I. In Focus This Week
Some Montana counties survey rejected ballots
By M. Mindy Moretti
Following the May special election, recently installed Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton had questions and concerns about rejected mail ballots.
Were ballots rejected because voters made legitimate mistakes, or was there something more nefarious at play with the original submission of the ballots?
In August Stapleton asked county elections officials to survey rejected ballots and try to determine, as best as they could, why voters did not properly submit their ballots in the first place and why some of those voters chose not to remedy the situation after they were contacted by their county elections office.
Many Montana counties — but not all — set out to answer Stapleton’s questions and concerns.
One, the rejected ballot process works and two signature issues occur within the household, Connors explained. A family member would sign on behalf of someone else by either recreating the voter's signature, signing with their own signature with an explanation they were signing on the voter's behalf or signing by power of attorney, which, she pointed out, has no bearing in Montana election law.
“However, we didn't know if some of these signatures were accidental or intentional - we were able to gain more of the voter's perspective with this survey,” Connors said. “For instance, some of the responses included: ‘I sign my spouse's name on checks and I never had an issue.’ Or, ‘I give my son my debit card and pin number and ask him to run to the store for me, what's the difference?’ Voters are asking family members to be an extension of themselves in other areas in life and expect for the same to happen in elections. Their perspective was new to us.”
Missoula County had 91 rejected ballots from the special election. Of those, 35 were late, 13 had no signature, two had no ID and 41 had signature mismatches.
The survey took county staff roughly 40 days to complete. Additional costs were minimal and included a dedicated staff member and materials.
“We took the questions the secretary of state [provided] and made them quantitative to better understand the data,” Connors explained. “Our dedicated staff member made phone calls during office hours as well as during the evenings when it might be a better time to reach people. Those who did not return our phone call were visited to see if we could reach them in person.”
By making the original survey questions more quantitative, Connors said her office was able to learn that late ballots were often late because voters mailed them from another state. The office also discovered that many elderly voters whose ballots are rejected often lack the technology to resolve their ballot electronically and may face challenges to appear in person.
“We're going to look at ways to better help them resolve signature issues, such as sending a staff member to them,” Connors said.
Although Connors’ days in the Missoula election office are coming to an end — she’s moving — she said she would encourage anyone coming in or in other counties to take a more intensive look at rejected ballots.
“Rejected ballots should not be overlooked,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to connect with voters and educate them on the importance of their signature since election law cannot translate into the other areas of life they may be using signatures. It's also a great opportunity to update a voter's signature on file to prevent future instances of rejection. We scan in any forms or signature updates to the voter's profile to help with future elections.”
The secretary of state’s office seems to agree with Connors on the importance of rejected ballots and has created the 2017 Mail Ballot Improvement Project.
“[A] working group consisting of clerks and the office of the Montana Secretary of State was formed to study and learn from the results,” explained Laura Nelson, communications and marketing director for the secretary of state’s office. “The Secretary of State will publish those results later in December together with the recommendations of the working group and how these efforts improve elections in Montana.”
Ruth Baker, clerk & recorder/clerk of district court/election administrator for Treasure County is also the current president of the Montana Clerks Association said that Treasure County did participate in the survey and even though she only had one rejected ballot to review, the review was worth it.
“What I learned is we need to better educate the voter on mailing their ballot back to us in a timely manner,” Baker said.
While she believes that voters need to be better educated about the process, she doesn’t necessarily believe it should require legislation.
“I don't believe a law requiring a survey is necessary,” Baker said. “We work hard to make sure every vote is counted, and there are just some ballots, that unfortunately, don't get counted. More education for the voter: Sign your ballot envelope, mail it in time, and sign your own ballot.”
Not all counties participated in the process though. Yellowstone County, the state’s largest county in population, did not survey their special election rejected ballot voters because they were conducting municipal primary and general elections at the time and according to Election Administrator Bret Rutherford, had already contacted every voter with a rejected ballot by mail and many by phone.
Rutherford said he would not recommend rejected-ballot surveys becoming law or part of the standard post-election process.
In Flathead County, they didn’t conduct a post-election survey in the same manner that Missoula County did, but Clerk and Recorder Manager Monica Eisenzimer said the county was able to learn quite a bit when they did their initial outreach to voters whose ballots were rejected.
The county had 27 affirmation ballot envelopes were signed by the spouse of the voter, 20 were signed by a style of signature different than the one on file showing a much larger percentage than in the general election where only 8 envelopes were rejected for signature mismatches and 44 were left unsigned, half as many as in the general election of 2016.
