In Focus This Week
A polling place with a view
“Super” vote centers popping up coast to coast
By M. Mindy Moretti
Have a voting plan! From elections officials to candidates to celebrities, everyone is encouraging Americans to have a voting plan.
And I had a voting plan! As soon as I got my ballot from the D.C. Board of Elections I was going to fill it out and drop it in a local drop box. Easy peasy.
Then, full confession time, I found out that Nats Park will be a super vote center. As a decade-plus season ticket holder who hasn’t been able to set foot in Nats Park since Game 3 of the World Series in October of 2019 you can imagine my plans have changed (sorry Alice!).
Now some of the folks in my season ticket group and I will be voting early at Nats Park and enjoy a socially-distant adult beverage afterwards. Voting, beer and baseball, it’s about as American as you can get.
Vote centers have been around since making their debut in Colorado in 2003, but super vote centers are a 2020 phenomenon and from NFL stadiums, to NBA arenas to music venues to horse tracks, voting centers will take on a new look this year.
While these sites may be new for elections officials, the setup and prep isn’t really all that different from a regular vote center—even if the view is.
Los Angeles County is no stranger to unique polling places, and this year they lead the pack with voting everywhere from Dodger Stadium to Santa Anita Park to the Hollywood Bowl.
“The set-up is similar to our other vote centers; all of which have been chosen in larger spaces to ensure physical distancing for voter queuing and placement of equipment,” explained Los Angeles County, California Clerk, Recorder, Registrar Dean Logan. “The main difference is the environment in which the vote center is set up — like the epic view from the upper deck at Dodger Stadium; the reception patio at the Hollywood Bowl; the ornate lobby of the iconic Pantages Theatre or the NBA playoff venue at Staples Center.”
In Texas, where 88 of the state’s counties will be using vote centers and “super” vote centers for November, one of the more unique sites will be in Denton County where voters will be casting ballots at Texas Motor Speedway. On turn two of the racetrack is a building — Lone Star Tower — that contains condominiums and the county has been given use of the condominium clubhouse for voting.
Denton County Elections Administrator Frank Phillips doesn’t expect the Motor Speedway to draw large crowds because it will only be used on Election Day. Had it been used for early voting, he said that may have been a different story. Like Logan in LA County, Phillips said set up won’t be all that different.
“Since it is a commercial type setting it won’t be much different than any other traditional polling site; except maybe for the view!” Phillips said. “It’s a good opportunity for people who may have never been to Texas Motor Speedway to get an up-close look at the racetrack.”
Phillips and Logan both said poll worker training will be the same as it always is, but Phillips did say he would not be surprised if poll workers had to deal with atypical questions.
“The training for poll workers will be the same as any other polling location, but I will be surprised if they don’t have voters asking if they can visit pit row or take a run around the track,” Phillips said. “It’s definitely not your average polling site.”
Logan has even been able to leverage the partnerships with the new facilities to recruit poll workers.
“The training is the same across the board, but one of the great ways we are partnering with some of these venues is through the opportunity to use venue related employees like concession workers who have been furloughed during COVID-19 as Election Workers,” Logan said. “It is a win-win with workers who know and take pride in the venue serving a community and fan base in a new civic engagement capacity.”
Nick Jacobs, public information officer for the DCBOE said poll workers will be assigned to sites closest to where they live if possible so baseball fans who live in the Northwest part of the city won’t necessarily get to work at Nats Park, in Southeast, D.C., even if they want to.
The “super” vote centers in DC will include Nats Park, Capital One Arena, a hotel, a university and the arena where the WNBA champion Washington Mystics play.
With so many of these voting super centers being in large sporting areas we wondered if weather could be a factor. Voting at Nats Park in DC will take place in the Diamond Club, an enclosed area for high-end season ticket holders so Jacobs said that will prevent any weather concerns.
Even in Los Angeles, weather does factor into planning.
“We are definitely monitoring fire season and any potential impacts on our voting locations,” Logan said. “A handful of our vote centers are in primarily outdoor venues, but our set-up process includes tents and other provisions to ensure we can respond to changes in conditions.”
None of the officials we spoke with seemed overly concerned about a large number “looky-loos” who wanted to vote somewhere just because it was unique [ahem].
“That is really the intent or benefit of these large, high profile locations,” Logan said. “They have space to ensure safety and distancing while offering a spirit of community and engagement. They are also venues where people are accustomed to line queuing and orderly flow of movement.”
Kentucky gets primary experience
During the June primary, Jefferson County, Kentucky was one of the first to use a “super” vote center this election cycle. According to Nore Ghibaudy, spokesman for the clerk’s office the county will be using four “super” vote centers for early and Election Day voting as well as 16 additional smaller vote centers on Election Day.
In the primary the county used the Kentucky Exposition Center where they were able move voters in and out separate doors, set up 18 different check-in lines so voters could social distance and it had ample parking with the county even running a shuttle from the parking lot to the building for anyone who needed it.
Ghibaudy said the key for successful super vote center is organization and partnerships.
“Organization prior to voting is so important,” Ghibaudy said. “We laid out [stacks of] ballots in that building and so that voters were able to get in quickly, vote and then out the other door. It was quite an experience. It was just so much organization, and partnerships. We have a tremendous partnership with the folks who run the Expo Center.”
That great partnership with the Expo Center is what made it possible for the county to use the site for the general election even though the North American International Livestock Exposition will be moving in a couple of days later.
While some places like Los Angeles County will stick with the vote center model moving forward, others will most likely move back to precinct-based polling places and Ghibaudy in Jefferson County said that’s not a bad thing either. Ghibaudy said voters expressed their approval of the Expo Center super vote center during the primary but people just really love their neighborhood polling places.
