I. In Focus This Week

Suddenly, the voter ID debate is unpredictable

by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Program for Excellence in Election Administration, Humphrey School of Public Affairs
special to electionlineWeekly

Over the last several years, the debate about voter ID, especially requirements that voters show photo identification as a condition of casting a ballot, has become so predictable as to seem almost routine.

ID proponents – usually Republicans – argue that the spectre of voter fraud demands safeguards like ID to protect the sanctity of the ballot box, while opponents – usually Democrats – see ID requirements as barriers to the polls and thus vow to fight them in the name of combating disenfranchisement.

Indeed, in recent years the best predictor of whether voter ID would advance in a given state was whether or not Republicans held legislative majorities and the governorship.

Recently, however, the headlines have brought new twists that suggest that the voter ID debate is no longer the predictable partisan storyline we have all come to know – if not love:

  • In Rhode Island - a state with Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature, voter ID legislation – albeit less strict than companion bills elsewhere - passed overwhelmingly and was signed by an Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) over the objection of his traditional allies in the advocacy community;
  • In Ohio, voter ID was moving swiftly through the GOP-controlled state legislature on its way to the desk of Governor Jon Kasich, also a Republican. Then, it hit an unexpected roadblock – the opposition of GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted, a former state senator and state House Speaker, who said in a statement that “I would rather have no bill than one with a rigid photo identification provision that does little to protect against fraud and excludes legally registered voters' ballots from counting.”

While it isn’t clear if these two examples are merely outliers, it is remarkable that they didn’t follow the usual script on voter ID. Moreover, these twists raise several questions about the future of the voter ID debate:

1.Does the passage of the Rhode Island bill mean that voter ID has reached a critical mass nationwide that legislators – especially Democrats - feel compelled to follow?

2.Does the Ohio experience suggest that GOP unanimity on ID issues is becoming more nuanced?

3.Will the specifics of ID legislation become more important? Earlier this year, Sean Greene wrote about the fiscal impact of ID bills, but other issues are also starting to get traction. For example, New Hampshire State Senator Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, recently told a group of election officials he supported ID in principle but would vote to uphold a veto of a bill by Governor John Lynch (D) because it would have required voters without ID to cast a provisional ballot.

4.Will technology be a game-changer? Volusia County, Fla. announced recently that it will use a card reader to swipe IDs and streamline the voting process. If the system works as expected and localities can afford the cost (note: experience suggests that those are both big “ifs”), the resulting impact on the voting process could re-open or re-cast the debate in many states.

5.Or are Rhode Island and Ohio just outliers, with the parties retreating to familiar rhetorical territory as Election Day 2012 draws ever closer?

 Time will tell – but if nothing else, the voter ID debate just got a little more interesting again.

II. Election News This Week

  • Former Colorado Secretary of State and current U.S. Representative Mike Coffman announced plans this week to introduce legislation that would repeal a section of the 1973 Voting Rights Act that requires jurisdictions with large populations of nonproficient English speakers to print ballots in more than one language. Coffman asserts that Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act is an unnecessary and unfunded federal mandate that can be a financial hardship for some jurisdictions because of the increased cost of translating and printing election materials and mailing larger ballots. "Since proficiency in English is already a requirement for U.S. citizenship, forcing cash-strapped local governments to provide ballots in a language other than English makes no sense at all," Coffman said. About 16 Colorado counties are awaiting word from the U.S. Dept. of Justice. Currently eight counties must provide bilingual ballots either in Spanish or in two Native American languages.
  • Special elections are adding to the overall high cost of elections across the country and in Nevada, state and local officials are looking at a bill of more than half a million dollars to cover the upcoming special election to replace Rep. Dean Heller. This week, a board lead by Gov. Brian Sandoval, voted to ask the Legislature to cover the $539,137 cost of the special election. Instead of requiring counties to cover election costs, the state Board of Examiners wants the Legislature to reimburse counties out of its $12 million interim contingency fund. Secretary of State Ross Miller initially had put the cost of the special election at $1.3 million. Miller said he already has spent $150,000 in federal Help America Vote Act funds for the special election, the first House special election in the state's history.
  • Polling Place News: The Vanderburgh County, Ind. board of elections gave final approval this week to switch to vote centers in time for the upcoming November elections. In Pierce County, Wash., even though the county was forced to move to a vote-by-mail system, six vote centers were open this week for residents to cast their ballots in the county primary. Flagler County, Fla. Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks sent a letter to voters saying that three of the counties outlying polling places would be closed for an upcoming special election because of a lack of funding. The Jefferson County, Ala. board of elections voted this week to move a polling place from an elementary school to a community center due to problems with traffic and accessibility. The Will County, Ill. Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots said this week that the county could save nearly a quarter of a million dollars each election if it would consolidate precincts.
  • Personnel News: The U.S. Virgin Islands Joint Board of Elections voted late last week to extend the tenure of current Elections Supervisor John Abramson, Jr. for another eight years. Long-time Rockford, Ill. Director of Elections Nancy Strain will retire on Sept. 9. Strain began her career with the office in 1979 as a systems operator. She was named assistant executive director in 1991 and became director in 1997.


