Legislature(1995 - 1996)
04/03/1996 02:23 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 349 - ELECTIONS ADMINISTRATION & VOTER REG'N Number 1744 DIANE SHRINER, Elections Outreach Coordinator, Division of Elections testified on HB 349. She stated that this legislation would do two things, the first would be to adjust current state elections law to assure pre-clearance by the U.S. Justice Department and it would make further adjustments to meet the requirements of the National Voter Registration Act. Currently in Alaska law, there is the perception that the division purges or take a voter off the active rolls too early, before the time set in federal law. The other perception, which the division would like to clear up is that a voter must vote a "counted ballot" to avoid removal from the rolls, rather than just voting regardless of whether their ballot is counted or not. The third objective is that the department presently requires an oath on registration materials which the federal government no longer requires. They merely ask for an assertion or a declaration. MS. SHRINER noted that Kathleen Strasbaugh from the Department of Law was in attendance. She has been trying to get Alaska's election laws pre-cleared with the Department of Justice. Ms. Strasbaugh would be the best person to ask questions of regarding those particular sections. MS. SHRINER stated that in State Affairs they took out Section 20 which dealt with voting by personal representative, as well as, Section 40 which that committee and the Division of Elections agreed could use more work and study. This section dealt with, by mail elections, and doesn't show in the current Committee Substitute. The Division felt as though Ms. Shriner wasn't as prepared as she should have been to discuss with the State Affairs Committee why the personal representative section would be helpful to this legislation and why it's supported by the National and State Association of Retired Persons. She brought additional information with her which shows the Judiciary Committee what the differences are. She noted that changes to the other sections of the bill primarily are housekeeping measures which better describe modern ballots, the protection of ballot secrecy, current ballot tabulation and computer processing in elections to conform with the way they actually do business. She was forthright with the State Affairs Committee, she really didn't believe that these are substantive changes to this legislation other than the two sections mentioned previously, one of which she would like the Judiciary Committee to consider returning to the bill. Number 1968 REPRESENTATIVE DAVID FINKELSTEIN had two questions, one was on Section 7 and the other was on Section 16. He noted that in Section 7 he understood the intention of conforming to federal law, but they were setting up an odd situation where the individual who votes in local municipal elections and primary elections, but has a pattern of not voting in general elections would be inactivated. It seemed that this was unnecessary. It seemed they were moving from current law that allows any vote, in any election to qualify someone as a voter, to apparently only allowing people to qualify to stay on the list with votes in the general election. Number 2024 KATHLEEN STRASBAUGH, Assistant Attorney General, Department of Law offered that the choice of language was strictly to track the federal law. The problem with Alaska's past law had to do with the two years provided and they hoped that by taking two general elections they'd have a full four year cycle. She didn't see any difficulty in mentioning all of those elections again, provided that they covered two full election cycles. Ms. Strasbaugh noted that one of the problems they discussed in the State Affairs Committee was that the word "appeared" was too vague. Mr. Chenoweth from Legislative Legal said he had worked on a way to deal with this and she provided him some language which defined this word. Mr. Chenoweth drafted this language for the senate version of this legislation. MS. STRASBAUGH continued that the Justice Department wasn't really suppose to talk about interpreting the National Voter Act, but instead the Voting Rights Act, however, anything which might be deemed to inhibit the ability or discourage someone to vote is subject to their scrutiny. Someone might consider that Alaska's inactive list does this because someone has to vote under a question ballot if they are on the inactive list. The federal government sent the division a long letter with a list of things which they wanted the state to consider and asked for information on certain issues. The state then withdrew their request for pre- clearance. There is a way in the law to purge voters, but they thought they would get a better pre-clearance if they had a two general election cycle, which encompasses four years. Number 2138 REPRESENTATIVE FINKELSTEIN said he would work on a suggestion for Section 7. REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE understood that Section 7 dealt with individuals on the inactive list. The legislation just passed required that the inactive voter be maintained on a list that goes to the polls. He asked if they viewed this section as repealing this. MS. STRASBAUGH assumed Representative Bunde was referring to HB 211. She didn't read this legislation to accomplish all the objectives it set out to address. She wanted voters to be on the active list to get past this problem. She noted that is was too bad they were kept together in a way, but she didn't see them in conflict or HB 211 being completely responsive to this concern. She added that it was a good idea, but she wasn't sure that the way she read it that it would prevent question voting. If this was it's intent she said she should probably have another look at it. The purpose was to make sure someone is not questioned until they've been through two election cycles. Number 2203 REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE followed up with an additional question. He noted that current practice is to put someone on an inactive list after missing one election cycle. HB 211 said that even though someone was on an inactive list, this list would be available to candidates and at the polls. He asked Ms. Strasbaugh is she did not feel that Section 7 would change this policy. MS. STRASBAUGH said that, no, she felt as though they needed to do this in order to get by the federal law. She didn't think that this would help them. REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE noted that he didn't think this would meet the federal laws, he just wanted to make sure that this Section 7 doesn't countermand what they just passed which says that the list at the polls will contain the inactive voters, as well as, the active voters. Number 2238 MS. STRASBAUGH said that this doesn't address whether the register is at the polls, it doesn't talk about the master register, but her recollection was that HB 211 addresses some other things about the register that HB 349 doesn't conflict with. She said that there could be an interpretative question when they begin to operate, but she hesitated to say, since she does not do the hands on type of work to make this determination. Number 2267 REPRESENTATIVE FINKELSTEIN asked about Section 16, on page 7, and said he