“…[V]oters are on the move, make mistakes and that as much as we want to be able to verify, accept and count every ballot that is submitted, our process is working in that those mismatched signatures or no signature ballots that are not accepted and are not being allowed to be counted,” Eisenzimer said.
Eisenzimer said it’s possible that Flathead County will add another level of verification and reconciliation to the rejected ballot process. She would also support some or additional legislative or codified process for rejected ballots.
“Yes, so that voters really understand how important it is to pay close attention to the instructions for casting their absentee ballot,” Eisenzimer said.
Even though the 2017 Mail Ballot Improvement Project working group has not released its results, Nelson said it does not seem likely that the state will seek a legislative solution rejected mail ballots.
“One of the missions of the Montana Secretary of State is to promote democracy while striving for continuous improvement. This office and the offices of election administrators in Montana in conjunction with the working group are committed to working together voluntarily to make sure that in Montana, every vote matters,” Nelson said. “As a result of this, there is no need to pursue legislation.”
II. Federal-State Updates
Attorneys for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity have responded to Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s lawsuit filed in an attempt to find out what’s been happening on the commission since Dunlap, a commission appointee, claims he had heard nothing.
According to the Union Leader, in their response to Dunlap’s lawsuit the commission’s lawyers argue that Dunlap is “seeking judicial micromanagements of the commission’s operations through a vague injunction that would frustrate rather than further the public interest.”
In an amicus brief filed this week, a group of technology experts and former national security officials urged the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to halt the collection of voter information and the creation of a planned nationwide voter registration database. The brief warns that the Administration’s plan to create a centralized database would become an attractive target for hackers.
During a December 6 Council on Foreign Relations event, Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) implied that the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election will be light on federal legislative proposals. “The determination of how states run their elections: states. It’s their responsibility, and we don’t want to do anything to change that,” Burr said at the event according to FCW.
III. Election News This Week
This week, the Iowa secretary of state’s office mailed out 123,000 voter ID cards to residents who are registered to vote but do not have a state-issued ID to cast a ballot under the state’s new voter ID law. “It should be easy to vote but hard to cheat,” said Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) in a statement. “That's what this new law ensures.” Some concerns were expressed by opponents of the law that the IDs were sent during the busy holiday mailing season, but any voter who doesn’t receive an ID or misplaces one may get a new one from their county auditor. It cost the state about $79,000 to mail out the IDs.
Behind closed doors, the Santa Fe mayor and city council unanimously voted to prepare to use ranked-choice voting in the 2018 municipal elections. They also voted 5 to 4 to appeal a court decision forcing them to use the voter-approved system. After the two-hour meeting officials made the announcement to cheering supporters of ranked choice. Some city council members expressed concerns about the impact pursuing implementation and an appeal may have on voters. “I’m concerned about injecting confusion into the minds of the voters,” Councilor Joseph Maestas told the Santa Fe New Mexican. How exactly the city will implement ranked choice remains up for discussion.
When preparing for the November general election, officials in Pierce County, Washington found 150 uncounted ballots from the August primary in a storage bin in the elections office. “The ballots were sealed in a security bag, so they weren’t tampered with or molested in anyway,” Auditor Julie Anderson told the News Tribune. “But the error was that they were not put on the processing table.” Anderson reported the error to the state Secretary of State’s Office, the County Executive’s Office and the Pierce County Canvassing Board. She also contacted local news agencies and others to report the discovery. “We want to be transparent about this,” she told the paper.
Election 2017 Update: A recount in the Detroit clerk’s race got underway this week with at least five of the city’s 100 absentee precincts being deemed un-recountable. When the number of ballots doesn’t match the number of voters recorded in poll books, Michigan law prevents those ballots from being recounted. In all, elections officials are recounting about 41,000 ballots.
Congratulations to Lydia Riehn of Jackson High School in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri for designing the winning “I Voted” sticker for the county. Riehn’s design will be used on “I Voted” stickers in 2018 and 2019.
Personnel News: Congratulations to Kari Fresquez, New Mexico election director and chief information officer for being named Common Cause New Mexico’s Best Government Employee. And congratulations too goes out to Carolyn Newton of the Daviess County, Indiana clerk’s office for being named the Voter Registration Official of the Year for the state. Kristie Blanchard has been sworn in as the new Iberia Parish registrar.
IV. Legislative Updates
Florida: State Rep. Cord Byrd filed a bill Wednesday that allows those who’ve served prison and probation sentences for felonies to seek to have their voting rights restored by petitioning judges instead of waiting for clemency from the governor.
Georgia: The House Science and Technology Committee heard testimony from three election system vendors as the Legislature considers replacing the state’s aging voting equipment. There is no timeline for replacing the equipment.
