In Focus This Week
I. In Focus This Week
Online voter registration opens up access, but not always for all
States working to make sure sites are accessible for all
By M. Mindy Moretti
As of this week, 25 states and the District of Columbia have mechanisms in place to allow new voters to register to vote and existing voters to update their information all online — no printing, no stamps, no trek to the mailbox.
By all accounts online voter registration has been wildly successful in the states where it has been introduced with statewide elections officials touting the large number of people registering and updating their information.
While online voter registration has opened up access to the process to thousands — even hundreds of thousands — of people not previously engaged, one segment of the population is being left out of the online wave — voters with disabilities.
A review by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Accessible Technology (CAT) found that of the 20 OVR sites they visited in May 2014, only one — California’s — was completely accessible in the eyes of the review.
For the report, the CAT briefly reviewed all 20 states, and did a more in-depth review of six states — California, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Utah. According to the report, while these six states were the only ones reviewed in-depth, the remaining 14 states showed similar access problems.
The access problems included: screen reader access, semantic organization, skip navigation, alt text, keyboard access, contrast, text sizing and scaling and tab order.
“The vast majority of states that have implemented online voter registration are inadvertently barring people with disabilities, and screen reader users in particular, from making use of this new approach to voter registration,” the report summarized.
Despite these problems, the report said most of the websites can be, “brought up to decent accessibility standards without great expense and within a fairly short period of time.”
While the results of the review may seem dim, strides are being made by several states to ensure that their sites are indeed accessible to all voters and potential voters.
“We are in the midst of communications with a number of states – and both ACLU affiliates and advocates within those states,” said Susan Mizner, one of the authors of the report.
Mizner noted that Ohio has been working with the ACLU and disability groups to create a fully accessible voter site, including having, what Mizner believes to be the first-ever information videos in American Sign Language.
And, simply because a state’s website was not list as being completely accessible, does not mean it was inaccessible either.
According to Nikki Charlson, deputy state administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections, the review found only minor accessibility issues with the state’s site that the SBOE’s in-house tech team is currently working on correcting to release next time there is an update to the system.
“These are easy changes and we are doing them,” Charlson said. “But they weren’t an emergency fix so we worked them into our software release cycle.”
Four states — Iowa, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Vermont — have recently made headlines with the announcements of their soon-to-launch online voter registration systems. Iowa’s is set to launch on Jan. 1, 2016 and Vermont’s system should be live on Oct. 12.
“As far as I know, there has been very little coverage of any of these efforts. To the extent that other states hear about and understand that this kind of work is not only feasible, but actively being done, I think it helps secretaries of state understand that they have options…” Mizner said.
In Kentucky, Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes said the system will be ready late this year or early 2016.
“The law that authorizes electronic voter registration in Kentucky only went into effect a month ago, so Kentucky’s system is still in development, and we do not yet have a launch date,” said Lynn Zellen, director of communications for the secretary of state. “As always, Secretary Grimes is committed to ensuring that our elections are accessible to all Kentuckians, regardless of disability.”
A spokesman for Iowa Secretary of State said that with the site set for release in 2016, many of the accessibility aspects are still in development, but that the state does have an overall mission to ensure that all eligible electors are able to vote.
Bryan Dean spokesman for the Oklahoma State Election Board said that the state is in the very early planning stages of its online voter registration system and that accessibility will definitely be something they are considering during the development process.
The ACLU review referred to California’s site as a “thing of beauty,” that received a passing rating on all levels of accessibility. The only ding on the state’s site was a lack of email contact information if a user encountered a problem on the website — although a phone number was listed.
The site launched in 2012 and according to Jana Lean chief of the elections division in the secretary of state’s office, it took the state about nine months to develop, test and launch the application, something she says was well worth the time and effort.
The costs to ensure that the site was accessible, Lean said, were very reasonable and less than 10 percent of their total costs.
“…[W]e are extremely appreciative of the positive feedback on all of our hard work,” Lean said. “It’s great to be recognized for our efforts to provide a simpler, more intuitive, user-friendly layout with improved accessibility for all of California’s voters.”
