Legislature(1997 - 1998)

02/17/1998 03:35 PM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
txt
                  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.                    

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