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September 17, 2020

September 17, 2020

In Focus This Week

FVAP Voting Ambassador Program
Pilot program provides direct assistance to military and overseas voters

By Sean Greene, voting ambassador
Federal Voting Assistance Program

electionline alum Sean Greene.

Rome, Italy – When people think of Italy they think of the food, the wine, the history, the art, and the culture. And since I moved to Rome two years ago, I have thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of those things. But Italy also has a significant amount of something else – American citizens. According to an estimate from the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), in 2016 there were more than 70,000 American citizens of voting age in Italy, ranking ninth in the world.

An FVAP pilot program, the Voting Ambassador program launched earlier this year, is designed to provide direct assistance to those citizens as well as members of the military and their families. And this program is not just in Italy, it is also being piloted by my colleagues Deana Vranas in Japan and Kayla Paulson in the United Kingdom, with even greater numbers of Americans living in those countries.

The goal of the program is exactly what FVAP’s overall mission states, ”to ensure Service members, their eligible family members, and overseas citizens are aware of their right to vote and have the tools and resources to successfully do so – from anywhere in the world.”

The program was planned prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 and like for everyone, this changed plans. But working with partners here, using social media, virtual meetings, and most recently in-person events (following Italian COVID-19 protocols), I have been able to directly reach out to Americans all over Italy including outreach at:

Working with the U.S. consulate general in Florence to help American citizens with the overseas voting process.

My colleagues in London and Tokyo have also been working non-stop to reach out to Americans there, including events – virtual and in person – at universities, with military family members, with U.S. embassies and consulates, and with American social clubs.

At these events we have provided specific information and guidance related to the three R’s of the overseas voting process – registering to vote, requesting an absentee ballot, and returning that ballot. We have pointed people to FVAP’s online tool to assist military and overseas voters to register to vote and request their absentee ballot using one form, the Federal Postcard Application (FPCA). We have also shared FVAP’s in-depth voting assistance guide which provides state-specific guidance on many topics including (but not limited to) how to complete the FPCA, options for returning the ballot, and important deadlines.

The most common question I have received from Americans in Italy is, “What is my U.S. voting address?” This information is required to register to vote and request a ballot from overseas and is also nicely addressed by FVAP’s Frequently Asked Questions. For military voters, it is usually the last address the person lived at in their state of legal

At the U.S. Army Garrison in Vicenza assisting members of the military and their families.

residence. For overseas citizens, it is usually the last place a person lived at in the U.S. before moving overseas. One does not need to have any current ties with this address.

Another common question I hear is “When will I get my ballot?” The answer for those who have already requested their ballot is very soon. Per federal law, election offices are required to start sending out requested absentee ballots to military and overseas voters this Saturday, September 19th.  For those who have requested their ballots to be emailed to them, they should check their inboxes this weekend.

In addition to providing guidance to forms and processes, one of the advantages of being local is I am somewhat familiar with daily life here and can have a regular back and forth (in the same time zone!) with Americans about more specific topics such as the Italian postal system and where and how to print out voting materials. People can get in touch with me as many times as they need whenever they need, and in Rome this includes my standing offer to drop off hard copies of forms and envelopes in person to those who want them – which I have done!

All of this has been made easier thanks to the U.S. embassy here in Rome and the consulate general offices in Florence, Milan, and Naples. They have been incredibly welcoming and supportive and they have staff who are committed to assisting Americans in the voting process and have years of experience doing so.

I am incredibly proud to play a small part helping members of the military, their families, and U.S. citizens living overseas navigate the absentee voting process. And in the coming weeks my colleagues and I look forward to continuing that support and upholding FVAP’s mission of ensuring Americans in Italy and across the world are aware of their right to vote and have the tools and resources to successfully do so.

Note: As a pilot initiative, FVAP is curious about the overall value of the Ambassador program going forward and will feature more information in its 2020 Report to Congress.


Our Say

Attacks on mail ballots not grounded in facts
Mail-in ballots are a safe, secure, and implementable solution

By The Hon. Paul D. López is clerk and recorder
City and County of Denver

The ongoing attacks on mail ballots from the president and his allies are not grounded in fact. There is no evidence that mail ballots (a.k.a. absentee ballots) are more subject to fraud than other methods of voting, and there is virtually no chance that a foreign government could manipulate an election outcome by printing and returning fake mail-in ballots. The facts are that mail-in ballots are a safe, secure, and implementable solution that addresses many of the threats to our democracy, from the public health pandemic to foreign interference.

First, a key component to a successful mail ballot election is accurate voter rolls. States with mail ballots conduct thorough list maintenance of voter registration records to ensure they do not waste resources mailing ballots to bad addresses or ineligible voters. In Denver, that list maintenance is done nightly through automatic registration updates from the Department of Motor Vehicle. We couple that with monthly updates using data from the USPS National Change of Address program, Department of Public Health, and the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a multistate partnership to ensure accurate voter registration rolls.

Second, mail balloting is more resilient to election threats than traditional in-person polling place voting. All ballots are cast on hand-marked paper ballots, and safeguards in our election system make it impossible for fake ballots printed by any outside entity, including a foreign government, to be tabulated. In Colorado, we conduct rigorous risk limiting audits that use statistical models to ensure the correct winner was declared. Mail ballots also are not subject to weather or other natural disaster disruptions like traditional Election Day voting. And, most importantly, voting a mail ballot at home does not put a voter’s life at risk during a public health crisis.

To further protect the integrity of the election in Colorado, we adhere to strict signature verification when processing cast ballots. Voters must sign their ballot affidavit every time they vote in Colorado, and every signature is verified by bipartisan teams of election judges. In Denver, we conduct thorough signature verification training with a former FBI handwriting expert to ensure our election judges are well trained.

