I. In Focus This Week
Voters’ guides go digital…sometimes
Most jurisdictions still send out paper guides in addition to online guides
Across the nation, elections offices are moving further and further away from a paper society and allowing residents to do everything electronically, whether it’s registering to vote, requesting an absentee ballot, or in some recent experiments, even voting online. One stronghold remains though: the printed and mailed voters’ guide.
Moving to online-only voter guides is seen by many as the obvious response to budget cuts for an electorate living with 21st century technologies. Printed voter guides are a tradition that voters across the nation have come to expect in the weeks leading up to an election, yet they are costly to compile, print, and mail, and their information is often duplicated online at lower costs.
A recent case study in California by the Pew Center on the States’ found that “by disseminating voter information through e-mail or the Web, counties could save up to nine percent of their election expenses if a portion of their voters agreed to cancel paper mailings.” While cost savings depend on the number of voters who opt out, research estimates that counties in California could cut back up to 9 percent of their election expenses if a portion of voters agreed to cancel paper mailings.
Election offices are one provider of voter guides in a sea of nongovernmental organizations that provide voter guides online, through civic groups and mailings. Most prominent amongst this group are the League of Women Voters, Project Vote Smart, the Voter Guide,eVoter and Imagine Election. These groups, in addition to dozens of others, provide supplements to official information from election offices.
“The League covers everything in an election, but chapters have to pick and choose when to cover,” said the League of Women Voters’ director of elections and e-democracy, Jeannette Senecal, explaining that voter guides length and coverage are determined by the amount of funds raised by local chapters.
Senecal pointed out that civic organizations don’t have the capacity and resources to make up the difference when election offices are unable to mail printed voter guides to registered voters.
Even as jurisdictions rely more and more on electronic transactions in their elections offices, voters’ guides seem to remain a bastion of paper and ink.
“We have a long way to go,” Summer Nemeth, founder of Imagine Election, admitted, “but only a couple of states provide good online voter guides,” doing a disservice to the increasing numbers of voters who prefer to get their information online.
Nemeth argues that voter guides produced through public-private partnerships between election offices, nonprofits and for-profits are the future of online and printed voting information. Nemeth plans to expand her site to “bring social knowledge to the voter guide space” by adding a user review component similar to Yelp to help voters learn about candidates through peer reviews.
In practice, election officials are attempting to strike a balance.
“We send the voters pamphlet to every household in the state with a registered voter, but costs are kept down because mailings are not personalized,” said Steve Trout, director of elections of Oregon State, a state where nearly all election manuals are online only publications.
Depending on budgets and cost in the future, Trout would consider an opt out option for mailed guides and hopes to offer customized functionality online with personal polling place location and candidate information.
Just how useful a voters’ guide is--online or printed--seems to vary. Johnson County, Kan. has never produced a voters’ guide for residents. Instead the county relies on sending a postcard to each registered voter remind them of the upcoming election and relying on GOTV efforts at grocery stores, the library, and popular local venues in addition to sending text message alerts with election information prior to an election.
“Once you do it, you must do it again,” said Brian Newby, elections commissioner
At least one voting rights advocate had a bad initial reaction to this shift in trend of how voter guides are provided.
“We can’t assume that all voters have access to online information,” said Marcia Johnson-Blanco, co-director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law’s Voting Rights Project. Johnson-Blanco argued that “it is comforting to voters to have something in hand when they go to the polls,” and that printed voter guides “help voters feel confident at the polling place.”
Sometimes a jurisdiction’s move to online-only voting guides is a necessity. The District of Columbia will conduct a city-wide special election on April 26 and due to severe budget constraints, the city will not be sending out a voters’ guide.
“D.C. has mailed voter guides to registered voters for each election since HAVA was signed into law in 2002,” explained D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE) Executive Director Rokey Suleman. “Voter guides are often the only means of contact between us and voters prior to an election and require minimal effort from voters.”
Instead the District has put their guide online and will send a postcard to every individual registered voter to notify them of the upcoming election.
II. Election News This Week
- This week, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted released a report stating that 18,460 that the Ohio Department of Health lists as deceased remain on voter rolls throughout the state. In an attempt to maintain an accurate voter database statewide and diminish the opportunity for fraud, Husted compared the death rolls with the voter rolls and sent his findings to the county election boards with instructions to examine each voter record to determine whether it should be removed because the voter is dead. Husted's report includes information on in-state and out-of-state deaths that matched active voters listed in the statewide voter database. "The integrity of voter data is critical from a cost, quality and confidence standpoint," Husted told the Columbus Dispatch. "We must take advantage of all information available to us and be vigilant throughout the year, not just during election season." The report showed that Franklin County's active voter rolls included 1,189 people the Department of Health lists as dead. Hamilton County had the most with 1,653, followed by Mahoning County with 1,498. Ohio's largest county, Cuyahoga, had 492. County election officials explained the discrepancies on data entry and the amount of time it takes to review voter rolls.
- The chairman of Lancaster County's Board of Elections (Pa.) said this week that the media will not be barred on election night from the county's "election central." “It was never the intent of the director of elections, or of this board to keep the media away," Chairman Terry Kauffman told the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal. In the coming weeks before the May 17 primary, Kauffman said the board plans to review the county's policies regarding media access on election night to "codify" the election board's intention of allowing all access guaranteed under the state's Election Code. Election central is a warehouse in Burle Business Park on New Holland Avenue, where election results from the county's 235 polling places are delivered for tabulation by county elections staff. Previously, the media was provided a work space in the warehouse. The election board at its April 6 meeting approved an addendum to its election night policy, which designates the business park's cafeteria as the media area. The cafeteria is in a building next to election central. The policy addendum does not state the media cannot still access the warehouse to observe the gathering of election results.
- With controversy still swirling around the results of a Supreme Court judge’s race in Wisconsin, the figure at the center of that storm — Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus — this week ignored calls for her resignation. "I will serve the remainder of my term," Nickolaus said in awritten statement. "I understand why people are upset and I am taking this matter seriously. Again, I am sorry for my mistake." Nickolaus was first elected county clerk in November 2002 after winning a Republican primary race against former deputy county clerk Kathy Karalewitz. She was re-elected in 2004, 2006 and 2008 without opposition, when state law was changed and made the term four years. Her current term expires at the end of 2012. Both campaigns and state election officials from the Government Accountability Board have since pored over her canvass report and municipal vote-tallying machine tapes to verify the results. No recount can be requested until every county has certified its results to the state, which is expected to be finished by Thursday or Friday. On Tuesday, Kevin Kennedy, executive director of the Government Accountability Board, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that while nothing criminal has been observed so far, Nickolaus' business practices "need to be changed to bolster public confidence."
III. Research and Report Summaries
America Goes to the Polls 2010: A Report on Voter Turnout in the 2010 Election – Prepared by Nonprofit Vote, April 2011: This report about turnout in the 2010 election includes analysis of overall turnout, youth turnout, and Latino turnout and discussed an increase in the proportion of voters casting ballots early.
First-Time Voters in the 2008 Election - by Lorraine C. Minnite, Project Vote, April 2011: This report examines first-time voters in the 2008 election and analyzes their voting patterns by income group, education level, race, and age.
Colorado: Voter fraud
Florida: Election reform
Georgia: Voter ID
Illinois: Election woes
Kansas: Consolidated elections
Maryland: Special election cost
Michigan: Absentee voting
Minnesota: Close elections
Mississippi: Ex-felon voting rights
Montana: Same-day registration
Nevada: Same-day registration
New Jersey: Number of elections
Tennessee: Rutherford County
Texas: Election administrators
V. Job Openings