Legislature(1995 - 1996)

03/28/1996 08:15 AM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
 HB 349 - ELECTIONS ADMINISTRATION & VOTER REG'N                             
 CHAIR JEANNETTE JAMES called on Diane Shriner, Office of the                  
 Lieutenant Governor, to present HB 349.                                       
 Number 0054                                                                   
 DIANE SHRINER, Elections Outreach Coordinator, Division of                    
 Elections, Office of the Lieutenant Governor, thanked Walter                  
 Wilcox, Committee Aide, House State Affairs Committee, for his help           
 on the committee substitute (9-GH0051/C).  She announced Kathleen             
 Strasbaugh, Department of Law, was also here to answer any                    
 questions regarding the National Voter Registration Act of 1993               
 (NVRA).  She explained CSHB 349(STA) (9-GH0051/C) was primarily a             
 housekeeping bill for the Division of Elections.  The sections in             
 the bill addressed things that the division already had the                   
 capability to do, or had begun to do already.  For example, the               
 division did not use paper ballots anymore but instead used ballot            
 cards.  The division also did not use magnet tapes and computer               
 centers anymore but instead was on-line.  The bill also allowed the           
 concept of voting by FAX.  Many of the sections also described the            
 protection of ballot secrecy using a secrecy sleeve.  Furthermore,            
 the bill also contained two substantive sections recommended by the           
 Election Transition Policy Team.  The first recommended simplifying           
 the role of the personal representative in helping an elderly or              
 disabled person to vote (Sec. 20).  The second recommended a pilot            
 project for total by-mail elections where feasible (Sec. 40).  She            
 suggested eliminating line 21, page 14, "are located in a rural               
 area of the state and that have no more than 200 registered                   
 voters," due to the fact that urban areas might be more conducive             
 or amenable to a pilot project.  She reiterated CSHB 349(STA) (9-             
 GH0051/C) was a clean-up bill.  She thanked the committee members.            
 The record reflected the arrival of Representative Caren Robinson             
 at 8:20 a.m.                                                                  
 Number 0442                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE JOE GREEN asked Ms. Shriner what type of procedures            
 would be taken to ensure that the ballot casted by-mail was from              
 the correct person?                                                           
 Number 0468                                                                   
 MS. SHRINER replied the secrecy envelope would be inside an outer-            
 envelope that would contain the voter's signature and                         
 identification.  The outer-envelope would be checked first to                 
 ensure it was from the correct voter.  The ballot would then be               
 separated from the outer-envelope and counted separately.                     
 Number 0508                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN said he appreciated that approach.  He further           
 wondered, however, what type of procedures would be taken to                  
 prevent multiple ballots being cast from the same voter?                      
 Number 0559                                                                   
 MS. SHRINER said there was a criminal penalty against voting more             
 than once which would be well publicized.  The best way was to                
 check the by-mail ballot against the registered voter rolls to                
 ensure that there was only one acknowledgement of a vote per                  
 person.  Furthermore, the by-mail election was different than a               
 by-FAX election in that the division would make sure that there was           
 as much advanced notice of the registration deadline in a by-mail             
 election.  A ballot would then be mailed to each registered voter             
 which would also help to avoid extra ballots floating around.                 
 Number 0646                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN said in a rural setting there were more                  
 opportunities for fraud.  A by-mail election would be on the honor            
 system.  He wondered again if there were further safeguards that              
 could be taken.                                                               
 Number 0735                                                                   
 MS. SHRINER said she appreciated his concerns.  She did not have              
 all the answers, however.                                                     
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN replied at least the department would be on              
 guard for those types of fraudulent activities.                               
 Number 0751                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE IVAN IVAN explained the community of Akiak                     
 experienced disillusionment when it participated in a by-mail                 
 election.  There was mass confusion.  The first ballots were                  
 incorrect and not everyone received the second round of ballots.              
 He called it a horrifying experience for the community.                       
 Consequently, the community did not have any faith in the system              
 now.  Furthermore, the division made the determination of the final           
 results.  The community, however, did not trust the results and               
 asked for a second election.  The division said that was not                  
 possible because everything was done according to the books.  He              
 explained the community was used to a central voting location.  He            
 reiterated the by-mail ballot was confusing to the members of the             
 community.  He said the English language was also a problem for               
 many.  He was not a fan of a by-mail ballot system.  He was opposed           
 to HB 349.  He suggested deleting Sec. 40 altogether.  He asked Ms.           
 Shriner to further explain the secrecy process.                               
 Number 0989                                                                   
 MS. SHRINER apologized to Representative Ivan for the confusion in            
 the Akiak election.  A very serious error was made and it was not             
 defensible.  Moreover,  she explained the secrecy process whereby             
 a person would vote and place the ballot in an envelope.  There               
 were no marks of any kind on that envelope.  That envelope was                
 placed inside a larger envelope containing the voter's signature              
 and one form of identification, such as, the voter registration               
 number.  The division, however, was looking at a way to ensure the            
 privacy of the name on the outer-envelope.  It was possible, now,             
 for a person to place that envelope inside another envelope to                
 ensure more privacy, however.  When the envelope was received the             
 voter identification was checked to make sure that person was an              
 active registered voter.  The ballot was then removed and placed              
 with the rest of the ballots for counting.  Furthermore, she                  
 reiterated the division did not want to force the pilot project               
 onto any community that did not want to participate.                          
