I. In Focus This Week
First Person Singular: Tammy Patrick
Traveling the country, listening to elections folks and some music
If you’ve been to an elections meeting lately, whether in Washington, D.C. or Santa Fe, New Mexico, you’ve probably seen Tammy Patrick sitting in the room somewhere, either as a member of the audience or on a panel.
She is a voting member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ working group on developing standards for a universal format for election results reporting and she is also a representative on the Mailer’s Technical Advisory Committee to the U.S. Post Office and has served as co-chair of the Postal Task Force for the Election Center.
All of this is to say that Patrick knows a thing or two about elections so we decided to send her some questions to find out what she’s hearing out there on the road, not only in meetings, but on her iPod.
You’ve done a lot of traveling since the Presidential Commission on Election Administration Report was released, any idea how many states/counties you’ve visited? Miles traveled?
Since the Report came out in January of 2014 I personally have testified in half a dozen state legislatures, provided data and information to more than a dozen additional state legislators or their staff, presented at nine state association conferences, and attended dozens of other stakeholder meetings and symposiums all over the country.
While I know that we have touched election administrators in almost every state, thankfully that didn’t require a trip to each one!
Organizations such as NASS, NASED, NCSL, Election Center, IACREOT have been instrumental in the success of thePCEA effort.
With that said, I recently wore out my “lifetime guaranteed” luggage.
As you’ve traveled throughout the country meeting with state and local elections officials, has there been one common theme/concern you’ve heard from officials?
Two themes that we heard throughout the PCEA efforts have continued to resonate in the post-report work: the need for voter registration modernization and the quandary election administrators find themselves in regarding technology.
With this last legislative session we now have surpassed the tipping point of more than half the states having authorized online voter registration, more states are participating in the cross-state data sharing programs of ERIC & IVRC, and more jurisdictions are leveraging the efficiencies of the use of electronic pollbooks to manage the moving target of an accurate voter roll.
Yet, there are so many other jurisdictions who yearn to modernize and benefit but are precluded from doing so due to statutory obstacles, lack of political will, deficient resources.
Election administrators are in the proverbial bind of knowing that their registration processes, their voting equipment, is out of date and needs replacement, but more often than not they are not being provided the tools they need to be successful.
Currently you’re in New Mexico at a meeting of state legislators and elections officials about voting technology. Typically the big legislative headlines are about voter ID and other voting rights issues (early voting hours, absentee voting limitations, etc.), but what issues technology-wise do you see Legislatures needing to tackle on behalf of elections officials?
There are a couple of topics that are dependent on the legislative branch in many states.
We have heard repeatedly from Congressional staff that there will not be another HAVA appropriation to replace voting equipment. Legislatures need to consider how new voting systems will be funded, not just for this purchase, but future systems as well. Establishing a revenue stream to ensure future acquisitions will defray continued uncertainty.
Implementation of online voter registration requires an initial investment. A recent Pew study found that the average cost for a state to implement an online registration system runs around $250,000. Every state that has deployed online registration has recovered their investment in a very short period of time and quickly benefit from the more efficient system.
Shifting consumables like signature rosters and registers from paper systems to electronic pollbooks also requires an outlay of funds. However, it is a bit like that television commercial “how much does all this cost?” with the piles of three-ring binders on the conference room table. The PCEA report calls for better data to support reform, the elections offices that can determine and articulate how much they are spending on their existing status quo will be best served when asking for funding of new projects.
Many statutes preclude state and local officials from innovating due to language rooted in old technology. States may determine that they are most comfortable moving forward first with pilot programs before revisiting specific, statewide requirements.
In some instances the mandates should be revoked. Ballot format specifics enshrined in statute need to be revised. Usability science needs to be applied to the manner that ballots are laid out, instructions are provided, and voter intent captured.
What’s been your favorite thing, work-wise, since leaving local elections in Maricopa County and moving to the national stage?
When we were writing the PCEA report I don’t think we envisioned the life that it would live after it left our pens. Here we are more than a year later and you would be hard pressed to attend a single election conference where the PCEA is not cited—sometimes in every presentation.
During coffee breaks and at dinner it is still a topic of conversation. Hearing from legislators who have used it to inspire legislation, from Secretaries of State and State Elections Directors who have used it to support their efforts, from locals who have taken some of the administrative practices and tried them in their own hometowns to better the services being provided and, ultimately, their voter’s experience is unbelievably gratifying.
If you had one piece of wisdom to share with anyone interested in election administration, what would it be?
Too often we focus on the big ticket items, the reforms that can take a large consensus (and time) to approve and implement. But there are incremental changes that can be done at the local level that will impact voters immediately. We included in the PCEA report things that local administrators can do in their offices for the next election without statutory change or administrative rule permissions:
- Instructing pollworkers that when they are talking to the facility about getting the door unlocked election morning to ask if there would be any extra chairs that could be borrowed should a line form, this will help voters;
- To make sure that all polling places meet accessibility requirements, this will help voters;
- Create a diagram specific to each polling location mapping out placement of equipment, tables, outlets, etc. to ensure proper traffic flow through the polling place, this will help voters; and
- Utilize the resource allocation tools on the www.supportthevoter.gov website for distribution ratios for check-in stations, voting booths/DREs, and the necessary pollworkers to staff each site, this will help voters.
There are many others listed in the report and I would encourage review of the recommendations.
Additionally it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that this can be a very difficult, albeit rewarding, profession. Stay focused on the voter. Stay passionate about what you do…and breathe deeply.
What’s your favorite traveling playlist?
Sure, save the hardest question for last! I love pretty much any style of music that doesn’t make my ears bleed, so my list is rather eclectic. Standards have to include Billie Holiday, Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Bessie Smith, Wilco, the Gourds, all Delta Blues—really ALL of it, Johnny Cash, Hank (I & III, but never II), Patsy Cline, Decemberists, Neal Young, John Prine, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Nina Simone…seriously the list gets pretty long.
Since moving to Maryland I have also been listening to a lot to a local songwriter that we have met, Dave Norris and in anticipation of the upcoming Fare Thee Well Grateful Dead shows in Chicago, the old bootlegs are in the rotation.
But the one that’s getting the most play right now is the demo of my upcoming fifth album as we are figuring out the instrumentation and song arrangements.
Listening and creating music is how I decompress and prepare…cuz that’s what I wanna be when I grow up.
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