Call to Order and Roll Call
The1st meeting of the Task Force on Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government was held on Tuesday, June 28, 2011, at 1:00 PM, in Room 171 of the Capitol Annex. Representative Darryl T. Owens, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Damon Thayer, Co-Chair; Representative Darryl T. Owens, Co-Chair; Senators Walter Blevins Jr., R.J. Palmer II, John Schickel, and Dan "Malano" Seum; Representatives Kevin D. Bratcher, Mike Cherry, Larry Clark, James R. Comer Jr., Joseph M. Fischer, Derrick Graham, Mike Harmon, Melvin B. Henley, Mary Lou Marzian, and John Will Stacy.
Guests: Elaine Walker, Secretary of State; Mary Sue Helm, Election Liaison & Administrator, Office of the Secretary of State; Sarah Ball Johnson, Executive Director, Sandy Milburn, Assistant Director, State Board of Elections; Sarah M. Jackson, Executive Director, Rhonda K. Farmer, Assistant Executive Director, and Emily Dennis, General Counsel, Registry of Election Finance.
Review of May 2011 Primary
Secretary of State Elaine Walker and staff of the State Board of Elections reviewed the 2011 primary. Secretary Walker noted that there was a relatively low 10.35 percent turnout, but it did not break the record for the lowest primary turnout. She commended the county clerks who administered the primary, given that there were 17 new county clerks and only a few minor issues across the state. One problem was major flooding in Livingston County, which brought to light the question of how to deal with an election during an emergency. This issue will be discussed at the August meeting of the State Board of Elections.
Discussion of Elections Issues for 2012 Regular Session
Secretary Walker and staff discussed a possible change to information required on nominating papers, specifically a new requirement for petitioners to include their legibly printed names on the potential candidates’ lists of petitioners. She distributed copies of a draft nominating petition that would incorporate an entry line for a legibly printed name if the General Assembly passed a bill to include this new requirement, a copy of which is available in the Legislative Research Commission library.
Several members of the Task Force posed questions as to the current procedures for accepting or rejecting nominating papers or the individual petitioners listed on those papers, and voiced their opinions and concerns on how the legibly printed name requirement might impact ballot access for candidates.
Secretary Walker and staff discussed the possible clarification of statutes applicable to exit polling and challengers, which was part of a large elections bill considered but not passed during the 2011 Regular Session. Sarah Ball Johnson of the State Board of Elections noted that the term “exit polling” is not defined in the statutes. This lack of definition is part of the difficulty for election officials attempting to comply with statutes applicable to exit polling. She noted that streamlining and clarifying the process of appointing challengers to elections would make it much easier for election officials to comply with statutes applicable to challengers. The statutes do not specify a particular form on which challengers must be identified, and there are limited training options for challengers appointed near the deadline before an election.
On both exit polling and challengers, several Task Force members posed questions and voiced opinions and concerns on how any statutory changes might impact candidates running for office, public participation, and the regulation of elections.
Discussion of Campaign Finance Issues for 2012 Regular Session
Sarah Jackson gave an overview of some of the major bills that have been considered the last several sessions but have not passed. These bills were derived from a task force on campaign finance report, but it was possible that the past bills may have had too many issues to achieve passage. A different approach may be to streamline the bill or bills to the few major issues that will make campaign finance regulation easier to follow for candidates and more efficient to administer for the Registry.
Ms. Jackson discussed the possibility of modifying the current three-tiered filing threshold structure to a single filing threshold. A single filing threshold would be easier for candidates to understand and comply with, and would reduce the time the Registry has to spend to explain the current three-tiered system. Additionally, Ms. Jackson reviewed some statistics on the numbers of reports filed at the current three-tiers compared with the overall number of filed reports.
Rhonda Farmer presented a summary of electronic filing of campaign finance reports. She gave some statistics on how many reports are filed electronically instead of traditional paper form. Higher rates of electronic filing would make the Registry more efficient in processing reports and presenting the data to candidates and the public. She gave a few options for modifying the system to increase the number of electronic reports that are filed by either requiring them in elections for particular offices or in campaigns that raise or spend above a specific dollar amount.
Emily Dennis presented a summary of current campaign finance statutes that amendments because of past court decisions. The specified clean-up items would make the statutory framework more understandable for candidates and more efficiently administered by the Registry, and possibly allow the Registry to avoid future litigation.
The Registry presented a handout summarizing the campaign finance issues they discussed and that could be considered for the 2012 Regular Session. A copy can be found in the Legislative Research Commission library.
On each of the topics, several members of the Task Force posed questions and voiced their opinions and concerns.
Business concluded, and the meeting was adjourned at 2:30 p.m.