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June 25, 2020

June 25, 2020

In Focus This Week

New tools for troubled times
Redistricting and elections management using GIS

By Jamie Chesser, director of programs
National States Geographic Information

Long before COVID-19 hurled elections management onto center stage, the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) was busily collaborating with election administrators and geographic information officers (GIOs) to develop best practices and tools to help make elections more accurate and efficient.

And – for anyone who has the bandwidth to think beyond November 2020 – the organization is also providing education on how the next redistricting, in 2021, can be made much easier using geographic information systems (GIS).

“There’s a degree of uncertainty surrounding redistricting, now that the Census Bureau has requested an additional 120 days to deliver apportionment counts to the President. This delays state and local government from beginning their redistricting process by potentially up to four months, compared to the usual date of April 1, 2021,” says Shelby Johnson, GIO for Arkansas. “That will undoubtedly hamper the work to accomplish redistricting in most states. The critical work for every state to redraw boundaries, review public comment, and adopt new election geographies for congressional, state, county, and municipal districts takes a lot of time. Delaying the Census schedule is going to compress the timeline for redistricting and for election administrators to adjust new possible voting districts. I don’t see how they can do it without GIS. GIS technology makes that work so much easier and more time-efficient than using the old, list-based system,” he adds.

Just how GIS makes the work of redistricting easier is explained in this short “GIS 101” webinar from NSGIC: GIS 101- Redistricting with Shelby Johnson.

The bigger topic of Geo-Enabled Elections is covered in a similar webinar, GIS 101 – Geo-Enabled Elections with Jamie Chesser.

So, are most states “geo-enabled” and ready to take advantage of the benefits of GIS in the upcoming election, and during the coming redistricting process? Here, the answer becomes more nuanced. In a survey of state election directors around the country conducted by NSGIC in 2018, less than one-third of election directors were confident that their voter registration system supported the use of GIS. This means that many states won’t be able to take advantage of some GIS functionality that might be particularly helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic, like for example managing voting center locations based on at-risk populations, wait times, and other situations on the ground.

On the other hand, Shelby Johnson believes that most – if not all – election administrators will be using GIS in some form or another to aid in the 2021 redistricting.

A third and very valuable application of GIS technology in elections – especially ahead of an election where more voters are expected to use mail-in ballots – is the ability to conduct spatial audits ahead of election day. The goal of these audits is to ensure that every voter is assigned to the correct precinct and allowed to vote in the right contests. A GIS-enabled audit translates all voter addresses to pinpoints on a map, over which digital representations of district boundaries can be placed, which in turn highlights any cases where a voter has been assigned to the wrong voting district by mistake.

What are states and counties to do who already know they need to better integrate GIS in elections in order to be ready to tackle upcoming elections or redistricting?

“There’s still time to start the process and make significant headway,” says Molly Schar, NSGIC Executive Director. “GIS technology significantly improves the accuracy and efficiency of elections, first and foremost by making it easier to ensure that every voter is assigned to the right voting districts and is allowed to vote in all the right races. It also allows election directors to better match resources with needs, for instance when it comes to locating voter services within reach of those who most need them. So for any state or county that isn’t currently using GIS to manage their elections or their redistricting process, I would encourage them to create a path to geo-enabling their elections as soon as possible,” she adds.

To help with this process, NSGIC in 2019 issued a Best Practice Guidance, Improving America’s Elections with GIS following a two-year collaborative project involving election administrators and GIOs from across the United States. It provides step-by-step help and can be downloaded here.

Looking for a gentler start on the topic? Try the conversation starter Five Questions Election Directors Can Ask Their State GIO to get the dialogue going. Additional tools are available on the Geo-Enabled Elections project’s website, elections.NSGIC.org.

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2020 Election Updates

District of Columbia: A committee of the Council of the District of Columbia held a hearing last week to go over what went wrong during the District’s June 2 primary. The hearing featured dozens of public witnesses, including some who served as poll workers, staff and the head of the D.C. Board of Elections and several expert witnesses. During the hearing it was revealed that at least 1,100 requests for absentee ballots were lost by the DCBOE ahead of  the primary, forcing hundreds of voters to cast ballots in-person while others apparently did not vote at all. “There is a lot of planning going on now to make sure November is as smooth as operation as possible,” said Michael Bennett, chair of the DCBOE, highlighting a new vendor to build another app, new IT hires to help address existing problems, and a broader communications campaign to let voters know of how the November election will run. The board also said this week that it will double the number of in-person polling places for early and day-of voting.

Georgia: A review of the state’s disastrous June 9 primary continued this week with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger answering questioning from members of the House. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Raffensperger acknowledged that long lines in Georgia’s June 9 primary were “unacceptable” but downplayed problems with the state’s new voting system. He said most difficulties in the election occurred in Fulton County, which had some of the most extreme wait times. “It’s not going to work and it’s not going to be good enough for you to just keep saying it’s in Fulton County and not my issue,” said Rep. Renitta Shannon (D- Decatur. “What specific policies are you going to put in place?” Raffensperger, a Republican, responded that election officials need to add voting locations, improve hands-on training and encourage early voting. He said he’s reaching out to community groups such as Rotary Clubs, Boy Scouts and sororities to ask whether they can host precincts.

