Interim Joint Committee on State Government

 

Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs Task Force

 

Minutes of the<MeetNo1> 2nd Meeting

of  the 2001 Interim

 

<MeetMDY1> October 16, 2001

 

The<MeetNo2> 2nd meeting of the Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs Task Force of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government was held on<Day> Tuesday,<MeetMDY2> October 16, 2001, at<MeetTime> 1:00 PM, in<Room> Room 131 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Alice Kerr, Co-Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.

 

Present were:

 

Members:<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:  Susan Parnas-Frederick, National Conference of State Legislatures; John Y. Brown, III, Secretary of State.

 

LRC Staff:  Laura Hendrix, Melissa Bybee, and Terisa Roland.

 

Senator Kerr stated she would chair the first half of the meeting and Representative Arnold would chair the second half. Minutes from the September 18, 2001 meeting were approved.

 

Senator Kerr then introduced Susan Frederick, Director of the Law and Justice Committee at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), who would be giving an overview of election reform issues. Ms. Frederick served on the staff of the NCSL Task Force on Election Reform. The Task Force issued its final report in August on election issues that were pertinent in light of the last presidential election.

 

Ms. Frederick said the NCSL Task Force report was issued at the annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas. The Task Force was a bipartisan group of state legislators and legislative staff with an expertise in election law and election processes in their states.

 

There were two major issues presented at the NCSL annual meeting. The first question is what, if any, federal involvement ought to there be in this process for the states. The NCSL Task Force believes that the state is the entity that should be responsible for all matters relating to election administration and election reform. The federal government's role is one of enforcing civil rights of all Americans and aiding the states in the form of grant money to help with the evolutionary process of bringing systems up to date. The second important issue for the NCSL Task Force to tackle was to enumerate best practices for the states. The NCSL Task Force heard testimony from experts relating to voting systems, registration, purging, and other elections practices, and compiled a list of ten subject areas that they felt needed to be addressed. This includes everything from voter rights and responsibilities, voter registration, absentee and early voting, polling place accessibility, pre-election procedures, post-election procedures, poll workers, and voter education.

 

Three states have enacted very broad and far-reaching overhaul bills: Florida, Maryland, and Georgia. In the case of Florida, the money has already been appropriated at the state level to implement various reforms within the state, in preparation for the 2002 election cycle. However, a fiscal report of states shows that most states are now in a budgetary downturn. Ms. Frederick urged members to implement modest reforms if at all possible in an effort to keep federal Congress from doing it for the states.

 

Ms. Frederick then outlined two major federal bills that seek to influence state election processes. Senator McConnell has introduced a bill relating to election reform that seeks to establish a competitive grant program for states. Compliance as a state with the Voting Rights Act would have to be shown, as well as compliance with all federal laws relating to elections. The state would have to be able to show that the money would be used to provide blind and disabled voters with an ability to vote independently and in privacy at every polling place in the state. Provisional voting would have to be implemented in the state, which would include notice to the voter as to the disposition of the ballot. It would have to be shown that safeguards were being implemented to insure that voter registration lists are accurate and secure and that ineligible voters were removed from the lists. Finally, voter education and poll worker training would have to be implemented, consistent with recommendations of a federal panel to be established.

 

Senator Dodd of Connecticut also introduced a competing bill in the Senate that establishes a set of mandates on states. Under this bill, states must comply with the federal requirements, regardless of whether grant money was applied for. States must be able to certify within a specified period of time that they have technology that provides immediate notification of under-votes and over-votes cast for every voter, must have provisional balloting in the state, provisional balloting must include notification to the voter of the disposition of any ballot, sample ballots must be distributed, and instructions on how to operate the voting equipment and information on voting rights must be given to all eligible voters. States would be given until 2004 to comply with these requirements. The bill is extremely popular and every Senate Democrat has co-sponsored it. This bill also requires that states certify to the Justice Department that they are meeting all of the requirements of the bill. The Department of Justice would then review the certification and take action if required.

 

Ms. Frederick next discussed the Bush v. Gore case. She said most scholars agree that Bush v. Gore calls for uniform statewide standards, which would remedy the problem of different processes in different localities. Some scholars believe that the case also stands for uniform national standards, but this is the minority view. At a minimum, states should examine their laws to see whether they are uniform statewide.

 

Senator Kerr asked about various states, including Kentucky, that are having budget shortfalls during the coming years, and how they would balance funding for election reform with other programs such as Medicaid. Ms. Frederick suggested that states should make voter registration a top priority, even over technology or training classes for poll workers, and said that this was a major issue with many states.  Prioritization of election reform issues within the states is important, as it shows Congress that the states are making the effort to improve the voting process.

 

Senator Kerr asked how realistic it is that the monies will come to the states. Ms. Frederick replied no money would be coming to states this year, due to the shift in priorities in Congress to funding of recovery and war efforts. However, she did feel that money would be forthcoming before the next presidential election, which may be a grant program.

 

Representative Lindsay asked if Ms. Frederick was familiar with Kentucky's election laws and whether there any deficiencies or inconsistencies that the State of  Kentucky needed to address. Ms. Frederick responded that Kentucky's system might be fine for Kentucky, not necessarily for any other state. The weak link in the election process addressed by the NCSL Task Force was voter registration, and states should look at all of  their laws and procedures in depth.

