The1st meeting of the Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs Task Force of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government was held on Tuesday, September 18, 2001, at 1:00 PM, in Room 129 of the Capitol Annex. Representative Adrian Arnold, Co-Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Alice Kerr, Co-Chair; Representative Adrian Arnold, Co-Chair; Senators Ernie Harris, Ed Miller, Albert Robinson, and Elizabeth Tori; Representatives Woody Allen, Joe Barrows, James Bruce, Perry Clark, James Comer, Joseph Fischer, Charlie Hoffman, Gross Lindsay, and Mary Lou Marzian.
Guests: Bill May, Kentucky County Clerks Association; James Lewis, Leslie County Clerk; and Don Blevins, Fayette County Clerk.
LRC Staff: Laura Hendrix, Melissa Bybee and Terisa Roland.
Chairman Arnold opened the meeting with a moment of silence in memory of the people that lost their lives in the World Trade Center tragedy. LRC employee Pam Harrod was remembered whose son-in-law, Stephen Jacoby, lost his life in the crash of Flight 77. A sailor from Bath County, Kentucky, who was in the Pentagon at the time of the plane crash also perished in that tragedy.
Chairman Arnold introduced George Russell, former Executive Director of the State Board of Elections, who has been traveling around the world giving advice on elections in several countries.
Chairman Arnold said that during the summer he met with County Clerks to look at their proposed legislation, and he has pre-filed some of their suggested legislation. Chairman Arnold said there will be two more hearings during the rest of the interim. Senator Kerr is Co-Chair and will be conducting half the meetings.
Bill May said that some of the proposed legislation was introduced in the 2001 session. James Lewis, Leslie County Clerk, explained that BR 260 moves the primary election date up one week in May, in order to avoid the Memorial Day weekend which curtails the participation of the voters and makes it difficult to recruit precinct election officers. Don Blevins, Fayette County Clerk, asked the Committee to pass the bill in case they could not come to a consensus about the timing of elections that have been proposed by various legislators in past sessions.
Senator Harris asked if the bill would be effective for the 2003 election, and whether there would be any changes for the 2002 election. Mr. Blevins stated that the change in the primary would be effective for the 2003 primary. Since the filing deadline is in January, an emergency clause on this particular bill for 2002 would be unrealistic.
Chairman Arnold stated that he pre-filed these bills; however, if anyone wanted to co-sponsor with him they could. He informed the members that the Task Force cannot pre-file bills but it can recommend to the State Government Committee that bills be approved as prefiled.
A motion was made to recommend to the State Government Committee that BR 260 be approved as prefiled. The motion was seconded and passed.
Mr. Lewis said BR 261 deals with voter registration statutes and also makes these statutes gender-neutral. It would bring Kentucky’s law into compliance with federal law, with respect to persons who move out of Kentucky but do not move in time to register to vote in the new state of residence. Under federal law, those persons can either vote by mail or in the clerk’s office in a presidential race only. Because all clerks’ offices do not hold the same hours or observe the same holidays, Mr. Lewis stated, they want to have a completely uniform voter registration system throughout the state.
BR 262 also would provide that a circuit clerk shall provide the county clerk with a signed statement of a person who declines to register. The county clerks believe that written proof is necessary so that a record can be produced showing the person did, in fact, decline to register. Mr. Lewis stated that the intent is to make the process on election day go smoother by allowing the county clerks to produce a statement showing that the person did not register to vote.
Senator Harris asked about proposed changes to the statewide voter registration system, involving identifying persons who register to vote as “other.”
Mr. Blevins responded that there are only three classifications, under the voter registration system – Democrat, Republican and “Other.” There is national pressure to identify the smaller political parties, such as Libertarian, Green, and all those other parties that most commonly show up in a presidential election year.
Representative Fischer asked for clarification on the definition of political group. The bill states that a political group means a political group not constituting a political party or political organization.
Mr. Blevins said that it recognizes that parties receiving less than two percent of the votes would still want to be recognized as a distinct group. There is a national movement to identify the parties who traditionally have presidential candidates but who do not poll a large percent of the vote. The importance of the organization and the group has to do with how they get on the ballot as well; this information is not unique to voter registration. Currently, each group has a different route under Kentucky law to get on the ballot and this is not being changed.
Representative Comer asked when all parties are defined in the voter registration laws, what happens if two people from the Green Party or Libertarian Party file for Congress and whether they will have to have a primary election.
Mr. Blevins answered that they would have to file as independents even though they would be recognized by the voter registration system as a member of the Green Party, under the proposal as a person presenting themselves to run for election, they would be an Independent. There would be no primary, unless the group met other requirements for a primary, and this would not change at the present time.
