In Focus This Week
Knowing It’s Right, Part Three
Planning and Conducting a Risk-Limiting Audit Pilot
By Jennifer Morrell
The Democracy Fund
“[T]his guide presents much of [Jennifer Morrell’s] knowledge and wisdom about risk-limiting audits in accessible, relevant detail. Election officials around the country will read it repeatedly as they plan for RLAs.” – Mark Lindeman, Director, Science and Technology Policy, Verified Voting
The first Risk-Limiting Audit (RLA) pilot I assisted with as part of the Election Validation Project was in Gloucester County, New Jersey in the fall of 2018. In preparation, we held several calls and planning meetings to ensure everyone understood how risk-limiting audits worked and to outline expectations for the pilot.
On the big day, I quickly realized I was not as prepared as I thought—there was a problem with the naming convention for the Batch ID and the accompanying ballot manifest. That was not the fault of the election officials – they were amazing participants – it was mine.
In the planning stages, I glossed over important concepts in naming batches and had not fully considered how different equipment and methods for scanning ballots might affect the process. Furthermore, the election officials came fully prepared with a bevy of questions that I struggled to answer in a way that was helpful and not just a recitation of terms and definitions. Thank goodness they were patient and willing to learn along with me.
I realized in the moment that to better help state and local election officials conduct a pilot RLA on their own, they were going to need more resources, including more examples to help connect ballot reconciliation to the RLA process, a list of supplies, and a script to help explain some of the most frequently asked questions. I went back to my hotel room that night and quickly crafted the beginnings of this guide. Using that rough draft, I helped conduct two additional pilots in New Jersey that fall, each one going a bit smoother and each one providing additional thought about what would be important for an election official to know if they were planning an RLA pilot on their own.
Since then, I have continued to learn and document best practices from the 13 pilots I’ve helped conduct or participate in around the country. Knowing It’s Right, Part 3: Planning and Conducting a Risk-Limiting Audit Pilot provides a workbook and script to guide participants through planning and communication as well as step-by-step procedures for conducting the pilot. It also lays out a plan for scaling up the process from single precincts or jurisdictions to a statewide pilot.
This year, more than ever, our attention is on election security and safety. Unfortunately, there is no single thing that guarantees absolute security or prevents issues or errors. Success comes from having multiple layers of protection. An RLA is one of those pieces or layers. It shows that the equipment used to tally votes operated correctly, and that the right winner won. Audits also play a role in deterring fraud, detecting errors, and providing accountability to voters. Even if you don’t plan on conducting an RLA pilot this year, consider reading through the guide anyway. If you pull out one concept – such as stronger ballot accounting – that provides an added layer in your security arsenal and will help create a more orderly process in the event of a challenge or recount.
I recognize that as state and local election officials continue to plan, prepare and execute elections unlike anything they’ve dealt with before – all while dealing with rapid change – adding an RLA pilot to that litany of change may be one change too many. I would still encourage election officials to use the material in this guide to strengthen the way they organize and account for ballots—especially for those who are seeing a substantial increase in mail and absentee ballots. Jurisdictions who do so will find it leads to a more organized workflow and they will be perfectly situated to take on an RLA in the future with ease.
Jennifer Morrell is a nationally recognized election official with over eight years of experience managing local elections. Her work in Colorado was instrumental in the successful implementation of the first statewide risk-limiting audit and she has been an outspoken advocate of implementing election audit standards beyond just post-election audits and has a vision of creating uniform audit and testing standards for all critical components of the voting system. Bringing extensive expertise in election administration, Morrell serves as a consultant leading the Election Validation Project at Democracy Fund. She’s always happy to answer questions about RLAs and happy to provide assistance in supporting RLA pilot activity in 2020 and beyond. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Rescheduled Primaries: At press time, the following states have rescheduled their primaries: Connecticut 8/11; Delaware 7/7; Georgia 6/9; Indiana 6/2; Kentucky 6/23; Louisiana 7/11; Maine 7/14; Maryland 6/2; New Jersey 7/7; New York 6/23; Pennsylvania 6/2; Rhode Island 6/2 Virginia 6/23; and West Virginia 6/9.
Legislative and legal actions surrounding the elections and the coronavirus pandemic can be found in their respective sections of the newsletter.
Voter Protection: Rachana Desai Martin has joined the Biden campaign legal team as a national director of voter protection. According to The Associated Press, the role will will focus broadly on voter rights, including the disenfranchisement of people of color amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Martin previously worked as chief operating officer of the Democratic National Committee and as the DNC’s director of civic engagement and voter protection.
Early Voting: In-person early voting for June primaries in Indiana and West Virginia kicked off this week and while things definitely looked a bit different normal, at press time it seemed to be running smoothly. While hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers are opting to vote by mail, some did turnout for early voting this week including 367 (so far) in Tippecanoe County where Clerk Julie Roush said there were no problems. There was some confusion in the Mountain State about early voting because in some counties like Harrison, voters are required to wear a mask for in-person voting, but in others, they are not. “County clerks answer to county commissions and the county commissions get to set the rules and regulations for say the entry into the courthouse during this time of coronavirus,” West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner said. Voters are not required to wear masks in Cabell County. “We got the masks and the shields and hand sanitizer and gloves. People can have them if they want them. A lot of people are choosing not to have them,” Cabell County Clerk Phyllis Smith said.