 

Representative Arnold asked if some of the proposed grant money could be used for acquiring poll workers, since Kentucky has had problems attracting workers due to the low pay. Ms. Frederick stated that the various federal proposals could be used to fund increased pay.

 

Senator Kerr suggested solving the poll worker problem by having high school students participate in the process by working at the polls. This would solve the poll worker problem and teach civics at the same time. Ms. Frederick noted that the average age of a poll worker is 65, which means that elderly citizens are dealing with issues such as learning new technology, managing long lines, answering questions, and working long shifts with no relief. Groups such as the League of Women Voters are advocating for high school seniors to participate in the voting process.

 

Representative Barrows asked if the Task Force discussed the issue of polling hours, and length of time to keep polls open. Ms. Frederick stated that the NCSL Task Force discussed alternative days, longer hours, and poll closing times, but there was no consensus. However, the Task Force felt that, if pay for poll workers was raised, then election day could be lengthened. Staff was asked to look at the elections statutes and the NCSL Task Force report, and give a report on the status of  Kentucky's laws.

 

Representative Arnold then assumed the chair.

 

Representative Arnold introduced John Y. Brown III, Secretary of State. Secretary Brown spoke about two bills, 02 RS BR 988 and BR 989.

 

Secretary Brown spoke about a list of comparisons of Kentucky and other states that the National Association of  Secretaries of State (NASS) has already done. He endorsed the idea of having high school seniors as poll workers. However, Kentucky law forbids anyone not old enough to vote from working at the polls on Election Day. On the issue of federal funding, the NASS opposes any federal meddling in the states' voting processes. He was, however, hopeful that federal funding would be made available to some extent.

 

Secretary Brown discussed two bills that were requested by his office. He stated that he is supportive of the county clerks' legislative package as well. The first bill was 02 RS BR 988 - AN ACT relating to gubernatorial power to reschedule elections during a state of emergency. Secretary Brown stated that in 1994, the General Assembly passed the language about emergency gubernatorial power to reschedule elections into law. Then in 1998, it was inadvertently removed as part of a revision of the statutes dealing with disasters. Secretary Brown wanted to put the language back in case of an emergency of some sort, so that the Governor would have the power to change the time of an election. He stated that, since Kentucky Constitution Section 148 sets the day and hours for regular elections, this statute might only affect primaries.

 

Senator Kerr asked the definition of "state of emergency". Secretary Brown said KRS Chapter 39A defines state of emergency.

 

Representative Lindsay asked Secretary Brown if there were any election laws within Kentucky that needed to be addressed. Secretary Brown said there could be some  changes that would not have a fiscal impact, such as how to determine voter intent on an absentee ballot or write-in votes such there would be uniform statewide standards. He stated that Kentucky has already fulfilled most requirements for federal funding under most of the proposed federal bills.

 

Representative Lindsay asked if Secretary Brown had any objections to 16 or 17-year olds working at the polls.  Secretary Brown had no objection, and stated that he advocated improved training for poll workers as well.

 

Laura Hendrix, Committee Staff Administrator, read portions of KRS 39A.010 and 39A.020, which give the Governor the authority to issue emergency orders and define "disaster" and "emergency".

 

Representative Tori asked why KRS 39.409 was repealed originally, since that statute gave the Governor the authority to have an election at a different time and place. Secretary Brown was not sure but said he would look into it. Representative Tori said it would be important for the committee to have this information when they discussed the proposal. She asked if consideration should be given to differentiate between an act of terrorism or an act of God in terms of a state of emergency. Senator Robinson asked whether "election district" was defined. Secretary Brown stated that this may need to be looked at more closely.

 

Representative Fischer asked if a law was passed granting the rescheduling of an election, would Section 148 of the Constitution prevent the resetting of a general election. Secretary Brown said that was the interpretation of Section 148 as it was brought to his attention last week. The Constitution sets the time and date, and that section does not allow for any general election to be held on more than one date. Neither the Governor nor anyone else can change that at the present time.

 

Senator Kerr asked if in the event of this sort of occurrence would there be a need for legislative review, instead of the issuance of an executive order. Secretary Brown said there may need to be additional consideration and thought given to BR 988, and the questions raised.

 

Secretary Brown discussed BR 989, which relates to elections in cities whose boundaries extend beyond a single county. This potentially impacts 23 counties and 11 cities. Secretary Brown said in the 2000 General Assembly, HB 47 was passed into law which made some changes where candidates in a city extending beyond more than one county filed for elections and also how the election results were certified. However, it left the State Board of Elections as the entity that certified the election results. The bill would give the authority to the county board of elections to certify the successful candidate instead of the State Board.

 

A motion was made to not make a recommendation on 02 RS BR 988 and pass over it. The motion was seconded and approved.

 

A motion for recommendation of 02 RS BR 989 to the Interim Joint Committee on State Government was made, seconded, and approved.

 

Representative Arnold announced the next meeting would be on November 20 at 1:00 PM., to be chaired by Senator Kerr.

 

There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at 2:45 PM.