From the Chair: Interviews
Senator A.J. Griffin, Oklahoma
Senator Pat Spearman, Nevada
Representative Kathy Bernier, Wisconsin
Senator Clayton Hee, Hawaii
Senator Ray Holmberg, North Dakota
Representative Mary Helen Garcia, New Mexico
Representative Pete Illoway, Wyominig
Representative Russ Morin, Connecticut
Representative Andre Cushing III, Maine
Delegate Jon Cardin, Maryland
Senator Sue Landske, Indiana
Representative Sam Hunt, Washington
NCSL's Election Resources
While all state legislators know about elections--they are voters and candidates, after all--it is the chairpeople for the committees that handle elections policy who are the real experts. A new feature in NCSL's elections newsletter, The Canvass, will let the voices of these experts be heard. "From the Chair" feature interviews with some of them--senators, delegates, Republicans and Democrats. The Canvass will include short versions of these interviews, and the full text of the interviews is available below.
YOu may also be interested in another set of interviews: The Administrator's Perspective. Here we get the unique perspective of the people who run elections at the local and state level.
If you know of a committee chair who would be good to interview please contact us.
Senator A.J. Griffin, Oklahoma (April 2013)
Senator A.J. Griffin chairs the Senate Rules Committee, a job she was given because she’s known for being detail-oriented and because of her strong relationship with her local elected officials. She represents four largely-rural Oklahoma counties, one of which is the fastest growing county in the state. The Canvass interviewed her on April 15, 2013.
Q: Do you have an overriding perspective that guides your decisions?
A: Even as we continue to improve the voting procedures in our state, we also continue to see dwindling numbers of voters. We need to be cognizant in doing anything that makes the voting process a hindrance to casting a ballot.
Q: How does the rural nature of your district affect your work?
Having grown up in a rural area, and serving a significant amount of the rural population in Oklahoma, I’m interested in creating policies and systems that allow every single voter an equal opportunity to vote. Like most states, we are becoming more urbanized as people move towards our two major urban areas, leaving the other areas more isolated. In those areas, geography, and the distance to the polling place, can be challenging. We don’t want to starve the rural areas of resources, at the same time we do not want the right to vote in urban areas to be impeded by long lines.
Q: What are the pressing elections issues in your state?
A: We passed voter ID a couple of years ago. Now we want to expand options for our citizens, particularly those in the military who may not have a driver’s license. This year we sent a bill to the governor (SB 752) to permit military IDs to be used.
Also, the presidential elections gave us “lessons learned” about early voting and absentee voting. In our largest counties, we’d like to offer alternative locations for early voting so everyone doesn’t try to vote at the county courthouse. This should reduce waiting times during early voting. We’re also shifting the early voting time from Friday-Saturday-Monday to Thursday-Friday-Saturday to allow county election officials time to process absentee ballots.
Q: What is the relationship between state election officials and local election officials in Oklahoma?
A: We have a very uniform election process across our state; the procedures, rules and equipment are identical from county to county. Because of that, more information is being shared between the counties, and has a ‘continual quality improvement processes in place. Centralization helps protect the integrity of the process, and provide the same efficiency and accuracy regardless of where you live within the state. We have a state election board, whose relationship with the county election officials is collaborative--not dictatorial at all.
Senator Pat Spearman, Nevada (March 2013)
Nevada’s Senator Pat Spearman chairs the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee, a wonderful assignment for a freshman legislator. She is a retired military officer and an ordained minister—and is completing her doctorate in business administration. On March 20, 2013, she spoke with NCSL about running elections in the Silver State.
Q: How do you approach your legislative work?
A: For anything I’m considering, I pray. I try to become centered on the fact that every decision I make will ultimately affect the lives of every Nevadan. In terms of how I function, I ask a lot of questions because I never want to make a decision that is ill-informed. I always want to make decisions based upon the information that both proponents or opponents offer.
Q: What are the elections issues in your committee this year?
A: Our secretary of state, Ross Miller, rolled out a plan that people say was a form of voter ID. That’s not what he’s talking about.
During his tenure he’s developed a way for people to register online, and it involves a technological nexus between his office and the department of motor vehicles. This year’s proposal is a next step to that. If the DMV is already verifying information for voters who register online, and since they have pictures for their driver’s licenses, why not equip electronic pollbooks with those pictures? Then, when I show up to vote, they type my name in, and my picture comes up. That takes the onus off the voter to provide the identification and places it on the government, if you will.
