Report from the Statehouse: VLA Work Session April 8

By Helen Hanlon

Lovely day at the VLA! The Committee was raring to go, the most engaged I’ve seen them so far with great give and take at today’s work sessions.

LD1335 (An Act To Amend Election Laws) and LD585 (An Act Regarding the Processing of Absentee Ballots Prior To Election Day)

Both of these bills were tabled after several hours of meticulous review with Legislative Analyst Danielle Foxx and Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn.

The 14 page analysis of this Legislation brought out many questions from the Committee, but they were still unclear on several issues (noted below). Deputy Flynn stated her hopes for a unanimous OTP vote. She stated that she was willing to bend on a few sticking points in order to see the main point passed. The result would save money, time and staffing, and produce a better product for the voters, too. But, though the Committee mostly seemed in favor, they felt they needed time to discuss some of the specifics.

Action: Tabled.

Points of possible contention with LD1335:

  • Sec.4 . MRSA  Para 331, sub-Para.1

The substantive change in this bill means that no primary would be held for legislative and county offices when there is only one qualified candidate running for office. It also increases the number of days before an election that a write-in candidate must provide a declaration of intent (from 45 to 70 days). This would provide the Secretary of State’s office with additional time for ballot preparation. The cost of changing ballot styles and printing remains an issue for their office.

Several Committee members, notably Reps. Turner, Longstaff and Dillingham, felt that a candidate may be put at a disadvantage if their name isn’t on the primary ballot – even if they don’t have an opponent in that race – because it may affect their name recognition in preparation for the main race. They also queried whether voters might be confused when candidates are omitted from the ballot.

  • Sec. 6  21-A MRSA  Par. 371

Candidates for Nomination vacancy. This would result in a substantive change governing nomination of a replacement candidate when a candidate withdraws before the primary. It requires that withdrawal before a primary must be “for good cause.” This section also changes the deadline to withdraw from 60 to 75 days before the primary. Committee members discussed Rep. Chenette’s bill regarding Place Holders and his experience with the situation. Deputy Flynn reported that the number of withdrawals has increased substantially over the years (50-60 during the last few elections), and currently there are about 2,000 different ballot styles. Both Rep. Turner and Dillingham agreed on the good cause aspect, believing that once you agree to put your name on the ballot, there is a moral aspect to this oath and it should not be treated cavalierly. Rep. Luchini cautioned the Committee to be careful of “legislating ourselves into a corner.” Sen. Cyrway felt that sometimes parties just need more time to find a suitable candidate, therefore the place holder can have a legitimate function.

Currently party rules determine how the public is notified about withdrawal and replacement of a candidate. Legislation could clarify and set specific parameters but Deputy Flynn stated she wasn’t eager for separate bill.

  • Sec. 20.21-A MRSA Para. 712

If an election return is not delivered to the Secretary of State on time a penalty would be imposed on the Town Clerk, resulting in a civil violation and fine of not more than $50/day the return is late. There was much discussion regarding the appropriateness of targeting the clerk vs. municipality. Rep. Saucier felt the fine should be larger ($500) and charged against the municipality not the clerk. Deputy Flynn countered that the Clerk is the officer charged with this responsibility, and it is considered a crime to not comply with election laws. However, she said that this wasn’t a deal-breaker for this bill but it has become an onerous burden for her staff.

LD1192 (An Act Regarding Campaign Finance Reform)

In addition to the dizzying detail above, I added horse racing to my list of vices this session (adding it to booze, bear hunting, slots, underage drinking for veterans, OTB). What can possibly be next? I sat through two Horse racing bills before learning that LD1192 was off today’s docket. I did, however, learn what “handle” means (a wager or bet) and how many out of state horse breeders are in Maine collecting up to $500,000 so I can’t count the afternoon as a loss.

 

 

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