Kentucky: With much of the nation watching the commonwealth’s vote on Tuesday, the response from state and local elections officials was, “we got this”. Although Kentucky’s primary plans — early voting, expanded absentee, one vote center per county — had been in place for months, it was only in the waning days before the primary that those outside of the state took notice and began to express concerns on social media and in the mainstream media. In the end, while there were lines on primary day, especially in Lexington, the fears about widespread voter suppression were largely unfounded and when all is said and done, the state will most likely have its largest primary turnout ever. Elections officials in Boyd County, Christian County, Clark County, Daviess CountyFranklin County, Henderson County, Knox CountyPerry County, Shelby County, and Warren County all reported that in-person voting ran smoothly on Tuesday. Many of those officials and others statewide are still processing absentee ballots of course. As mentioned, there were issues wait-times of about 90 minutes at Fayette County’s one vote center. Elections officials did open additional check-in stations, which is where the hold-up seemed to be occurring. While polls closed on time, the last voter cast their ballot around 8pm. Although there was a lot of pre-election concern around Jefferson County’s use of one polling site, the longest lines that day were at the food trucks providing free food outside the Expo Center. There was some controversy at 6pm when Kentucky’s polls close though. There were no lines outside the Expo Center in Jefferson County as the clock approached 6pm but, there was an issue in the parking lot and so initially, voters who were dealing with parking issues were locked out of the polling center. However, a judge’s hand-written order reopened the doors until 6:30pm and “anyone on the pavement” at 6:30pm was allowed to vote. Images shared widely on social media showed voters outside to the Expo Center pounding on the doors to be let it. Shared less widely on social media were the images of poll workers standing at the doors just before 6pm yelling at people to get in the polling place before 6pm as well the county clerk’s spokesperson explaining that they were telling people to get into any line upon arrival because the law is they have to be in line. The challenges faced by Jefferson County with social media and the outside looking in will surely plague many elections officials in the coming months as all eyes turn toward November. Hopefully the lessons learned from Kentucky can help some other states as well. And finally, some genuinely controversial news from Kentucky primary. In Lexington, two voters had to make a stop at the county clerk’s office before heading to the vote center to vote because their dogs had eaten their absentee ballots (ALLEGEDLY) and those ballots needed to be canceled. They were able to get that done and cast their ballots. No comment from Athena, Starbuck and Apollo, but we think they look pretty darn innocent!

Maryland: Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore), and Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince Georges County), made a variety of recommendations to state election officials in a letter Tuesday for a smoother election during the coronavirus pandemic. While the senators noted that the decision on how to conduct the election is up to Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland State Board of Elections, the senators called for four “critical” improvements. The senators are calling for an expansion of the number of ballot drop-off boxes, additional in-person voting sites on Election Day and the use of early voting centers statewide. They also are calling for an enhanced communication plan to better coordinate state and local board engagement with the voting public, particularly within historically disenfranchised communities.

Massachusetts: While much of the media was focused on voters in Louisville, Kentucky trying to gain access to the polls after the official 6pm closing time, at least two voters in Tisbury, Massachusetts were unable to vote in the annual town elections because the polls were mistakenly closed a minute too early. According to the Vineyard Gazette, town officials in Tisbury use the clock on the ballot box as the official timepiece for the election and it seems like that time was off by a couple of minutes because several voters showed up 7:58pm but the ballot box was already closed because it read 8pm. “What I am now aware of is that the clock on the machine was one minute ahead,” Town Clerk J. Hilary Conklin told the paper. “So we are changing our practice, we are changing our time keeping method going forward to eliminate this issue.”

Nevada: About 6,700 ballots were not counted in this month’s Nevada primary election after officials could not match signatures on the ballots, according to the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office. The 6,749 uncounted ballots represented less than 1% of all ballots mailed to voters ahead of the June 9 primary, which was conducted mostly by mail.

New York: The Empire State is home to 19.4 million people including 8.3 million in New York City. While many New York voters faced few problems and short lines if they chose to vote in-person on Tuesday, once again New York City’s voters were faced with a host of problems on an election day. There were some issues outside of the New York City boroughs though. Voters stood in long lines in Rockland and Westchester counties on Tuesday. The lines were caused by consolidated polling places and at the Greenburgh Town Hall polling place, a machine malfunction forced voters to cast provisional ballots for a while. Some voters in Niagara County complained about the lack of outreach prior to the election. “It wasn’t until this week that I figured out what was going on with the election,” Steve Kennedy, 64, a retired teacher told The Buffalo News. “I didn’t feel it was explained well enough. I guess I didn’t pay attention.” Voters in Monroe County, that were faced with multiple ballots to fill out, complained about the lack of social distancing. The biggest complaint for poll workers in Clinton County was that it was a slow day because so many voters opted to vote-by-mail. It was also slow going in Onondaga County which averaged less than 1,000 voters an hour. A record 32,764 voters in the county had requested absentee ballots by election day, and 22,964 ballots had been returned by this morning. In New York City, the problems were numerous. Long lines snaked out and around many polling places. Polling places in some areas failed to open on time. There were also issues with the ballot scanning machines not functioning properly at some voting locations. There were reports on social media that poll workers were not allowing voters to drop off their absentee ballots which is actually permitted under the law. Many voters complained about only receiving one ballot—for the presidential preference primary—and not two as they should have. A polling place in Queens did not have the promised COVID-19 safety measures in place when polls opened. Also in Queens, a ballot issue had voters casting ballots for the wrong party. Following Tuesday’s vote, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is calling for reform of the process. Williams acknowledged that there were extenuating circumstances with Tuesday’s vote because of the global pandemic but said those circumstances only exacerbated pre-existing conditions with the city’s voting system. “We have always made it difficult for people to vote and we should make it as easy as possible including using absentee ballot – let’s keep whatever we have here now and allow people to vote again with absentee and make it permanent,” Williams told AMNY.  “Let’s get in the process of used to it, whether it is early voting, absentee voting, same-day registration – these are things we have to stop resisting. Things will get better, but we also have to get more funding into the system for training.”