Critics are right to point out that signature verification has the potential to disenfranchise voters, particularly those with changing or deteriorating signatures. In Colorado, if a voter’s signature is found discrepant, the voter has up to eight days after the election to fix the issue. And we make it as easy as possible by enabling voters to return their signature cure affidavit from a smart phone.

In order to safely and securely implement a mail ballot election, state and local election administrators need time and resources to develop procedures, invest in equipment, and train their personnel. And they need the support of lawmakers to ensure that legislative restrictions don’t impede the ability to safely and efficiently process mail ballots so that voters have time to vote them and so that election results can be reported in a timely way. Rather than attack a voting model that has the potential to protect the right to vote for all eligible citizens, the president and members of Congress in both parties must join forces now to stop the misinformation about this important option, and to provide needed investments to ensure states and local election officials can safely add mail ballots to the menu of options for voters in November.

(Paul López is the Denver City Clerk and Recorder in Colorado. López assumed office on July 15, 2019 after winning in the general runoff election on June 4, 2019. Before running for clerk, López was a member of the Denver City Council, representing District 3 from 2007 until July 2019.)

Stewards of Democracy, Part III

Chance and technology in election administration
Different challenges at different scales

By Paul Manson
Early Voting Information Center

The legal, administrative, and political landscape of election administration has experienced rapid change over the past two decades. Each election seems to bring a new set of challenges, prompting another wave of change and reform.

In light of these pressures, we asked local election officials (LEOs) to share their experiences navigating this shifting landscape.

In this week’s post we explore what LEOs think about policy change and how technology has impacted election administration. Our previous blog posts highlighted the enormous variation in size across jurisdictions. This variability impacts workload, election-related responsibilities, and professional satisfaction. Size also impacts attitudes about reform, change, and technology.

LEOs Want to Be Involved and Consulted

When reforms occur, LEOs are often left out of the conversation. This was reflected strongly in our survey. LEOs told us that those working at the front line were seldom included in legislative debates over new laws and procedures.

Among the comments we received:

“I would like the legislature to consult local election officials before implementing changes and actually pay attention to our concerns.”

“Our legislators keep making changes to election law without consulting those of us that are in the trenches every day. Making our job more difficult and sometimes making it more difficult for our voters.”

LEOs Support More Standardization

In the 2018 survey, we provided LEOs a change to speak “in their own voices” about how ways they would change or reform election administration.

One theme that came up regularly was standardization. LEOs told us that different laws, rules, and procedures within and across states, and, in a few cases, different elections over the year, was something they’d like to see addressed. At the same time, other LEOs shared with us some frustrations that they had insufficient flexibility to adapt to their local environment.

In the 2019 survey, we took these ideas and gave the full sample a chance to weigh in on various ways to streamline, standardize, and reform election administration.

LEOs expressed a clear preference for standardization of election rules and procedures. 72% want to standardize election administration across their state, and 66% want to do so across the nation.

We are not arguing that LEOs necessarily believe that “one size fits all” in election administration. Rather we think the survey responses provide a counterweight to the frequently made claim that, in election administration, one size does not fit all.  As the Presidential Commission on Election Administration found in 2014, the truth surely lies somewhere in the middle.

In contrast to the responses on standardization, we found far fewer LEOs endorsed the idea of allowing different rules and procedures in rural and urban areas. 48% opposed differentiating the rules and only 30% endorsed the idea of a different set of rules. (The remaining 22% were unsure.)

In addition to these ideas which percolated upwards from our survey, we also asked about a set of reforms that regularly appear during debates of election reform:

  • 61% of LEOs support consolidating local, state, and federal elections to take place at the same time. Only 16% opposed this idea, with the remaining 22% neutral to the idea.
  • Making Election Day a holiday and Election Day registration divided our respondents evenly, and 21% were neutral.
  • 68% of LEOs opposed moving Election Day to a weekend, with only 15% supporting the idea.
  • Internet/online voting has little support: 75% of LEOs oppose the idea and 12% support it.

Respondents shared in their comments that poll worker recruitment and line management influenced their opinion on changing the date for Election Day.  Those who supported it said that a holiday or weekend Election Day might broaden who can or is willing to volunteer as a poll worker, and increase options for LEOs.

There is Cautious Optimism on Technology

LEOs tend to express positive–if cautious–views about new election technologies. 69% of respondents agreed that new technology has “dramatically improved election administration” for their jurisdiction, and 52% agreed that the benefits outweigh the risks of new election technology. When asked about the timeliness of new technology, 64% say that “it is best to wait until all the bugs have been worked out.”

This caution does not appear to translate into a desire to slow down: only 13% of our respondents agree that the country has “moved too quickly to adopt new election technologies.”

Not all jurisdictions are equal when it comes to accepting new technologies. Figure 1 shows that LEOs in larger jurisdictions are more likely to express “pro-technology” views than those in smaller jurisdictions. 65% of LEOs from small jurisdictions agree that new tech has “dramatically improved election administration” for their jurisdiction, while over 90% of LEOs in the largest jurisdictions agree with the statement.

We suspect the difference in opinions about technology is driven by their professional experiences and work environment. For larger jurisdictions (> 250,000 registered voters), technological changes may have arrived earlier and were more easily integrated into their workflow because, as we saw last week, larger jurisdictions are more likely to have their own dedicated IT staff and other personnel to help them manage these changes.

Looking Ahead – Involving Local Officials and Sharing Experiences

What do these messages on change and technology tell us about election administration and election reform in the United Staes?

