I. In Focus This Week
What to watch Election Day 2017
Officials use ‘off’ year to test and fine tune
By M. Mindy Moretti
While the focus of many Americans seems to still be on last year’s election and on the election that is still more than year away, elections officials across the country are gearing up for state and local elections next week on November 7.
Just because this isn’t the big show 2018 will be doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty to keep an eye on as voters in more than half of the states will head to the polls in some capacity on Tuesday.
Officials that are conducting elections in 2017 are using this “off” year election cycle to test out new voting machines and poll books and fine tune policies and procedures.
We’ve been watching the news in the months leading up to November 3 and these are some of the stories we think are worth watching.
New voting machines
Like the first day of school where the smell of new books and fresh paper hangs heavy in the air, Election Day 2017 will bring the smell of new voting machines and fresh paper ballots to polling places in quite a few local jurisdictions, especially in Michigan and Virginia.
In Michigan it’s expected that cities in 50 of the state’s 83 counties will have new voting equipment in place for the general election. Some localities, like Detroit, were able to have it in place by the primary.
Elections officials from the secretary of state’s office to local township clerks have been busy showing the public the new voting machines as well as training poll workers on the new systems.
“The equipment isn't going to change the way Election Day is run, it's just going to make it move along faster,” Huron County Clerk Lori Neal-Wonsowicz told the Huron Daily Tribune.
With just less than two months to go until a gubernatorial election, the Virginia State Board of Elections voted to scrap any remaining touchscreen voting machines and replace them with paper-based systems.
At the time of the decision, DRE machines were still in use in 22 localities. While some counties were planning on making the switch in future fiscal years, others had to scramble to find the money to pay for the new machines, get the machines in place, train poll workers and inform the public about the new system.
Although some Ohio counties got to test run their new e-poll books during the primary, the November 2017 election will be the first “big” test of the technology. Poll workers have spent the past few weeks learning the new technology.
Belmont County board of elections director Bill Shubat told WTOV that in addition to speeding up the process for voters, he’s looking forward to how it will make the job easier for poll workers.
“It's going to help in a number of ways for our poll workers to make sure that they've got the right number, got the right ballot," Shubat told the station. "We're looking for a good response, a positive response out of these machines."
Utah counties making the move to vote-by-mail will get another go at testing out the new-to-them system and iron out kinks that arose during the primary process.
While some of the kinks from the primary may have been ironed out, the biggest challenge facing clerks now is that with just days to go before the election some counties, including Salt Lake County are reporting lower than expected turnout at early voting sites and in returned mail ballots.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, as of Monday, only 277 people had cast early ballots and only about 82,000 of the more than 446,000 mail ballots had been returned.
“That makes me concerned about Election Day,” County Clerk Sherrie Swenson told the paper — particularly if voters “show up and flood our polling places that are not meant for traditional polling.”
In 2016 the county’s election day voting centers were overwhelmed by the turnout and voters waited in lines for hours.
Ranked choice voting
Ranked choice voting will make its third appearance in the City of Minneapolis and this year there have been some rule changes to hopefully help speed up the process.
“We are going to have batch eliminations, which we didn’t have in 2013, and that means we can eliminate more candidates in a single round, which expedites our tabulation and we can report results faster,” Minneapolis City Clerk Casey Carl told WCCO.
Some voters told the Spokesman-Recorder that they are still unaware of the ranked-choice voting system. Carl told the paper that her office spent much of the summer doing outreach, not only English, but also Spanish, Somali and Hmong.
“We made the effort, but the question is did people get it. We called newspapers and put out press releases. We put it on our web site. We went to neighborhood groups and did presentations. We had a voter outreach team that went out to the community all summer long to [talk] about Ranked Choice Voting (RCV),” he told the paper.
Mother Nature always has a potential to play a role on Election Day, but it’s weather that happened before Election Day that will for sure be impacting this year’s contests.
In Houston, the clerk’s office has encouraged as many people to vote early as possible and to vote-by-mail because it is unclear how many traditional polling places will be available following the catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Irma.
Wildfires that raged through Northern California’s wine country are also having an impact on November elections. In Sonoma County, the county will conduct an all vote-by-mail election due to damage to polling places.
While there are quite a few county clerk races on the ballot next week, the two “big ticket” races are the Detroit clerk’s race and the New Jersey lieutenant governor’s race.
In Detroit, longtime City Clerk Janice Winfrey is being challenged by new comer Garlin Gilchrist, a University of Michigan-educated computer science engineer who previously worked in the mayor’s office helping to build better efficiency and accountability systems for the city government as the city’s first Director of Innovation & Emerging Technology.
In the most recent poll from the Detroit Free Press, Winfrey holds a 42 percent to 35 percent lead over Gilchrist with 23 percent of the voters still undecided. Gilchrist has earned the endorsement of several newspapers in Detroit.
In New Jersey current Lt. Governor Kim Guandagno (R) is running against Democrat Phil Murphy who is a former ambassador. Guandango’s running make is Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos Rendo. Murphy’s running mate is Former State Assembly Speaker Shelia Oliver.
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