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August 7, 2014

August 7, 2014

In Focus This Week

I. In Focus This Week

Colorado opens its books to the people and data geeks
New website provides treasure trove of election data

By M. Mindy Moretti

There’s a lot of talk these days about transparent and open governments and recently the Colorado Secretary of State’s office put their money where their mouth is and created a statewide elections data portal.

The Accountability in Colorado Elections (ACE) site was launched in late July and it provides, through a series of interactive maps, charts and tables, Colorado election data by county.

Although all of this information has long been publicly available, it was not centrally located, thus sending those seeking the information to as many as 64 different websites and elections office.

This is a big step forward in the world of elections data.

“Over a century ago, states started reporting election returns in a centralized, uniform fashion, which was an important step in reassuring the public that election results were determined above-board,” said Charles Stewart, the Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science at MIT. “Now, the big question is, ‘what are election officials DOING in their jobs?’ Something like ACE helps answer that question. 

Colorado is the first state to put all of the county information in one centralized location.

“I wish all states would do something like this — that the EAC [The U.S. Election Assistance Commission] would take the data it collects through the Election Administration and Voting Survey and present it in as attractive package as this,” Stewart said.

According to a spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office, the decision to put the information online was all about bringing accountability to the taxpayers.

“… Colorado counties spent $7.5 million to administer the 2013 elections. Coloradans deserve to know how that money is being spent,” said Andrew Cole, a spokesman for Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler.

Cole added that while Colorado is proud to lead the way in election transparency, for the secretary of state’s office the system was built for the people of Colorado.

Much of the information on the site centers on the statewide election that takes place each November — the initial data on the site references the November 2013 election. Other information, such as monthly voter registration statistics, is updated more regularly. The site presents data in four major topic areas:

Creating the website involved two major tasks, getting access to the data for all 64 counties and putting it into a useful format.

“We knew from our own experience that some of the data was opaque and difficult to find. The financial information was the most difficult to get at and break down into digestible bits,” Cole said. “Yet this is among the most important for understanding how elections are being run.”

He noted that the state wanted to present the data in a useful format so that people who aren’t statisticians could look at it and come away with some real value.

The state spent about $10,000 for the software program license and there will be a fee of a few thousand dollars each year to maintain the software. As for manpower, there were two employees who handled the bulk of the work over the past year to create ACE, although there were several other employees involved as well.

So far, the reactions to ACE have been overwhelmingly positive although Stewart does have some suggestions for what might make the site better for everyone, from the residents of Colorado to the elections geeks.

“If I were asked for advice about the ACE site, I would encourage Colorado to present the data on a per capita basis, or to do other things to ‘normalize’ the data, to take into account the fact that the underlying populations of the various counties cover such a large range,” Stewart said.

Cole said that the state has already scheduled improvements and will continue to add data.

“We will also evaluate the response to ACE and suggestions for improvement from the public,” Cole said. “This will certainly include additional information that can help Coloradans understand how their elections are administered. We anticipate that ACE will continually improve.”

Each state is different of course, but Cole believes ACE is something that could easily be replicated nationwide.

“The resources we dedicated to this project were a fraction of the resources in our elections division. We believe it was well worth the increased transparency for the people of Colorado,” Cole said. “If state election officials have a strong desire to create something like this, it is within reach.”

And Stewart believes those officials with a strong desire are out there and that ACE will just be the tip of the iceberg.

“There is a new generation of election officials coming along that recognizes that if we are to improve election administration, we need to start describing the business of elections in the same way we describe the business of government more generally,” Stewart said. “It is many of these administrators who are pushing for things like ACE.”

Primary Roundup

II. Primary Roundup

Kansas: There was a lot of talk leading up to the Kansas primary about the state’s new dual voting system and Tuesday was the first real test of the system. According to KAKE, it was unclear how many voters who had not provided proof-of-citizenship attempted to vote.

That did not mean things went swimmingly of course. Numerous voters in Sedgwick County showed up to the wrong polling places prompting Election Commissioner Tabitha Lemon to issue a statement that all voters will receive new polling place location postcards in advance of the November election.

Also in Sedgwick County, a clerical error forced the husband and on of a state senator to cast provisional ballots.

However, in Shawnee County, poll workers and voters were expounding the virtues of the county’s new check-in system using iPads. “This was something to learn,” election worker Jean Gunther told the Topeka Capital-Journal, “but it’s super simple.” This was the first election Shawnee used the system.

