I. In Focus This Week
A primary cause for concern
2012 primary questions worry election administrators
While the national parties work to shore up their bases and GOP candidates jockey for position and those on the fringe just try to take it all in, local elections officials are busy preparing for the 2012 election season.
Some of these officials have numerous concerns about when the primary will be held, how much it will cost and whether or not new laws will impact part of the preparation equation.
Who’s on first?
In 2008 states across the country jockeyed to be among the first to hold presidential primaries with some of the primaries being held before some people had even taken down their up-too-long Christmas decorations.
Four years later, while the race to be first may not be as frenzied, the battle over when to hold primaries still has some local election officials in a holding pattern for preparations for 2012.
The national parties have told the Sunshine State that it cannot hold its primary until March 6, however, a task force to choose the primary date — scheduled to meet Sept. 30 — seems to be leaning toward a February primary.
Elections supervisor throughout the state, already concerned about how/if new election reforms will impact the primary are in a worried holding pattern while waiting on the task force.
“We supervisors of elections wrote to the governor, president of the Senate, speaker of the house, and the secretary of state back in May to urge them to appoint the committee as soon as possible so we could plan appropriately,” said David Stafford, election supervisor of Escambia County and president of the Florida State Association of Election Supervisors
Although there may be some budgetary impacts by the delay, Lori Edwards, supervisor of elections in Polk County said her greatest concern is securing polling locations.
“It's difficult,” Edwards said. “Our biggest challenge is not being certain that rooms and buildings we use for polling locations or training rooms will be available. If a polling location is unavailable it can inconvenience voters.”
Stafford pointed out that it’s not just counties that are in a holding pattern because many municipalities have tied their elections to county elections and they too must wait on a decision.
Up the road a piece in Forsyth County, Ga., Barbara Luth, supervisor of voter registrations and elections said her county is doing the best it can to prepare, but like her counterparts are in a wait-and-see mode until Secretary of State Brian Kemp makes a decision—earlier this year the Georgia Legislature gave the responsibility of scheduling the presidential primary to the secretary of state’s office.
“We are actually starting to prepare for the presidential preference primary now, by getting supplies together for that election,” Luth said. “We do have to start mailing out ballots 45 days prior to the election, notify our polling locations of the election dates for advance voting and election day voting, and have enough time to get the ballot back from the printer. The sooner we know the better.”
Luth may get her wish as a press release from the secretary of state’s office said Kemp will announce his decision today. News reports have indicated that date will be March 6.
It costs how much?
One thing is certain about the South Carolina GOP primary — it is scheduled for February 28. What isn’t certain is how much it will cost and who will pay for it.
Cash-strapped counties are up-in-arms about having to foot the bill themselves with some even threatening not to hold the primary at all.
According to Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the South Carolina State Election Commission (SEC), the state and counties conducted the 2008 primaries, and the state paid its expenses — including reimbursements (poll managers, polling places, ballots, absentee postage, etc.), and the counties paid for their expenses (overtime, extra county poll managers, office supplies, etc.).
The difference this year is that the state only partially funded the state cost, and the Republican Party has agreed to pay the difference. These state and party funds will pay all state expenses for the primaries, including the reimbursements to counties.
This leaves counties once again footing the bill for their own expenses, which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Many have complained that counties should not be paying for purely partisan elections. Although some have threatened to not hold a primary, Whitmire said that based on a recent ruling by the state’s attorney general, it’s the SEC’s view that state law requires the SEC and county election commissioners to conduct the election.
“The SEC is moving forward with carrying out our primary duties under the law and preparing for the 2012 presidential primaries, and I would believe most counties are doing the same.” Whitmire said.
Several counties are planning to meet next week to discuss how, if at all, to proceed.
More is not always better
While elections officials in Florida and Georgia are dealing with an unknown election day and most likely short timeline to prepare for the primary, elections officials in Ohio may have more time on their hands than they know what to do with.
As it stands right now, the primary is slated for March 6, however language in House Bill 194, which was approved by the legislature, signed by the governor and set to take effect tomorrow, would push the primary back to May.
House Bill 194 also includes an assortment of other controversial elections reforms and is being challenged by advocates and Democrats due to concerns over potential voter disenfranchisement.