“We won’t have any elections in 2021, but we’ll be back to neighborhood polling places in 2022,” Ghibaudy said. “People just really love them, but this was the best we could do to keep everyone safe this year.”
Guardians of the Guardrail
Guardrails for the Guardians
New report outlines fixes for America’s party-affiliated state election chiefs
As experts warn of a contested presidential election, secretaries of state may once again find themselves under a national spotlight in November. Although many secretaries of state perform exemplary public service, they do despite partisan bias inherent in their positions.
As polarization intensifies, the need increases in the US for election leaders who can be trusted to act impartially, who are not selected in processes that entail allegiance to a political party. Most other democracies in the world do a far better job than the U.S. at establishing impartial election administration systems.
In response to these concerns, Election Reformers Network (ERN) released Guardrails for the Guardians: Reducing Secretary of State Conflict of Interest and Building More Impartial U.S. Election Administration.
In this first-of-its kind analysis of state election officials, ERN:
- Calls on secretaries of state to be “umpires not players” to protect the imperiled 2020 elections;
- Illustrates why the U.S. is a global outlier in election administration;
- Examines the track record of secretary of state conflicts of interest since 2000;
- Highlight recent improvements in the area of secretary of state partisanship; and
- Proposes practical solutions to secretary of state conflict of interest for the near and long term.
Over the last 20 years, secretaries of state have been candidates in races they have overseen 153 times; 29 percent have endorsed a candidate or joined a campaign in an election under their purview; and 20 percent have lost lawsuits arising from circumstances where the secretaries’ actions appeared to favor their political party. Perhaps most surprisingly, only 26 percent had significant prior experience in election policy or administration before taking on the role.
“Right now, the main constraint on secretaries’ behavior is each secretary’s personal ethics,” says Kevin Johnson, lead author of the report and executive director of ERN. “Very few states have laws, conflict of interest statutes or even oaths of office that prevent a secretary of state from attempting to influence an election to help one side win.”
“From an international perspective, the United States is a complete outlier in the selection of its most senior election administrators,” says co-author Larry Garber, ERN board member and member of the National Task Force on Election Crises. “In order to build trust in the electoral process, we must consider structural reforms that will increase professionalism and reduce partisan influence in the role.”
The report’s recommendations include:
- States should pass legislation prohibiting secretaries of state and state election board members from publicly supporting candidates or positions on ballot proposals
- Secretaries of state who are candidates should recuse themselves from involvement in election administration processes that could be perceived as affecting their candidacies
- Secretaries of state should not run for other offices during their term and for a period of years following their term.
- In the long run, the position of state chief election officer should be separated from the secretary of state and should be filled though a multi-stakeholder nominating process, or by an approved nonpartisan version of state election boards.
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Election News This Week
Providing clarity: During the first presidential debate Tuesday night the president made a number of false claims about voting as well as calling on his supporters to show up at the polls on November 3 and “watch” things. These statements meant elections officials across the country had to spend much of their Wednesday either clarifying what poll watchers can and cannot do or serving as fact-checkers to the president’s misinformation. Officials in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and West Virginia dealt with misinformation and the integrity of the election and numerous states including California, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Virginia made statements about poll watchers and voter intimidation.
“Bad things happen in Philadelphia”: While the president’s claims during the debate about “…bad things happen in Philadelphia…” was quickly debunked but state and local elections officials, something bad did in fact happen. A laptop and several memory sticks used to program Philadelphia’s voting machines were stolen from a city warehouse in East Falls, officials confirmed Wednesday, setting off a scramble to investigate and to ensure the machines had not been compromised. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, though it remains unclear when the equipment was stolen, sources briefed on the investigation said the items vanished this week. The laptop belonged to an on-site employee for the company that supplies the machines. It and the USB drives were the only items believed to have been taken. “Since being informed of the incident, I have immediately committed to making necessary police resources available to investigate this incident and find the perpetrators. I have also committed to the city commissioners additional resources to provide enhanced security at the warehouse going forward,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “This matter should not deter Philadelphians from voting, nor from having confidence in the security of this election.”
According to Time Magazine, for three weeks in August, the U.S. Postal Service stopped fully updating a national change of address system that most states use to keep their voter rolls current, according to multiple officials who use the system. A USPS spokesperson acknowledged the failure in response to questions from Time, and said that at least 1.8 million new changes of address had not been registered in the database. Several states contacted by TIME were unaware of the change-of-address problem. Officials in Minnesota, for one, sent out their ballot applications by mail earlier in September based partly on information drawn from the faulty database in August, the state’s election officials say. Other states had to delay sending out their ballots as they scrambled to fix incorrect addresses. At least 43 states plus the District of Columbia use the USPS change of address database.
Oops! According to Alaska Public Media, a mistake prevented residents of a Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta community from being able to vote in Alaska’s primary election. The Alaska Division of Elections said that it didn’t know people were living in Mertarvik until a week before the election. The village has roughly 130 residents. Newtok, where residents moved from, never received supplies for its election, resulting in only 17 people there voting in the primary. Problems began when poll workers backed out and new ones had to be found and then those problems were exacerbated when voting materials failed to show up. Quick thinking by one poll workers helped allow some residents to vote. She printed out sample ballots that had been faxed ahead of time, and offered in-person voting in Newtok. State law allows sample ballots to be used when official ballots aren’t available. Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said that the plan for the upcoming general election is to provide in-person voting in Newtok and absentee in-person voting in Mertarvik. She also said that election workers are still needed in Newtok.