And finally, although the contest was often bitter, incumbent Secretary of State Kris Kobach was able to defeat late-coming challenger Scott Morgan for the GOP nomination. Kobach will face Sen. Jean Schodorf in November.

Michigan: While there were issues statewide on Tuesday, all eyes were largely on Dearborn Heights where in the weeks leading up to the vote accusations of everything from voter suppress to voter fraud were bandied about. On primary day, a Wayne County circuit court judge issued a preliminary injunction halting the counting of absentee ballots over allegations of fraud. However, on Wednesday, Circuit Judge Robert J. Colombo, Jr. found that there was no evidence of voter fraud and the counting of absentees could proceed.

Elsewhere in the state, an electronic voting tabulator broke down in Delhi Township. A new machine was brought in and the votes were counted about an hour after the original machine broke down.

In Oakland County, 80 percent of the communities are now using electronic poll books and the reports from primary day were nothing but positive. East Lansing also used electronic poll books for the first time to much success.

While interested parties waited outside for the results, elections officials in Saugatuck Township worked to ratify a discrepancy in the vote tally which showed a one vote difference between the electronic poll books and the vote tabulator.

With three different types of voting systems being used in Allegan County, there were some technical difficulties Tuesday night and as a result, clerks had to manually tally the results.

And has been the case nationwide this primary season, turnout was part of the story. Some of it could be blamed on the weather and some of it possibly on the August primary that Secretary of State Ruth Johnson addressed on a local radio station. “I haven’t taken a look at all the data on it,” Johnson said. “It would be great if we could improve the turnout. That’s for sure.”

Missouri: While the turnout in Missouri was higher than it’s been in other states and the District of Columbia, only about 25 percent of the voters in the Show Me State headed to the polls on Tuesday and what they found was by-and-large a smooth process.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. In Camden County, there were early morning reports of broken voting machines. According to the county clerk, the machines were repaired and running again by 9:15 a.m.

In Kansas City, some polling places opened up to a half-hour late frustrating some voters who left without casting a ballot.

While there were no allegations of any malfeasance, in St. Louis County, the director of elections noted that in the northern part of the county, an unusually high number of Republicans were casting ballots.

After the polls closed, Taney County had issues retrieving data from some of the voting precincts. Specifically information was not transferring from the voting machine to the main computer system. The problem was resolved by about 9 p.m.

U.S. Virgin Islands: Residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands battled wind, rain and power outages to cast their ballots on Saturday, August 2. Despite being pounded by Tropical Storm Bertha, voting went on as scheduled. There were some problems with power outages that forced polling places to open a bit late and of course the foul weather dampened turnout, but the vote largely went well. There was however a “data glitch” in the early vote counts that were corrected by the time the final tally was posted.

On Saturday night, people wishing to observe the vote count — including candidates — were greeted by barricades and police in tactical gear at the central elections office. Instead of being able to enter the building to watch the vote count, they were forced to watch it in the street on a single monitor under a tent.

All that being said, the voters who did cast their ballots on Saturday seemed to like the ES&S voting systems (paper ballots) that the V.I. Election System purchased in 2013 for more than $600K.

Washington: Maybe this is why people like to tout vote-by-mail? At press time, electionline could not find, which doesn’t mean there wasn’t, one story about the administration of the election in Washington State on Tuesday other than about turnout. Like we said to Virginia a few weeks ago, well done Washington, well done.

