I. In Focus This Week
What to watch November 4
From voter ID to lava, variety of issues to watch on Election Day
Well this is it! We are finally less than a week until the 2014 general election.
Voters are busy casting their final early and absentee ballots, candidates are shaking one last hand and kissing one last baby and elections officials are busy dotting I’s and crossing T’s and planning for every possible contingent.
In our final newsletter before the election (but don’t worry, this isn’t our final newsletter!) we’ll take a look at some things to keep on your radar in the final days leading up to November 4, what to watch for on Election Day and what to watch in the days following the election.
If you’re watching something that’s not on our list, please let us know so we can keep an eye on it and report back next week.
Obviously voter ID is going to be one of the most watched issues on Tuesday. Has the last-minute court wrangling confused voters? Are poll workers prepared and trained?
All eyes will be on a handful of states to see how the voters and elections officials deal with it all.
In several states this will be the first general election that voter photo ID has been in place. Alabama and Mississippi had minimal problems during the first widespread implementation during the primaries, but both states also had relatively low turnout. Neither state dealt with last-minute lawsuits.
For Virginia, while the photo ID law has been implemented in smaller, local races, it was not in place for the primary and this will be the first widespread rollout.
Arkansas, Texas and Wisconsin were all embroiled in last-minute lawsuits over their photo ID laws.
For Texas, the state’s photo ID law remains in place Tuesday after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it would remain in effect for the November 4, election. The court did not rule out taking it up at a later date.
Already during early voting there have been mixed reports of the roll out. In Houston, one 93-year-old veteran was denied a vote because he did not have the correct form of ID. Early voting totals are lagging in Bexar County compared to 2010, but officials cannot say if that’s because of the new ID law. Other counties have reported an upswing in early voting and no reported problems.
Wisconsin officials were initially scrambling to implement that state’s voter ID law until the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and while not striking it down entirely, said that the law could not be implemented for this election. Now the education effort has shifted from making sure voters know about the ID law to making sure poll workers are aware that the law is not in effect.
The Arkansas law did not make it all the way the U.S. Supreme Court. In mid-October, in a unanimous decision the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional. Following the ruling, attorneys for the state said the state court ruling was clear and that they would not pursue the case at this time.
It’s been fourteen years since the nation spent its holiday season watching officials in Florida haggle over chads — whether they were hanging or not.
Since then voting systems have come and gone, yet whatever system is in use, they still remain the focus of attention and this year is no different. Several jurisdictions will be using new voting systems/machines on Tuesday — including New York, which, for only the second time will be using something other than the beloved lever-voting machines in a federal general election.
There have been reports from several states — Arkansas, Illinoisand Marylandto name a few — during early voting of “vote flipping.” Many of those reports were unsubstantiated—elections officials could not recreate the problem—and in a few instances voting machines were taken out of service due to calibration issues.
What’s hard to determine is how these problems, real or perceived, have impacted the voters’ confidence in the process.
Elections officials always need to be prepared for the unexpected, especially the weather.
This year, in addition to Mother Nature —officials in Hawaii have already had to move polling locations out of the way of a lava flow — officials will be contending with manhunts, deadly diseases and possible protests.
It’s an odd and impressive list of potentially unexpected events, one has to wonder what else could crop up on Election Day.
And not to make light of what can be a very serious situation, odds are that somewhere, someone will drive a car into a polling place. Even though it happens almost very major election, needless to say, it’s still pretty unexpected.
Secretary of State Races
Races for the state’s top elections official are on the ballot in 24 states. Half of those races will produce brand-new head honchos since the incumbents are not seeking re-election for a variety of reasons.
Some of the races have generated more attention than others including the race between Pete Peterson and Alex Padilla to replace Debra Bowen in California, the race between incumbent Dianna Duran and challenger Maggie Toulouse Oliver in New Mexico, the race between challenger Jean Schodorf and incumbent Kris Kobach in Kansas and the race to replace Mark Ritchie in Minnesota.
From marijuana to minimum wage to healthcare, voters in 42 states and the District of Columbia will consider more than 150 constitutional amendments, initiatives, referendums, ballot measures and advisory questions on November 4.
This year, several states will ask voters to decide on the future of how elections are administered in their states.
