I. In Focus This Week
With clock ticking elections officials faced with known unknowns
Elections officials worry about impacts on voters, poll workers
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.” Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, February 2002.
With legal action pending or recently decided, but certainly not settled and with the clock ticking until the November 8 general election — and some primaries yet to happen — elections officials in several states are faced with some looming known unknowns.
For example, in Texas and Wisconsin, it’s voter ID. In Virginia it’s voting rights restoration. In Ohio it’s voter purges. In Kansas it’s a dual-system for voters with proof-of-citizenship and those without. And in North Carolina, it’s a bit of everything — ID, same-day registration, early voting.
“The nature of our job is to adapt to constant change,” said Sharon Wolters, Smith County, Kansas clerk and current president of the Kansas County Clerks and Elections Officials Association. “We expect it and work together to give ideas that will facilitate the changes in the most efficient way possible.”
While all the elections officials we spoke with are confident in their ability to conduct upcoming elections not matter what the courts throw at them, they all did express concerns about the impact these changes and possibly last minute changes could have on poll workers and the voters.
Recently in Wisconsin, Judge Lynn Adelman ruled that the state must allow voters without the proper ID to submit an affidavit testifying to their identity. Attorney General Brad Schimel has filed an appeal with U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
“We are awaiting the legal process and hope that it is quick,” said Scott McDonnel, Dane County, Wisconsin Clerk Scott McDonnell. “The Wisconsin Elections Commission is working on the affidavit form now with advice for clerks. I think it will be pretty easy to implement. There may be some scenarios we way need to work through.”
That being said, McDonnell, who is already fairly famous for his voter education videos, isn’t sitting idly by.
“I am very worried about voter confusion,” McDonnel said. I am working on some more PSA's so stay tuned!”
Sandy Juno, Brown County clerk is worried about the impacts the ongoing legal battles may have on her poll workers.
“My concern is that we will be asking poll workers to take on another duty on a busy election day,” Juno said. “They already are burdened with all of the voting requirements.”
For Kansas elections officials, which face a primary on August 2 and the November 8 General Election, the state’s voting system could change between the time this story is published and the time of the primary on Tuesday and then could potentially change again — maybe even more than once — before the November election.
“Across the country, the courts have become more a part of the whole election administration process,” said Jamie Shew, Douglas County, Kansas clerk.
Shew said, with each new ruling and each new news story his office is inundated with phone calls from concerned voters — people who have been registered for decades — wanting to make sure that they are still registered.
“Part of our job is to try and educate the voters as best as we can, but it creates a lot of anxiety,” Shew said.
He added that the voter anxiety can then lead to issues at the polls because when an angry or confused voter shows up at the polling place, it’s the poll workers who are on the front lines and the poll workers who have to look the voters in the face, not the lawyers or legislators.
“The key part for me has to been to anticipate all the possible rulings and have a plan and be prepared for whatever could happen,” Shew said. “I think most election officials do that really well.”
Because Douglas County is a “cradle to grave” county — meaning the county programs all its own voting machines and prints all its own ballots — Shew has been able to program and plan for every scenario with the staff he has on hand, not all counties can do that.
Earlier this summer, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order automatically restoring the voting rights of more than 206,000 ex-felons. Registrars were quickly inundated with applications from those eager to once again — or for the first time — be part of the democratic process.
On July 22, in a 4-3 ruling the state’s Supreme Court ruled that McAuliffe had overstepped the rule of law and that he could not restore the rights en masse, but they had to be done individually.
McAuliffe has vowed to individually reinstate each ex-felons voting rights, but until, the state and registrars are working on complying with the court order.
“We have received many inquiries regarding the steps the Department of Elections is taking to comply with the court order issued late Friday by the Supreme Court of Virginia,” said Edgardo Cortes, commissioner, the Virginia Department of Elections. “The Department is moving expeditiously to comply with the court order while minimizing the impact to local election office operations.”
