I. In Focus This Week
Internet voting, the third-rail of elections
Often controversial and contentious, but does it have to be?
There are no two words that get elections officials, scholars, vendors and geeks more riled up than Internet voting.
The emotions on both sides often run so high that at times it can seem almost impossible to even have a conversation about the concept of casting a ballot online.
But with concerns about long lines on Election Day, with the U.S. Postal Service cutting services, and elections officials concerned about getting ballots to voters overseas or in times of emergency, is it possible to discuss the possibilities?
“Is there anything not controversial related to voting? If voting machines had to go through acceptance that Internet voting is facing, they wouldn’t have been rolled out,” said Brian Newby, Johnson County, Kan. election commissioner. “The movement has pretty successfully been slowed by emotion and in particular, emotion masquerading as fact.”
According to Newby, beyond the technological issues, there are some who are very impassioned because it takes away the spirit of community that comes with voting.
“I respect that opposition because at least they are saying they don’t like Internet voting because of the way they feel. That’s an emotional argument that’s fair because it’s called out from the beginning as being emotional.
Newby acknowledged that it is a difficult conversation, in part, because the country is no closer to Internet voting in the United States, really, than it was five or 10 years ago.
“Discussion has been successfully stonewalled, so why fight with success?” Newby said. ”The best argument that could be made would be that there is a growing use of Internet voting options for military and overseas voters, but even those options have been much more evolutionary than revolutionary.”
Those who have expressed concerns about the idea of Internet voting say that until the system is changed, conversations are always going to be difficult. For many of them, the conversation right now is putting the cart before the horse.
“We need a different Internet for Internet voting to be a reality. We would also likely need to give up the secret ballot,” said Kim Alexander president of the California Voter Foundation. “And we'd probably need some kind of biometric identifier to make an Internet system work securely. I don't feel these are appealing or likely options, so it seems a waste of time to focus on Internet voting, but I know people will continue to do so.”
Pam Smith, with Verified Voting said that the security issues surrounding Internet voting are a larger problem than those surrounding DREs, but that it’s hard for people to grasp because we spend so much of our daily lives online.
Smith said she’s not sure the conversation has to be as difficult and emotional as it has been for some factions.
“There can be — and is — some very rational discussion about the nature of the issues to be solved. If there is tension, it is between two perspectives, I think -- the desire that it be viable for use already, today, vs. certain unsolved problems have to be addressed before it actually is viable,” Smith said. “I think we all agree that Internet voting if it could be made secure would be desirable; unfortunately the technology just doesn't exist to satisfy this desire at this time. “
Smith added that the good news is there is a preponderance of evidence --and agreement-- that more research is needed.
Dan Nolan, with SOE Software, said that he thinks the topic is so passionate because the right to vote is perhaps one of our greatest freedoms, and one that has evolved the most over the past 200-plus years.
“People tend to get very protective of the vote and the election process,” Nolan said. “And I admire that and appreciate it, but elections have to evolve to meet the needs of society.”
Nolan who was the deputy supervisor of elections for Hillsborough County, Fla. from 2002-2004 and helped the county transition to DRE machines following the passage of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 said that no one who supports Internet voting proposes eliminating other forms of voting, but Internet voting would be just one more option for people.
“We have to start looking at what we can do to meet the requirements of a changing population,” Nolan said. “We still have to be able to have the conversation, not just shut it down because of the risks. We need to be able to take account of the risks, but we cannot be treed by the Chihuahua.”
Some jurisdictions have started to make inroads into Internet voting, either through necessity, like New Jersey did in the wake of Super Storm Sandy, or convenience for our troops overseas. But what about on a large scale? Could this be something the newly appointed Presidential Election Commission recommends?
“I’m of the growing belief that there will be a big-bang disruption,” Newby said. “Either a city will just start using Survey Monkey, for instance, or a state legislature will just simply pass a bill that requires Internet voting by a specific date, leaving the election officials in that state to solve the problem.”
Newby noted that there have been plenty of societal events and election laws that have demonstrated that the elections industry doesn’t always have control of the “if and when” Internet voting.