New Citizens: The Washington Post has an article this week about how the cancelation of citizenship ceremonies during the pandemic is potentially denying hundreds of thousands of new citizens the right to vote. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the oath of citizenship to an average of about 63,000 applicants per month. USCIS closed its offices in mid-March amid the pandemic and canceled nearly all naturalization ceremonies. According to the Post, though USCIS is scheduled to begin a phased reopening next week, the agency has not committed to resuming a full slate of ceremonies nor has publicly released a plan for rescheduling the approximately 150,000 naturalizations that have been postponed because of the closures.
Georgia: The Appling County Board of Elections office, which serves as the county’s sole early voting location, was closed last week for cleaning after a voter tested positive for COVID-19. In Fulton County, they are getting two birds with one stone under the new “Test & Vote” program that has an early voting site also serving as a testing site for COVID-19. “If you are standing in line to vote you can choose not to be tested obviously. If you want to be tested then you go out of line and over to another area for the testing so there is no risk for transmission as it relates to that,” Fulton County Manager Dick Anderson told FOX 5.
Nevada: An elections employee in Clark County has tested positive for COVID-19. Spokesman Dan Kulin said an unspecified number of employees are being tested or isolated as a precaution after the employee was diagnosed Monday. The county’s main election office in North Las Vegas reopened Tuesday morning after a brief closure for cleaning. On Monday, Kulin said, the employee wore a mask while in the building, but he had been in a public area on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. About 75 members of the public and 55 county employees were in the office during the three-day period.
North Dakota: North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger is making lemonade from pandemic lemons. While debate is raging about the security of mail-in ballots, Jaeger said having more voters in his state—about 160,000—vote by mail presents a great lesson in democracy for children. “The ballot coming home, the parent showing their children in terms of, ‘OK, this is what I’ve done to get the ballot, and this is how we vote.’ And show them how the voting process works and how the ballot is returned,” Jaeger told a local television station.
Pennsylvania: We really like stories like this. Due to the coronavirus pandemic York County had to furlough 277 workers but eight of those workers have returned work, just not their own jobs. Instead they are helping the county’s Department of Elections and Voter Registration process mail ballots for the June 2 primary. “We have people all over the building helping,” said Sally Kohlbus, assistant director of the county elections office, who added that the atmosphere at the office Tuesday was “insane.” Several other county personnel are volunteering their time to help with the ballots, said county spokesperson Mark Walters, and the additional staff will be working June 2 to help scan the mail-in ballots at the elections office.
Tennessee: The Shelby County election commission voted this week to remove a line from the county’s absentee ballot request form. The line reads: “I understand that if I apply to vote absentee by mail and I am not entitled to do so, I have committed a felony.” The state’s absentee ballot request form does not have that line nor to forms from other counties. Commissioners expressed concern that the line may prevent residence from applying to vote absentee during the pandemic.
Texas: In consultation with the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Secretary of State’s Office released guidance on recommended health protocols for Texas election officials and voters in response to COVID-19. This guidance reflects the minimum recommended health protocols to help ensure the health and safety of all voters, election office personnel, polling place workers, and poll watchers in Texas. The protocols include social distancing, asking voters to bring their own pen/pencil, asking voters to bring hand sanitizer and asking, but not requiring voters to wear a face covering of some sort.
West Virginia: Some West Virginia voters are looking for a do-over of sorts with their absentee ballots. According the Metro News, Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick says she’s starting to receive some calls from voters who applied for and were sent mail-in absentee ballots for the June 9 primary election but now they would rather take advantage of in-person early voting or go to the polls on election day. “I think people were concerned about the virus and nobody knew what was happening and they wanted to vote and they went ahead and got their ballots but they are kind of hanging on to them now,” McCormick said. Fortunately West Virginians have second thoughts do have an option. “We will mark it spoiled and then will take their name off of the list as receiving a ballot and then when they go to vote they won’t have to vote a provisional ballot,” McCormick said, adding it’s best for a voter to call her office for instructions if that’s what they want to do.
Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Elections Commission has unanimously approved a plan that will send roughly 2.7 million absentee ballot applications for the November general election. Under the plan approved Wednesday night, the state would send absentee ballot applications to nearly all registered voters in an effort to prepare for Wisconsin’s November election. Two groups of voters would be excluded from the plan. The state would not send the applications to people who already have an absentee ballot request on file, a group that numbers about 528,000. In addition, about 158,000 voters who were flagged as having potentially moved would not be sent the mailings.
Election News This Week
According to The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Wisconsin Elections Commission will be implementing a new tracking system with the U.S. Postal Service so residents can better track their mail ballots. In the past, the state’s MyVote system would list the date the ballot was sent but in reality that was the day the mail label was created, it would then take several more days to create the ballot packet and actually put it in the mail. The new system will consist of a unique barcode on each envelope that identifies it as election mail. The envelopes will be scanned at each postal facility, allowing voters to track exactly where their ballot is in the mail system. In addition, barcode tracking will enable officials to monitor whether ballots are sent to the wrong place, such as when three tubs of absentee ballots intended for Appleton and Oshkosh were discovered in a mail processing center the day after the election. The new system “is definitely going to happen,” Commission spokesperson Reid Magney told the paper. “That’s something we are definitely putting in place.”
