In Focus This Week
NPR’s Pam Fessler set to retire
By M. Mindy Moretti
If you’ve been around the elections world for a hot minute, you know the name Pam Fessler. Fessler is a correspondent on NPR’s National Desk and in addition to reporting on poverty and philanthropy, most importantly for our readers, Fessler covers voting issues.
From hanging chads to The Big Lie. From the debate over voter ID to Russian hacking attempts to long lines at the polls, Fessler has covered every aspect of the elections world. You may have spotted her at a conference or two with headphones and microphone hard at work.
After a storied career, Friday July 9 will mark Fessler’s last day at NPR. While our Exit Interviews are usually reserved for elections officials, we thought, given her dedication to the elections world, readers would be interested in hearing what she has to say about covering elections through the years.
“Pam Fessler was covering election administration before covering election administration was ‘cool’—when everyone else was only covering the horserace, she knew that there was so much more to the story,” said Tammy Patrick, senior advisor at the Democracy Fund. “Her approach is one that I often share with those new to the election beat: talk to as many people as you can and make certain that election officials are part of the conversation. The American voter knows more about their democracy because of her coverage, she will be sorely missed.”
Before becoming a correspondent, Fessler was the acting senior editor on the Washington Desk and NPR’s chief election editor. She coordinated all network coverage of the presidential, congressional, and state elections in 1996 and 1998. In her more than 25 years at NPR, Fessler has also been deputy Washington Desk editor and Midwest National Desk editor.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Fessler became NPR’s first Homeland Security correspondent. For seven years, she reported on efforts to tighten security at ports, airports, and borders, and the debate over the impact on privacy and civil rights. She also reported on the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, The 9/11 Commission Report, Social Security, and the Census. Fessler was one of NPR’s White House reporters during the Clinton and Bush administrations.
Earlier in her career, she was a senior writer at Congressional Quarterly magazine. Fessler worked there for 13 years as both a reporter and editor, covering tax, budget, and other news. She also worked as a budget specialist at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and was a reporter at The Record newspaper in Hackensack, New Jersey.
And on behalf of electionline and all of our readers, I’d like to thank Pam for her dedication to our field. We’ll miss you Pam!
There are not too many reporters covering elections at a national level for as long as you have. How did you get started and what made you stick with it through the years?
I think I might be the longest! I was covering the transition from Clinton to Bush for NPR and a big part of that story was what, if anything, the country would do to avoid a repeat of the 2000 election. When Congress began considering the Help America Vote Act, I was the natural choice to cover it. I had also been reporting on the Census and redistricting. And I’m something of a policy nerd (I got my start in Washington reporting for Congressional Quarterly magazine and have a master’s of public administration) so the topic of voting and elections was right up my alley. I found it fascinating, how a country could set up a system where millions of people in very different communities can come together to vote on or around a particular day, and then count those votes accurately. It’s a huge logistical and managerial puzzle and an astonishing achievement when it works. Throw in the politics of voting, and it’s a fascinating story. It was also clear that most Americans didn’t understand how the system worked. I felt it was very important for me – and NPR — to report on the process. And quite frankly, I liked the people involved and I pretty much had the beat to myself. I never wanted to give it up.
You developed a reputation in the election community as someone who took the time to become knowledgeable about the nuts and bolts of elections… Even so, there must’ve been some things you didn’t know that surprised you along the way. What comes to mind?
What surprised me most when I started was how nonpartisan most election officials are, even though they’re running what is probably the most political and partisan activity in American life. Of course, that’s been changing, especially in recent years. But for the most part, the overwhelming majority of election officials simply want the system to work. One of the great pleasures of covering this beat has been the willingness of those involved to answer my questions. That’s not always the case covering government, but I think a lot of those who do elections work are happy to have someone who is interested in what they do and why.
The other big surprise for me was how easily misinformation and disinformation can destroy public confidence. I’ve always believed that if you sit down and tell people the facts in a clear way, most will say, “Oh yeah. Now I see.” Silly me. The last few years have shown how very wrong I was — extraordinarily disturbing for someone whose 47-year journalism career has been devoted to presenting the facts so people can better understand the world around them.
In your experience, what is the most successful way that election officials have gotten information out to the press/public? What could election officials do better?
The past year has clearly shown how confused people remain about the voting process. The average American doesn’t know the difference between poll workers and poll watchers, and election officials and election boards, who’s partisan and who’s not. They don’t understand what happens to their ballots once they’ve voted and how they’re counted. Now, they’ve been intentionally misled by powerful forces in this country who’ve exploited that ignorance. Election offices have been trying to correct the misinformation, but unfortunately the challenge is so great, they have to be much more aggressive. I think things like CISA’s Rumor Control site and many of the state and local election websites were a good start, but limited – they seem to be communicating largely with those who already trust the system. CISA was further constrained by the fact that it was trying to correct misinformation promulgated by the head of the very government it was a part of.
I think election officials need to get ahead of the misinformation as soon as possible. They need to fact-check lies, but also to take a more proactive, positive approach to telling their story: Here’s what we do, here’s how it works and here’s who we are. We are public servants who are working to protect one of the fundamental activities of democracy. And this is how we do it. They need to be as accessible and transparent as possible. Invite reporters and the public in to see what you do. And do it now, before the heat of the mid-term elections. How about more stories telling the public about some of the heroic things election workers did this past year to ensure that Americans could vote during a pandemic? Personal stories always resonate more than simple facts. Don’t be shy. The people who are telling the lies aren’t shy in the slightest.
Along that same vein, what recommendations/advice do you have for reporters who are just starting to cover elections more in-depth?
As I mentioned, one of the best things about the voting beat is how willing the people involved, from election officials to interest groups to voters, are to talk. I’d highly recommend spending as much time as possible in an election office and watching what they do so you really understand the process. I also think it’s very important to understand why so many voters lack confidence in our voting system, and where their information and beliefs are coming from. Why do they simply ignore what’s clearly fact? It’s the fundamental question of the day.
I would also suggest that anyone covering this issue be alert for the next, unexpected threat. People always seem to be fighting the last war. States replaced punch card machines only to discover the new machines had problems of their own. The country geared up to fight foreign interference in elections, only to discover the biggest threat was domestic. Election offices prepared to handle hurricanes and power outages, but then a pandemic arrived. No one knows what lurks around the corner, but every election there’s been some new, unanticipated challenge. There’s no reason that won’t be the case next year. Be prepared.
After years of toiling away in obscurity, election administration hit the mainstream, above the fold in 2020. What did you see that gave you hope? What concerns do you have?
I’ll start with the latter. The most worrisome concern by far is the volume of violent threats and attacks against election officials and the impact that is having on retaining experienced workers and recruiting new ones. That’s one story I hope reporters on this beat will continue to cover relentlessly. What gives me great hope is that there are now so many talented journalists on this beat, at both the local and national level. In the past, I was often the only reporter at a NASS conference or some other voting-related event. Now, there are dozens. I have no doubt they will do an incredible job keeping the public informed, especially now that so many more Americans are paying attention.
What’s next for you? Writing any new books, perhaps one on election administration?
There’s definitely a lot of material for a great book about the 2020 elections, but probably not by me. Writing a book is a huge undertaking and there are other reporters out there who I think have the skill, knowledge and energy to do a great job. That said, I do hope to use what I know about voting and politics and government to help fix some of the damage that’s been done by the craziness of the past year — especially when it comes to public confidence. We’ve seen how fragile democracy can be. I haven’t yet figured out what I’ll do on that front, but hopefully I can contribute. I also plan to continue promoting the book I DID write — Carville’s Cure (about leprosy…you have to read it to find out why patients lost their right to vote!) — and to travel. I have a lot of pent-up desire to get out and about after this pandemic.
One last thing — thanks so much to Electionline for helping to keep me and many others informed over all these years!
New Report from EAC/Rutgers
17.7M Americans with disabilities voted in 2020
New report finds that to be a significant increase from 2016
People with disabilities made large gains in the historic voter turnout surge of 2020, according to a new report by the Program for Disability Research at Rutgers University and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). Expanded access to mail-in ballots pushed disability turnout to 17.7 million, up from 16 million in 2016.
“Turnout increases when people with disabilities have more voting options. It’s not ‘one size fits all,’” said Professor Lisa Schur, Co-Director of the Program for Disability Research at Rutgers University. “Many states made it easier to vote during the pandemic, which particularly helped voters with disabilities.”
The researchers analyzed data from the federal government’s Current Population Survey Voting and Registration Supplement for November 2020 to calculate disability turnout. They found:
- Nearly 62% of people with disabilities voted in 2020, up from 56% in 2016.
- That’s an increase of 6 points, outpacing the historic increase of 5 points among people without disabilities.
- Higher turnout was reported across all disability types and demographic groups.
- The turnout gap between people with and without disabilities was relatively unchanged.
- More than 53% of people with disabilities voted by mail, compared to 42% of people without disabilities.
- Just 26% of people with disabilities and 31% of people without disabilities voted at a polling place on Election Day.
- The 23 states that made it easier to vote by mail appeared to have a higher increase in disability turnout, though the difference is within the margin of error.
An estimated 1.95 million people with disabilities had trouble voting in 2020, but accessibility was significantly improved compared to previous elections. An earlier study, commissioned by the EAC under clearinghouse and research mandates outlined in the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), found:
- 11% of people with disabilities had trouble voting in 2020, down from 26% in 2012.
- 5% of people with disabilities experienced difficulties voting by mail, compared to 18% of those who voted at a polling place.
- Voters with disabilities were still almost twice as likely as voters without disabilities to report difficulties.
“Despite the barriers that people with disabilities face, they turn out to vote when motivated,” said Distinguished Professor Douglas Kruse, Co-Director of the Program for Disability Research at Rutgers University. “The decrease in voting difficulties over the past eight years is very positive and reflects well on efforts by the Election Assistance Commission and election officials, helping ensure that people with disabilities are fully included in our democracy.”
The EAC is encouraged by the reported decrease in barriers and increase in voter participation by people with disabilities. The data released today will help the EAC improve and inform resources and guidance materials while measuring the progress made by election officials as they serve voters with disabilities.
“Election officials across the country work hard to provide accessible options to voters as they register and vote. We are happy to see that progress is being made but there is still room for improvement for future elections,” said Donald Palmer, Chairman of the EAC. “This data is critical for officials as they consider new voting technologies, options for voters to cast a ballot, and as they address the growing accessibility needs of an aging demographic. The EAC is continually working to improve accessibility and to ensure an independent and private vote for all.”