Usually naked voter stories are limited to voting days, but it’s 2020 and we’re living in the upside down and so this week we bring you naked politicians in Pennsylvania. With concern over “naked ballots” disqualifying the votes of thousands in the commonwealth, Allegheny County Councilwoman Bethany Hallam launched an outreach campaign featuring elected officials in the nude. “There’s a lot misinformation going around about mail-in voting,” Hallam told TribLive. “It’s brand new. Most voters, this is the first time they’re ever voting by mail. I reached out to my friends who are elected officials, as well, and I was like, ‘Hey, I have this wild idea. Let’s get naked to try to save our democracy.'” Joining Hallam in the first round of the campaign are Allegheny County Council member Olivia “Liv” Bennett and state House of Representatives candidate Emily Kinkead, who’s running for the 20th district seat in Allegheny County. Etna Councilwoman Jessica Semler, state Rep. Sara Innamorato and Duquesne Mayor Nickole Nesby are expected to join the #dressyourballot campaign.
Necessity is the mother of invention and no truer words have been spoken than during this election cycle. From plexiglass shields to Q-tip styluses to tongs to hand out “I Voted” stickers, elections officials have thought up just about everything and add Tom Holbrook St. Clair County, Illinoi clerk to the growing list of election Macgyvers. When Holbrook couldn’t hold election judge training at the elections office or a theatre they had planned to rent he did the next best thing. He rented the local drive-in movie theater and election judges showed up for training in their cars just as if they were going to a movie. “We came up with the next best idea and said let’s go to the drive-in theatre and talk to everybody,” Holbrook said. The election judge PowerPoint was shown on the really big screen and the trainers were piped in through car radios. About 450 judges showed up for the first night of training.
Beer AND an “I Voted” sticker?!?!?! Tired Hands Brewing Co. in Ardmore, Pennsylvania has released a new beer called “I Voted Today”. I Voted Today is a toasty American pale ale brewed by Tired Hands that features a label that doubles as a sticker you can peel off and wear. “A lot of us aren’t going to be voting in person this year, and we won’t get those nice little ‘I Voted’ stickers that feel so rewarding for doing your civic duty,” said Julie Foster, co-owner of Tired Hands. “Our labels are stickers, so you can peel it off and stick it on your shirt when you cast your ballot this election season.” Foster said Tired Hands’ campaign seeks to inform Pennsylvanians of how they can cast votes in the November election by providing resources about the many methods available in the state. “For us, it’s a really great opportunity to connect with a large number of individuals and share information about the beer, but more importantly, how and when to vote,” Foster said. “There’s a number of different ways to vote in Pennsylvania this year, and there are also different deadlines to accomplish that.” Tired Hands shared the recipe and can design on its website, encouraging breweries across the country to take up the initiative in their own communities.
Sticker News: Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill this week unveiled a new special “I Voted” sticker for the 2020 election. The sticker will still have the state outline but inside will sport the Alabama flag with “I vote in honor of a veteran” written inside. The new civic-duty participation badge will be available to those who vote in-person on Election Day. “This new program we’re introducing statewide will bring great recognition for all our veterans, all 380,000 throughout the great state of Alabama, and the service that they have provided to our state, and to our country,” Merrill said.
Personnel News: Kerry Steelman has been terminated as the Hamilton County, Tennessee election administrator. Henry Curtis, co-manager of the Cuyahoga County, Ohio board of elections poll worker recruitment department is stepping down.
Connecticut: The Legislature is considering a bill that would allow municipal clerks — the officials responsible for handling absentee ballots — to open the outer envelopes a few days earlier. Gov. Ned Lamont has expressed support for the bill, saying it will give registrars flexibility and time to ensure they’re accurately counting ballots. Sue Larsen, the registrar of voters in South Windsor, said the bill will help larger cities and towns with more absentee ballots. “This bill does give us flexibility on being able to open the outer envelope,” said Larsen, who also is president of the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut. She said the bill won’t mandate that clerks start early, but it will allow those who want to get a jump on opening envelopes to do so before Election Day.
Florida: Sen. Annette Taddeo (D) said she plans to file a bill allowing ex-felons to petition the state to determine whether they owe any fines, fees and restitution prior to restoring their voting rights. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement would then work with State Attorneys’ offices to respond within 30 days with a certified letter outlining debts. If the state does not respond within 30 days, the obligations are waived. “Those individuals who have served their sentences and want to rejoin the democratic process should not be remanded by government bureaucrats to a new imprisonment designed to strip their voting rights indefinitely,” Taddeo said in a statement announcing the proposal. “This bill ensures that the path to regain those rights is clear and unambiguous, as the voters intended.”
Iowa: Lawmakers approved emergency authority allowing election officials to get a leg up in coping with an expected crush of absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election. Expecting many more voters than usual to cast ballots absentee rather than go in-person to the polls during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislative Council granted Republican Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate the authority to establish a procedure for election officials around the state to begin preparing absentee ballots for counting early. Members of the Legislative Council — a Statehouse steering committee when the Iowa Legislature is not in session — voted 24-0 to provide the extraordinary powers to Pate in his capacity as the state election commissioner. He’ll enact rules for speeding up the time-consuming process of opening mailed envelopes and separating the sealed ballots inside for processing on Nov. 2 — the day before Election Day.
Michigan: Lawmakers in the House and Senate have approved a bill that gives clerks more time to process absentee ballots. They also updated the legislation to allow clerks to use an additional shift to count and process absentee ballots, addressing a problem that resulted in some election staff working essentially around the clock during the August primary. Other additions to the bill include requiring clerks to follow up with voters if there are issues with the signature on the outside of the ballot and installing video monitoring of new outdoor absentee ballot drop boxes. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign the bill, SB 757, when it makes it to her desk.
