Sunday, March 29, 2020

Montana Governor Allows Counties the Discretion to Opt into Vote-By-Mail for June 2 Primary

Governor Steve Bullock (D-MT) on Wednesday, March 25 issued a directive aimed at the June 2 primary in the Treasure state as part of his evolving emergency declaration response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Unlike other states that have opted to go full vote-by-mail for upcoming presidential primaries, Bullock instead deferred to Montana county election officials to make the call on whether to do the same in their primary. Counties can opt in, but that comes with some strings attached.
  • County elections offices have to make (early in-person voting) ballots available to voters from May 4 through the end of the election on June 2. 
  • Counties that opt into the vote-by-mail system must also have mailed ballots to voters 25 days before the June 2 primary (on or before May 8). This is consistent with the regulations regarding absentee voting in the state. Montana voters retain the ability to request absentee ballots, but counties that have opted into the vote-by-mail system will send ballots to all register county voters. [If a voter in such a county votes both (early) in-person and via the mail ballot, then the mailed-in ballot will be void and the early in-person ballot will be counted.]
  • Those counties that opt in have to submit a written plan for how they will implement the changes to the Montana secretary of state.
Importantly, voters and the counties that opt in will also get financial relief on postage. Counties choosing to go the vote-by-mail route have to notify voters that no postage is required to submit a ballot. Additionally, counties may also seek reimbursement for postage costs from the state government.

Predominantly vote-by-mail systems have taken over in states with May contests (see Georgia, Nebraska and West Virginia, for example) and that is gradually expanding into the June primary states as well (see Maryland). But all states that have moved in that direction have also approached the process in different ways with some promoting vote-by-mail to others mailing out ballots directly to voters. But Montana has put a different spin on the process. Voters in counties that adopt the vote-by-mail option will be mailed ballots. So while there have been differences across states in this transition, now, in Montana, there will potentially be differences across counties within the state.


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Governor Bullock's executive order on the vote-by-mail deference to Montana counties is archived here.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Cuomo Executive Order Confirms New York Presidential Primary Will Move to June 23

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo during a coronavirus press conference on Saturday, March 28 signaled that the New York presidential primary would move to June 23. His actions were not official at the time but Cuomo later in the evening issued an executive order postponing the April 28 presidential primary and rescheduling it for June 23.

New York now joins other Acela primary states -- Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and Rhode Island -- in abandoning the late April primary date and doing so through executive emergency action. Pennsylvania also shifted away from April 28 but changed its primary date via the legislative process. Regardless of the path to change, New York becomes the last of six Acela primary states to leave behind what had been at the start of primary among the most delegate-rich states on the 2020 presidential primary calendar. Now, only Ohio's vote-by-mail primary -- new to the calendar position once legislation is signed -- will fall on April 28.

But back in New York, Cuomo's executive order  would seemingly end the legislative process that had been in the works. A pair of identical bills in each chamber of the New York Assembly, consolidating the presidential primary with those for other offices on June 23, best lined up with Cuomo's intentions but those and a competing bill to keep the primary on April 28 but to make the primary an all-absentee election all are ostensibly to be left by the wayside.

While this buys New York election administrators some time to implement the changes, it does put the state Democratic Party directly in the crosshairs of the Democratic National Committee. A June 23 primary runs afoul of the DNC rules on the timing of primaries and caucuses. The party sets a June 9 -- second Saturday in June -- deadline for conducting the first step in the delegate selection process.

And while the DNC has signaled that anything after June 9 breaks the rules, it is hard to imagine the national party not bending in the face of the unprecedented challenges the coronavirus has presented. However, June 23 is less than three weeks before the Democratic National Convention is set to gavel in, and that presents challenges in an of itself.


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Governor Cuomo's executive order postponing the presidential primary and rescheduling it for June 23 is archived here.



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Related Posts:
New York State Legislature Begins Working on Alternatives to April 28 Presidential Primary

Maryland Board of Elections Will Recommend an All Vote-By-Mail Presidential Primary for June 2

As part of Governor Larry Hogan's (R-MD) order to shift the Maryland presidential primary back five weeks to June 2, the state Board of Elections was to meet and confer on how best to implement that change given the fallout from the coronavirus threat.