Q: What about people who don’t have a picture in the system?
A: They can opt to have a picture taken right there at the polls, or they can sign an affidavit. That piece is still being considered. This system also would allow voters to vote at polling stations outside their neighborhood. Instead of racing back across town, I can find a polling place where I am, and I could vote—because my information would all be right there in the electronic pollbook.
Q: Are there other issues pending that relate to elections?
A: We have just voted out Senate Bill 203, which says that lobbyists have to report their activities once per quarter, even when not in session. For this and all our work, the goal is to ensure that our constituents have the opportunity to put full faith and trust in what we’re doing because we are making sure that there are protocols in place that facilitate honesty and integrity.
Q: What is your relationship with the local election officials in your state?
A: I always like to hear what local officials have to say because even though I represent a constituency in southern Nevada, I’m still one level removed from the impact of any legislation that comes out of here. It’s always a good idea to get their ideas and understanding so we know how they will implement a new plan.
Representative Kathy Bernier, Wisconsin (February 2013)
Representative Kathy Bernier (R) is the chair of Wisconsin’s Committee on Campaigns and Elections. She brings great professional depth to the job, since she served as a county clerk for more than a dozen years before being elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 2010. NCSL spoke with her on January 8, 2013.
Q: Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board is often held up as an example of good non-partisan management. What do you think?
A: I think the GAB could do a better job of ensuring election integrity, especially with the complaints and concerns that have been filed with them on voter fraud issues. The onus seems to be put entirely on election officials, rather than electors for providing proper information to register and vote same day. I think they can do a better job of supporting poll workers in this regard. (Editor’s note: in Wisconsin and nine other states, plus the District of Columbia, residents can register to vote and cast a ballot on Election Day.)
Q: Has Election Day Registration been an issue?
A: In the past decade or so we’ve lost some of our integrity in regard to Election Day Registration. I believe it was intended for people who have moved shortly before an election, not for everyone. When people register on Election Day, it puts pressure on the poll workers and slows the process down. Poll workers bend over backwards to allow people to vote. They are afraid to challenge people who might not be eligible voters. I also have reports that curb side voting and nursing home voting has had integrity problems as well.
Q: So it’s a poll worker training problem?
A: Only in part. The Government Accountability Board is responsible for training the chief inspectors and clerks, who then train the poll workers. But some clerks have other jobs, and may not put enough emphasis on elections. When I was a county clerk, we did training and continuing education for clerks and poll workers. Most importantly, we did sample recounts—that proved to be the best way to educate poll workers. I’m in favor of testing poll workers, but not to get rid of them. We can give them the answers to the test, and let them keep practicing until they adequately understand the laws and rules of election administration and support them when they need to make a tough call.
Q: What is on your agenda for 2013 in Wisconsin?
A: We’re going to address recalls and the Constitutional issues associated with them, especially recalls for the lieutenant governor and governor, which should go hand in hand. We may also focus on recount procedures using electronic voting equipment and hand counts. We’ll be taking a deeper look at Election Day Registration and voter ID which has been and continues to be a concern in certain areas. There are a number of smaller election administration issues that will need to be addressed. I will be using a clerk advisory group to gather feedback on proposed election related legislation.
Senator Clayton Hee, Hawaii (January 2013)
Senator Clayton Hee is Hawaii’s chair of the Committee on Judiciary and Labor. He was first elected to Hawaii’s house in 1982, and is sought out for his “institutional memory.” (On a private note, he reports that he “vividly remembers when I saw the first person who had blonde hair on Waikiki,” in the late 1950s.) On January 3, NCSL asked him about Hawaii’s elections.
Q: Do you have an overriding perspective that guides your decisions about elections?
A: In my opinion, it’s a fair statement that the legislature has tried to make elections and voting easier. There have been proposals in the past for registering on the day of the election. Recently the governor publicly stated that he was very interested in the Oregon system of voting by mail. Hawaii is a state that looks at all kinds of ways to increase the participation of the voting age population.
Q: Is Hawaii unique in its concern to increase participation?
A: When Hawaii became a state in 1959, participation was in excess of 90 percent. Today it’s closer to 50 percent. There’s been a dropoff, and the legislature has tried to respond to that to increase participation. At the end of the day, it’s up to the voters, though.
Q: Hawaii is one of the most heavily Democratic states in the nation. How does that effect the legislture?