New York: According to Gotham Gazette, legislation that was approved by the Senate and would allow the New York City Campaign Finance Board to open an online voter registration portal it created last year, pursuant to city law, which was blocked by the New York City Board of Elections, citing technical barriers in state law seems unlike to pass before the general election registration deadline. Assembly Member Charles Lavine, a Nassau County Democrat and chair of the chamber’s election law committee, said the chances of lawmakers coming back into session before the general election was unlikely and the prospect of them taking up online voter registration in New York City was “very, very slim.”
Pennsylvania: House Republicans have pushed a plan out of the House State Government Committee to investigate the presidential election. The resolution to create the Select Committee on Election Integrity would give lawmakers the power “to investigate, review and make recommendations concerning the regulation and conduct of the 2020 election.” The new committee would be composed of five members — three Republicans, because they are the majority party, and two Democrats — who would be chosen by House Speaker Bryan Cutler, a Republican from Lancaster. Together, they would have the authority to subpoena election officials, the U.S. postal service and examine aspects of the election, even while voting and counting are in process. But Rep. Garth Everett, a Republican from Lycoming County who leads the House State Government Committee, said the goal is to do that work after Election Day. “The intent of the resolution would be to do this post-election, and look and see what was good, what was bad, what we can do better,” he told the York Daily Record.
U.S. Postal Service: Judge Gerald A. McHugh of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued a preliminary injunction temporarily barring the U.S. Postal Service from mandating that mail trucks and carriers leave exactly on time. It also says the organization must allow overtime around the election and suspend the removal of mail-sorting machines until after Nov. 3, among other measures. The Postal Service’s “ability to fulfill its mission during a presidential election taking place in the midst of a public health crisis is vital. The record in this case strongly supports the conclusion that irreparable harm will result unless its ability to operate is assured,” McHugh wrote in a memorandum supporting his order. The ruling is the latest by federal judges that reverse DeJoy’s changes. Judges in New York, Washington state and the District of Columbia ordered the Postal Service over the last two weeks to restore operations in the organization, including treating election mail as first-class mail and allowing for the processing of all the day’s mail, even if it means trucks are a few minutes late.
Alabama: U.S. District Judge Abdul K. Kallon ruled today Alabama cannot block counties from offering curbside voting and that witness and photo ID requirements for absentee voting violate the rights of certain voters during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kallon issued the ruling in favor of people and organizations who sued Secretary of State John Merrill and some county election officials over Merrill’s ban on curbside voting, the requirement that absentee ballots be signed by a notary or two witnesses, and the requirement for a photo ID with absentee ballot applications. Kallon ruled that the ban on curbside voting, the witness requirement, and the photo ID requirement, as applied during the COVID-19 pandemic, violated federal law and voting rights for people at serious risk of illness because of medical condition, disability, or being over 65. The state has vowed to appeal.
Arizona: U.S. District Judge Murray Snow has refused to give officials an extra 10 days after election day to count mail-in ballots for Navajo Nation members who live on the tribe’s reservation in Arizona and whose ballots are postmarked by the close of voting on Nov. 3. Snow said in a ruling Sept. 25 that most Navajo Nation residents don’t have access to home delivery of mail and must travel long distances to get their mail. But he concluded those pushing for the change compared only mail delivery times on the reservation to cities, not other rural areas in the state. The judge also said Navajo voters have other options for delivering completed ballots, such as dropping them off at county recorder’s offices, in drop boxes, at early voting locations or at polling places on election day. “As Navajo voters have access to several voting options that allow them to turn their ballots in later than the return posting of their ballot allows, plaintiffs have not shown a disparate burden,” Snow wrote.
Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes has filed a court complaint seeking the court’s permission to allow voters confined to hospitals and nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic to cast ballots in the November election via video call. Normally, to help voters who can’t get to the polls because they are physically restricted or severely ill, Arizona counties create teams of two people from different political parties called “special election boards” that can visit the voters and help them cast a ballot from their location. Fontes asked the court in a complaint for declaratory relief to quickly give the county guidance on how to legally help the voters on Nov. 3. “My job is to help voters vote. State and federal law guarantee this right,” Fontes, a Democrat, said in a news release on Friday. “If we cannot use the virtual meeting technology to service these voters through our bipartisan Special Election Board (SEB) process, some of our most vulnerable citizens’ voting rights are at risk.”
Delaware: Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III ruled this week that mail-in ballots are necessary during the coronavirus pandemic, disagreeing with state Republicans that the process is unconstitutional. The ruling comes a month after the Republican State Committee and two GOP members filed a lawsuit arguing mail-in ballots for the general election violate the state constitution. Republicans argued in the lawsuit that mail-in ballots “upsets established constitutional means for voting absentee by flooding all registered voters with unsolicited applications to receive a voting-by-mail ballot, allowing any voter for any reason [or no reason at all], to vote by mail.” Glasscock III disagreed in his ruling: “The Plaintiffs disagree with the policy decision of the legislature. They have attempted to convince me to disagree as well. But even if they were successful, such an attempt would be inapt. The legislature, in the face of an epidemic of airborne disease and in light of the health emergency declared by the Governor, has made a determination that vote-by-mail is necessary for the continued operation of governmental functions, and that it would be impracticable to address this problem other than by otherwise-extraconstitutional means. These findings are not clearly erroneous. “Therefore, the Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment must be denied … their request for permanent injunctive relief must also be denied.”
