The state Elections Commission rejected a GOP effort to provide new guidance on what observers can do at the polls next month as Dems complained the proposal went beyond what’s allowed under state law.
That leaves local clerks with no new directions on observer standards for the November election as the agency goes through the process of writing more detailed permanent rules on the topic.
Chair Don Millis drafted the proposal after hearing concerns from the public at a previous commission meeting about what’s allowed at polling sites.
Dems during yesterday’s meeting, though, raised objections to the document that they received over the weekend. That includes a line that stated observers should be allowed within 3 feet of where voters announce their name and address to be issued a voter number, as well as the tables where they register to vote. State law states observers can be no closer than 3 feet and no further than 8 feet of those places.
Millis said it was a mistake on his part in drafting the document and tweaked it during yesterday’s discussion.
But Dems pointed to that and other passages to suggest Millis was trying to go beyond state law. They argued the commission doesn’t have the authority to do that.
State law says observation areas at polling sites should be “so positioned to permit any election observer to readily observe all public aspects of the voting process.” Millis sought to specify that observers could be between 3 feet and 8 feet of any table or station where absentee ballots are processed or counted.
Marge Bostelmann, a retired GOP clerk on the commission, countered the document could be revised to address Dem concerns. She said it wasn’t about changing things for clerks, who already know the law, but being able to hand something out to the public to remind them about what the limits are.
“All you’re doing is making sure the observers who walk into the building understand what the statute says,” Bostelmann said.
But Dem appointee Ann Jacobs was critical of Millis for introducing the document less than a month out from the election without first going to local clerks to get their feedback. She said the document included passages that would muddy the water on what’s allowed and open the door to abuse.
“We’re 30 days out,” she said. “We need to keep our hands off the process absent something really urgent.”
The proposal failed 3-3 along party lines. The commission needs at least four votes to pass something.
The commission last month approved beginning the process of putting together permanent rules setting standards for the conduct of election observers. But that process could take one to two years.
State law requires observers to be between 3 feet and 8 feet from the table where electors announce their name and address, as well as the table where people register to vote at the polls. Observers also must sign in with the chief inspector or municipal clerk at a polling place, and those officials can remove observers who are disruptive.
Beyond that, state law gives the commission the power to set rules regarding proper conduct.
The old Government Accountability Board created emergency rules that laid out standards for polling sites, but they have expired. In March, the commission released a document on rules for polling sites such as a ban on electioneering, using video or still cameras, handling election documents or interacting with voters unless requested. But because it was based on the expired GAB rules, they don’t carry the weight of law.
The permanent rules that will be drafted will be subjected to legislative and gubernatorial review. If approved, they would carry the weight of law.
See a screenshot of the document Millis shared with the commission during today’s meeting: