- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

DOVER, Del. (AP) - A task force charged with reviewing Delaware’s election laws on Wednesday reaffirmed an earlier decision to recommend that the three county elections boards be eliminated in favor of one single state elections board.

State elections commissioner Elaine Manlove said the elections departments in each of Delaware’s three counties currently report to their respective boards, but that eliminating those departments and creating one board would improve communications between local officials and the state commission.

That came as the task force wrapped up work on proposals to be sent to state lawmakers later this month

Task force members voted to recommend that the three local boards be replaced by a state board consisting of five Democrats and five Republicans nominated by party chairs, with two representing each county, two from the city of Wilmington, and two at-large.

Task force members also voted to recommend that lawmakers restrict the ability of political parties to replace nominees for office who withdraw at the last minute. Current law gives a political committee 24 hours to substitute a nominee who is unable to serve because of death, physical, mental or other incapacity.

Manlove cast the tie-breaking vote on a proposal to remove the language regarding “other” incapacity.

“I’m afraid that somebody’s now going to have an ‘incapacity’ as soon as their poll numbers drop,” she said.

The issue arose when Eric Bodenweiser, a Georgetown Republican, withdrew from a state Senate race in October 2012 amid rumors of a criminal investigation. Bodenweiser, who cited personal reasons for withdrawing, was indicted a short time later on child sex abuse charges ANY STATUS ON THE ABUSE CASE THAT WE CAN SAY? CASE STILL PENDING TRIAL OR RESOLUTION?

After Bodenweiser withdrew, the Sussex County Republican Committee threw its support behind write-in candidate Brian Pettyjohn. Republicans subsequently argued successfully in court that Bodenweiser had been incapacitated and should be replaced on the ballot by Pettyjohn.

State elections officials argued that Bodenweiser had not been convicted or sentenced and was thus still capable of serving if elected. Pettyjohn went on to win the general election.

In other decisions Wednesday, task force members deferred action on whether to recommend that primary elections, now held in September, be moved to the second Tuesday in August. The September primary elections have led to concerns about security and parking issues at school polling places and interference with school operations.

But some task force members suggested that moving the primary elections to August could interfere with voters’ summer vacations and lead to lower turnout.

The task force also declined to make recommendations regarding campaign finance reform, same-day voting, early voting and no-excuse absentee voting, noting that those issues already are expected to be addressed by lawmakers through legislation.

Meanwhile, Manlove said she would continue working with judicial officials on restoring the voting rights of convicted felons.

Lawmakers last year gave final approval to a constitutional amendment eliminating the five-year waiting period before eligible felons who have completed their sentences and paid all fines, fees and restitution can vote again.

Elections officials check the state criminal justice database to determine whether a convicted felon is eligible to vote, but determining whether felony-related fines and restitution have been paid can be difficult because of the court collections system. Under the current system, a felon who owes fines or restitution related to a separate misdemeanor conviction may be found ineligible to vote, even though he has satisfied the sentencing requirements for the felony conviction.

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