I. In Focus This week
Election Day 2015 had a little bit of everything
Glitches, snafus, rats, successful pilots and unsuccessful pilots
By M. Mindy Moretti
“There was no line at the polling place. The line was almost out the door at Starbucks.” — an email from a Kentucky voter to her daughter.
There was snow, there was rain, there were blue skies and warm temperatures.
Poll workers overslept, stole voting equipment and didn’t know how to use new technology.
Voting machines malfunctioned and ballot-counting machines chugged along. There were new voting systems that worked flawlessly and there were those that didn’t.
Turnout out was historically low and turnout was relatively high.
Oh and there were rats.
Although ballots are still being counted and recounted and canvassed, Election Day 2015 is now in the books and while it may seem like a there were a litany of problems, by and large things went relatively smoothly, with, as always, isolated pockets of problems on Tuesday.
We’ll take a brief look at some of the issues that made headlines this week and take a deeper dive on some of those issues and the impacts they may have on 2016 in the coming weeks.
Vote by Mail
In the weeks and days leading up to Election Day, it seemed that vote-by-mail and the impacts of the U.S. Postal Service could have on that would be the biggest story of the election, however at press time, that does not seem to have played out. There were few reported problems of ballots arriving late.
Officials in Utah, where dozens of cities were voting-by-mail for the first time in a general election were pleased with the process and the impacts it had on voter turnout.
"I'm very happy about the voter turnout," Logan City Recorder Teresa Harris told the Cache Valley Daily. "It's the highest we've had since we had 25 percent in 2005. This year we had 28 percent and that's a pretty good turnout."
About 24,000 ballots arrived after Election Day in Salt Lake County, but still technically on time. The late arrival has left several races in the balance and has inspired one lawmaker to call for legislation that would allow clerks to post daily totals while continuing to count ballots instead of waiting till the race is certified to post the results.
Several jurisdictions debuted new voting equipment this general election and while everyone may not have been a fan of the new process, by-and-large there were very few problems with new systems.
In Virginia, where numerous cities and counties rolled out new equipment went quite well even though some voters didn’t like the switch back to paper ballots. Roanoke County had some issues with e-poll books, but the new voting equipment worked fine. The biggest problem was missing ballot-marking tables.
There are always glitches and snafus with technology on Election Day and election night and this year was no different. But that being said, there were no major meltdowns in any state or county.
In Pima County, Arizona, where elections officials were hand-counting three races in order to test the accuracy of the county’s new tabulation system, the new software slowed the reporting of the results, but according to Brad Nelson, elections director the results were accurate.
Eight counties in Colorado piloted four new voting systems for the state and the Mesa County, Colorado clerk’s office said the new system worked like a charm.
“They worked like a dream,” County Clerk Shelia Reiner told The Daily Sentinel. “We really enjoyed some good efficiencies from them. The scanners feed smoothly. I really had my doubts about this model, but it was slick.”
Several Ohio counties piloted e-poll books for the first time and the results were mixed.
Hamilton County faced the biggest struggles with delays at 10 of the county’s polling places and poll workers being forced to use the old paper poll books to sign in voters.
Secretary of State Jon Husted blamed a lack of preparation on the part of poll worker as the problem, not the system itself.
"It wasn't the machines. It was the poll workers themselves who were not properly prepared to use the new technology, (but) not for lack of training. The Board of Elections gave them the three-hour training they were required to have, but they showed up unprepared and unready to use this, and that issue will be addressed," Husted told WLWT.
Voters were none-too-pleased and voiced their frustration to several media outlets.
"It's not like this came as a surprise," Voter Matthew Wahlert told Fox 19. "They didn't even have passwords to work the machines. When I left, there were 20-25 people waiting and a lot of those folks were early morning voters like me who have to vote before we go to work or they aren't going to be able to."
Wahlert did not end up casting a ballot in yesterday’s election.
Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlmann kept the polls open for an additional hour and a half after the early morning problems with the poll books.
"I think giving an extra hour and a half, just to be fair - make sure everbody gets a chance to vote - I think that's the right decision. That's what I'm going to do,” Ruehlmann said about his decision.
According to the Hamilton County board of elections, about 1,000-1,100 people voted during the additional 90 minutes.
Secretaries of State
Although she was leading by as many as double-digit poll numbers before the election, incumbent Kentucky Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes won re-election with just 51.2 percent of the vote over Republican challenger Steve Knipper.
"This is a job I love," Grimes told the Courier-Journal. “We have taken the office to new heights, breaking barriers to the ballot box and growing the economy," she told The Courier-Journal. "Those are the priorities we will continue to build upon for a better Kentucky."
In Mississippi, incumbent Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann was easily re-elected to a third term as secretary with 62 percent of the vote over Democratic challenger Charles Graham.