III. Research and Report Summaries

electionline provides brief summaries of recent research and reports in the field of election administration. Please e-mail links to research to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Federal Primary Election Runoffs and Voter Turnout Decline, 1994-2010 - Katherine Sicienski, William Hix, and Rob Richie, FairVote, July 2011: This report analyzes turnout data from 146 primary runoff elections held between 1994 and 2010 and describes how these elections have seen a near-universal decline in turnout.

Election Legislation 2011: Threats and Opportunities Assessment Update - Erin Ferns Lee, Project Vote, August 2011: Project Vote reviews election reform legislation in the 50 state legislatures and the U.S. Congress.

Legality of the Use of Ranked Choice Absentee Ballots for Military and Overseas Voters - Cynthia Okechukwu, FairVote July 18, 2011: This report analyzes the potential legal issues with the use of ranked-choice absentee ballots for military and overseas voters.

IV. Opinions 

National: New voting laws

California: Electoral College; Vote-by-mail

Florida: Election reform law

Maine: Same-day registration

Minnesota: Ranked-choice voting

Mississippi: Harrison County; Voting in earlier times

New Hampshire: Voter ID, II

New Jersey: Lieutenant Governor

North Carolina: Voter confidence

South Carolina: Voter ID

Virginia: Voting rules

Washington: August primary; Vote-by-mail

V. Job Openings

Deputy Registrar of Voters, Solano County, Calif. — assists with managing the operations of the County’s Registrar of Voters (ROV) Office in the Department of Information Technology, through the supervision of subordinate supervisory, professional, technical and support staff. The Deputy Registrar of Voters helps administer all elections in the County, is a member of the Department’s management team, and participates in the development and implantation of the Divisions polices, procedures and initiatives. Education: A Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration, Political Science or a closely related field. Experience: Five (5) years of technical elections experience, including one year in a supervisory capacity OR Five (5) years of professional analytical or administrative experience, including at least one year preparing for and administering elections as well as at least one year in an Elections supervisory capacity. Salary: $82,482-100,257. Deadline: open, applications accepted beginning Aug. 30. For more information and an application, click here.

Legal Counsel, Montgomery County Board of Elections, Rockville, Md. — the Montgomery County Board of Elections, an agency responsible for administering elections in Montgomery County, Maryland, seeks an experienced legal counsel to the Board. Excellent written and oral communication skills are required. Litigation experience, as well as some knowledge of Maryland election law and procedures, would be helpful. Must be a registered voter of Montgomery County and admitted to practice law in Maryland. Attendance required at monthly and other Board meetings and multi-day canvass sessions after elections. Must be available to provide advice when needed at other times, including on Election Days. Compensation to be determined. Incumbent intends to re-apply. Interested applicants should submit the following by email by Tuesday, September 6, 2011: (1) a cover letter addressing requirements of the position, (2) a resume detailing educational background and relevant work experience, and (3) a statement of proposed rate of compensation. All submissions should be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. No phone calls, please.

Registration Chief, Fulton County Board of Elections, Fulton County, Ga. incumbent in this class performs duties related to planning, implementing, and managing operational activities for the Registration Division of the Registration and Elections Department, including maintenance of the State Voter Registration System, absentee voting process, and provisional ballot research and tabulations.  Responsibilities include managing assigned staff, developing and implementing policies and procedures related to the laws governing the voter registration process, preparing divisional budgets, and implementing reapportionment guidelines.This is the fourth level within a four-level voter registration classification series. Registration Chief is distinguished from Registration Manager in that the former prepares annual divisional budgets and implements reapportionment functions mandated by the state legislature in addition to managing assigned staff, whereas the latter oversees daily registration operations and staff training in addition to supervising assigned staff.  Incumbent in this class reports directly to the Registration and Elections, Director.Manages assigned staff, including establishing workloads; prioritizing work assignments; evaluating employee performance; developing, interpreting, and enforcing policies and procedures; resolving staff issues; making hiring or termination decisions/recommendations; and administering disciplinary action as required. Manages and oversees voter registration operational processes, including the absentee by mail voting and provisional ballot process and tabulations, updating and maintenance of the State Voter Registration System, and verification of petitions. Compiles and maintains voter lists from official voter registration records. Consults with Geographic Information Systems staff to resolve street index and mapping issues. Interprets and ensures adherence to all federal, state, and local laws and regulations governing voter registration and absentee voting. Implements reapportionment functions as mandated by state law. Ensures compliance with official registration and election procedures and recommends and implements changes as appropriate.  Prepares and submits monthly reports on voter registration operations and activities. Plans and coordinates divisional functions and programs with assigned staff and other agencies. Prepares and submits the annual division budget. Responds to media inquiries related to registration issues. Attends and participates in Board of Registration and Elections meetings. Performs the duties of the Registration and Elections Director in his/her absence as required. Salary: $71,172-108,180. Application: For more information and an online application click here. Deadline:Aug. 30, 2011.