I. In Focus This Week
Plenty to watch during ‘off-year’ election
U.S. Postal Service may play biggest role in 2015
By M. Mindy Moretti
While the focus of many Americans — well, at least the American media — seems to be on the election that is still more than year away, elections officials across the country are gearing up for state and local elections next week on November 3.
Just because this isn’t the big show 2016 will be doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty to keep an eye on as voters in more than half of the states will head to the polls in some capacity on Tuesday.
We’ve been watching the news in the months leading up to November 3 and these are some of the stories we think are worth watching.
Vote By Mail
By far, we think the biggest story for the 2015 elections will be voting by mail—whether it’s casting an absentee ballot or a vote-by-mail ballot.
In the days leading up to the election, the U.S. Postal Service and elections officials in numerous states have urged voters to get their mail ballots posted even before this newsletter hits your inbox.
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and some county clerks told voters that if their ballots were not in the mail by October 27 that they should not rely on the Postal Service and should instead drop their ballots off at an available dropbox.
For their part, the U.S. Postal Service and some county clerks disputed Williams’ assertion of the October 27 deadline. The Postal Service said that ballots in the mail by Friday, the 30th should be delivered in time.
“All of our processes are running fine,” David Rupert, Unites States Postal Service spokesman for Colorado told the Aurora Sentinel. “You can continue to mail your ballots this week and the Postal Service will deliver them in time for Election Day.”
Clerks in Adams and Arapahoe counties said that while they were encouraging voters to use the ballot dropboxes, it had nothing to do with concerns about mail delivery and everything to do with getting a jump on ballot counting.
Lansing, Michigan City Clerk Chris Swope has said that changes to the way the Postal Service is processing ballots has added at least a day to the delivery of absentee ballots and has been urging voters to get their ballots in the mail by the weekend. The city received dozens of ballots on the day after the August primary and because they must be in the elections office by the times the polls close on election day, not just postmarked, they were not eligible to be counted.
In Washington, Clark County Elections Supervisor Cathie Garber and her staff are making an end run around tardy mail delivery. According to The Columbian, rather than wait for mail-in ballots to be delivered by the Postal Service, Garber and a staff member will drive to the distribution center in Portland to pick up ballots. “We’re going to try this and see if it alleviates some of the problems we had in the primary,” she told the paper. Three days after the Aug. 7 primary, more than 1,000 ballots were discovered sitting at the postal distribution center in Portland.
After a relatively successful roll out during primary season, residents in numerous Utah cities are casting their first general election ballots by mail. Ballots must be postmarked by November 2 in order to be counted and the U.S. Postal Service and local elections officials have encouraged voters to get those ballots in early.
"We are proud of mail’s widespread usage as an efficient and effective means for citizens to participate in the voting process,” the U.S. Postal Service's district manager Darrell Stoke told The Desert News. “The Postal Service anticipates a large influx of mail-in ballots this election season, and we are ready to ensure every Utah vote is counted.”
At press time, officials in Ada County, Idaho were trying to figure out where all the absentee ballots are. Phil McCrane, chief deputy at the Ada County Clerk’s office said that in a typical election the rate-of-return for absentee ballots would be about 48-to 52 percent at this point in time, however they are currently only at 24 percent. "It was working from our side, where ballots are printed and inserted," McGrane told Boise Weekly. "But it's where those ballots entered the postal service system that we're hearing about extensive delays."
And in California, San Mateo County is conducting its very first all-mail election as part of an Assembly-approved pilot program. The election is being watched by state officials to see if it may be feasible in the future to move the whole state to vote-by-mail.
On the Ballot
In Kentucky, Steve Knipper (R), a former city councilman from Erlanger is challenging incumbent Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes (D). In the latest Bluegrass Poll, Lundergan Grimes leads Knipper by 13 percentage points.
Incumbent Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler (R) can rest easy this Election Day after winning the state’s primary earlier this month with more than enough votes over challenger Chris Tyson (D), a law professor, to avoid a runoff on November 21.
