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January 12, 2012

January 12, 2012

In Focus This Week

I. In Focus This Week

Mock elections prepare voters for new machines, laws
Oklahoma counties test-run in anticipation of big election year

By M. Mindy Moretti

While voters in New Hampshire went to the polls for real this week, hundreds of voters throughout the state of Oklahoma headed to the polls to test-drive the state’s new voting machines.

The mock election, occurring in all of the state’s 77 counties this week, was designed to not only acclimate voters with the state’s new voting machines, but to also provide additional training to elections workers and to find any kinks in the process before the state’s March primary.

Oklahoma was ahead of the HAVA curve and had been using optical-scan voting machines for nearly a decade before the infamous election of 2000. The machines the state was most recently using were originally only supposed to last 10 years, but lasted 20 instead.

In 2011 the state spend $16.7 million to purchase the new optical-scan system (eScan A/T ballot scanner) and to lock in current prices for future needs such as software or training.

The new system is almost identical to the old optical-scan system with one change. Voters will no longer connect the arrows next to their candidate of choice—instead they will fill in the oval.

“The mock election has gone great so far,” said Jim Williams, secretary/director of the Cleveland County election board. “We have had 20-30 people show up each day so far to try the new devices.  In addition, we have had over 50 teams of precinct officials come in for a refresher course on the new devices and to cast votes in their individual precincts.”

Williams said the county will be tallying the votes in bulk this Friday when the board plans to have an “Election Night rehearsal” with the new equipment.

Paul Ziriax, secretary of the Oklahoma State Board of Elections said the public portion of the mock election is more like an open house.

And so far, the public has been pretty pleased with the welcome from the new voting machines.

“So far the public feedback about the voting devices to the State Election Board has been generally positive,” Ziriax said. “We are asking the counties to pass along all feedback.”

William said that in addition to the positive voter feedback there have been relatively few problems or issues discovered that would need to be addressed before the primary.

“No problems as such have stood out, but there have been certain “logistical” issues for which we will still need to establish the most effective processes and procedures,” Williams said. “Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the Mock Election is that it has provided us with ‘hands-on’ experience regarding new procedures that we could not have anticipated without the Mock.”

Ziriax did note that there had been some issues with a typo on a Braille label for a button on the audio assistance portion (Audio Tactile Interface), but that the manufacturer will correct it in the coming months.

Because the mock election is held at county offices during regular work hours, the cost to counties has been minimal.

“Mileage for the precinct officials has been the only cost to the county,” said Vera Floyd, secretary/director for of the Beaver County elections board. “The cost has been minimal compared to the benefit of having precinct officials become more familiar with the new system.” 

One of the only differences between the mock election and a real election in Oklahoma, besides no “I Voted” stickers, is that voters are not being asked for identification before casting their mock ballot.

Although many jurisdictions provide new voting machines for public review in advance of elections, not many conduct a mock-election on the scale that Oklahoma is doing this week.

In 2011, Madison, Wis. conducted a mock election to test out the state’s new voter ID law.

“The city of Madison was the only municipality to conduct a mock election to scope out the photo ID implementation challenges,” explained Kevin Kennedy, executive director of the state’s Government Accountability Board. “However other municipalities including the city of Milwaukee have approached the implementation by conducting time trials of elements of the Election Day procedures.”

Counties throughout Wisconsin and Tennessee are also providing “help sessions” to educate voters about the state’s new election laws.

Ziriax said that Oklahoma has a history of mock elections, including testing out the old machinery 20 years ago when it was first used. He said the experience has been nothing but positive for the state.

“I cannot speak for other states, but in Oklahoma we feel the mock elections will help ensure that election officials are well-prepared,” Ziriax said. “We also know it is beneficial to voters when they get a chance to learn about changes before showing up at their polling place. “

Editor’s Note: A special thanks to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics for allowing electionline to use it’s free WiFi to publish this week’s newsletter!