Georgia: U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ordered election officials to prepare paper copies of records showing who is registered to vote and whether they’ve already voted before Nov. 3, either by absentee ballot or during in-person early voting. “It is not too late for defendants to take these reasonable concrete measures to mitigate the real potential harms that would otherwise likely transpire at precinct polling locations grappling with the boiling brew created by the combination of new voting equipment issues and old voter data system deficiencies,” Totenberg wrote. State election officials opposed more paper backups, saying printouts of thousands of pages of documents would strain county poll workers trying to run the biggest election in state history. Totenberg’s 67-page ruling recounts problems that voters have faced in elections since 2018.
Fulton County Judge Jane Barwick ruled that the county’s elections board does not have to hold hearings that could have removed more than 14,000 registered voters from county rolls. The ruling shields thousands of voters from the risk of being purged and comes about a month before the Nov. 3 presidential election, which is expected to bring record turnout and focus heavily on election integrity. Two Fulton citizens have been trying to force the county’s elections board to hold the hearings since early July. Feeling left with no options, they asked a court to make the board hold the hearings. Barwick’s ruling allowed the petitioners to re-file the litigation.
Indiana: Judge Sarah Evans Barker rejected Indiana’s noon Election Day deadline to receive absentee ballots, allowing Hoosiers more time to mail in absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 presidential election. The ruling from Barker means absentee ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 3 and received on or before Nov. 13 will be counted. Barker in her decision rejected the argument that allowing an extra 10 days to receive ballots would undermine the election process. Rather, she said ensuring all valid absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 “should in fact help assuage” concerns over the legitimacy of the results. “The burden imposed by Indiana’s noon Election Day receipt deadline, which threatens to disenfranchise thousands of eligible absentee voters for reasons that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, are outside their control, is very substantial,” Barker wrote. Barker also dismissed arguments that the extended deadline would lead to more absentee ballots cast, overwhelming election officials who must count them.
Iowa: Judge Lars Anderson is refusing to block a new Republican-backed Iowa law that makes it harder for county officials to process absentee ballot applications and more likely that incomplete requests won’t be fulfilled. In an opinion last week, Anderson rejected arguments by a Latino civil rights organization and a Democratic Party group that the law is an undue burden on the fundamental right to vote. He noted that the law was passed on a party-line vote and reflects “policy decisions with which many may disagree,” but that he can’t second-guess lawmakers because the law isn’t constitutionally defective. He found the law was related to a legitimate government interest and unlikely to be considered overly burdensome. “Properly identifying absentee ballot requests and requiring a voter to provide identification information fits with the interest of the State in maintaining integrity of the election process,” he wrote.
Maine: The Maine Republican Party and opponents of the use of ranked-choice voting will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Maine’s highest court must now decide whether a decision it issued earlier this week to allow the process to move forward proceeds during the appeal or not. The GOP has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the issue, but there is no guarantee the justices will agree to consider the matter. In the meantime, opponents are asking the Maine Supreme Court to put a hold on their own decision to allow ranked-choice voting in the presidential election. Oral arguments have been scheduled on that motion for next week. If Maine’s law court grants the request, the use of ranked-choice voting this year for president would effectively be blocked until the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to consider the appeal.
The Maine Superior Court ruled in favor of the Secretary of State’s Office in a case aimed at extending the absentee voting deadline and other changes to voting protocols in the upcoming election. The Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA) filed the lawsuit in Maine Superior Court in June in light of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on voting and changes to the U.S. Postal Service. The lawsuit alleged that the state’s vote by mail requirements were “burdensome” and would “force older voters to choose between protecting their health or casting a ballot they know will be counted.” The judge ultimately sided with the state, saying “the harm to the State’s electoral process outweighs the minor burdens imposed by those laws on the right to vote.”
Michigan: State and national Republican leaders want a Michigan judge to overturn a recent ruling that allows voters to choose anyone to deliver their absentee ballots and requires many absentee ballots received after Election Day to count. The Republican National Committee and the Michigan Republican Party are suing Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel in an effort to nix a recent court decision. The legal filing is the latest machination that may affect absentee voting this year, a process more than 3 million Michiganders are expected to use to cast their ballots this fall.
Former Secretaries of State Terri Lynn Land and Ruth Johnson—both Republicans—have filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids over the state’s absentee ballot deadline. They want a judge to set a hard deadline of 8 p.m. election night for absentee ballots to arrive with local clerks, or else they cannot be counted. Their lawsuit disputes a decision by a Michigan Court of Claims judge that ballots must be counted if they are postmarked by the day before the November 3 election and arrive before the results are certified 14 days later. The complaint says that decision violates federal and Michigan laws: “This policy to abandon the Legislature’s role in establishing the time and manner of elections threatens the integrity of the upcoming election, will result in widespread and severe vote dilution, will (at a minimum) create substantial uncertainty and delay over Michigan’s ability to certify its results, and casts in substantial doubt whether the United States Congress will even accept the results of the popular vote in Michigan, even though it was clearly the Michigan Legislature’s intent to satisfy a statutory safe harbor binding Congress to the popular vote.”
The Michigan Court of Claims has determined that the Michigan Legislature can intervene to oppose a ruling that absentee ballots postmarked ahead of Election Day must be counted, even if they arrive late. Initially, the Court of Claims denied the legislature’s request to intervene in the case, concluding it “could lead to having multiple, and perhaps conflicting, positions asserted on behalf of the state.” Because the legislature would be the only party defending current law moving forward, “permissive intervention…is now appropriate,” Stephens wrote in a Sept. 30 court order. The legislature would “immediately proceed” with an appeal if given the opportunity to do so, according to a court filing submitted last week.