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Election News This Week
California Recall: A date of September 14 has been set for the gubernatorial recall election which the state Finance Department has estimate will cost $276 million. The original estimate assumed the election would happen on a regularly scheduled election date. With SB 152, the updated estimated county-by-county cost for a special election came to $243.6 million, plus $32.4 million to the Secretary of State’s Office to run the special election. Now local elections officials are making the dash to September. “We immediately started contacting our vendors, making sure we have enough supplies materials even ballot paper to be able to accommodate this election and mail ballots to all registered voters,” said Courtney Bailey-Kanelos, Sacramento County Registrar of Voters. Bailey-Kanelos is also working to find vote center locations since they’ll be open starting on Labor Day. The tight schedule is causing additional concerns. “We are actually concerned about the supplies including the ballot paper. We obviously don’t know yet how many candidates are actually going to file so we are waiting for that number to see what size paper to order,” Bailey-Kanelos said. Fresno County Clerk James Kus says, for most elections, his office will start preparing six months in advance. “It’s going to be tight, but we will get it done,” Kus said. “We have 74 days from today for Sept. 14, and we’ve begun all of our processes already.” In San Diego County, the registrar’s office has already started reaching out to poll workers and poll locations who served in the November 2020 election. They are also planning on having approximately 200 “super poll” locations open for four-days of voting. “We are, as all of us are, scrambling,” said Donna Johnston, the president of the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials. “It’s a little earlier than we had hoped for.” Before the date was set, the association told state leaders that Sept. 14 would be the earliest possible day they could logistically hold the election, and now with the date confirmed, the clock is ticking. “We are all working very diligently to secure our locations, now that we have a date, to secure our poll workers, to work with our printers to make sure that our materials are printed on time and that ballots are delivered to voters in time,” Johnston said.
Public Opinion: A majority of Americans believe ensuring access to voting is more important than rooting out fraud, the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey finds. At the same time, there was broad agreement that people should have to show identification when they go to the polls. Two-thirds of Americans also believe democracy is “under threat” but likely for very different reasons. “For Democrats, Jan. 6 undoubtedly looms large,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, referring to the violence and insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, “while, for Republicans, it’s more likely about [former President Donald] Trump and his claims of a rigged election.” By a 56% to 41% margin, survey respondents said making sure that everyone who wants to vote can do so is a bigger concern than making sure that no one who is ineligible votes. Nearly 8 in 10 Americans said they believe voters should be required to show government-issued photo identification whenever they vote. Not surprisingly opinions about voter access and voter ID varied by party.
Save the Vote: HeadCount has announced a new interactive campaign to encourage young Americans and cultural leaders to speak out for voting rights. At HeadCount.org/SaveTheVote, users will find a listing of what’s happening in all 50 states. To access that information, “they first play a little guessing game,” the announcement says, by predicting where their state ranks in how easy it is to vote. Then — after selecting their state on an interactive map — they’ll learn about pending or recently passed voting legislation in their home state. Visitors can also learn about how voting rights impact specific nonpartisan issues such as Criminal Justice, Racism and Discrimination, Jobs and the Economy, and LGBTQ+ rights. Lil Dicky, Big Freedia, Dead and Company, Amy Lee of Evanescence, Ministry, Michael Franti, Kam Franklin of The Suffers, Shah, and Dozens of musicians and cultural leaders will participate, with many directly calling their own elected officials and capturing those moments on social media videos, HeadCount announced the new initiative on the 50th anniversary of the 26th Amendment. “50 years ago, our country gave electoral power to the youth vote at a time when we knew their voices could no longer be silenced,” said Andy Bernstein, HeadCount’s executive director, “and today, we are bringing young Americans and their favorite musicians into the national conversation about voting rights.”
Alliance for Effective Democracy: The Bipartisan Policy Center has announced the launch of the Business Alliance for Effective Democracy, a select group of major U.S. corporations seeking improvements to the policies and laws that impact our democracy. The alliance prioritizes policies that enhance the voting experience, inspire confidence in election results, and foster collaboration and bipartisanship in our governing institutions, especially Congress. The four founding members of the alliance are Citi, CVS Health, Delta Air Lines, and Southern Company. The companies comprising the alliance believe the private sector can play a positive role in supporting election laws that make voting easier and maintain security, crucial steps to rebuilding confidence in elections. “In 2020, our nation’s election officials overcame tremendous obstacles and enabled more people to vote than ever before. It is critical that policymakers come together in a bipartisan manner to ensure the right to vote is protected and facilitated for all Americans,” said BPC President Jason Grumet. “Our economy depends upon an effective democracy. It is encouraging to see business leaders rise to meet this challenge in the interest of their employees, customers, and communities.” The alliance encourages policymakers to refocus the debate on election administration innovations that both parties can support, that state and local election officials can reasonably implement, and which will help all voters cast their ballots. Voters should have access to early, mail-in, and in-person voting options, and the entire process must be secured from end-to-end if leaders expect Americans to trust the results. Our country achieves both goals when policymakers work in concert with election administrators who must implement the policies on the ground.
