I. In Focus This Week
Protecting the voting rights of senior citizens
California latest state to approve legislation specifically aimed at seniors
California Assemblyman Mike Gato (D-Los Angeles) had heard enough from his constituents to know that something needed to be done. So earlier this year, he introduced AB547, a measure that would protect the state’s senior citizens from voter fraud and abuse."I authored AB 547 after hearing stories from my constituents about their parents and grandparents having their right to vote stolen by caretakers.,” Gato said in a release. “This legislation will help preserve the voting rights of some of our most vulnerable citizens- senior citizens under the care of others.”
The law makes it a misdemeanor for anyone providing care or direct supervision to a person who is at least 65 years old to coerce or deceive that senior into voting for or against a candidate or measure contrary to the senior’s intent.
Senior citizens are the fastest growing population in the U.S., especially as the baby-boom generation continues to age. Currently there are more than 35 million people aged 65 and over in the U.S. Of that population, more than a million are currently housed in one of the at least 19,000 assisted living facilities throughout the country.
Although largely anecdotal, there is a growing body of evidence that the voting rights of seniors who live in assisted living facilities are being violated.
“Data to describe the problem are not available,” said Dr. Jason Karlawish, professor of medicine and medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “Studies of the attitudes of long term care workers who assist residents voting suggest that many workers have inappropriate views and practices about how to conduct voting in long term care settings, including deciding whether a resident can vote and inappropriately assisting residents.”
Earlier this year, Karlawish along with several other writers including former Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz authored a report for the Election Law Journal on the benefits and challenges of bringing mobile voting to long-term care facilities.
Currently the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging is conducting a project to “identify, publicize and catalyze policy and practice strategies nationwide that promote proper access to the polls by persons with cognitive impairments and protect against the fraudulent manipulation of the vote of this population.”
According to Karlawash, the California legislation has a good intent — protecting the voting rights of older adults who live in longer-term care facilities, but the methods are not best means to achieve this.
“A better means is mobile polling, that is, bringing elections officials into the facilities to gather votes and register voters,” Karlawash said. “At least one study suggests that this practice and the training that goes with it will minimize fraud, maximize voter rights and access to the vote, and lift the overall quality of the election system. In many democracies, it is the norm.”
New York’s law requires that counties set up a polling facility within assisted living facilities if at least 25 residents in the facility have applied for an absentee ballot. In Florida, the law is a more broad allowing administrators of assisted living facilities to request supervised voting or allowing county elections administrators to make the call to provide supervised voting.
Kathy Dent, supervisor of elections in Sarasota County, Fla. — a county with one of the oldest populations in Florida — said that she is unaware of any reported problems of voting rights violations in Sarasota.
“We just really push supervised voting,” Dent said. “It has been very successful here.”
II. Election News This Week
- The U.S. Department of Justice issued a series of recommendations for changes to federal laws affecting military servicemembers, including the Uniformed and Overseas Civilians Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), which was amended in 2009 by the MOVE Act. DOJ's recommendations include requiring states to submit pre-election reports on the status of ballot transmission to military and overseas voters, requiring states that miss a deadline to mail ballots by express delivery and giving individuals a right to sue to enforce the law. The changes would also establish a uniform, nationwide UOCAVA standard and eliminate the ability of states to seek waivers of the law - as the State of New York did this week, the first such request for the 2012 election.
- A federal judge dismissed Shelby County’s lawsuit challenging certain sections of the Voting Rights Act. The county’s challenge concerned sections 4(b) and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which forbids cities and towns in nine states, including Alabama, from making any changes in voting practices or procedures without approval from the federal government. The Justice Department, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, charged that Sections 4(b) and 5 should remain in place, and the judge agreed. Representatives for the county have vowed to fight the ruling.
- Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman has backed off a plan to squelch voting ballots in languages other than English. Earlier this month Coffman announced plans to repeal a provision of the Voting Rights Act that requires bilingual ballots in certain jurisdictions. According to the Aurora Sentinel, Coffman backed off his plan this week citing its bleak political future. “I would prefer to repeal that section of the law that pertains to the requirement for local governments to provide dual-language ballots,” he told the paper. “But I know that will not pass the Congress so I’m looking at alternatives that will reduce the impact of what has been a costly unfunded federal mandate on local election officials.” Coffman told the paper he is working with elections officials to find a way to provide dual-language election materials only to those who need them and not to every voter.
- This week, Maine Secretary of State Charles Summers released the results of a statewide investigation into voter fraud. He announced that his investigation found “vulnerabilities” in the state’s voting system, but only one case of illegal voting. According to the Portland Press Herald, among almost 500 names that Summers scrutinized, one non-U.S. citizen was proved to have registered and voted in Maine, in 2002.
- Personnel News: Judith Evans will become Palo Pinto County, Texas’ first elections administrator. The county is combining the elections work of the clerk’s office and the tax-assessor collector’s office to create the new elections office. Evans has been part of the elections team in the clerk’s office for the past three years. Former councilmember Maye Johnson has joined the Allen County Board of Voter Registration. David Betras, chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party has been nominated by his peers to serve on the county board of elections. Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced the appointment of three new members to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics this week: Robert Mallett, Devarieste Curry and Stephen I. Danzansky. The nominees must be approved by the Council of the District of Columbia.
- Get Well: New St. John’s County, Fla. Supervisor of Elections Vicky Oakes had to miss her first election in the top job after she was admitted to an area hospital on Sunday. According to the Historic City News, although in the hospital, Oakes was able to keep up with the election through texts, emails and on her cell phone. Electionline.org wishes her a speedy recovery.
- Upcoming Events: Nonprofite VOTE will host a webinar “The ABCs of Nonpartisan Voter Registration” on Thursday Sept. 29 at 2pm. For more information, click here.
III. Research and Report Summaries
Fuzzy Math: Wrong Way Reforms for Allocating Electoral College Votes (Problems with the Whole Number Proportional and Congressional District Systems) - Monideepa Talukdar, Rob Richie and Ryan O’Donnell, August 9, 2007, with update by Rob Richie and Neal Suidan, September 2011: This report updates a 2007 report which evaluates two possible ways states could change how Electoral College votes are allocated: the whole number proportional plan and the congressional district system. The authors find that neither approach promotes majority rule, greater competitiveness or voter equality.
A Survey of Internet Voting – U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Sept. 14, 2011: This report provides brief summaries of Internet voting systems used in elections in the U.S. and in other countries over the past 11 years.
National: Vote fraud
Alabama: Voting Rights Act
Connecticut: Absentee ballots
Illinois: Voter fraud
Kansas: Voter fraud
Missouri: Voter ID
New Hampshire: Electronic voting
North Carolina: Early voting
Pennsylvania: Electoral College
Washington: Sam Reed
V. Job Openings
Electronic Voting System Expert/Examiner, Harrisburg, Pa.—the Pennsylvania department of state has issued an invitation for a bid for an electronic voting system expert/examiner to examine, re-examine, and approve electronic voting systems pursuant to section 1105-A of the Pennsylvania Election Code. Deadline: Oct. 19. For more information and to submit a bid, click here.
IT Specialist, Federal Voting Assistance Program — responsible for: conceptual development and improvement of Web based voting information dissemination systems as well as the evaluation of existing Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) information dissemination systems and procedures; develop and implement plans, objectives, policies, procedures and guidance required to ensure FVAP's websites are in compliance with Federal laws, policy and procedures and DoD; develops web architectures, databases, and systems applications; serve as technical expert in the area of Web design, web and database development; evaluate and implement database communications utilizing databases such as Oracle, MS SQL, and MySQL. Deadline: Oct. 3. Salary: $74,872-$97,333. For the complete job listing and how to apply, click here.