Griffith introduces bill to exempt election officials from jury duty

Rep. Morgan Griffith
Representative H. Morgan Griffith (R-VA9) is introducing a bill to exempt state and local election officials from federal jury duty during the period of time that their services are needed to run elections. Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA1) has signed on as an original cosponsor, and Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA8) has indicated his intention to sign on as a cosponsor, as well.

The proposal has not yet been dropped in the hopper and does not have a bill number but, in a February 14 “Dear Colleague” letter obtained by Bearing Drift, Griffith asks other Members to become cosponsors of this bill and explains what gave him the idea for this legislation.

During this past election cycle, I became aware of a problem that could negatively affect our voting process if not corrected. In my home state of Virginia, general registrars are appointed local officials with the responsibility of registering voters and overseeing the conduct and protocol of all elections. During last year’s elections, while these registrars were preparing local voting places, some were summoned for federal jury duty, which compromised their ability to perform their election duties.

He notes that Virginia law exempts election officials — which would include general registrars, deputy and assistant registrars, Electoral Board members, and some other full- or part-time employees of voter registration offices or offices of elections — from serving on local or state-court juries during the time their duties require full attention. Federal law, however, does not allow for such an exemption, which otherwise applies to elected officials and officials appointed by elected officials. (Under Virginia law, which may differ from laws in other states, general registrars are appointed by Electoral Boards, who are appointed by circuit court judges.)

Griffith says that, as a result of what he learned during the last election cycle, he will propose the Uninterrupted Elections Act of 2013.

Because of differences in state laws governing the way local election and voter registration officials are selected, I will be introducing legislation, the Uninterrupted Elections Act of 2013, to provide a temporary exemption from federal jury duty for election and voter registration officials. The temporary exemption would begin 60 days before and would end 30 days after an election. This window would ensure officials are able to complete the absentee balloting period, which begins 45 days before an election, and would be able to complete any recount or certification process after the election. Also, by not providing a blanket, permanent exemption, registrars would still participate in the judicial process by being eligible to serve on federal juries outside of an election period.

Given the attention paid to election administration by President Obama in his State of the Union message earlier this week, I suspect the prospects of passage are good for this bill, which even at this nascent stage apparently has bipartisan support.

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