 Number 1145                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE IVAN asked if the definition of the term "rural" for           
 the Division of Elections was 200 registered voters or less?                  
 Number 1153                                                                   
 MS. SHRINER replied that was just a further qualifier for the pilot           
 program.  It was not a definition per say of the division.  She               
 reiterated the division felt that qualifying line should be                   
 Number 1174                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE IVAN wondered about the cost incurred for the pilot            
 Number 1193                                                                   
 MS. SHRINER stated the Division of Elections submitted a $0 fiscal            
 note.  A by-mail election was considered more efficient because               
 poll workers would not need to be hired, for example.  She called             
 it a negligible expense.  However, she did believe a poll worker's            
 income deserved some attention.                                               
 Number 1227                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE IVAN said the rural communities were more                      
 comfortable with a central voting location where somebody could               
 answer any questions and concerns of the voter.                               
 Number 1291                                                                   
 MS. SHRINER said she respected the position of Representative                 
 Ivan's community.  She added, however, that even in a by-mail                 
 election, an official was designated and available for three weeks            
 prior to the election.  The division wanted to provide as much on-            
 site assistance as possible.                                                  
 Number 1330                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN PORTER was concerned about the substantive               
 provisions in the bill.  It was laudable to involve as many people            
 in an election as possible.  However, he felt most would find a way           
 to corrupt the system.  He said there were all sorts of                       
 opportunities in a by-mail election for corruption.  He had a                 
 problem with the division mailing unsolicited ballots.  The                   
 division would not even know if a voter was home, for example.                
 Furthermore, the division would not have a way to verify those                
 signatures.  He said it was easy to access signatures in a family,            
 and in the small communities in Alaska, elections were won or lost            
 by a handful of votes.                                                        
 Number 1448                                                                   
 MS. SHRINER thanked Representative Porter for his concerns.  The              
 division would look into them further.                                        
 Number 1463                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ED WILLIS asked Ms. Shriner the reactions from the             
 state of Oregon regarding their by-mail election?                             
 Number 1486                                                                   
 MS. SHRINER replied the response had been positive, but it was by             
 the people that wanted the process to work.  She was not sure if              
 the criticisms were as quick to surface, however.  She wanted to              
 research the pros and cons of the election further before providing           
 the results to the committee members.  She explained the urban                
 communities liked the election more because it cut down on parking            
 problems, for example.  She wanted to look at the concerns and                
 provide an analysis to further ensure the Alaska by-mail election             
 was even more safe and efficient.                                             
 Number 1543                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE CAREN ROBINSON wondered about municipal elections.             
 Number 1554                                                                   
 MS. SHRINER replied the Municipal Code was in a different section             
 than state election law.  The division did not mandate the                    
 Municipal Code, however, a municipality frequently followed the               
 lead of the division.                                                         
 Number 1589                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON stated, for clarification, the pilot                  
 program would not be imposed on any community, it would have to be            
 Number 1597                                                                   
 MS. SHRINER replied, "yes, absolutely."  The division would solicit           
 interested communities followed by an education process.  The                 
 division did not want to repeat the confusion in the Akiak                    
 Number 1637                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON asked Ms. Shriner what would be the                   
 deciding body in a community?                                                 
 Number 1650                                                                   
 MS. SHRINER replied, "I think that's an excellent question."  She             
 was not sure of the answer.                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON wondered if the deciding body would be the            
 municipality, a native corporation, or borough assembly, for                  
 example.  There would need to be some level of authority to decide            
 to participate in the pilot program.                                          
 Number 1679                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE SCOTT OGAN thanked Ms. Shriner for her candor and              
 honesty today.  He found it refreshing.  He announced he agreed               
 with Representative Porter regarding the potential fraudulent                 
 opportunities that a by-mail election presented.  He wondered if              
 the ballots would be mailed to all the registered voters.                     
 Number 1706                                                                   
 MS. SHRINER replied currently the division mailed the ballots to              
 all of the registered voters.  Moreover, the division notified the            
 community that the election was coming and encouraged registration            
 before mailing the ballots.                                                   
 Number 1730                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE OGAN said he had serious problems with that system             
 because of the large volume of returned mail from constituents in             
 his district.  The system provided plenty of opportunity for fraud.           
 He quoted the saying, "vote early and vote often" applied to this             
 Number 1759                                                                   
 MS. SHRINER said she would ask the other states how they handled              
 the issues raised today and report back to the House State Affairs            
 Number 1770                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER announced he was about to move to delete Sec.           