Mississippi: Secretary of State Michael Watson and Attorney General Lynn Fitch are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to remove some limitations from the state’s absentee voting process amid the coronavirus pandemic. They filed court papers last week, responding to voting-rights groups that represent Mississippi residents with health conditions that could make in-person voting risky because of COVID-19. Watson and Fitch did not deny that the pandemic is causing health risks. But the two Republicans repeatedly denied other assertions made by attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Mississippi requires absentee ballot applications to be notarized. The state also requires most people to provide an excuse to vote absentee, such as being out of town on Election Day. The plaintiffs are asking a judge to block those two requirements, saying those are unconstitutional. They are also asking a judge to provide a clear process for what happens when election officials say they see inconsistencies in a voter’s signature.
Missouri: Circuit Judge Jon Beetem dismissed claims by the League of Women Voters and the NAACP that the various steps required to vote by mail during a pandemic posed unconstitutional health risks. In a 35-page decision Beetem said there was little evidence presented by experts that supported that fear. He said the expert used by the league during the trial “concedes that social distancing and other prudent precautions are consistently effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and Plaintiffs provided no evidence of any instance of transmission of COVID-19 during a notarization.” In addition, Beetem said ballot envelopes for absentee and mail-in votes have already been printed and made available. “Invalidating the notarization requirement, and re-printing thousands of ballot envelopes, during a process that is already underway threatens to create confusion among voters and local election authorities, and it would subject Missouri voters to different legal standards during the same election, depending on when they cast their absentee or mail-in ballot,” the judge wrote.
Montana: The Yellowstone County District Court permanently struck down a law that plaintiffs argued would restrict Native Americans’ voting rights. Western Native Voice v. Stapleton challenged Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton on the Montana Ballot Interference Prevention Act (BIPA), which limits who can collect and convey a ballot belonging to another person. The court ruled BIPA is unconstitutional, as it violates the constitutional rights to vote, to free speech and to due process of law. Plaintiffs argued because many tribal communities are geographically isolated and have limited access to postal service and transportation, residents of these communities often work with voting organizations to collect and transport ballots to election offices that would otherwise be inaccessible. BIPA would limit this effort, therefore disenfranchising Indigenous communities, plaintiffs said.
District Judge Donald Harris has extended the state’s deadline for returning 2020 general election ballots by mail, saying that uneven U.S. Postal Service delivery times could result in ballots being delayed, unfairly requiring some people to vote earlier than others or requiring voters to risk exposure to COVID-19 to return their ballots in person. “The COVID-19 pandemic presents an untenable problem for voters who wish to have all the available information prior to casting their ballot, who wish to reduce potential COVID-19 exposure, and who also wish to have their vote counted,” District Judge Donald Harris wrote late Friday. “Moving the Election Day receipt deadline to a postmark deadline would alleviate the pressures voters are facing in the November 2020 general election and result in less disenfranchised voters.” Harris said all valid Montana ballots postmarked by Election Day for this election must be counted as long as they are received by county election offices by the following Monday. Secretary of State Corey Stapleton has appealed the ruling. The Montana Supreme Court stayed the lower court’s ruling. “Having reviewed the District Court’s order, the Court agrees with the Secretary that the injunction disrupts the status quo, is likely to cause voter confusion, and interferes with the ability of the State to administer an orderly general election process already underway,” the seven justices concluded unanimously.
District Judge Dana Christensen has ruled against a lawsuit filed by the president’s re-election campaign and the RNC that sought to stop counties from employing an all vote-by-mail system for the general election. “This case requires the Court to separate fact from fiction,” Christensen wrote. “… Central to some of the (Trump campaign’s) claims is the contention that the upcoming election, both nationally and in Montana, will fall prey to widespread voter fraud. The evidence suggests, however, that this allegation, specifically in Montana, is a fiction.” There is substantial evidence from election experts and others that “the use of mail ballots present no significant risk of fraud,” added Christensen
New Jersey: The Monmouth County Republican Committee sued the state, asking the courts to strike a provision allowing mail-in ballots that reach election officials in the 48 hours after polls close to be counted regardless of whether they bear a postmark. The suit, also seeks to force Secretary of State Tahesha Way to issue guidelines for security of mail-in ballot drop boxes set up around the state. Further, the filing asks the courts to force Way to tell election boards how they are to determine whether a voter has a disability.
North Carolina: The president’s campaign committee, the Republican National Committee and North Carolina GOP leaders filed lawsuits to block state election officials from enforcing rule changes that could boost the number of ballots counted in the state in November. Trump campaign lawsuit claims a new system adopted by the State Board of Elections will allow for absentee ballots to be cast late and without proper witness verification, “which invites fraud, coercion, theft, and otherwise illegitimate voting.” NC House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Republican leader Phil Berger also filed a lawsuit seeking to block the elections board from implementing the changes. The elections board issued new guidance allowing mail-in absentee ballots with deficient information to be fixed without forcing the voter to fill out a new blank ballot for November’s general election. The change means absentee voters who don’t provide complete information on their envelope about a witness who saw them fill out the ballot won’t have to complete a new ballot and locate another witness. A voter will just have to turn in an affidavit confirming they filled out the original ballot. U.S. District Judge William Osteen this week warned the SBOE that recent changes to requirements for absentee mail-in voting in North Carolina do not have his approval. Osteen took sharp exception to the board’s changes on witness requirements for absentee ballots. “Nothing about this court’s preliminary injunction order can or should be construed as finding that the failure of a witness to sign the application and certificate as a witness is a deficiency which may be cured with a certification after the ballot has been returned,” Osteen wrote in his order Wednesday.