South Carolina: Voters headed back to the polls two weeks after a bumpy June 9 primary for a runoff and while things were much smoother this time around, there were some issues. Richland County, which seems to be plagued with problems at every election faced some glitches but there were no long lines. The county’s interim elections director was not on hand Tuesday because he was out sick and waiting on the results of a COVID-19 test that would not be back until later this week. A printer malfunction in Union County caused issues with absentee ballots.

Virginia: Voters head back to the polls once again, this time for primary elections. Overall things went well, especially on the pandemic front, but there were some technical issues. In Virginia Beach, voters had to cast provisional ballots when the city’s e-poll books were not functioning properly when polls opened at 6 a.m. By 2:30 p.m., all electronic pollbooks had been updated and were working properly again, Registrar Donna Patterson told The Virginia Pilot. All 100 polling locations were affected, and Patterson wasn’t sure how many provisional ballots were cast while the pollbooks were going through updates. Voting precincts in Henrico, Franklin, and Loudoun counties faced some technical difficulties Tuesday morning as power outages caused a disturbance in voters’ ability to cast their ballots for the primary election. Provisional ballots were provided and Department of Elections Commissioner Christopher Piper noted that the power outage was not a security issue. Drive-thru voting was available once again in places like Williamsburg and voters really seem to appreciate that feature. Absentee voting once again proved popular and some counties like Albemarle saw record-breaking numbers.

Election Security Updates

Social Media: At a virtual hearing of the House Intelligence Committee, officials from Twitter and Facebook said that while they have not seen any “coordinated” efforts by malicious foreign groups to spread disinformation around the 2020 elections, the groups’ tactics are changing and evolving. “We have seen a change in tactics, and this in part is because of the success that we’ve had in clamping down on the inauthentic platform manipulations,” Nick Pickles, the director of global public policy strategy and development at Twitter, testified. Nathaniel Gleicher, the head of security policy at Facebook emphasized that while Facebook has not seen any “coordinated inauthentic behavior” from foreign nations targeting voting or voting systems, it was “definitely something we are monitoring.”

Election News This Week

Last week, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that four provisional ballot from a 2019 Harpers Ferry municipal election must be counted. Now the question remains when those ballots will actually be counted and the election finally officially certified. According to the Spirit of Jefferson that may not be for some time. The Supreme Court, after receiving the case on appeal Dec. 6 and hearing oral arguments May 19, issued its 4-0 opinion in the case on June 15 supporting a previous order issued by Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Debra McLaughlin to count the votes. Under the procedural rules for appellate cases, a legal party to a Supreme Court case decision has 30 days to file a petition to request a rehearing after the court issues an opinion. Once the period to file a petition ends, if no petition is filed, then a “mandate” would be issued that ends the matter before the Supreme Court. According to the paper, there has been no comment from the losing side as to whether or not they will file the petition.  Six candidates have a mathematical chance of either taking over or retaining a Town Council seat in Harpers Ferry—including a chance to win a possible vote tie-breaking process—if all of the potential votes on the four provisional ballots are counted.

Oh dear. On Monday, the Morris County, New Jersey clerk’s office was notified by the U.S. Postal Service that they believe some ballots were on a mail delivery truck that caught fire over the weekend. The Postal Service provided the clerk’s office with a list of addresses that may have been affected and any registered Democrat or Republican voter who may reside at the affected  addresses and did not receive a vote by mail ballot or an unaffiliated voter who did not receive a vote by mail application were urged to contact the clerk’s office immediately

 

Michigan launched a pilot program that issues inmates new IDs and registers them to vote as they are released from prison. Former inmates, in a collaboration between Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office and the Michigan Department of Corrections, are being issued a driver’s license or state ID upon completion of their sentences. Michigan began automatic voter registration for anyone who signs up for an ID in September of last year. The MDOC will obtain required documents for identification verification and photos from prisoners who are designated for parole “and will send that info directly to (the Secretary of State), where either a driver’s license or state ID will be processed,” Benson’s office said in statement issued Tuesday. “Once someone has been paroled, they will be provided their driver’s license or ID and registered to vote unless they choose not to be, along with a workforce development packet that includes information outlining the restoration of their voting rights.”

The Democratic Association of Secretaries of State has released a social media campaign, accusing the president and the Republican Party of engaging in voter suppression that is “rooted in white supremacy.” According to The Washington Post, the video ad makes the issue of voting rights a part of the current conversation about addressing systemic racism. It uses images of black protesters from the 1950s and ’60s demanding voting rights, alongside those of current protests over police violence, sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. A narrator says, “white supremacy does not endure on its own. It is propped up by suppressing black voices and votes.” “Modern-day voter suppression policies may no longer include poll taxes and literacy tests, but the disproportionate adverse impact of voter ID laws, purging of voter rolls, and felony disenfranchisement on communities of color is no coincidence,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla who leads the group.

The companies behind the upcoming documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble”, are launching a voting rights campaign to go along with the documentary. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Good Trouble campaign will provide opportunities to support voting rights, learn about voter suppression, participate in civic engagement and register voters. Audiences can also go to the campaign’s digital hub, at makegoodtrouble.com, to register to vote, check their status, find their polling place and register voters. The hub also includes a Good Trouble handbook, which provides resources on voting rights and how audiences can get into “good trouble,” ensuring they can cast their votes, including via mail-in or absentee ballot. The campaign launches in partnership with Congressman Lewis, BET, When We All Vote, Fair Fight, the NAACP, Color of Change, Black Voters Matter, VoteRiders, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, Rock the Vote, HBCU Heroes, houses of worship and locally led community groups.

