I. In Focus This Week
Scott Gessler embarks on a listening tour of Colorado
Clerks and secretary seek to improve upon state’s voting system
By all accounts, Election Day 2012 went relatively well in Colorado.
According to a new report from Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s office, the November election was the most successful in the state’s history. It “achieved historic voter registration levels, exceeded national voter turnout numbers, and saw record-breaking participation by military and overseas voters.”
And in the recently released Pew Center on the State’s Election Performance Index the state scored a 75 percent overall EPI in 2010 — one of the highest in the nation — that doesn’t mean there still isn’t room for improvement.
But what needs improving? In order to get to the bottom of that question, Gessler recently embarked on a listening tour of counties throughout the state to hear directly from voters about their experiences with Colorado’s voting system.
“The Secretary agrees that the election was a success but we also think there is always room for improvement,” said Andrew Cole, a spokesman for the secretary. “So he wanted to get a firsthand account of what people saw, what they liked or didn’t like about the election administration, and how we can improve going forward.”
Gessler spent the last month or so visiting 13 of the state’s 64 counties to speak directly with voters. Although that’s a little less than a quarter of the state’s counties, the demographics of the counties visited — from urban Denver to rural Alamosa — took a wide view of the state.
This week, Gessler’s office also released a video providing highlights from the most recent stops on the tour and encouraging people to contact his office if they would like the tour to make a stop in their area.
So what exactly did Gessler and his team — as well as local elections officials who attended the meetings — find out about how they’re doing?
“We found many people appreciate the hard work their local county clerks and election judges do to put on a successful election,” Cole said.
Of course, because no election is perfect, Cole said there was definitely some negative feedback and process questions from voters. Cole noted though, that the questions and negative feedback was localized and more often than not specific to one voter or a small number of individuals.
“There were some issues with touchscreen voting machines recording votes for the wrong candidate. There were issues with high numbers of provisional ballots in some counties because many people who had requested mail ballots decided they wanted to vote in person,” Cole explained. “One of the counties that had just gone to vote centers had quite a few people ask about protections against vote fraud.”
Colorado’s clerks haven’t always gotten along with Gessler, but Pam Anderson, clerk and recorder in Jefferson County and current president of the Colorado County Clerks Association (CCCA) said the state’s clerks appreciated that the secretary was conducting the listening tour and being able to attend.
“Many Clerks have attended multiple sessions,” Anders said. “Also, as local elected officials administering elections at the grassroots, we work and are responsive with our voters every day and throughout every election.”
Cole said that the secretary’s office is still working through all of the feedback, but noted that some of the concerns can easily be addressed through better training of staff and election judges as well as better communication with voters.
“Others may need legislative or rule changes,” Cole said.
Legislative changes would not be unique to Colorado. As we’ve seen, many legislatures throughout the country are making election reform a top priority.
In an effort to get out ahead of reform efforts and take the bull by the horns so-to-speak, the CCCA sent a letter to legislators in December signaling what items they would like to see addressed in the 2013 session.
“We have a window of opportunity this session to address real concerns and make needed updates,” said Anderson. “We hope that with the pressures and partisanship of a presidential election behind us, we can come together to make improvements in the interests of voters and the people of Colorado, regardless of their party.”
Some of the items the clerks would like to see discussed include greater and more systematic use of mail ballots — currently 74 percent of Colorado voters vote-by-mail, keeping the current voter registration deadline — at 29 days, the status of inactive voters and uniform tabulation.
Anderson said the CCCA is work with legislators on several bills.
“We appreciate their efforts to reach out and work collaboratively with our clerks,” she said.
II. Election News This Week
- An ongoing investigation into elections practices in Fulton County, Ga. found that someone altered voter records, after managers at least two precincts had signed off on the documents and submitted them to the county’s main elections office. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a red pen was used to add names to tally sheets of voters using paper ballots and then marking that their votes had counted. The paper noted that it’s unclear what significance the altered documents may have. Interim-Elections Director Sharon Mitchell argues that her staff didn’t tamper with polling records, but was merely fixing mistakes.
