By Iris Levitis
LD 1539 (An Act To Expand the Early Processing of Absentee Ballots)
The VLA Committee met to discuss LD 1539, a measure the League supports and testified for in January. The use of absentee ballots continues to rise, and the time currently allowed for processing is insufficient due to the growing number. This, along with the short amount of time set aside for processing the ballots, puts an undue burden on town clerks and their staffs. Several town clerks, the Secretary of State, and Senator O’Connor (who sponsored the bill) also testified in support.
Bill summary: This bill provides that a municipality may opt to process absentee ballots as early as the 4th day before the election. It also authorizes the Secretary of State to make available high-speed tabulators for absentee ballots and to allow a municipality to bring absentee ballots to a central location for tabulating by the high-speed tabulators as long as security guidelines are properly followed
Legislative Analyst Danielle Fox opened the work session by noting that this bill was discussed in a previous work session on Jan 27th. The measure includes language also found in LD 1484 (the Secretary of State’s agency bill). That bill is currently tabled in the Senate but a second reading in the Senate would allow for removal of duplicative language.
Rep. Luchini suggested that, for now, the Committee let the two bills (1484 and 1539) stand alone. He then made a motion to pass as amended, striking the high-speed tabulator bit. Motion was seconded by Rep. Turner.
Sen. Patrick said, “Clerks have been coming to us to adjust the system for absentee ballots, and I am in support of this.” Sen. Cyrway concurred, “These extra days are needed. Security is not an issue because handling is highly prescribed. This really needs to be done, and it is so critical for them. The tabulator threw a wrench into it, so if we can get rid of that…”
Sen. Collins asked for a summary of the bill as amended, and Analyst Fox replied: Make it an emergency bill that would allow processing of absentee ballots on Friday and Saturday in addition to Monday. Removing central high-speed tabulation.
Result: OTP-A unanimous (Rep. Saucier and Sen. Cyr absent for vote)