Sticker News: Lake Shore High School senior Kayla McCuen was recently awarded the top prize in Macomb County, Michigan’s inaugural “I Voted” sticker design contest. Macomb County Clerk/Register of Deeds Fred Miller said a total of 525 entries were submitted from students in 14 Macomb County school districts, as well as private and home-schooled students. A total of 64 entries were selected as finalists, ultimately reviewed remotely by a panel of judges that included judges from the Macomb County Circuit Court, members of the Macomb County Board of Commissioners, city and township clerks, and representatives from the Macomb Intermediate School District and the county arts community. Student designs were evaluated on the interpretation of the theme, “Your Vote, Your Future,” along with clarity, artistic creativity and the ability to create a design that would look good on a 2-inch diameter sticker. “We wanted to do something to help teachers start a conversation with students about civic responsibility and the different ways people can participate in our democratic process,” Miller told C&G Newspapers. “This seemed like a cool way to engage students. The fact that we had 525 entries from 14 school districts, plus charter schools and home schools, was very encouraging.”

Personnel News: The Richland County, South Carolina  Board of Voter Registration and Elections has officially named Alexandria Stephens as the  new director. Stephens currently serves as the elections coordinator in Jefferson County, Alabama. Larry Pizer is retiring as the Plymouth, Massachusetts town clerk. James White, a long-time poll worker, has been sworn into the Jackson County, North Carolina board of elections. Coventry, Connecticut Republican Registrar of Voters Pamela Sewell said she will not seek re-election in November.

Legislative Updates

California: The Legislature has approved and Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill that will require county officials to mail a ballot to every registered voter for the November election, cementing into law the Democratic governor’s earlier order to mail out ballots statewide in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

On a 28-9 initial vote, the state Senate sent Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6 to the Nov. 3 ballot, opening a possibility for more than 40,000 formerly incarcerated residents to regain their voting ability before they finish their probationary period. State Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, said ACA 6 would allow people on parole to reintegrate into and become a “contributing member to society.” “People on parole are our family members, our colleagues, our neighbors, our friends,” Bradford said. “They go to work every day. They pay taxes. They do their part to successfully reintegrate themselves back into society, yet the stigma exists for them.”

Also in California, the Albany city council unanimously approved a ballot measure for the November ball that is approved by voter would allow residents to rank candidates in order of preference in local elections.

In more ranked choice voting news, the San Diego city council is expected to place on the November ballot a proposed measure for instant runoff voting. The measure has received preliminary approvals from council’s Rules Committee. The deadline for the full council to formally place the measures on the November ballot is early August.

Delaware: During a virtual session, the House approved legislation that that gives all voters the ability to cast a ballot in any election this year without compromising their health or safety. The measure passed along party lines in a vote 25-13. The process to vote by mail mirrors the absentee ballot system that’s been used for decades in the state.  The measure now heads to the state Senate for a vote, where it must pass before session ends on June 30, 2020.

Georgia: The Senate had advanced Senate Bill 463 that would ban election officials from mailing absentee ballot request forms unless a voter requests one. The legislation also loosens restrictions on ballot signature-matching requirements and provides for the division of large precincts under certain conditions. The bill could receive a vote in the Georgia House before the Legislature ends its current session Friday. If the measure passes and is signed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp, it could take effect before the November general election.

 

Kansas: Kansas City will offer its employees up to two paid days off to work at polling locations in time for Missouri’s August primary and this fall’s presidential and gubernatorial elections, the City Council decided in a 10-1 vote. It allows city employees to work up to two election days a year and be paid for regular eight-hour workdays. They can also keep any pay provided by the election board.

Maryland: The Annapolis City Council will consider R-35-20, allows the city to contract with the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections for its primary and general elections, on Sept. 21, 2021, and Nov. 2, 2021, respectively and to have those elections conducted by mail. The resolution also provides for the option to vote by mail, a trend that has become popular at the state and national levels due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

Massachusetts: Work continues on finding a compromise on vote-by-mail legislation for the upcoming November general election. The bills (H 4778/S 2764) largely do the same things: instruct Secretary of State William Galvin to mail every voter an application for the primaries on Sept. 1 and the general election on Nov. 3. Residents would have three voting options under either bill — showing up to the polls in-person, taking advantage of early voting periods, or voting-by-mail — which both officials and advocates alike say helps address public health concerns regarding physical distancing. The House bill proposes sending registered voters two separate applications by mail, one on July 15 for the primaries, and another in October for the general election. The Senate bill sends out one mailing on July 15 that includes paperwork for both elections, and also calls for a general election application to be included in the October voter guide.

Voter Choice for Massachusetts, which is pushing a ballot measure that would bring ranked choice voting to the commonwealth said last week that it had submitted 25,000 additional signatures for inspection, adding to the record-setting 111,268 signatures the campaign had certified during the first round of gathering.

Michigan: Under House Bills 5880-81, introduced by Rep. Ann Bollin, a person who knowingly submits an absent voter application using another person’s name or personal identification information would be guilty of a felony. She said it would also be a felony to complete applications with the intent to receive multiple ballots. The plan has been referred to the House Elections and Ethics Committee for consideration.

