The Louisiana Senate voted 11-24 Tuesday (March 29) against legislation that would have made it easier to vote by mail. Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, brought Senate Bill 164 to allow anyone to vote by mail. Under current law, people must meet certain criteria to vote absentee. There was no discussion about the proposal on the Senate floor before it was rejected, but the vote broke down along party lines. All 11 senators who voted to expand absentee voting were Democrats. Every Republican either opposed the bill or was absent from the vote. Peterson is the head of the Louisiana Democratic Party.
The Virginia Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections passed legislation Tuesday that would allow registered voters to cast absentee ballots in person without providing an excuse for not voting on Election Day. Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier, the committee chair, joined six Democrats on the committee to advance Senate Bill 106, sponsored by Sen. Rosalyn R. Dance, D-Petersburg. The measure now heads to the full Senate for consideration. “In today’s society, many people are not able to get to their home polling location on Election Day and so the option to vote absentee is crucial to ensuring that we do not disenfranchise these voters,” Dance said in a statement.
Republicans’ push to eliminate Michigan’s straight-party voting option may improve the odds of voters being allowed to cast an absentee ballot for any reason. A key lawmaker is pushing for House passage of her “no-reason” absentee bill in the coming week. The legislation would let all voters apply for an absentee application in person at their local clerk’s office without needing an excuse. Under current law, absentee voters must be 60 years or older, be out of town when the polls are open, be an election worker or be unable to vote on Election Day due to a physical disability, religious tenets or incarceration. House Elections Committee Chairwoman Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, said her bill would alleviate potential longer lines if voters are prohibited from voting a straight ticket of one party’s candidate with a single mark. The GOP-controlled Senate last month OK’d ending the straight-party option. Lyons’ panel heard testimony on the straight-ticket legislation Thursday but did not vote, a day after moving the no-excuse absentee voting bill to the House floor.
A bill proposed in the Michigan state legislature could make voting easier for University students. Earlier this month, several state senators sponsored a bill that would allow first-time voters in the state of Michigan to vote by absentee ballot or mail. The bill has been sent to the Senate’s Committee on Elections and Government Reform for review. Currently, first-time voters in Michigan are required to vote in person unless disabled, older than 60 or temporarily residing overseas. Proponents of the new legislation said the current law presents a problem for many University students, who are living in Ann Arbor during their first election and cannot return to their hometown to vote in person.
Minnesota’s first big run with no-excuse absentee voting has some lawmakers setting their sights on a more-expansive form of early balloting for future elections. Legislation moving in the Minnesota Senate would establish an early voting window 15 days before an election when polling places would be open, including on Saturdays. The period would close three days prior to the scheduled election. But the bill faces a tougher course in the House, where a key Republican says his colleagues aren’t inclined to pursue another significant voting change so soon. Last year was the first statewide election where voters could request and cast an absentee ballot without a qualified excuse. In the end, there were 55 percent more absentee ballots cast in 2014 compared with the midterm election of 2010. New Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, said it’s a sign people crave opportunities to vote at their convenience.
The Minnesota Senate subcommittee on elections approved legislation Thursday that would allow people to vote beginning 15 days before Election Day. Right now, the state has a no-excuse absentee voting system. The only ways to vote absentee are by mail or by visiting a polling place. But if the absentee ballot is cast in person, the voter has to fill out lots of paperwork and the ballot is kept under lock and key until Election Day. Bill sponsor Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, said the process is confusing for voters, because they expect to be able to cast a ballot as easily as they would on Election Day.
Two weeks into his term as Minnesota’s new secretary of state, Steve Simon has a goal to make voting as easy as possible for the state’s residents. Simon, a former DFL legislator from Hopkins, in 2014 helped bring about no-excuse absentee voting, which he said has been a huge success. He said there was a 55 percent increase in people utilizing absentee voting during the election in 2014 when compared to 2010, another non-presidential election year. With no-excuse absentee voting passed, he is now focusing on implementing what he calls “true early voting.” Simon said under absentee voting, voters place their vote in an envelope and either mail or bring it into the Freeborn County Courthouse, where it remains locked up until the election and is then counted.
Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Colo.) thought an all-mail election sounded like a bad idea when she heard Oregon was mailing out ballots to every voter during the2000 election. “It was a traditional thing for me—I liked to go to my polling place on Election Day,” she said. A little more than a decade later, Hullinghorst was one of four legislators who sponsored HB 1303, a 2013 bill that made Colorado the third state to have all-mail elections or vote-by-mail elections. Hullinghorst, majority leader in the Colorado House, said the success of vote-by-mail elections in Oregon and Washington convinced her that Colorado was ready to make the change in 2013. And it wasn’t much of a leap for a state that previously permitted jurisdictions to hold all-mail elections, excluding general elections. More than 74 percent of voters in Colorado chose to cast a mail ballot in the 2012 general election, according to the Colorado County Clerks Association. While Oregon, Washington and Colorado are the only states that automatically mail to every registered voter a ballot and do not run traditional in-person voting precincts, voters in many other states have experienced some form of a vote-by-mail election.