In Arkansas, voters will cast ballots on petition issues, in Connecticut it’s early voting. In Illinois voters will have their say on a voters' bill of rights and in Maryland voters will decide how to regulate special elections.
Missouri voters will also decide the fate of early voting in that state and in Montana residents will voice their opinion about election-day registration. New Mexico voters will make decisions about school elections and in Oregon, voters will once again weigh in on whether or not to move the state to a top-two primary system.
While we haven’t heard as much this election about mass movements of poll watchers as we did in previous elections, it’s definitely always something to keep an eye on, especially in some of the voter ID states and states with contentious races.
This will be the first general election with Colorado’s statewide system of vote-by-mail or vote centers in place. While there have been some issues in various counties with ballot mistakes, so far the ballots seem to be coming back at a decent clip.
Because mail ballots must be in the clerk’s office by close of business on Election Day and not just post-marked on Election Day, even the U.S. Postal Service has gotten involved by encouraging voters to get their ballots returned.
Instant Runoff Voting
Residents of Oakland will once again choose a mayor using instant runoff voting. Last time out — the first time the system was used — it didn’t go so well and officials are preparing on two fronts to improve the process. On one side they are preparing with improved technology to speed up the count and on the other front with voter education campaigns.
Like Colorado, North Carolina voters are faced with a host of changes this election season including the elimination of same-day registration. Although a lower court set aside the new law for this election, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked that ruling and allowed the law to remain in place. The law also means that ballots cast out-of-precinct, something advocates argued that minority voters use more than others. Like voter ID in other states, this is not the final word on the new law.
Both Louisiana and Georgia could see runoffs in closely watched races. If the runoffs occur, especially in federal races that could hold the fate of the Senate or House at stake, expect for there to be a lot of discussion about each state’s runoff system.
Absence of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act
In June of 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated several parts of the Voting Rights Act, specifically the provisions that require some states and local jurisdictions to receive pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice before making any changes to the elections process. How could this impact the election? Will we see last-minute changes to polling locations or election procedures in previously covered states that prove problematic?
We live in a selfie-obsessed world and while some jurisdictions are actively encouraging people to take selfies with their “I Voted” stickers, problems arise when voters try to take pictures inside the polling place. The rules vary from state to state and even in some places from county to county. It will be interesting to see this play out on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and whatever the latest, most popular form of social media is next week.
During the primaries, guns in polling places became an issue in some states leaving state and local officials scrambling to come up with policies that not only protect a voters Second Amendment rights, but also protect the rights and sensibilities of voters and poll workers who object to guns.
Political scientists behaving badly
Last week voters in several states received official-looking mailers — including in Montana, with the state seal — that claimed to assess the political leanings of candidates.
Turns out the mailers were actually part of a research project conducted by Stanford and Dartmouth universities and now the universities are apologizing to officials and voters in California, Montana and New Hampshire.
The mailers did feature a disclaimer in fine print, but the universities have issued an apology and in California, Stanford plans to take out an advertisement in local newspapers explaining the mailing.
"On behalf of Stanford and Dartmouth universities, we sincerely apologize for the confusion and concern caused by an election mailer recently sent as part of an academic research study," said an open letter from the university presidents. "We genuinely regret that it was sent and we ask Montana voters to ignore the mailer."
What, if any impact this may have on elections in these three states remains to be seen, but it does beg the question of “what were they thinking?”
While official numbers are still pending, literally millions of Americans have either voted absentee or cast a vote-by-mail ballot already this election.
How will counting those ballots impact voters and candidates? Will we be waiting for days, weeks and maybe in some cases months to find out who the nominees are?
Will voters be confident their ballot was counted considering the variables that can disqualify a ballot?
Turnout/lines (or lack thereof)
In 2012, some voters stood in line for hours, well past poll closing times, in order to cast their ballots.
The Presidential Commission on Election Administration was created to look at the problem and states and counties took a hard look at what they could do to make a difference.
Will voters face the same problems on Tuesday? Turnout during the primaries was largely abysmal and record-breakingly low in some states and the District of Columbia, ranging from single digits to just under 50 percent in Wyoming.
Although anecdotally early voting seems to be brisk in many places and even up from 2010, will that equate to voters on Election Day?