Massachusetts Auditor Suzanne Bump said this week that the state should reimburse local governments for more than $700,000 that was spent on early voting costs for the March 3 presidential preference primary. As state lawmakers look to expand early voting to municipal and state elections, Bump has urged them to be mindful of the costs to local governments and that the Legislature should set up a dedicated funding source. “Early voting has already proven to be a valuable addition to our democratic processes,” Bump wrote. “Establishing a formal procedure to fund the expenses incurred by our municipalities will make it that much stronger.”
Thank you! This week, the Miami County, Ohio board of elections approved adding eight hours of paid vacation time as hazard pay for its four full-time staff worked extended hours during the state’s lengthy primary season. Director Laura Bruns said she brought the idea to the board due to other county employees being off work due to the coronavirus and shelter-in-place order. According to Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s regional liaison Kenny Henning, 13 of the 14 counties he observes has provided some kind of compensation due to the extended election this spring. Henning told The Troy Daily News, Warren County provided 40 additional hours of vacation to staff; Butler and Greene County paid an additional eight hours to staff; Montgomery County closed its office for three days; and Hamilton County closed last Friday for an extended holiday weekend.
Former presidential candidate Julián Castro recently announced he is joining Voto Latino as a senior advisor. Castro is joining Voto Latino to help mobilize Hispanic voters. Castro sat on Voto Latino’s board of directors before launching his White House bid.
Sticker News: Vote early and this time it’s totally OK to vote often! The Rhode Island board of elections is conducting a contest for new customized “I Voted” stickers. The Board of Elections received 81 entries of prospective sticker designs, according to executive director Robert Rapoza. Each of the seven members of the Board of Elections chose one finalist and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea chose one. “Remember, you can vote early and often in this election,” Board of Elections Vice Chairman Stephen Erickson tweeted. The BOE has budgeted $7,400 to produce the stickers.
Personnel News: Neil Albrecht is retiring as the executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission after eight years on the job. Former Harris County, Texas Clerk Stan Stanart has announced his plans to seek the office again. Also throwing their hat in the ring so far is Michelle Fraga, an attorney and former judicial nominee and Bert Keller, a business executive and former city councilmember. Grant Conyers has been appointed the new Liberty County, Florida supervisor of elections.
Federal Legislation: Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) has introduced a bill on to create a new federal organization to help with elections. The legislation would establish a “DemocracyCorps” of individuals who would help register voters, carry out voter education campaigns and serve as poll workers. The organization would include 35,000 people who would serve two-year terms. They would be assigned to states based on population, number of elected officials and population on Native American lands. In addition to creating the new organization, Booker’s bill, the DemocracyCorps Act, would also include broader election reforms that includes expanding early voting to 20 days before a federal election, allowing for online voter registration and allowing for vote-by-mail in addition to voting in person.
Alaska: The City of Soldotna has introduced an ordinance that, if passed, could enact a vote-by-mail system for city elections. It’s a move that follows a similar ordinance moving through the Kenai Peninsula Borough according to KTVA. According to the city’s ordinance, “recent catastrophic events including disaster declarations related to local floods, fires and a global public health pandemic” reinforce the need for a vote-by-mail system. However, the city is calling for a hybrid system that would allow people to cast a ballot at a vote center if they wish to do so.
Illinois: The Illinois Senate passed a bill expanding vote by mail for the 2020 election Friday. The bill will automatically send an application for a vote-by-mail ballot to any person who has voted in the past two years, in the 2018 general election, the 2019 consolidated election or the 2020 primary election. Anyone who registered to vote after the 2020 primary will also receive an application for a vote-by-mail ballot. The bill also declares Election Day, November 3, 2020, a state holiday.
North Carolina: An elections bill responding to the coronavirus pandemic moved through two House committees Wednesday on its way to what appears to be likely passage by the full House Thursday according to WRAL. House Bill 1169 makes changes, some temporary and others permanent, to make voting by mail easier and more secure at the same time. For 2020, the requirement of two witnesses for an absentee ballot is dropped to one witness, who is required to print his or her name and address. Voters will also be able to submit an official absentee ballot request online or by fax or email as well as by mail or in person. The bill requires all absentee ballots to have a bar code or other unique identifier so voters and elections officials can track them.
Vermont: This week, lawmakers on the Senate Government Operations Committee advanced a bill that would take the governor out of the election emergency decision-making process, and give the secretary of state the sole authority to make changes to election procedures during the pandemic.
Wisconsin: By a 5 to 1 vote, the Oshkosh city council voted that as long as the city remains under a public health emergency, it will send an absentee ballot application to every registered voter. The effort will be in place for both the August 11th partisan primary and the November 3rd general election. Mayor Lori Palmeri says a decision has to be made now to give the city clerk’s office time to prepare. “Nobody has a crystal ball, but there are certainly scientists and epidemiologists and public health people who are warning us that we could have another potential surge in the fall,” Palmeri said according to WBAY.
Legal News: If there’s a day that ends in a Y, there is some new elections-related litigation and National Public Radio’s Pam Fessler has a great piece this week tying together all the litigation surrounding absentee and vote by mail.
