26 April 2006

Committee action, Apr. 26: HB 909, HB 489, HB 490, HB 818, HB 641

HB 909 by Rep. Peppi Bruneau would get the Secretary of State’s office to enter into agreements with other states to share information about voters. Especially with so many displaced voters from the state, this could increase ballot security. Some amendments were adopted to clear up language. Presently, other SOS employees contacted other states to discover whether Louisiana voters were registered there. The idea of a compact is growing in popularity that would get states to compel each other, so the change would bring the voluntary exchange of information on a regular basis. Voter rolls all around would be better.

Also, the bill would encourage the consolidation of polling places. Many voters and candidate poll watchers preferred it. It also would make enforcement of electioneering law easier. The bill passed the House and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously.

HB 489 by Rep. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock would cut the residency requirement to register to vote from 30 to 7 days. But the committee felt that, without current real-time election books (such as linked databases and computers to access them at all voting locations), multiple registrations and voting could occur since seven days was too short of a time to make sure something like this wouldn’t happen. As such, her bill was deferred.

She tried next with HB 490 would allow any registered voter in the parish to vote by paper ballot in the wrong precinct on election day. But Secretary of State Al Ater saw a number of logistical problems – how many, commissioners would have to assemble ballots according to races, no precinct register for a person to sign which could allow for multiple voting. He said this was an advantage of early voting, where people could go to one central location. Potentially, changes in technology could solve some of these issues, but that now was not the case. Going to an assigned polling place and casting one ballot was the only reliable way to have ballot security, Ater said.

Several Democrats on the committee kept bringing up the point that paper ballots were used in early voting for the New Orleans election. They were reminded each time that the ballots could not be compiled or even counted on a timely basis and could enormously increase the commissioners’ workloads. “Nobody is against this bill,” chairman Rep. Charlie Lancaster said, “we just can’t figure out a way to do it.” As such, Jefferson also asked for deferral.

Her HB 818 provides that a person who is involuntarily displaced from his place of residence by a gubernatorially declared state of emergency does not lose his resident status if he intends to return to the place of residence. Again, there were questions about how logistically this could work out, in terms of measuring “intent” and for how long the intention would be good for. However, after discussion it was thought current law already could permit this, resulting in another deferral.

Finally, her HB 641 would extend the temporary nature of satellite voting in state (until 1/1/07) and also to allow it out of state (until 7/16/07). Bruneau pointed out there just was no way to enforce Louisiana law extraterritorially, logistical issues aside, and that the current process worked well so the state had no need to pursue this. Jefferson claimed the state had not done enough. And Rep. Charmaine Marchand said that presidential elections were coming up and displaced people still may not be back, so if it was addressed now it could be done by then (even though the bill would cut it off before 2008).

Lancaster also pointed out that other solutions existed, such as absentee voting, so this was not imperative. Rep. Loulan Pitre also said the temporary satellite sites were justified only because of the unusual nature of the elections and the threat of federal intervention, and that this current bill was at a different time about a different matter that he thought was beyond what was necessary.

The bill passed 5-4 with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans against. Democrat Rep. Billy Montgomery was absent.

“I would suggest that is voter intimidation to the infinite degree.”
Ater when, during testimony, was asked whether when a voter requested an absentee ballot from the state if the attorney general’s office could not also include a letter informing them of income tax responsibilities.

“Every once in awhile, dead folks vote, but fewer did in this last election.”
Rep. Juan LaFonta, joining the accolades to Ater in running the New Orleans elections.

“I was looking for an old ballot box … so we started looking through some of the old [tin, no longer used warehoused] ones and found uncounted ballots in them.”
Bruneau, in discussing the danger of paper ballots in reference to the use of them in HB 490.

THURSDAY: SB 280, SB 410, and SB 439 are scheduled to be heard by the Senate Education Committee; SB 347 and SB 700 are scheduled to be heard by the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee; SB 647 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Local and Municipal Affairs Committee.

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