“Anyone clinging to the absolute, that Internet voting will never happen, is not realistic,” Newby said.
The Oscars go online
This year for the first time, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences allowed members of the Academy to cast their ballots for the Oscars online.
Because there were issues with the process, many opponents of online voting took that as an example of why we cannot have online voting for elections in the United States.
But others have pointed out that the problems surrounding the Oscars vote were not with security, but with usability. Users reported compatibility problems with certain Internet browsers and password issues.
“The people that did the stuff for the Oscars, they were all about ‘military-grade security,’ but they didn’t make their interface useable,” Nolan said. “You have to assess your market and develop your system to interface with that market. You can’t just do security.”
Smith said that it’s been a bit unfair to compare a private election like the Oscars to a public election because there are simply so many differences not only the procedures, but in the rules/laws that dictate the administration of the election.
“The fact is we don't know enough about how the Academy is implementing the system, so we can't really learn much from their experience as a result,” Smith said.
According to Newby, the Oscar voting news and the misleading headlines that came with many of the news stories, demonstrated the power of a vocal minority who tried to pain the experience in a way that demonstrated Internet voting wouldn’t work.
“I’m not advocating Internet voting, but I’m not downplaying it, either,” Newby said. “I believe that if a system were developed that a majority of election administrators were comfortable using in their jurisdictions, there still would be this emotional cry that Internet voting is bad. The same type of emotional cry exists for voting machines, and the machines wouldn’t be in use if election administrators didn’t think they were secure.”
Editor’s Note: Some quotes in this story appeared in a previous edition of electionlineWeekly.
II. Election News This Week
- In the hipster epicenter of New York City where everything old is trendy again, so too may be the city’s lever voting machines. The city’s board of elections is not ruling out bringing back the much beloved machines if the dates for upcoming elections. The board argues that it cannot hold an election on September 10 and a runoff election two weeks later with the current electronic machines because of the time it takes to tally the votes. Of course lever voting machines are just one alternate plan the board is considering if the dates don’t change. Other possibilities include instant runoff voting, and using ballots that do not have names on them. According to WNYC, under this scenario the ballots would just have letters A and B. Then for the runoff, voters would take a guide into the privacy booth that would explain which letter corresponds with which candidate.
- A new report from the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board said that eliminating same-day registration would end up costing the state $14.5 million. The GAB initially estimated that it would cost about $5 million to eliminate same-day registration, but according to The Associated Press, the new cost includes estimated expenses from four state agencies affected by doing away with same-day registration, which would trigger implementation of federal voter registration requirements.
- Elections officials in Douglas County, Neb. violated federal law during the November election when they failed to allow dozens of voters to cast a provisional ballot when the voter didn’t show their voter ID number. Attorney Rob Kinsey was appointed by Secretary of State John Gale to oversee a hearing that examined whether Douglas County poll workers violated the Help America Vote Act of 2002 in the Nov. 6 election. In his seven-page report, Kinsey not that neither federal nor state election laws require voters to give voter ID numbers to vote provisionally. He ordered the county election commission to remove voter ID numbers from instructional materials and to offer more training to poll workers and call-center operators. According to the Omaha World-Herald, county Election Commissioner Dave Phipps agreed with the findings and said his office has already made changes.
- Personnel News: Alecia Wells has been selected to serve as the chair of the U.S. Virgin Islands joint board of elections. Codi Trudell is the new Benton County, Ore. elections supervisor. Trudell began her career in the Polk County elections office at the age of 22. Bay Village, Ohio Mayor Deborah Sutherland is resigning from the Cuyahoga County board of elections. State law prohibits a candidate for office to serve on the board and Sutherland said she plans to seek re-election this year. Allison McGahay is the newest of the Essex County, N.Y. election commissioner. Marie Antonia “Tonie” Kuhlman has been named the interim elections administrator in Jim Wells County, Texas. Glen Shikuma, the Hawaii County elections warehouse worker who was terminated and died while fighting a wrongful termination suit was reinstated by the county on Dec. 31, 2012. Longtime Niagara County, Ohio Election Commissioner Nancy Smith has been replaced by Lora Allen. By a party line 3-2 vote, the Shelby County, Tenn. election commission voted to keep Richard Holden on the job as elections administrator.