- The East Lansing, Mich. city council this week passed an ordinance that would require landlords to provide new tenants a voter registration form and voter information sheet. According to Michigan Live, under the ordinance, landlords will be required to distribute voting information to all new tenants. The cost of printing all materials will be incurred by the city. A landlord's consequence for not complying with the ordinance will be a civil infraction charge, amended from the original misdemeanor punishment at the meeting after many protests. Michigan State University is located in East Lansing. Madison, Wis. approved a similar ordinance in 2012.
- Last fall, Minnesota Republican lawmakers filed an inquiry into Secretary of State Mark Ritchie alleging that he used public funds to oppose the voter ID constitutional amendment that appeared on November’s ballot. This week, Legislative Auditor James Nobles concluded that the state does not have a clear standard for which to assess Ritchie’s actions. According to Minnesota Public Radio, in the letter, Nobles noted that state law only goes so far on prohibiting certain political activity by public officials and employees. "It does not establish a clear standard for determining whether it would be legal (or illegal) for a state official or employee to use public money or other public resources to support or oppose a proposed amendment to the constitution," Nobles wrote.
- A nonpartisan state commission, The Commission to Study the Conduct of Elections in Maine, recommended that the state not attempt to implement a voter ID law saying that there was “little or no history in Maine of voter impersonation or identification fraud.” The report also recommended that the state implement early voting, which would require an amendment to the state constitution.
- In other voter ID news, the Tennessee Supreme Court was asked to decide whether the state’s voter ID law deprives people of the right to vote or if it is necessary because it safeguards against election fraud. As part of the review the Supreme Court will also consider whether county-issued library cards with photos on them may be used as ID to vote. According to the Associated Press, the Tennessee Court of Appeals has upheld the voter ID law, but also allowed Memphis residents to use library cards as voter ID.
- Personnel News: Santa Clara, Calif. Registrar of Voters Barry Garner was fired after only 14 months on the job. Garner said the firing was due to a misunderstanding with a co-worker. Before coming to Santa Clara, Garner was fired from his job as director of registration and elections in Fulton County, Ga. for sexual harassment. Holyoke, Mass. Clerk Susan M. Egan will retire effective March 1 after 43 years on the job. Roger Sierer has been appointed to the Paulding County, Ohio BOE. Tracey Winbush has been appointed by the secretary of state to serve on the Mahoning County, Ohio, board of elections. Pearlie Jo Valadez, the first and to-date only elections administrator for Jim Well County, Texas is retiring. Valadez became the elections administrator in 2007 when the position was created.
- In Memoriam: Ingrid Healy-Tucker, Blair County, Pa. director of elections died this week. She was 54. Healy-Tucker was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2011 and although she suffered some pain, she was on the job for the November 2012 general election from early voting through the post-election wrap-up. "She wanted to do it, and she mustered up the energy," her husband told the Altoona Mirror. "It was something she had to do."
III. Research and Report Summaries
Elections Performance Index – Pew Charitable Trusts, February 2013: Earlier this week the Pew Charitable Trusts released the Elections Performance Index, which examines election administration across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The index includes 17 indicators that measure election administration policies and results, beginning with the 2008 and 2010 election cycles.
These indicators include polling location wait times, availability of online voting information tools, the number of rejected voter registrations, the percentage of voters with registration or absentee ballot problems, how many military and overseas ballots were rejected, voter turnout, and the accuracy of voting technology, among others.
Modernizing California's Voting Technology: A Look Back, A Look Ahead – Kim Alexander, California Voter Foundation, Jan. 31, 2013: This brief discusses the history and future of voting technology in California, and examines Los Angeles County’s current efforts to find a non-commercial path for procuring a new voting system.
Policy questions are also considered, including how voting systems are funded, tested, and certified.
How to Fix Ling Lines – Lawrence Norden, Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, February 2013: This report suggests three reforms that would help reduce long lines at polling places:
- Modernizing voter registration
- Providing early voting to all voters during a fixed national time frame
- Setting minimum standards for polling place access
IV. Legislative Update
Alaska: Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell introduced legislation (SB 44 and HB 104) this week that would move Alaska’s primary from the fourth Tuesday of August to the second Tuesday in even-numbered years. The legislation would also change timelines for getting a name removed from primary ballots and would allow someone living outside the U.S. to register to vote absentee if his/her parent is a permanent resident of the state prior to leaving.