And if there are no lines and all goes smoothly on Tuesday, will necessary changes to election practices move forward once the spotlight is gone?
II. VIP Update
Get to the polls
With the United States midterm election just days away, The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Voting Information Project (VIP) has been working around the clock. VIP, which was developed by The Pew Charitable Trusts, Google, and election officials nationwide, offers cutting-edge technology tools that give voters access to the customized information they need to cast a ballot on or before Election Day. This year, VIP is offering free apps and tools that provide polling place locations and ballot information for the 2014 election across a range of technology platforms. Read more >>>
Further, Pew partnered with The Internet Association, which is made up of the world's leading technology companies, to launch www.gettothepolls.com to help voters find all the information they need to vote on November 4th. Get to the Polls will allow voters to find their official polling place, hours of operation, and full ballot summary based on their residential address information. Get to the polls >>> Help us get the word out on Twitter using #gettothepolls.
III. Election News This Week
- Nice try kid, we’ll give you an A for effort, but you still can’t vote. Grafton, Wisconsin teenager Zachary Ziolkowski, who turns 18 on November 5th appealed to the state’s Government Accountability Board that he be allowed to vote on the 4th because based on common law interpretation that “ one is in existence on the day of his birth, he is in fact on the anniversary of his birth of the of one year plus one day.” The GAB rejected the request for an opinion allowing Ziolkowski to vote.
- Saved by the bell! On Tuesday, more than 600 San Joaquin County high school students will ditch school for the day in order to work at the polls. Students are being paid $165 per day to work at the polls just like any other poll worker.
- The D.C. Board of Elections issued a mea culpa late last week for not only the upside down flag on the voter guide, and the ensuing controversy over whether or not it was a mistake or done on purpose.
- Since it was implemented in February of this year, more than 30,000 residents of Connecticut have either registered for the for the first time or updated on their voter registration on the state’s new online voter registration system. “I am so proud of the outstanding success of Connecticut’s new online voter registration system,” Merrill said in a statement.
- On Friday, the Santa Fe New Mexican published a story indicating that New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran had banned the use of Sharpie pens in polling places because of concerns about bleed-through even though Sharpies, according to the report, were the preferred ballot-marking tool of the voting machine vendor. Following the report, Duran’s office issued a statement that her office was not banning Sharpies, but was sending PaperMate felt tip markers — also approved by Dominion — because of voters’ concerns. According to a report from KOAT, the new pens for all 33 counties cost $17,000.
- Behold! The mighty I Voted sticker! The Contra Costa Times has a great story this week about the history of I Voted stickers and why people like them so much. Obviously electionline has been on top of this story for some time, but it’s nice to see the mainstream media catching on as well.
- With apologies to all the other polling place locators out there, just a reminder that the best f*#@ing polling place locator available is back and ready for use on Tuesday.
- Personnel News: Brown County, Ohio Director of Elections Kathy Jones is retiring effective November 28. Ed Smith has joined the Clear Ballot team as their director of certification.
- In Memoriam: Former New Mexico Secretary of State Shirley Hooper died late last week. She was 78. Hooper was first elected 1978 and served only one term because the law at that time did not permit statewide elected officials to run in consecutive elections. Hooper did run for the office again in 1990 and 2006, but lost in the primary both times. In addition to serving as secretary of state she was the foundation of the International Association of Parents of the Deaf and past president of the New Mexico School for the Deaf Board of Regents.
IV. Research and Report Summaries
Did We Fix That? Evaluating Implementation of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration’s Recommendations in Ten Swing States - Stephen Spaulding & Allegra Chapman, Common Cause Education Fund, October 2014: This new report examines recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration and how they are being implemented in ten states where next week’s elections are expected to be close. No state has implemented all the recommendations, but no state has ignored all the recommendations either.
The Perfect Storm: Voting In New Jersey in the Wake of Superstorm Sandy - A Report Prepared by the Constitutional Rights Clinic Rutgers School of Law – Newark, October 2014: This report evaluates New Jersey’s emergency voting measures which were enacted as a result of Superstorm Sandy in late October 2012.
