I. In Focus This Week
Exit Interview: Verified Voting’s Pam Smith
Smith weighing future options, but plans to stay involved
In recent weeks we’ve said good-bye to some leaders in the elections field and this week completes our unfortunate trifecta of departing “election geeks”.
Pam Smith has stepped down as the president of Verified Voting.
Smith joined Verified Voting in 2004, and served as its president for 10 years. She was an outspoken advocate for the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that focuses on accuracy, transparency and verifiability of elections. If you had a question about election technology or audits, Smith was the go-to source.
Good luck Pam. We will miss your willingness to go on the record and talk about voting technology.
You are leaving the field at an interesting time, to say the least, why now?
Why, is something going on? Just kidding. Actually, I hope I'm not leaving altogether. I started out as an advocate before I came to Verified Voting, and I'll likely stay one. And as anyone knows who works in elections, once it's in you, you can't ever really let it go!
But your point is a good one. Enormous progress has been made in moving toward getting the tools in place that enable officials around the country to demonstrate the correctness of election outcomes.
The work isn't done yet. But what's different today from when I started is that on major networks, in op-ed columns, in legislatures and around the coffee table, there's awareness that we need to take steps to ensure our election systems are reliable. People are saying it out loud. It feels like the effort has a full head of steam now, and that was always one of my goals.
You didn’t start your career in the elections industry, so what not only attracted you to it, but drove you to become a leading figure in elections?
It's true! I sort of came in the side door. My background included some policy analysis, some marketing, some understanding of technology--not as a technologist myself, but as an observer of how that gets translated to the lay audience. And I had been an election observer.
As any election geek will tell you, there is something so compelling, even moving, when you see individuals coming together to be heard, to stand up and be counted in this way. Elections show how democracy is both powerful and fragile. I found myself wanting to make sure that voters' efforts would not be failed by shortcomings in the technology or processes, but rather honored, so they keep coming back. It's an incredibly challenging and complex issue, which is always exciting to work on.
A lot has been made recently of the security of our elections system, do you believe it’s secure? If so why, If not, why not?
This isn't a yes/no question, so much as a "where are we on the spectrum" question. Saying "this system is totally secure" is, in the security world, kind of an invitation to breach it, and most would agree there's no such thing as "entirely secure". There's a lot of pressure on officials to know more, to be expert in such a cross-section of disciplines, and now cyber security has been thrown into that mix. For some of the high-tech nature of the problem, though, there's a fairly low-tech solution.
In many parts of the country, we have the necessary tools to conduct post-election audits of the votes to provide authoritative confirmation that the outcome was correct, even if an attempt was made to tamper or modify the software that captures and counts the votes, even if the software failed. And in some parts of the country, good audits of those ballots are being done regularly. But we don't have that everywhere just yet, and won't until jurisdictions can obtain recountable, auditable systems, and are doing audits everywhere. So there's more to be done, but we are on the right track.
If you had one piece of advice to offer to elections officials, what would it be?
Keep reaching out. I've been blessed to work with brilliant and dedicated election officials who push to know more every day and who bring in a broad cross-section of stakeholders to help them in that effort. Let your stakeholders know what you need, and we can go to bat for you for funding or other resources. There are real living examples of this kind of effort in the state where I vote, California, with efforts like the Los Angeles County VSAP project and the Future of California Elections network, for example. It would be great to see that happen in every state.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment in the elections industry and why?
I hope that it is building bridges. I've always felt that for advocates, technologists, election officials, lawmakers, et al. -- finding the common ground and working from there would be the most expedient way to ensure lasting changes with the greatest buy-in from everyone involved. It's what I've tried to do. I'm seeing more of that approach from all sides, so I'm hopeful it will continue.
Do you think we could ever get to the point in this country where we could have Internet voting? [you know we had to ask!]