California: Former Congressman Darrell Issa—who is also currently running for Congress—has sued Gov. Gavin Newsom over the governor’s executive order to send every registered voter in California a ballot for the November election. Issa’s suit argues that the executive order is an unconstitutional maneuver that rips local control from county election officials.
In addition to the Issa suit, three Republican groups—the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the California Republican Party have also filed suit against Newsom and his executive order to send every voter a ballot in November. The lawsuit accuses Newsom of a “brazen power grab” that would “violate eligible citizens’ right to vote.” Responding to the lawsuit, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said via Twitter: “Expanding vote-by-mail during a pandemic is not a partisan issue — it’s a moral imperative to protect voting rights and public safety. Vote-by-mail has been used safely and effectively in red, blue, and purple states for years. This lawsuit is just another part of Trump’s political smear campaign against voting by mail. We will not let this virus be exploited for voter suppression.”
The Supreme Court refused to hear a constitutional challenge to the California Voting Rights Act over its requirement that some local governments hold district rather than at-large elections. The 2002 law prohibits sweeping at-large elections in favor of individual district elections in areas where minorities may be impeded from electing candidates of their choice.
Florida: As expected, in a 125-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that it is unconstitutional to prevent returning citizens from voting in Florida because they cannot afford to pay back court fees, fines and restitutions to victims. Calling the law a “pay-to-vote system,” Hinkle’s ruling declares that court fees are a tax, and it creates a new process for determining whether felons are eligible to vote. “This order holds that the State can condition voting on payment of fines and restitution that a person is able to pay but cannot condition voting on payment of amounts a person is unable to pay,” Hinkle wrote. With one sentence, Hinkle also allowed two large groups of felons to register to vote: those who were appointed an attorney for their criminal case because they couldn’t afford one on their own, and anyone who had their financial obligations converted to civil liens. For all other felons who can’t afford to pay their financial obligations, Hinkle ordered state officials to adopt a new process for determining whether felons are too poor to vote: They can request an advisory opinion from Secretary of State Laurel Lee.
A retired sheriff’s deputy and two others working to help senior citizens have filed suit seeking to have every registered voter receive a mail ballot in November and that the state pays the postage. It asserts requiring voters to request a mail ballot rather than just sending one, and requiring them to pay the postage is asking too much.“Many people don’t have computers,” said attorney Harvey Sepler, who is representing the three plaintiffs. “They don’t want to leave their homes because of the virus because they don’t want to expose themselves. That means they don’t want to leave to request a mail in ballot.” The suit has been assigned to a judge, but no hearing has been set.
According to a year-long investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement there was “no evidence of fraudulent intent” by the Florida Democratic Party in the 2018 election. The voter fraud complaints against Democrats came at the end of the 2018 elections as counties completed required recounts in the races for governor, U.S. Senate and state agriculture commissioner. Investigators found that three people associated with the Florida Democratic Party changed the submission deadline dates in an election form, known as a “cure affidavit,” which is designed to fix signature problems on vote-by-mail ballots. Investigators found “no evidence of fraudulent intent to use the altered forms” on April 20 and handed the case over to the Florida Office of Statewide Prosecution to determine if there was enough evidence and information to file charges.
Idaho: U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill has granted a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction giving Idaho voters more time — until Tuesday, May 26 — to request absentee ballots for the May primary election. Winmill ruled in favor of the Nicholas Jones for Congress campaign, which sued after the Idaho Secretary of State’s website repeatedly crashed as the 8 p.m. May 19 deadline approached to request absentee ballots. “The concern is those who had access to the internet understood that they could rely on that, that they could use the website, and it did not work,” the judge declared.
Kentucky: The ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s voter ID law arguing it increases Kentuckians’ risk of exposure to coronavirus by requiring people to visit ID-issuing offices during the pandemic. The lawsuit also asks the court to extend Kentucky’s new expanded vote-by-mail policy beyond the June primary elections. The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of several individuals who say they have health issues that make it dangerous for them to go to a polling place or get an ID during the pandemic. Plaintiffs also include the Kentucky League of Women Voters, the Louisville Urban League and the Kentucky NAACP.
Louisiana: The League of Women Voters of Louisiana (LWV), three Louisiana voters, and other organizations filed a federal lawsuit against Gov John Bel Edwards, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Attorney General Jeff Landry, and other government officials over the state’s plan for voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Michigan: The League of Women Voters, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and former state Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer, filed a lawsuit in the Court of Appeals against Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in her official capacity as Michigan’s top elections official. It claims that a law in place since at least 1929 in Michigan that requires absentee ballots be received by a local clerk’s office by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted runs counter to what the lawsuit says is an “unqualified, unconditional state constitutional right for registered voters to vote in all elections by absentee ballot.” n 2018, no-reason absentee voting passed by state referendum, giving voters the right to cast absentee ballots by mail or in person beginning 40 days before an election. Since regular mail can often take days, the lawsuit says the old rule conflicts with the intention of the state referendum to expand absentee voting.