Also in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law this week a measure that should help speed up results in November. The new law allows city or township clerks to create an “absent voting counting board” with other local clerks to join forces to count absentee ballots. “There are a lot of smaller jurisdictions in Ingham County and across the state that this will benefit greatly,” Lansing city clerk Chris Swope told Michigan Public Radio. Swope says processing ballots with an absent voting counting board rather than in a precinct will speed up the count.

New Mexico: A scaled-back election overhaul lacking a key provision that would have allowed clerks to mail every registered voter a ballot for the November general election is on its way to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk. The House initially rejected Senate Bill 4 38-32 but a subsequent vote to “reconsider” the legislation passed, and after hours of closed-door caucus meetings, a second vote on the legislation cleared the House floor 44-26 without any amendments. The temporary election changes would allow clerks to automatically send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters ahead of the presidential election. It also makes other changes supporters say will streamline the next election following mail delays that led to problems with people receiving their ballots and a prolonged delay in election results in Santa Fe County. Many people complained about receiving their ballots so late they had to turn them in last-minute, in person.

Ohio: A campaign seeking to amend Ohio’s constitution to expand the state’s voting-access laws has suspended its operations, citing the difficulties of collecting hundreds of thousands of needed signatures during the coronavirus pandemic. Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections said despite earlier legal victories at the state and federal level, an appellate court’s ruling that blocked them from collecting the signatures electronically has made their campaign for the November ballot unworkable. “While this is certainly not the outcome we hoped, planned, organized, fundraised, or campaigned for, we come to this decision with pride in our work, appreciation for our coalition partners, and a clear vision for the future,” Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections Campaign Manager Toni Webb said in a statement.

Pennsylvania: Governor Tom Wolf signed into law House Bill 2502, now Act 35 of 2020, that requires the Department of State to publish a report on the June 2, 2020, primary election. The report will help identify any necessary changes to the Pennsylvania Election Code before the general election in November.

Also in Pennsylvania, lawmakers in the General Assembly are reviewing potential legislation that would allow election officials to begin counting mail-in ballots before 7 a.m. on Election Day, a provision that advocates say will be crucial in getting timely election results in November.

South Carolina: An effort to expand absentee voting ahead of the November general election failed on Wednesday as the S.C. House agreed to spend more than $1.2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief. After a roughly three-hour debate on Wednesday, lawmakers adopted the legislation in a 109-2 vote, agreeing to changes made and adopted by the Senate on Tuesday and sent the bill to the governor with no provisions to adjust absentee voting for the general election. Democrats have said they will file suit to expand absentee voting.

Texas: The Parker County commissioners court approved the termination of Elections Administrator Don Markum Monday afternoon in a 3-2 vote. The commissioners met in executive session for about two hours and reconvened in open session at about 4:15 p.m. Monday. Precinct 1 Commissioner George Conley, Precinct 4 Commissioner Steve Dugan and Parker County Judge Pat Deen voted in favor of terminating Markum while Precinct 2 Commissioner Craig Peacock and Precinct 3 Commissioner Larry Walden voted against the motion. “Parker County appreciates all Don Markum’s contributions to the county’s election process, and wishes him the best in his future endeavors,” Deen according to the Weatherford Democrat.

Legal Updates

Arizona: Secretary of State Katie Hobbs announced last week that a settlement was reached with a nonprofit organization in a lawsuit over the deadline to return early ballots. Voto Latino, an organization aimed at encouraging young Hispanic and Latino people to register to vote, filed a complaint with Priorities USA in November 2019 against Hobbs. The law requires ballots to be received by county election officials by 7 p.m. on Election Day. While the settlement between Hobbs and the groups will leave the current deadline in place, the Secretary of State’s office will attempt to address items contributing to the late returns. The Secretary of State’s office in the settlement is committing to conducting voter outreach and education about Election Day deadline in multiple languages, launching a webpage with information about voting by mail and ballot-drop options and allocating funding for counties to increase early voting opportunities.

Arkansas: A lawsuit has been filed in Pulaski Circuit Court seeking to require no-excuse absentee voting in the November election. The lawsuit, by three people who say they fear exposure to coronavirus through in-person voting, says the current restrictions on absentee ballots are unconstitutional but, even if a constitutional challenge fails, rules should be modified as other states have done because of coronavirus. Under current law, absentee ballots are allowed for military, people who are abroad and for people “unavoidably absent or unable to attend an election due to illness or physical disability.” A question remains about what “unavoidably absent” means. The lawsuit says Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has so far not responded to a two-month-old request for an opinion by legislators. Voters can be prosecuted for perjury for being found in violation of the rule

Connecticut: A group of Connecticut Republicans are challenging the state’s push for expanding absentee voting ballots. The 13-page suit was filed in New Britain Superior Court by Dominic Rapini, Linda Szynkowicz, State Senator Eric Berthel(R -Watertown), and State Representative Jason Perillo (R-Shelton). The plaintiffs argue for the removal of Secretary of State Denise Merrill’s plan to people to vote in absentee due to concerns over COVID-19. Recently, Governor Ned Lamont signed an executive order to expand the qualifications of absentee voting for the August primary. The suit calls Merrill’s plan is “unlawful and unconstitutional.” It also claims the plan is vulnerable to voter fraud.