A: It seems the blue ties have gained in both chambers. (Note: The Senate has 24 Democrats and one Republican; the House has 44 Democrats and 7 Republicans.) You’d think based on those kinds of issues that Hawaii was a fairly left, liberal state, and in some ways it is. And yet, there are issues that the conservative side of our blue state raises. Overall the legislature has moved more toward the center; and that’s a conundrum and an interesting dynamic in Hawaii.
Q: Hawaii made the news in the presidential election because not enough ballots were on hand to meet demand.
A: It’s called being inept. It’s not like Hawaii went from 40 percent of turnout to 80 percent! There’s really no excuse for that to occur. Evidently there were enough ballots, but they just couldn’t get them out where they were needed. Keeping the ballots secure in a central location makes sense, but if you can’t get them, it’s not logical. Especially on an archipelago with eight islands, you have to be able to disperse them expeditiously. It’s my guess we’ll use a “short form bill” relating to elections to propose a remedy.
There was going to be a Senate investigation, but appropriately and quickly the Hawaii Elections Commission said they would initiate an invest immediately, asking what happened and what caused it? I presume they’ll make recommendations to the legislature.”
Q: What else is on your radar, legislatively speaking?
A: The one bill I was asked to consider was by Voter Owned Hawaii (Note: an advocacy group) that would raise the limits on matching funds for campaigns. This group believes that it is not worth the candidate’s time to participate in a matching fund situation like we have now, because the match is too low. This would encourage candidates who don’t have the financial means to run on their own to accept contribution limits that would be tied to matching funds from the state.
Senator Ray Holmberg, chair of North Dakota’s Committee on Appropriations and of the Joint Committee on Legislative Redistricting (October 2012)
Senator Ray Holmberg is North Dakota’s chair of the Committee on Appropriations and of the Joint Committee on Legislative Redistricting. He began his legislative career in 1977, and almost immediately became involved with all things elections-related. While his legislative assignments have changed over time, his interest in running good elections never has. On September 13, 2012, NCSL asked him about North Dakota’s elections.
Q: North Dakota is noteworthy as a state without a full-on voter registration system. Tell us about that.
A: It’s true that we don’t require registration; people can come on Election Day and vote. And yet the election workers do have a list of all the people who have voted in the past, or are potential voters. We kind of have a ‘velvet glove’ approach to voting. We do require a photo ID, but a voter without it is allowed to sign an affidavit, and allowed to vote on a regular ballot, not a provisional ballot. From the standpoint of elections, North Dakota is clean. We have very good election workers, and they are very easy to work with.
Q: What else is unusual about North Dakota elections?
A: Well, we have a number of our counties, particularly those in the north and in rural areas, who use vote-by-mail, and they may have only one precinct each. We initially allowed experimentation with vote-by-mail in primary elections. The election officials sent ballots to people who had voted before. Also, with our velvet glove approach, anyone can notify the county auditor’s office to get on the list.
The auditors came back and reported that vote-by-mail worked very well and it allowed more people the opportunity to vote and it didn’t create problems with fraud. We then authorized vote-by-mail statewide, but with the proviso that there had to be at least one place for people who wanted to vote the more traditional way to vote. Now we have some folks who want us to mandate more than one place in a county to be open for in-person voting.
Q: What s on your mind about North Dakota’s elections, as you look into the future?
A: With the influx of new people moving into the state, running elections is more of a challenge. It’s more problematic now that we can’t rely on knowing everybody. Also, our counties and cities which handle voting precincts have consistently reduced their number of precincts. There are 450 statewide now, whereas there used to be 2500. With bigger precincts, it gets harder to know everyone.
Q: What new proposals do you expect to consider in the next session?
A: We’ll have a proposal that every legislative district will have to have at least a certain number of precincts. The person proposing this doesn’t care how many voting places there are in a district—one location is fine, with all the precincts in the same place. The idea is that if your entire district votes in one precinct, you don’t know where your political strength is coming from. This has some appeal to the political junkies. I think there will be pushback from the counties and the cities, because it’s pretty convenient to combine precincts.
We may also see some refinement to initiative and referendum laws. We are in the midst of a large scandal regarding the utilization of out-of-state firms to collect signatures, and hiring people to do it. When problems hit the media, the politicians hit the microphones.