Montana: District Judge Donald Harris has temporarily suspended a state law that says absentee ballots must be received in a county election office by 8 p.m. on election day in order to be counted. “All absentee ballots postmarked on or before election day shall be counted, if otherwise valid,” District Judge Donald Harris wrote Friday. The ballots must be received by the Monday after election day, which is the deadline for receipt of federal write-in ballots for military and overseas voters. Attorney General Tim Fox appealed the ruling and on Wednesday, the Montana Supreme Court overturned the lower court ruling which means voters must get their mail-in ballots to their local election office or other drop off locations by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
New Hampshire: Citizens who sued the state over HB 1262, a 2018 election law linking voter registration to residency dropped their federal lawsuit last week after the New Hampshire Supreme Court spelled out its view to U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Laplante, who had been hearing the suit. The high court unanimously said the law meant anyone who registers to vote has to comply with motor vehicle laws to get an in-state driver’s license and register a car, if appropriate, within a legal deadline.
New York: Disability advocates have filed a federal lawsuit in the Southern District of New York seeking reforms to voting practices in time for the June 23 primary. The suit claims many people with disabilities are being excluded from New York state’s expanded absentee ballot program. To help keep voters safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, New York is allowing anyone to apply for an absentee ballot that can be mailed in rather than going to the polls. But many people with visual or physical disabilities such as paralysis, dystonia and tremors cannot independently and privately mark a paper ballot.
North Carolina: Republican members of the North Carolina General Assembly pressed a Fourth Circuit panel Wednesday to allow them to intervene on behalf of the state in a lawsuit over its controversial voter ID requirements. After a federal judge temporarily blocked the ID law, two GOP members of the North Carolina General Assembly sought to intervene, claiming that the state elections board and Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein failed to adequately defend state interests in the case. The district court denied their motion, prompting an appeal to the Fourth Circuit. State Senator Phil Berger and state Representative Tim Moore urged the Richmond, Virginia-based appeals court on Wednesday to let the lawmakers step in to defend the voter ID statute.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed a federal lawsuit demanding changes in North Carolina’s voting laws due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The 72-page suit declares the state’s absentee ballot and voter registration rules unconstitutional, saying people can’t be forced to choose between voting and protecting their health. Among other things, it calls for a longer registration period and contact-less drop boxes for absentee ballots, in case there are post office delays.
Ohio: U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary has dismissed claims by an ex-election official that she was improperly fired, finding that she could be removed without cause. In a ruling filed earlier this month, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed claims that Sue Schwamberger, former deputy director of the Marion County Board of Elections, was fired in violation of her constitutional rights.
Pennsylvania: Domenick J. DeMuro, a former Philadelphia Judge of Elections has been charged with election fraud for allegedly stuffing ballot boxes on behalf of certain Democratic candidates in three separate primaries, and for accepting bribes.
The National Federation of the Blind has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Pennsylvania, claiming the state isn’t taking steps to adequately protect blind voters from the coronavirus during the delayed June 2 primary election. A virus-prompted provision that will give sighted voters the option of casting their ballots by mail to avoid possible contagion is useless to blind electors, the federation claims in suit filed in U.S. Middle District Court. It is asking the court to order the state to develop a system where blind voters can select their candidates online.
South Carolina: U.S. District Court Judge Michelle Childs ruled Monday that South Carolina must allow all voters to use absentee ballots without the signature of a witness to keep coronavirus from spreading at the polls in the June primary election. “Were it not for the current pandemic, then this element may have cut the other way,” Childs wrote in the finding. “Strikingly, the witness requirement would still apply to voters who have already contracted COVID-19, therefore affirmatively mandating that an infected individual … risk exposing the witness.”
Also this week, South Carolina Supreme Court dismissed a case that sought to allow any voter to cast an absentee ballot in order to avoid polling places during the coronavirus pandemic. State Democrats and the DCCC filed a lawsuit last month alleging the state’s absentee voting requirements would disenfranchise voters in upcoming elections. On May 12, the day the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case, state lawmakers passed a measure to allow anyone to vote absentee in upcoming elections until July 1, 2020. “As for elections after July 1, 2020, we hold that whether any change should be made to the law is a political question for the Legislature likewise to answer,” the majority opinion states.
Texas: The Texas Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a lack of immunity to the new coronavirus does not qualify a voter to apply for a mail-in ballot. The court agreed with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that the risk of contracting the virus alone does not meet the state’s qualifications for voting by mail. “We agree with the State that a voter’s lack of immunity to COVID-19, without more, is not a ‘disability’ as defined by the Election Code,” the court wrote. The high court also rejected Paxton’s request to prevent local election officials from sending mail-in ballots to voters who were citing lack of immunity to the coronavirus as a disability. Those officials denied they were operating outside the law and argued they cannot deny ballots to voters who cite a disability — even if their reasoning is tied to susceptibility to the coronavirus.
Federal District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi has ruled that the state must pay almost $6.8 million in legal fees and costs in its years-long voter ID battle.
Virginia: A group of voters is suing Virginia election officials over a loosening of restrictions on absentee ballots for next month’s statewide primary, arguing that the state can’t allow voters to use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to vote by mail. The federal lawsuit was by conservative attorney Jim Bopp on behalf of six northern Virginia voters. The Virginia lawsuit says that expanding absentee balloting is unnecessary to combat COVID-19. “The same social distancing and good hygiene practices — which are effective for preventing the spread of the virus when going out for essential services, like grocery shopping and other essential services — are also an effective way to prevent the spread of the virus for in-person voting,” the lawsuit states. The lawsuit also says that a dramatic increase in absentee ballots “would be a logistical nightmare and increases the risk of disenfranchisement.”