Florida: U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle denied most portions of plaintiffs requests for preliminary injunctions in a case seeking to expand vote by mail, which is a consolidation of three lawsuits, saying the plaintiffs lack “a substantial likelihood of succeeding” on the vast majority of the issues. In one of the lawsuits, the group Priorities USA and other plaintiffs want the judge to extend a deadline for mail-in ballots to be returned and require free postage for the ballots. They’re also challenging a provision in Florida law restricting paid workers from collecting mail-in ballots. But Hinkle rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that requiring voters to pick up the tab for stamps amounts to an unconstitutional “poll tax.” “Postage charged by the United States Postal Service — like the fee charged by any other courier or the bus fare for getting to the polls to vote in person — is not a tax prohibited by the Twenty-Fourth Amendment. And the requirement to pay postage also does not violate any other federal provision,” Hinkle wrote in Wednesday’s five-page order, referring to the U.S constitutional amendment that bars poll taxes. The judge also swatted down plaintiffs’ attempt at extending the deadline for supervisors of elections to receive mail-in ballots. Under current law, the ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day. The plaintiffs want ballots postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day to be valid, as some states allow.

Indiana: Marion County Superior Court Judge Heather Welch has ordered Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson to produce documents to back up her claim that the public should not see emails and other communications about the reliability and security of voting machines because they could jeopardize cyberterrorism security. Welch ruled Tuesday that Lawson did not provide adequate justification for withholding the materials and ordered her to produce some of the documents for inspection in chambers. In a 27-page ruling, the judge ordered Lawson to submit the materials that she had withheld based on the counterterrorism exception so that she may examine them in private.

Kansas: The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas sued Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab in Shawnee County District Court seeking a court order that would force him to release the names of people who cast provisional ballots or say whether their votes were counted. The ACLU wants the provisional voter information from the 2018 general election to be released so it can help Kansas voters correct defects on their ballots, the suit says. The group intends to submit similar requests for the 2020 primary and general elections. “The law requires open records and transparency, and that applies to the public being able to figure out the reason people’s votes are not being counted,” said Lauren Bonds, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas

Louisiana: U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, of Baton Rouge has thrown out a lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s emergency plan for its July presidential primary and August municipal elections, a plan written in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Two separate lawsuits filed in Baton Rouge federal court argued the plan didn’t go far enough to protect people from the virus. U.S. “The court rejects plaintiffs’ contention that they are being ‘forced to choose’ between their health and voting,” Dick wrote. The judge wrote in her decision that the lawsuits’ plaintiffs “fail to adequately allege that there has been, or will be, an impairment of the right to vote attributable to state action.” “The potential presence of the virus in their polling place is not a legal impairment of their right; it is an epidemiological reality to which state officials have responded, not by impairing voting rights, but by expanding them,” Dick wrote.

Michigan: Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens denied a request to halt Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s mailing of absentee ballot applications to all registered voters ahead of August primary and November general elections. Nevin Cooper-Keel, Yvonne Black and serial litigant Robert Davis argued Benson was barred from sending the applications by state law and court precedent prohibiting elected officials from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications.  But Stephens argued those rules don’t reflect the loosened voting restrictions enacted under a voting rights initiative approved by voters in 2018. And those cases, Stephen said, only spoke to “local elections officials,” not the secretary of state.

Minnesota: U.S. District Court Judge Eric Tostrud declined to give his blessing to a consent decree temporarily waiving Minnesota’s requirement that absentee voters get a witness to sign their ballots, less than a week after a state judge approved a similar agreement. The decision from the bench was hailed by Republicans, who raised alarms when Ramsey County Judge Sara Grewing approved a separate consent decree waiving the requirement last Wednesday. That order remains intact and it’s unclear whether Tostrud’s decision will impact it. According to Courthouse News Service, Tostrud’s refusal to sign a similar consent decree is the latest development in a fast-paced case brought by the League of Women Voters of Minnesota seeking to overturn the witness requirement, which requires would-be absentee voters to get another Minnesota voter or a notary public to sign their ballot. The voting rights group has argued the provision could prevent immunocompromised voters or others worried about Covid-19 from safely voting.

Missouri: The Missouri Supreme Court issued a decision on Tuesday involving absentee voting, ruling that a lawsuit that aims to allow all Missourians to cast absentee ballots without notarization in 2020 can proceed. The Supreme Court is sending the case back to Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem. The decision means the lawsuit from the NAACP of Missouri and the ACLU of Missouri can proceed. The circuit court dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted. The Supreme Court reversed that decision, finding the plaintiffs had stated a claim and remanded the case to the circuit court so the parties can proceed.

New Jersey: U.S. District Court Judge Michael A. Shipp instructed county boards of elections statewide to “presume” that ballots received for the July 7 primary with questionable signatures came from the correct person. No ballot should be rejected “unless there is a clear discrepancy that cannot be reasonably explained.”  “When verifying signatures, evaluators should keep in mind that everyone writes differently and no one signs their name exactly the same way twice,” Shipp said in a ruling issued on Wednesday. “Some variation in signatures is to be expected.”

Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania NAACP sued the state demanding an overhaul of the electoral system before November because, it said, the system in place for the June 2 primary was not equally accessible and disenfranchised black and Hispanic voters. Among the changes the civil rights group seeks are stricter limitations on how many polling places a county can close, better notice of changes to locations, in-person early voting, automatic sending of mail ballot applications to all voters, and universal use of hand-marked paper ballots at polling places.

 

Tennessee: The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that it will not block a judge’s order offering a by-mail voting option to all eligible voters during the coronavirus pandemic while the state continues to appeal. The Tennessee high court did agree with the state’s wish to fast-track the appeal without a lower appellate court considering it. But a majority of justices voted against stopping the absentee voting expansion pending appeal, dealing a blow to the state’s efforts to unravel the expansion as the Aug. 6 primary approaches.

