I. In Focus This Week
A caucus for concern?
Problems in several caucus states reignite caucus vs. primary debate
The only certainty in election administration is uncertainty. No matter how professionally run an election is because there is a human and natural element involved, administrators can never guarantee anything.
One thing that does seem guaranteed is that every four years, as Americans head to the polls to choose a president, the debate of how we do that — primary vs. caucus — will take center stage in the early months of the process.
“Elections aren't like the old Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movies where one person has ballot boxes, [and] someone else has a polling place... it takes time, money and skill to do elections right, and the problems Iowa and Nevada have encountered suggest that if you want professionally-run elections, you should hire professionals to run them,” wrote Doug Chapin, director, Program for Excellence in Election Administration at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, in a recent blog post.
Richard Hasen, Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California wrote a piece for Slate referring to party officials that conduct caucuses as the Keystone Kops. Hasen suggested Congress get involved and scrap the caucuses.
“Amateur hour is over. The choice of a president is simply too important to put in the hands of party bumblers and the small percentage of people who are willing to spend hours to cast a vote,” Hasen wrote. “Let’s have primaries—and then figure out how to make sure all those voting machines work properly.”
But are caucus states ready or willing to take on the added burden — both financial and physical — of conducting presidential primaries?
In Iowa, the answer is no. Not because the state couldn’t handle the burden, but because the state enjoys its first-in-the nation caucus status.
“The Secretary of State wholeheartedly supports Iowa’s current caucus process and intends to do everything he can to preserve it,” said Sarah Reisetter, director of elections for Iowa. “The Iowa caucuses provide Iowans with a unique opportunity to interact with presidential candidates and those opportunities may decrease if our state moved to a primary system. Secretary Schultz is not interested in seeing that happen.”
According to Maine Director of Elections Julie Flynn, even if officials in Maine wanted to return to a primary system, it’s not as simple as it seems.
Maine had a presidential primary law for many years that was never used by the parties Flynn said. The state adopted a presidential preference primary law in 1993, and presidential preference primaries (PPP) were held by the Democratic and Republican Parties in 1996 and 2000. The law was then repealed in 2003, so the parties went back to the caucus system starting in 2004.
“Our law requires the qualified political parties to hold caucuses every even-numbered year in order to keep their qualified status,” Flynn said. “So, even if the PPP law is enacted again, parties would still have to caucus to meet their qualification requirement.”
If the state were to do away with caucuses Flynn said it would cost Maine $75,000 to $150,000 to provide ballots with municipalities bearing the cost of securing and setting up polling places and paying elections officials.
In Nevada, although Sen. James Settelmeyer has submitted a draft bill request to make that switch back to primaries, there seems to be little support for the proposal.
Due to rising costs and decreased interest, Nevada scrapped its primary system in 1984 in favor of caucuses. The costs for Nevada to move back to a primary system — it used one prior to 1984 — would be $1-2 million every four years. And for a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and a 2011 budget deficit of 54 percent, spending any additional money is almost out of the question.
“If we've learned nothing else from recent history, it's that the appetite for professional election administration isn't always matched by the kind of budgets to make it happen,” Chapin said.
II. Election News This Week
- Wisconsin held its first statewide election with voter ID in place this week and although turnout was light, there were few problems reported with the implementation of the new identification law. Residents in about 520 of the state’s 1,850 cities, villages and towns voted in local races and in Dane County voters cast ballots in a judicial primary. Turnout is expected to be much higher for the state’s April election which includes the presidential primary. "It looks like people got the word, so that's good," Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl told the Wisconsin State Journal. In Sheboygan, residents showed up with IDs in hand. "We're very pleased considering all of the changes," City Clerk Sue Richards told the Sheboygan Press. Richards noted that media coverage and a city effort let people know about the Voter ID law helped educate voters. "I'm thrilled things have gone as well as they have," Richards said. Of course that doesn’t mean things went well everywhere with the new voter ID law. In Mount Pleasant a voter was informed that he could not use his veteran’s card to vote and although he had a driver’s license to offer, he refused to vote since his veteran’s ID card—which has a photo on it—was not acceptable under the new law. Voter ID wasn’t a problem in Appleton, but there were a few issues caused by the new district lines that had voters headed to the wrong polling place. Voters in Milwaukee faced similar issues with redistricting including not being listed on voter rolls at all and showing up in the wrong polling place.
- Voter ID Update: In other voter ID news this week a Senate committee in the New Hampshire legislature gave tentative approval to voter photo ID legislation this week. The bill would give local and state election workers until the 2016 election to prepare. Those who did not have an ID at the polls would still be allowed to vote and would have to fill out an affidavit attesting to their identity under penalty of perjury. The state would provide free voter ID cards to anyone requesting one. A coalition of groups opposing the proposed voter photo ID bill in Nebraska packed the Capitol this week to protest LB239 in advance of the first-round debate on the measure. A committee of the Colorado House heard testimony this week on a new voter photo ID bill. A similar bill was approved by the House last year, but defeated in the Senate. In Kansas a coalition considering a legal challenge to the state’s new voter photo ID is concerned about the need pay for some underlying document in order to obtain the free state-issued ID. Every year since 2005, the Maryland General Assembly has debated voter photo ID and 2012 is no different. This year’s bill, sponsored by Delegate Nic Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) was introduced to the House Ways and Means Committee late last week. This week, opponents of photo ID in Minnesota accused a pro-ID group of using racial images on its website to play to racial fears to win support. The image was removed after pressure from the advocates and residents.