On Tuesday, the Department of Elections sent out a set of directives to help registrars deal with the change while the state is still sorting out how to comply with the court’s ruling by the August 25 deadline:
- Hold any voter registration applications received in your office that indicates an applicant was previously convicted of a felony until ELECT has completed updating the prohibited voter list. ELECT will provide further guidance at that time.
- Do not process any records in the felon hoppers until directed to do so by ELECT. The various processes running in VERIS are impacting these hoppers, and processing records locally during the update may negatively impact our ability to comply with the Court’s order.
- Do not alter or cancel any records for individuals you believe were registered due to the Governor’s restoration of rights orders issued on or after April 22, 2016. Again, the VERIS processes currently running are working with these specific records and making changes to those records at the local level in the middle of our processes may negatively impact our ability to comply with the Court’s order. Pursuant to the Court’s order, ELECT will be cancelling the registration of all voters the court has ordered be removed from the voter registration rolls, and will send cancellation letters to these voters.
For Kirk Showalter, Richmond registrar, everything on her desk right now is voter-registration related. Currently she is bringing in additional, temporary staff, a bit earlier than previously planned because she doesn’t know how many voters on her rolls will be affected by the decision and it will require sending each one of those voters a letter explaining the situation.
But, she is also thinking ahead to the problems that may arise from this on Election Day.
“This is likely going to increase provisional ballots,” Showalter said. “But we’re setting up solution tables so if a voter is not in the poll book, they will immediately be sent to the solution table so lines don’t form at the poll book table.”
In North Carolina, elections officials are watching to see how the courts will rule on a piece of legislation that created voter ID, shortened early voting and eliminated same-day registration. The law was in place for the March primaries and remains in place for now.
“We are currently preparing for the November 2016 General as we did for the March Primary - Photo ID required and the reduction of days for early voting,” said Michael Dickerson, director of the Mecklenburg County, North Carolina board of elections. “We can only concern ourselves with what we can control and currently that is the implementation of the required changes in the voting laws. Of course we are proceeding cautiously and with contingencies in light of the lawsuits and legal challenges.”
For Gary Sims in Wake County, North Carolina — which is also facing additional litigation over redistricting—this is all just part of the process.
"Attitude is everything. Elections officials are accustomed to changes. This is a unique job that requires not only dedication but commitment. If you cannot adapt to change, then you may be in the wrong career,” Sim said.
Sims said it’s important to stay focused on the voters and that includes training, and training some more, your poll workers.
“We choose to over-train our officials, but we always let them know that things may change. We have to train over 2600 Election Day officials, and 700 Early Voting workers. That means training starts now,” Sims said. “Knowing that things may change, we design things to make sure we teach the basics. Never forget the basics that will never change. We make sure they know uniform concepts. It is easier to spend time teaching complex issues now and say later that it is no longer valid than to teach complex issues later."
So, like hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes, the local elections officials we talked to are pretty much prepared for everything.
“Bring it on. We’re ready for anything. We have to be,” said Showalter. “I know weird things are going to come out of the woodwork I hope it’s not so weird that we’re not ready for it.”
II. Electionline Underwriting
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Underwriting will be available for electionlineToday, the weekly email that reaches about 4,800 inboxes each week and the weekly newsletter. Underwriting is available on a per-month basis and costs $2,500 per section per month. The underwriting is available on a first come, first-served basis. Each section will be exclusive to one underwriter per month.
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III. Election News This Week
- Flooding from recent rainstorms has put a damper on things in Madison, Wisconsin. Seventeen of the cities vote tabulators have been destroyed by the water and ballots that were also housed in the flooded storage space need to be reprinted because the humidity has expanded them and they will no longer fit in the tabulators that do still work. "The ceiling collapsed and the rain fell on some machines that were being stored," Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl told WKOW. "At this point we know at least 17 tabulators were destroyed." In addition to that, mold is already starting to form on clipboards and other office supplies. Witzel-Behl is working with the vendor to get loaner voting machines for the upcoming primary and following the primary, all machines will be tested again in advance of the November election. "We thought this was going to be a quiet election, but it's more work than any other election we've had so far this year," Witzel-Behl told the station.