Representative Arnold called for a motion for amendments to be presented to the full committee. A motion was made by Representative Fischer to add the word “Presidential” to page 12, line 11, of BR 261, which was seconded and approved.
Senator Tori asked what is the benefit or purpose of allowing other sources to present a death certificate for purging to the voter registration rolls. Mr. Blevins said currently only the Bureau of Vital Statistics can recommend the removal of deceased voters from the rolls by the State Board of Elections. This would allow, for example, voters who notice that a loved one’s name has remained on the rolls, when the person has died, and permit the voter to present this information for purging purposes.
Senator Tori asked if it was stated by what method proof of death could be determined. Mr. Lewis said that presently when election officers note on the rolls that a voter has died, that information can be forwarded to the State Board of Elections but that person cannot be removed from the voter registration rolls until a death certificate makes its way from the Department of Health Services to the State Board of Elections. This is a supplement to current law that will not affect many people but will make lawful the process of recommending the removal of deceased voters to the State Board. Vital Statistics can then be queried for proof that a person is deceased.
Senator Kerr asked for clarification of the term “reliable sources” on page 10 of BR 261. Mr. Lewis said that they did not want to limit the resources that the State Board would have at their disposal to remove deceased voters. If resources are specified, then the only other source for proof of death that would be available would be documentation from Vital Statistics. The same entity would be removing deceased voters from the rolls, but the sources of information would be expanded.
Representative Lindsay commented that there used to be county purgation boards, which would meet and go through the newspapers and purge people off the voter rolls every six months. This process was centralized in the state government. Representative Lindsay suggested putting that responsibility back in the county and letting the county clerk do it through a purgation board. The county clerks would be more knowledgeable of deceased voters in their county. He did, however, feel that “other sources” should be defined.
Chairman Arnold noted that the federal motor-voter law centralized the voter registration system and limits many actions a state can take. He suggested that the committee work between now and the next meeting to clarify this issue and defer action to the next meeting.
Next, BR 262 was discussed which proposes the elimination of runoff primary for gubernatorial slates. Mr. Lewis stated the runoff primary for the gubernational race is a concept that has outlived its usefulness. The clerks believe that the expense of a runoff primary does not justify holding another election. Additionally, the turnout in a runoff primary, historically, is no greater than that in the primary election which preceded the runoff primary. Mr. Lewis stated that although Kentucky has never had a runoff under the 1992 law, he would predict that there could be problems associated with having another statewide election within 35 days of the primary. The cost of the runoff would probably be three million dollars and Mr. Lewis was not certain that the benefits would justify the cost of this type of election.
Chairman Arnold asked whether, in the runoff election, the candidates would get public financing. Sarah Jackson, Registry of Election Finance stated that $300,000 would be provided in public financing.
Mr. Lewis pointed out that the counties bear the major expense of any election within the state of Kentucky. The cost per election is well over one thousand dollars per precinct. He stated there would be serious budgetary concerns if counties were required to absorb this type of financial responsibility in an additional election.
Representative Lindsay asked if this would apply only in gubernatorial primaries, and if so, suggested making it the responsibility of the state to finance a runoff in a gubernatorial election.
A motion was made to not make a recommendation on BR 262 and pass over it. The motion was seconded and approved.
Mr. Lewis then explained BR 263. BR 263 removes a provision in the current law that allows a person to come to a polling place on election day without any form of identification, without anyone knowing the person and possibly without the person being on the precinct roster, and then being able to cast his vote by executing an affidavit as to that person’s identity. The bill would remove the affidavit for the purposes of identification of the voter. Chairman Arnold asked for a motion that BR 263 be recommended to the full committee. The motion was made, seconded and approved.
Next, Mr. Lewis stated that BR 264 expands and clarifies some of the law with respect to absentee balloting. Some of the affected people would include military personnel who were confined to base, college students who are home on weekends, and soldiers who maybe home on furlough and who wish to come into the clerk’s office to vote. By current law these persons cannot come into the office and vote during the time that the law allows for early absentee voting. This bill would also correct the problem that often crops up in which absentee ballots that are lost in the mail. Currently, a voter often notifies election officials that the voter did not receive an absentee ballot, but they cannot be sent a second one under current law. The clerks propose to authorize a second mailing to replace the lost ballot, allowing the first one that comes back to the clerk’s office to be the one counted, and any other ballot received would be marked a duplicate and not counted.
Other provisions in BR 264 include: (1) Extending the medical emergency time frame from seven to fourteen days; (2) Requiring the county boards to report to the state board within ten days the reasons for all rejected absentee ballots; and (3) Preventing the county clerk and the county board of elections from making public the results of the absentee vote count until after 6:00 PM prevailing time on election day.