First, LEOs are not averse to change or reform. The pain point for local officials is when change is too rapid, without sufficient consultation and with inadequate funding.

Second, LEOs should be involved earlier in policy debates. This gives legislators the opportunity to hear what has worked well and what has worked less well at the “street level”.  As one LEO wrote, they would:

“[E]ncourage state and federal legislators to volunteer during elections to gain knowledge and value to proposed legislative change and how those changes may impact election facilitation.”

Third, one way to engage local officials is through their state associations and other professional organizations. These organizations can help bridge the gap between legislatures and administrators and make sure both sides, if they don’t see exactly eye to eye, at least listen to one another.

Next week we will return with our final installment from the 2019 Survey of Local Election Officials. We will share the experience of LEOs in working directly with voters and their perspectives on supporting voters throughout the election process.


Safe Election Administration Grants

CTCL issues open call for grants aimed at safe election administration during COVID-19
Project will support poll worker training and recruitment, PPE for poll workers, early voting, and vote by mail

Backed by a generous $250M contribution, the nonpartisan Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), has announced a grant program to help local election officials administer elections this year in the midst of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

The grants will help ensure the local election jurisdictions across the country have the staffing, training, and equipment necessary so this November every eligible voter can participate in a safe and timely way and have their vote counted.

“We all depend on election officials to provide safe and secure voting options to the public. Unfortunately, election departments face unprecedented challenges in 2020 due to COVID-19”, said Center for Tech and Civic Life Executive Director Tiana Epps-Johnson. “This expansion of our COVID-19 Response Grant program provides our country’s election officials and poll workers with the critical resources they need to safely serve every voter”.

The minimum any local jurisdiction can receive is $5,000. The open call, along with additional information and the application can be found at https://www.techandciviclife.org/grants/

This grant program will enable localities to prepare for and administer safe elections by investing in priorities that would otherwise be challenging to accomplish — such as securely opening an adequate number of voting sites; setting up drive-thru and drop box locations; providing PPE for poll workers; and recruiting and training a sufficient number of poll workers.

Election offices can use the funds to cover certain 2020 expenses incurred between June 15, 2020 and December 31, 2020. These include the costs associated with the safe administration of the following election responsibilities. Program areas include:

Ensure Safe, Efficient Election Day Administration

  • Maintain open in-person polling places on Election Day
  • Procure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and personal disinfectant to protect election officials and voters from COVID-19
  • Support and expand drive-thru voting, including purchase of additional signage, tents, traffic control, walkie-talkies, and safety measures

Expand Voter Education & Outreach Efforts

  • Publish reminders for voters to verify and update their address, or other voter registration information, prior to the election
  • Educate voters on safe voting policies and procedures

Launch Poll Worker Recruitment, Training & Safety Efforts

  • Recruit and hire a sufficient number of poll workers and inspectors to ensure polling places are properly staffed, utilizing hazard pay where required
  • Provide voting facilities with funds to compensate for increased site cleaning and sanitization costs
  • Deliver updated training for current and new poll workers administering elections in the midst of pandemic

Support Early In-Person Voting and Vote by Mail

  • Expand or maintain the number of in-person early voting sites
  • Deploy additional staff and/or technology improvements to expedite and improve mail ballot processing

The Center for Tech and Civic Life is a nationally-recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization of civic technologists, trainers, researchers, election administration and data experts working to help modernize U.S. elections.  CTCL connects election officials with guidance, expertise, tools, and trainings so they can best serve their communities, and ensure that elections are more professional, safe, and secure.  CTCL works with the federal government, as well as local and state governments of all sizes across the nation and regardless of partisanship to highlight best practices and create easy-to-use resources for administrators.


Election 2020 Updates

Delaware: The First State didn’t live up to its nickname when it became the last state in the country to hold a 2020 statewide primary this week, but now we’re done and just like most of the later primary states, while large numbers of Delawareans voted by mail, some did vote in-person. In Wilmington connectivity issues caused about a 20-minute delay when polls opened at 7 a.m. A voting machine also struggled to read activation cards. Several last-minute polling place changes caused confusion in New Castle County. Social distancing caused some problems with lines.  “Looking at this now,” a voter told Delaware Online while standing in line to vote. “I kind of wanted to vote in person just to make sure that it got done correctly, but I predict that if the lines are like this for the primary there’ll be a lot worse for the general election.” In Smyrna, voter Joseph Barnhardt said he felt better voting in-person. “I believe in being old school, and with everything in the news about the mail-in system, I wanted to make sure my vote counts so I had to come out this morning,” he told The Capital Daily. Also in Smyrna, voter Inglish Short brought her 3- and 6-year-old with her for a lesson in democracy. “When we were in the booth, I told him that when we vote, it’s private, and I showed him how to push the button because I think it’s important that he knows that,” she told the paper. Sussex County election judge Phil Suchanek told WMDT that turnout was light his polls, but voting safety was a high priority. “The machines are wiped down. Every time somebody goes through, even the pens we will wipe them down each time, and everybody’s very, very careful,” said Suchanek. Delaware recorded a record voter turnout of 32.26 percent statewide, a number higher than usual for a primary. “There was no hiccups. Everything worked the way it was supposed to, and I think that’s just the way it’s going to be for the future,” said Sussex County Department of Elections Director Bo McDowell.

Election News This Week

Plans for November: Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea has announced that every active, registered voter in the state will receive an absentee ballot application. Additionally, Gov. Gina Raimondo has authorized the Rhode Island National Guard to assist in processing mail ballot applications this year. The Pennsylvania Department of State has issued new guidance to counties that mail-in ballots should not be discarded based solely on what a signature looks like on the ballot’s outer envelope.



