I. In Focus This Week
Voters give vote-by-mail the stamp of approval
A Q&A with San Mateo County’s Mark Church
San Mateo County, California recently completed its first countywide all-mail election and by all accounts, the election — part of a pilot program for the state of California — was very successful.
Assembly Bill 2028 was approved in 2014 allowing San Mateo to join Yolo County in conducting countywide elections all by mail up to three times before 2018 as part of a pilot program. Under the legislation, every registered voter to received a ballot in the mail along with a ballot return envelope with prepaid postage.
Although prior to the passage of the legislation the majority of San Mateo voters were already casting their ballot by mail conducting the election solely by mail was a major shift and required extensive voter outreach.
Electionline virtually sat down with Mark Church, the county’s chief elections officer & assessor-county clerk-recorder this week to chat about his office’s experience.
Overall, how do you feel the first all-mail election went in San Mateo County?
Excellent. The November 3rd, 2015 All-Mailed Ballot Election went smoothly and was a complete success. Without a doubt, the election was one of the most efficiently conducted local consolidated elections held in the county's history.
Turnout was up from two years ago. Did you think it might be higher than it ultimately was or were you pleased with the number?
We were very pleased that there was significant increase in voter turnout and the number of voters who participated in the election. We anticipated an increase in voter turnout as a result of our extensive outreach efforts. The actual numbers were quite remarkable. A total of 105,341 ballots were cast in this election. This is an increase of 14,000 ballots (15 percent) over the previous local consolidated election held in 2013.
Voter turnout reached 29.5 percent, an increase of 4 percent over the 25.4 percent turnout in 2013. These numbers are impressive given the historical downward trend of voter participation locally and in the State of California for local elections.
Although San Mateo had large percentages of vote-by-mail voters in the past, what was the most challenging thing for your office in the transition to all vote-by-mail?
In order for an All-Mailed Ballot Election to be successful, an extensive voter outreach and education program must be initiated and continued through the complete election cycle. This requires the allocation of significant staffing and fiscal resources. While these efforts are challenging, voter education and outreach is one of our most important responsibilities as election officials. As is evident by our increase in voter participation across all demographic groups, the investment in voter outreach and education was key to the success of our All-Mailed Ballot Election.
Were there any things that you learned from this all-mail election that you will be able to apply to future all-mail elections moving forward?
First, voter outreach and education is an essential component for all elections. This is true irrespective if the election conducted wholly by mail or a traditional polling place election.
Second, 97.5 percent of all the ballots cast were returned by mail, or dropped off at our Voting Centers, Ballot Drop Off Locations and Universal Polling Places. Approximately 2.5 percent of all votes cast were cast at the Universal Polling Places. This indicates that fewer polling places may be needed when conducting an All-Mailed Ballot Election.
Third, a successful All-Mailed Ballot Election requires a collaborative effort between participating jurisdictions, elected officials, community based organizations and the local media.
Fourth, and perhaps one of the most important components of a successful All-Mailed Ballot Election, is the recognition that planning and partnering with the local and regional United States Postal Service (USPS) is vital to the success of the election.
Did anything surprise you (good or bad) about the process?
There were no major surprises. We can credit that to an extensive planning process that addressed many of the potential problem areas in advance.
Your office did an incredible amount of outreach to voters, but did you get any confused/angry phone calls on Election Day from folks wondering where to vote?
The calls we received were very minimal. As expected, there were a few voters who were not clear on where or how to participate in the election on Election Day. But with so few voters voting at the polls, these issues were minimal.
Even if you don't have the final numbers yet, how much money do you think your office will save by conducting all-mail elections?
We will have these final figures calculated by the end of January. However, we expect decreased costs as compared to a traditional countywide election. In a traditional election, we hire and train some 1,700 precinct voters, deploy and test over 1,400 voting machines and secure 209 polling places.
In our All-Mailed Ballot Election, we hired approximately 150 workers and reduced our polling places to 32 Universal Polling Places countywide. As a result, we expect some significant savings, but it is too premature to project those savings at this time until we receive all invoices and calculate our labor costs to conduct the election.
San Mateo County was part of a pilot program, will you recommend to the secretary of state's office and legislators to move forward with vote-by-mail statewide?
Absolutely! With increased voter turnout, lower election costs, quicker results on Election Night and increased efficiencies, San Mateo County has proven that an All-Mailed Ballot Election, properly conducted, is a model on how future elections should be conducted in California.