Duluth, Minnesota voters will decide whether or not to move that city to a ranked choice voting system. Advocates gathered more than 3,000 signatures to get the initiative on the November ballot and in August the city council wrangled over the ballot wording before finally coming to consensus. Opinions on the initiative have been mixed with many on the Duluth city council opposed to the new voting system while other statewide politicians and advocates are in support. The state’s major newspaper published an op-ed in opposition to the proposal.
Also, it will be interesting to watch whether or not the pot initiative on the ballot in Ohio will drive turnout. Early indications from some counties are that absentee ballot requests are up and officials suspect it is because of the initiative. “I think it’s all about pot,” Lake County Elections Board Director Jan Clair told the News-Herald. “That’s just my humble opinion.” Lake County is expecting about 11,000 absentee ballots to be turned in by Election Day. In 2013, there were 6,565 submitted.
Voters in numerous counties nationwide will be experiencing new voting equipment—either when they cast their ballot, or check-in to the polling site — for the first time this election.
Of course, with the roll out of any new technology there are bound to be glitches, snafus and even hiccups and we’ll be keep an eye out for all of those.
Also worth watching are the Virginia counties that are rolling out new voting systems for the first general election since the state decertified the WinVote system. Most of those counties have now purchased new voting equipment with the majority moving to a paper ballot system.
In Arizona, elections official in Pima County will be hand-counting ballots in three races in order to make sure that the county’s new ballot tabulation system is functioning properly.
Odds and Ends
Hmmm ... With the support of former Mayor John F. Street and his three-time rival, a Philadelphia foundation is offering $10,000 to one lucky voter who casts their ballot in the upcoming mayoral election. According to those involved, polling locations for all 1,686 voting division will be fed into a computer program that will choose one at random, then on Election Day, organizers will drive to that polling place and wait for the first voter to emerge and provide them with the money.
II. Election News This Week
- Officials in Sacramento County, California are facing questions about the organization hired to review the county’s registrar’s office. The county awarded $115,000 to the Election Center to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the elections office. The examination, according to The Sacramento Bee, will be conducted by Ernest Hawkins how previously headed the elections office in Sacramento. Chief Deputy County Executive Paul Lake told the paper that he is aware of the potential conflicts of interest, but that he’s comfortable with the Election Center conducting the review. The county received seven proposals to conduct the review that was instituted after clerks in Sacrament, Galt and Rancho Cordova complained that the county mishandled the 2014 election.
- Well this is one way to get people to turn in their ballots! Recently, King County, Washington elections division left a ballot drop box at a “voting party” that was attended by the governor, mayor and several candidates. "We're encouraging people to vote, people to have their friends and neighbors vote and this was a part of that effort, that I believed would be a start for that," Huff told KING. "It turned out it was a wonderful event." David Ammons, spokesperson for the Secretary of State, told KING the voting party "is not illegal, but not recommended,” and that the use of the boxes is not illegal either.
- The League of Women voters and professors at three of Kansas’ public universities are teaming up to teach college students how to register to vote. The course will be piloted by Washburn, Emporia State and Fort Hayes State universities this fall and teach students how to register themselves and how to register others. “The idea is to fit it into the regular curriculum” of a history or political science class, Mark Petersen, a political scientist who developed the course told the Kansas City Star. The league hopes that colleges and high schools around the state will adopt the course next year ahead of the 2016 election.
- We’ll give them an A for effort, if not timeliness. Recently, Arlington County, Virginia election chief Linda Lindberg had to turn away several high school students attempting to pre-register for the 2016 elections. In Virginia, 17-year-olds are allowed to pre-register, the only problem is these students were trying to register by the 2015 registration deadline that they are not eligible for. According to Inside NoVa, Lindberg had to reject the applications. ”Unfortunately, we had to deny them for being underage,” Lindberg told the paper, since her office wasn’t allowed to hold the applications and process them later.
- We don’t typically post international election news, but we really couldn’t help but post this story and wonder what elections officials in this country would do. During India’s ongoing elections, 19-year-old conjoined twins voted with one voter identity card, meaning one ballot. The twins, who are joined at the head, but cannot be separated without risking the life of one, live with their parents and cast their vote a polling place near their home. “We have voted as per our willingness to take part in formation of the next government,” they said in a statement according to The Hindu.
