Legislature(1997 - 1998)
02/17/1998 03:35 PM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 183 - VOTING & ELECTIONS GAIL FENUMIAI presented this bill as a comprehensive clean up of various election issues. She commented that a large part of the bill was occupied with changing the term "questioned ballot" to "special review ballot". She said some voters are irritated by the term "questioned" and the new term better represents the true nature of the ballots. She proposed to extend the deadline for absentee voting by fax to 5:00 p.m. the day prior to the election. She said the bill also exempts the division from checking three bids for transportation of ballots; this results from the fact that there is only one carrier who can correctly transport the ballots. She added the bill also clarifies what portion of a ballot will be counted in a case where a person moves within the 30 days before the election. She informed the committee that this simply codifies the current policy in place. KATHLEEN STRASBAUGH said this last change is in line with a court decision and makes the current policy crystal clear. TAPE 98-6, SIDE B Number 001 CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if the last change meant if you moved you can only vote on the seats that still apply to your new residence and MS. FENUMIAI replied that was correct. GAIL FENUMIAI explained that sections 1, 32, and 39 give the division the authority to conduct Regional Educational Attendance Area (REAA) and Coastal Resource Service Area (CRSA) elections, by mail, in unincorporated areas that do not have municipal elections. CHAIRMAN GREEN asked what happens in those districts now and GAIL FENUMIAI replied the division now pays for in-person elections, which are expensive. CHAIRMAN GREEN asked when this would be instituted and MS. FENUMIAI responded it would be after the effective date. CHAIRMAN GREEN expressed concern that this would be done before any purge occurs. GAIL FENUMIAI said the division currently does elections totally by mail for things such as a local liquor option, incorporation or dissolution. SENATOR MACKIE clarified that these things were already happening and this bill will just put them in statute. He cited the fact that mail-in elections often have a higher turn out and MS. FENUMIAI agreed. CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if the wording of the bill was specific enough to withstand challenges from people in other districts. KATHLEEN STRASBAUGH replied that the statute would have to be much further changed for that to happen. She said also this only applies to elections run by the division of elections, not those run by local governments. MS. FENUMIAI continued, explaining sections 34 through 37 make minor changes concerning the official election pamphlet, basically clarifying that some material printed is both provided and paid for by the candidate. These sections also extend the deadline for receipt of information from presidential candidates. They do not currently receive this information on time and would like to have the statute conform with common practice. CHAIRMAN GREEN asked why the "provided and paid for" change was necessary and MS. FENUMIAI explained there was a problem in 1996 with the inclusion of some remarks perceived as derogatory printed in the election pamphlet and blamed on the division of elections. SENATOR MACKIE proposed an amendment to section 37 of the bill regarding immunity. He said it is not fair for the department to be sued for what a candidate writes, however, his concern was that this section would provide blanket immunity for everyone. He said his amendment merely allows suit if an employee inserts false statements into the election pamphlet. He said the division has no problem with it and they crafted the language. He moved this amendment as amendment #1 (Mackie). CHAIRMAN GREEN objected for the purpose of an explanation. KATHLEEN STRASBAUGH explained she did draft the amendment in response to an objection from SENATOR DONLEY. She reviewed it with risk management advisors and tort lawyers and they all affirmed it did address the Senator's concerns. CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if "knowingly with malice" is a high standard of proof and MS. STRASBAUGH said it is. She mentioned the possibility of a problem when the division prints suspicious material. She said this amendment is aimed at a person who would knowingly submit false statements. She does not believe this person would be defended anyway, but says this has been a gray area and a comprehensive bill like this one is a good place to clear it up. SENATOR MACKIE concurred and says the immunity remains very broad while allowing for the prosecution of malicious acts. CHAIRMAN GREEN removed her objection and so the amendment passed. MS. NANCY SONAFRANK, also representing the League of Women Voters, testified via teleconference from Fairbanks. She agreed with the previous representatives for the League and added her particular support for changes to the manner of voting by personal representative. She said this has been widely used in the Pioneers' Homes and has historically been difficult and time consuming. She appreciates the changes to this process and thinks they provide additional security to the procedure. CHAIRMAN GREEN referred to page 8, line 11 and asked for a definition of "an agent of the voter's employer." KATHLEEN STRASBAUGH said that would mean someone acting on behalf of an employer. She believes the term is well defined in the common law and is appropriate to use. CHAIRMAN GREEN wondered if it was a supervisor versus a co-worker and SENATOR MACKIE inquired if the idea was that employers would use their status to influence votes. MS. STRASBAUGH presumed so, saying the idea was both influence and coercion along with the assumption that a union may have a political agenda. She said it is also in compliance with the federal law. CHAIRMAN GREEN remarked she thought it could cause confusion and might be tightened up. CHAIRMAN GREEN cited page 14, line 22 and recalled SENATOR WARD's concern. GAIL FENUMIAI replied that it is required in statute that the Permanent Fund publish the balance of the fund for the two years prior in the election booklet. She asserted this language is only creating consistency with the federal law. CHAIRMAN GREEN questioned line 20 on the same page and MS. FENUMIAI said the reason for the removal of the word "party" is to disallow the division to conduct an election by mail if there is a regular primary election at that time. SENATOR MACKIE asked if all the changes in the bill were technical and conforming changes and GAIL FENUMIAI agreed that was correct. She said the aim is to make corrections and improve service to voters while reducing confusion for both voters and candidates. CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if a candidate was prevented from being a personal representative and KATHLEEN STRASBAUGH said she was not sure. She then said under the present statute it is prevented and this may have been overlooked in transcription. SENATOR MACKIE asked if they needed a motion to reinsert the prohibition that would appear after the letter "g" and read; "a candidate for office at that election may not act as a personal representative." SENATOR MACKIE moved the reinsertion of that sentance. Without objection, it was so ordered. GAIL FENUMIAI added one last note that federal law currently contains a specific exemption from federal unemployment tax for certain election workers. MS. FENUMIAI explained this provision is not automatic, but must be incorporated into a state's statutes. She said there was a representative from the Department of Labor here to testify to this. MR. DWIGHT PERKINS, Department of Labor, advocated an amendment adding a section to conform with the federal law and allow the unemployment tax exemption. He said it does not affect anyone's budget and he encouraged the committee to adopt it. CHAIRMAN GREEN clarified that this amendment simply excludes election workers who do not make more than $1000 from paying unemployment tax. MR. PERKINS agreed. SENATOR MACKIE moved this idea as a conceptual amendment and there was no objection. CHAIRMAN GREEN said the bill would be held and these changes would be incorporated into a committee substitute. Upon hearing that, SENATOR MACKIE withdrew his amendment. GAIL FENUMIAI noted that this amendment would also require a title change. WILDA HUDSON spoke again and said SB 183 would make things easier for voters and therefore the League supports it. She liked the change from "questioned" to "special review" ballot and expressed particular support for section 19 regarding voting by personal representative. MS. HUDSON pointed out that the inclusion of "5:00 p.m." could be confusing to different time zones. CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if the statutes assume Alaska Standard Time and KATHLEEN STRASBAUGH answered yes. CHAIRMAN GREEN also expressed her desire for a secure, reliable method of voing by personal representative. She asked MS. HUDSON if she could review this section and give the committee her feedback. MS. HUDSON assured that she would and mentioned some election workers had already looked at it and feel comfortable with it. MS. CAROL DICKASON restated her support for both bills. SENATOR MACKIE expressed his appreciation to the Division of Elections for this long overdue clarification and clean-up.