Home Virginia Politics A Bill to Radically Alter the State Board of Elections

A Bill to Radically Alter the State Board of Elections

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( – promoted by lowkell)

The first thing I thought when looking at HB1478 was, “why?”  Why would Delegate Bill Janis (R-Glen Allen) introduce this legislation to increase the Board of Elections from three to five members, and to replace the Secretary with a Director of Elections appointed by the Board?  Is there something wrong with the current structure of the SBE?

I placed a call to his office and I hope to get a response later.  The secretary said there was an aide “standing right there” and was about to put me on the phone with them, but after being on hold for a minute she informed me that the aide was unavailable.  (Could it be because I identified myself as a blogger with Blue Virginia?  Nah, I’m sure they were just busy.)

Those of us who follow voting rights and elections should be immediately curious about this bill for several reasons:  

1.  It would change the Republican majority on the Board of Elections from 2-1 to 3-2.

2.  It would extend by 1 1/2 years the period of time over which Governor McDonnell would have influence over who sits on the Board.  Under current law, McDonnell will appoint his own picks to the Board in February 1, 2011 to serve 4-year terms.  Under HB1478, three new terms begin on 2/1/2012 and the additional two begin on 8/1/2012.  The obvious implication here is that McDonnell’s Board would be making the rules for the next two Presidential Elections, instead of having a new Board start in February 2015.

3.  The new Director of Elections, under this law, has no term limit.  He could serve indefinitely unless the bill is amended.

4.  Three words:  Hans von Spakovsky. This Bush nominee to the FEC, who currently serves on the Fairfax County Elections Board, would very likely be on the short list for the new Director of Elections position.

The implementation of HB 1478 would be confusing to say the least.  Here is a timeline of how the law’s implementation would take place:

Feb 1 2011:  New SBE members’ terms begin (under old law).

Jul 1 2011:  HB 1478 takes effect.

Jan 2012:    Earliest opportunity for GA to approve new members as per HB 1478.

Feb 1 2012:  Three new members’ terms begin.  SBE may designate Acting Director.

Aug 1 2012:  Two additional members’ terms begin.  Board can now appoint Director (with required 4 votes).

Nov 6 2012:  Presidential election.

Nov 5 2013:  Gubernatorial election.

Jan 2014:  New Governor inaugurated.

Spring 2015:  GA could approve three members for Feb 2016 term.

Feb 1 2016:  Next terms of three members begin

Aug 1 2016:  Terms of McDonnell’s last two appointees expire (unless reappointed).  Next terms of two members begin.

I’m no legal scholar, but this bill does not seem fair – not to mention the fact that it adds the expense of three more people’s salaries to the SBE budget.  Bills that would increase voting rights usually don’t make it out of the Privileges and Elections committee, so I hope that this bill with no stated justification, which increases Republican control over the SBE, does not make it either.  

  • ValerieInRke

    It’s not the board that needs more members. There needs to be more staff monitoring the campaign finance reports that are submitted.

    But the board definitely gives slack to the party in power.

    A Democrat failed to post a disclosure statement on their website. This was when Tim Kaine was in office. There were two Democrats and one Republican on the board. The recommendation by the SBE was a $1000 fine. When it came before the board the two Democrat appointees proposed reducing the fine to $500. SURPRISE, the vote was 2-1 to reduce it.

    Just a point on how the board effects the outcome of complaints.

    That said, I’m not sure that a new administration (change in party) would not alter the makeup of the board regardless of these appointments. The party (Governor) in power usually gets there way in the appointments. This was my understanding when speaking to an SBE member.

    Separately: I sent an email to all on the campaign finance subcommittee urging them to report HB2098 – “Campaign Finance Disclosure Act; conversion of contributions to personal use.”A complaint yielded this opinion to the SBE from the AGO on a legislator using their campaign funds for personal use about a year ago:

    § 24.2-948.4 sets out the requirements for a candidate campaign committee to file a final report. Subsection B states, ” A final report shall be required when (i) a candidate no longer seeks election to the same office in a successive election, (ii) a candidate seeks election to a different office, or (iii) the candidate is deceased.” The law has to be taken as a whole, not by parts. When reading § 24.2-948.4 as a whole, it is clear that prohibition against converting contributed campaign funds to personal use only applies to the closing of a campaign finance account. Therefore the Board has no statutory authority to refer complaints regarding personal use of campaign funds to any other officials for further investigation unless or until a candidate files a final report under § 24.2-948.4.

    It is not widespread but for at least one delegate it is flagrant.

    Link to Richmond Sunlight and the proposed bill: http://www.richmondsunlight.co