I. In Focus This Week
Election technology and the Legislature
NCSL election technology toolkit
By Katy Owens Hubler
Democracy Research, LLC
The “impending crisis” in voting technology identified by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) two years ago is well-known in the election community, and starting to get noticed in other circles as well.
We at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) have been having conversations with our constituents – state legislators and legislative staff – on this topic for the last two years. We’ll continue to work with legislatures on how they might be able to assist their local election officials as part of our Elections 2020 project.
As part of the project we are bringing together legislators, legislative staff, and state and local election officials for a daylong meeting in a given state to discuss the topic of election technology.
When did counties last purchase voting machines? What was the funding source? When might current equipment need to be replaced? What money is set aside for funding new equipment? We’ll conduct these meetings in a series of six states before the year is out.
Local election officials are on the ground every day – they know the issues and they know how election law works in practice. Communication is key – legislators want to hear about how a given policy might affect their constituents (and election officials are their constituents!).
How does something like online voter registration, holding school board elections the same day as state elections, or requiring some elections be run all-mail affect a local official? How does it change the process and technology needed in a local election official’s office?
The “impending crisis” is here now – and we’re seeing more and more election jurisdictions replacing aging equipment (NCSL keeps a running news feed on these purchases here). We’re also seeing conversations in legislatures and among state election officials about the possible role of the state. Colorado, New Mexico and Maryland all helped their jurisdictions obtain equipment in the last few years, and other states are considering what they might be able to do.
NCSL has developed an Elections Technology Toolkit to help explain what technology is used at each stage of the election process. The toolkit is a primer for legislators who want to learn more, but local election officials might also be able to use to it explain why running an election is not just a “work one day every two years” gig. Election administration is complicated – legislators set the rules of the game in the form of voting system requirements, how the state votes, and the nitty gritty of how many poll workers and voting machines need to be at a given polling place. But it’s local officials who have to put it all those pieces together, and truly understand the ins and outs.
In addition to the links above, NCSL provides a variety of information intended for our legislators, but also for election officials seeking to engage with them.
Check out our Election Technology Overview page for research on everything from online voter registration to post-election audits, as well as articles, blogs, interviews and conference materials.
Visit our Elections Legislation Database to see what’s percolating in state legislatures this year.
And sign up to receive our monthly e-newsletter The Canvass, containing in-depth articles on election administration topics as well as interviews with legislators and local election officials. The February 2016 issue covers how readily available voter data can be (click here to subscribe).
Katy Owens Hubler is a former member of the NCSL elections team and currently consults for NCSL on election technology issues. She also studies other election administration and campaign finance policies, and tweets at @katyowenshubler.
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