Bills to Improve Election Fairness and Transparency Introduced

Bills would uphold residency requirement for elections, prohibit candidates from running for multiple positions and require additional campaign finance report

DOVER – Lawmakers have introduced three bills in the House of Representatives to improve election fairness by addressing a variety of political campaign issues. House Bills 152 and 159 were filed last Thursday and House Bill 170 was introduced Tuesday.

House Bill 152, introduced by Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden, would establish a process for a person to file a complaint against a candidate believed to not meet residency requirements for that elective office. Currently, state law allows local or state governments to set residency requirements for political candidates seeking office, but the law does not provide a process to review or contest a candidate’s residency.

“Right now, there’s no clear process that addresses the question of how do you challenge someone’s claim they live in a district or meet the residency requirement for that office,” said Rep. Bolden, D-Wilmington East. “This will give the Department of Elections the ability to call a person in and check their eligibility. If they don’t meet the requirements, DOE can remove them from the ballot. This is a preventive measure to protect the integrity of our elections.”

Under HB 152, any registered voter living in the district, city or area with a pending election would be able to ask the Department of Elections to determine whether a candidate meets the residency requirements. A complaint must be filed in writing at least 45 days before the election or primary. The elections commissioner could require the candidate to show documentation – such as tax filings and sworn affidavits – to show compliance.

If the commissioner determines there is evidence that the candidate violates the residency requirement, they would remove the candidate from the ballot. The decision could be appealed. A candidate who violates the office’s residency requirement would be fined $500.

Rep. Dennis E. Williams introduced a second election fairness bill Tuesday to increase campaign finance transparency. House Bill 170 would require all candidates’ committees to file a campaign finance report every six months within 10 days of the filing deadlines. One report would be due December 31 and a second report would be due June 30. Currently, candidates are only required to file a year-end report, in addition to the reports due leading up to an election.

Rep. Williams said obligating committees to file the mid-year report increases transparency and better informs the public about which campaign activities are underway.

“With current law requiring just one finance report at the end of the year, a campaign committee could be raising an exorbitant amount of money from anywhere and anyone without anybody realizing it until just a month before the election,” said Rep. Williams, D-Talleyville. “It really isn’t that much of a hassle to ask committees to file one more report every year. It means fewer surprises for all candidates and means citizens can be better informed about who is funding which candidates.”

A third measure, House Bill 159, prohibits a candidate from running for more than one state, county or municipal office in the same election. No such parameters exist under current election law. Rep. Earl Jaques, the lead sponsor of the bill, said the legislation establishes greater transparency and fairness in elections.

“Without spelling out this rule, an individual could pay as many filing fees as he or she wants and run for as many seats as he or she sees fit. That could definitely present a number of problems,” said Rep. Jaques, D-Glasgow. “How is anyone supposed to know what that candidate is actually raising money for or where he or she intends to spend the funds raised? This bill keeps elections simple and fair.”

All three bills have been assigned to the House Administration Committee.