Laws interact – be careful what you legislate

Earlier this month we cautioned the legislature on enacting an unspecified “Uniform” Military and Overseas Voting Act (UMOVE Act).  The “Uniform” bill requires forty-five days advanced availability of absentee ballots for optionally specified state and local elections, primaries, and referendums. The proposed law had only the following text available for the public hearing:

That the general statutes be amended to adopt the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act.

In our testimony (page 13), we warned and recommended, among other things:

The uniform law text has options that each state may or may not include primaries, run-offs, and referendums in the “uniform law”. For any of these included, absentee ballots must be available 45 days in advance, just as they are in Federal elections. Currently under Sec. 9-369c of the statutes, absentee ballots must be made available three weeks in advance of a referendum and in some circumstances, less. This may pose even more difficult timing challenges if run-offs are included…

I caution against passing this bill without public hearings, providing for review and comment on the actual text of a proposed bill – especially, giving election officials an opportuntity to point out implementation challenges and conflicts with current statutory deadlines.

Today we highlight an article which brings our point home. It is a story of election officials trying to cope with conflicting state and local laws for election deadlines and absentee ballot deadlines. In the Monroe Patch: Absentee Ballots Won’t be Mailed Out. Who’s at Fault? <read>

Town Clerk’s Office employees will be busy preparing for the April 5 budget referendum, issuing absentee ballots over the counter to residents who will not be able to vote in person and processing mailed in ballots voters obtain online…

On Friday, Town Clerk Marsha Beno said she wants to avoid another State Elections Enforcement complaint…

The statute requires a town clerk to have the exact language on a ballot at least three weeks before absentee ballots are mailed out to voters. Beno said the town could not meet that timeline for the April 5 referendum…

[Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Patricia] Ulatowski says Town Attorney Jack Fracassini, Beno and Town Council leadership are to blame, because they were informed of the State Election Enforcement Commission’s decision on her complaint agreeing that the town violated General Statute 9-369c during two referendums in 2009, and could have influenced a speeding up of the budget process to meet the three week deadline to mail out absentee ballots.

Democratic Registrar of Voters Sue Koneff looked at the Town Charter and came up with a schedule that could allow the town to meet the three-week deadline and comply with the state statute, according to Ulatowski.

The result is frustrated officials and disenfranchised voters.

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