Guam: A bill that would have eliminated primaries on Guam for cost-saving reasons was defeated 9 to 4 with two senators excused.
Kentucky: Sen. Reginald Thomas has pre-filed a bill that would allow in-person early voting for three Saturdays preceding any primary, general or special election. Under this legislation, county clerks will designate a location within his or her office where the early voting ballots shall be cast privately and secretly. The county board of elections, with approval of the State Board of Elections, may establish other locations in which the voters may execute their early voting ballots with approval and public notice.
Tennessee: The Memphis City Council voted unanimously to seek a referendum in 2018 to amend the city charter to repeal instant runoff election. Voters first approved ranked choice voting (by 71 percent) in 2008.
North Dakota: According to the Grand Forks Herald, the city council will wait another two weeks to decide on where voters will vote in 2018. The vote was tabled in order to give councilmembers who were not able to be at the meeting this week a chance to vote.
V. Legal Updates
Connecticut: Perhaps the third time will be the charm. Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis has ordered a third primary for a Bridgeport city council race. Bellis concluded that there was meddling with absentee ballots. The new primary will be February 6 although the city said it has plans to appeal.
Mississippi: A Lowndes County grand jury has indicted Cory Ferraez on voter fraud. Ferraez, a former candidate for a state House seat has plead not guilty to swearing to a false application for an absentee ballot and voting outside his legal district.
New York: After the Manhattan Democratic Party filed suit to prevent the speaker of the city council from appointing a friend to the board of elections, a judge issued temporarily barred the appointment. The court order bars the Council from holding a vote to approve a BOE pick before Dec. 20, when there will be a hearing.
North Carolina: The North Carolina State Board of Election on Wednesday said the special election for an unexpired seat on the Winterville Town Council cannot be certified, and the case is heading to Wake County Superior Court. In a letter to the Pitt County board of elections, the SBOE said that because of voting irregularities, the election cannot be certified.
Texas: According to an article in the Texas Tribune, it appears that the state may be conceding an appellate court ruling against it in the case of language interpreters at the ballot box. In its August ruling, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s finding that Texas ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act by restricting the interpretation assistance that English-limited voters may receive and that the law should be struck down. The state has said nothing since the ruling leading many to believe that the state may be conceding this one.
Also in Texas, attorneys for the state argued before a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that problems with the state’s voter ID law have been remedied with a provision that allows people who lack to sign an affidavit stating that there was a reasonable impediment to them getting one.
Virginia: A Pittsylvania County circuit court judge has ordered a recount in a county board of supervisors race. There is a 14-vote margin in the race.
Also in Virginia, Democrats have formally requested a court-ordered special election in the 28th House of Delegates race where the margin of victory was 82, but where at least 100 voters voted in the wrong precinct.
VI. Tech Thursday
Idaho: This week, Secretary of State Lawerence Denney unveiled the state’s new online voter registration system. Residents with an Idaho driver’s license or state-issued ID card can now register to vote or update an existing registration on IdahoVotes.gov.
Missouri: The Boone County clerk’s office has made it possible for county residents to register to vote, change their address and request absentee ballots electronically. Boone County Clerk Taylor Burks told the Columbia Tribune that anyone with access to a touchscreen device, such as a tablet or smartphone, can sign electronically through software on the clerk’s website. Staff then verify the information and signature and fulfill the request. Although there were no numbers available, Burks expects the new online capabilities to save the county time and money.
VII. Opinions This Week
National Opinion: Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity | Election security, II
Alabama: Felon voting rights
Georgia: Voting machines
Illinois: School polling places
Michigan: Port Huron award
Missouri: Voter fraud
New Hampshire: Student voters
New York: Voting age
North Carolina: Election agency
Oregon: Secretary of state’s office
Pennsylvania: Election reform
Tennessee: Zombie voters
Texas: Voter fraud
Wisconsin: Ranked choice voting
VIII. Upcoming Events
NCSL Capitol Forum 2017— the NCSL Capitol Forum is the meeting where NCSL Standing Committees meet to discuss policy and set the agenda for the states. The NCSL Standing Committees are composed of legislators and legislative staff who are appointed by the leadership of the legislatures. The committees are the main organizational mechanism for serving NCSL members. There are nine committees that deal with both state and state-federal issues. The jurisdictions of the standing committees are similar to those of committees in the state legislatures. When: December 10-13. Where: San Diego.
iGO Mid-Winter Conference 2018 — Mark your calendars now and stay tuned for more information and registration details on iGO’s mid-winter conference. When: Jan. 5-10, 2018. Where: San Diego.