Election News This Week

II. Election News This Week

  • South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced this week that he will file a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision to block the state’s new voter ID law. “Our intent of the office is to look at this legislation through the litigation process and to ensure that no voter is suppressed in the right to vote and that the integrity of the electoral process is protected,” Wilson told The State. “That is of paramount importance that we protect the electoral process and ensure that voter irregularities and potential voter fraud is curtailed, curbed or prevented.” Wilson told reporters that he was not ready to put a dollar amount on the cost to sue the feds. The state has hired Paul Clement, a former U.S. Solicitor General in Washington D.C., and Chris Coates, a former Department of Justice official in Charleston, to represent the state.
  • Redistricting is often a stressful time for county elections administrators, but when a “glitch” in the process puts voters in incorrect locations not only statewide, but throughout the world, well that’s a whole different level of stress. Clerks throughout Wisconsin are faced with such a problem and a primary a little more than a month away. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the errors affect thousands of voters around the state and stem from different sources, including inaccuracies in U.S. Census Bureau data and problems with a new way of assigning voters to districts in a state database. “We’re not only changing and moving districts, we’re changing the system beneath it,” Julie Glancey, Sheboygan County clerk told the paper. “We had many, many voters who showed up (on the computer map) on the coast of Africa and we had to drag them back to the state of Wisconsin and put them where they belonged.” State elections officials said they were trying to help clerks resolve the problems.
  • By all reports, the first election under Kansas’ new voter ID law went well this week. Approximately 460 residents in the town of Cimarron cast ballots with another 18 casting provisional ballots. According to Gray County Clerk Bonnie Swartz, only one of those provisional ballots involved a voter who did not have proper ID. Secretary of State Kris Kobach told KAKE that the relatively smooth election proved that voter ID will not be a problem for Kansas voters. Several legislators told the TV station that the true test of the law will come during the state’s upcoming primary when more people vote.
  • Personnel News: Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning announced this week that he will resign following the state’s Jan. 31 primary. Browning was first appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist and reappointed by current Gov. Rick Scott. Prior to the secretary’s job, Browning was the supervisor of elections in Pasco County for 26-years. He was the first top state election official in Florida with an actual elections background. Browning said he has no specific plans following his resignation although he may throw his hat into the ring for superintendent of Pasco County Schools. Victor Salazar, Fresno County clerk, resigned suddenly this week. Salazar was one year into a four-year term. He cited his age, 65, and unspecified health concerns for his reason for resigning. Long-time Democratic registrar of voters in Old Lyme, Conn., Patricia M. McCarthy retired on December 30 after 20 years on the job. New Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes appointed several key staff this week including Lynn Sowards Zeller as director of communications. Harnett County, N.C. Elections Director Sherre Toler resigned last week after more than 11 years in charge, over complaints about the state’s proposed marriage amendment. Anita Fowlkes, Dyer County, Tenn. administrator of elections, received her certification as an administrator of elections this week. Tess Eubanks has been hired as the new Franklin County, Ga. elections supervisor. West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant announced this week that she will seek a second term as the state’s top elections official.


IV. Opinions 

National News: Voter ID, II, III, IV; Election officials; Voter suppression; Voting Rights Act; Primary system

California: Voting system

District of Columbia: Election scheduling

Florida: Felon voting rights; Absentee ballots

Mississippi: Voter ID

Missouri: Voter ID

Nebraska: Voter ID, II

New Hampshire: Voter ID

New York: Poll worker training; Voting rights

North Carolina: Voter ID

Tennessee: Voter ID, II

Texas: Voter ID; Voter apps

South Carolina: Primary costs

Washington: Precinct officers, II

Wisconsin: Voter ID

**Some sites may require registration.

Job Openings

V. Job Openings

electionlineWeekly publishes election administration job postings each week as a free service to our readers. To have your job listed in the newsletter, please send a copy of the job description, including a web link to mmoretti@electionline.org. Job postings must be received by 5pm on Wednesday in order to appear in the Thursday newsletter. Listings will run for three weeks or till the deadline listed in the posting.