Representative Mary Helen Garcia, Chair of New Mexico's House Committee on Voters and Elections (September 2012)
Representative Mary Helen Garcia (D), the chair of New Mexico’s House Committee on Voters and Elections, says that campaigning “is in my DNA,” having grown up in a political family. While NCSL asked her about elections issues in the Land of Enchantment, it’s worth noting that her work at the Roundhouse (New Mexico’s capitol) has largely been about education. No surprise there—she’s a retired educator. On August 29, 2012, NCSL asked her about New Mexico and its elections issues.
Q: Tell us about New Mexico’s position in terms of voter ID.
A: New Mexico is a very unique state. A lot of people have a difficult time with some of the cultural things we need to be so careful with here. People harp about photo voter ID, but in New Mexico we cannot have it because, for many Native Americans, it is a part of their culture that they do not take pictures. Many other states have Native American populations as well, but I don’t hear this being talked about as an issue. It definitely is one here.
And then there is the issue of a driver’s license. I have a sister-in-law who never drove in her life, and she didn’t have a picture photo ID. I think it is voter suppression, that they’re trying to make it inconvenient for a lot of our citizens to vote. Besides, we don’t require photo ID with absentee ballots, so why would we require it at the polls?
Q: What other elections issues come up in New Mexico?
A: What’s occurring here now is that we’re trying to condense precincts into election centers. It can be rather confusing to implement this. Perhaps we can do a model in some areas where the people are more sophisticated and educated, but that is hard to address. In areas that are not as sophisticated, people have been voting in the same way and in the same location for years, so a change like this can be confusing.
Q: What are your priorities now in terms of elections?
A: We’re trying to do more voter registration with women and with the younger generation, perhaps the children of immigrants who were born here. This younger generation just doesn’t seem to be as involved, although people who have just gotten their citizenship are very involved. I think President Obama’s “deferred action” for people who would qualify for the Dream Act is going to activate a lot of people into going to the polls.
Q: How do your legislators get along with New Mexico’s election officials?
A: We have been very satisfied with our election officials. Since 1930-something we have always had a secretary of state who was a Democrat. The last two years we have had a Republican, who had been in the senate and also has been a county clerk. This was a drastic shift. I work well with her. Just like with education, elections are not a Democrat or a Republican issue. We need to work together for consensus in the state of New Mexico.
Representative Pete Illoway, Wyoming's Chair of the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee (July-August 2012)
Representative Pete Illoway (R) is Wyoming’s outgoing chair of the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee. He says “I termed myself out” after seven sessions, or 14 years. He’d planned on leaving after six terms, but decided to stay through a seventh term so his redistricting expertise from a decade earlier could be put to use. As for his future, he says “I don’t want to make any decisions yet. I don’t want to work too hard, but you never know what might come up.” On July 11, 2012 he spoke with NCSL about his experiences dealing with election policy and other matters in the cowboy state.
Q: As the outgoing chairperson, do you have advice for those who are continuing in the business of setting elections policy?
A: Nationally, a lot of people are having a problem with voter ID requirements. I don’t think we have a problem in Wyoming. Here’s what we did in verifying voter registration, and it works for us. The law says the secretary of state and the director of motor vehicle bureau are to match voter registration data with data from driver’s licenses. Then the secretary of state and the attorney general are to enter into an agreement to compare data, and then the same with the director of the Department of Health, and the director of the State Board of Paroles, and the Supreme Court to match information with records that generate jury lists. That works for us.
We do have problems with people who legitimately don’t have a birth certificate or a driver’s license. If you legitimately don’t have something, we’ll work with those folks. Wyoming isn’t so big that you can’t work through these things. To those who come after me in the legislature, I’d say ‘work closely with the folks who administer elections and stay in tune with them.’ To the feds I’d say, ‘Keep your fingers off Wyoming.’
Q: What moves has your state made in terms of running good elections that you think other legislators might find intriguing?
A: Besides the data matching I described, we have day-of-election registration. A citizen swears that he or she is a bona fide resident of the state, is 18 years of age and mentally competent and if the name is not on the polling list, the voter fills out a form right there that says ‘I am who I am,” and then vote. Maybe somebody gets by occasionally, I don’t know. We’ve just never had a problem or a history of problems.
Q: You were heavily involved with redistricting this year as well as a decade ago.
A:. The Joint Corporations Interim Committee, with 14 senators and representatives, drove around the state, held meetings listening to folks and we came back and put together the best process we could. When it got down to playing with legislative district lines, we used software and those census districts and we could see exactly how it affected the count. We have a lawsuit from some disgruntled folks, but I don’t think it will get far. We feel very good about our process.