And the winner is… The National Task Force on Election Crises, a consortium of election experts and academics, is urging major media outlets to detail how they plan to account for the expected surge of mail ballots in how they project winners, and are pleading for caution with calling a victor when results may still be inconclusive on election night. According to Politico, the task force sent letters to The Associated Press, Fox News and the National Election Pool, which includes the three broadcast networks and CNN, calling for the outlets to detail four things publicly: how they’re adapting their underlying exit polling data and voter surveys to account for an increase in mail ballots; how they’ll contextualize discrepancies from results released on Election Day and final results; how they’ll protect their decision desks from internal and external pressure on making election calls; and how they’ll cover a politician who declares victory before the outlets project a winner. “With a record number of mail-in and absentee ballots expected this election cycle because of the coronavirus pandemic, it is imperative for newsrooms to be transparent about their modeling and how they are accounting for an increase in vote by mail,” Avery Davis-Roberts, the associate director of the democracy program at The Carter Center and a member of the task force, said in a statement. “If the American electorate understands how the media will be addressing these challenges, they will have more trust in our democratic process.”

Ballot Tracking: In an effort to bolster voters’ confidence in the mail voting process, a number of states and counties have implemented or beefed up ballot tracking for the November general election. In Colorado voters in all 64 counties are now able to track their ballots via phone, email or text. In Wilson County, Tennessee the county is offering ballot tracking for the first time. “Implementing a system for our office and voters to track their ballot adds a level of confidence and accountability to absentee voting. This is one more way we protect the integrity of every vote cast in Wilson County,” Wilson County Election Administrator Phillip Warren told The Lebanon Democrat. Cape Girardeau County, Missouri is also adding a ballot tracking feature to the county’s elections website. “We just want to put information out there, put tools out there to help them to make that available at their fingertips so they can feel like they have the information they need to cast a ballot,” Elections Supervisor Allen Seabaugh told KFVS. Even New York City has launched a ballot tracking system. 

Public Opinion: A poll from The Washington Post/University of Maryland, conducted by Ipsos, has found that about six in 10 registered voters nationwide say they want to cast their ballots before Election Day. According the poll, fear of the coronavirus and doubts about the reliability of mail voting after months of attacks from the president are weighing heavily on Americans as they decide how to safely ensure their vote will be counted in this fall’s presidential election. Even as more voters want to mail their ballots than in 2016, just over 3 in 10 say they are “very confident” that their vote will be counted accurately if they vote by mail, compared with nearly 7 in 10 who say the same about voting in person on Election Day. The survey also reveals a sharp racial disparity in perceptions of election integrity, with 71 percent of Black Americans saying it is easier for White citizens to vote than Black citizens compared to 34 percent of Whites who believe that to be the case. Similarly, 71 percent of Black voters say they prefer voting before Election Day, whereas 58 percent of White voters say the same. In another poll, this one from Fox News, more than 60 percent of likely voters were OK with the possibility of not knowing the results of the election on Election Night. The poll found only 29 percent of likely voters expect to know on election night if the president won a second term or if his Democratic challenger succeeded in unseating him. Another 20 percent said they expected to know by the next day, 19 percent said it would probably be two to three days before a winner is declared and 27 percent said it would be longer than three days. When asked if they were “comfortable” with not knowing the result on Nov. 3, 27% said they were “very” comfortable and 34% said “somewhat” comfortable. Overall, 36% were not comfortable with the idea (21% “not very” and 14% “not at all”). 

Coronavirus: The Fayette County, Kentucky clerk’s elections department has been dealt a “devastating setback” as an employee tested positive for COVID-19, causing the department to temporarily shut down. Initially County Clerk Don Blevins said the closure would cause a delay in mailing out ballots to those who have already requested them, however on Tuesday Blevins said he was implementing a contingency plan so a “COVID-19 illness in the Fayette County Clerk’s Elections Department will have no impact on the mailing of absentee ballots or voting.” Blevins said the affected employees have now been outfitted to work remotely. Election officers have been hired to create the ballot packages. The officers were not exposed, and remain hard at work, he said. Blevins also turned to the City to find a solution to quickly mitigate the impact of the illness. “I am very fortunate to have partners that we can leverage quickly. Together, we have managed to dodge the proverbial bullet,” Blevins said. The only unresolved issue is that the election department phones have not been extended remotely. The clerk’s office is working on a solution.

Personnel News: Daniel J. Vogler has been appointed to the Pennsylvania Elections Law Advisory Board. Tara Hampton has been terminated as the Santa Cruz County, Arizona elections director. Emily C. DeVane has resigned as the Sampson County, North Carolina elections director. Dino Ninotti is the new deputy director of elections for Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.  Teresa Burr, Franklin, Massachusetts town clerk has resigned follow issues with the September primary. “I am resigning to re-establish confidence with the voters of this community in their elections,” Burr wrote in a letter to the town council Friday. “After the events of the past three months, this election season has been the most challenging election cycle in my career.”

Election Security Updates

Security Briefings: The Trump administration’s top intelligence official will brief the congressional intelligence committees in person on threats to the November election, officials said, after moving last month to curtail updates to lawmakers about threats to the 2020 contest. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe agreed to give both the House and the Senate intelligence committees the briefings.

Nebraska: On Monday Hall County Elections Commissioner Tracy Overstreet received a “suspicious package” that temporarily forced the evacuation of the Hall County Administration Building where the elections office is located. According to The Grand Island Independent, the FBI and local authorities are investigating. “FBI Omaha agents in Grand Island are working with our law enforcement partners from several agencies regarding the suspicious package found at the Hall County Administration building. We cannot comment further at this time,” Amy Adams, FBI Omaha public affairs officer, said in a statement. “Especially with everything that’s going on right now, it is a serious concern. This is early in the whole election process,” County Clerk Marla Conley told the paper. “It is unnerving, but we’ve got our plan, we have it in place, and we knew what we had to do.”

