I. In Focus This Week
Election 2012: Welcome to another edition of Thunderdome
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls….votin’ time’s here
In case you missed it – and really, how could you? – the 2012 presidential election began in earnest Tuesday night in Iowa.
This will be our third presidential election here at electionline.org – four, if you count the echoes of 2000 that dominated our first months of existence – and while each cycle is unique I have discovered that there are usually common themes that emerge and are helpful to keep in mind before we start shooting with real ballots in the coming months:
OBSERVATION #1: Election administration and politics are supposed to be separate but they’re hard to keep apart – and never more so in presidential years when everyone stops not paying attention.
Forgive the double negative, but it’s appropriate here; the truth is that the details of election administration are complicated, nuanced and more than a little mundane. As a result, almost no one pays attention. That changes, of course, in presidential years when the minutiae of elections are suddenly vitally important to candidates and campaigns trying capture or hold the White House.
The problem, of course, is that this increase in attention isn’t usually accompanied by an increase in understanding, with the result that politics and election administration tend to get mixed up in the public mind. That doesn’t mean that they’re mixed up in practice; to the contrary, in my experience, the men and women who run elections in this country are loyal to the process over any party and do their jobs without being influenced by partisan concerns.
But when stakes (and emotions) are high, you will hear accusations of partisanship leveled against election officials. Disproving – indeed, preventing – such accusations is going to be at the forefront of every election official’s mind, and will almost certainly result in a degree of caution in how they speak and act in this presidential year.
OBSERVATION #2: Presidential elections always bring lots of new voters unfamiliar with the voting process – as well as “occasional voters” who are unfamiliar with changes to process since the last time they voted.
The nature of American voting turnout has always been cyclical, with spikes in presidential years. These years also tend to attract millions of new voters excited – or recruited by presidential campaigns in hopes they will become excited – to cast a ballot.
While not all of these voters will be casting ballots for the first time in 2012, they might as well be given how much the process has changed in some places since the last time they went to the polls.
In New York, for example, the old lever machines are gone in favor of optical scan ballots – which I am willing to wager will be an (unpleasant?) surprise to millions of Empire State voters in 2012. Voters’ reactions to these changes – and policymakers’ and politicians’ reactions to their reactions - are going to be a constant feature in the upcoming year.
OBSERVATION #3: The sheer number of voters who cast ballots in presidential years is a challenge for the nation’s election system.
In October 2008, electionline.org released an election preview subtitled “What If We Had an Election and Everyone Came?” In the Introduction to the report, I wrote the following – which remains essentially true in 2012:
For  years, policymakers, election officials, and advocates have upgraded the plumbing of the nation’s election system – replacing some sections while patching and plugging others – all in the hope of keeping Americans and their votes flowing smoothly.
[Soon], however, voters will crank the pressure sky high.
A [race] for the White House, fueled by deep partisan, geographic, race and class divisions on issues at home and abroad, is about to result in a likely record number of voters turning out to vote on (and increasingly before) Election Day.
The question is no longer exclusively “will the system work?” Rather, it is “can the system handle the load?
Quite simply, for all the complaints one reads about the sorry state of voter participation in this country, the truth is that the nation’s election system in 2012 isn’t designed to handle 100 percent participation; indeed, in the wake of recent fiscal pressures, many election offices are scrambling just to approximate the same level of effort they had in 2008.
Presidential years are a political challenge for parties and candidates but they are a logistical and capacity challenge for the nation’s election administrators. How they respond will be another constant theme in 2012.
Of course, there are many more themes and observation to be made – but I’m not giving it all away in the first newsletter of the year!
Stay tuned – presidential years are always exciting; not always in a good way, but exciting nonetheless.
Happy (New) Election Year!
II. Election News This Week
- Since July 1, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Justice has issued more than 9,000 photo IDs to be used for voting purposes. Driver licenses centers are open the first Saturday of every month for the express purpose of issuing voter photo IDs. "I am encouraged by the number of photo IDs issued for voting purposes since July 2011. We have several options available to make photo IDs available for those who need them, including our Saturday business hours and county clerk partners," Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons told WTVF.
- While most of us were sleeping or burning couches to celebrate a football victory, legislators in North Carolina met in special session at 1 a.m. Thursday to consider overriding several of Gov. Bev Perdue’s vetoes, including a veto of voter photo ID legislation. While rumors swirled throughout the day whether or not voter photo ID would be part of the special session agenda, the legislators ultimately only voted on non-elections measure.
- Absentee issues: With absentee ballots starting to make their way to voters’ mailboxes across the country, besides concerns about absentee voting in Florida, issues about absentee voting have popped up in other states as well. In Kansas, a new law requiring county elections officials to decide whether the signature on a request for an advance ballot matches the person’s previous signature on a voter registration form or other type of identification is raising concerns and questions. Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, told the Lawrence Journal World the law and its accompanying rules and regulations failed to prescribe how much of an effort the county election official must make to track down the potential voter and clear up the dispute. “This gives a lot of leeway to the election officer,” Trimmer told the paper. And in Michigan, those wishing to vote absentee must provide proof of citizenship when requesting an absentee ballot and that only those 60 and over or permanently disabled may be placed on the permanent absentee list.
- Update: On Wednesday, Marion County, Ind. Judge Louis Rosenberg agreed to delay his order invalidating Charlie White’s election pending an appeal from White and the state’s attorney general. “Important decisions might be twice reversed causing confusion on many important issues," Rosenberg said. According to the Northwest Times, he urged the Indiana Court of Appeals and Indiana Supreme Court to expedite its review of his ruling. White faces a January 30 trial on several counts of voter fraud. Should he be found guilty and neither the Court of Appeals or state Supreme Court have ruled, Gov. Mitch Daniels will appoint a successor.