Texas: U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo on Wednesday threw out Democrats’ effort to reinstate the straight-ticket voting option in Texas. Siding with the state, Garcia Marmolejo found that Democrats lacked standing to challenge Texas Republicans’ decision to kill straight-ticket voting ahead of the November general election. The judge dismissed the federal lawsuit after ruling that Democrats’ claims of the electoral fallout that could come from eliminating straight-ticket voting were too speculative.

Tech Thursday

Healthy Elections: This week, the Stanford MIT Project on a Healthy Election launched a new website, featuring tools, research, and other resources to address the ongoing threat that the COVID-19 pandemic poses to the 2020 elections. The project aims to ensure that the election can proceed with integrity, safety, and equal access by bringing together academics, civic organizations, election administrators, and election administration experts to assess and promote best practices.

Led by Nathaniel Persily, James B. McClatchy Professor Law at Stanford and former Senior Research Director of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, and Charles Stewart III, Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science at MIT, Director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, and Co-Director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, the Stanford-MIT Project seeks to draw on the extensive knowledge of those in the trenches administering elections to establish best practices necessary to run an election under pandemic conditions.

A number of resources are already available on the site, including a portal page of tools based on the expertise of election administrators, business managers, and social science researchers that can help election administrators plan and conduct elections. New research, data, and other resources from the Healthy Elections team and partners will be added regularly; the site also features an “Idea Bank” that encourages contribution and dialogue from others. Learn more and browse the site at: healthyelections.org.

Texas: Local groups have joined forces to help Travis County get enough poll workers for the upcoming runoffs in July. The League of Women Voters and Open Austin, a group that works on the technology side of civic engagement and advocates for open government and open data have come up with simple online form that people can fill out and that goes directly to Travis county elections officials. “It’s a very, very streamlined process that someone can basically just do on their phone,” Daniel Roesler, a volunteer with the LWV told KKUT. “You can be out and about or tell people about it and you just click on the link, fill out the process and all of a sudden you have applied to be a poll worker on Election Day.”

Opinions This Week

National Opinions: Vote by mail, II, III, IV, V, VI | Voter registration, II | Turnout | Voting rights | Voter suppression, II, III | Voting options | Voter fraud | Lines | In-person voting | Election security | Botched votes | Ranked choice voting | Innovations in democracy | Voting is a super power

California: Voting rights

Connecticut: Voter data

Florida: Vote by mail, II | Ex-felon voting rights | Broward County

Georgia: Primary

Hawaii: In-person voting

Indiana: Vote by mail | St. Joseph County

Kentucky: Voter suppression, II, | Primary

Maryland: Election security

Massachusetts: Vote by mail

Michigan: List maintenance

New Jersey: Vote by mail, II | Voting system | Election integrity

New York: Accessibility

North Dakota: Vote by mail, II

Ohio: Online voting

Pennsylvania: Ballot counting | Primary | Vote by mail

South Carolina: Richland County

Texas: Vote by mail; Voting safety

Upcoming Events

D3P National Training Tour: The Defending Digital Democracy Project (D3P) is launching a national training tour effort for local election officials as they prepare for the 2020 election. Given the many changes of the past months, this tour will be conducted digitally and is designed to give officials the best of D3P live training sessions in a new format. In addition to supporting local election officials through customized training, the tour may also host some special sessions for state election officials. Local jurisdictions can sign up for a block of virtual training sessions from June to August 2020, with the timing, content, and outputs customizable based on election officials’ schedules and priority needs. D3P’s work is committed to supporting officials in protecting the elections process. Just as you continue your work to serve the American people, we continue our work to serve you. This is a free, virtual resource that will involve discussion groups, live table top simulations, and state-specific content. Key training topics include operations management, crisis communications, disinformation, and Covid-19 support. When: Now through August 28. Where: Online.

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.

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 mmoretti@electionline.org.  Job postings must be received by 5pm on Wednesday in order to appear in the Thursday newsletter. Listings will run for three weeks or till the deadline listed in the posting.

Business Enablement Project Manager, Hart InterCivic— The Business Enablement Project Manager manages projects that further the advancement of business for the organization. These projects include the development of RFP responses, management of strategic regulatory activities, execution of market research activities, and internal projects to support the improvement of business processes to support the Proposals and Certification Teams.  The Business Enablement Project Manager must be able to function effectively on all levels of corporate structure in order to identify opportunities, analyze business needs, and identify and solve problems that present barriers to market entry. The Business Enablement Project Manager must be able to exercise sound judgment, interact with internal and external stakeholders, and complete projects professionally in high-pressure situations. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.

Election Program Specialist, NC State Board of Elections— The Candidate and Canvass Program Specialist has extensive knowledge of election administration and performs detailed planning and preparation for candidate filing, pre-election processes, post-election processes, and canvass in all 100 North Carolina counties and the State Board of Elections in compliance with General Statute 163. Performs work in assuring that candidate filing is successful in all 100 counties and the State Board of Elections, coordinating pre-elections tasks with the Voting Systems Division such as ballot proofing and election setup, coordinating post-election tasks such as the audits and surveys, and that the canvass process is properly conducted with the cooperation of all North Carolina county boards of elections and the State Board of Elections canvass. This position will work closely with agency legal counsel, Voting Systems section, IT division, Campaign Finance division, and other SBE and CBE stakeholders to review election law and make necessary recommendations in election processes, procedures, and information systems pertaining to candidate filing, candidate petitions, candidacy challenges, election protests, pre-election procedures, post-election procedures, and the canvass period. Collaborates with Communications division to develop and maintain web content and other public documents pertaining to these areas and the Judicial Voter Guide to North Carolina households. Work involves providing guidance to those in the SEIMS infrastructure work group as well as the SEIMS helpdesk in questions involving candidate filing and the candidate filing process. Responsibilities include working with the IT infrastructure team and Helpdesk in supporting counties with preparation for Canvass. Responsibilities will also include directing a program assistant and other staff to carry out program standards and objectives. Salary: $59,240. Deadline: June 28. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.