- Personnel News: Incumbent Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler was re-elected this week for a second full four-year term. Emily Carrington is the new South Portland, Maine city clerk. New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran has resigned from office and pleaded guilty to embezzlement and other charges. Deputy Secretary of State Mary Quintana will serve as acting secretary of state until Gov. Susana Martinez names a new person to the post. A special election will be held in 2016 to select someone to serve out the remainder of Duran’s term, which ends in 2018. Effective Jan. 1, 2016 Kristen Clarke will be the new president and executive director of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She is replacing Barbara R. Arnwine who served in the role for more than 26 years. Trish Gearhart is retiring as the Trenton, Michigan clerk after more than two decades on the job. Willie Green, III has been appointed the new elections supervisor in Floyd County, Georgia.
III. Research and Report Summaries
Voter Registration in a Digital Age: 2015 Update - Holly Maluk, Myrna Pérez, and Lucy Zhou, Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, Oct. 27, 2015: This updated report finds that more states are offering online voter registration and modernizing and automating voter registration at motor vehicle agencies, which can improve that accuracy of voter rolls and save money.
IV. Legislative Updates
Alaska: The Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) has approved a resolution of support for the PFD voter registration ballot initiative. The resolution was approved unanimously. “We want to thank Lieutenant Governor Mallott for making a modern, accessible elections system in Alaska one of his top priorities,” Kim Reitmeier, Co-Chair of PFD Voter Registration told the Alaska Native News. “This initiative was a direct outgrowth of the recommendations made by the Lieutenant Governor’s Elections Reform Working Group.”
Arizona: Earlier this year, the Arizona Legislature approved a bill — now a law — that allows voters to feel free to take those ballot selfies and post them on whatever form of social media they chose. Previously, the law made showing your ballot a Class 2 Misdemeanor. Now, it’s legal, but voters still can’t photograph and show the ballots of other voters.
Florida: SB 666 (seriously), submitted by Sen. John Legg would add veterans’ health ID cards and concealed weapon licenses to the list of acceptable forms of identification at a polling place or early voting site. According to FloridaPolitics.com, Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley said the legislation was introduced at the request of local elections administrators who heard from voters throughout the state wanting these IDs included.
Wisconsin: At press time, the status of legislation to dismantle the state’s Government Accountability Board was in question after the Senate cancelled a planned session to discuss the legislation. The special session of the Assembly ends this week.
V. Legal Updates
Florida: They may ultimately be on opposing sides but voting-rights groups and the Florida Legislature both objected this week to an attempt by U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Winter Garden) to intervene in the suit over the state’s congressional redistricting plan.
New Jersey: According to the Press of Atlantic City, the Atlantic County Clerk cannot process mail-in ballot applications partially filled out by a PAC until an appeals court ruling, but on Wednesday, an appeals court judge sided with the PAC and Atlantic County Clerk Ed McGettigan will now begin processing mail-in ballot applications that are partially completed by the super PAC.
New York: A group of Chinese-American students are suing Deerpark Supervisor Gary Spears, accusing him of voter intimidation after he challenged new voter registrations submitted by 30 Chinese-American college students.
North Carolina: U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder refused a request from North Carolina lawmakers to dismiss a challenge to the state’s voter ID law and set a tentative trial date for January 2016.
VI. Tech Thursday
National Tech: The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Voting Information Project (VIP) and The Internet Association are re-launching the Get to the Polls website. The site allows voters to enter their addresses and find the location and hours of their polling place and ballot and candidate information. The site is available now through November 3.
Colorado: ClearBallot will pilot its voting system in Adams County for the upcoming election including a public demonstration of ballot processing on Monday, November 2. “We are excited to work with Clear Ballot as part of the state’s efforts to bring innovative technology to Colorado,” said Adams County Clerk Stan Martin. “New technology like ClearVote demonstrates how transparency will transform the election results process in Colorado and, most importantly, increase voter confidence.”
New Jersey: Union County has released the Union County Votes app to help voters find their polling place and its hours, view sample ballots and get official election results. The app also provides information on how to become a poll worker.
Ohio: The Mahoning County BOE has launched Mahoning County Votes, a free app for smartphones that provides a variety of voting information including polling place locations and hours, sample ballots and election results. According to the county, the app is the first of its kind in the state.