Personnel News: Longtime North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger will not seek re-election in 2022. Former Maricopa County, Arizona Recorder Adrian Fontes announced his candidacy for secretary of state. Forest Park City Councilwoman Chelsea Clark announced a Democratic bid for Ohio secretary of state. Former Pulaski County, Arkansas elections commissioner Joshua Price has announced his candidacy for secretary of state. Bonnie Schenck is the newest member of the Scotland County, North Carolina board of elections. Danielle Sexton has been sworn in as the new Inyo County, California clerk-recorder and registrar of voters. JoAnn Sebastiani has been fired as the Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania elections director. Dante Lewis is the new deputy director of Lake County, Ohio board of elections. Rachel Lightfoot has been appointed clerk of Polk County, Missouri. Jeannie Ash is the new Hunt County, Texas elections administrator. Former Boone County, Missouri Clerk Taylor Burks is running for Congress. Rosanne Rickabaugh is the new deputy director of the Defiance County, Ohio board of elections. LaJeana Peterson has been sworn in as the Monroe County, Missouri clerk. John David Nielson has resigned as the San Juan County, Utah clerk/auditor. Frederick County, Maryland Election Director Stuart Harvey is retiring after 31 years on the job.
California: Two bills by state Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park) drafted “to advance voter equity” advanced in the state Assembly, his office announced. Senate Bill 503, which would implement a uniform statewide signature verification standard for mail-in ballots, passed the Assembly Elections Committee in a 6-1 vote and will head to the Appropriations Committee. SB 503 would require timely outreach to voters whose ballots are rejected. For a ballot to be rejected because of an invalid signature, elections officials would need to determine “beyond a reasonable doubt” when comparing signatures that they do not match. It would also prohibit elections officials from taking a voter’s party preference, race or ethnicity into consideration when comparing signatures. Senate Bill 504, which would take steps to ensure that those who have been released from incarceration would not inadvertently be removed from voter rolls, was approved by the committee unanimously and will head to the Public Safety Committee. SB 504 would also ensure that members of the military, California residents living overseas and those living with disabilities would have the same access to remote same-day voter registration as other residents.
Guam: Early, in-office, absentee voting could also become a permanent option for future elections if Sen. James Moylan’s Bill 120 is signed into law. It would allow for a 30-day window, prior to Election Day, for residents to come in and cast their ballots. Early voting is an option for those who can’t vote on Election Day, but the bill waives the requirement. The measure could help drive up Guam’s voter turnout, Guam Election Commission Director Maria Pangelinan told lawmakers June 22.
Illinois: Rep. LaShawn Ford (D) announced his plans to introduce a bill that will call for voter registration cards to include a photo ID. “I am filing a bill to make the voter’s registration card official with a photo ID,” Ford told the Crusader. The problem, Ford said, is that every state has different election laws. He is hoping his bill can be a national model to make it easier, not more restrictive, for voters to cast their votes. Ford said his bill is also important because “our voter registration card would be an official ID for people in prison. They can leave prison with an official Illinois ID,” he said. “If a person can’t afford a traditional ID card, an official registration card with a photo seems like a smart approach.” While marshaling support for his proposed bill, Ford said he would introduce it during the October veto session.
Louisiana: Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that he vetoed 28 of the 505 bills the Louisiana Legislature sent him during the 2021 legislative session including several elections-related bills. Edwards House Bill 138, sponsored by Rep. Les Farnum (R-Sulphur), requires voter registrars to conduct a “supplemental annual canvas” of all voters and purge the voter registration rolls of any residents who move without updating their voter registration with their current address. It would have placed such voters on an inactive list until the registrar confirmed their new addresses. In vetoing the bill, Edwards said each parish’s registrar of voters is already required to conduct an annual canvas of all registered voters. The “supplemental annual canvas” is “repetitive and unnecessary,” he wrote and creates a “significant unfunded mandate” on the secretary of state. House Bill 704, sponsored by Rep. Valarie Hodges (R-Denham Springs), would allow a political party to place a poll watcher in every precinct on election day and place “super watchers” in every parish. The watchers and super watchers would be appointed by the state central committee of each political party with at least 25% of the registered voters in the state. Edwards also vetoed Senate Bill 63, sponsored by Sen. Robert Mills (R-Minden). Minden said he intended his bill to clarify current law by allowing a voter to hand deliver an absentee ballot to any employee at the registrar’s main office, branch or early voting location. “However, as finally passed, it is now unclear as to whether hand delivery can only take place during the period for conducting early voting or whether hand delivery can take place at an early voting location if it is during the time period for conducting early voting. Access to voting is too important for this uncertainty, and so I have vetoed this bill,” Edwards wrote. Sen. Heather Cloud (R-Ville Platte) said her Senate Bill 220 was in the name of so-called “election integrity.” It would have required the legislative auditor to conduct annual audits of elections. The bill is an unnecessary “expansion of government” that creates separation of power issues, Edwards wrote. He said “there has been no legitimate allegation that statutory election processes have not been followed.” Senate Bill 224, another bill that Sen. Cloud said would bolster “election integrity” would have required voters to include the last four digits of their social security number or driver’s license number on the outside of an absentee mail ballot envelope. That same information would be required for a voter sending an application for an absentee ballot. Edwards said the bill “would require more stringent requirements to make application to vote absentee by mail than what is currently required to actually vote absentee by mail.” The governor said the bill was hastily drafted and “without proper debate. He said, “Louisiana election law being changed overnight and without proper vetting is an incredible disservice to the people of the state.”
