support was sparse and security was a joke. Training for poll workers and election staff was disjointed and incomplete. All counties did their own thing with ballot printing, and few complied with federal laws and standards. So, in 2004, we had a Florida-style meltdown, with the loss of nearly 5,000 votes in Carteret County, machines crashing, votes missing or counted twice by accident, etc. These were largely systemic problems that came from not having or complying with standards for election integrity. After the meltdown, the General Assembly formed a special committee, which took weeks of testimony from experts. The resulting Public Confidence in Elections Act passed with unanimous bipartisan support and became law in August 2005. That law created statewide standards administered by the State Board of Elections. Every county must have machines, software, ballot designs, etc., that must be tested, certified and maintained as a system. The law also required post-election audits and collection and publication of election data for improving future elections. That law transformed us from a Florida-style laughingstock in 2004 to being ranked No. 1 in 2006 on our ability to count votes and audit elections, as well as being ranked as one of the top eight states in readiness for the 2008 general election. Funding from the Help America Vote Act helped get us there. We got a share of $3.8 billion distributed to all states for equipment replacement and other maintenance/upgrades, allocated by Congress in 2002. Read More
Secretary of State Jason Gant announced today that the Sioux Falls School District will join the Yankton School District on Tuesday, May 24th to be the first two local elections in the state to utilize the State Election Reporting Systems for their local races. And, for the Sioux Falls School District, the election will also represent the implementation of a measure sponsored by Gant during his last year in the State Senate to allow a school district to conduct an election using voting centers and electronic records. In 2010, then State Senator Gant sponsored and passed Senate Bill 101, an act to authorize certain school districts to conduct school board elections during 2011 using voting centers and electronic poll books. This measure created a variance in State Law to allow certain school districts the ability to use voting centers in lieu of establishing precincts for the election, and to utilize electronic poll books interlinked across the school district.Secretary Gant noted “I’m very excited that as Secretary of State, I get to implement one of the bills I sponsored as a legislator. Sioux Falls will act as a pilot project for some of the newest innovations in election technology. Instead of designated precincts, voters will be able to cast their ballot at any voting center located through out the city for the election. The key to the process are the electronic poll books, which are interlinked. Once a person is recorded as having voted in one location, they are marked as having voted in all of them, preventing anyone from voting more than once.” After the election is conducted, the Sioux Falls School District will be required to submit a report to the Secretary of State and the State Legislature by September 1, 2011, including the estimated cost savings achieved as a result of the voting center approach, any challenges, problems, or benefits that resulted from using the voting center approach, and any other relevant information related to the election. “The use of voting centers will help remove the confusion that some people experience when trying to figure out what polling location they’re supposed to use, because under this pilot project, they can access their ballot from all school district voting locations,” Gant said. Secretary Gant will be directly on-hand during much of the testing and implementation of the voting center approach, since if it is successful, it could represent the next step in election technology for South Dakota voters. Secretary Gant said “If we have a successful test, it represents an incredible improvement in how election officials deliver services.” Read More
“I think it’s a privilege. It’s not a right,” Minnesota GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers said about voting during an Easter recess radio interview. He soon backtracked, as opponents of a GOP-sponsored change in voting requirements pounced on his words. Zellers did well to recant. No other individual right is as clearly guaranteed in the state and federal constitutions to all citizens of eligible age and residency. This state’s nation-leading voter turnout attests to how deeply Minnesotans value that promise. Yet whether intentional or not, Zellers’ misstatement aptly describes the consequences of a GOP initiative that’s likely to land on the 2012 ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment. It would make voting harder for thousands of Minnesotans — those who are already underrepresented at the polls. GOP legislators here and around the country are making a concerted push to require voters to present a government-issued photo ID card at the polls before registering to vote or receiving a ballot. Election Day registration using utility bills or the sworn voucher of a neighbor to prove residency, allowed since 1974, would be eliminated. Those who cannot produce a valid ID card on Election Day would be allowed to cast a provisional ballot, then would need to appear at a government office within one week with the requisite ID in order for the ballot to be counted. Read More
No one ever claimed that Guardian readers were representative of the wider population, but compare the referendum result with the views you expressed in our own survey a couple of years ago, and you could be forgiven for thinking that planet Guardian exists in an entirely different universe. At the height of the expenses crisis, 5,000 of you gave your views on a new politics, and by a country mile you said that the top priority had to be fixing the voting system. Well, the nation has now had its say on electoral reform of a type, and has decisively flipped its thumbs down. But this is not, in fact, a case of a chasm between those branded the chattering classes by their detractors, and the wider population. A year ago, opinion polls were suggesting strong support for the general idea of reform, and even recording double-digit leads for the particular option of the alternative vote, which has now been so squarely rejected. So there was a chance for change, but that chance was blown. Here is a quick top 10 of the reasons why. As with the hit parade, we will work our way up from the bottom, until we reach the top spot in the blame game. Read More
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