Texas: The League of Women Voters of Texas has launched a new voter app — the 2015 Constitutional Amendment Voters Guide. According to the League, who partnered with Think Voting to create the app, the app seeks to streamline the voting process by consolidating scattered and fragmented information.
VII. Opinions This Week
District of Columbia: Ranked choice voting
Georgia: Special election rules
Montana: American Indian voters
North Carolina: Voter ID
Pennsylvania: Online voter registration
Virginia: Absentee ballots
Washington: Election integrity
VIII. Available RFIs/RFPs
Request for Information — E poll books
The Rhode Island Department of Administration/Division of Purchases, on behalf of the Rhode Island Office of the Secretary of State is soliciting responses from qualified vendors to offer electronic poll books for the State of Rhode Island. The Department of State is interested in acquiring electronic poll books for use in the 2016 election cycle beginning with the April 26, 2016 Presidential Preference Primary in order to achieve the following goals:
- Accurate and up-to-date voter rolls on Election Day
- Shorter wait times at polling places on Election Day
- User-friendly check-in process for both voters and poll workers
- Reduced provisional voting
- Reduced printing costs
- An overall more modern check-in system at polling places on Election Day
For the complete Request For Information, please click here.
Request for Proposals — Voting Equipment System
The Rhode Island Department of Administration/Division of Purchases has issued a Request for Proposals/Bid for a voting equipment system. The bid package and information concerning the bid is available here. The Closing Date & Time for this bid is October 30, 2015 at 10 a.m. (Eastern).
IX. Available Funding/Partnerships
Erase the Line
The Foundation Center
The Democracy Fund and seven other foundations have formed a partnership to create a data visualization platform that maps out how foundations support democracy and political reform in the U.S. The tool, hosted by The Foundation Center, is the only known source of information on how foundations are supporting U.S. democracy and provides direct access to available funding data. The tool enables nonprofits to:
- Identify additional funding sources that are an appropriate fit for their work;
- Learn what funders and peers are doing;
- Better understand the priorities and practices of specific funders; and
- Build effective collaborations.
U.S. Election Assistance Commission Grants
EAC Grants Management Division is responsible for distributing, monitoring, providing technical assistance to states and grantees on the use of funds, and reporting on requirements payments and discretionary grants to improve administration of elections for federal office. The office also negotiates indirect cost rates with grantees and resolves audit findings on the use of HAVA funds.
X. Upcoming Events
NACRC Webinar: “Elections officials, meet ERIC, your state voter database’s new best friend!” presented by David Becker, Elections Initiatives division of The Pew Charitable Trusts. ERIC is a sophisticated, secure, multistate data-matching tool that improves the accuracy and efficiency of state voter registration systems. "Born" in 2012, ERIC is owned, managed, and funded by participating states, with assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts. 11 states and the District of Columbia are currently participating, with more states joining soon. Find out how ERIC helps proactively clean and maintain voter databases, resulting in less returned postage, fewer frustrated voters, and squeaky-clean voter databases. Earn one credit hour for your Certified Public Official certification by attending this webinar. When: Wednesday, Nov. 18, 3pm Eastern. For more information and to register, click here.
NACRC Webinar: “Vote-by-mail is growing. Are you ready?” presented by Neal Kelley, registrar of voters for Orange County, California. In this webinar, we will address the growing vote-by-mail trend and the challenges facing election officials. You'll have the opportunity to hear from your peers and industry experts on best practices that support monitoring, reporting, tracking and auditing the end-to-end vote-by-mail processes. Whether your vote by mail volumes are large or small, every vote counts and integrity, accuracy, and perception are vital. Earn one credit hour for your Certified Public Official certification by attending this webinar. When: Wednesday, Dec. 2 at 2pm Eastern. For more information and to register, click here.
NCSL Capitol Forum — The 2015 Capitol Forum and Meeting of Standing Committees is designed to o help craft the States’ Agenda and be a voice for the states on Lobby Day on Capitol Hill. The Capitol Forum features sessions on important state-federal issues, special tours and briefings for legislative staff, and opportunities to connect with legislative colleagues from across the nation. When: Dec. 8-11. Where: Marriot Wardman Hotel, Washington, D.C. For more information and to register, click here.
