Three is a crowd—better bring 40,000 of your best friends

Well, that’s a wrap…ture. The 2011 session of the 107th General Assembly has ended, and as Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey pointed out in a released statement, the final gavel came down earlier than it usually does.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey (R-Blountville) today praised the General Assembly’s leadership and members for an extremely productive and efficient session. The General Assembly has not adjourned earlier than this date since 1998 and the Senate used fewer legislative days than any year since 1999. It is estimated that the state will save around $450,000 by adjourning earlier than last year.

“I am very proud of this General Assembly,” Ramsey stated. “I think we will look back on this year as a benchmark for how the legislature should function. The members and staff did great work and served the taxpayers by doing it quickly and efficiently. Considering the substantial obstacles posed by the transition of a new Governor and the election of a new House Speaker, it is truly a credit to all involved that we were able to conclude so quickly.”

Here is a partial rundown of the Legislature’s actions (and inactions) this session that affect elections.

Voters will be required to present a valid photo ID when requesting a ballot. If one does not have a photo ID, a provisional ballot will be provided. Indigents and those who have religious objections to being photographed will have to complete an affidavit. (HB0007 / SB0016)

Super duper
Tennessee may play a more prominent role in deciding that Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels will be the 2012 GOP nominee (this just in: he’s not running) on the first Tuesday in March. Then again, we may be lost in the sea of states holding presidential preference primaries that day. Either way, the date has been moved. Also, the qualifying deadline for county primaries, and for any municipal elections that happen to coincide with the presidential primary, has been moved back. (HB0612 / SB0599)

Three is a crowd—better bring 40,000 of your best friends
At long last, after a federal court ruled that Tennessee’s ballot access laws were unconstitutionally restrictive, change has come. Get ready to see new party labels beside the names of the same old kooks and gadflies that always run as independents. (I’m kidding. Mostly.) Sen. Jim Kyle, a Democrat from Memphis, had wanted to lower the signature barrier to 10,000—ostensibly his motive was to encourage GOP-weakening Tea Party candidacies—but the threshold “at least 2.5 percent of the total number of votes cast for gubernatorial candidates in the most recent election of governor” remains intact. I’ll say it again: having Democrats and Republicans argue over third party ballot rights is more than a little absurd. The new law still assumes a dominant two-party system, and ignores the fact that someday coalitions may be the norm instead of “winner-take-all” party rule. But it’s a start. (HB0794 / SB0935)

Paper trail goes cold
All but two of Tennessee’s 95 counties jumped onto the paperless electronic voting machine bandwagon after Congress authorized millions in upgrade money following the 2000 presidential election debacle. In 2008, the General Assembly expressed its hindsight-induced regrets with the Voter Confidence Act, which would require a paper ballot for every voter. But state election officials balked at the costs to switch out systems yet again, and found support in the Republican-led Legislature. Democrats cried foul, saying that the GOP is trying to take away protections against potential mishap or misdeed. But who was in charge when the state ran pell-mell towards touch-screen DREs? Yeah, that’s right. (HB0386 / SB1203)

Mister Popularity

Former U.S. Senator, television and film star, and (was he really a?) 2008 presidential hopeful Fred Thompson has joined an effort to institute a national popular vote system. Here’s the press release:

WASHINGTON – Senator Fred Thompson was named national co-champion of the non-partisan National Popular Vote campaign Thursday, saying the nation cannot “run the risk of having a president who is handicapped by not having won the most popular votes.”

He mentioned that Senator Howard Baker had also pushed for a Popular Vote system while in Congress. “It’s time to take the ball across the goal line,” Thompson said.

A Popular Vote system would ensure that every vote counts in presidential contests by reforming, not eliminating the Electoral College. With the current winner-takes-all system, just a few states with the most electoral votes ultimately decide who is president. Campaigns ignore the rest, including Tennessee, as “flyover states.”

“We live in a time when the American people are increasingly cynical about their government’s ability to deal with our most pressing problems. This means that there is a need for bold, effective presidential leadership as never before.

“Therefore, we simply can no longer afford to run the risk of having a president who is handicapped by not having won the most popular votes. The National Popular Vote approach offers the states a way to deal with this issue in a way that is totally consistent with our constitutional principles.”

Thompson also noted that polls across the country show that Americans favor a Popular Vote system and “are ready to do something about it.”

“How do you explain to your kids why the presidential candidate who gets the most votes isn’t the winner?” Thompson asked. “We are gambling with the chance that we’ll elect a President without a sufficient mandate.

“This is an idea whose time has come.”

Thompson was introduced Thursday at the National Press Club along with former Governors Chet Culver (D-Iowa) and Jim Edgar (R-Illinois) as co-champions. They join Florida Republican philanthropist Tom Golisano, NPV national spokesman.

Under a Popular Vote system, the votes are counted in all 50 states to determine which candidate has received the most ballots. At that time, a compact of states representing 270 electoral votes (the number needed for election) are awarded to that candidate. The decision to join the compact will be made at the state level.

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