Lean said accessibility was designed into the application from the beginning and the feedback her office received from disability groups was instrumental in the project’s success.
In addition to the community groups the state also worked with the California State University Accessible Technology Initiative (CSU ATI) during each phase of the project-design, development and testing.
“This feedback ensured that the application addressed a wide variety of disabilities–intellectual and cognitive; blind and visually impaired; manual and mobility; and hearing impaired,” Lean said.
As for what advice Lean would offer to the remaining 25 states still waiting for online voter registration, it would be to make accessibility part of the plan from the beginning and include community groups from the get-go.
“There are so many groups that are willing and able to provide valuable input, and that can make all of the difference,” Lean said. “We were more than pleased with the collaboration we had with our community groups in improving the online registration experience for our Californians.”
Election News This Week
II. Election News This Week
- Although it found no actual wrongdoing, an audit of the Lee County, Florida Supervisor of Elections purchasing procedures found that the office lacks policies to guide purchases and recommends that the office “…develop a comprehensive procurement policy and procedures that clearly define purchasing authority, responsibility and guidelines.” The audit comes three months after it was revealed that the office spent at least $700,000 on iPads that were not compatible with existing software.
- Officials in Lowndes County, Alabama have expressed concerns about the recent appointments to the county’s board of registrars. The county is 73 percent African American and the officials said they would like at least a third of the registrars to represent the majority.
- Ouch! 16 towns and the City of Binghamton in Broome County, New York are facing more than a 50 percent increase in costs for running their elections in 2016. According to the Press & Sun Bulletin, the county board of elections’ 2016 budget proposes nearly $670,000 in charges, up from $428,000 in 2015. Republican election commissioner Robert Nielsen told the paper the costs are largely a function of the number of elections to be held in 2016 and expected turnout.
- Not to be confused with a ballot selfie, during this week’s primary in Keene, New Hampshire, voters who had to fill out a voter affidavit because they lacked the proper ID to cast a ballot also had their picture taken with a Polaroid camera. The photo will be attached to the affidavit and filed, as part of a new law that went into effect on September 1. Voters who refused to have their photo taken were not be provided a ballot—with a few exceptions.
- The Georgetown University Law Center has launched a new Voting Rights Institute that will establish a center of operations for voting rights training. It will also offer voting rights information to the public, provide attorneys with a resource database and match those seeking legal assistance with attorneys.
- Oh New York! The State Island Advance recently reposted a front page from 1928 and one of the lead stories was about paper ballots! Seems a rise in voter registration meant Queens and Richmond wouldn’t have enough voting machines to accommodate voters so the board of elections opted to move from the lever voting machines to paper ballots. As you can imagine, people were not happy. History is fun!
- Personnel News: State Rep. Alan Williams has filed the necessary paperwork to run for Leon County, Florida supervisor of elections. Brian Corley has filed to run for re-election as the Pasco County, Florida supervisor of elections. Wesley Wilcox is seeking another term as the Marion County, Florida supervisor of elections. David Stafford is seeking fourth term as the Escambia County, Florida supervisor of elections. Katherine Berry has been hired as Carroll County, Maryland’s new elections director. Shari Lentz, Bartholomew County registrar and election supervisor has been named Indiana Voter Registration Employee of the Year. Former Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White has begun serving his home detention sentence. Kim Awrey is the new Gaylord, Michigan city clerk. Daniel Baxter, Montgomery County, Alabama director of elections is resigning effective Oct. 16 to move closer to family. Melanie Mushrush, director of elections for Crawford County, Pennsylvania is retiring. Oregon State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian has thrown his hat into the ring for secretary of state. Kankakee County, Illinois Clerk Bruce Clark is off to Belarus to observe that country’s upcoming election. Christina White will be the new Miami-Dade County, Florida elections supervisor when Penelope Townsley retires later this year.
III. Legislative Updates
California: The Los Angeles city council has approved a resolution urging Gov. Jerry Brown to sign AB 1461—the California New Motor Voter Act that would automatically register all eligible residents who do business with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. According to Secretary of State Alex Padilla there are nearly 1.2 million people in Los Angeles County that are eligible to vote, but are not registered.