 20 and Sec. 40 from the bill.  He cited the fraudulent behaviors in           
 the Chicago election of Mayor Daley.  "If an opportunity for fraud            
 is provided, it will be taken," he said.  The bill needed to be               
 looked at further.                                                            
 CHAIR JAMES called on Kathleen Strasbaugh, Department of Law.                 
 Number 1857                                                                   
 KATHLEEN STRASBAUGH, Assistant Attorney General, Governmental                 
 Affairs Section, Civil Division, Department of Law, explained a few           
 years ago the legislature adopted the Motor Voter Act.  She                   
 suggested eliminating the perception that the division purged the             
 voter list too early.  She explained voters were not purged but put           
 on an inactive list.  The period was perceived to be too short,               
 however, because the ballot was questioned causing an impediment or           
 discouragement from voting.  She recommended expanding the time to            
 two full election cycles of four years.  Furthermore, the phrase              
 "appear to vote" was vague, according to Jack Chenoweth, Attorney,            
 Legislative Legal Counsel.  It was further defined as "come to the            
 polls, come to an absentee voting station, apply for a mailed                 
 ballot, or participate in a mailed election," but the vote must be            
 counted to avoid being purged from the rolls.  Moreover, the oath             
 was removed and included a notification that if a voter lied he               
 would be in violation of the criminal statutes.  She reiterated the           
 two issues that the division would need to work closely with the              
 Justice Department for clarification were the maintenance of an               
 inactive register list, and the crimes of moral turpitude                     
 provisions.  She thought the department could persuade the Justice            
 Department that those had never been employed or a problem in this            
 state.  She explained the changes in the bill would help the                  
 department proceed to the next step.                                          
 Number 2102                                                                   
 CHAIR JAMES announced she was interested in the amendments                    
 Representative Porter mentioned earlier.  She said pilot projects             
 needed a parallel system to compare the old way with the new way.             
 Furthermore, she was very excited about any opportunity to ensure             
 a better voter turn out.  She cited a mailing in her district last            
 year whereby she sent 2,834 letters to those who did not vote.  Of            
 the 2,834, 1,422 were returned not received by the addressee.                 
 Therefore, according to the pilot project, 1,422 ballots would have           
 been sent to no one.  Moreover, 45 replied they were absent from              
 town, 19 replied they had problems with absentee ballots, 13                  
 replied they did not register on time, and 11 replied they had                
 transportation problems.  The responses both supported and                    
 questioned the effectiveness of a by-mail election.  She was                  
 interested in a by-mail election process, but she was not ready to            
 support it yet because of the diversified problems Alaska                     
 Number 2255                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN said he was still concerned about the language           
 "appear to vote."  He explained his experience as a member of the             
 Board of Directors for Chugach Electric in Anchorage when it went             
 to a mail-in ballot system.  The number of ballots returned almost            
 doubled.  He called in a significant increase.  The problem,                  
 however, was that no one followed up on the authenticity of the               
 ballots.  He reiterated his concern in the rural communities where            
 there would be far greater access to multiple ballots.  He would              
 support the amendment to delete that section, not because it was              
 bad, but because it was not yet controllable.                                 
 Number 2317                                                                   
 CHAIR JAMES suggested a motion for an amendment or the formation of           
 a subcommittee to work on a committee substitute.                             
 Number 2325                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER stated the house cleaning provisions in the             
 bill were necessary.  Therefore, he suggested deleting the                    
 provisions in questions to move the bill forward.                             
 CHAIR JAMES replied, "that's fine with me."                                   
 Number 2337                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE WILLIS asked if there were any witnesses via                   
 teleconference to testify?                                                    
 CHAIR JAMES replied, "no."                                                    
 Number 2344                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER moved to delete Sec. 20 and Sec. 40 from HB
 349 (9-GH0051/C).  Hearing no objection, they were so deleted.                
 Number 2356                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE ROBINSON said she supported the motion but hoped               
 that the concept would move forward after further analysis.  She              
 handed out an explanation of a by-mail election in Oregon.                    
 CHAIR JAMES said it was important to look at other states but it              
 was important to ensure that the design fit the geographic and                
 demographic concerns of Alaska.  She agreed with the direction of             
 Sec. 40, but further work was needed.                                         
 Number 2433                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE OGAN wondered if the first amendment should be                 
 rescinded because the committee forgot to adopt the committee                 
 CHAIR JAMES replied, "I think we can deal with that."  She called             
 for a motion to adopt it.                                                     
 REPRESENTATIVE OGAN moved to adopt CSHB 349(STA) (9-GH0051/C) for             
 consideration.  Hearing no objection, it was so adopted.                      
 Number 2464                                                                   
 MS. SHRINER thanked the committee members.  She said the division             
 would look into the concerns of the members further.                          
 Number 2470                                                                   
 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER moved that CSHB 349(STA) (9-GH0051/C) move              
 from committee with individual recommendations and attached fiscal            
 notes, as amended.  Hearing no objection, it was so moved from the            
 House State Affairs Committee.                                                

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