Massachusetts: Massachusetts voters would be required to present identification to prove their identity at polling places, under an initiative petition that the head of the state Republican Party hopes to place on the 2022 statewide ballot. MassGOP Chairman Jim Lyons, a former state representative, announced the campaign in a Sunday, July 4 email in which he put out the call for at least 2,000 volunteers to help gather enough signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. Petitioners must collect an initial round of 80,239 voter signatures by early December, and a second round of 13,374 signatures next spring in order to keep their petitions on the 2022 ballot track.
The Lowell city council voted unanimously to send a home-rule petition to the Legislature seeking to continue one-week in-person early voting, no-excuse mail-in voting and drop-box options that were used due to the coronavirus pandemic. The vote immediately followed an Election Laws/Redistricting Subcommittee meeting held earlier in the evening where councilors heard from several residents and candidates for office who oppose a proposed plan to temporarily reduce the city’s polling locations from 13 to eight for the 2021 preliminary and general municipal elections.
Michigan: According to The Detroit News, A proposal that would force in-person voters in Michigan to undergo signatures checks, even if they have photo ID with them, will likely be removed from a bill in the state Senate, its sponsor said this week. The signature requirement was not in the original proposal by Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, but Republican lawmakers in the state House added it. In an interview, Barrett said he believes a consensus has been reached in favor of dropping the policy and moving forward with a focus on photo ID alone. “It’s just simpler to have people bring their ID,” Barrett said. “If they don’t have their ID, we’re going to make them available for free.” Barrett’s legislation is part of the 39-bill Senate Republican package to overhaul Michigan’s voting laws after the 2020 presidential election. It’s already passed the Senate and the House but because of the changes made in the House, it will have to be voted on again.
Nebraska: Republican leaders, spearheaded by Sen. Julie Slama of Sterling, have decided to take the party’s long-sought quest for voter photo ID requirements in Nebraska to a vote of the people. The GOP trio — including Republican National Committeewoman Lydia Brasch of West Point, a former state senator, and former Douglas County Republican Chairwoman Nancy McCabe of Omaha — filed an initiative petition with the secretary of state’s office launching the Citizens for Voter ID drive. The proposal would place the issue on the 2022 general election ballot in the form of a constitutional amendment. Supporters of the initiative said they expect to begin collecting petition signatures in August.
Pennsylvania: According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the point person on election issues for state House Republicans says he’s done considering election legislation until 2023, after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf last week vetoed the bill he wrote. “It is over until we get a new governor,” Rep. Seth Grove (R., York), chair of the House State Government Committee and author of the proposed Republican election overhaul, said in an interview late last week. That would leave the state’s election system effectively unchanged for next year’s nationally watched open-seat races for governor and U.S. Senate. And it leaves local elections officials in both parties across Pennsylvania without the two things they have consistently pleaded for: earlier processing of mail ballots, which would avoid prolonged vote counts as the world saw last year, and an extension of tight mail-ballot deadlines that don’t align with Postal Service standards and leave thousands of voters unable to return them on time. “We’ll still be in the same boat. We’ll just use the same paddles to row further,” said Karen Barsoum, the Chester County elections director. “It’s unfortunate that there were clear areas that could have been improved upon, that we had basically the whole year to prepare for the next big election.”
Texas: As the Texas Legislature prepares to convene a special session expected to focus on Republican voting restrictions, the House has filed a bill that closely resembles a sweeping GOP-backed measure that died in May but removes some of its most controversial provisions. House Bill 3, filed Wednesday by state Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, does not contain highly controversial provisions making it easier for judges to overturn elections or limiting early voting hours on Sundays. However, many elements of the original GOP elections package remain intact. They include bans on drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting, and criminal penalties for election officials who proactively send out vote-by-mail applications — methods that were pioneered by Harris County in 2020 for greater convenience during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill also still contains limitations on early voting hours, new ID requirements for those who vote by mail, and provisions affording “free movement” to partisan poll watchers at polling places.
Arizona: A federal judge erred when he blocked Arizona county recorders from throwing out unsigned ballots at the end of Election Day, attorneys for the state and the Republican Party told a three-judge Ninth Circuit panel this week. “Arizona, like three other states, allows curing until polls close,” said Drew Ensign of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, referring to the process of verifying ballot signatures. “That is an eminently reasonable practice and more generous than a majority of states.” The appeal stems from a June 2020 lawsuit in which the Arizona Democratic Party, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic National Committee asked the court for a permanent injunction to stop the state from throwing out the ballots. The plaintiffs eventually won the case against Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and the 15 county recorders. But ballots with no signatures are tossed if they aren’t cured by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Claiming the restriction disenfranchises thousands of voters, the plaintiffs are asking for five days after Election Day to cure unsigned ballots. In a letter to the court last week, the state of Arizona, an intervenor appellant, reiterated its position that the state voting system, which includes wide access to mailed ballots and three weeks of early in-person voting, as well as Election Day polling places, inherently protect voting rights. In the context of this system, tossing unsigned ballots is not an undue burden on anyone, the state argued. U.S. Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima questioned whether the state should treat these ballots differently from other ballots with mistakes, such as mismatched signatures. Yes, Ensign said.