Legislative Updates

Federal Legislation: The House unanimously passed bipartisan legislation intended to boost research into the security of election infrastructure.  The Election Technology Research Act would establish and fund a Center of Excellence in Election Systems at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to test the security and accessibility of voting equipment, along with authorizing NIST and the National Science Foundation to carry out research on further securing voting technology. The House Science, Space and Technology Committee approved the bill last year. The timing for consideration of the bill in the Senate is unclear. 

Michigan: By a 34-2 vote the Senate has approved Senate Bill 757 that will allow clerks to start processing absentee ballots the day before Election Day. The bill does not allow clerks to start counting absentee ballots. Rather, the bill allows clerks to remove absentee ballots from their outer envelopes and start sorting them for counting on Election Day. The ballots need to remain in their secrecy sleeves until the morning of Election Day; if a ballot is not included in a secrecy sleeve, the bill allows clerks to place these ballots in a sleeve. The bill only allows cities with at least 25,000 residents to start processing ballots the day before the 2020 general election and no other election. The bill still needs to be passed by the state House and be signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to become law. 

New Jersey: Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Trenton) this week introduced a measure would bar district election boards from requesting law enforcement be stationed at polling places, prevent such officers from being assigned to enforce election laws or help carry ballot boxes and make law enforcement officials ineligible to sit on district boards of elections or as challengers. “We are in unprecedented times in this nation,” Reynolds-Jackson said. “A voter’s right to cast their ballot in person may very well be jeopardized as made clear in the commentary by the President. Voter intimidation tactics and suppression has no place in New Jersey. We’ve seen the punitive effects of these anti-civil rights strategies in other states as well as in New Jersey in the past.”

Ohio: The state’s Controlling Board voted 4-2 to deny a request by Secretary of State Frank LaRose for $3 million in funding to pay for return postage for November general election ballots. “This should be a legislative issue,” said GOP state Sen. Bob Peterson, voicing the key argument that sank the spending appeal. State Sen. Bill Coley, another Republican, said LaRose’s request was going beyond the authority given to his office by lawmakers and asking them to “look the other way.” LaRose appeared personally at their virtual hearing to make his case, arguing strongly that it was within the law. “A no vote today is a no vote that is over the objection of our bipartisan election officials and over my objection as the state’s chief elections officer,” LaRose said.

South Carolina: The House voted 115-1 this week during a special session to approve rule changes for absentee voting. The House agreed with a Senate bill passed earlier this month that allowed anyone to request an absentee ballot without providing a specific excuse. Normally, there is a much narrower list of reasons for voting absentee. The bill still requires a witness signature despite objections from many Democratic lawmakers who said it jeopardizes voters’ health, and could impede the right to vote. The measure has been signed by Gov. Henry McMaster. A spokesperson McMaster said the governor will sign it. “The bill strikes a good balance between protecting South Carolinians and the integrity of the voting process,” said Brian Symmes, McMaster’s Communications Director. 

Vermont: After a failed attempt to put ranked-choice voting on the November ballot, the Burlington City Council will revisit the issue in an attempt to put the issue to a vote in March 2021.  Three councilors are pushing to put the question on the March 2021 ballot to let voters decide if they want to reinstate it ranked-choice voting in city elections. The City Council voted 6-5 in July to put the question on the November ballot, but weeks later, Mayor Miro Weinberger struck it down, saying it’s too expensive to create a separate ballot. He also said ranked-choice voting is too divisive to focus on during a contentious presidential election. The resolution also calls on the city clerk to set public hearings to ensure voters have the information they need to make an educated decision on ranked-choice voting.

Legal Updates

Arizona: The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that the Maricopa County recorder cannot instruct voters to cross out mistakes on their ballots for the November election. Arizona Public Integrity Alliance, a conservative political nonprofit, sued Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes over a new instruction included with ballots mailed to voters in March and August. A Superior Court judge ruled that Maricopa County had likely violated the law, but said it would be logistically difficult to change the instructions this close to the election. The state Supreme Court disagreed and ordered that the county cannot include the instruction with ballots for the Nov. 3 general election.

Also in Arizona, U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Rayes has ruled that Arizona voters who forget to sign their early ballots before mailing them get up to five days after the election to fix the problem. The ruling sided with state and federal Democratic groups who argued it was unfair for election officials not to allow voters to “cure” those ballots. They argued that ballots with mismatched signatures should get five days to be fixed. But unsigned ballots are discarded if they are not corrected by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Judge Murray Snow denied a request by President Donald J. Trump’s re-election campaign to argue against a lawsuit seeking to ensure mail ballots from the Navajo Nation are counted even if they arrive late. The campaign and various local and national Republican Party entities argued that they can’t count on Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs to represent their interests in the case. But Snow ruled that the campaign, the GOP and Hobbs have all taken the same position against allowing more time to count ballots from the Navajo Nation. He also denied a request by a liberal group, the Arizona Advocacy Network, to join the case. The group had hoped to argue in favor of counting all late-arriving ballots statewide.