And as we reported previously 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.
Ranked Choice Voting
A referendum to move the city of Duluth to a ranked choice voting system failed by a large margin. According to the Duluth News Tribune, the tally showed 15,564 no votes and 5,271 votes.
In the days leading up to the election, the referendum had become one of the hottest issues on the ballot with past and current elected officials taking up each side of the argument.
“I think it shows that the people of Duluth have a lot of common sense and understand that we’ve got a high level of civic engagement in the community,” Second District Councilor Joel Sipress told the paper. “We have an election system that works well for us, and I’m just really gratified that people in Duluth used their own judgment to determine what’s best for our election system.”
Turnout really was a mixed bag this year. In some areas, like Houston, Texas and Ohio turnout was driven by contentious ballot-issues. Unlike presidential or congressional election years, what, even more so than who, was on the ballot, seemed to drive turnout.
And turnout even varied widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction within the same state. Indianapolis saw it’s lowest turnout in 30 years —and the city was electing a new mayor, whereas turnout in Richmond, Indiana topped turnout from four years ago.
Odds and Ends
One great thing about Election Day, besides the whole democratic process, are the storylines it provides. And although this was an “off-year election” there was no shortage of odds and ends.
In Maine, voters became upset when groups began videotaping signature gatherers and signers at polling locations. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap had to issue a statement that the filming was legal although he cautioned those doing the filming to be careful not to actually film signatures.
Poll workers in Eggville, Mississippi have turned Election Day into a potluck with certain poll workers agreeing to bring food to feed everyone working that day. Items on the menu this year included layered salad, strawberry cake, pork loin, apple cobbler, cabbage casseroled, creamed potatoes, Texas hash, and chicken salad. Yum.
Hmmmm, in Morristown, New Jersey one poll worker was telling voters that Republican voters used one voting machine and Democrats used the other. When a voter filed a complaint with the Morris County board of elections, the board, according to NBC said it immediately fixed the problem by re-educating the poll workers.
Now this is some election spending that electionline can get behind! Harris County, Texas voters received “I Voted” stickers for the first time in several elections because the county purchased 2 million stickers that should last through the 2016 presidential election. “Our voters have asked for it. It's also a neat thing to be proud of voting," Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart told the Houston Chronicle. "Those have been very popular."
An election judge in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania who had voting equipment in his car, apparently decided not to work the polls that day and instead offer rides for money. The polls opened three hours late and the poll worker was arrested.
Oh, and about those rats we mentioned. At one polling place in Texas, only one of the precincts voting machines came to life that morning because rats and other vermin had chewed the electrical wiring inside the polling place and therefore the power in the church was low. It took the county till about 2pm to provide a generator to run the machines.
II. Election News This Week
- In a letter to President Obama, a group of voting rights organizations said that unlike the 13 state-based health insurance exchanges, the exchange run by the federal government has failed to comply with Motor Voter by offering those who use the exchange an opportunity to register to vote. The groups include the League of Women Voters, Project Vote and Demos. “It’s an interesting, creative argument,” Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine told The New York Times. “I just don’t know if the courts will buy it or not.”
- A Legislative audit in South Dakota has resulted in numerous questions about the administration of former Secretary of State Jason Gant that landed the office more than $43,000 in the hole. In addition to the financial shortfall, the audit reports that mini iPads are missing from the office and problems with federal election grants, including no invoices to support reimbursements to counties and grant money spent in areas that were not allowed.
- Beginning this week, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is reopening satellite driver’s license offices in 30 counties. A license examiner will be sent to most of the offices one day per month and two offices will be staffed two or more days per month.
- The Benton County, Arkansas election commission has voted to pursue moving the county to vote centers. The plan would reduce the number of polling places in the county from 67 to 46.
- Homer, Alaska resident Rick Malley has filed a complaint with the Alaska Human Rights Commission against the Kenai Peninsula Borough because the city didn’t have an electronic touchscreen voting machine for him to use during the October 5 election. Although officials offered Malley, who is blind, the option of assisting him with his ballot in the voting booth, Malley told the officials that he didn’t want that option. “I went to the polling place, thought there would be an accessible machine,” he told the Homer News. “There wasn’t. I couldn’t vote.”
- LatinoJustice and the Georgia Association of Latino Election Officials have submitted letters to elections officials in Hall and Gwinnett counties in Georgia asking that 2016 elections materials be provided in Spanish as well as English.
- Happy Anniversary! A small shout out to, well me! This week marks my 10th anniversary at electionline! I’ve been onboarded, offboarded and briefly unemployed during those 10 years, but I’m having more fun learning and writing about elections now than ever before. If you want to get me a gift, feel free to send me an “I Voted” sticker!