- In Memoriam: Former Rapides Parish Registrar of Voters B.G. Dyess died this week. He was 90. Dyess served as registrar for 24 years before running for and winning a seat in the state Senate.
III. Legislative Update
Alabama: A bill currently pending the Legislature (SB 109) would change state law so that people with felony convictions are notified by normal U.S. Mail instead of certified mail about the loss of their voting rights. Proponents say the change will potentially save the state thousands of dollars per year while opponents argue that it has the ability to further disenfranchise ex-felons.
Arkansas: The week, the Senate approved a bill that would require voters to show photo ID in order to cast their ballot. The bill was approved 23 to 12 and moves now to a House committee.
Connecticut: Claiming that nearly 40 percent of the military and overseas ballots cast were not received by local elections offices in time to be counted, Sen. Gayle Slossberg (D-Milford) has introduced legislation to allow those ballots to be emailed or faxed. A similar bill was vetoed in 2011.
A bill has been introduced to the General Assembly will give the secretary of state’s office discretion to move special elections to coincide with other, previously planned elections, in order save towns on the cost of conducting multiple elections.
Georgia: House Bill 347, sponsored by Rep. Lynne Riley (R-Johns Creek) introduced late last week would shift control of the Fulton County elections board to the county’s legislative delegation.
Hawaii: While the legislature continues to debate all vote-by-mail, the House approved HB 1027 that would require absentee voters to affirm by signature that the ballot was completed in secrecy and without influence.
Idaho: Voters who once lived in Idaho and still are registered to vote there, but live overseas would be barred from voting in city and municipal elections under legislation introduced. Voters would still be able to vote in federal elections and the legislation would not impact members of the military.
Kentucky: SB 1, which was finally filed on Friday and would make it easier for members of the military to vote, was introduced without the provision to allow overseas members of the military to cast their ballots via email. The key backers of the bill, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) and Senate President Robert Stivers (R) disagree on the email provision.
Montana: A bill (HB 428) to give localities the option of doing vote-by-mail only elections, which has the support of state and local election officials, has run into some opposition in the state house. Groups representing Native Americans, disabled people, the elderly, environmentalists, and members of the tea party oppose the legislation saying that equates to a poll tax and would disenfranchise voters.
New Hampshire: Legislation pending in the House would require city clerks to be elected by the elected body of the city and that he or she be a resident of the city. The legislation, House Bill 541, is opposed by all 17 city clerks while the secretary of state’s office supports the bill since it falls in line with legislation passed years ago requiring town officials who handle elections live within their respective jurisdictions.
Rhode Island: Rep. William San Bento (D-Pawtucket) who recently won his reelection by one vote, was tapped by the state board of elections to introduce a package of six election reform bills. Among the bills is a proposal to close the gap between poll closing times and mail ballot acceptance times and the ability to count defective ballots even if the voter’s intent is clear.
South Dakota: Under legislation introduced by Sen. Stan Adelstein (R-Rapid City) parties would no longer choose candidates for the state’s constitutional offices — including secretary of state — through party caucuses but by primaries. According to the Argus Leader, Adelstein had originally planned to introduce legislation to make the secretary of state position a nonpolitical office, but instead introduced SB82.
This week, the Senate voted 32-1 in favor of Senate Bill 137 that would change the deadline to request an absentee ballot. Currently residents may require an absentee ballot as late as 3 p.m. on election day, but under the proposed legislation, that deadline would move to 5 p.m. the day before the election. The bill now goes to the House.
Virginia: After changing their voter ID laws just last year, Virginia is again one step closer to altering their ID requirements, this time to require a photo ID to cast a ballot. Legislation introduced in both the House and Senate would remove several forms of acceptable ID including utility bills and paychecks. In addition, the Senate bill, which was approved last week, would require a photo ID to vote. The Senate approved the bill on Wednesday and is now headed to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s desk.