Colorado: Late last week, Secretary of State Jena Griswold sued the U.S. Postal Service to prevent the agency from sending out an informational mailer about voting by  mail that Griswold argued had misinformation for states like Colorado that are largely vote-by-mail. U.S. District Judge William Martinez agreed and temporarily barred USPS from sending the mailer. “The Court recognizes that removing the (mailer) from circulation may impose limited burdens on Defendants. Such burdens, however, pale in comparison to the potential disenfranchisement of registered voters within Colorado,” Martinez wrote. The mailer, already received by some Colorado voters, “provides false or misleading information about the manner of Colorado’s elections by stating that voters should ‘[r]equest [their] mail-in ballot (often called ‘absentee’ ballot) at least 15 days before Election Day’ and ‘mail [their] ballot at least 7 days before Election Day,” the ruling said. Although Colorado was the only state to sue to stop the mailing, a number states had to come out with statements to explain that the mailing either didn’t apply to voters in that state at all or did so, sorta.

Florida: In a 6-4 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. overturned a judge’s ruling that people with felony convictions don’t have to pay off all court fees and fines before voting, dealing a setback to advocates for 2018′s Amendment 4. The panel ruled that the plaintiffs did not prove a violation of the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs included more than a dozen people with felony convictions who accused Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida lawmakers of imposing a “poll tax” by requiring them to pay off all court-ordered costs relating to their felony convictions before voting. “Because the felons failed to prove a violation of the Constitution, we reverse the judgment of the district court and vacate the challenged portions of its injunction,” Judge William Pryor wrote for the majority.

Iowa: Judge Ian Thornhill has ruled that thousands of Johnson County absentee ballot applications that were sent out with much of the information already populated, are invalid. The decision requires Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert to void any absentee ballot application with pre-filled information returned to his office and notify voters that their request is not valid. Voters must resend a new request form in order to vote absentee by mail in November. At least 15,000 request forms pre-populated with voter’s personal information, including voter PIN numbers, were returned to the Johnson County auditor’s office last week. Voter’s four-digit PIN numbers, driver’s license numbers or other valid ID numbers are required on these forms as part of Iowa’s Voter ID law.

Louisiana: U.S. Chief District Judge Shelly Dick of Louisiana’s Middle District Court in Baton Rouge granted expanded use of mail-in ballots for the November election, ruling Wednesday that Louisiana must allow voters to cast ballots by mail if they certify they are quarantining for COVID-19 or at risk because of underlying health conditions. The ruling will allow Louisiana’s voters to request absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 general election and Dec. 5 runoff if they personally certify they are COVID-positive, quarantining pending COVID-19 test results, at greater risk because of comorbidities or caring for someone who fits those criteria. It will also require early voting for the Nov. 3 election to be held 10 days from Oct. 16, through Oct. 27, excluding Sundays, after prior plans limited early voting to a standard seven-day period.

Michigan: Genesee Circuit Judge Celeste Bell granted the Flint’s motion for summary disposition of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and Flint residents, despite a request to keep the case open to handle potential election issues in the next several weeks. “I don’t see how trying to connect the November election to the August election helps anyone,” Bell said during a hearing in the case Monday. In late July, Bell had ordered Flint Clerk Inez Brown to carry out state election law related to absentee voting, including clearing a backlog of more than 1,000 requests for absentee ballots in 72 hours in response to the ACLU lawsuit.

Also in Michigan this week, a state appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has the right to send unsolicited absentee ballot applications to all of the state’s registered voters.

New Jersey: In a legal filing this week, the re-election campaign for President Donald J. Trump asked U.S. District Court Judge Michael Shipp to move quickly to prevent New Jersey from counting mail-in ballots starting 10 days before the election. The filing also seeks to bar elections officials from accepting mail-in ballots that do not have a postmark for two days after Election Day. The campaign and its co-plaintiffs, the Republican National Committee and the New Jersey Republican State Committee, filed an “an order to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not issue” — its first move to hasten the lawsuit they filed Aug. 18. But the motion, signed by state Sen. Michael Testa (R-Cumberland), does not seek to immediately pause the larger plans for a mail-in election, despite the Trump campaign’s claims it violates the U.S. Constitution and three federal laws.

North Carolina: North Carolina’s elections board won’t try to stop enforcement of a court ruling that would allow more convicted felons to vote this fall, state Attorney General Josh Stein announced Thursday. Legislators still could appeal last week’s decision, however. Stein said in a news release that the state elections board is identifying the qualifying individuals and ultimately would provide information to them on how to register. People who want to vote on Election Day or receive a mail-in ballot must register by Oct. 9. Others can register and vote at the same time at early in-person voting sites open Oct. 15-31.

Also in North Carolina, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled this week that the state legislature had the authority in 2018 to place two Constitutional amendments on the ballot, one capping income tax and the other calling for voter ID. However, the ruling doesn’t mean that people will have to show a photo ID when they vote this year according to the News & Observer. There are two other ongoing lawsuits where judges have found North Carolina’s voter ID law appears to be unconstitutional, one in state court and one in federal court. As long as those other lawsuits and legal rulings continue to block voter ID from going into place, people will be able to vote without having to show ID first. The new ruling Tuesday — which dealt with the process by which the two amendments were passed, not their actual substance — can’t override those other court cases.

Republican members of the Watauga County board of elections have filed suit in Wake County over the state board of elections decision to approve an early voting site on the campus of Appalachian State University. Watauga Board members Eric Eller and Nancy Owen re arguing that Watauga County BOE Chair Jane Hodges was not acting on behalf of the full board when she notified App State that they would request the Blue Ridge Ballroom as an early voting site.  “The general statute requires that the local board of elections request the use of a building 90 days in advance of the time of voting, the time of voting being Oct. 15,” said Nathan Miller, the lawyer representing Eller and Owen. “Since the board didn’t do it, the state board has zero statutory authority to essentially seize the building and take control from ASU.”  