Uncounted Votes: The Racially Discriminatory Effects of Provisional Ballots - Joshua Field, Charles Posner, and Anna Chu, October 2014: In examining data from 16 states from the 2012 general election, researchers found that voters in counties with higher percentages of minorities cast provisional ballots at higher rates than counties with lower percentages of minorities. Among recommendations to address these issues are allowing online voter registration, expanding early voting, and modernizing voter registration.
V. Legal Update
Florida: The Children’s Services Council has sued Broward County over what it claims is poor ballot layout. The suit claims that voters are accidentally voting against funding for the organization because it is not in its own column and is instead listed beneath a ballot question. On Wednesday, the supervisor of elections office and the Children’s Services Counsel reached an agreement thus ending the suit. Under the agreement, voters who vote early and on Election Day, will receive cards reminding them to read ballots carefully.
Georgia: A Fulton County judge declined to intervene in the state’s voter registration process, letting stand existing measures by state and local election officials to help applications ahead of the upcoming election. The Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights had filed suit alleging tens of thousands of voters that it believed were not properly registered.
Kentucky: An appeals court has issued a stay in the lower court ruling that would have eliminated the state’s 300-foot buffer zone around polling places. The appeals court did rule however that electioneering within 300 feet of the polling place may continue as long as it is on private property.
Ohio: A federal appeals court has ruled that organizations conducting voter outreach did not have the right to sue the state of Ohio on behalf of voters arrested and jailed the weekend before Election Day.
VI. Legislative Update
New York: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio rejected two bill sponsored by the city council which would have broadened voter registration. Intro 492 would have required 15 additional agencies to offer voter registration and Intro 356 would have assigned codes to agencies for voter registration forms to determine which agency provided the form. "We are committed to getting agency-based voter registration right," Mindy Tarlow, director of the Mayor's Office of Operations told the council. "But to get it done, we are going to need time and space to manage the agencies and correct long-standing behavior."
National Opinions: Online voting | Early voting | Voting rights, II, III, IV, V | Kids voting | Voting machines | Voter fraud, II, III | Voter ID, II, III | Noncitizen voting, II | Historical elections
Arkansas: Voter ID
Florida: Ballot confusion
Illinois: Check your ballot
Iowa: Voting system
Kansas: Kris Kobach
Nebraska: Voter access
New Jersey: Emergency voting
Rhode Island: Voter fraud
South Carolina: Early voting
VIII. Upcoming Events
National Conference of State Legislatures Forum— Fifty states, one voice is the theme for this year’s forum. Attendees will have the opportunity to discuss policy with national experts working on pressing issues as part of NCSL’s standing committees, advocate for the states on Lobby Day and participate in special programming developed for legislative staff. There will be a block of sessions on elections and will cover: Motor Voter, campaign finance, redistricting, partnerships, primary systems and legal action. The elections sessions will be on December 11. Where: Washington, D.C. When: December 9-12. For more information and to register, click here.
IX. Job Postings
Counsel, Brennan Center Democracy Program, New York City — The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is seeking an experienced attorney to work in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. The Counsel will be assigned primarily to our Voting Rights and Elections team, which works to ensure that voting is free, fair, and accessible for all Americans. Our current signature proposal is to modernize the voter registration system which would save money, increase accuracy and participation, and add an additional 50 million voters to the rolls permanently. At the same time, we actively defend against to restrict the vote by spearheading strategic impact litigation, groundbreaking studies, and national public education campaigns. The Counsel may also be assigned to another team as well. Qualifications: The position requires a J.D.; 6 or more years of legal experience (including clerkships, if any) in the public interest, private, or government sectors; and admission in the New York State Bar either before or shortly after it commences. The ideal candidate will have a strong litigation background; demonstrated success in policy advocacy; a strong entrepreneurial spirit; a passion for the work of the Center; and experience working with the media. This position requires the ability to work effectively in a team-based and deadline-driven environment. It also requires exceptional writing skills (for a variety of audiences, including legal, legislative, journalistic, and public); excellent analytic, strategic, and research skills; creativity, versatility, and flexibility; strong coalitional and coordination skills; and the ability to work effectively with diverse clients and allies. Demonstrated commitment to the public interest field a real plus. Salary: The salary is highly competitive in the field and commensurate with experience. Excellent benefits package as well. Application: For the complete listing and to apply, click here.