Voting-rights activists are hoping the hype around this year’s midterm elections will give new energy to a bill intended to make it easier to vote. The bill would mandate no-excuse absentee voting in federal elections, a provision currently allowed for voters in 30 states. Twenty others only allow absentee ballots to be cast if certain excuses are offered. “We think this is fundamentally unfair and invasive to people’s privacy,” says Deborah Vagins, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.
The House of Representatives approved a proposed constitutional amendment Thursday to allow an enhanced early-voting system in Maine, but the 92-56 vote was several short of the two-thirds margin that will be needed for final passage. The bill, L.D. 156, sponsored by Rep. Michael Shaw, D-Standish, would change the Maine Constitution to give cities and towns the option of allowing in-person voting before Election Day. It does not specify how long before Election Day voting could take place. The same bill received majority votes in the House and Senate last year, but fell short of the two-thirds margin in both chambers. Democrats, who hold the majority in the Legislature, held the bill before it failed final passage last year and brought it back for the current session.
Maryland: Absentee ballots downloaded online raise security issues, as does Election Day voter registration | MarylandReporter.com
A new Maryland law allowing voting by mail with a ballot downloaded online has some voter advocacy groups alarmed that adequate security measures will not be in place for the 2014 elections. Election Day voter registration and the future of online voting were also among the hot button issues debated at a forum this week, hosted by the Maryland League of Women Voters in Annapolis. The bill, Election Law – Improving Access to Voting, extends the right to all Maryland absentee voters to download and mark their ballots online. Ballots would then be mailed in to local election boards rather than tallied online. Previously only overseas voters and military personnel were allowed by law to obtain and mark ballots on the Internet. Under Maryland’s no-excuse absentee voting law, any Maryland voter is allowed to receive an absentee ballot without having to provide a reason for being absent on Election Day. Cyber-security hawks like Rebecca Wilson of SAVE our Votes said Maryland has no process for examining voter’s handwritten signatures that are required for all the new potential mailed in absentee ballots. “Maryland is moving increasingly to vote by mail,” Wilson said. “How does the [election official] know the person on the computer is the real voter?” Wilson cited four western states that either vote entirely by mail — Washington and Oregon – or by a large percentage – California and Colorado.
The Minnesota House passed an omnibus elections bill today that would allow eligible voters to cast absentee ballots without stating a reason for not voting in person on Election Day. The vote was 74-60, with only one two Republican joining Democrats on the prevailing side. That doesn’t appear to meet the “broad bipartisan support” standard that DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has said he’ll require to sign election law changes. In addition to no-excuse absentee voting, the bill includes higher thresholds for taxpayer-funded recounts, tighter controls over felon voting rights and a reduction in Election Day vouching. There’s also a change in way statewide elections would proceed if a majority candidate dies or is incapacitated.
Voter ID was just the beginning. A trio of bills aimed at overhauling access to the ballot box in Pennsylvania will get a hearing on Thursday, when the Senate Democratic Policy Committee meets in the Allegheny County Courthouse, Downtown, at 10 a.m. The bills would allow voters to cast ballots up to 15 days before Election Day; vote absentee without giving an excuse; and register on the same day as voting. “It reflects modern life much better than the current situation does,” said Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks County, who sponsored the absentee ballot bill in part because, in 2009, she missed her chance to vote because she was unexpectedly out of town on business.
Despite constitutional concerns, lawmakers advanced a bill Monday that establishes a pilot program for municipalities to test early voting in this year’s town elections. Over the past few years, the legislature has jumped through considerable hoops in an effort to broaden its authority over the state’s voting system. That’s because the state constitution is unusually specific when it comes to the administration of statewide and federal elections. For the second consecutive year, lawmakers are mulling a constitutional amendment that could give them more leeway to enact policies concerning no-excuse absentee ballots and early voting.
A Minnesota House panel has advanced a batch of election law changes that for now has some bipartisan support. The bill 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. It would allow one voter to vouch for a maximum of eight people, down from the current limit of 15. The bill also links the state’s electoral votes for president to the national popular vote winner. The House Elections Committee approved the omnibus bill today on a mostly favorable voice vote, sending it on to the Government Operations Committee.
Democratic lawmakers continued to bash their Republican colleagues over voting rights legislation Monday, saying the GOP has gone out of its way to kill measures to deal with long lines at the polls while pushing ahead with stricter voter identification requirements. After many Virginians waited four to five hours to vote in November, House of Delegates Democratic Caucus Chairman Mark Sickles of Fairfax said members of both parties came to Richmond in January “with an urgent mandate to make real change and improve our democracy.” Yet measures put forward by both Republicans and Democrats that would have allowed early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, absentee voting for people over the age of 65, absentee voting for people with children under the age of four, increased voting machines at polling places, and keeping polls open until 8 p.m. have all been defeated. Even legislation supported by Gov. Bob McDonnell such as the automatic restoration of voting rights for felons convicted of nonviolent offenses were killed in the House, Sickles said.
