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II. Election News This Week
- Tuesday was primary day in Illinois and while by and large things went well, things went very, very wrong in 25 counties. The problem? Paper ballots that were too large to fit in the county’s optical-scan ballot tabulators. According to Rupert Borgsmiller with the Illinois State Board of elections, the problem apparently did not originate with the two companies supplying the voting systems, but with a graphics company that printed the ballots. One of the two companies, Governmental Business Systems, said it scrambled to help fix the problem, which in some cases meant trimming the ballots down to the proper size. “They were printed elsewhere, but we are accountable,” Chris Riggall, of Governmental Business Systems, which was responsible for voting systems in nine counties told the Chicago Sun-Times. The problem did not mean votes would not be counted, nor did it prevent anyone from voting — only that it might take a little longer to count some of the votes, he told the paper. Some counties were forced to use scissors to trim the ballots. In Winnebago County, instead of cutting, volunteers remade all of the ballots on paper that fits in the vote tabulators.
- Also on Tuesday, voters in East St. Louis voted in favor of keeping areas board of elections. The East St. Louis BOE, which according to the Post-Dispatch, dates back to the 19th Century has been facing a challenge by a group of residents who wanted to disband it and put the city under the same election system as St. Clair County. The initiative to eliminate the board failed 71 percent to 28 percent. East St. Louis spends about $400,000 annually to operate its election board. St. Clair County kicks in $112,000 more.
- In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, thousands of Louisiana voters were temporarily displaced or forced to move. Legislation making its way through the Louisiana legislature would prevent displaced residents now claiming the homestead exemption in a different parish from being able to vote in their home parish. "The secretary of state and I have been trying to work out a problem with displaced voters that allows people who were claiming to be displaced even though they were claiming a homestead elsewhere," Helena Moreno (D-New Orleans) told a House committee on Wednesday. According to the Times-Picayune, the bill is intended to clarify a 2006 law that legislators passed to ensure that residents who had been displaced could continue to vote in the parish where they were originally registered. Under that law, displaced residents could continue to vote in their home parishes "unless he has either established a new domicile or has changed his registration to an address outside the voting district."
- After a fairly smooth presidential preference primary election last month, things did not go quite as well for a municipal election run by Palm Beach County, Fla. The city of Wellington held an election—conducted by the Palm Beach County supervisor of elections office—on March 13. Earlier this week, a recount showed that the elections office had declared the wrong winners in two of the three races. On Tuesday, city officials decided to scrap the election results and now everyone wants answers and one councilmember has already filed a lawsuit. “Until I hear back from my people, we’re not going to make any conclusions or any ideas of what happened,” Secretary of State Ken Detzner told the Sunshine State News. For her part, Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher said the problem was mechanical, not human. “This is not a human error. This is a computer-generated error, one that is on a computer system that is tested and certified by the state of Florida,” Bucher told reporters.
- Even as some localities are willingly moving to vote centers, community leaders and voting rights groups in Douglas County, Neb. are not happy about Election Commissioner Dave Phipps’ decision to reduce the number of precincts. Phipps, who was appointed by the governor in 2005 and 2008, said the move will save about $115,000 in most elections. It makes sense to close polling stations when almost a third of Douglas County voters vote early, he told the Omaha World-Herald. “This has been nothing but an economic issue,” Phipps said. Although Phipps added four more early ballot drop boxes following the complaints, activists are still not happy and have threatened to sue.
- Elections officials in Arcadia, Calif. ran into a bit of trouble with their Chinese-language translations last week when the city’s nearly 29,000 voters were sent ballots with a critical error that ultimately invalidated all the ballots. The mail-in ballots included instructions in four languages, but directed voters in Chinese to choose up to three instead of two City Council candidates in the race for two open seats. "It was wrong for every single registered voter in their ballot and their sample ballot," Chief Deputy City Clerk Lisa Mussenden told the Pasadena Star-News. "It's just something that happened and we're doing everything we can to make sure we get the word out." It will cost the city between $7,000 and $10,000 to replace the ballots.
- Personnel News: After starting as a temporary elections clerk in 1972, Sonoma County Registrar of Voters Janice Atkinson plans to step down at the end of the summer. She will be 19 months into her second term in the elected Clerk-Recorder-Assessor’s office. Jada Woods Williams, the suspended Madison County, Fla. supervisor of elections is seeking re-election despite facing 17 charges of voter fraud.