- Personnel News: After 28 years of running the elections in Manatee County, Fla. Supervisor of Elections Bob Sweat announced this week that he would not seek another term in office. While Sweat may not be seeking re-election, another Florida elections supervisor is. Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Pam Carpenter has signed up to run for a third term. After running the elections in Bangor for the past seven years, Patti Dubois is back to counting ballots in Waterville, Maine. Dubois had previously served as Waterville clerk from 2004 to 2007. Dianne Lovejoy will serve as the Bangor interim clerk. With almost 30 years on the job, including more than 20 as the director, Wayne County, Ohio’s Director of Elections Patty Johns retired at the end of 2011. Just a few years shy of 40 on the job, Raynham, Mass. Town Clerk Helen Lounsbury retired at the end of 2011. Lounsbury, 83, saw a lot of changes during her tenure in office including the introduction of automated ballot machines. Mariah Votel has been selected to fill the vacant position on the Brown County, Ohio board of elections. Auditor Shirley Forslof, who spent more than half a century working on elections in Whatcom County, Wash. including 24 in the top spot, retired at the end of 2011.
- In Memoriam: Lib Culp, former Alamance County, N.C. board of elections director died last week. She was 95. Culp was director for 15 years and served on the board for many years following her tenure as director. Culp was recognized as a stickler for the rules while on the board of elections and was recognized as an authority on the political procedures.
III. Research and Report Summaries
2010 Election Administration and Voting Survey — U.S. Election Assistance Commission, December 2011: This report focuses on how Americans cast their ballots in the November 2010 election, including data on early, absentee, and poling place voting, provisional ballots, poll workers and voting technology.
The Canvas — National Conference of State Legislatures, January 2012: In this special edition, nearly a dozen experts provide predictions related to election administration for the upcoming year.
Election Law Journal — Volume 10, Number 4, December 2011: The most recent issue examines the past decade of election law as well as focusing on nonprofits and politics in a post-Citizens United world.
Elections of 2004, 2008 and 2010 Produce Near Record Turnouts; Lower Turnout Expected in 2012; Beyond 2012, Long-Term Geography Favors Dems — Center for the Study of the American Electorate, December 2011: This report, updated using new Census data, looks at turnout data in the U.S. from 2000-2010 and finds that participation increased in each presidential and mid-term elections during this period. It also examines partisan turnout and regional partisan turnout from 1948-2010. Summary charts, graphs, detailed charts and methodological notes are also provided.
Colorado: Colorado Springs election
Illinois: East Saint Louis elections
Kansas: Voter ID
Kentucky: Access to voting
Maine: Voter access
Maryland: Voter ID
Michigan: Voter rolls
Minnesota: Presidential election process
North Carolina: Election board vacancies
Oklahoma: Voter ID
Virginia: Primary process
**Some sites may require registration.
V. Job Openings
Communications Coordinator, Brennan Center, New York City — works with the Director and the Deputy Director of Communications and Brennan Center staff to maintain an energetic communications department that can speak strategically, as well as quickly and effectively, to mass audiences and members of the press. Responsibilities include: Proactive media relations; reactive media relations; producing and promoting publications; helping craft and execute communications strategies; assisting with all aspects of event planning; assist with online content generation and maintenance, including both drafting and editing web site content; assisting with administrative activities, including press list maintenance and organization and planning of public advocacy events, among other things. Qualifications: Bachelors or advanced degree; substantial work experience in communications and media relations work; strong writing skills and media savvy; enthusiasm about democracy reform and social justice; excellent inter-personal skills and tested ability to negotiate between people with different training and different approaches to problems and communication; and openness to evolving responsibilities. Salary: Commensurate with experience Application: For more information and how to apply, click here. Deadline: Open until filled.
Deputy City Clerk, City of Ann Arbor, Mich. — manages the election warehouse operations, including directing and assigning work to temporary election staff. Testing and preparing all voting equipment for use in city, state and federal elections. Serves as City FOIA Coordinator, managing the Freedom of Information Act process and preparing all responses on behalf of the City. Assisting the City Clerk with all other management duties in the City Clerk’s Office, including acting as City Clerk in his/her absence. Qualifications: Bachelor’s degree in public administration, political science, or a related field; experience in county or municipal election administration: at least four years, inclusive of administration of a national election; one year supervisory experience (preferred); an equivalent combination of education and experience will be considered. Salary: $48,000-$65,000. Application: For more information and to apply, click here.
Deputy General Registrar, City of Richmond, Va. — provides administrative assistance and management support to the general registrar. The position is responsible for budget development and monitoring, personnel, payroll, purchasing, e-pollbook management, inventory monitoring and control, staff supervision, and some training. The position works within broad policy and organizational guidelines, independently plans and implements projects; reports progress of major activities through periodic conferences and meetings. Assumes the duties of the General Registrar in the absence of the General Registrar. Qualifications: Requires, Bachelor's degree in public administration, business management, organizational development, project management or a related field; two years of experience in a public setting performing related duties; and 1 year of supervisory experience: OR, High school diploma; five years of progressively responsible administrative experience in a voter registration or election office, or closely related field; and three years of supervisory experience; or, any equivalent combination of training and experience (as approved by the department) that provides evidence that the applicant possesses the necessary Applicant traits. Prior experience in voter registration or elections preferred. Successful candidate must be a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia and qualified to register to vote at the time of appointment. No Special License or Certification required. Salary: $43,771-$71,898. Application: For complete job listing and application, click here. Deadline: Open until filled.