Q: Are there issues about elections that concern you as you look toward the future?
A: Yes. The issues are civility and cost. In Wyoming we typically don’t have civility problems, but it may be starting. About a month ago we had a pie social in Pine Bluffs in the eastern part of Laramie County. All the folks who were running for office were there and had a chance to speak. One of the folks pretty well ripped his opponent. The incumbent handled it well, but it was not necessary. We need to stick to civility, even if on the national level that isn’t the case.
Then there is the cost of running an election. This still isn’t a big issue in Wyoming, but if you’re a candidate for the legislature in Colorado or elsewhere, it’s going to cost you $25,000 or $50,000 or more. In Wyoming, it’s not necessary--yet. You do have to get your name out and if you haven’t made a name for yourself in the community, you’re going to have to spend money to get out there and do it. Fourteen years ago when I first ran, they said “you’ll have no trouble getting elected because the people all know you.” Yes, but they all knew the other guy, too. That’s how it is in Wyoming.
Q: What is the relationship between local election officials, state officials and the legislature in Wyoming?
A: Excellent. Wyoming is blessed with 563,000 people in the state, and only 23 counties, so we only have 23 clerks to deal with. We work very closely with the county clerks. Most of them have been in their position for a number of years, which makes it so they can easily go through the statutes and make suggestions. The committee listens to the county clerks and generally goes with what they’re after because we work so closely.
Representative Russ Morin, Co-Chair of Connecticut's Government Administration and Elections Committee (June 2012)
Representative Russ Morin (D) is Connecticut’s House co-chair of the Government Administration and Elections Committee; Senator Gayle Slossberg is the Senate co-chair. On May 31, 2012, NCSL asked him about his very productive year, during which eight elections-related bills were enacted. Highlights include permitting citizens to complete voter registration online; approval of Election Day registration; and the passage of a constitutional amendment to permit early voting and no-excuse absentee voting. Similar legislation will need to pass in the next legislative session as well before the amendment becomes part of the state constitution.
Q: How did you feel about your legislative successes in 2012 in terms of elections legislation?
A: Connecticut is the “Land of Steady Habits,” and trying to get people to change is not easy, so it was exciting to see us have these successes this year. Generally when you’re in this job, you just have to be patient.
Election Day registration was a huge win for Connecticut voters. Despite a long, mainly partisan, debate, we were able to pass this legislation with the goal of getting more people to the voting booths on Election Day.
Q: How do you account for your success?
My co-chair, Senator Slossberg, and I worked hard to meet with all the players on both sides of the aisle. I also had a good ranking member, Tony Hwang, and we went full bore on the things we agreed on. The governor and the secretary of the state were on board; our new secretary of the state, Denise Merrill, came from the legislature and that always helps.
Having joint committees here in Connecticut helps, too. Once we’re in agreement in committee, it is easier when the legislation gets to the House and Senate.
Q: What are the pressing elections issues in your state that still remain?
A: Number one for me would be the state constitutional amendment that would allow us to address early voting and absentee voting. In a state like Connecticut, it’s not uncommon for people to be working in New York City or Boston. People are so busy with their jobs and their families, that voting on Election Day can be a real problem. When I look at other countries or states where they have early voting options and see that the turnout is higher, I want that for Connecticut, too. That’s what it’s all about, getting the people to vote.
Otherwise, we can expect that no matter how good this year’s new legislation is, when it is put into practice for the end users—the clerks and registrars and voters—we may have to make tweaks.
Q: What is your relationship with your clerks and registrars in your state?
A: We want them at the table and to be part of the discussion. We have 169 towns and 169 types of leadership, and it means that everybody does their thing their own way. Because of that, we want, and get, a lot of input for a small state.
As for my big concern, the constitutional amendment, early voting and no-excuse absentee balloting make some of our clerks and registrars of voters nervous. It is the registrars who would handle the early voting, and the absentee ballots would go to the clerks. This could be perceived as giving them more responsibility at a time when governments have to be leaner. I don’t want that; I’d like it to make elections work more smoothly overall.
Representative Andre Cushing, III, Chair of the Maine Election committee (May 2012)
Representative Andre Cushing III (R) is Maine’s assistant majority leader and chair of the House Election Committee. On May 2, 2012, NCSL asked him about the work that he and his state are doing on elections, especially since Maine is, as he puts it, a “retail” politics state, with small communities and small districts (8500 people in a House district, and 40,000 in a Senate district).