Attorney, Fair Elections Legal Network, Washington, D.C. — FELN is seeking a lawyer with elections, organizing and/or campaign experience to serve as a staff attorney. Responsibilities: Outreach and collaboration with voter registration and mobilization groups and other progressive organizations, to identify and eliminate barriers to voter participation; legal research, analysis and writing to support FELN’s legal and administrative election reforms and ongoing assistance to outside organizations; communication with election officials and other audiences; and 4) overseeing and coordinating organizational efforts in assigned target states, which may include some travel. Qualifications.  We are seeking a responsible self-starter with good time management skills who is comfortable handling numerous ongoing tasks.  Must possess a demonstrated ability to handle significant responsibility, meet deadlines, achieve measurable results and enjoy working as part of a team in a fast-paced, collegial environment.  Excellent interpersonal skills and strong legal skills required.  A J.D. degree is also required.  Some prior experience with elections is strongly preferred. Application: Please send cover letter, resume, writing sample, and salary requirements to Ben Hovland bhovland@fairelectionsnetwork.com Deadline: Jan. 20.

Communications Coordinator, Brennan Center, New York City — works with the Director and the Deputy Director of Communications and Brennan Center staff to maintain an energetic communications department that can speak strategically, as well as quickly and effectively, to mass audiences and members of the press. Responsibilities include: Proactive media relations; reactive media relations; producing and promoting publications; helping craft and execute communications strategies; assisting with all aspects of event planning; assist with online content generation and maintenance, including both drafting and editing web site content; assisting with administrative activities, including press list maintenance and organization and planning of public advocacy events, among other things. Qualifications: Bachelors or advanced degree; substantial work experience in communications and media relations work; strong writing skills and media savvy; enthusiasm about democracy reform and social justice; excellent inter-personal skills and tested ability to negotiate between people with different training and different approaches to problems and communication; and openness to evolving responsibilities. Salary: Commensurate with experience Application: For more information and how to apply, click here. Deadline: Open until filled.

Deputy City Clerk, City of Ann Arbor, Mich. — manages the election warehouse operations, including directing and assigning work to temporary election staff.  Testing and preparing all voting equipment for use in city, state and federal elections. Serves as City FOIA Coordinator, managing the Freedom of Information Act process and preparing all responses on behalf of the City. Assisting the City Clerk with all other management duties in the City Clerk’s Office, including acting as City Clerk in his/her absence. Qualifications: Bachelor’s degree in public administration, political science, or a related field; experience in county or municipal election administration: at least four years, inclusive of administration of a national election; one year supervisory experience (preferred); an equivalent combination of education and experience will be considered. Salary: $48,000-$65,000. Application: For more information and to apply, click here.

Deputy General Registrar, City of Richmond, Va. — provides administrative assistance and management support to the general registrar. The position is responsible for budget development and monitoring, personnel, payroll, purchasing, e-pollbook management, inventory monitoring and control, staff supervision, and some training. The position works within broad policy and organizational guidelines, independently plans and implements projects; reports progress of major activities through periodic conferences and meetings. Assumes the duties of the General Registrar in the absence of the General Registrar. Qualifications: Requires, Bachelor’s degree in public administration, business management, organizational development, project management or a related field; two years of experience in a public setting performing related duties; and 1 year of supervisory experience: OR, High school diploma; five years of progressively responsible administrative experience in a voter registration or election office, or closely related field; and three years of supervisory experience; or, any equivalent combination of training and experience (as approved by the department) that provides evidence that the applicant possesses the necessary Applicant  traits. Prior experience in voter registration or elections preferred. Successful candidate must be a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia and qualified to register to vote at the time of appointment. No Special License or Certification required. Salary: $43,771-$71,898. Application: For complete job listing and application, click here. Deadline: Open until filled.

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