Arizona: Rep. Carl Seel (R-Phoenix) introduced legislation (HB 2350) that would require Arizonans seeking to vote early by mail to have their signatures notarized. Secretary of State Ken Bennett and county election officials have expressed concerns about the feasibility of the proposed legislation.
This week, a Senate committee endorsed a bill (SB 1261) that would allow counties to purge early voter lists of people who don’t vote in both the primary and general elections in a given year.
Florida: A proposal by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami) would give the governor the power to remove county elections supervisors from their elected positions or put them on probation. The secretary of state would also be granted this new authority under the proposal.
Georgia: Legislation currently making its way through the Georgia House will allow one voting precinct in Carroll County to keep its lines within the boundaries of a gated community. The bill (HB 87) stipulates that the gates to the community must be kept open throughout the day for voters and election workers.
Hawaii: Currently candidates are listed alphabetically on ballots in Hawaii, but under proposed legislation (HB 32) the state elections director would select a letter by lot and candidates with last names beginning with that letter would appear first, followed alphabetically by the other letters.
Indiana: Under legislation introduced by Rep. Peggy Mayfield (R-Martinsville) students paying out-of-state tuition would not be permitted to register to vote. According to the Courier-Journal, legal experts as well as members of both parties question the constitutionality of HB 1311.
Kansas: With support from Secretary of State Kris Kobach, House Bill 2162 would allow county election officials to request that a “plain-language explainer” be created when a ballot measure is too confusing, technical, or otherwise difficult for voters to understand.
Maryland: Kathy Afzali (R-Frederick County) has introduced two election admin pieces of legislation into the Maryland General Assembly. One would make voter fraud a felony instead of a misdemeanor and the other would require photo ID to vote. House Bill 324 would increase the fine for voter fraud from $2,500 to $100K and up to five years in prison. House Bill 325 would require election judges to prove a voter’s ID and address and voters would have to show a government-issued photo ID.
The General Assembly is also considering legislation (HB0217) that would increase the number of early voting centers for general elections. The Early Voting Access Act of 2013 would also allow for an increase in the number of early voting centers during primaries at the discretion of elections officials.
Minnesota: Legislators are considering bills that would allow for easier early voting in the Gopher State. Introduced by Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-St. Louis Park), HF 193, would remove the requirement that voters provide an excuse in order to cast an absentee ballot.
Montana: A bill that would end same-day registration at 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day instead of Election Day would passed the Montana house late last week by a vote of 61-39. House Bill 30 faces one more House vote before moving to the Senate.
While the elimination of same-day registration seems to be moving along, so too is legislation that would allow Montanans to register online. SB 206 would allow anyone to register and/or update their information online if they have a state-issued driver’s license or ID card.
South Carolina: If approved, legislation pending in the South Carolina House would put the day-to-day supervision of Aiken County’s elections office in the hands of the county council. Under the legislation’s provisions, South Carolina’s governor would appoint the seven members of the Aiken County Registration and Elections Commission based on the recommendation of the majority of the legislative delegation’s representative and senators. County Council would appoint and could remove the executive director of Registration and Elections.
Utah: House Bill 85 would change the threshold formula for a losing candidate in a close race to get a free recount. Currently “free” recounts are triggered based on a formula of number of votes and precincts, but under the proposed legislation, if a candidate loses by .25 percent of the votes cast a free recount is offered.
Virginia: This week, the Virginia House approved a bill that would limit the types of identification voters may show at the polls. The legislation removes utility bills, paychecks, bank statements and Social Security cards as acceptable forms of ID. The bill passed the House on a 63-36 vote. It also passed the Senate but Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling sided with Democrats in placing a delayed enactment on the bill, so it doesn’t take effect for another year.