- Personnel News: The U.S. Election Assistance Commission has announced that Brian Newby, Johnson County, Kansas election commissioner will be the EAC’s new executive director and Cliff Tatum, executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections is the new general counsel. Bernalillo County ClerkMaggie Toulouse Oliverhas sent an application letter to Gov. Susana Martinez to be the state’s next secretary of state. Former Republican State Rep. Dennis Richardson has announced that he is running for Oregon secretary of state. Rev. Aldren Sadler has been appointed to the Rockdale County, North Carolina board of elections. Kurt W. Sahloff has been named to the Putnam County, Ohio board of elections. Joshua Price has been named to the Suffolk County, New York elections commission. Wade Henderson has announced that he will step down as president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights at the beginning of next year. Art Harvey, Josephine County, Oregon clerk is resigning to take a position in the Jackson County elections office. Former Indiana Secretary of State Joe Hogsett was elected mayor of Indianapolis this week.
- In Memoriam: Victor Risch, a longtime Indianapolis poll worker, was killed on his way to the polls Tuesday morning. He was 74. "He just got along with everybody," Cindy Maude, precinct inspector for the polling place at Meridian Woods Park Country Club on the Far Southside told the Indianapolis Star. According to the paper, Risch spent Monday evening helping set up ballot boxes and voting equipment. "We were just devastated. He was just such a jolly, fun guy," poll worker Carolyn Nykaza told the paper. Risch is survived by his wife of 44 years, three children and four grandchildren.
III. Legislative Updates
Federal Legislation: This week House Democratic leaders announced a national campaign to pressure Republican leaders to hold a hearing or schedule a vote on an update to the Voting Rights Act.
California: Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-Marin County) has introduced legislation that would allow California voters to take ballot selfies and share them on social media or elsewhere. Levine said he introduced the legislation as a way to boost turnout out. “California law should encourage voter pride, political speech, and civic engagement through social media,” Levine said in a statement.
The Chula Vista Charter Review Commission voted 6-1 to propose new charter language that would give the city council the option of conducting all vote-by-mail elections in the event of a special election to replace the mayor or city council.
District of Columbia: Under proposed legislation in the District, not only would 16-year-olds be permitted to vote in local elections, they would also be able to cast their vote for president and delegate. The bill’s author, Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) argues that it does not violate the 26th Amendment and some law professors seem to agree.
Florida: A Senate budget committee has approved SB 112 that would replace absentee voting in the Sunshine State with vote-by-mail. Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando) told the Tampa Bay Times that the term absentee has been outdated since 1997 when the Legislature dropped the requirement that voters provide an excuse to cast an out-of-precinct ballot.
Hawaii: County and state election official advocated for major voting reforms — including all-mail elections and automatic voter registration — during a joint legislative briefing Tuesday at the state Capitol that included members of the Senate Judiciary and Labor and House Judiciary committees.
Wisconsin: The Senate once again delayed action on two elections-related bills including one that would dissolve the state’s Government Accountability Board. The Senate will now convene on Friday to consider the legislation. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said that he has the votes necessary to approve the legislation.
IV. Legal Updates
California: A Ventura County man has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor voter fraud charges for voting twice, once by his own absentee ballot and the second time by the absentee ballot of his recently deceased father-in-law. He was given three years’ probation and ordered to pay $1,000.
Georgia: The Georgia NAACP has filed a federal voting rights lawsuit against elections officials in Sparta and Hancock counties to stop what the organization argues is an illegal purging of African American voters.
Also in Georgia, a voting rights case in Fayette County that was set to begin November 16 has been postponed.
New Hampshire: It was revealed this week that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the City of Concord for possible federal law violations for not providing accessible voting machines to people with disabilities.
Utah: A federal judge upheld part of a Utah law overhauling how political parties nominate candidates on Tuesday, but he struck down a provision that would have forced parties to allow unaffiliated voters in primary elections.
V. Tech Thursday
North Carolina: The Libya High National Elections Commission and Durham-based Caktus Group this week open-sourced their SMS voter registration system SmartElect. According to WRAL, the platform was developed to enhance voter registration turnout and was built upon the technological successes of SMS and text message voter registration systems.
West Virginia: According to Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, the state’s new online voter registration system received 1,082 submissions in the first month including 439 new voter registration applications, 349 address changes, 267 party changes and 27 name changes. Submissions came from 50 of the state’s 55 counties.
VI. Opinions This Week
Alabama: Voting rights
Colorado: Election system
Connecticut: Secretary of state’s office
Indiana: Election costs
Kansas: Kris Kobach
Minnesota: Polling places
Mississippi: Secretary of state race
New Hampshire: Secretary of state
North Carolina: Voter ID
Washington: REAL ID
VII. 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.
VIII. 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.
IX. Job Postings This Week
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.