Thursday, August 30, 2012

Countdown to November 2012: Provisional Voting

Americans may find it surprising to learn that many eligible citizens in the United States are denied the right to cast ballots and have them counted on Election Day. The sad reality is that many voters are turned away from polls because their names do not appear on a list of registered voters, for a host of different reasons that may or may not be the responsibility of the individual voter.
To correct this problem, Congress enacted “fail-safe” provisional voting requirements in the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), requiring election officials to provide provisional ballots to individuals who are not listed on the official list of registered voters. Once the appropriate election officials determine that the individual is indeed eligible to vote, the ballot is counted.
The results of this HAVA mandate have been mixed. In some situations, poll workers have failed to offer provisional ballots to voters at all. In cases where poll workers have actually offered ballots to voters, states have applied such varying methodologies for counting provisional ballots that the “fail-safe” mechanism under HAVA has been frustrated. For example, in the 2004 general election, 96% of provisional ballots were counted in Alaska, while only 6% were counted in Delaware. Similar disparities occurred in the 2006 general election: while Maine counted 100% of its provisional ballots, Kentucky counted less than 7%. Fifteen states rejected over 50% of their provisional ballots, and 20% of provisional ballots were rejected nationwide.

Why are Provisional Ballots Not Being Counted?

Despite the efforts of Congress to provide a “fail-safe” mechanism to enable registered citizens to vote, the prerogative of states to impose restrictions on provisional ballots prevents thousands of these ballots from being counted. Based on state surveys completed in the two general elections following the passage of HAVA, and reports addressing the implementation of the provisional ballot requirements of HAVA in different states, Project Vote has identified four principal reasons why provisional ballots are not being counted:
  1. Individuals are not actually registered to vote.
  2. Individuals are not casting their provisional ballots in the correct precinct or jurisdiction.
  3. Individuals are submitting incomplete or unsigned provisional ballots.
  4. Individuals are failing to provide sufficient identification.

Provisional Ballots Should Be Used on a Limited Basis

Due to the problems with ensuring that provisional ballots are counted, it is always better to minimize the use of provisional ballots and allow eligible voters to cast regular ballots. The easiest way to enable the largest number of potential voters to cast regular ballots is to allow Election Day Registration.


Once all avenues for casting a regular ballot have been exhausted, states must ensure that provisional ballots are offered and make every effort to count them. Reasonably simple solutions can be implemented to maximize the opportunity for provisional voters to be enfranchised. Project Vote has developed several policy recommendations based upon surveys conducted across the country, a review of state statues and existing literature, and experiences with recent federal elections:
  1. Allow Provisional Ballots to Be Counted on a Statewide or Countywide Basis.
  2. Provisional Ballots Should Be Designed to be Distinguishable from Regular Ballots, Easy to Read, and Should Serve as Voter Registration Applications
  3. States Should Give Voters Who Submit Provisional Ballots Additional Time to Correct or Supply Necessary Information
  4. Poll Workers Must Be Properly Trained to Administer Provisional Voting
For more information read Project Vote's Policy Brief on Provisional Voting here.

Whole Community Participation: CERT Teams in Action from March 2011.

CERT in Action!

Greenbelt CERT Joins Eastern Shore Search-and-Rescue Mission

On March 5th, 2011, 14 CERT members representing several Maryland CERTs assisted in a search for the remains of a missing person. The Delmarva Search and Rescue Group asked for CERT volunteers to join them in assisting the Maryland State Police in the search.

The police instructed CERT members to look for the remains of an elderly man with dementia who had left his farm house in 2006 armed with a pistol and had not been seen since. The police divided the woods near the man's home into four 70-acre sectors for the search and asked CERT members to look for skeletal remains, hairs, pieces of clothing, a metal leg brace, the gun, a belt buckle, or anything unusual.

The CERT worked with other groups in a carefully structured search line. They were issued metal detectors and also worked with officers with search dogs, being careful to always stay behind and downwind of the dogs. With such a large search operation, the high-visibility CERT vests proved especially useful, said Don Comis, a Greenbelt, Maryland CERT member who was part of the search team. "We needed high-visibility clothes to keep an eye on each other in the woods," noted Comis.

The search occurred in the woods bordering a corn farm in Princess Anne, Maryland, a 2.5-hour drive for most of the CERT volunteers. What motivated so many CERT members to show up for an all-day operation so far away on a Saturday? "For me, I guess it was the excitement of getting to do an actual search operation," said Comis, who in the past had also performed traffic control duties as part of his CERT activities.

Although the group was ultimately not able to locate the man's remains, the operation was a good opportunity for CERT members to practice skills and to highlight the vital role that CERT can play in assisting law enforcement and emergency personnel. Chief Jim Jackson of Delmarva Search and Rescue noted that "We had nothing but compliments on how well CERT did and the role they played in the mission. What I saw was a good indication that CERT is serious about the mission and roles they can play in that mission."