West Virginia: Thomas Cooper, 47, of Pendleton County has been charged with attempted election fraud. According to the criminal complaint, Pendleton County clerk received eight “2020 Primary Election COVID-19 Mail-In Absentee Request” forms to the Pendleton County Courthouse in April that appeared to have had the voters’ party-ballot requests altered. According to Secretary of State Mac Warner, the altered forms were investigated by the WV Election Fraud Task Force, which is a multi-agency law enforcement effort formed in April as a way to deter potential voter and election fraud with upcoming elections. Investigators responded to the complaint quickly, and Warner said the altered forms were uncovered early and will have no impact on the outcomes of any elections.
Social Media: This week, Twitter took its first steps to flagging disinformation and it did so by flagging a series of Tweets from the president about vote by mail as potentially false or misleading information. Facebook on the other hand said that the president’s false claims do not violate the company’s rules. “We believe that people should be able to have a robust debate about the electoral process, which is why we have crafted our policies to focus on misrepresentations that would interfere with the vote,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNN Business on Tuesday night. A Twitter spokesperson told CNN the president’s tweets contained “potentially misleading information about voting processes” and had been “labeled to provide additional context.” Twitter appended a message to each tweet that read: “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.” It linked to a curated fact-checking page populated with experts and news article summaries debunking the claim.
New Jersey: According to Politico, the state has decided not to repeat a recent trial with online voting during the July 7 presidential primary. “Given Gov. [Phil] Murphy’s announcement on how the primary will be run, it was determined that we don’t need the technology,” said Alicia D’Alessandro, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Tahesha Way.
Opinions This Week
National Opinion: Vote by mail, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI | Online voting | Election challenges | General election, II | U.S. Postal Service, II | Native American voting rights | Voter access | Dirty tricks | Democracy | Voting rights, II | Ballot harvesting | Voter fraud
Alaska: Election plan
California: Voting safety | Vote by mail, II
Florida: Voting safety, II | Vote by mail | Ex-felon voting rights, II, III
Indiana: Vote by mail
Maryland: Voter fraud
Michigan: Vote by mail | Secretary of state
Mississippi: Jim Crow
Missouri: Voting safety | Legislation
Nevada: Free and fair elections
North Carolina: Voting safety | Legislation
North Dakota: Vote by mail
Ohio: General election, II
Oklahoma: Voting law
Pennsylvania: Vote by mail, II | Primary | National Guard
South Carolina: Absentee voting
Tennessee: Vote by mail
Texas: Pandemic | Voting safety | Vote by mail | Election integrity
Vermont: Voting safety
COVID-19 Webinars for Elections Officials: The Center for Tech and Civic Life is launching 12 free webinars on COVID-19 for election officials that cover topics ranging from ballot dropoff locations to virtually training election workers. The webinars feature experienced guest speakers with detailed, actionable practices that you can implement in your office. When: May 19-June 30. Where: Online.
Native American Participation 2020: Please join The Carter Center to discuss the challenges faced by Native American communities with regard to their participation in local, state and federal elections. These challenges are likely to be exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we enter the final months before the November 2020 elections, this roundtable will explore the continued barriers to Native American participation, including those posed by the pandemic, as well as key policy recommendations for promoting and protecting the electoral rights of Native Americans. Our guests include: Kim Wyman, Washington Secretary of State; Ruth Anna Buffalo, North Dakota House of Representatives District 27; Natalie Landreth, Native American Rights Fund; and Tammy Patrick, Democracy Fund. The Carter Center’s Avery Davis-Roberts will moderate the discussion. Forum members may participate in the live chat and questions will be passed along to the panel. When: Friday, May 29 12pm Eastern. Where: Online.
Vote by Mail: Protecting the Ballot During COVID-19: Join the Eagleton Institute of Politics and The Fund for New Jersey for this special session exploring how we can effectively transition the processes and practices of politics to meet the challenges presented by COVID-19-most especially the continuity of elections. Speakers will discuss the opportunities and vulnerabilities to be considered, best practices for administering elections by mail, and how vote-by-mail and other solutions can be implemented in ways that protect ballot access and power for all communities. Speakers include: Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, Charles Stewart III, Joanne Rajoppi, and Connor Maxwell. When: June 2, 10am Eastern. Where: Online.
VVSG 2.0 Open Comment Period
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is taking important steps to advance the development of the next generation of federal voting system standards, known as the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines 2.0, or VVSG 2.0. These steps include sharing the recommended VVSG 2.0 Requirements with the EAC’s Standards Board and Board of Advisors for review, launching a 90-day public comment period.
“Each step toward final approval of VVSG 2.0 is another step toward improving election security. The final VVSG requirements will enable manufacturers to develop updated, improved, accessible, and secure voting technology. The process to gather feedback from our stakeholders is critical to completing this process,” added EAC Chairman Ben Hovland, who has served as the EAC’s designated federal official for the TGDC for the past year. “We look forward to getting input from our Board of Advisors and Standards Board, and to hear from the public through the hearings and public comments.”