Q: How does being a small state effect elections?
A: We’re a rural state. Clerks know their residents, and the residents know the clerks. So the bulk of our elections go smoothly, and voter fraud is a small issue in Maine. Most of our communities have town clerks who serve in many capacities, including running elections. These clerks are very conscientious about what they do, and they make sure the integrity of the system is up held.
In terms of running a campaign, in many cases it is like running for a town council. The amount of money you spend is not important, although it does weigh in. It’s more about getting to know the voters, doing the door to door local activities to earn their votes.
Q: Do you have an overriding principal that guides your decisions?
A: Yes. I support people being able to vote, but I also want to protect the integrity of the ballot box. It’s not so much about fraud; it’s to protect against error on the part of the voter or the election officials.
When it comes to issues such as voting, my personal feeling is that it’s a right, but there’s a responsibility that comes with that right. Voters should know where to vote and be prepared to know who they’re voting for and what they’re voting for. If you have to stretch just a little bit, if you have to be more prepared to vote, then you treat the vote with more respect. You’re exercising a right that many have paid a great price to protect. As part of that, I believe that if you are going to vote in our elections in our communities, you should be a resident, someone who participates in the community and understands what’s going on. We’ve had a few instances where people have voted absentee in their home state and also voted locally here.
Q: Maine also gained national attention in 2011 for enacting legislation to end Election Day registration, and then saw that decision overturned by the voters. What were the lessons from that?
A: We changed the voter registration requirements so that voters would have to be registered at least two days before Election Day; that’s all we were asking for in Maine. Some of the clerks would have preferred 10 days to two weeks, so they could adequately confirm those registrations. The burden of same day voter registration, along with absentee voting puts a stress on some of the local offices.
The bill was about more than same day registration, though. It also included a change to the absentee law. We still do not permit same-day absentee voting.
Q: How have elections changed in recent years in Maine?
A: In the last couple elections, we’ve had 25 to 40 percent of our voters use the absentee or early voting system, so the nature of voting is changing. Those early votes mean that the volume of work for the clerks is sometimes tripling. They issue the ballots, collect the ballots and process the ballots.
Q: What do you see as your role in encouraging citizen participation in political decisionmaking?
A: It troubles me when we have only 40 to 60 percent of registered voters turn out for elections. And that’s people who registered! So I try to engage people in our processes. I go and speak to high school classes, and encourage school classes to visit the legislature. I help run mock legislative sessions, and I encourage people to get involved in the political process every way they can.
Delegate Jon Cardin, Chair of the Maryland Election Law subcommittee (April 2012)
Delegate Jon Cardin (D) is the chair of Maryland’s Election Law subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee. On March 22, 2012, NCSL asked him about the work that he and his state are doing on elections, especially since Maryland has recently modernized its registration process.
Q: Do you have an overriding principal that guides your decisions?
A: For all Marylanders who are legal to vote, I try to make voting as convenient and transparent as possible, while at the same time making sure we have mechanisms to catch fraud and mistakes. We have to always balance competing interests.”
Q: What are your legislative priorities in your state?
A: There are always budgetary issues. We have to make sure that we create the availability of funds to improve our voting systems. That needs to be done fairly soon, as nearly 100 percent of our machines will be obsolete by 2016.
In terms of policy issues, we have some bills to create pilot programs that would allow vote-by-mail for certain jurisdictions for special elections. We’re trying this as a way for local boards to save a significant amount of money—over 50 percent of the cost of running an elections. Eventually we may want to use vote-by-mail for regular elections, too.
This year we’ll make some minor fixes to online voter registration. This, too, can save tremendous money for the state and local boards and also make it easier for people to register to vote.
I’m also moving ahead with several campaign finance-related bills. I’ve been the biggest proponent of a public finance system, because I believe anybody should be able to run for election regardless of whether they’re good fundraisers. That being said, I think people should be able to raise money, too, and we should have full disclosure of where the money comes from. Transparency is important and I also believe that libertarian rights are important too.
Q: What is your relationship with the local election officials in your state?
A: I don’t spend a lot of time creating a relationship; they come to me and they tell me how they feel, and some identify with my positions and some do not. I’m open to hearing other people’s opinions and willing to move from one position to another. For example, I had been personally in favor of Sunday voting, and I’ve changed my opinion after hearing more about it. The practicalities are difficult and it put people in uncomfortable positions. If I learn still more, I may change my mind again. I want to hear what people, especially people who work on these issues every day, have to say.