In a remote meeting on Wednesday, March 25, the Maryland state Board of Elections decided in principle to have the now June 2 primary be conducted completely by mail based on the public health concerns around the virus. The board could not guarantee that it could protect poll workers who are increasingly less inclined to work the polls for early and election day in-person voting in even a delayed election.

Some members of the Board wanted to retain the in-person voting options just in case they could be carried out, but reserve the right to cancel those options later if the threat window remained open in the lead up to June 2.
“We could sit here and say the June 2 election will be vote by mail, it will have early voting options, it will have voting centers on Election Day — and the governor, the chief executive, could close everything down on May 30,” said Patrick Hogan, vice chairman of the board. 
“We could always drop the plan to have voting centers if the situation was getting worse," said board member Kelley Howells. "That would at least give us the option.” 
State elections staff members urged the board to make a final decision. If ballots are to be mailed to all voters, they should go out by the last week of April, said Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator for the Board of Elections. Instructions would have to be included with those ballots on how to return them, she said, and those should be in their final form when the ballots go out. 
“I appreciate that things are changing, but at some point we have to make a decision,” Charlson said.
It was Board staff that won out. Said staff will draft the proposal on a vote-by-mail election for the Board before April 2. The Board will then make a final decision charting out the course ahead -- likely adopting the plan -- and send it to the governor for his consideration by the April 3, the deadline laid out in his original executive order calling for the primary date change.

Maryland would join Rhode Island on June 2 as a state with an all-mail presidential primary. Ballots will be mailed to voters rather than applications for absentee ballots as in May states like Georgia, Nebraska and West Virginia. Those efforts can be contrasted with those in Indiana (June 2 primary), where no mailings are going out, but the excuse requirement in requesting absentee ballots has been waived.


Hat tip to Steve Kamp for passing news of this along to FHQ.


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Related Posts:
Maryland Joins States Pushing Back Presidential Primaries on the Calendar

Hawaii Democrats Push End of Vote-By-Mail in Party-Run Primary to May 22

A week after it had eliminated in-person voting at its party-run primary, the Hawaii Democratic Party announced changes to its delegate selection process in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, March 27, Hawaii Democrats laid out a revamped schedule for mailing out ballots to voters and for those voters to return the ballots. As the party revealed a week ago, the deadline to register to vote and enroll as a Democrat in the Aloha state was moved to the original date of in-person voting, April 4. Not included in that release was a plan for when and if the deadline to submit ballots would be extended as has been the case in former April 4 party-run primary states, Alaska and Wyoming. But by moving the deadline to enroll to April 4, Hawaii Democrats intimated as much.

And indeed that is the case. Hawaii Democrats will process the new enrollments and mail out ballots with the anticipated arrival in voters' hands on or around May 2. Those and other previously mailed-out ballots will now be due to the party by Friday, May 22. [This is the return deadline not the postmark deadline.] Results will then be tabulated and released by May 23.

The extension of Hawaii Democrats' deadline to submit their vote-by-mail ballots now shifts out of April another state and adds to what has become a predominantly all-mail May slate of contests in the Democratic nomination process.


The Hawaii Democratic Party extension of the vote-by-mail deadline has been added to the 2020 FHQ presidential primary calendar.


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Related Posts:
Hawaii Democrats Nix In-Person Voting in April Primary

Friday, March 27, 2020

Governor Wolf's Signature Sends Pennsylvania Primary Off to June 2

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) on Friday, March 27 signed into law several measures intended to better position the state to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. Among the bills signed was SB 422, legislation to postpone and reschedule the primary in the Keystone state for June 2.

Pennsylvania now joins four other states -- Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and Rhode Island -- that were scheduled for the Acela primary on April 28, but have shifted back five weeks to ideally avoid the overlap of peak coronavirus spread and in-person primary election voting.

Pennsylvania will now be moved to June 2 on the 2020 FHQ presidential primary calendar.


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Governor Wolf's press release on the bill signings is archived here.



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Related posts:
Proposed Deal Would Shift Pennsylvania Primary to June 2

Amended Bill to Move Pennsylvania Primary to June 2 Passes House

Pennsylvania Primary Bill Passes State Senate, Heads to Governor

Nebraska Will Now Mail Absentee Ballot Applications to Every Voter Ahead of May 12 Primary

Nebraska joined the ranks of states turning toward absentee vote-by-mail as a response to the coronavirus pandemic's impact on the electoral process.