NASS Winter Conference: The National Association of Secretaries of State will hold its 2016 Winter Conference at the JW Marriott in Washington, D.C. February 10-13, 2016. This event will bring together government and industry leaders to showcase Secretary of State initiatives and highlight all the latest developments in state and federal policymaking circles. NASS President Kate Brown and other speakers will focus on many important topics and leadership opportunities for members, including a special new member orientation session for newly-elected or appointed Secretaries of State! Where: JW Marriott, Washington, D.C. When: Feb. 10-13, 2016. For more information and to register, click here.
NACo Legislative Conference: The NACo Legislative Conference is held on an annual basis in Washington, DC. This meeting brings over 2,000 elected and appointed county officials from across the country to focus on legislative issues facing county government. Attendees hear from key Administration officials and members of Congress and are offered a myriad of additional educational opportunities addressing current and hot topic issues. A day of lobbying on Capitol Hill the last day rounds out an information-packed conference. Where: Washington, D.C. When: Feb. 20-24, 2016. For more information and to register, click here.
XI. Job Postings This Week
Registrar of Voters, Yavapai County, Arizona— Provide professional level project planning in all functions related to the conduct of voting activities for the County. Sound judgment is required in this position to ensure the County's compliance with all applicable laws that govern voter registration. Ability to perform administrative work of considerable difficulty in the management and strategic planning of the operations of the Voter Registration Department while interpreting and complying with state and federal laws. This position works 40 hours/week except during the early voting and post-election periods, during which extensive UNPAID additional hours will be necessary including weekends and holidays. Salary: $51,289-$69,822. Deadline: November 3. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Senior Associate, Election Initiatives, Pew Trusts, Washington, D.C. — Pew Charitable Trusts is seeking to hire a Senior Associate to work on the Voting Information Project (VIP) initiative. The Senior Associate will be expected to contribute at multiple levels, such as implementing VIP’s state assistance strategies, managing technology vendors, and leading outreach to state partners. This position will require autonomous work and creative thinking in managing relationships with our state partners. The position will be based in Pew’s Washington, DC office and will report to the Election Initiatives Project Director. It is expected that this position is for a term period through June 30, 2017, with the possibility of an extension pending the success of the program, funding sources and board decisions on continued support. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Senior Program Analyst, Clark County, Nevada — provides lead direction, training and work review to a programming project team; organized and assigns work, sets priorities, and follows-up and controls project status to ensure coordination and completion of assigned work. Provides input into selection, evaluation, disciplinary and other personnel matters. Gathers and analyzes information regarding customer systems and requirements and develops or modifies automated systems to fulfill these needs. Conducts feasibility studies and develops system, time, equipment and cost requirements. Using computer generated techniques, simulates hardware and software problems, tests and evaluates alternative solutions, and recommends and implements appropriate applications design. Develops program logic and processing steps; codes programs in varied languages. Plans and develops test data to validate new or modified programs; designs input and output forms and documents. Troubleshoots hardware and software problems, as needed, for customers, other agencies and information systems personnel. Writes program documentation and customer procedures and instructions and assists user departments and staff in implementing new or modified programs and applications; tracks and evaluates project and systems progress. Writes utility programs to support and validate adopted systems and programs. Confers with customer department staff regarding assigned functional program areas. Maintains records and prepares periodic and special reports of work performed. Maintains current knowledge of technology and new computer customer applications. Contributes to the efficiency and effectiveness of the unit's service to its customers by offering suggestions and directing or participating as an active member of a work team. Uses standard office equipment in the course of the work; may drive a personal or County motor vehicle or be able to arrange for appropriate transportation in order to travel between various job sites depending upon departments and/or projects assigned. Salary: $58,760-$91,104 annually. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
State Certification Manager, ES&S, Omaha, Nebraska — primary responsibility to manage all certification related activities for assigned states. Work directly with state election officials and ES&S internal organizations including: Sales, Compliance Management, Product Management, Development, Quality Assurance, and Operations and Legal departments. Ensure ES&S’s election system products and services comply with each state’s respective regulatory policy. Deadline: November 6. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.