Le sigh. Seriously, we actually have Internet voting in this country. That's a big problem because it is most assuredly not ready for prime time. The Internet wasn't built for security, it was built for open communications. In its current state, it's fundamentally incompatible with a process that has the kinds of demands and constraints that voting requires: security, time dependency, anonymity, strong authentication, auditability, etc.
At Verified Voting I've worked with scientists day in and day out. There's an assumption in science that you never say never, because someone may figure out something we haven't thought of yet. But with what we know at present, it's not feasible.
I think it's important to note that there are many ways the Internet can be used for good in elections. But if 2016 taught us anything, it's "don't connect votes to the Internet".
If you could create the perfect elections system, what would it look like?
It would look like what's being designed in Los Angeles, I think. I'm inspired by the efforts of Dana DeBeauvoir in Travis County, Chris Jerdonek for San Francisco, and Dean Logan and his team in Los Angeles, and everyone else who works hard to ensure usability, strong auditability, and transparency in their vision for new voting systems. I anticipate there will be more such efforts in the near future.
What’s next for you?
I'm keeping my options open.
II. Election News This Week
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Peloisi (D-California) announced last week that House Democrats are creating an election security task force to study how the government can prevent the Russians from hacking future elections. According to Politico, the task force will hold hearings, collect data on state-level election hacks, and interview election officials and cybersecurity experts. Ultimately, the group aims to turn its findings into legislation.
The Madera County, California Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters office has created two new advisory committees on voting/language accessibility. “Elections in Madera County have always been a very open, transparent and community based process,” Rebecca Martinez, clerk-recorder, registrar told the Sierra Star. “The formation of the VAAC and LAAC will further my commitment to involving the community in the planning, preparation, administration and review of all elections.” Martinez is seeking volunteers from the community to serve on the committees. The VAAC aims to improve the overall electoral process, but especially for the elderly and those with disabilities. The LAAC is designed to make the voting process better for those with language barriers.
Although not a move to vote centers, Lucas County, Ohio will be trimming the number of polling places it uses going forward. The move means that as many as 45,000 voters, mostly in suburban areas, will now vote in consolidated precincts and polling places. According to The Toledo Blade, the precinct changes eliminate 20 precincts and 15 in jurisdictions outside Toledo. In addition, Toledo is losing three polling places. the changes affect 45,760 voters, out of 301,049 total voters. :We were directed to do this in 2014,” Board Director LaVera Scott said at the meeting to consolidate. “Vote centers are around the corner. We have to be realistic. That is where we are moving in the near future. We have to be prepared.”
The city of Knoxville, Tennessee has launched a new initiative called Go Vote! Knoxville. The initiative will have six get-out-the-vote meetings in each of the city’s six council districts. There will be pizza and snacks, family games and members of the Knoxville Election Commission will be at the meetings to register voters and provide voting machine demonstrations.
Personnel News: Malheur County, Oregon Clerk Deborah Delong will retire effective August 1. She has been the clerk since being appointed in 1985. Rae Hunter-Havens has been appointed the New Hanover County, North Carolina board of elections director. Wendy Mazza has retired as the Northampton, Massachusetts clerk. Although she was first elected to job in 2004, she began working in the office 1971. Eric Dreiband has been tapped by the Trump Administration to lead the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Doris Schaller has retired from the San Juan County, Washington elections office after 13 years on the job. Hans von Spakovsky has been appointed to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.
III. Federal-State Updates
Presidential election commission seeks voter data
Last week, under the signature of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the White House commission on election integrity reached out to all 50 states and the District of Columbia seeking information about their voter rolls.
The letter requested states provide: names, addresses, birthday, political party, last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number and the voter’s voting record since 2006. The letter sought all publicly and legally available information from that list. States have until July 14 to provide the information.
Responses from the states were quick with most saying that would only comply on a limited basis—what is publicly and legally available—and some saying they would not comply at all. The response was bipartisan.
Civil rights advocates and cybersecurity experts have expressed alarm about the request.