- All it took was a Census record, a family Bible, a baptismal record and documents from a high school to prove that 75-year-old Jo French is indeed a U.S. citizen and therefore eligible to vote in Kansas. French recently appeared before state officials to prove her citizenship in order to register to vote in the upcoming primary election. French had moved from Arkansas, which apparently lost her birth certificate. “I didn’t realize I had to go through this to be a citizen of a state. I was working to just be a citizen. And I thought, ‘I don’t look funny, I don’t talk funny, I’ve been here all of my life.’ And I just couldn’t imagine having to go through this procedure to prove that I live here and that I can vote,” French told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “That was my full concern: that I wanted to be able to vote this time around.” Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who was one of the three officials reviewing French’s documentation said the process proves that the system is working. “We put a safety net in just for the very rare case of an individual who for some reason isn’t able to get a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship,” Kobach told the paper.
- Taking ballot selfies to a whole different level, a voter attempting to cast an early ballot in Shelby County, Tennessee recently filmed problems he was having with his voting machine and then posted that video to social media. In the video, it takes the voter three attempts to get the DRE machine to accurately record his vote. The Shelby County election commission is aware of the video and said the voting machine in question was taken out of service. "We encourage voters to ask the poll workers for help if they have concerns at all about their ballots or a machine's operation," Shelby County Administrator Linda Phillips told WATN. "The story here, really, is pay attention to what you're doing in the voting booth to make sure the technology is doing what it's supposed to do."
- While we typically stick to elections news from the U.S. there was some serious monkey business in Thailand that we felt we couldn’t pass up noting. According to NPR, on Sunday 100 pig-tailed macaques stormed into a voting state and destroyed a section of the voter rolls and other documents. A police investigator and village chief who inspected the site found a third of the voters list had been left in tatters, along with a large chunk of the posted instructions for voters.
- Personnel News: Harold Bush is the new Wyoming County, New York Democratic elections commissioner. Vincent Caprio has been sworn in as the Easton, Connecticut Republican registrar of voters.
IV. Legislative Updates
California: Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation into law that will make it easier for voters with disabilities to independently and privately cast a vote-by-mail ballot. AB 2252 allows voters with disabilities to access technology that has been limited to military and overseas voters to electronically receive their vote-by-mail ballot. Existing law already allows military and overseas voters to request that their blank vote-by-mail ballot be delivered electronically. The military or overseas voter prints out their ballot, marks it, and then mails it back to their county election official.
Also in California, Brown has vetoed legislation that would have allowed county elections officials to cancel some special elections when only one candidate qualifies for the ballot. It was thought that the law could have saved counties millions of dollars. “In the situation envisioned by this bill, the potential write-in candidates would be excluded from participation in the election,” Brown wrote in his veto message. “This doesn’t seem consistent with democratic principles that call for choice and robust debate.”
In San Francisco, the board of supervisors has approved a ballot measure that would allow non-citizens to vote in local school elections. The measure will be on the November ballot. Similar measures were defeated in 2004 and 2010.
V. Legal Updates
Alabama: U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler has set a September 11, 2017 date for a review of Alabama’s voter ID law. The plaintiffs — Greater Birmingham Ministries and the NAACP — had asked for a June date so a decision could come before the municipal elections, but the state objected.
Illinois: The Chicago Board of Elections has been sued by the Illinois Ballot Integrity Project. The suit alleges “discrepancies and improprieties” during the audit of the March 15 primary. The lawsuit alleges that audit monitors observed discrepancies between the paper tape and official results from the electronic voting machines used by early voters. Members of the Ballot Integrity Project were serving as audit monitors.