Joint Election Officials Liaison Committee — Mark your calendars now and stay tuned for more information and registration details on the Joint Election Officials Liaison Committee meeting. When: Jan. 11-12, 2018. Where: Ritz Carlton Hotel, Arlington, Virginia.
NASED 2018 Winter Meeting — Mark your calendars now and stay tuned for more information and registration details on NASED’s 2018 winter meeting. When: February 16-19. Where: Washington, D.C.
NASS 2018 Winter Conference — Mark your calendars now and stay tuned for more information and registration details on NASS’s 2018 winter meeting When: February 16-19. Where: Washington, D.C.
IX. Job Postings This Week
Account Manager (Michigan)-ES&S — serves as the interface between customer service and sales with respect to the full array of ES&S product lines. Operating as the lead point of contact for any and all matters specific to customers within the assigned territory from initial implementation of new voting systems through each election cycle. Ultimately, Account Managers are responsible for building and maintaining long-lasting customer relationships, negotiating and promoting Account Management contracts and agreements to maximize profit, and acting as the overall liaison between the customer and internal team members. Account Managers partner with our customers to ensure their long-term success. The Account Manager role includes managing a portfolio of assigned customers, developing new business from existing clients and actively seeking new opportunities. Account Management responsibilities include developing strong relationships with customers, and connecting with key county/jurisdiction officials. Account Managers will liaise between customers and cross-functional internal teams to ensure the timely and successful delivery of our solutions and to proactively identify customer needs and improve the entire customer experience. In addition, Account Managers collaborate with our Sales team to achieve sales quotas and grow our business. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Chief Security Officer (Denver) - Dominion Voting Systems — Dominion Voting Systems is seeking a senior executive Chief Security Officer to join our team in Denver, Colorado! The CSO will be accountable for the development, implementation, and management of enterprise-wide strategies, policies, and programs intended for the mitigation and reduction of operational, financial and reputational risk relating to the security of our products, data, personnel, customers, and facilities globally. Salary: Negotiable base + bonus & benefits. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Customer Relations Manager (Toronto) - Dominion Voting Systems — Dominion Voting Systems is seeking a customer focused and passionate Customer Relations Manager to join our team in Toronto! This position is responsible for providing world-class customer service to our customers in order to achieve our core purpose of delivering solutions for the advancement of fair, accessible, and secure elections! Salary: Negotiable base + bonus & benefits. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Customer Relations Manager (Phoenix, AZ) - Dominion Voting Systems — Dominion Voting Systems is seeking a customer focused and passionate Customer Relations Manager to join our team in Phoenix, AZ! This position is responsible for effectively and proactively managing the day-to-day relationship, administration and technical/product support of one or more assigned customer accounts. Additionally, the CRM will serve as project manager for specialized projects such as pre- and post-election day support, new product implementations, and/or product upgrades/updates. Salary: Negotiable base + bonus & benefits. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Payroll & AP Administrator, Dominion Voting Systems — Dominion Voting Systems is seeking an experienced Payroll & AP Administrator to be join our team in Denver, CO! This position will be responsible for managing and organizing of all functions related to payroll administration and accounts payable, including, but not limited to: recording, processing and obtaining approvals; and Processing all matters in a timely and accurate fashion, including following up on items related to the various accounts payable, payroll and month-end deadlines. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Product Manager, TurboVote — as Product Manager for TurboVote, you will be acting as a product owner and project manager, working from end-to-end— from sitting with our executive leadership to make strategic choices AND down in the details of planning sprints and onboarding partners. In doing so, you’ll be supported by a constellation of software developers; a researcher who brings extensive knowledge of election administration; a partner support team with significant experience implementing across higher education, nonprofit, and corporate environments; and a COO dedicated to corralling the external resources you need to succeed. Deadline: Open until filled. Salary: $90,000 to $120,000 per year. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Product & System Specialist (Jamestown, NY) - Dominion Voting Systems — Dominion Voting Systems is seeking tech-savvy and passionate Product & System Specialist to join our team in Jamestown, NY! This position is responsible for delivering internal and external technical support services related to the implementation, operation, repair, maintenance and upgrades of Dominion’s hardware and software technologies and products. Salary: Negotiable base + bonus & 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.
Senior Manager, Technical Product Support (Denver, CO) - Dominion Voting Systems — Dominion Voting Systems is seeking a tech-savvy, passionate Senior Manager, Technical Product Support to join our team in Denver, CO! This position is responsible for strategically leading and developing a multi-state team of election technology software and hardware Product Specialists through a number of critical projects throughout the Western United States. Salary: Negotiable base + bonus & benefits. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.