Delaware: Under legislation proposed by Sen. Karen Peterson (D-Stanton), all school-related elections would be conducted by mail and all school-related elections would be conducted on the same day.
Maine: A group gathering signatures to put a ranked choice voting initiative on the 2016 ballot have gathered more than 75,000 signatures, which should be enough to get the initiative on the ballot following a review.
Massachusetts: Current state law has the 2016 statewide primary scheduled for September 20, but Secretary of State William Galvin has asked that the date be moved to comply with the MOVE Act. Lawmakers agree that it should be moved, just not on when it should be moved to. The House is supporting moving the primary to Thursday, September 8, 2016 and a Senate committee is supporting a September 6, 2016 primary.
Michigan: State Reps. Julie Plawecki (D-Dearborn Heights), John Chirkun (D-Roseville) and Derek Miller (D-Warren) have introduced a package of legislation that would automatically register residents to vote who receive a driver’s license or state identification card.
New Hampshire: Although the Senate maintained Gov. Maggie Hassan’s veto of Senate Bill 179 by a 13-11 vote, report for the legislation still remains high in the Granite State. Under Senate Bill 179, residents would have been required to prove that they have lived in the state for at least 30 days before being allowed to register to vote. A new WMUR poll shows that residents support the failed legislation 2 to 1.
New York: Under proposed legislation in New York, voters would be automatically registered to vote when conducting business with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and 16-and 17-year olds would be preregistered to vote.
Utah: Although it’s proved popular where offered, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said there could be some changes to the state’s vote-by-mail system. Some of the issues that may be addressed in the upcoming legislative session are shortening the window between mailing out ballots and election day and when ballots are counted.
Texas: San Antonio Councilman Ron Nirenberg is pushing legislation that would move the city’s nonpartisan municipal elections to November in even-numbered years. Nirenberg said the move would help increase turnout.
Wisconsin: The week Republican members of the state Legislature kept their promise to introduce legislation that would revamp the state’s Government Accountability Board. Under the bill, the GAB would be split into two commissions, one for ethics and the other for the administration of elections. The commissions would be lead by partisan leaders appointed by the Legislature and governor.
IV. Legal Updates
U.S. Supreme Court: The U.S. Supreme Court began its new term this week and once again an elections case will be “one to watch” according to NPR’s Nina Totenberg. Totenberg suggests that Evenwel v. Abbott, which debates if state legislative districts numbers should be based on total population — one person, one vote — or if it should be based on the number of eligible voters.
Alabama: The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that illegal votes were cast in a 2013 election for Tuscaloosa school board.
Kansas: Late last week a federal judge decided not to grant a restraining order against Secretary of State Kris Kobach which opened up the process for county elections officials to begin removing suspended voters from their registration rolls. A hearing will be set in the pending lawsuit against the purge at a later time.
Kentucky: Attorneys for Judge-Executive Charles Hardin have asked the state’s Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling that found Hardin guilty of election fraud.
New Hampshire: The Rockingham County Superior Court has approved a motion by the Derry town council to postpone an election on eight referendum petitions. The election was moved from Sept. 30 to Oct. 13.
New Jersey: A Bergen County judge has halted the printing of vote-by-mail ballots until the court can rule on whether Republicans should be allowed to replace an Assembly candidate who has quit the race.
New Mexico: Late last week, the New Mexico Attorney General’s office filed an additional charge against Secretary of State Dianna Duran alleging that she falsified campaign finance reports by forging the name of a former state senate colleague and claiming him as her campaign treasurer.
North Carolina: According to the Winston Salem Journal, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder plans to hold a hearing on Oct. 23 to get an update on efforts to settle the legal claims against the state’s voter ID law. On Wednesday, the state filed paperwork asking the court to rule on the issue in advance of the March 15 primaries.
Ohio: The Ohio Supreme Court sided with Secretary of State Jon Husted over two Republicans picked to fill vacancies on the Lucas County board of elections. In the 4-0 opinion the court ruled Husted had the right to declare the GOP picks for the board incompetent to serve.