“The bigger the purse, the more effort folks would spend to get at it,” said Joe Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a digital advocacy group told Politico. “And in this case, this is such a high-profile and not-so-competent tech operation that we're likely to see the hacktivists and pranksters take shots at it.”
Kobach issued a statement this week arguing that the media’s reporting of the state responses is inaccurate.
"Despite media distortions and obstruction by a handful of state politicians, this bipartisan commission on election integrity will continue its work to gather the facts through public records requests to ensure the integrity of each American's vote because the public has a right to know," he said in the statement.
Here is a list of how all the states and the District of Columbia have responded to the request for information to-date. Where available we have linked to press releases from the state’s chief elections official:
Alabama; Alaska; Arizona; Arkansas; California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; District of Columbia; Florida; Georgia; Hawaii; Idaho; Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Mississippi; Missouri; Montana; Nebraska; Nevada; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New Mexico; New York; Ohio; Oklahoma; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; North Carolina; South Carolina; North Dakota; South Dakota, Tennessee; Texas; Utah; Vermont; Virginia; Washington; West Virginia; Wisconsin and Wyoming
DOJ seeks information on NVRA compliance
Also last week, according to the Huffington Post and reports from other local papers, the U.S. Department of Justice sent letters to 44 states seeking information about how the states comply with the National Voter Registration Act.
The Post reports that former DOJ officials say that while there’s nothing notable about the information being requested, that the inquiry was sent to all states covered by NVRA is unusual.
“It is not normal for the Department of Justice to ask for voting data from all states covered by the National Voter Registration Act,” Vanita Gupta, former head of the DOJ’s civil rights division under President Obama told the Post. “It’s likely that this is instead the beginning of an effort to force unwarranted voter purges.”
Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman released the DOJ letter to the public and at a news conference said she is not concerned about the request.
“I am sure we can stand up to the scrutiny the Department of Justice can bring,” Wyman said according to The Seattle Times.
IV. Legislative Updates
Federal Legislation: A spending bill from the House Appropriations Committee would give the U.S. Election Assistance Commission 60 days to terminate itself. Rep. Mike Quiqley (D-Illinois) has introduced an amendment to the appropriations bill that would fund the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The amendment seeks $9.2 million to fund the EAC. “Eliminating the EAC, the federal government’s only independent direct line of communication to state and local election officials, would be dramatically out of step with the federal government’s work to improve election systems and provide states with the support they need to hold accurate and secure elections," Quigley said in his introduction according to The Hill.
In other federal legislation news, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pennsylvania) has introduced legislation that would require voter registration forms to be given to all new U.S. citizens at their naturalization ceremonies. The bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to allow chief election officers to distribute voter registration forms “to each person who becomes a citizen of the United States at a naturalization ceremony.”
Minnesota: Activists in St. Paul are circulating petitions for a proposed city charter amendment that would move the city’s council and mayoral elections from odd years to even years. If enough signatures are gathered, the measure will appear on this November’s ballot.
Oregon: The House rules committee has approved a bill that would create a January 2018 special election if any 2017 legislation approved gets referred to voters. The special election would cost at least $3 million. Typically any legislation referred to voters is placed on the next general election ballot.
Rhode Island: The Rhode Island Legislature has approved a bill that would automatically register residents to vote when obtaining a new or renewing their license unless that person chooses to opt-out. The governor is expected to sign the bill.
Texas: During the upcoming 30-day special session, lawmakers will consider legislation to toughen penalties on mail-ballot fraud.
V. Legal Updates
Arizona: The State of Arizona has settled a lawsuit with Project Vote that will allow broader public access to the state’s voter rolls at a lower cost. Under the agreement, the price to obtain a copy of the state’s rolls will go from about $3,000 to around $500.
Georgia: A group of Georgia voters filed suit in the Fulton County Superior Court alleging that state and local election officials ignored warnings about the state’s centralized voter registration system and the suit is asking the court to overturn the results of the recent congressional special election.