Michigan: U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain has blocked Michigan’s ban on straight-party voting. In his ruling, Drain said the change would result in longer lines and wait times at polling places and would disadvantage black voters the most.
Ohio: The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Wednesday from the American Civil Liberties and Demos in their efforts to stop the state of Ohio from purging voters in advance of the November 2016 election. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a brief in the case supporting the plaintiffs.
Virginia: By a 4-3 vote, the Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s ex-felon voting rights restoration violated the state’s constitution. The court argued that McAuliffe violated the spirit of the law by restoring the rights en masse instead of individually.
Wisconsin: The state’s Attorney General has filed an appeal in the recent ruling by Judge Lynn Adelman that will allow Wisconsin voters without the proper ID to sign an affidavit before casting a ballot. The AG is asking the judge to stay the ruling. And he’s appealing the case to the full 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
VI. Tech Thursday
Arkansas: During a recent update to the state’s computerized record-keeping system, thousands of Arkansas voters were incorrectly flagged as felons. In Pulaski County, Clerk Larry Crane said that almost half of the 2,000 voters flagged as felons should not have been flagged. County clerks are now having to review all of the flagged voters to determine if they should or should not be allowed to vote.
District of Columbia: InnoVote, a Washington, D.C.-based startup is hoping that sooner, rather than later, voters will be able to cast a secure ballot on their phones or tablets using open-source software. The software uses Blockchain, which was originally developed for Bitcoin. "Right now you have companies that are making software for elections, and if there are bugs or security flaws you have to find it after the fact," Stefan Nagey, one of the co-founders of InnoVote, told DCist. "InnoVote is going to be released as open source so anyone who is interested can look at this software and look for security problems and bugs. Sunlight is the best disinfectant."
Guam: The Guam Election Commission is launching new equipment that will help voters with disabilities cast an independent ballot. The GEC purchased the ES&S Automark machines from the Commonwealth Election Commission in Saipan. While only one machine is currently available for use, the GEC is working to repair more soon.
Illinois: The Illinois state voter registration database was accessed by hackers in mid-July and the state temporarily shut down the system as a precaution. According to the Southern Illinoisan, Hackers exploited “a chink in the armor in one small data field in the online registration system,” said Ken Menzel, the board’s general counsel. “We’re in the process of analyzing the tracks left by the attack,” Menzel told the paper. “We’re still not ready to say exactly what might have been gotten into.”
Rhode Island: The state has purchased 590 new voting machines that will replace 20-year-old voting equipment. The new optical-scan system will be in place in September. According to the Providence Journal, the total cost for the voting machines — an eight-year lease with an option to purchase — totals $9.28 million, including maintenance. The budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, includes nearly $1.4 million for the machines.
VII. Opinions This Week
Georgia: Special election cost
Hawaii: Absentee voting
Illinois: Election hack
Indiana: Voter ID
Iowa: Ex-felon voting rights
Kansas: Voter suppression
Maine: Ranked choice voting
Massachusetts: Early voting
South Dakota: Ex-felon voting rights
Washington: Secretary of state
VIII. Available Funding/Awards
2016 Baxter Award for Election Practitioner
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems' (IFES) Joe C. Baxter Award recognizes the contribution of a professional whose skills, dedication and sacrifices to the field of election administration epitomize the mission of IFES and embody the spirit of former IFES Senior Adviser for Election Administration Joe C. Baxter. Baxter had a firm commitment to the principles of local ownership, transparency and sustainability of electoral administration.
The Baxter Award honors an election practitioner with a proven track record of exceptional dedication to empowering people to have a say in the way they are governed. IFES presents the Baxter Award annually to one individual at a ceremony typically held in concurrence with IFES' U.S. Election Program or Chief of Party Conference.
The recipient of the Baxter Award must agree to receive the award personally at IFES' ceremony.