Wisconsin: Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union argued in federal court this week that the rules governing which types of ID may be used for Wisconsin’s voter ID law are too restrictive. The attorneys argued that allowed forms of ID should include veterans’ health ID cards, technical college IDs and out-of-state driver’s licenses for college students and snowbirds.
Opinions This Week
V. Opinions This Week
National Opinions: Voting Rights Act | Voter ID | Same-day registration | U.S. Election Assistance Commission | Voter registration | Voting machines | Ballot selfies
Alabama: Voter ID, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX
Alaska: Turnout | PFD Initiative
California: Motor voter, II, III
Florida: Ex-felon voting rights
Iowa: Ex-felon voting rights
Kentucky: Election officers’ pay | Online voter registration
Maine: Ballot selfies
Minnesota: Instant runoff voting
Mississippi: Voter registration
Missouri: St. Louis election board
New Mexico: Sandoval County | Voter ID | Turnout
North Carolina: Voter ID, II | Early voting | Young voters
Rhode Island: Elections boss
Texas: Power of voting
Utah: Online voting
Virginia: Online voter registration | Turnout
Washington: Automatic voter registration
Wisconsin: Government Accountability Board, II, III, IV, V, VI
VI. Available RFIs/RFPs
If you would like to have your Request for Information or Request for Proposal listed in electionlineWeekly, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Request for Information — E poll books
The Rhode Island Department of Administration/Division of Purchases, on behalf of the Rhode Island Office of the Secretary of State is soliciting responses from qualified vendors to offer electronic poll books for the State of Rhode Island. The Department of State is interested in acquiring electronic poll books for use in the 2016 election cycle beginning with the April 26, 2016 Presidential Preference Primary in order to achieve the following goals:
- Accurate and up-to-date voter rolls on Election Day
- Shorter wait times at polling places on Election Day
- User-friendly check-in process for both voters and poll workers
- Reduced provisional voting
- Reduced printing costs
- An overall more modern check-in system at polling places on Election Day
For the complete Request For Information, please click here.
Request for Proposals — Voting Equipment System
The Rhode Island Department of Administration/Division of Purchases has issued a Request for Proposals/Bid for a voting equipment system. The bid package and information concerning the bid is available here. The Closing Date & Time for this bid is October 30, 2015 at 10 a.m. (Eastern).
VII. Available Funding/Partnerships
Erase the Line
Erase the Line is looking for election officials who are interested in using data to better understand and improve their election-day logistics. A Data Team is a group of election workers who collect key data about operational details at polling places on Election Day. Data Teams measure lines and wait times at different stations, as well as the time needed for election workers to complete different processes, such as checking in a voter or setting up a ballot. The data will impart a precise understanding of your jurisdiction’s polling place operations and identify strengths and weaknesses. Over time, this information can reduce costs, eliminate wait times, build data sets for online tools, provide performance indicators and improve customer service. Erase The Line is looking for jurisdictions that want to tap into their operational analytics and help improve the data team process for the future. For more information or to find out how you can get involved, contact Lester Bird at the D.C. Board of Elections.Email: email@example.com Phone: 202.727.5407 Twitter: @EraseTheLine
The Foundation Center
The Democracy Fund and seven other foundations have formed a partnership to create a data visualization platform that maps out how foundations support democracy and political reform in the U.S. The tool, hosted by The Foundation Center, is the only known source of information on how foundations are supporting U.S. democracy and provides direct access to available funding data. The tool enables nonprofits to:
- Identify additional funding sources that are an appropriate fit for their work;
- Learn what funders and peers are doing;
- Better understand the priorities and practices of specific funders; and
- Build effective collaborations.
U.S. Election Assistance Commission Grants
EAC Grants Management Division is responsible for distributing, monitoring, providing technical assistance to states and grantees on the use of funds, and reporting on requirements payments and discretionary grants to improve administration of elections for federal office. The office also negotiates indirect cost rates with grantees and resolves audit findings on the use of HAVA funds.