II. Election News This Week
- Benton County, Arkansas has been given the final OK to move to 46 vote centers in 2016 instead of the 68 traditional polling places the county used in 2014. The plan was approved by the secretary of state’s office in less than two hours. "In a way I am surprised," John Brown Jr., a member of the county Election Commission told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "I thought there'd be some questions about various and sundry things. But I think the election staff in Little Rock believes we have the ability to make this work." Washington County will also be using vote centers for the March primary.
- In other vote center news, one of Texas’ largest voting jurisdictions — Harris County — is considering making the move to vote centers in the coming years. According to the Houston Chronicle, four of the five members of the county’s commissioners court support the idea. Hopkins County, has applied to the state to make vote centers a permanent part of the county’s election protocol. County Clerk Debbie Shirley said the county was successfully able to move from 21 precinct-based polling places to 14 vote centers. And Lee County is set to hold a public hearing to discuss becoming part of the state’s pilot program.
- Outgoing Democratic Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has signed an executive order restoring the voting rights to thousands of non-violent offenders who have served their sentences. According to The Associated Press, the new order automatically restores voting rights to convicted felons who meet certain criteria upon their release. Those who have already been released can fill out a form on the state Department of Corrections' website.
- Cities and towns throughout Massachusetts will be splitting about $2.76 million to help cover the cost of early voting in 2016. Next year will be the first year that local elections offices are required to provide early voting before the presidential and state primaries as well as the November general election.
- The U.S. Postal Service in Ohio has agreed to develop a policy for postmarking absentee ballots after about 900 ballots were discounted due to the lack of a postmark. “We will be talking to the Ohio Secretary of State to reach a mutual understanding of acceptable postmarks for absentee ballots and develop a uniform policy addressing all concerns to help prevent this from happening again,” a postal spokesman said in a statement.
- According to El Paso County, Colorado Chief Deputy Clerk Ryan Parsell, a clerical error lead to accused Planned Parenthood shooting suspect Robert Lewis Dean, Jr. to be listed as female instead of male on his voter registration. "The Clerk and Recorder's Office processes over 500,000 transactions a year," Parsell told The Gazette. "Mistakes are going to be made, and it is a reminder to us of the important job that we do to see that a mistake made by us has had national implications."
- Congratulations to the Escambia County, Florida supervisor of elections office for receiving Recognition for Outstanding Achievement from the International Centre for Parliamentary Studies for the office’s work with the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council and its international visitors.
- Personnel News: Bill Kresse as been appointed to the Chicago Board of Elections as an elections commissioner. Citing health reasons, Josh Howard, chair of the North Carolina board of elections announced that he is stepping down after 2 1/2 years in the role. Luke Eggers is resigning as the Watauga County, North Carolina board of elections chair because his aunt is running for a seat as a judge. Rhea County, Tennessee Elections Administrator Tom Davis will serve as the grand marshal for the annual holiday parade. Bill Cochran is the new registrar and elections superintendent for Stephens County, Georgia.
III. Legislative Updates
Florida: This week state lawmakers will consider a proposal that would require every city, town and village to align their elections and hold them on the same day. PCB SAC16-04 would require local elections to either mesh with statewide elections in November on even years or be held every other year on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in odd years.
Indiana: State Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) has introduced a legislative package aimed at making voting in the Hoosier state more accessible. The reforms include longer polling hours, moving early voting sites out of the county clerk’s office, mail-in voting and same day registration.
Kansas: The Kansas Black Leadership Council has included a proposal in it’s 2016 legislative agenda to allow same-day voter registration.
Michigan: Under a new law recently signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, the 2016 presidential primary ballot may also include local races and proposals. Public Act 197 of 2015 makes the presidential primary a regular election instead of a special election. "Giving locals the flexibility to hold one election for numerous questions will help ensure efficiency and minimize costs for local communities across the state," Snyder said in a statement.
Also in Michigan, a House committee has approved legislation that will allow Michigan voters to cast an absentee ballot without needing an excuse. Already approved by the Senate, the bill moves next to the full House.
Missouri: Sen. Will Kraus (R-Lee’s Summit) planned to pre-file a joint resolution and bill regarding voter ID. The join resolution will put a constitutional amendment on voter ID to a statewide vote. The House approved a similar resolution in 2015.
Ohio: Under legislation sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Clyde, the secretary of state’s office would be prohibited from canceling registration of voters who have been placed on the inactive voter list.
Texas: A Senate panel is studying whether state law needs to be changed to ensure that local and state ballots questions more accurately describe what voters are being asked to decide.
