Friday, October 30, 2009

On Overseas Military Voting and September Primaries: Epilogue/Prologue

Earlier this week President Obama signed into law the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. FHQ has commented on this piece of legislation a few times already (see here, here and here), but it never hurts to reiterate the highlights. The main product of this bill (now law) is that states with primaries set too close to the general election (less than 45 days before) are now faced with having to accommodate military personnel and others overseas. That has the effect of either forcing states to shift their primaries to earlier dates in order to comply or to submit a waiver request.

Now that MOVE has been signed into law, the real work will begin. There are over a dozen states that that are affected. And it is more than just September primary states (see first link above for September primary states affected) that are affected. Obviously primary election certification takes time (see Florida 2000 in the presidential election for an extraordinary example) and that makes some August primary states like Colorado and Washington vulnerable to this new law as well. Of course, with more states affected comes a variety of responses to what is required.

They range from the conciliatory...
"You can’t print a ballot until you know who won,” said Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who is urging his state’s lawmakers to shift the Sept. 14 primary by at least a month. “And you can’t print ballots in five seconds. It takes several days to print a ballot. Then you have to put them in the mail."

"Old habits die hard and a September primary certainly is our tradition,” [Vermont Secretary of State, Deb] Markowitz said. “I strongly believe that if we made a change to August, politicians would adapt, voters would adapt." the resistant:
“Our system of allowing people to delay voting until closer to Election Day is better in terms of making an informed choice,” [Washington state election official Katie] Blinn said.

“Things just don’t get going here until September,” said [Wisconsin Board of Elections spokesman, Reid] Magney.
Washington and other states may have a good argument for a waiver based on the fact that they accept and count overseas ballots a few weeks after the actual election date. The Evergreen state may have to expand that some. But the guidelines behind which states are granted waivers is still undecided. The folks running the Federal Voting Assistance Program will work in consultation with the US Attorney General's office to decide which states, if any, will be allowed an exemption. The vacation argument from Wisconsin is a valid one, but is a bit thin consider many of these same states have presidential primaries in the dead of winter when weather may be preventing voters from getting to the polls.

Most states, however, will likely do what Nevada did (independent of this law change) earlier this year: move their late summer and fall primaries to earlier dates.

Hat tip to Ballot Access News for the link to the reactions story.

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