V. ConferencesThe Election Assistance Commission and NIST will host a symposium to explore emerging trends in voting system technology. The symposium will provide an environment for interactive discussions among the attendees including election officials, voting system manufacturers, voting system test laboratories, standard developers, academics, and Federal, State, and local government officials. The symposium will encourage attendee participation through panel discussions with limited presentations to frame the topics to be explored. When: Feb. 26-28. Where: NIST Administration Building, Gaithersburg, Md. Registration: For more information or to register, click here.
Nonprofit VOTE is hosting a webinar “Get Started with Nonprofit Voter Engagement” that will provide an overview of nonpartisan dos and don'ts, as well as effective tactics for voter registration, voter education, ballot measure advocacy, candidate engagement, and get-out-the-vote efforts. We'll focus on ways to help you integrate outreach into services you already provide. When: Feb. 21 at 2p.m. Where: Online. Registration: For more information or to register, click here.
VI. OpinionNational: Voting Rights Act, II | Voter registration | Scandal | Election reform, II | Primary process | Voting wait times | Voting rights
Arizona: Proof-of-citizenship | Election reform | Citizens engagement
Colorado: Voter registration | Primary elections
Florida: Election reform, II
Indiana: Ballot security
Iowa: Voter ID | Voter fraud
Montana: Voter ID | Absentee voting, II | Same-day registration
New Mexico: Voter purge
North Carolina: Voter ID | Instant-runoff voting
North Dakota: Voter fraud
Ohio: Election reform
Pennsylvania: Voter ID | Philadelphia elections
South Carolina: Early voting, II | Voter ID lawsuit
Tennessee: Young voters
Texas: Voting Rights Act
Virginia: Ex-felon voting rights | Voter ID
Washington: Voting Rights Act
Wisconsin: Same-day registration | Performance index
Wyoming: Ex-felon voting rights
VII. Job Openings
Registrar of Voters, Clark County, Nev. — develops and directs the implementation of long-and short-term goals, objectives, policies, procedures and work standards for the department; directs the preparation and administration of the department's budget. Plans, organizes, administers, reviews and evaluates the activities of professional, technical and office support staff through subordinate managers and supervisors. Contributes to the overall quality of the department's service provision by developing and coordinating work teams and by reviewing, recommending and implementing improved policies and procedures. Works with the Board of Commissioners, state legislative bodies, appointed and elected officials, political parties, citizen groups and county management to formulate policies and plans related to voter registration and elections operations. Prepares and directs the preparation of a variety of written correspondence, reports, procedures and other written materials. Monitors and interprets changes in laws and regulations related to voter registration and election operations; evaluates their impact upon County activities, and develops and implements policy and procedural changes as required; drafts changes to laws and ordinances and lobbies the legislature and provides supporting testimony as required. Education: Bachelor’s degree in business or public administration, government, political science or a field related to the work and six years full-time senior level management experience in voter registration and election operations. Salary: $104,208-$161,553.60. Application: For the complete job posting and to apply, click here. Deadline: Feb. 25, 2013
Supervisory Information Technology Specialist, District of Columbia Board of Elections, Washington, DC - The incumbent will manage and provide technical support in the areas of database and applications administration, custom report development, web programming and systems administration. Duties would include: support a Database Administrator and provide for the design, implementation, maintenance and repair of the agency database applications; guide the selection, installation and maintenance of network infrastructure equipment; administer the agency’s voter registration database operations and applications and on-line voter registration software applications, ensuring accuracy and security of the systems; manage and provide enhancements to the agency web applications and oversee the technology, design and application development associated with the agency’s Internet site. Education: It is desirable that the applicant be a graduate from an accredited college or university with a Bachelor of Science degree in the field of information technology; computer science, information science, information systems management or other related field. Experience: The applicant must possess progressively responsible technical experience related to enterprise-level database and application administration. A general knowledge of and understanding of voting systems in the administration of elections is preferred. Deadline: Open Until Filled. Application: Interested persons can apply to the D.C. Department of Human Resources Job Center, 441 4th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001. To apply online, go to http://dcop.dc.gov and click Employment Opportunities. Inquiries should be directed to HR Answers at 202-442-9700.