Georgia: U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee denied an effort to invalidate parts of Georgia’s voting law, the first court ruling upholding new rules passed after last year’s elections. Boulee wrote in his order that he wouldn’t “change the law in the ninth inning” amid ongoing runoffs for the state House. Boulee reserved judgment about future elections. The lawsuit by the Coalition for Good Governance, an election security organization, opposed new requirements that voters request absentee ballots at least 11 days before election day, a deadline that limited the time available to vote by mail in the runoffs. The case also asked for court intervention to prevent restrictions on election observation. “Election administrators have prepared to implement the challenged rules, have implemented them at least to some extent and now would have to grapple with a different set of rules in the middle of the election,” Boulee wrote in an 11-page order. “The risk of disrupting the administration of an ongoing election … outweigh the alleged harm to plaintiffs at this time.” The plaintiffs had sought an injunction to halt enforcement of the voting law, Senate Bill 202, which Gov. Brian Kemp signed March 25. Though Boulee ruled against the plaintiffs’ request for immediate action, the underlying lawsuit against Georgia’s voting law remains pending in federal court. The judge’s order relied on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said courts generally shouldn’t change existing rules when elections are imminent. Known as the Purcell principle, based on the 2006 case Purcell v. Gonzalez, the court found that altering election rules could bewilder voters and discourage them from participating.
New Hampshire: The New Hampshire Supreme Court has struck down in its entirety the 2017 Republican-authored voter registration law known as Senate Bill 3, finding it imposes burdens on voters that are in violation of their rights under the state constitution. The law created a new process for people to prove that they are residents of New Hampshire if they registered to vote within 30 days of an election or on Election Day without a photo ID. The state’s highest court agreed with a 2020 Superior Court ruling that the new requirements and forms involved in the process are confusing, could deter people from registering and voting and “imposes unreasonable burdens on the right to vote.” “We affirm the trial court’s ruling that SB3 violates Part I, Article 11 of the New Hampshire Constitution,” Associate Justice Patrick Donovan wrote in a unanimous, 4-0 opinion. The constitutional article cited guarantees each “inhabitant” of the state 18 years of age and older an “equal right to vote.” The court concluded that, given the burdens, Senate Bill 3 “must be stricken in its entirety”
Tennessee: The Davidson County Election Commission voted 4-1 to settle a lawsuit from last fall with petition group 4 Good Government, which unsuccessfully pushed for an anti-tax hike referendum last year. The move means the election commission will not seek at least $6,000 in legal cost that 4 Good Government may be responsible for if the group loses the case. The petition group-backed referendum – a controversial attempt to restrict Metro government’s power over future property tax increases, among other initiatives – was struck down by a judge last year. While the petition failed, other claims included in the lawsuit remain unresolved, said Election Commission Chairman Jim DeLanis. The election commission offered to settle the case in April with each party covering its own expenses and attorney’s fees, court documents show.
Opinions This Week
National Opinions: Voting rights, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII | U.S. Supreme Court, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X | Democracy reforms | Protecting election workers | Same day registration | How voting works | Voter ID, II | Election policy | Election security | Ranked choice voting, II
Alaska: Ranked choice voting
Arizona: Secretary of state
Georgia: Justice Department lawsuit
Kentucky: For the People Act
Missouri: Election funding
NCSL Redistricting Seminar: Salt Lake City will host the last installment of NCSL’s Get Ready to Redistrict: Seminars for Practitioners and Others. If you are a legislator, legislative staffer, commissioner, commission staffer, an outside advocate or just an interested member of the public, these seminars are for you. In two days, NCSL will deliver knowledge and practical instruction that you can customize for your state and your role in the process. If you’ve come to an earlier serminar, expect to: Focus on practicalities—anything you need to know to get the job done; A chance to visit with your vendors to ensure that you know what your state’s capabilities are; We’ll review what going to court entails (because almost all states will be in court!); and The census is the hottest question in town, and we’ll have answers. You can meet the experts who you might want to bring to your state (I was going to say consult, but some are free and some are not—but all faculty will make themselves available). Where: Salt Lake City. When: July 14-16.
Language Access for Voters Webinar: As we all eagerly await the release of census data, including the redistricting data file, another important data release by the Census Bureau is scheduled for December 2021 – the next set of Section 203 determinations. Section 203 has required the provision of language assistance for many Limited English Proficient (LEP) voters for more than four decades, and, when properly implemented, has increased civic participation by the covered language group. The Census Bureau is responsible for making the Section 203 determinations based on American Community Survey. Join us on July 22nd at 3:30-5pm ET/12:30-2pm PT to review the previous determinations to assess which jurisdictions just missed coverage in 2016, and which may be covered during the next determinations, and hear from our guest election officials and voting rights advocates what can be done in preparation for the next set of determinations. When: July 22. Where: Online.
IGO 4th Annual Conference: The IGO 4th Annual Conference is scheduled for July 15-21 at the Sheraton New York Times Square in New York City. Check please visit the IGO website for more information about agendas and registration. When: July 15-21. Where: New York City.
