June 25, 2014

Senate Rules Committee Holds Hearing on Improving Early and Absentee Voting Opportunities

Hearing focused on the best practices and benefits of absentee and early voting

WASHINGTON, DC - The Senate Committee on Rules and Administration heard testimony today from election experts on best practices involving absentee and early voting.

“Part of being American is recognizing the importance of giving a voice to all Americans to participate in our democracy,” Schumer said. “Today, with busy lives and work schedules more and more Americans are looking for alternatives to voting on Tuesdays.”

Congress established Election Day as a Tuesday in 1845 because that was the best option for voters of that era.  In 2014, an increasing number of Americans are looking for voting options that do not conflict with their work week schedules.  Today’s hearing focuses on the example provided by states and localities that have served as national leaders on this issue.

The panel of witnesses includes the Honorable Kate Brown, Oregon’s Secretary of State; Mr. John C. Fortier, Director of the Democracy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center; Mr. Harvard Lomax, former Clark County Registrar in Nevada and member of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration; Ms. Rhonda Whiting, chair of the Board of Directors of Western Native Voice.

This marks the fifth hearing in a series in which the Senate Rules and Administration Committee has explored ways of improving election administration. The first was held on February 12, 2014, when the committee heard testimony from the bipartisan co-chairs of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration. The second was held on March 12, 2014, and examined ways to use technology to streamline and improve elections with online voter registration and electronic pollbooks. The third was on April 9, 2014, when the committee discussed programs designed to improve the quality of the voting lists and expand the number of registered voters. The fourth occurred on May 14, 2014, when testimony was heard on improving election data collection.

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Hon. Kate Brown is Oregon’s 24th Secretary of State. Elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, Secretary Brown’s objective is to make state government ??effective, efficient and accountable to taxpayers. During her two terms in office, Secretary Brown has pushed to restore integrity to Oregon’s initiative and referendum system; removed barriers to voter registration and voting; expanded online services for businesses; and focused audits on government efficiency and giving state agencies roadmaps to peak performance. Kate Brown was appointed to the state House of Representatives in 1991 and, after winning two more House terms, was elected to the Oregon Senate. In 1998 Ms. Brown was chosen Senate Democratic leader. Significantly, in 2004 she became the first woman to serve as Senate Majority Leader.

 

Mr. John C. Fortier is the Director of the Democracy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), which he joined in April 2011. Mr. Fortier is a political scientist who focuses on governmental and electoral institutions.  Prior to coming to BPC, he was a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he also served as the principal contributor to the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project, the executive director of the Continuity of Government Commission, and the project manager of the Transition to Governing Project. He was also a regular contributor to AEI’s Election Watch series. He also served as the director of the Center for the Study of American Democracy at Kenyon College. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Boston College and a B.A. from Georgetown University.

He is the author of Absentee and Early Voting: Trends, Promises and Perils (AEI Press: 2006), author and editor of After the People Vote: A Guide to the Electoral College, and author and co-editor with Norman Ornstein of Second Term Blues: How George W. Bush Has Governed (Brookings Press: 2007), and numerous academic articles in political science and law journals.

 

Mr. Harvard “Larry” Lomax held the position of Clark County Registrar in Nevada from 1999 through 2013. Mr. Lomax served as Nevada’s representative to the Election Assistance Commission’s Standards Board, was elected by the board’s members to the Standards Board Executive Board, and served on a Pew Foundation Committee focused on modernizing our nation’s system of registering voters. In 2013, Mr. Lomax was appointed as a member of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.  Prior to working in Clark County, Mr. Lomax was a Professor of Leadership and Ethics at the Air War College. As a former Air Force pilot, he accumulated over 4,000 hours of flying time in a 30-year career. He commanded the 9th Bomb Squadron and the 319th Bomb Wing.  He served two tours on the Joint Staff in Washington D.C. and was chosen to serve as the Air Force Colonel on the staff group supporting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mr. Lomax received a B.A. from Stanford University and an M.B.A. from the University of North Dakota. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the U.S. Air Force Officer Training School.

 

Ms. Rhonda Whiting chairs the Board of Directors of Western Native Voice, a social justice organization focusing on mobilizing the Indian vote and creating leadership development opportunities for Native American youth. Ms. Whiting began working on expanding the Native American vote when she was a just-out-of-college elementary school teacher on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Ms. Whiting has worked extensively, both in public service and as a volunteer, on giving Natives full access to the polls and realizing the promise of the Voting Rights Act for Native Americans. Holding degrees in education and law from the University of Montana, she is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.