The 2023 Legislative Session is more than half way through their work, ending at midnight on June 7th. This is a good time to provide a general update of the work on election law proposals and how it impacts you.
Understanding voting procedures is critically important, especially in these times of political upheaval. Our right and arguably even more – our responsibility – is to educate ourselves on candidates, their positions and – most importantly – to vote! It is how we protect our representative democracy.
Several controversial bills did not pass out of committee, notably Ranked Choice Voting, voting for the undocumented and mandatory voting. Though these proposals are likely to be put forward again next session.
The most pressing + important bill that will pass this year is putting detail on the bones of Early Voting initiative.
The driving reason for Early Voting (EV) is to encourage more voter participation in our elections. An informed voter is an engaged voter and vice versa. Keeping the balloting process simple, secure and transparent is essential to help increase voter turnout. Trust in the process is essential. Confusion will only complicate the effort to inspire voter turnout. Simple is good!
Early Voting was a ballot initiative that passed in the general election in November 2022. While three bills passed out of committee related to Early Voting (with small differences between them), HB 5004 is the version that is most likely to be called for a vote in the House and Senate.
Here’s how HB 5004 establishes a framework for Early Voting in Person:
- Fourteen days of EV for a general election + four days for special elections / primaries / referenda. (Ten days of EV is also being considered as an amendment to this bill, as it would reduce costs to the municipalities with minimal impact on voter accessibility.)
- Voting for elections held on / or after July 1st, 2023.
- Voting in primaries / special elections / referenda held after January 1st, 2024
- Every municipality in the state must establish one EV location and larger municipalities may establish additional locations.
- The bill sets requirements for voter eligibility / ballot custody / staffing / training and the counting of EV ballots.
Initial proposals included the use of tabulators (the machines currently used for Election Day voting) for Early Voting, though now the balloting will be done by paper ballot and counted as Absentee Ballots are counted.
The responsibility of implementing Early Voting across the state falls heavily on local election officials, Town Clerks and Registrars of Voters. Last year, I had the pleasure to meet with town clerks and registrars of voters in dozens of municipalities during my run for Secretary of the State. They are boots on the ground, understand fully the many details of running elections and are impressive in their dedication. We must take seriously their experience and viewpoints on pending legislation. It’s good news that Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas has reached out to multiple town clerks and registrars for their input, especially on how best to make Early Voting clear, safe and secure.
“They are the unsung heroes of Democracy” as the esteemed columnist and former editor of the Journal Inquirer, Chris Powell recently termed them.
Strong effort across the state is being made to ensure sound policy on Early Voting. My hope is that as we all work together and understand the important changes in election law we will increase voter interest and engagement across our state.
Please let me know your thoughts and questions, especially on the subject of increasing voter turnout. I so appreciated the many good comments / feedback on my recent emails to you all.