While legislation to create no-excuse absentee voting previously failed in the General Assembly, another piece of legislation would at least eliminate the requirements for certain personal information on the absentee application. If approved, under the bill, SB 967, the following information would no longer be required: rank, grade and service identification number of active duty military; school address of students; specific nature of a disability or illness; jail address for someone awaiting trial or having been convicted of a misdemeanor; name of a family member and the nature of their illness for caregivers; person's religion for those claiming religious obligations; and, work address for anyone who must work 11 or more hours on election day.
The 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.
Arizona: Vote centers
Arkansas: Voter ID
Connecticut: Write-in votes
Kentucky: Ex-felon voting rights
Maryland: School polling places
Massachusetts: Voter suppression
Missouri: Voter ID
North Carolina: Special election costs
Ohio: Voting precincts
Virginia: Election bills
Wyoming: Voter ID
**Some sites may require registration.
VI. Job Openings
Director, Information Technology, Collier County, Fla. — develops strategic work plan; evaluates major business processes, infrastructure/equipment and services; organizes structure and work assignments. Reviews and evaluates department operations, work products, methods, procedures and performance outcomes; and identifies opportunities to improve overall department performance. Oversees systems operations. Ensures subordinate staff provides responsive, quality and effective technical support for systems development, implementation and operations. Monitors overall systems operations; develops technology driven policies and procedures; and re-engineers business and workflow processes within the SOE through IT. Performs project management work for information system installations, enhancements, and modifications; develops plans, cost estimates, projected deadlines, operational sequences, and security and backup provisions. Areas of responsibility include: Network Infrastructure, Technology Related Hardware, Database Administration, Software Support, Ballot Design, Ballot Tabulation, Voting Equipment and Related Technologies, and Geographic Information Systems. In regards to database administration and programming, provides support and software solutions for assigned SOE information system programs and applications, which may include Web applications, business applications developed in-house, and/or applications purchased from vendors. Designs, writes and tests new software applications and/or modifications/upgrades that meet identified needs. Prepares and maintains system/program documentation. Tests prototype applications and works through operational problems. Installs and configures software/applications. Establishes user access levels, system security protocols. Qualifications: Bachelor’s degree in Management of Information Systems or a closely related field; supplemented by six years of progressively responsible information technology work; or any equivalent combination of education, training, and experience which provides the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities for this job. Salary: $67-78,000. Application: For the complete job listing and information to apply, click here. Deadline: Open until filled.
DIMS Manager, Lucas County, Ohio Board of Elections —responsible for maintaining the voter registration database using DIMS-Net. Responsible for Board of Elections computer software and hardware, maintaining network peripherals such as printers, scanners, routers, hubs and switches. Oversees document-scanning projects using Alchemy Captaris software. Knowledge of Windows Server 2003 and 2008, Novel networks, Novel GroupWise, SQL Server, Microsoft Office Suite. Position requires the candidates to have excellent leadership and communication skills. Salary: $59,934.42 plus benefits. Application: Interested candidates should send resume and cover letter to Lucas County Board of Elections, One Government Center Suite 300, Toledo, Ohio 43604. Include party affiliation in your response. For more information and the complete job listing, click here.
GEMS Manager, Lucas County, Ohio Board of Elections — responsible for programming Elections and ballot design using GEMS software, manages Logic & Accuracy Testing and vote tabulation. Responsible for Board of Elections computer software and hardware, maintaining network peripherals such as printers, scanners, routers, hubs and switches. Oversees document-scanning projects using Alchemy Captaris software. Knowledge of Windows Server 2003 and 2008, Novel networks, Novel GroupWise, SQL Server, Microsoft Office Suite. Position requires the candidates to have excellent leadership and communication skills. Salary: $59,934.42 plus benefits. Application: Interested candidates should send resume and cover letter to Lucas County Board of Elections, One Government Center Suite 300, Toledo, Ohio 43604. Include party affiliation in your response. For more information and the complete job listing, click here.
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