- It was a rough week for two elections’ offices this week. In North Carolina, the state board of elections office was flooded after a water pipe break. The office was right in the middle of candidate filing, but the flooding issue didn’t stop staff from accepting paperwork even in the parking lot. And in Duval County, Fla. the elections office may be living on borrowed time after the Gateway Mall where the office is housed was served a notice of foreclosure. Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland has been complaining for months about the conditions at the site, saying it hasn't been repaired in more than a year. He said the building is falling apart and the owner has not paid taxes even though the city keeps paying its rent. "My job is to worry about the problems nobody else worries about," Holland told a local television station. "We got the next election in 180 days and my concern is, what happens if we are asked to move out of Gateway before the election?" The city pays more than $55,000 a month in rent for the elections site.
- Voters in two counties were hit by scams this week. In Lane County, Ore. county officials were forced to warn residents about a potential scam after the county received a call from a resident informing them that they had received a call from someone to confirm they received their voter notification card and asking the resident to confirm their address, phone number and bank information. In Guadalupe County, Texas residents began receiving emails saying that their voter registration had expired. Sue Basham, elections administrator, told the Seguin Gazette that an email has been forwarded to many area residents stating that they need to get to the elections office and register. "It is one of those send-to-a-friend emails," she told the paper. "We can't trace it. It doesn't have any original ‘from.'"
- Personnel News: Lincoln County, W.Va. Clerk Donald Whitten will officially resign on February 29. Whitten recently agreed to plead guilty to federal election fraud charges. Frederick County, Md. election judge Hoda Zaki recently served as a short-term observer of parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan. Ron Koehler, Summit County, Ohio board of elections director will resign effective March 5, the day before the state’s presidential primary. H. Jeremy Packard will chair the new Luzerne County, Pa. board of elections and registration.
Florida: Voter ID
Illinois: Voter registration
Indiana: Zombie voters
Iowa: Voter ID
Kansas: Kris Kobach
Maine: Vote count
New York: Vote count
Ohio: Mahoning County
Pennsylvania: Voter ID
Tennessee: Voter ID
Washington: Voter registration
**Some sites may require registration.
V. Job Openings
Administrator, Bureau of Elections, Bernalillo County, N.M.-- Under the assigned supervisor, responsible for the election operations section of the Bureau of Elections, manages the voting machine warehouse and directs the functional operation of the voter registration section. Supervises training of personnel in related areas. Responsibilities include: Direct the functions and activities related to the conduct of elections under the jurisdiction of the County Clerk; review the State Election Code and Federal Voting Rights Compliance Act to ensure proper procedures are followed by the County; assist in preparing instructions on the conduct of elections for election officials; responsible for polling locations and ensure election personnel are sufficient in number and well trained; oversee the preparation of lists of registered voters, absentee voters, election officials, polling places, and voter signature rosters; responsible for the purchase and distribution of election supplies and equipment prescribed by the State Election Code and other legislative mandates. Maintain a perpetual inventory of all election supplies, voting machines, parts and accessories; assure that voting machine technicians are trained in the programming and maintenance of the various types of voting machines used by the County. Coordinate an on-going maintenance program of all machines. Minimum Qualifications include: Bachelor Degree in Business, Public Administration, Government, Political Science or other or related field plus seven (7) years experience in a professional administrative/management capacity; knowledge of the New Mexico Election Code and Federal Voting Rights Compliance Act and principles, practices and procedures of election administration; advanced computer technology experience and skills. Application: For more information and how to apply, click here. Deadline: March 30, 2012.
Researcher, CIRCLE, Tufts University, Medford, Mass. —seeking a researcher to conduct research, perform data analysis, participate in program evaluations, help with project administration, and help communicate our findings to audiences that include academics, educators, policymakers, and the press. Responsibilities include conducting quantitative research for CIRCLE’s in-house research program; drafting fact sheets, web pages, and other research products for various audiences; participating in research and evaluation projects that may use a mix of methods, including qualitative research and field experiments; and answering queries from the general public, reporters, policy makers and academics. Basic Requirements: Bachelor’s degree; three (3) years of related experience; excellent computer skills and knowledge of at least one statistical package, such as STATA, SASS, or SPSS; strong quantitative research (social science methods) and writing skills required. Familiarity with analyzing large public datasets such as those provided by the US Census. Preferred Qualifications: Master’s degree in a social science field. Knowledge of youth civic engagement programs (such as service-learning, youth media-production, or youth voting) is desirable. Application: Click here. Deadline: April 13, 2012.
Senior Researcher, CIRCLE, Tufts University, Medford Mass.—seeking a senior researcher to conduct research and to help to lead some of CIRCLE’s research or evaluation projects. Responsibilities include: serving as a researcher on a range of research projects that may include secondary data-analysis, literature reviews, field experiments, program evaluations and original surveys; producing reports, fact sheets and press releases on timely and relevant topics, often in close collaboration with CIRCLE colleagues; providing guidance to other CIRCLE staff and students who produce research (quantitative and qualitative); contributing to research grant proposals; representing CIRCLE at a wide range of events including research conferences, practitioner forums, press events and other public events; and answering queries from reporters about CIRCLE research. Basic Requirements: Master’s degree; five (5) years of related experience; experience with statistical software packages, databases, and Microsoft Office; strong research skills, including a good working knowledge of at least one statistical package, such as STATA, SAS, or SPSS, and some experience using large public datasets. Experience with multivariate statistical techniques or qualitative methods and evaluation methods; ability to communicate effectively with practitioners, reporters, scholars, and young people through writing, speech, and graphs; ability to produce reliable, accurate, and readable evaluations and research products on short deadlines; ability to work collaboratively with CIRCLE colleagues from varied backgrounds and to interact with practitioners; ability to teach research methods to colleagues and student/workers. Preferred Qualifications: PhD in a social science discipline. Enthusiasm for youth civic engagement desired; however, prior research in this specific area is not required. Application: Click here. Deadline: April 13, 2012.