I. In Focus This Week
Election officials remain busy even in ‘off-years’
Talks of costs and scheduling often turn to consolidation
Don’t let the odd numbers at the end of the calendar year fool you, many election officials across the country are just as busy in 2011 conducting elections as they were in 2010 and will be in 2012.
In addition to juggling her other duties as county clerk, Kara Clark Summers of Cape Girardeau County, Mo. will spend countless hours in 2011 running multiple local elections and making preparations for the big races in 2012.
“Most people don’t realize that the process starts so far in advance with the filing of paperwork,” Clark Summers said. “The work of elections starts months before an election.”
She added there is so much overlap with deadlines for elections that it really does seem, even in the “off-years” that elections are one, ongoing process and not just an election “season.”
It can be easy for voters, the media and other observers to get caught up in high-profile presidential elections or the much-hyped midterm elections like we just experienced in November 2010. These are elections that rally the whole country, electing a president or when more than 6,000 legislative seats throughout the nation are on the line.
And as thousands of legislators settle in to their new roles, many may think that for the most part, the next flurry of elections will not come until the fall of 2012.
However, numerous state, local and municipal elections are slated to take place in 2011 — and that doesn’t include the many special elections filling up the calendar.
A handful of states, including Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin will hold various statewide elections, in addition to local and municipal elections. Mississippi and Louisiana in particular will hold both statewide legislative elections and gubernatorial races on November 8th.
With so many elections scheduled, how do election administrators, particularly those at the local level manage what now-a-days seems less like an election season, but rather an election year?
“To say it bluntly…it’s a challenge” said Louise Stine, county clerk in Berrien County, Michigan.
Stine noted that this is especially difficult for smaller counties that may not have a specific person other than the county clerk who is responsible for administering elections.
In some jurisdictions there has been a push to move these off-year elections to even-numbered years in which other, often times larger races are held as well. And some states and larger counties look to not necessarily move elections to a new year, but rather a new date within the same year on which other countywide, or statewide elections are scheduled to take place.
This practice gives election administrators the opportunity to focus their efforts and resources into fewer days, serving to alleviate some of the stresses that come with a full election calendar.
And counties like Miami-Dade County in Florida, where there are already over 30 elections scheduled this year, the benefits of election consolidation often go beyond stress management.
Carolina Lopez, special projects administrator in Miami-Dade was quick to point out that in many cases where municipalities or other small-scale elections move their dates to coincide with countywide elections they are able to reap benefits such as cost savings, greater media attention and higher turnout.
“Essentially there are many incentives for municipalities to partner with counties when it comes to elections, it comes down to a bigger bang for their buck,” Lopez said.
She did note that these changes do have other effects, with more names and offices on the ballot which can lead to longer lines at the polls, potentially confusing voters on Election Day.
Back in Michigan, Stine noted that in 2003 and 2004 the state legislature approved more than 26 bills which consolidated elections within the state to four specific dates. Stine said those changes were “significant and welcome.”
No matter what changes have been made though, 2011 will undoubtedly prove to be a busy election year for many states, counties and municipalities around the country.
II. Election News This Week
- A handful of county election officials in Maryland are pushing the state to allow the counties to add additional early voting sites. According to officials from Frederick County—one of the counties pushing for expanded early voting—the problem with early voting in Maryland is that state law allows the county to have only one early voting center, which was in the city of Frederick, making it inconvenient for voters who lived in rural parts of the county to cast their ballots early. "Early voting worked," Del. Galen R. Clagett (D-Dist. 3A) of Frederick, who is sponsoring a House version of the bill told The Gazette. "It clearly demonstrated that people knew about it and we want to give voters every opportunity to increase their franchise. It seems to be a no-brainer." Under current law, counties with fewer than 150,000 registered voters may have one early voting center. Those with from 150,000 to 300,000 registrations may have three, and jurisdictions with more than 300,000 may have five sites.
- A judge has ruled that a Virginia state law restricting the release of information about Virginians' personal voting histories is unconstitutional. According to the Virginian Pilot, Circuit Judge Melvin Hughes' decision is a victory for the Know Campaign, a nonprofit organization that sued the State Board of Elections over its refusal to give the group access to voter history lists. Those lists include voters' names, addresses and records of participation in elections over the past four years. They don't disclose how people voted but do reveal voters' records of participation in elections - including party primaries. Under current state law, the lists have been made available only to elected officials, candidates and party chairmen. That law violates the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantee free speech and equal protection under the law, Hughes ruled. He ordered the state board to provide voter history lists to the Know Campaign upon request and to pay $49,250 in attorneys' fees. A spokesman for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's office, which defended the case, said the state does not plan to appeal the decision.
- In electionlineWeekly’s 2011 In and Out List, we noted that lever voting machines were finally out in New York. Clearly, we were wrong. Earlier this week, the state Assembly approved legislation that would allow villages to continue to use lever voting machines for local elections through 2012. Supporters say it will allow villages to avoid the costs and complications of switching to the new electronic machines. "There's still a very strong feeling there's nothing really wrong with the mechanical voting machines," Briarcliff Manor Village Manager Philip Zegarelli told The Journal News. Not all villages have a choice, however. Some villages that have had the county take over their polling are required by law to use the optical scanners; and Rockland villages don't have the option to use lever machines either because the county no longer has them. Governor Andrew Cumo is expected to sign the legislation.
- There were more changes to the Rutherford County, Tennessee election commission this week. On Monday, the State Election Commission appointed David Edwards and Ransom Jones to replace Doris Jones and Oscar Gardner on the commission. The State Election Commission appointed both to interim positions to complete the remaining days of the positions through the end of March. According to the Daily News Journal, a spokesman for the state said officials will consider reappointing them to two-year terms starting April 1. On Wednesday, embattled Administrator of Elections Tom Walker submitted his resignation. The letter, which Walker left at the commission office read in part, “Although I believe in my heart that I am the best person to be the Administrator of Elections for Rutherford County, it is clear that the Commission wants to start fresh. To facilitate that direction, I am resigning as Administrator of Elections effective immediately.”
III. Research and Report Summaries
The Future of Elections Scholarship: Policy Challenges and a Research Agenda for Reform - Tobin Project/the American Law Institute: Stemming from a February 2009 conference, these working papers reflect on the major intellectual themes of the field of elections and elections research and establish links between the work of academics and the needs of policymakers.
The Help America Vote Act and Elections Reform: Overview and Issues - Kevin J. Coleman and Eric A. Fischer, Congressional Research Service, January 13, 2011: This report describes the effects of and developments since the passage of the Help America Vote Act in 2002.
Connecticut: Election reform
Montana: Same-day registration
New Jersey: Election overlap
Ohio: Election oversight
Texas: Dallas County
West Virginia: Electronic voting machines
V. Job Openings