II. Election News This Week
- As the clock was running down on 2010, the Indiana Democratic Party filed a court challenge to Republican Charlie White's election as secretary of state, contending that the state's recount board improperly dismissed a prior challenge that argued White committed voter fraud and was thus ineligible to run. According to The Associated Press, state Democratic Chairman Dan Parker filed a petition asking a Marion County judge to decide whether the Indiana Recount Commission improperly rejected the party's challenge. The Indiana Recount Commission voted 2-1 along party lines on Dec. 12 to dismiss a petition challenging White's Nov. 2 election over Democrat Vop Osili. Outgoing secretary of state Todd Rokita, a Republican, and former Indiana GOP Chairman Gordon Durnil voted for a motion to end the challenge, while former Democratic Rep. Bob Kuzman opposed it. The petition argues that due process wasn't followed because Rokita had formed an opinion before the panel's vote, and alleges that Rokita had a conflict of interest because he had politically supported White.
- A New Year brings new voting machines for Oklahoma. Bids are being sought to replace the optical scanner devices, which have been used since 1992. They’ve lasted nearly twice as long as expected, Paul Ziriax, state Election Board secretary told The Oklahoman. “State law requires Oklahoma to use voting devices that are scanners, meaning that we have a paper ballot that is hand-marked by the voter and it is tabulated by scanner when the voter puts that ballot into the voting device,” Ziriax told the paper. “That is not going to change even with the new system. My hope is that the average voter doesn’t notice much of any difference at all.” The OPTECH-III Eagle machines most recently used in the Nov. 2 general election were designed to last 10 years. The state has about $26 million remaining from a $33 million federal grant it received in 2005 to buy a new voting system.
- Morgantown became the only municipality in West Virginia to adopt a pilot vote-by-mail program for local elections. The decision wasn’t without controversy and the motion was only approved on a 4 to 3 vote. Opponents of the proposal expressed concerns about voter fraud, voter confidentiality and possible misinformation. However those in support of the program, including Mayor Bill Byrne, cited the potential cost savings of the vote-by-mail and increased turnout—turnout was 10 percent for the city’s last municipal election. The secretary of state’s office wanted five localities to participate in the pilot program, but Morgantown was the only one to do so.
- Crime Updates: A third person was arrested this week in connection with the Election Day slaying of a Bridgeport, Conn. poll worker. Forty-eight year old Arnaldo Gonzalez was beaten to death as he walked to his assigned polling station on Election Day. And in Tennessee, 27-year old Jessica Kennedy Powers has been indicted in the death of Monroe County Election Commission Chairman Jim Miller. Miller’s charred body was found inside his car in July. He had been shot three times and beaten. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said this was not a random crime and that Powers knew Miller.
- The U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s website received a nod from Congress.org for being one of the five best government websites. One aspect that helped get the site this honor is its availability in five languages.
- Personnel News: The end of the year brought with it a handful of significant departures in the world of election administration. Beverly Kaufman, Harris County, Texas clerk did not leave her job of 17-years quietly as she helped the county recover from the devastating loss of all 10,000 of its voting machines and successfully conduct an election with new, borrowed and leased equipment. After more than two decades working for the Richland County, Ohio board of elections, Deputy Director Jeff Wilkinson retired at the end of 2010. Fran Hanhardt recently retired after 20 years as the chief deputy clerk for San Juan County, N.M. Long-time Calaveras County, Calif. clerk-recorder Karen Varni ended her 20-year tenure. Varni had worked in the office for 16 years before heading it up. After more 10 years as Portland, Maine’s clerk (preceded by 12 years at South Portland’s clerk, Linda Cohen is set to retire on Friday. Santa Rosa County, Fla. Supervisor of Elections Ann Bodenstein announced this week that she will not seek a third term in office. Bodenstein first came to the Santa Rosa elections office in 1968 as an Election Day precinct worker. She continued working elections until 1993, when she became a full-time elections office employee.
- And of course the New Year also brings new (and some old) faces to elections offices across the country. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott appointed former Secretary of State Kurt Browning to that position again. Also in Florida, Assistant Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan took the helm of the Indian River County elections department this week but only because outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist didn't make a permanent appointment to the second half of Kay Clem's four-year term before he left office. Swan will remain a deputy, but with the responsibilities of the elections supervisor until the new governor can appoint someone. Bobbi Shearer has gotten the nod as new elections director under New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran. Nathan Burd has been appointed the new deputy director of the Franklin County, Ohio board of elections. Burd will succeed Matthew M. Damschroder, who is leaving to become deputy assistant to the new secretary of state, Jon Husted. Damschroder served the board for about 6 1/2 years. Valerie Dornberger was sworn in as the new Marion County, Mo. clerk this week.
Editor’s Note: As we noted in previous electionlineWeeklies, the New Year marked the end of the career for two long-time election officials: Warren Slocum from San Mateo County, Calif. and Beverly Kaufman in Harris County, Texas. I began writing about elections more than seven years ago while at the National Association of Counties and since then Slocum and Kaufman have been two of the most accessible and patient election administrators that I have worked with; they will be missed and I wish them well on future endeavors.