VIII. Upcoming Events
Please email upcoming events — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Give Us the Ballot: A Book Talk with Ari Berman — The Brennan Center will host a book talk with Ari Berman, discussing his new book, “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.” Where: Lipton Hall, NYU School of Law-New York City. When: October 15. For more information and to RSVP, click here.
NASS Winter Conference: The National Association of Secretaries of State will hold its 2016 Winter Conference at the JW Marriott in Washington, D.C. February 10-13, 2016. Details are still in the works, so be sure to check the NASS website for more information.
Job Postings This Week
IX. Job Postings This Week
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 email@example.com. 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.
Researcher, CIRCLE, Medford, Massachusetts — seeking a full-time Researcher to conduct research and to help manage some of CIRCLE’s research and evaluation projects. Reporting to the Director of CIRCLE and based on the Medford/Somerville Tufts University Campus, the Researcher will work as part of the CIRCLE team on CIRCLE products and activities. The Researcher will also interact with a larger group of colleagues at Tisch College, and will be expected to participate in various college-wide initiatives such as college-wide events and assistance with student program evaluations. For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Senior Associate, Election Initiatives, Pew Trusts, Washington, D.C. — Pew Charitable Trusts is seeking to hire a Senior Associate to work on the Voting Information Project (VIP) initiative. The Senior Associate will be expected to contribute at multiple levels, such as implementing VIP’s state assistance strategies, managing technology vendors, and leading outreach to state partners. This position will require autonomous work and creative thinking in managing relationships with our state partners. The position will be based in Pew’s Washington, DC office and will report to the Election Initiatives Project Director. It is expected that this position is for a term period through June 30, 2017, with the possibility of an extension pending the success of the program, funding sources and board decisions on continued support. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Senior Program Analyst, Clark County, Nevada — provides lead direction, training and work review to a programming project team; organized and assigns work, sets priorities, and follows-up and controls project status to ensure coordination and completion of assigned work. Provides input into selection, evaluation, disciplinary and other personnel matters. Gathers and analyzes information regarding customer systems and requirements and develops or modifies automated systems to fulfill these needs. Conducts feasibility studies and develops system, time, equipment and cost requirements. Using computer generated techniques, simulates hardware and software problems, tests and evaluates alternative solutions, and recommends and implements appropriate applications design. Develops program logic and processing steps; codes programs in varied languages. Plans and develops test data to validate new or modified programs; designs input and output forms and documents. Troubleshoots hardware and software problems, as needed, for customers, other agencies and information systems personnel. Writes program documentation and customer procedures and instructions and assists user departments and staff in implementing new or modified programs and applications; tracks and evaluates project and systems progress. Writes utility programs to support and validate adopted systems and programs. Confers with customer department staff regarding assigned functional program areas. Maintains records and prepares periodic and special reports of work performed. Maintains current knowledge of technology and new computer customer applications. Contributes to the efficiency and effectiveness of the unit’s service to its customers by offering suggestions and directing or participating as an active member of a work team. Uses standard office equipment in the course of the work; may drive a personal or County motor vehicle or be able to arrange for appropriate transportation in order to travel between various job sites depending upon departments and/or projects assigned. Salary: $58,760-$91,104 annually. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
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Konnech, Inc. is offering free use of the ABVote Voter Information Platform to any United States election jurisdiction that wants to participate. hThis free service is used by the Lieutenant Governor of Alaska to serve the State’s voters and it has also been deployed for several large counties and cities in the lower 48 States. The Platform works on computer browsers as well as iOS and Android smart phones and tablets. Using a residential address, it calculates the precinct and ballot style, reminds voters upon request of election day via email or push notices, displays their sample ballots, lists their polling place/vote center with hours, ID requirements, address, and Google route map, provides the jurisdiction contact information, and provides the forms to request voter registration, absentee ballot, and/or FPCA. Since the free voter information platform calculates this information based on the residential address, it does not interface to the voter registration database and does not require the voter to enter any personal identifying information.The site carries no advertising, does not sell any information to anyone, and does not collect user information. There is no cost to administrators or to voters.Contact Laura Potter at Konnech, email@example.com, 517-381-1830.