Massachusetts: In November 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the state of Massachusetts over the legality of the state to set a voter registration deadline. The lawsuit charges that the state’s 20-day voter registration deadline bars thousands of people from being able to vote. The trial in that suit began this week.
Kansas: U.S. Magistrate Judge James O’Hara said this week that Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s reasoning for misleading the court “lacks credibility.”
Also in Kansas, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law has filed a federal complaint against Secretary of State Kris Kobach that claims he attempted to leverage his position the president’s federal election commission to help his recently launched gubernatorial bid. The group claims he is violating the Hatch Act.
Texas: Noe Olvera, 44 of Mission has been sentenced to 18 months in prison. The former mailman admitted to selling information about people who requested absentee ballots.
Virginia: Backers of a proposed charter change have filed suit against the State Board of Elections for access to the state’s voter rolls. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, In a 25-page complaint filed late Friday in Richmond Circuit Court, referendum advocate Paul Goldman argues that denial of access to the list violates his First Amendment rights and his Constitutional guarantee to “equal protection of the laws” under the 14th Amendment.
VI. Opinions This Week
National Opinions: Cyber security | Gerrymandering | Voting fight | Presidential Election Commission, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII | Voter suppression, II | Secure elections | Voting system, II | Paper ballots
Arkansas: Voting system
Connecticut: Presidential election commission
Idaho: Election commission
Iowa: Secretary of state
Kansas: Kris Kobach
Maine: Ranked choice voting
Maryland: Voter fraud
Missouri: Voter ID
New Hampshire: Presidential Election Commission
New Mexico: Ranked choice voting
Oregon: Special election
Vermont: Presidential Election Commission
Virginia: Presidential Election Commission
West Virginia: Early voting
VII. VIP Update
Request for Applications Signals Next Step in Voting Information Project Transition
Today, that transition takes another major step with the release of a request for applications (RFA) by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The RFA encourages entities to indicate their interest in and qualifications for taking on VIP’s work serving voters across the nation.
Applicants will have an opportunity to demonstrate how they will:
- Adhere to the key VIP principles set out by a group of stakeholders from the fields of election administration, technology (including civic technology), and academia.
- Manage the current and future technical challenges of aggregating official election data in the VIP form and ensuring the success of voter-facing tools established by VIP and its collaborative partners.
- Maintain and nurture the strong relationships with state and local election officials that are instrumental to VIP’s success.
At the end of the RFA process, Pew hopes to identify a new home for VIP, which will assume responsibility in early 2018 and commit to its long-term success.
Expressions of interest are due Tuesday, July 11, 2017, and full responses are due Monday, Aug. 21. Pew and VIP will host an informational conference Tuesday, July 18, to further explain the RFA process and answer any questions that prospective applicants may have.
All of us associated with VIP are excited about this next stage and look forward to thoughtful and skilled responses from a variety of leaders in the field.
Alexis Schuler is a senior director at The Pew Charitable Trusts.
VIII. Upcoming Events
National Association of Election Officials Professional Education Program — Program includes Course I (Introduction to Election and Voter Registration Systems Administration); Course II (Management and Leadership Concepts in Election and Voter Registration Administration); Course III (Planning and Budgeting for Elections and Voter Registration); Course IV (Election and Voter Registration Information Management and Technology); Course V (Ethics in Elections and Voter Registration Administration). Where: Sanibel Harbour Hotel, Fort Meyers, Florida. When: July 8-15.
Summer Conference on Election Science, Reform and Administration — Hosted by Reed College and Portland State University the goals of the conference are, first, to provide a forum for scholars in political science, public administration, law, computer science, statistics, and other fields who are working to develop rigorous empirical approaches to the study of how laws and administrative procedures affect the quality of elections in the United States; and, second, to build scientific capacity by identifying major questions in the field, fostering collaboration, and connecting senior and junior scholars. When: July 26-27. Where: Portland, Oregon.