NCSL Base Camp: In a dynamic online setting, NCSL Base Camp brings together policy experts on a wide range of topic areas to educate policymakers and legislative staff. When: Aug. 3-5. Where: Online
NASED Summer Conference: Twice a year, NASED members gather to discuss the latest developments in election administration. Members of the public are welcome to attend at the non-member registration rate. The Summer 2021 conference is scheduled for August 9-10 and will once again be held virtually. Check please visit the NASED website for more information about agendas and registration. When: Aug. 9-12. Where: Online.
NASS Summer Conference: The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) will convene in person for the 2021 Summer Conference. It will be held August 13-16 in in Des Moines, Iowa. The conference will feature committee meetings, discussions and various workshop sessions on election administration, cybersecurity, business services, state heritage and more. A preliminary conference agenda is available online here. In addition, an expo area will have a limited number of NASS Corporate Affiliates on-site showcasing their products and services. Please note, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health recommendations will be observed throughout the conference. Learn more about the venue’s COVID-19 safety requirements here. There will also be a limited virtual component for those unable to attend in person. Registration for the conference will open in late-May. When: Aug. 13-16. Where: Des Moines, Iowa.
NISGIC Annual Conference: The 2021 NSGIC Annual Conference will be held September 20 – 24 as a hybrid event at the Renaissance Dallas Addison Hotel and leveraging technology to provide for virtual participation, as well. The safety and comfort of conference participants are paramount. We will be following all guidance in place at the time of the conference and working closely with venues to ensure full care is given. We understand that not all conference attendees will be able to join us in person. Those participating virtually can expect a rich experience with interactive plenary presentations, networking opportunities, and participatory workshops and other sessions. (We’re so sure you’re going to enjoy the experience, we urge you to consider participating from home or another space where you can give it your full attention.) Whether you attend in-person or virtually, the NSGIC Annual Conference is the hub of critical connections for state, local, tribal, and federal GIS policymakers and coordinators, private sector partners and solution-providers, and other leaders in the geospatial ecosystem. Like nowhere else, the NSGIC Annual Conference is a place where relationships are built, information is shared, and collaborations are born. When: September 20-24. Where: Hybrid—Dallas & Virtual.
National Conference of State Legislators Legislative Summit: The Legislative Summit is NCSL’s premier annual event and provides a platform for legislators, staff and other public policy professionals to learn from the nation’s foremost experts, as well as each other, about solutions to the country’s most pressing issues. Watch for registration and hotel details in early June 2021. When: November 3-5. Where: Tampa, Florida
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.
Administrative Specialist II (Language Services), King County, Washington— This is an amazing opportunity to be engaged in the election process! The Department of Elections is searching for Language translation professionals to support the following languages: Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese. This job posting will be used to fill multiple short term temporary positions to support the Language Services Program. These individuals must be able to read, write and understand at the language proficiency testing level used by the Department. These positions will translate and proof documents and web materials in Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese; conduct research, and provide administrative support to other election work groups as needed during elections. These positions are expected to begin on June 1, 2021 and last approximately one month. In this role you will have the opportunity to: Translate or proof election-related documents and web materials to Spanish, Korean, Chinese or Vietnamese including but not limited to: voter registration information, letters and other correspondence to Limited English Proficiency (LEP) voters including, notice of elections, ballot titles and voters’ pamphlet information, candidate statements, ballot measures, resolutions and related materials; and Review, edit and proofread all translated documents produced by translation service providers and others for accuracy, clarity and consistency. Salary: $22.57 – $28.75 Hourly. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Certification Program Manager, Hart InterCivic— The Certification Program Manager performs high level management of multiple state and federal certification activities. The Certification Program Manager assists with developing the state certification roadmap in conjunction with internal stakeholders, communicates the roadmap to other departments, and provides direction for Certification Project Managers for individual certification campaigns. Additionally, the Certification Program Manager is responsible for ensuring that equipment inventory is appropriately utilized and tracked. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Chief Deputy County Clerk, Summit County, located in Utah, is seeking candidates with administrative professional experience for Chief Deputy Clerk. The Chief Deputy Clerk performs a variety of professional administrative and supervisory duties related to organizing, directing, and coordinating the various legally required functions of the office of the County Clerk. In the absence of the County Clerk, assumes all statutory authority and responsibility of the department. Works in close relationship with the Clerk. Appointments to this position are politically exempt from protection under county personnel policies and procedures; as such employee works at the will and pleasure of the clerk. May provide close to general supervision to Deputy Clerk(s) and Elections Clerk. We are a drug free workplace conducting pre-employment drug testing. We are an equal opportunity employer and encourage women, minorities, and the disabled to apply. Salary: $75,000. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Customer Support Consultant, Hart InterCivic— The Customer Support Consultant is responsible for providing application and hardware support to Hart InterCivic customers via telephone and email for all Hart InterCivic products. The Customer Support Consultant is also responsible for monitoring all requests to ensure efficient, effective resolution. The successful Customer Support Consultant will work directly with customers and other staff members. The position is responsible for responding to customer contacts, dealing with issues in a professional manner, providing technical direction to customers in a manner they can understand and being a customer advocate. The Customer Support Consultant must have outstanding written and verbal communication skills. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Deputy Director, Holmes County, Ohio— The Holmes County Board of Elections is accepting resumes and letters of interest for the position of Deputy Director of the Board. This position is responsible for preparing and conducting all elections held in Holmes County. The Director and Deputy Director oversee all operations involved in the election process in accordance with Title 35 of the Ohio Revised Code, policies and procedures of the State of Ohio and federal election laws. Additionally, the Director and Deputy Director’s responsibilities include but are not limited to the management of an annual budget; enforcing board policies on purchasing, personnel and legal matters; staffing, training and election planning. The Director and Deputy Director report to a four-member bi-partisan board. The Board is seeking an exceptional and professional administrator with a documented record of accomplishment and experience. The successful candidate must display strong leadership and communication skills to assume the role of Deputy Director and must have the ability to develop and implement elections procedures and work practices. Qualifications also include a demonstrated ability to solve problems, communicate effectively and to establish and maintain positive working relationships with the Holmes County Board of Elections, the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, the County Commissioners, other elected officials, employees, the media, community representatives and the general public. A high school diploma or GED is required with a college degree preferred. The successful candidate will possess knowledge of and have experience in Ohio election laws and procedures. Candidates should be proficient in Microsoft Office, and knowledgeable regarding cybersecurity and computer information systems. Candidates must be affiliated with the Democratic Party. The successful candidate shall be a resident elector of Holmes County within 30 days of employment. The successful applicant must consent to and pass a statewide criminal background check. Salary: Salary is dependent upon qualifications. Benefits include: paid vacation, sick and personal days, health, dental, vision and disability insurance after 90 days of full-time employment, deferred compensation plan and participation in the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System. Deadline: July 16. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, please click here.