On Thursday, March 26, Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen (R) announced that the state, through the secretary of state's office, or county elections officials would mail out to every voter in the Cornhusker state an application for an absentee ballot for the May 12 primary. This process is akin to those adopted in states like Georgia and West Virginia thus far. In-person early voting (April 13-May 11) and in-person election day voting remain in place, but all Nebraska voters will have the capacity to vote-by-mail if they so choose in order to avoid the further spread of the coronavirus.

Once applications are distributed, voters will then have until May 1 to request an absentee ballot. Although the application will be a hard copy that requires a physical signature, voters have the option of signing them and then either taking a picture of the form or scanning it, before returning it via email or fax. Mail and physical drop offs at the county offices are other options available to voters to submit their applications.

Requested ballots will begin being mailed out to voters on April 6. Voters will then have until election day -- May 12 at 8pm when polls close -- to have mail-in ballots returned to county elections administrators. The postmark of any mail-in ballot is immaterial. The ballot has to physically be into the county offices by the close of the polls on election day.



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Nebraska Secretary of State Evnen (R) statement archived here.

West Virginia Secretary of State Lays the Groundwork for a Predominantly Vote-By-Mail Primary on May 12

A week after he made the coronavirus threat a valid excuse for requesting an absentee ballot, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner has announced that the state will help county elections officials with funding the mailing of absentee ballot applications to all Mountain state voters.

No, the date has not changed, but the way in which the May 12 primary (for presidential and other offices) is conducted will be. In-person early and in-person election day voting are still available options at this time, but all West Virginia voters will now have an alternative that will allow them to stay at home and still participate in the primary election.

There are now 46 days until the May 12 primary. In that window of time, the West Virginia secretary of state's office or local county elections officials will have to mail out absentee applications to all of the active voters in the state. One complicating factor on that front is that West Virginians still have until April 21 to register to vote in the upcoming primary. That may entail more than just one mass mailing of absentee applications.

After that voters have to fill out the application, return it via voter-paid postage to the county board and await the ballot's arrival. It is unclear whether voters can continue to use the online application that can be returned to the county board via email or fax and avoid paying postage with the mailed form. Regardless of the method, voters have until May 6 to submit their applications for an absentee ballot.

Once received, the ballot may be filled out and must be returned, postmarked by May 12 (primary election day) to be counted. That means that results will likely be slower in coming in and potentially undetermined until after election day.

West Virginia now joins a raft of other later-voting primary states in shifting in the direction of more widespread vote-by-mail systems in response to the coronavirus threat. The new West Virginia systems mimics the new protocols adopted in states like Georgia, where absentee applications are being mailed to all active voters. Ohio, on the other hand, is sending an informational mailing describing how voters can request an absentee ballot. That contrasts with a state like Alaska where the Democratic Party is allowing its party-run primary voters to download a ballot directly in order to participate.

This is an important point: States and state parties are dealing with the electoral impact the coronavirus presents, but are doing so in a wide range of ways. That will create uneven results for voters across states; more obstacles in some than in others.

Georgia House Speaker Calls for Another Presidential Primary Move in the Peach State

It is one thing to announce a change in electoral law or administration. It is another to effectively and efficiently implement those changes in a timely manner in normal times much less during a global pandemic.

FHQ raised this in the context of the Ohio decision to shift to a predominantly vote-by-mail system for a would-be April 28 presidential primary. In Ohio's case, that leaves the state and its election administrators on the state and local level with less than five weeks to carry everything out. That is no easy task.

But now, in Georgia, similar logistical concerns have been raised about the state's now May 19 presidential primary (which has been consolidated with a previously scheduled primary for other offices). Less than two weeks after Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R-GA) issued an order pushing the presidential primary back, calls are coming in from high places to again change the date of the primary election amid the coronavirus scare. Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R), in a press release on Thursday, March 26, asked Raffensperger to move the primary to June 23, citing public health concerns of voters and poll works and other primary (non-presidential) moves across the South.

Moreover, Ralston raised the time crunch and the breadth of changes Raffensperger has announced with respect to how the May 19 primary will be conducted. While the speaker commended those actions -- shifting to a absentee vote-by-mail system -- Ralston also raised the need for "full and thorough legislative consideration before implementation." Georgia still has some time -- more than Ohio will have -- to send out absentee ballot request forms to all active voters in the Peach state, but getting those out, applications processed by state/local officials, ballots out and marked by voters, and then returned before May 19 -- just 53 days away -- is no small task.