National Association of Election Officials 33rd Annual Conference —This year’s Conference attendees will be inspired and energized as we share trending elections and voter registration issues including The 2016 Elections in Review, Technology Advances in Voter Registration and Elections and Polling Place Line Management, to name a few, Also, crucial information from federal agencies to local election officials 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 hear the winning presentations and you will take home all of the innovative programs and ideas that were submitted by your colleagues in other jurisdictions around the country. When: August 19-23. Where: Orange County, California.
NASED 2017 Summer Meeting— Mark your calendars now and stay tuned for more information and registration details on the National Association of State Election Directors 2017 Summer Meeting. When: August 22-25, 2017. Where: Anaheim, California.
IX. Job Postings This Week
Associate Components Engineer, Clear Ballot, Boston — our growing team has an immediate need in our Boston office for an entry-level/early career Associate Components Engineer in our Product Management organization. As an Associate Components Engineer, you will be at the center of maintaining Clear Ballot as the leader of commercial-off-the-shelf based voting systems. The list of materials in our voting systems is broad and dynamic; and you will be accountable for staying ahead of vendor product roadmaps, leading the identification and evaluation of new technologies and products from those vendors, identifying new sources of components, then managing new models and products through introduction, test, internal training and deployment. You may also perform manufacturing engineering duties and vendor surveys. The successful candidate will be managing finished goods and subassemblies such as computers, printers, and scanners- not board level components. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Project Manager, Dominion Voting Systems — Dominion Voting Systems is seeking an experienced and passionate Project Manager to be based in our Toronto office! This position will be responsible will be responsible for the effective project management of assigned projects throughout the Operations, North territory which includes but is not limited to, scheduling, budgeting, quality, staffing, communication, risk, supply chain, integration and customer communication. Salary: Negotiable base + bonus target & benefits. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Regional Sales Manager (West), Dominion Voting Systems — Dominion Voting Systems is seeking is highly-motivated and accomplished Regional Sales Manager to work remotely and be based in the Western United States; preferably California. The Regional Sales Manager is responsible for long term sales (3-5 years) of the company’s election products and services in a specified geographic region to governmental agencies. This position uses technical, organizational and customer knowledge to influence customers and assist them in applying the products and services to their needs, resulting in revenue generation. In addition, the position provides input and participates in the marketing, planning and development of products and services. Salary: Negotiable base + commission & benefits. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Research Associate, Democracy Works — we’re seeking a researcher to help us know as much as possible about elections, and use that knowledge to inform our software design, operations, and customer service for more than 1 million voters across 50 states. You’ll: Learn the ins-and-outs of election rules across 50 states, and apply that big-picture understanding to the smallest details of how we serve individual voters; Track when every election is happening, using your wits, charm, and deft Google Alert-wrangling skills (plus the occasional temp staffer); Solve problems, answer questions, and ensure that even our most confused voter gets the information they need; and Break things, hunt bugs, and help prioritize new features for our developer team. Salary: $48,000 to $53,000. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Senior Technical Trainer, Clear Ballot, Boston, Massachusetts — our small and growing documentation and training team has an immediate need for a new member with intermediate-to-senior experience in: Instructional design, development of learning curricula, production of training materials, and hands-on, customer facing training. Generally, the training department, technical staff, and operations staff provide training at the customer’s site. We need an instructional designer and trainer who can analyze the learners and materials, and establish an appropriately targeted learning program. The opportunity exists to develop computer based training as an enhancement to our learning curriculum. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Systems Engineer, Clear Ballot, Boston, Massachusetts — we are looking for a talented Systems Engineer who has both a technical and services/support background which enables them to quickly assess customer needs and offer value to Clear Ballot’s customers. The Systems Engineer will gain a deep understanding of how Clear Ballot’s products operate and their optimal configuration to build a streamlined installation process of the Clear Vote election system. The ideal candidate for this position can prioritize mission critical tasks and coordinate the implementation and expansion of our systems. They will be able to work directly with customers, display innovation, think conceptually and act tactically to build consensus around system installation and enhancement and meet deadlines. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.