[Image courtesy of NASS]
Last weekend, Secretaries of State from across the nation gathered in Portland, ME for the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) 2015 Summer Meeting. The meeting is one of the traditional highlights of the summer electiongeek circuit as policymakers, vendors and others come together to discuss what’s happening and what’s next.
One aspect of the NASS meeting that doesn’t always get a lot of attention is the organization’s resolution function, whereby the membership can formally put NASS on the record on one or more issues within the range of authority of Secretaries of State. As NASS notes in the press release reviewing this year’s highlights:
NASS resolutions are designed to convey association positions on policy matters or other issues of shared interest. If recommended by a committee for action, a full member vote is conducted during the conference business meeting. Once adopted, standing resolutions remain in effect until a renewal date, which can be found at the end of each resolution.
This year, there were three resolutions reauthorized in the election sphere:
WHEREAS, the more than six million American citizens living and working abroad comprise an important voting segment in U.S. elections, and;
WHEREAS, state election officials are charged with ensuring the implementation of all federal laws (the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, the Help America Vote Act, and the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act) which seek to address the logistical barriers that have historically prevented such voters from exercising their right to the franchise, and;
WHEREAS, the recently enacted Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE), which requires election officials to provide for the electronic transmission of voter registration and ballot requests and for the electronic transmission of blank ballots to the voters, has prompted states and localities to embrace new technologies that provide effective solutions for such activities, and;
WHEREAS, some States have taken steps to allow military and overseas voters to cast their ballots electronically as well, and;
WHEREAS, these practical moves to modernize our democratic process have raised valid privacy and security concerns within the elections community, giving rise to a need for new and enhanced security protocols for the online transmission of voting materials, and that the verification of election results may be confirmed;
WHEREAS, the United States Congress and State Legislatures have demonstrated a good faith effort to address the obstacles facing overseas voters;
NOW BE IT RESOLVED that, in accordance with current federal and state laws, NASS supports the use of new and emerging technologies that facilitate voting by military and overseas citizens, and in keeping with applicable security standards, ensure that the elections process remains accessible, recountable, and secure.
This resolution strikes a nice balance between the obvious desire to assist military and overseas voters, while keeping in mind that the push for online balloting still has many skeptics. Obviously, the new US Vote Foundation Internet voting report will play a large role here.
WHEREAS, democracy and self-governance are the principles upon which the United States of America was built; and
WHEREAS, the United States has made the promotion of democracy a basic principle of its foreign policy; and
WHEREAS, the Secretaries of State believe that a citizen’s right to choose his or her government is fundamental to all other rights; and
WHEREAS, the United States of America was a founding member of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 1975, now consisting of 56 member nations, and in 1990 signed the OSCE’s Copenhagen Agreement, which gives the right of member countries to observe each other’s elections; and
WHEREAS, working through the United States Department of State approximately 44 OSCE election observers were hosted in approximately 40 states to observe the November 2012 presidential election; and
WHEREAS, it is important that the state and local election officials, where allowed by state law, serve as ambassadors of goodwill for the United States by welcoming international visitors and observers to learn first-hand about the election process in the United States in a spirit of openness and transparency; and
WHEREAS, over the past two decades the United States has participated in international election observer missions to Russia, Mexico, South Africa, Indonesia and other countries; and
WHEREAS, observing elections around the world provides government officials from OSCE member countries with an opportunity to learn about different election practices; and
WHEREAS, the United States has an opportunity to promote good practices and information exchange by supporting OSCE international observers in this country; and
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) welcomes OSCE international election observers from the OSCE member countries to observe elections in states where allowed by state law.
This is a very welcome position by NASS and one that should have gotten more attention during the unfortunate situation of international observers being threatened with arrest in 2012 – I’m delighted to see NASS renew this position, given the importance of election observation around the world.
WHEREAS, the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), on February 6, 2005, voted to approve a resolution by a substantial majority asking Congress not to reauthorize or fund the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) after the conclusion of the 2006 federal election, by which date all the states were required to fully implement the mandates of the Help America Vote Act; and
WHEREAS, the 2005 resolution was passed to help prevent the EAC from eventually evolving into a regulatory body, contrary to the spirt of the Help America Vote Act; and
WHEREAS, that action was meant to preserve the state’ ability to serve as laboratories of change through successful experiments and innovation in election reform; and
WHEREAS, each resolution passed at a NASS conference sunsets after five years unless reauthorized by a vote of the members; and
WHEREAS, the NASS position on funding and authorization of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission was renewed by the membership on July 20, 2010;
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the National Association of Secretaries of State, expressing their continued consistent position in 2015, reaffirm their resolution of 2005 and 2010 and encourage Congress not to reauthorize or fund the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
This one was contentious (passed largely but not exclusively on a party-line vote); it reflects ongoing skepticism about the expanded federal role post-HAVA in election administration as well as partisan concerns in Congress about the wisdom and desirability of expending federal funds on the EAC. Reports from the meeting suggest that there were pleas to let the new Commissioners do their work but that the longstanding concerns about federal oversight eventually carried the day. It is notable, however, that the new resolution essentially preserves the uneasy compromise that characterizes the status quo.
All in all, an eventful meeting for NASS – thanks to the team (especially executive director Leslie Reynolds and communications guru Kay Stimson) for sharing these highlights … these resolutions set the stage for what is always a busy if not sometimes chaotic election year for Secretaries of State.