Advocates have until today to submit the required number of signatures to put the law on ballot initiative. If advocates gather enough signatures — which media reports indicate they have — the law will not be implemented tomorrow and instead would be on hold till after the November 2012 election.
“We are working with the boards of elections in all 88 counties to be prepared that the law will be suspended,” said Matt McClellen, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office.
McClellen said the secretary’s office will work closely with county boards of elections to confirm the signatures as quickly as possible, although there is no set timeline for when a determination will be made. While concerned about the impacts this may have on the presidential primary, many Ohio elections officials are faced with an upcoming November election.
II. Election News This Week
- Two Democratic congressmen—one from Pennsylvania and one from Texas—asked the U.S. Dept. of Justice to investigate whether Colo. Secretary of State Scott Gessler (R) violated federal law when he asked a judge to stop the Denver clerk and recorder from mailing ballots to inactive voters. In their letter Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.) and Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas) cited the possible violation of the Voting Rights Act. “Given the diversity of the state of Colorado, and particularly that of Denver County, there is a high likelihood that the barrier to voting Secretary Gessler seeks to impose…will have such a discriminatory result.” According to The Denver Post, a Gessler spokesman accused the congressmen of playing partisan politics.
- GOP lawmakers in Wisconsin are questioning a recent decisions by the state Government Accountability Board on policies related to campaign petitions and voter ID rules. According to Wisconsin Radio Network, the lawmakers want to know why the rules were not done through an administrative rule. GAB director Kevin Kennedy says the policies are examples of the decisions the GAB is forced to make as it attempts to interpret laws approved by the Legislature.
- For almost a century, the Simpson Voting House was the spot to be on election day in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Following the 2004 elections, Westmoreleand County officials closed the polling house because it lacked modern amenities. However, the county has partnered with the Derry Area Historical Society to relocate the building and bring it up to modern standards for voting. Although there is no timeline for the restoration, Elections Bureau Executive Director Jim Montani told the Pittsburgh Tribune it could be ready in time for the 2012 election season.
- Even though more than 200,00 registered voters in South Carolina lack the proper identification to cast a ballot and even though the state made arrangements to give those voters a free ride to their local department of motor vehicles, fewer than 600 voters have taken the state up on their offer for a ride. The state provided a toll-free number for those seeking a ride to call, but according to a DMV spokeswoman, most people who called the hotline were seeking information about the new law and not a ride.
- Money Matters: Counties in South Carolina aren’t the only ones having issues with spending money for elections. In Florida, Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams pleaded with the county administrator to increase the 2011-2012 budget saying in a letter that there is no way she can adequately hold two elections next year. Nassau County, N.Y. Executive Edward Mangano increased the county elections board budget by $3.1M. Two weeks ago an outside consulting firm recommended that the board’s budget bet cut by as much as $4M. La Crosse County, Wis. Clerk Ginny Dankmeyer is not happy about having to go back to the county to ask for more money for more elections — specials, recalls, recounts. According to the La Crosse Tribune, she’ll need to ask for an additional $9,000 — on top of the more than $23,000 she has already asked for — from the county’s contingency fund.
- Personnel News: District of Columbia Mayor Vincent C. Gray pulled his nomination of Robert L. Mallett to head the city’s board of elections and ethics after residency questions were raised. Jennifer Kozlowski is the new elections supervisor for the Dona Ana County, N.M. bureau of election. Kozlowski is a former field coordinator for the secretary of state’s office.
- In Memoriam: Former Columbus County, N.C. elections board member Jessie F. Graham died this week. He was 78. Graham is believed to have been the longest-serving member of the Columbus County BOE. Robert L. Rosengren, a former foreman for Automatic Voting Machine Corp. died last week. He was 83. According to the Post-Journal, Rosengren worked for Automatic Voting Machine Corp for almost 50 years and travelled to 47 of the 50 states setting up voting machines for elections.
III. Research and Report Summaries
Georgia: Voting Rights Act
New York: Emergency preparedness
Pennsylvania: Voter ID
Washington: Voter’s guides
West Virginia: New voting laws
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.
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. Salary: $74,872-$97,333. Deadline: Oct. 3.