For more information, contact Ken Silberman, Greenbelt, Maryland CERT coordinator 

Federal court rejects new Texas voter photo ID law

 Associated Press–Aug 30, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal court on Thursday rejected a Texas law that would require voters to present photo IDs to election officials before being allowed to cast ballots in November.

A three-judge panel in Washington unanimously ruled that the law imposes "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor" and noted that racial minorities in Texas are more likely to live in poverty.

The decision involves an increasingly contentious political issue: a push, largely by Republican-controlled legislatures and governors' offices, to impose strict identification requirements on voters. Texas' voter ID rules, approved in 2011, had been widely cheered by conservatives statewide.

Republicans around the country are aggressively seeking similar requirements in the name of stamping out voter fraud. Democrats, with support from a number of studies, say fraud at the polls is largely non-existent and that Republicans are simply trying to disenfranchise minorities, poor people and college students — all groups that tend to back Democrats.

Thursday's ruling almost certainly prevents the Texas law from going into effect for the November election, but state Attorney General Greg Abbott said he will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court "where we are confident we will prevail."

In the Texas case, the Justice Department called several lawmakers, all of them Democrats, who said they detected a clear racial motive in the push for the voter ID law. Lawyers for Texas argued that the state was simply tightening its laws. Texas called experts who demonstrated that voter ID laws had a minimal effect on turnout. Republican lawmakers testified that the legislation was the result of a popular demand for more election protections.

The ruling comes two days after a separate federal three-judge panel ruled that Texas' Republican dominated state Legislature did not draw new congressional and state Senate district maps "without discriminatory purposes."

"In a matter of two days, the state of Texas has had its dirty laundry aired out across the national stage," said Democratic state Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Conference. "This deals with the despicable issues of discrimination, voter suppression, these are things that we're not proud of."

The judges in the voter ID case are Rosemary Collyer, an appointee of former President George W. Bush; Robert Wilkins, an appointee of President Barack Obama; and David Tatel, an appeals court judge appointed by former President Bill Clinton.

Tatel, writing for the panel, called the Texas law "the most stringent in the nation." He said it would impose a heavier burden on voters than a similar law in Indiana, previously upheld by the Supreme Court, and one in Georgia, which the Justice Department allowed to take effect without objection.

The decision comes the same week that South Carolina's strict photo ID law is on trial in front of another three-judge panel in the same federal courthouse. A court ruling in the South Carolina case is expected before the November election.

During an appearance in Houston in July, Attorney General Eric Holder said Texas' photo ID requirement amounts to a poll tax, a term that harkens back to the days after Reconstruction when blacks across the South were stripped of their right to vote. The attorney general told the NAACP that many Texas voters seeking to cast ballots would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain the required photo ID.

Last December, South Carolina's voter ID requirement became the first such law to be rejected by the Justice Department in nearly 20 years. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said the attorney general made a "very serious error" by blocking it. Romney said the requirement is easy to meet and will stem voter fraud.

"We don't want people voting multiple times" and "you can get a photo ID free from your state. You can get it at the time you register to vote," Romney said.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, the Justice Department's chief civil rights enforcer, has said the Texas and South Carolina photo ID laws will hinder many citizens, particularly minorities, in exercising their right to vote.

Across much of the South, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is viewed as an overly intrusive burden on the states — a relic once used by the Justice Department's civil rights division to remedy discriminatory practices that no longer exist. Under Section 5 of the act, Texas, South Carolina and all or parts of 14 other states must obtain clearance from the Justice Department's civil rights division or a federal court before carrying out changes in elections. The states are mostly in the South and all have a history of discriminating against blacks, American Indians, Asian-Americans, Alaskan Natives or Hispanics.

Last year, new voter ID laws passed in Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. In addition to Texas and South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee tightened existing voter ID laws to require photo ID. Governors in Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire and North Carolina vetoed new photo ID laws.

This year, Pennsylvania enacted its own law and voting-rights groups who filed suit in an effort to stop it are appealing to the state Supreme Court. A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 13 in Philadelphia. The Republican administration of Gov. Tom Corbett says a U.S. Justice Department inquiry into the state's tough new voter identification law is politically motivated. The department is requesting the state's voter registration list, plus any database of registered voters who lack a valid photo ID that the law requires voters to show before their ballots can be counted.

In Wisconsin, a county judge ruled in July that the state's new photo ID law impairs the right to vote. In an appeal, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, is arguing that the ID law doesn't impose an undue burden because voters can get free state ID cards.

Election administrators and academics who monitor the issue said in-person fraud is rare because someone would have to impersonate a registered voter and risk arrest. A report by the Brennan Center for Justice determined that new voting restrictions could suppress the votes of more than 5 million young, minority, low-income and disabled voters.

Associated Press writers Mark Sherman in Washington and Will Weissert in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.

September 2012 Health Care: Wellness Symposium. Montgomery County, Maryland

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