IX. Upcoming Events
National Conference of State Legislators Summer Meeting — the 2016 Legislative Summit will be held in Chicago. The elections portion will include: Politics 2016: State Election Preview, Evaluating Elections, What to Do If You’ve Got a Disputed Election, Technology: Improving Elections One Bit or Byte at a Time? And Helping our Military Vote. When: Aug. 8-11. Where: Chicago. For more information and to register, click here.
Election Center Annual Conference— Conference attendees will be inspired and energized as we head into the stretch of the Presidential Election year. We will share substantive elections issues including crucial information from federal agencies to local election of cials sharing practical information for day to day election administration operations. This is the also the time to honor and celebrate the winners of the Election Center’s acclaimed Professional Practices Papers’ Program. You will not only hear the winning presentations but you will take home all of the innovative programs and ideas that were submitted by your colleagues in other jurisdictions around the country. When: Aug. 16-20. Where: Philadelphia. For more information and to register, click here.
X. Job Postings This Week
Customer Relations Manager, Dominion Voting Systems, Chicago, Illinois— Dominion Voting Systems is seeking a highly motivated and enthusiastic, Customer Relations Manager, based in the Chicago, Illinois area! This position will be responsible for providing world-class customer service in order to achieve our core purpose of delivering solutions for the advancement of fair, accessible, and secure elections! You will problem solve, collaborate, create and improve processes, and make our customers successful in the execution of seemingly impossible tasks. Excitement lives here!. Salary: Negotiable base + bonus target & benefits. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply click here.
Product Specialist, Denver, Colorado — Dominion Voting Systems is seeking a tech-savvy and passionate, Product Specialist, to be based in our downtown Denver, Colorado office. This role is responsible for responsible for the installation, operation, repair, and maintenance of all Dominion Voting Systems elections products; providing elections support services and customer training; and interfacing directly with customers, co-workers and election officials. Salary: Negotiable base + bonus target & benefits. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Project Manager, Hart InterCivic — project managers at Hart InterCivic are highly motivated “self-starters” who are enthusiastic about providing exceptional customer service. Working with other members of the Professional Services and Operations teams, the project manager directs activity, solves problems and develops lasting and strong relationships with our customers. Hart InterCivic’s unique and industry known culture of innovation, transparency and customer-centric focus creates an environment where team members will continually grow and be challenged to develop their careers. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Proposal Writer, Clear Ballot, Boston— newly created proposal writer position will be part of a dedicated team producing competitive responses to State and County government RFPs. Responsibilities and Tasks: Write engaging content about technical subjects; format final documents using the company style sheet; collaborate with a team of subject matter experts; edit proposal drafts; respond to deadlines and move quickly; contribute to a database of response text, figures and technical descriptions and benefit from professional growth opportunities. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Technical Writer, Clear Ballot, Boston — our small and growing team of technical communicators has an immediate need for a new member with intermediate-to-senior experience. Documentation is key to success in the election systems domain. Deliverables include tasks and supporting information, and, highly scrutinized specifications and plans. All products and their documentation are certified by federal or state agencies; evaluation is performed by demanding government laboratories. Once products are certified, documentation supports the work of users under pressure whose skills range the technical spectrum. Key Responsibilities: Work collaboratively with fellow communicators and the Engineering, Quality Assurance, Technical Support, Compliance/Certification, Business Development, and Executive Management functions; develop deep understanding of the federal regulations governing voting systems, and, the ability to interpret issues raised by delegated federal and state reviewers in partnership with Compliance/Certification; meet governmental standards and write appropriately for target audiences: voters, poll workers, election officials and their technical staff, and voting system test laboratories; quickly grasp complex technical concepts and make them easily understandable through prose and graphics; deal gracefully with multitasking and constant change; create and modify single-sourced, conditionalized, reusable content in MadCap Flare; adhere and contribute to working styles and standards, information architecture, and documentation production process; and respond to documentation tickets. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.