Senator Kerr asked why college students residing out of county could vote only by mail and not in person. Mr. Blevins said that, in the 1980’s, a major electoral reform was made to stop mailing ballots wholesale into the same county, and one reform was that a voter could not receive one at his home address because that was generally where the vote buyer would go to get together with the voter in an effort to purchase his vote. However, by making this reform, the law inadvertently limited the college student to voting by mail.
Chairman Arnold stated that this bill carries an emergency clause and that it needed to be brought up in the early part of the 2002 session in order to be effective for the 2002 primary election.
A motion was made for recommendation to the full committee. The motion seconded and approved.
Mr. Lewis explained BR 265, which is an appropriations bill. He stated that one of the major problems with almost every jurisdiction in the country concerning elections is the ability to obtain enough precinct officers. Most counties in Kentucky pay a minimum of $60 per day although some counties pay more than that. A working election day is a minimum of 13 hours but can be as many as 14 or 15 hours if there are voters standing in line when the polls close at 6:00 PM. Counties that pay from $100 to $125 per day have found that participation of people as election officers has increased. Therefore, a minimum fee of $100 per day for election officers is being requested, which would not preclude a county that wants to pay more from doing so. BR 265 also includes a provision regarding the delivery of supplies to precinct polls, which would make the payment a flat $10 fee. Additionally, election officer training pay would go from a $10 minimum to a minimum of $25. This is the training that county clerks are to provide their precinct officers before every election in Kentucky.
The bill would also increase the per precinct reimbursement from the state to the county treasurer from $225 per precinct to $700 per precinct. Although this would not cover the entire cost of the election for each precinct, it would cover a substantially greater percentage of the cost than what is currently covered. It would also encourage the replacement of lever machines in the eight or nine counties that now have them by the 2004 primary election, by providing funds for their replacement.
Mr. Blevins said that some counties do not have the funds to replace the old lever machines. This bill would appropriate general funds to provide for that switch over in those counties using lever machines.
Chairman Arnold said that there were some federal bills that had been introduced or proposed in Congress that would send money to the states to help upgrade older voting equipment. Mr. Blevins said that those bills were not moving in Congress and as of right now, nothing was moving forward, due to partisan differences and last week’s terrorist events. However, there are problems with the election process in this country that can be partially solved with the help of the federal government.
Representative Lindsay asked about the overall cost of the pay increases from $60 to $100 for election officers and the increase of the training fee from $10 to $25. Mr. Blevins stated that $2.6 million would be provided for each election year.
Representative Bruce made the comment that this bill would have to go before the Appropriations and Revenue Committee before anything could be done.
Chairman Arnold requested that a motion be made to recommend BR 265 to the full State Government Committee with the understanding that the budget would be the determining factor. A motion was made, seconded, and approved.
Mr. Lewis explained that BR 267 relates to local option elections. The clerks believe that local option election issues need some clarification and adjustment. With respect to election officers, the normal process for elections is to select two Democrats and two Republicans. However, under current local option laws, four additional officers are required: two for, and two against the local option issue. Since now some local option elections can be held at the same time as general or primary election, these additional election officers would still be required. The bill would eliminate the additional election officers for local option questions, making the same officers responsible for all elections regardless of what question is voted on in a primary or general election.
BR 267 would also require the county clerk to notify the State Board on the date and subject matter of elections. There is now no current notification requirement, but the State Board needs time to print rosters for these local option elections if they occur at a different time than a regular election. The filing deadlines are also made the same for local option elections as for regular elections, if the election is held on a primary or general election day.
Chairman Arnold called for a motion for recommendation of BR 267 to the full committee. The motion was made, seconded, and approved.
Mr. Lewis explained BR 302 would require write-in candidates to file their declarations of intent no later than the second Tuesday in August preceding a general election. Presently, there are ten days before the election in which to file a write-in declaration of intent. By moving it up to the August deadline, it would allow ballots to be printed without write-in spaces provided.
Mr. Lewis said there has always been a question with fifth and sixth-class cities with regard to the candidates for city commissioners and so forth, who generally file by write-in because the candidates do not want to pay the filing fee. The clerks would not be opposed to removing the filing fee for fifth and sixth class cities so they can file for office without any charge, thereby removing their objections to having a filing deadline. Senator Harris stated that this measure may be too restrictive on write-in candidates.
A motion for recommendation of BR 302 to the full committee was made, seconded, and approved.
Chairman Arnold announced the next meeting would be on October 16 at 1:00 PM.
There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at 2:30 PM.