Ohio: Common Pleas Judge Stephen L. McIntosh has ruled that elections officials must allow voters to apply for absentee ballots online. The current system allows voters to request an absentee ballot application online, but the actual application itself must be printed off and filled out in ink before being physically delivered to a county elections office. McIntosh’s Friday ruling says the state must allow voters to fill out a physical form and email an image or fax it to their county elections office. “In reviewing the plain language of the statute, absentee ballot applications must be in writing and need not be in any particular form,” McIntosh wrote. “The statute does not address in what form the boards of elections are to receive absentee ballot applications. The statute only requires that the applications be made in writing.” On Friday, an appeals court halted McIntosh’s order and called for both sides to submit responses by Sept. 23.

Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye has ruled that Ohio’s county boards of elections have the authority to have multiple drop boxes for placement of absentee ballots by voters. “This restriction blocks individual county boards of elections from even considering the use of more than one drop box, or placing boxes at locations separate from board offices,” the judge wrote. “Given the ambiguity [of state law], this is not required by law. “Instead, every board of elections is legally permitted to consider enhancing safe and convenient delivery of absentee ballots, and may tailor ballot drop box locations or conceivably other secure options to the needs of their individual county,” he wrote.

South Dakota: The Rosebud and Oglala Sioux tribes have partnered with Four Direction, Inc. a voting rights and advocacy group have sued the state claiming that the state violated the National Voter Registration Act by failing to provide opportunities to register voters and update voters’ registration information at motor vehicle agencies as well as public assistance offices.  The tribes claim it is the duty of these state agencies to provide services to “citizens who engage in common interactions with the offices.” “Because of these violations of the NVRA, South Dakota is depriving thousands of tribal members and other citizens of their federally guaranteed opportunities to register to vote and to change their voter registration addresses when these citizens interact with state agencies,” the 42-page complaint states.


Texas: A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas can keep its strict eligibility rules for voting by mail. Siding with the state’s Republican leadership, the appellate judges rejected the Texas Democratic Party’s effort to expand eligibility for voting by mail to all registered voters based on their argument that the state’s age restrictions for such voting violate the 26th Amendment’s protections against voting rules that discriminate based on age. The panel of appellate judges ultimately found that “conferring a privilege” to some voters — in this case the option of voting by mail to voters 65 and older — does not alone violate the 26th Amendment.

 Judge R.K. Sandill ruled that Harris County can move forward with its plan to send every registered voter an application to request a mail-in ballot for the November general election. Sandill rejected the Texas attorney general’s request for a temporary injunction blocking the plan. In his ruling, Sandill shot down the state’s claim that Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins was acting outside of his authority by sending out the applications and that the move would harm voters. “The Legislature has spoken at length on the mechanisms for mail-in voting. There are no fewer than 42 Election Code provisions on the subject,” Sandill wrote. “In those provisions, the Legislature has made clear that in order to vote by mail a voter first ‘must make an application for an early voting ballot.’ But, as to how the voter is to obtain the application, the Election Code is silent.” The state has appealed the ruling. And on Tuesday, the state Supreme Court granted the Texas attorney general’s request to temporarily halt the county’s mailing of applications while the case is appealed.

 A Texas Supreme Court ruling returning Green Party candidates to the November ballot will cost McLennan County some green, as more than 8,000 absentee ballots ready for distribution will have to be scrapped and re-produced with the candidates included. The county could spend thousands extra, just for mail-in ballot materials and postage to comply with the last-minute wrangling in the courts, based on a breakdown provided by McLennan County Elections Administrator Kathy Van Wolfe showing 25 cents to produce each ballot, 10 cents each for envelopes and labels, and 65 cents each for postage. That is in addition to days of already complete staff work that will have to be repeated. “We have to start over,” Van Wolfe told the Waco Tribune-Herald. “We may have to work around the clock, but we will get it done. We had 8,100 mail-in ballots sitting in a car, ready to be carried to the Post Office, when we were notified of what happened. We’ve already been getting calls from people wanting to know about their ballot, asking, ‘When am I going to get it?’ Well, it’s going to be a little longer now, probably the end of the month.”

Vermont: U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford rejected a challenge to Vermont’s plan to mail ballots to all of the state’s active voters so they can cast ballots by mail or in person for the November election. In a one-page judgment filed this week, Crawford denied the motion for a preliminary injunction to block the system and he dismissed the lawsuit filed by five Vermonters. Crawford did tell the people challenging the vote-by-mail system, including a town clerk and a former Republican state representative, they had 30 days to file a notice of appeal.


Wisconsin: Late last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court put a halt to ballot mailing as it considered whether or not have ballots reprinted to include a Green Party candidate for president. On Monday the court ruled that the candidate will not appear on the November ballot thus greenlighting the sending of absentee ballots.

Tech Thursday

Drop Box Locator: In advance of the 2020 election, Democracy Works’s Voting Information Project (VIP) will release comprehensive drop box locations throughout the country. VIP ensures that official voting locations and ballot information reach hundreds of millions of voters through the Google Civic Information API. VIP’s Voter Information Tool allows any organization to embed and share this data with their audience for free. And during the few weeks before the Election, VIP’s Get to the Polls website allows voters to find their official polling place, ballot drop box locations, and full ballot summary based on their residential address. The first round of drop box locations will be released the second week of October, with additional states added to the database as their drop box locations become finalized. 

Social Media: Twitter is launching a dedicated section within the app for voting information, including facts on mail-in ballots and how to register before the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election. The new voting center will appear inside the app’s “explore” section, and will incorporate tweets from a number of “nonpartisan voting advocacy groups,” according to a company spokesman, including Vote.org, Civic Alliance and JustVote. The hub will also show livestreams of election-related events, like debates, and a list of candidates running for election depending on a user’s location. Last week, Snapchat rolled out a slate of voting tools, including a feature for users to register to vote directly in the popular messaging app. Axios reported that 407,024 users registered to vote in the app by Monday evening. Snapchat has previously included in-app voter registration tools, and more than half of the users who registered through the service actually voted in 2018. Snapchat’s user base broadly encompasses people under the age of 30.