Raffensperger has the authority to make these changes and press ahead -- the general assembly ceded that power in 2011 -- but Ralston's call begs for another set of eyes on the changes, a set of eyes in the legislative branch.


NOTE: A June 23 presidential primary date would violate the national parties' rules on the timing of delegate selection event. The deadline to hold primaries and caucuses is June 9 for the Democratic National Committee and June 13 for the Republican National Committee.


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Speaker Ralston's press release on a primary move to June 23 is archived here.


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Related Posts:
Georgia Postpones Presidential Primary, Consolidates with May Primaries

Georgia Will Send Absentee Request Forms to All Active Voters for May 19 Primary

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Ohio Legislature Unanimously Passes Bill to Transition to Absentee Vote-By-Mail in Presidential Primary

The Ohio legislature on Wednesday, March 25 unanimously passed legislation mapping out a finish to the March 17 presidential primary that was postponed.

Both the Ohio state House and Senate made quick work of an omnibus bill -- HB 197 -- dealing with broader coronavirus concerns. And part of that was finalizing how to complete the March 17 presidential primary election. In the bill, the provisions with direct influence on the presidential primary call for...
  1. The bill voids of Secretary of State LaRose's (R) March 16 directive postponing the March 17 primary and moving it to June 2. That change is now nullified. 
  2. In its place will be an absentee voting system to handled almost completely by mail. [The only exceptions to that are those voters with disabilities, cannot receive mail at their address or have some other need for accommodations/in-person voting.]
  3. Voters who cast ballots either early or absentee ahead of the March 17 primary will have their votes counted. That total comes to 523,522 early or absentee votes with another 66,723 requested absentee ballots outstanding. That latter group can still submit their ballots and have them counted. 
  4. All voters who registered to vote before February 18, 2020 and who did not vote early or absentee can request an absentee ballot in lieu of any in-person voting. All registered Ohio voters will receive a postcard from the secretary of state informing them of the ways in which they can participate, including absentee vote-by-mail. 
  5. Any voter who registered after February 18 is ineligible to participate. In fact, the bill calls on county boards of elections not to process those registrations at this time. 
  6. Voters can request an absentee ballot by printing off their own copy or by contacting their county board of elections. Voters will be required to pay postage to return those absentee requests. Should those requests be deemed valid by county elections administrators, then valid application voters will be sent an absentee ballot with pre-paid postage for returning it. 
  7. The deadline for returning ballots is April 28, 2020, but if the ballot is postmarked by April 27, then they will be accepted until May 8, 2020
The office of the secretary of state estimates that postcard notifications will be delivered sometime during the second week of April meaning that voters prompted by the postcards will have between 16-22 days to print off an absentee request, mail it to the county board of elections (with voter-paid postage), wait for the absentee ballot to arrive by mail, and return the completed ballot (postmarked) by April 27. That is a lot to ask of voters -- a lot of changes to throw at them -- in such a short period of time.

But it will allow Ohio to complete the voting that started before the original March 17 primary in a manner that greatly reduces face-to-face contact between the voters themselves not to mention voters and poll workers, and thus, the risk of further spread of the coronavirus.

The bill is set to take effect immediately upon Governor DeWine's (R) signature.

Regardless, April 28 is now just 33 days away.


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Related Posts:
Ohio Presidential Primary Postponed Until June 2

Alaska Republicans Will Convene April State Convention Electronically

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Alaska Republican Party has called an audible on its state convention set to gavel in on April 3 and continue through April 4.

State party chair, Glenn Clary, announced that both the April 2 state central committee meeting and the state convention would meet electronically, canceling the in-person gathering planned to take place in Juneau. The state central committee in its meeting will select a slate of 29 delegates to the national convention that the state convention participants will vote on electronically on April 3.

Those 29 delegates will likely all be bound to President Trump. Alaska Republicans earlier became part of the group of Republican states that canceled delegate selection events for the 2020 cycle.


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Alaska Republican Party chair's press release archived here.


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Related Posts:
Alaska Democrats Extend Mail-In Voting Window, Cancel In-Person Voting