IV. Legal Updates
Alabama: The Alabama NAACP and the Greater Birmingham Ministries have filed a federal lawsuit against the state’s voter ID law alleging that the state violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 when the law was enacted in 2011. According to Alabama.com, the lawsuit seeks to block the photo ID law and voucher requirement. The lawsuit also asks the court to impose pre-clearance obligations, which would again require the state to seek federal approval before enacting any changes to voting laws.
Florida: Earlier this week, elections officials urged the Florida Supreme Court to rule on redistricting lines as soon as possible so they may prepare for the 2016 election cycle. "We want to advocate for the voters making sure that they know where their polling locations, who their representation is,” Clay County Supervisor of Elections Chris Chambliss told a local television station. The Supreme Court approved the new congressional map on Wednesday.
Mississippi: Four Franklin County poll workers and one election commissioner were charged with voter fraud following the November 3 election. Three were accused of violating a state elections law forbidding “dishonest decisions by managers” of polling places and two others were charged with aiding or influencing a voter in preparing a ballot.
North Carolina: The North Carolina NAACP has filed a court papers officially asking a federal judge to stop the state’s photo ID law from taking effect during the March 2016 primary. While a federal trial on the law is set to begin in January, the NAACP wants the injunction because they argue allowing the law to move forward in 2016 would case “irreparable harm” to minority voters.
Tennessee: U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger has stopped lawyers from exchanging evidence or acting on subpoenas while she considers a lawsuit brought by a group of students who argue that the state’s voter ID law is unconstitutional because it does not allow the use of student IDs as an acceptable for of ID for voting.
V. Tech Thursday
California: According to the secretary of state’s office 31 counties have now successfully deployed VoteCal, the statewide voter registration database. "We are more than halfway there. I am pleased to report that a majority of California counties have now deployed VoteCal,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a statement. There are 27 counties remaining that need to join the system.
Also in California, San Francisco hopes to have an open-source voting system designed and in use by 2019. According to the San Francisco Examiner, if Mayor Ed Lee and the board of supervisors adopt the recommendations of the elections commission, money for the system could be allocated in July 2016.
Maryland: Elections officials in one of the state’s largest jurisdiction is concerned that high turnout and a new voting system could lead to long lines in 2016 and they are asking the state for about $425,000 in funding to help purchase additional voting machines.
New Mexico: According to the Las Cruces Bulletin, online voter registration will launch statewide on January 1, 2016. “While internet access is not universal, we believe the response in New Mexico will be big and are preparing for large numbers of users,” Dona Ana County Chief Deputy Clerk Scott Krahling told the paper.
VI. Opinions This Week
Maine: Ranked choice voting
Maryland: Aberdeen election
Mississippi: Noxubee County
Missouri: Voter ID
Nevada: Reno voting system
New Hampshire: Recount
New Mexico: Turnout
VII. Available Partnerships/Funding
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
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
Assistant Registrar, Richmond, Virginia— the purpose of the class is to assist citizens in registering to vote and to assist in the election process by providing clerical assistance and customer service. The class is responsible for maintaining accurate voter registration records and for providing election information and services to candidates and the general public. The class works within a general outline of work to be performed according to set procedures under direct supervision. Salary: $24,108-$39,076. Deadline: December 20. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Clerk-Recorder Services Technician, Contra Costa County, California — technical positions are assigned to one of the specialized units of the Clerk-Recorder Division: Recording, Clerk Services, Imaging/Indexing and Archive/Warehouse Services. In addition, Clerk-Recorder Services Technician positions perform technical and complex data entry and clerical support activities associated with the duties and responsibilities of the Clerk-Recorder Division; perform database management in one or more database systems; and perform related work as required. The ideal candidate will possess knowledge and understanding of the County Clerk and Recorder functions as well as how the units interrelate. Working knowledge of the principles and practices of work organization and the ability to apply them in planning, coordinating and completing work activities to meet specific deadlines, is a must. Candidate must be able to operate personal computers and peripheral equipment, and have knowledge of spreadsheet applications, word processing and database management programs; codes and laws relating to clerk and recorder functions, as well as the ability to independently apply them. Excellent interpersonal skills are required, as the incumbent will interface with staff at all levels, as well as county officials and members of the public. Perform other related work as required. Salary: $3,424-$4,162, monthly. Deadline: December 18. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Elections Manager, Placer County, California — the County ofPlacer, California is seeking a highly skilled professional for the position of Recording-Elections Manager (Elections Manager). The position serves the citizens of Placer County through active supervision of the county’s elections needs and interacts with elected officials, school and special district personnel, county department heads and managers, the media and the public. The manager provides the necessary day-to-day management and administration of the division in an efficient and transparent manner, focused on customer service and in compliance with all applicable laws, codes and regulations. The Elections Manager recommends priorities for division resources, serves as a member of the department’s management team, exercises direct supervision over supervisory, professional, technical, clerical and temporary personnel and reports directly to the Assistant Recorder-Registrar of Voters. This position has management responsibility for planning, organizing and directing the day-to-day operations of all elections program areas, including voter registration and outreach, candidate and campaign services, polls and precincts coordination and vote-by-mail processing. Salary: $42.13-$51.21/hourly. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Election Services Technician, Contra Costa County, California — current vacant positions will be assigned to one of the specialized units of the Elections Department: Candidate and Voter Services; Voter Registration Services and File Maintenance; Absentee Services/Training and Procedures; Polling Place/Poll Worker Recruitment/Precinct Services; G.I.S. and Mapping Services; and Warehouse and Equipment Services. This classification is responsible for performing complex and technical support activities associated with the preparation for and the conducting of elections; database management in one or more database systems; and related work as required. Elections Services Technicians have responsibility for the unit’s day-to-day activities, and are responsible to insure that proper procedures are followed during the preparation and conducting of each election. The ideal candidate shall possess strong technical and administrative skills, knowledge and understanding of the entire election process cycle, and the interrelationship within the Elections Department’s units. Candidates must have the ability to operate personal computers and peripheral equipment, including knowledge of spreadsheet, word processing and database management programs; knowledge of the Elections Code and laws relating to the conduct of elections including registration of voters, voting procedures, district boundaries and proper retention, disposition and disposal of voting materials and records and the ability to independently apply them. Excellent interpersonal skills are required, as incumbents will interface with staff at all levels as well as county officials and the general public. Salary: $3,424-$4,162. Deadline: December 18. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Hardware Engineer III, Toronto, Ontario — Dominion Voting Systems is seeking a highly motivated and enthusiastic Hardware Engineer III for our downtown Toronto office. The key responsibilities for this role will be to work as a lead member of the mechanical engineering team helping to develop new products from concept to production, as well as supporting production runs and any field requirements for existing and legacy products. Salary: $70k base + benefits (negotiable). Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Project Coordinator (Temporary), Future of California Elections, Los Angeles — The Future of California Elections (FoCE), a project of Community Partners, seeks a temporary full-time Project Coordinator to serve as a California-based staff person responsible for administration and program support of all the activities of the Future of California collaboration, a coalition of election officials, civil rights organizations and reform advocates dedicated to an open, transparent and well-functioning system of democracy in California. The position is based in Los Angeles from January 11, 2016 – March 4, 2016. The project coordinator will accomplish the following duties: 2016 conference planning, project management/member relations, policy and other duties as specified. Salary: $14-$17/hourly based on experience. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Sales Director, Everyone Counts— Everyone Counts is transforming the $31 billion public and private sector voting/elections industry from purpose-built, antiquated hardware and error-prone manual paper processes to a Software as a Service (SaaS) model. Every democracy in the world, and every organization that has members who vote, needs Everyone Counts solutions. Support the often lengthy buying process from prospecting to closing of deals valued at $200k - $10M+. This involves education, support in developing RFPs and competently working with buyers in understanding the benefits of switching to our solution vs. competitive offerings or the status quo. Our sales are achieved through teamwork internally and externally. Build a valuable and convertible pipeline. You will expertly segment the market, qualify for relevance and size while prioritizing for timing and likelihood of winning. Your relentless drive to understand the pursuit context and details will allow us to make good decisions. Become expert at the “Election 2.0 pitch approach” at all relevant levels of a buyer’s constituencies. Adopt a modern data-driven lead generation and sales approach. You employ an effective and state-of-the-art sales methodology. Using CRM tools and working in an open and challenging team setting greases your engine to consistently meet and exceed the set targets. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Software Engineer, Center for Technology and Civic Life, Chicago or Washington, D.C. — We’re looking for a Software Engineer with a passion for civic engagement to help us continue to provide relevant, local civic data to people across the country. The Software Engineer will be the technical lead on the execution of CTCL’s civic data programs. The Software Engineer will, in collaboration with the Director of Civic Data, be responsible for the maintenance and expansion of CTCL’s existing codebase that standardizes and publishes the datasets created by the Civic Data team. Additionally, the Software Engineer will be responsible the technical implementation for new civic datasets, from database construction to publication. In addition, the Software Engineer may be asked to consult on or assist with the creation of technical assets for CTCL’s programs more broadly, with the understanding that any such responsibilities will be of secondary priority to the execution of civic data work. This position reports to the Director of Civic Data. Salary: $65,000-$70,000. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.