Election News This Week

III. Election News This Week

  • The blind aren’t leading the blind in Maryland, instead they are in a legal battle over online ballot-marking systems. Last month, the State Board of Elections failed to approve an online ballot-marking system for voters with disabilities. Following the failed vote, the National Federation of the Blind, Inc. filed a federal lawsuit seeking to compel the state to employ the system. However, recently, the American Council of the Blind of Maryland along with three blind residents intervened in the case contending the proposed online ballot-marking system is flawed and insecure.
  • Following last week’s Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling on voter ID, state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen asked a federal appeals court to lift an injunction and allow the use of photo ID to move forward for the November 4 election.
  • In other state AG news, the Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring warned state election officials that the new definition of what constitutes a valid photo ID would likely lead to unconstitutionally unequal treatment of voters. “The language as drafted by the Board of Elections could cause confusion at the polls, lead to unequal treatment of voters in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and potentially prevent qualified voters from casting a ballot,” Herring said in an email to The Richmond Times-Dispatch. On Wednesday, the State Board of Elections backed a policy that would allow for the use of expired ID’s, but only those that had been expired for 12 months or less.
  • In non-primary news from Missouri, a citizen-led initiative to force the state into early voting failed to obtain the required number of signatures to make the November ballot.
  • It’s taken a while (five years) to get to this point, but a satellite elections office/voting center will be on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana for this November’s election. According to published reports, under term of collaboration with Glacier County and the secretary of state’s office, the state will fund the purchase of ballot-on-demand machines to be used at the Reservation office and the county will staff the office two days per week in the 30 days prior to the election.
  • Perhaps the third time will be the charm? For the second time, elections officials in Maricopa County, Arizona sent out ballots that mistakenly left off a candidate’s name. After a Peoria city council candidate was left off the ballot, the county spent $15,000 to send out almost 8,500 new ballots. Problem is, the candidate’s name did not appear on the new ballots either. The left-out candidate is calling for a special election, and county officials are trying to figure out what to do.
  • TurboVote recently announced a new partnership with the Florida College System that will reach more than 850,000 college students at 27 state and community colleges throughout the Sunshine State. This is the first system-wide project of the FCS Civic Literacy Initiative, which aims to make civic engagement part of the experience of all 850,000 students enrolled in the system.
  • Personnel News: Sara Knotts is the new director of the Brunswick County, North Carolina board of elections. Knotts has worked for the BOE for eight years. Rebecca Connors has been appointed as the new Missoula County elections administrator. Connors had previously served as the chief deputy for recording and elections in the county.

Legislation Update

IV. Legislation Update

California: A bill that will allow San Mateo County to join Yolo County in a vote-by-mail pilot program has been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown for approval. While a majority of California voters now cast their ballots by mail, the state has still not joined its neighbors to the north in mail-only voting. The pilot sends a ballot, return envelope and prepaid postage to each voter but also allows at least one polling place and drop-off location in each city for those who prefer the old-fashioned method.


V. Opinions

National Opinions: Voter impersonation

Arkansas: Vote fraud

California: Vote-by-mail

Florida: Redistricting

Illinois: Polling places

Indiana: Secretary of state race | Voting practices

Michigan: Voting system; Voter turnout;

Minnesota: Language barriers | Secretary of state race

New Mexico: Voter ID, II | Voter rolls

North Carolina: Election administration | Forsyth County

Oregon: Top-two primary

Utah: Online voting;

Virginia: Voting process | Polling accessibility

Wisconsin: Voter ID, II, III | Election rules

Upcoming Events

VI. Upcoming Events
Please email upcoming event — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to mmoretti@electionline.org.

National Conference of State Legislatures Legislative Summit: Bring home 1,000 ideas from the land of 10,000 lakes this summer. For 40 years, the Legislative Summit is where legislators and staff come together across the aisle to tackle critical problems and find solutions that work. With more than 100 sessions, the time to dig deep into issues you care about, and opportunities to make new friendships and connections. Where: Minneapolis. When: August 19-22, 2014. For more information and to register, click here.

Elections Center 30th Annual National Conference: More information will be forthcoming, but mark your calendars now for the annual conference. Courses offered at the annual conference will include Course 5 (Ethics in Elections); Course 6 (Communications in Election Administration); Renewal Course 20 (Federal Impact on Elections-1960s to present); and New Renewal Course 27. Where: San Francisco. When: August 19-23, 2014. For more information and to register, click here.

National Association of County Recorders, Elections Officials and Clerks: More information will be forthcoming, but mark your calendars now for the annual conference. Where: Long Beach, Calif. When: August 22-25, 2014. For more information and to register, click here.

National Association of State Election Directors: More information will be forthcoming, but mark your calendars now for the annual conference. Where: San Francisco. When: August 22-24, 2014. For more information and to register, click here.

National Voter Registration Day — The 3rd annual National Voter Registration Day is scheduled for September 23. In its first two years, more than 1,000 groups and 10,000 volunteers registered over 360,000 people to vote. When: September 23. For more information, click here.

National Student/Parent Mock Election — Now in it’s 34th year, the National Student/Parent Mock Election invites you to join the world’s largest national mock election and nation’s larges civic education project. Since 1980, students have learned what it means to be informed voters, casting votes for Presidential, U.S. Congressional and gubernatorial candidates. What’s more, students continue to demonstrate the value of civic engagement – from organizing their own debates and campaign activities to holding student rallies. When: October 30, 2014. For more information and to register, please click here.

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