Senator Sue Landske, Chair of the Indiana Elections and Apportionment Committee (March 2012)
Assistant President Pro Tempore Sue Landske (R) is the chair of the Indian Elections and Apportionment committee. On Feb. 21, 2012, NCSL asked her about the work that she and the state are doing on elections, especially since Indiana is one of the first states to fully implement a photo voter ID requirement.
Q: Is there an overarching approach that Indiana takes to elections?
A: Yes. Our Secretary of State’s Election Division is run by co-directors who represent each party. They stay in very close contact with local election officials. We try to get their perspective at every step of the way. Our counties have some latitude, too. There are many decisions that the local offices make. That seems to be the most acceptable plan, and everyone seems satisfied with that.
Q: Indiana has a high profile in the elections world because it was one of the first to implement strict photo ID for voters. How is that working?
A: It seems to be working very well here. There are still those who say it is an impediment for voters, but we’ve expanded the opportunities to obtain an ID card from the DMV; it’s now open on Election Day. And you can cast a provisional ballot, if you don’t have your ID with you. It’s working just fine here.”
Q: I’ll bet that there are other Indiana practices that other states might be interested in.
A: One of the things that has made a big difference in Indiana is that we allow some of the poll workers to work half a day. It’s hard to find pollworkers sometimes, and it’s a long day. To help with that, we do allow students to work, too, with special permission. We also use vote centers. I think it has made a huge difference in the counties that do use them. It’s up to them.
Q: What legislation will you see this year?
A: We’ll have a couple of easy corrections in redistricting. And we’ve really tried to update a couple of the statutes that needed changing; just routine things that happen after a census. They’re really the kind of administrative issues that need to be taken care of every now and then.”
Sam Hunt, Chair of Washington's State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee (February 2012)
Representative Sam Hunt (D) is the chair of the Washington State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee. He’s served in the legislature for ten years. On Jan. 13, 2012, NCSL asked him about the work that he and the state are doing on elections.
Q: Is there an overarching perspective you hold when considering elections-related legislation?
A: I keep it in mind that it is the right to vote, not the permission to vote, and we want to maintain as much access for qualified voters as we can.
Q: Washington is one of just two states that uses all-mail voting. How does that work for you?
A: Last year we became the second all vote-by- mail state, after our neighbor, Oregon. Vote-by-mail has been a huge success. We mail out ballots a long time before the election, and voters can fill it out the day they receive it or they can wait to Election Day to do it. In 2010, when all counties used mail ballots, voter turnout was 53 percent, a large number in a year when there were several statewide initiatives and referenda and two special legislative district elections but no statewide offices up for election.
The law also allows county auditors (Washington’s local election officials) to set up voting centers because there are people who say ‘I just want to go cast my vote.’ Those people take their ballot with them to the local library or courthouse, and vote it there. Many county auditors have installed secure drop-boxes for ballots, too, so if somebody objects to paying first class postage on it, they can physically take their ballot and drop it without paying postage.
For those who worry about ID at the polls, we have extremely good checks and balances. We have an envelope mailed to the voter; in that is the ballot and a security envelope and a return envelope. On the return one, you have to sign the oath that you are you, and sign it and date it. The elections people have your signature on file; if the envelope signature doesn’t look like the electronic signature, then you have to make a personal appearance.
Q: What are your legislative plans for 2012?
A: This year we have a couple of bills. One would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to register; these records would be kept in a separate file from the voter registration rolls until the young people turn 18. The other bill would permit same-day registration. Our neighbor, Idaho, offers this. Right now in Washington you can register online up to 29 days before the election, or in person or on paper up to eight days before. This bill would move online registration up to seven or eight days before Election Day, and in-person registration right up through Election Day. We have a number of people from the Washington Students Association who have been working on this. The University of Washington uses a quarter schedule, and the fall quarter starts in October, giving them only two weeks to put together a good registration campaign.
The county auditors are opposing this; they worry that if thousands of people wait until the last minute, it could disenfranchise some by creating long lines. I expect these bills to move out of committee, but can’t predict what the House and Senate will do.
Q: Do you see these issues as partisan?
A: No, I don’t. Our Secretary of State, the state elections officer, is a Republican, and we have worked very well together over the years. He’s the one who recommended online voter registration. We also work with the county auditors. I sympathize with their budget problems and their concerns for the security and privacy of the ballot.
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