22 April 2015

Committee action, Apr. 22: HB 290, HB 189, HB 591, HB 131

HB 290 by Rep. Barbara Norton would extend time available for voting if there is a delay of at least 15 minutes at the beginning the voting day. She told the House and Governmental Affairs Committee that a kind of delay like that constitutes a denial of the right to vote, and it was not unreasonable to hold polls open later for this. She also curiously said the bill was somewhat internal contradictory.

Rep. Steve Pugh said with early voting extension, there really was no excuse not to vote, and that if polls opened late, there was no guarantee those who did not vote early could vote later in the day. Norton said regardless that not voting early in the day because polls opened late for some reason this was denial of voting for people.

Rep. Mike Danahay wondered whether those reporting were mistaken in that all but federal elections start at 7 AM and that machines were delivered the night before. Norton said in the instance she knew, it was a congressional election and machines were delivered to the wrong address. He also pointed out anybody in line at closing time 8 PM are allowed to vote. Norton said people’s schedule might not permit them to come by then. She said it was illegitimate to ask people to come back later.

Representatives of clerks of court testified that the bill could cause many problems, such as delayed results and add to work schedules and the complexities of dealing with sites with multiple precincts. Norton closed claiming it was unconstitutional vote denial if people didn’t vote when there were delays.

Rep. Joseph Bouie asked for passage, to which Danahay objected. It failed 1-10, after which Danahay moved for its involuntary deferral.

HB 189 by Rep. Harold Ritchie would amend the Constitution to change back the ordering of sessions, which presently has fiscal-only sessions during odd-numbered years. Ritchie said by going into a new term with a fiscal-only session it would reduce the incidence of special sessions being called by governors and as the fiscal-only sessions do allow for limited general bills, that would allow new legislators some chance to introduce that kind of legislation.

The fiscal note did say that next year would save $1.5 million by having a shorter session, which seemed to impress the committee. It was approved without objection.

HB 591 by Rep. Chris Broadwater would move qualifying for offices back four weeks. It also for state and local elections would put an extra week between the general election and a runoff election. It also would make consistent candidate withdrawal dates consistent with other dates such as contesting candidacies. Broadwater said this would allow voters to learn more about candidates and assist the Secretary of State in ballot preparation. Early voting, he said, now made it possible that elections opened up within two weeks of qualification, making it more difficult for voters to learn of candidates and candidates to get information out. It would take effect in 2016.

Angie Rogers, Commissioner of Elections, said the open-ended withdrawals possible now cause confusion and chaos, with sample ballots not reflecting later withdrawals from the actual ballot. It also creates inconsistency when clerks record votes for withdrawals, but they do not get reflected at the state level.

Broadwater closed by noting it increased clarity. There was no objection to favorable reporting.

HB 131 by Rep. Johnny Berthelot would prevent election of recalled officials to the offices from which they were recalled concerning at-large elections. Last year a bill prevented district-based recalled officials from running in the race to succeed themselves, but neglected to apply it to at-large situations, and Berthelot noted this was in the spirit of the previous bill.

Opponents called it a “blacklist” and equated this bill tagging the recalled official as a “criminal,” and also made a convoluted argument about how it denied voting rights. Berthelot noted the same philosophy behind this bill already was in statute. Without objection, it was reported favorably.

Instead of 1,500 bad bills, we’d have 2,000 bad bills.
Rep. John Schroder, when asked about having general sessions always with no fiscal-only sessions.

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