understood removing the word "daily" on line 9, but why would they want to go from 11 days after the election to 16 days after the election to count ballots. He assumed that this group doing the state ballot counting review would this to include all ballots, regular, absentee and question. MS. SHRINER stated that currently many types of elections, such as Rural Education Attendance Area (REAA) elections and smaller elections do not take that long to certify and it's not necessary to have people beginning to be paid on the eleventh day. They still have to get all the ballots in and do the processing so it might just take a few hours or a day near the sixteenth day. To have these people on the payroll from the eleventh day on doesn't make any sense. This is for the Review Boards. They won't start their work any earlier than the eleventh day or any later than 16 days shall continue daily until completed. She noted that this change was a housekeeping measure. REPRESENTATIVE FINKELSTEIN stated that he didn't see anything that would preclude them from doing this in two days and cited the language. Number 2373 MS. SHRINER explained that they are not always ready to start on the eleventh day because ballots are still coming in or there are only a few to do so there is no need to do this by the eleventh day. There are other statutes which talk about the requirements to wait or to allow for ballots to come in. If the ballots are still coming in they can start on the eleventh even though all the ballots have not been returned. REPRESENTATIVE FINKELSTEIN stated that his only concern is that this precludes them being appointed prior to the eleventh day and he cited some examples of where this would apply. He also added that anyone who's been in a close election that goes on forever is very sensitive to this subject. He noted that there was a separate statute which addressed those ballots which speak to the validity of a ballot and said he'd like to hear it. The clause they've been discussing addresses when the ballot counting review team will meet. MS. SHRINER then read a segment from Barbara Whiting's sectional analysis of this legislation. Ms. Whiting is an elections coordinator. "The current statute refers to all elections when specifying that the State Review Board must convene at least 11 days after an election. Elections other than primary, general, REAA and Coastal Resource Service Areas (CRSA) elections, for example, incorporation or liquor option elections involve usually only one or very few precincts. Before completing the certification of absentee ballots the Division of Elections must wait 15 days after an election to make sure all eligible ballots have been received. In addition, before certifying an election, the director may wait 15 days to receive (end of tape)... gives the director the option of having the state review board to begin no earlier than 11 days and no later than 16 days after an election." TAPE 96-47, SIDE B Number 000 MS. SHRINER said she was not opposed to allow for them to start this process earlier. CHAIRMAN PORTER pointed out that this wouldn't get to this issue of Representative Finkelstein's concerns about getting the results as soon as possible. They have to wait 16 days for absentee ballots to return. Number 035 REPRESENTATIVE FINKELSTEIN said that this means that in major elections, for instance governor's elections, when there are plenty of materials to be counted that they can start earlier. This would preclude them from starting on the counting process any earlier. Right now some absentee results come in three and four days after the election. His reading of this language is that if they can't meet, then there wouldn't be any results of this election for 11 days. CHAIRMAN PORTER suggested language as follows, "the state ballot counting review shall begin as soon as practicable and no later than 16 days after an election." REPRESENTATIVE BUNDE noted that this will probably change the fiscal note because the way it exists now is they can't begin until 11 days, now if it's changed to the day after the election, these people would be on the payroll for 16 days. CHAIRMAN PORTER disagreed because it says no later than. This process could start earlier. He also added that the language as soon as practicable gives them more flexibility. Number 112 REPRESENTATIVE FINKELSTEIN suggested not using the word "practicable," but "shall begin after the election is completed" so there isn't any issue of someone saying that the process should have been started earlier. The committee members continued to hammer out additional language. Number 171 REPRESENTATIVE TOOHEY made a motion to move amendment number 1 on page 7, line 7 that the last two words of this sentence "no earlier" and the language on line 8 be deleted through and including the word "election" be deleted and in it's place "as soon as practicable after the election is completed," be inserted. The amendment would read as follows: "The state ballot counting review shall begin as soon as practicable after the election is completed and shall be continued until completed." There being on objection, amendment number 1 passed. REPRESENTATIVE FINKELSTEIN made another language suggestion to the legislation on page 4, line 4, he would insert before the phrase "last two general elections," the words "either of." Number 235 MS. STRASBAUGH conceptually suggested that in order to address the other concerns Representative Finkelstein had, they could say that in the preceding four calendar years including the last two general elections and get rid of the language, "in the last two general elections." She added that what they need is a four year period, she didn't see limiting this to the general elections, but to all other types of elections as well. REPRESENTATIVE FINKELSTEIN withdrew his previous amendment and offered Ms. Strasbaugh's suggestion and to change the language to reflect any type of election in the last four years. The participants then hammered out reflective language to this effect. Essentially they would take out the phrase on line 4, page 4, "the last two general elections" and reinsert the language, "a local, regional school board, primary, special or general election" and add to this sentence, "during the last 4 calendar years." REPRESENTATIVE FINKELSTEIN offered as amendment number 2 on page 4, line 4 as follows: "...voted or appeared to vote in a local, regional school board, primary, special, or general election during the last four calendar years,..." There being no objection, amendment number 2 was so moved. Number 463 CHAIRMAN PORTER then referred to Section 20. In the State Affairs Committee meeting there were two Sections with substantive changes and Section 20 is one of them. After reviewing this Chairman Porter stated that this section was not substantive, but just an efficiency in existing procedure. He said he didn't have a problem reinserting this section from the original legislation which dealt with absentee voting by personal representative. There being no objection to this proposal it was so moved, that the reinsertion of Section 20 would be reflected as amendment number 3. Number 585 REPRESENTATIVE TOOHEY made a motion to move CSHB 349(STA) from the Judiciary Committee with individual recommendations and a zero fiscal note. There being no objection, it was so moved.