City council works to streamline, improve election process

By ROXANNE READY — Members of the Hyattsville City Council updated the city’s election code in December 2018 to distribute vote-by-mail ballots earlier, make it easier to report suspected campaign finance violations, and streamline the financial reporting process for candidates. They also made changes in mid-November 2018 to implement same-day voter registration.

Councilmembers voted unanimously on Dec. 3 to repeal and replace Chapter 8, the portion of the city’s legal code that governs election policies and procedures.

According to Hyattsville City Clerk Laura Reams, most of the updates related to the implementation of changes that the council voted on in late 2016.

At that time, lawmakers voted to allow same-day voter registration starting in 2019. Residents may now register to vote during early voting or on Election Day if they can show proof of identity, age and residency, according to updates made in mid-November 2018 to the board of elections rules and regulations.

Preliminary plans allow early voters to register at their polling places, while voters on Election Day will need to visit a central location. But, Reams said, the councilmembers will not finalize these logistics until early 2019.

Councilmembers also increased the time residents have when voting by mail to complete their ballots. According to Reams, in the last election the city distributed vote-by-mail ballots seven days prior to Election Day. After receiving feedback from residents, she said, the city council adjusted the code to require ballots be mailed to voters 10 days in advance.

Changes also included removal of a requirement that residents cite specific law codes when reporting suspected campaign finance violations. Previously, complaints that did not include code citations were dismissed as incomplete, according to Deputy City Clerk Nicola Konigkramer.

Reams said she hopes the change will make the process of reporting easier.

“If they see a campaign violation … we want that information to be able to come forward to us,” Reams said, stressing that residents can report suspected violations even if they don’t know the law in question.

The council also reduced required campaign finance reports from four to three: two during the campaign cycle and one annual report.

Finally, the council clarified and adjusted penalties for violating campaign finance requirements. These changes include adding penalties for failure to appoint a campaign finance treasurer, file appropriate forms or appear for a  hearing summons before the elections supervisory board. Most of the penalties are fines up to $500.

“The city clerk’s office did a tremendous and thorough job in restructuring [Chapter 8],” said Councilmember Tom Wright (Ward 3) in an email. “The task helped to streamline the election process and cleared up much of the confusion from the original chapter.“

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