Two civil rights advocacy groups suing the State Board of Elections and the attorney general contend a law making it a serious crime for convicted felons to vote before their right is restored, even when it’s an unintentional mistake, is racially discriminatory and needs to be blocked for the November election. The argues1931 law also is unconstitutionally vague and requires a broad review of state law to determine when an ex-offender is allowed to vote again. Although violations of the law are almost always unintentional, district attorneys in some counties are still prosecuting these residents, the groups’ attorneys say. Evidence of someone deliberately trying to break the law isn’t a prerequisite for a conviction, according to the lawsuit filed late Thursday in central North Carolina federal court. “These high-profile criminal cases, as well as the vague wording of the (law), have chilled countless eligible voters with criminal convictions from exercising their rights to cast a ballot,” the lawsuit reads.
Ohio: U.S. District Judge Michael Watson has ruled Ohio’s system of verifying signatures on absentee ballot applications is not burdensome enough to be struck down as illegal, rejecting arguments made by a coalition of voting-rights groups that sued the state. Watson wrote that while Ohio’s signature-matching requirements impose a “moderate” burden on voters, they have other options to cast a ballot if their vote is improperly rejected, including casting a provisional ballot on Election Day. He agreed with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose that the state has a legitimate interest in promoting an orderly and secure election, justifying that burden. “Additionally, the Court believes that changing the rules regarding verification of signatures on ballots at this time would be particularly damaging,” Watson, a President George W. Bush appointee, wrote in an order issued Sunday evening that rejected the voting-rights activists’ request to issue what’s called a preliminary injunction. “Some public officials have unfortunately regularly cast doubt on the security and legitimacy of voting by mail. A federal court enjoining part of the State’s procedure for maintaining the security of mail-in voting in the weeks leading up to the election could further undermine public confidence in elections.”
Federal Court Judge Dan Polster has ordered Secretary of State Frank LaRose to work with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to develop a solution for voters delivering ballots in-person rather than returning them by mail to the BoE’s Euclid headquarters. Polster also ruled that LaRose must file a report by 4 p.m. on Sept. 30 on those efforts. The judge said that the physical layout of the Board of Elections parking lot cannot accommodate all of the voters on Election Day. The court did not issue a ruling on the permanent injunction.
A trio of judges from the 10th District Court of Appeals ruled, 3-0, that Ohio doesn’t need to offer voters the option of submitting their applications for absentee ballots via email, a panel of appeals court judges ruled. The panel said law does not prohibit voters from submitting absentee ballot applications by email, fax or other electronic means. Requiring the option of sending in applications via mail or fax could “jeopardizes the administration and security of the 2020 general election,” wrote Judge William Klatt, who was joined in the decision by Judge Frederick Nelson and Judge Julia Dorrian. Klatt and Nelson are both Republicans; Dorrian is a Democrat. Dorrian did disagree with her colleagues on two points. She wrote that LaRose did not act reasonably in limiting options for submitting applications. She also found that the harm to voters was not minimal.
South Carolina: Late last week, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling back on Sept. 19, which suspended the witness signature requirement. However late Friday, a majority of judges on the full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a ruling from a day earlier by a three-judge panel of the same court to overturn U.S. District Judge Michelle Child’s Sept. 18 ruling that struck down the requirement and decided to reconsider the case, news outlets reported. The latest decision means the final outcome remains to be determined. But for now, witness signatures are no longer required. The ruling ultimately could affect up to an estimated 1 million voters in South Carolina who the state election commission has said may vote absentee. South Carolina has approximately 3 million eligible voters. On Wednesday, the court of appeals denied a motion seeking an injunction that would have required voters casting absentee ballots to obtain the signature of a witness on their ballot. So as of press time, no witness signatures are required on South Carolina absentee ballots.
Tennessee: District Judge Eli Richardson blocked a request from voting rights advocates to remove a unique Tennessee law that prohibits people from sharing absentee ballot applications. State law imposes a felony charge for anyone who shares those applications with another person, if they’re not an employee of an election commission. Plaintiffs had argued that threat of heavy criminal charges infringes their right to constitutionally protected free speech by creating a system where fear of punishment overburdens those seeking to speak. Richardson ruled in favor of the state and declined to temporarily block the state from enforcing the felony provision. “It may be that as a general matter, one side of the current political divide opposes the Law and the other side supports the Law. But that does not make the Law either a Republican law or a Democratic law,” he wrote. “In this sense, the Law has a history of bi-partisanship (or non-partisanship), and it is the law neither of Republicans nor of Democrats. It is the law of the State of Tennessee. The duty of this Court is to determine whether the Law violates Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights.”
Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle has ruled that Tennessee officials have to change the absentee ballot application again to reflect their promise to let voters cast mail ballots if someone in their household has an underlying health condition that makes them more susceptible to COVID-19. In her decision, Hobbs Lyle sided with arguments from the plaintiffs in a months-long absentee voting lawsuit. They pointed out that a deputy attorney general made the eligibility commitment for co-habitants in response to multiple questions in front of the state Supreme Court last month.
Texas: At least six Nueces County voters have sued the county and County Clerk Kara Sands alleging voting rights violations, in part citing incorrect information sent to some voters who have previously mailed their ballots. In the lawsuit, several voting rights allegations are made – but the brunt of the documents focus on the January and February timeframe before the March primaries. That’s when the lawsuit alleges confusing and incorrect instructions were sent to some voters who have in the past mailed their ballots, including a notice that they were required to submit identification. Forms notifying voters of required identification submissions are “applicable to voters voting for the first time with an ‘ID Required’ flag,” according to the Texas Secretary of State’s website. Plaintiffs are seeking $100,000 in monetary relief.