Election Services Technician, Contra Costa County, California—Two positions. The Office of the County Clerk-Recorder is recruiting to fill two vacant positions as Elections Services Technician. Under general direction from the Election Processing Supervisor and lead direction from the Election Processing Specialist, the Elections Services Technician performs technical and complex support activities associated with the preparation for and the conduct of elections in one or more of the functional units of the Elections Division. The Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder’s Office, Elections Division is currently recruiting for a Voters Services Technician as well as a Candidate Services Technician. There are two openings within the same recruitment; both are in the Elections Services Technician classification. If applying for the Voter Services Technician position, you’ll have the opportunity to be a part of voter registration, customer service, and Vote-by-Mail operations. If applying for the Candidate Services Technician position, you’ll have the opportunity to be a part of the process of candidates filing to run for office, preparing voter information publications, and providing customer service. Salary: $47,152.80 – $57,314.52. Deadline: July 1. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply click here.

Elections Supervisor, Dallas County, Texas— Assists management by planning, organizing, delegating and overseeing the daily operations of one or more areas of responsibility associated with the election process. Oversees the election program area to ensure staffing coverage is adequate, and productivity standards are met and are effective develops and implements goals and objectives, performance measures and techniques to evaluate programmatic activities reviews correspondence and reports from local, state and or federal agencies analyzes statistical data and prepares and maintains related reports. Researches and maintains comprehensive knowledge and understanding of applicable laws, policies and procedures to effectively communicate with staff, and acts as liaison and departmental representative to elected officials, political representatives, candidates, judges, contracting customers, vendors, general public, and or other county, state and federal representatives to resolve problems, answer questions, provide assistance and modify policies procedures. Hires and trains supervisory and support staff, evaluates performance and initiates disciplinary actions coordinates and monitors scheduling, productivity and workloads. Assists in budget preparation and maintains related data and reports. Performs other duties as assigned. Salary Range: $49,765.92 – $62,100.24. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.

HAVA Administrator, Nevada Secretary of State— The Nevada secretary of state’s office is seeking a HAVA Administrator. The incumbent in this position will manage the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) grant and in this capacity will work with members of the State Elections Division, county registrar of voters, and other elections related positions in the federal, state, and county governments to manage the application of the HAVA grant and support the conduct of state and federal elections. This position will be a key member of the State elections team and will be primarily responsible for the analysis and interpretation of federal and state elections law. This position will supervise up to six other elections-related employees. State employee Benefits – Medical, dental, vision care, life and disability insurance programs are available; eleven paid holidays per year; three weeks of annual leave; three weeks of sick leave; state defined benefit retirement plan; tax-sheltered deferred compensation plan available. State employees do not contribute to Social Security; however, a small Medicare deduction is required. Salary: $66,628.08 – $100,161.36. The Secretary of State’s Office is located in downtown Carson City, near beautiful Lake Tahoe in Northern Nevada, which offers a destination location to live, work and play. 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.

Policy Associate, National Vote at Home Institute— Under the general direction of the National Policy Director, the ​Policy Associate is​ responsible for supporting the policy goals of the National Vote at Home Institute (NVAHI), including the design and implementation of mail ballot policies and procedures nationwide. The Policy Associate is responsible for internal data capture and interpretation in a shifting policy landscape and will also contribute heavily to data analysis and strategy decisions that the data informs. As an entrepreneurial and growing nonprofit, NVAHI seeks an energetic, flexible, and creative team member to help us grow our impact. The compensation range for this position is$45,000-$60,000/year depending on experience. This position is remote and requires a personal computer, phone, and access to the internet. Application: For those interested in applying, please send a resume, cover letter, and references to National Policy Director Audrey Kline at ​audrey@voteathome.org​ with subject line “Policy Associate”

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.

Research Fellow, Democracy Works— The Research team collects and standardizes information on how voting works—how to register, how to vote, and when and where elections are happening. Streamlining democracy in this way requires quite a bit of knowledge: what form you use to register to vote in Wyoming, to whom you mail your absentee ballot application in Maine, and whether there’s an election taking place in Oklahoma RIGHT NOW (there probably is!). This information is used by various consumers, both internal and external. 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. As a part of the team, you will work with the Data Project Manager and Director of Election Research to conduct research outreach for the Voting Information Project, contacting thousands of state and local election officials. You will: Conduct phone and email outreach to local election administrators to get accurate, up-to-date information on elections; Compile the election information into a detailed spreadsheet; Perform quality assurance checks on the information to assure accuracy and completeness of the data; Research user-reported errors; and assist the election research team with other tasks, as they arise. Salary: $13,000 for 13 week fellowship (paid in semi-monthly installments). 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.

Vice President of Election Operations, Center for Internet Security— Reporting to the Executive Vice President for Operations and Security Services (OSS), the Vice President of Election Operations will oversee all elections-related efforts within CIS, most importantly the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EI-ISAC) and related elections community support sponsored by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). This position will also manage election-related projects and activities that are funded by third parties or self-funded by CIS. The Vice President of Election Operations will lead an organization comprised of the CIS staff working on election-related efforts and will be responsible for outreach to U.S. state, local, tribal, and territorial election offices as well as private sector companies, researchers, and nonprofit organizations involved in supporting elections. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.

Marketplace

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