A Minnesota House committee is considering a bill that would allow significantly more people to vote by absentee ballot beginning in 2014. Under the measure, eligible voters could get an absentee ballot without stating a reason why they can’t vote in person at their neighborhood polling place on Election Day. Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, told members of the House Election Committee today that his no-excuse absentee voting bill would put Minnesota in line with 27 other states. Simon said the current absentee system is unenforceable.
Minnesota lawmakers are weighing election reforms that would make it easier for people to cast a ballot before Election Day arrives. Minnesota in 2012 once again topped the nation with the highest voter turnout percentage, but in some precincts long lines stretched throughout the day because poll workers and equipment were overwhelmed. “One certain way of dealing with the line issue is to have either early voting or no-excuse absentee voting,” Joe Mansky, the longtime Ramsey County elections director told KARE.
Three Democrats – Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark South, and Rep. Dennis E. Williams, D-Talleyville – introduced legislation designed to increase participation in elections Jan. 17. House Bill 20 would extend absentee voting to all eligible Delaware voters by removing requirements that limit who can vote absentee. Under current law, absentee voting is allowed only for residents who are physically unable to make it to their polling place on Election Day. HB 20 is the first leg of a constitutional amendment. If this bill passes the General Assembly during this two-year session, an identical version must pass the 148th General Assembly, which begins in 2015.
Virginia: House and Senate panels unwilling to lift restrictions on absentee voting | dailypress.com
Democratic hopes of no-excuse absentee voting were dashed Tuesday as committees in the House of Delegates and the Senate killed the measures on party-line votes. In order to cast an absentee ballot in Virginia, voters must have one of 11 reasons. Democrats and one Republican – Del. Ron Villanueva of Virginia Beach – argued that no-excuse absentee voting would help cut down on long lines at the polls on Election Day and offer greater access to the ballot box. “I have two of the most higher voter turnout precincts in Virginia Beach and one in Chesapeake,” Villanueva told the House Privileges and Elections Subcommittee on Elections. “Average wait times were over four hours. We feel this bill will would make the process more efficient and allow greater voter turnout.”
Efforts to improve election administration and address the long lines that greeted voters on Election Day shifted to Capitol Hill on Thursday as House and Senate lawmakers unveiled related bills. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., introduced legislation that would establish a competitive-grant program within the Justice Department to provide states with incentives to improve their voting processes. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., quickly pledged to co-sponsor the bill, citing the “embarrassment” that long lines caused Virginia last week. “In Prince William County, folks waited for up to three hours. In Chesapeake, Va., folks waited up to four hours. It was remarkable that it was five days after the fact before we even knew the results in Florida,” Warner said on the Senate floor.
Voting Blogs: Non-Retrogression, Equal Protection, and Ohio’s Early Voting Case | Election Law @ Moritz
The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has set an expedited briefingschedule in the Obama campaign’s case over early voting in Ohio. The state’s brief is due this coming Monday (9/10), with Obama’s response a week later (9/17), and the state’s reply (if any) the Friday of that same week (9/21). As this appellate process gets underway, I wish to make one observation about an innovative and intriguing aspect of the federal district court’s unexpected order, issued last Friday. (In separate development, the district court has ordered Ohio’s Secretary of State Jon Husted to appear at a hearing next Thursday (9/20) to explain his response to the court’s Friday order.) The district court ruled that the state must restore for Ohio’s entire electorate the three days of early voting immediately preceding the traditional Election Day. These three days existed in 2008 and more recently, until taken away in 2011 by a convoluted series of legislative enactments (combined with some implementing directives from the Secretary of State). The district court did not base its ruling on the ground that these three days of early voting are constitutionally compelled. Rather, the court relied on the ground that the state had left open the possibility that these three days of early voting would be available only to military voters this year, and that the state did not have an adequate justification for differentiating among military and non-military voters in this way. (For further details on the court’s ruling, see my colleague Steve Huefner’s insightful analysis from the day of the district court decision.)
Connecticut: Constitutional Amendment on No Excuse Absentee Ballots Goes To Voters Now | Courant.com
The Senate on Wednesday approved a rare Constitutional amendment that would make it much easier to vote by absentee ballot, requiring no reason or excuse at all. The measure, if passed by voters in a statewide referendum in November 2014, would remove all restrictions on obtaining absentee ballots, which are currently granted under certain circumstances such as being away at college or being disabled. The House has already approved the measure. The Senate voted 21-14 in favor of the amendment on a party-line vote. One Democratic senator, Edith Prague of Columbia, was absent. Sen. Gayle Slossberg, a Milford Democrat who co-chairs the legislative committee that oversees elections, said the move would open up voting for more citizens who arrive home too late to cast a ballot by the time the polls close at 8 p.m. “This is important to commuters,” Slossberg said.