U.S. District Judge Mariana Garcia Marmolejo blocked Texas from eliminating straight-ticket voting, a decision that would allow for choosing one party’s entire slate of candidates in the November election that is now less than six weeks away. Democrats sued over the change in March, pointing toward long lines in Houston on Super Tuesday, when some voters waited more than an hour to vote. They said the law disproportionately hurts Black and Latino voters in big urban counties, where longer ballots result in longer wait times. “Texas’ rules around voting during the pandemic have been perplexing,” Garcia Mamolejo wrote. “Administering in-person voting the same way it has been administered for 100 years is not about a mere convenience to voters, it is about running an efficient electoral process that guarantees Texans a more effective opportunity to cast a ballot in a time when any additional time spent in line endangers the safety of poll voters, poll workers, and others not at the polls.” Garcia Mamolejo said claims that voting machines couldn’t be reconfigured so close to the Nov. 3 election were unconvincing, doubting it “will be as onerous as Texas claims.” The three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put a momentary pause on that decision this week while it considers the case. It set quick deadlines for both sides to submit their arguments and on Wednesday upheld the 2017 law. The three-judge panel ruled that the law ending the one-punch option should go into effect even as voters and election administrators contend with the coronavirus pandemic, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s “emphasis that courts should not alter election rules on the eve of an election.”
A litigious conservative activist in Houston, the Harris County Republican party, and a number of Republican officials and candidates are asking the Texas Supreme Court to limit in-person and absentee voting options for Harris County voters during the pandemic. The group, lead by activist Steve Hotze is suing to stop the county from allowing voters to drop off ballots at 11 annexes in the days leading up to the election. They’re asking the state’s highest civil court to order Harris County to not begin early voting until Oct. 19 — the date set by state law that Abbott extended by executive order, citing safety concerns — and not accept absentee ballots delivered in person until Nov. 3.
Wisconsin: The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals moved to issue a temporary stay on an order issued by U.S. District Judge William Conley directing state officials to continue counting absentee ballots for six days after Nov. 3. Conley’s order will now be reviewed further by the appeals court, an outcome Conley himself requested when he delayed the implementation of his order upon issuing it last Monday. Republicans sought Wednesday to kick the to the state Supreme Court, but a federal appeals court quickly blocked their effort. But the appeals panel quickly rejected the request from Republicans to send the case to the state Supreme Court. The judges did not explain their reasoning.
Colorado: Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said her office is testing a way for voters to fix problematic ballots by phone in the November election. A new program expected to launch statewide, TXT2cure, will make it easier for voters — especially younger ones — to cure, or fix, the problem, Griswold told The Denver Post. Voters will be notified of discrepancies by mail, as usual. But now they’ll have a route other than the U.S. Postal Service to fix the problem. The Delta County Clerk’s Office tried the program in this year’s June 30 primary, and about half of the 20-30 ballots rejected for signature discrepancies were cured with TXT2cure, said Rene Loy-Maas, chief deputy clerk. “It just gives (voters) another option to be able to quickly cure that discrepant signature and with our tech-savvy youth now, that follows right along with them,” Loy-Maas said. Three Colorado counties, including Denver, have used TXT2cure in past elections and 16, including Delta County, tried it out for the first time in June.
Opinions This Week
National Opinions: Super vote centers | Social media | Voter registration | Election errors | In-person voting | Ballot counting, II | Voting rights | U.S. Supreme Court | Corporate participation | Vote by mail, II | Election concerns | Ex-felon voting rights | Trust in elections | Election panic | Threat to democracy | Guns at polling places | Disinformation
Arizona: Election procedures
Colorado: Ranked choice voting
Louisiana: Online voter registration
Massachusetts: Ranked choice voting
Mississippi: Election officials
Missouri: Secretary of state race
New Mexico: Secretary of state
North Carolina: State board of elections
Oregon: Secretary of state race
Wisconsin: Vote by mail
Get the Facts About Voting by Mail: Mail-in ballots are safe and secure, but they are not without complication for voters and election administrators. There is a large amount of misinformation surrounding the vote-by-mail process, and with more than 50% of voters expected to cast a mail-in ballot for the November election, the electorate needs to know how to cast their ballots safely and what happens after they do. Please join us for a panel discussion exploring the facts, the myths, and the safest approaches to casting your mail-in ballot this fall. Panelists include Amber McReynolds, chief executive officer, National Vote at Home Institute and Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico secretary of state. When: Oct. 6 2pm Eastern. Where: Online.
Tips for Transparency: How Local Election Officials Can Strengthen Voter Trust in Elections: The National Vote at Home Institute and The Carter Center are supporting election officials across the country as they work to prepare successful, high-confidence elections, despite the challenges of the 2020 cycle. Join us as we launch our guide for election officials to increase transparency and build voter trust throughout the election process. We will discuss best practices for transparent operations and ways to engage the public and the media in the process, highlighting how election officials in Boulder County, Colorado, Orange County, California and Weber County, Utah have implemented some of these practices. Moderators: Amber McReynolds, CEO, National Vote at Home Institute and David Carroll, director, Democracy Program, The Carter Center. Panelists: Molly Fitzpatrick, Boulder County Clerk and Recorder, Ricky Hatch, Weber County Clerk/Auditor, and Neal Kelley, Orange County Registrar of Voters. When: Oct. 8 2pm MT. 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 firstname.lastname@example.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: Oct. 5. 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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