Opinions This Week

National Opinions: Election month | Ballot return options | Faith in democracy | U.S. Postal Service | Voting rights, II | Online voting | Smooth voting process | Vote by mail, II, III, IV, V, VI | Election process | Democracy | Election sabotage | Election meltdown | Poll workers, II, III, IV | Ranked choice voting | Long November | Early voting | Election night | Misinformation | Herd mentality

Arizona: Maricopa County

Colorado: U.S. Postal Service mailer

Connecticut: Election preparation

Florida: Election security | Miami-Dade County | 2000 election | Amendment 4, II

Georgia: Voting rights

Hawaii: Vote by mail

Idaho: Polling places

Indiana: Early voting | Vote by mail

Maryland: Voting safety

Massachusetts: Ranked choice voting

Michigan: Election night | Secretary of state

Mississippi: Election fraud

Montana: Secretary of state race, II | Vote by mail, II

New Hampshire: Voting legislation

New Jersey: Poll watchers | Voting system

New Mexico: Voter education

New York: Absentee voting

North Carolina: Election officials | General election | Poll workers

Oregon: Voting plan

Texas: Vote by mail | Satellite voting

Utah: Vote by mail;

Vermont: Secretary of state races

Virginia: Election process

Wisconsin: Absentee ballots | Poll workers

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Upcoming Events

Will the Election Be Legit: There are very real threats to our elections in November. A great deal of misinformation is spreading, and voters do not know where to look for trusted information. Increases in by-mail voting and safety concerns about voting in polling places have led to confusion about the best options to vote. All of these changes will likely lead to slower results reporting and the possibility of one or both parties dismissing official totals as fraudulent or illegitimate.  Please join The Bipartisan Policy Center as we discuss what’s fact and what’s fiction, and what we can still do to maintain the integrity of our elections this November. Featured Participants: Donna Brazile, Michael Steele, and Laurel Lee, Florida Secretary of State. Moderated by: Steve Scully. political editor, C-SPAN. When: September 18 2pm Eastern. Where: Online.

Worst Case Scenarios 2020: Any number of scenarios in November could lead to electoral uncertainty. What would happen if the parties disagree about who won the election and send competing slates of electors to Congress? Or what if the electors act “faithlessly” and vote for a candidate who didn’t win their state? Consider, too, a scenario where neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden gets an absolute majority in the electoral college. Or what happens if one of the candidates dies or gets sick after the election but before the electoral college votes are counted? To answer these and many other questions, join John Fortier, director of BPC’s Democracy Project and author of After the People Vote and Ned Foley, professor of law at Moritz College and author of Ballot Battles. When: Sept. 30; 3pm Eastern. 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.

Clerk, Douglas County, Colorado— This position (4 openings) serves as office support for the Elections Division of the Clerk and Recorder’s Office.  The Election Clerk provides customer service, assists with clerical functions, and performs data entry for voter registration.  Other duties in support of the conduct of elections or mail ballot processing may be assigned. Must be detail oriented, well organized, productive, and able to adapt in a high change environment. This role requires both independent judgment and the ability to work well as a part of a team. Professional representation of the Clerk and Recorder’s Office to the public is required to include standards outlined in the Vision, Mission, and Core Values of the Office. Provides daily customer service; answers phones; greets and serves in person customers; Performs general scanning, typing, filing, and collating functions; Performs complex data entry for new, changed, and canceled voter registrations; Performs verification and tracking of data entry; Assists with election judge coordination; Assists with processing incoming and outgoing mail; Administers state election laws and rules, and federal election laws to provide successful voting experience to staff and public; Maintains confidentiality of information consistent with applicable federal, state and county rules, and regulations; Provides support to election coordination, including deployment of materials to coordinating entities and Voter Service and Polling Center. This task may require operation of a motor vehicle; Assists with various special projects; Lives out the Vision, Mission, and Core Values of the Clerk and Recorder’s Office, maintains a supportive environment conducive to teamwork. Salary: 13.50 – 16.90 per hour. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.

Customer Success Manager, Dominion Voting Systems, Denver— The Customer Success Manager role started on a simple promise of transforming customer engagement from ‘reactive’ to ‘proactive’. Our CSM’s know that when our elections customers purchase Dominion Voting products that this is only the start of a meaningful exchange between Dominion Voting and our customers. Our CSM’s build value over time by balancing customer benefits and company profits. As the CSM, you will be the first voice of the customer and you will be responsible for the customer’s overall success, as defined by the customer. You will be successful in this role if you have superb people leadership skills, customer empathy, elections knowledge and experience, Dominion Voting product knowledge, and excellent project management skills. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.

Elections Administrator, Harris County, Texas— Harris County seeks an Elections Administrator to plan, coordinate, lead, and manage the newly established Office of the Elections Administrator under Chapter 31 of the Texas Election Code. The Elections Administrator will act as the county voter registrar, administer all local, state, and federal elections in Harris County, and oversee Harris County’s elections operations, including voter registration, public education and outreach, and recruitment and supervision of election judges and poll workers. The Elections Administrator will also work to modernize Harris County elections, expand access to registration and voting, and ensure voting is fair, easy, efficient, secure, and accessible for all eligible Harris County voters consistent with the Texas Election Code and Federal regulations. Deadline: Sept. 21. 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.



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