In March, the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) unanimously voted to provide the EAC with recommendations on the VVSG 2.0 Requirements. The recommended requirements, developed with the support of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), were submitted to the EAC’s Acting Executive Director on March 9, 2020.
On March 11, the EAC submitted the proposed VVSG 2.0 Requirements to the EAC’s Standards Board and Board of Advisors for review.
The EAC has initiated a 90-day public comment period on the VVSG 2.0 Requirements, which will run through June 22, 2020. Those who wish to review the VVSG 2.0 Requirements document, as recommended by the TGDC, and submit comments may do so via regulations.gov.
EAC Commissioners are expected to consider the VVSG 2.0 for adoption following their review of feedback provided by the Standards Board and Board of Advisors on the proposed VVSG 2.0 Requirements, as well as testimony and comments provided during public hearings and the public comment period.
Upon adoption, VVSG 2.0 would be the fifth iteration of national-level voting system standards. VVSG 2.0 offers a new approach to the organization of the guidelines and seeks to address the next generation of voting equipment. It contains new and expanded material in many areas, including reliability and quality, usability and accessibility, security, and testing. The Federal Election Commission published the first two sets of federal standards in 1990 and 2002. The EAC then adopted Version 1.0 of the VVSG on December 13, 2005. In an effort to update and improve version 1.0 of the VVSG, on March 31, 2015, the EAC commissioners unanimously approved VVSG 1.1.
The advancement of the VVSG 2.0 Requirements follows efforts in recent years to advance the VVSG 2.0 Principles and Guidelines, which are 15 principles and related guidelines that form the core of VVSG 2.0 and are supported by the Requirements. The TGDC provided the EAC with recommendations on the VVSG 2.0 Principles and Guidelines in September 2017. The EAC Standards Board and Board of Advisors recommended the VVSG 2.0 Principles and Guidelines for adoption in April 2018. The EAC solicited public comments on the VVSG 2.0 Principles and Guidelines from February to June 2019, and held three public hearings on them in April and May 2019.
The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) establishes three federal advisory committees that support the EAC in its work: the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC), the Standards Board, and the Board of Advisors.
The TGDC assists the EAC in developing the VVSG. The chairperson of the TGDC is the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The TGDC is composed of 14 other members appointed jointly by EAC and the director of NIST, including state and local election officials, individuals with technical and scientific expertise in voting systems, and representatives from the Access Board, American National Standards Institute, and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
The Standards Board and Board of Advisors advise the EAC on various matters, including the development of the VVSG. The Standards Board consists of 55 state election officials selected by their respective chief state election official, and 55 local election officials selected through a process supervised by the chief state election official. HAVA prohibits any two members representing the same state to be members of the same political party.
The Board of Advisors consists of 37 members, as specified by HAVA. Members include two people appointed by each of the following groups: National Governors Association; National Conference of State Legislatures; National Association of Secretaries of State; The National Association of State Election Directors; National Association of Counties; The National Association of County Recorders, Election Officials and Clerks; The U.S. Conference of Mayors; Election Center; International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials, and Treasurers; U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; and Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board. Other members include representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Public Integrity, and the Civil Rights Division; the director of the U.S. Department of Defense Federal Voting Assistance Program; four professionals from the field of science and technology, one each appointed by the Speaker and the Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Majority and Minority leaders of the U.S. Senate; and eight members representing voter interests, with the chairs and the ranking minority members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on House Administration and the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration each appointing two members.
Job Postings This Month
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.
Campaign Finance Director, Wake County, NC— The Wake County Board of Elections is seeking a Campaign Finance Specialist to manage communication support and report auditing for candidates and committees who file campaign finance reports at the county level. The Campaign Finance Specialist must maintain in-depth knowledge of campaign finance law and reporting schedules. In this position you will be responsible for communicating with candidates and campaign committee treasurers, conducting financial audits of campaign finance reports, referring late or non-compliant reports to the NC State Board of Elections for further investigation or financial penalties, maintaining directories and databases of elected officials and report filing statuses, developing candidate and campaign finance informational guides, managing the Candidates and Campaign Finance section of the Board of Elections website, organizing and administering candidate filing, and assisting campaign committee treasurers with campaign reporting software. Wake County is home to the State Capital and one of the fastest growing areas in the nation and the second-most populous county in the state, with approximately 1,000,000 residents. The County has received national and international rankings and accolades from publications such as Money, Fortune, and Time magazines as being one of the best places to live, work and play. Salary: Hiring Range: $20.19 – $27.26. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Election Services Manager, Douglas County, Colorado— The Election Services Manager is responsible for the management and coordination of elections administrative operations, voter registration, mapping for voting districts and precincts, addressing library, and support for mail ballot processing as directed by the leadership team. The objective of this position is to perform a variety of functions and diverse leadership roles on a routine basis, including performance management for a team of Election Specialists. This is a highly visible position requiring exceptional leadership, organizational, and communication skills. The Election Services Manager is responsible for oversight of responsibilities within the elections office and Voter Service and Polling Centers, coaching and supervision of staff; creation and enforcement of policies, procedures, and state and federal statutes and regulations; creation and execution of strategic and tactical plans for operating successful elections; coordination of election functions with entities participating in a County election or conducting their own election; managing key vendor relationships and election assets. Coordinates with and assists other Clerk & Recorder Divisions as needed. Salary: $4,785.83 – $5,982.33 Monthly. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Elections Technology Specialist, Boulder County, Colorado— The Boulder County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, Elections Division, has an opening for a Technology Specialist. This is a term position for the duration of 2020 which includes both the June 30 Primary Election and the November 3 General Election. This position will learn and perform a variety of complex, technical, and specialized tasks associated related to elections, software/hardware support, and voting systems. To be successful in this position you must be eager to learn, possess an aptitude for troubleshooting, technical information and documenting process through conversation, implementation and observation. Successful applicants will be comfortable in a high-stakes, team-focused work environment. We seek a person who is process-oriented and motivated to do meaningful work that facilitates the democratic process. Salary: $57, 024. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Elections Training and Outreach Specialist, North Carolina State Board of Elections — This primary purpose of this position is to work on a team of program specialists and program assistants in developing training and educational processes, procedures, and policies for elections officials by the State Board of Elections and county boards of elections, specifically voter registration, absentee voting, in-person voting, provisional voting, candidate filing, petitions, and other areas or special programs specific to election administration. This position works collaboratively with other agency divisions including Voting Systems, Campaign Finance Business Operations, and IT. Salary: Recruiting Range: $39,611-$55,000. Deadline: June 5. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Grants Specialist, U.S. Election Assistance Commission— The Grants Specialist will assist the Grants Director to manage and administer the grants program for the EAC pursuant to 5 USC §3109 (See 42 USC §15324(b)) and §204 (6)(c) of HAVA. The incumbent provides expert advice to EAC leadership regarding grants management; provides advice and guidance to States and U.S. territories regarding the use of funds provided by EAC to ensure State/U.S. territory compliance with HAVA, Appropriations Law and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) circulars; conducts pre- and post-audits to review how funds have been spent; and makes recommendations to the Executive Director for audit resolutions. Salary: $69,581 to $128,920 per year. Deadline: June 17, 2020. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
IT Security Engineer, Dominion Voting Systems— We are looking for an IT Security Engineer to join our IT team in Denver, Colorado! We are looking for a security-minded individual who can perform both day-to-day technical management and maintenance of IT security programs and who can also strategically assess and enhance the overall IT security enterprise-wide. This role covers a broad scope of responsibilities as some days you may be evaluating new security solutions and attending security briefings, while other days you will be managing our existing IT security toolsets and reviewing threat and log data to identify risk and mitigate vulnerabilities. You must be a self-starter, who collaborates well with others and can explain IT security best practices to anyone from the end-users to executive team members. You will also work for hand and hand with colleagues within the IT department and work with our vendors and external threat organizations to understand and mitigate risks. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Operations Manager, Center for Election Innovation and Research— The Center for Election Innovation & Research (CEIR) seeks a qualified Operations Manager to join our team. The Operations Manager will report to the Program Director and will be responsible for the execution of CEIR’s general operations. The Operations Manager will be in charge of ensuring our human resources, finances, and administrative functions run efficiently and effectively. Under the supervision of the Program Director, the Operations Manager determines objectives and milestones, and builds effective relationships within the team and with outside partners. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Project Manager, Hart InterCivic— Project Managers at Hart InterCivic are highly motivated “self-starters” who are enthusiastic about providing exceptional customer service. Working with other members of the Professional Services and Operations teams, the Project Manager directs activity, solves problems, and develops lasting and strong relationships with our customers. Hart InterCivic’s unique and industry known culture of innovation, transparency, and customer-centric focus creates an environment where team members will continually grow and be challenged to develop their careers. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Proposals Manager, Hart InterCivic— The Proposals Program Manager will be responsible for leading and coordinating cross-functional teams for the successful development of proposals and management of the proposal lifecycle. This includes requests for proposals, requests for information, support for post-proposal contract questions, and other related activities. The Proposals Program Manager will work closely with key stakeholders and input providers across each peer group including Sales, Product Management, Finance, Operations and Engineering. This position reports to the Director of Certification and Proposals. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Senior Data Fellow, Voting Information Project— The Voting Information Project (VIP) coordinates with state election offices to publish nationally standardized information about where and how to vote—data that powers everything from Google’s polling place search, to our text and email reminders to TurboVote users. VIP’s dataset has served millions (and hundreds of millions) of voters since 2008. You will: Work with Democracy Works technical staff to write, run, and debug Python scripts to parse data; Assist with standardizing & sanitizing datasets; Perform quality assurance checks on the information to ensure accuracy and completeness of the data; Research and respond to user-reported errors; and Write and update technical documentation so that other members of the team can recreate processes. Application: For the complete listing and to apply, click here.
Voter Service Manager, Arapahoe County, Colorado— This position provides the opportunity for you to take your voting or government-related experience to a new level in an exciting year where we will administer a statewide primary election in June and the November Presidential General Election. Join our team of dedicated public servants in supporting voters across Arapahoe County while upholding public trust and integrity in our elections process. This position will assist with complex administrative and supervisory work in directing daily activities. The Voter Service Manager supports the Elections Deputy Director, Chief Deputy Director and the Clerk and Recorder with issues concerning all operations of Elections. Salary: $65,960 – $105,365. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
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