Election Audit Specialist, VotingWorks— VotingWorks is a non-partisan non-profit founded on the powerful idea that the operating system of our democracy should be publicly owned. Every citizen’s vote is sacred, and every citizen deserves evidence that our elections are free and fair. We’re using open-source software, off-the-shelf hardware, and modern product engineering to make elections dramatically safer, more accessible, and more affordable. Affordability may sound pedestrian, but it is key. The front line of America’s election security rests in the hands of the 50% of US counties that struggle to afford basic services, let alone upgrade aging voting equipment. About the Job: Your goal is to make election administrators successful when running Arlo, VotingWorks’ risk-limiting audit software, to conduct risk-limiting election audits. You succeed when these election administrators succeed in delighting audit board members, voters, and the public. You’ll need to become very skilled with the Arlo software, the VotingWorks voting machines and general risk-limiting audit procedures. You’ll support election administrators and audit board members with tier 1 support (basic software and procedure questions) that includes light training and troubleshooting in preparation for and during audit conduct remotely. Occasionally, you’ll be asked to provide the same support in-person. Your enthusiasm for the product, the process, the mission, and the team should be infectious, surpassed only by your organizational skills and ability to multitask. You know that no matter how robust a technology, at the end of the day it’s people who make other people successful and you feel personally responsible for ensuring that everyone who uses Arlo feels successful. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Elections Intern, Douglas County, Colorado— The Douglas County Elections Internship Program is a unique opportunity for students interested in public service, government, and elections administration to gain hands-on experience in the Colorado electoral process. This paid internship program provides students with professional experience while gaining foundational knowledge in the areas of: Federal and state election law and rule; The role of the County Clerk and Recorder as Chief Election Official; Voter registration, education, and outreach; Election coordination and administration; and the Colorado mail ballot process. The Douglas County Elections Internship Program prepares students to serve as informed and engaged citizens while gaining valuable experience for their future careers. DEFINITION OF WORK: This is a highly flexible position ranging from general/clerical support to field/warehouse work. Incumbent will utilize problem solving and adaptability to assist with various tasks and projects including, data entry, mail processing, voting equipment configuration, polling center setup and tear down, basic technical support, and other duties related to Elections operations. Salary: $13.50 – 21.00 per hour. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
GIS Specialist, Polk County, Florida— This position consists primarily of technical work using geographic information system software to create and maintain maps and street index. Following reapportionment in early 2022, tasks will include drawing new precinct boundaries and updating associated tables. Applicant must have experience working with GIS software and various databases, and outstanding attention to detail. All work will be performed in Winter Haven, Florida. Application: For more information, inquire Loriedwards@polkelections.com
Research Director, Center for Election Innovation and Research— The Research Director will report to the Executive Director and lead CEIR’s research initiatives. These initiatives include, but are not limited to, matters pertaining to voter registration, voter access, election integrity and security, and election policy, generally. The Research Director will set goals aligned with CEIR’s mission and provide the research team with strategic direction on how to reach those goals, all while ensuring the rigor, integrity, and quality of all research activities. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Virtual Event Planner, Early Voting Information Center— The Early Voting Information Center (EVIC) at Reed College seeks out a virtual event planner and project manager with a strong understanding of United States politics, particularly as it relates to election policy, to help lead, coordinate, plan, and execute an applied research project focused on understanding and strengthening the capacity of local election administrators in the United States. EVIC seeks out an individual who can help to coordinate and engage academic teams, local and state elections officials, and other stakeholders engaged in the research efforts. The lead project team is located in Portland, Oregon, but remote work is possible. Time demands are expected to be ten hours/week with some variation, beginning on or around May 1stand ending October 31, with a possibility of extension. Application: Interested candidates should send a short letter of interest, qualifications, and description of applicable experience; and a resume or curriculum vita to Karen Perkins at email@example.com.
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