I. In Focus This Week
Bexar County successfully tests email ballots for military members
After almost a decade of attempts, county finds the one that works
Jacquelyn Callanen, elections administrator for Bexar County, Texas has been testing programs to help service members from the four military installations in her county vote since 2006.
For almost a decade Callanen and her staff have been trying a number of different ways — including fax and email — to quickly and securely get ballots to and more importantly from service members serving abroad.
And finally, with legislative approval, Callanen thinks they’ve found the solution.
“We’re really excited about this,” Callanen said from her office while working to conduct yet another special election in the county. “We have worked really hard on this for many, many years.”
Under a bill approved by the Texas Legislature, in 2014 Callanen was allowed to not only email ballots to service members, but she was also able to accept voted ballots via email from military members serving in hostile fire zones.
According to a report from the secretary of state’s office, the pilot program in Bexar was a success even if the numbers were small. In the May 2014 primary the county received three ballots via email and in the November 2014 general election eight ballots were returned via email.
Service members must first sign an affidavit confirming that they are indeed in a hostile fire zone. Then they are assigned a one-time use secure email address, are sent their ballot, allowed to vote it and return it to the county.
“It took a lot of push and shove,” Callanen said “[Because] the presumption was that it was so close to Internet voting. We had to make sure it was absolutely secure.”
The county has a dedicated computer set up in the tabulation room to receive the ballots. Only three people in the office, all who have also signed sworn affidavits, including Callanen, have access to the computer. Once received, the ballot is remade onto an optical scan ballot, put in a secrecy envelope and treated like any other ballot.
There were of course some hiccups with the program with the largest being bounceback emails from the initial contact with the voter. To fix that following the primary, Callanen says her office first emailed the service members to let them know their ballot is coming in a certain number of days. If there is a bounceback, staff reviews the address on the initial absentee ballot application. Callanen noted that this problem could be easily overcome if voters were allowed to register to vote online and apply for an absentee ballot as well.
The fiscal impact, according to Callanen was small and ultimately will save the county money.
“We did this on a thin dime,” Callanen said. “Sure it takes some time to have the computer people set up the emails, but we’ve gone from mailing thousands of ballots to emailing them.”
Following the elections, Callanen surveyed the service members using Survey Monkey to find out how they felt about the process and got back more responses to the survey — 117 — than they did ballots.
“The general response was that it’s wonderful,” Callanen said. “I wish you could see the raw, unedited comments we got.”
Callanen said the service members not only appreciated the security of the system but especially, because the ballots were emailed, it gave the service members time to actually study the ballot, candidates and issues.
While the program proved successful for Bexar County and the military members who used it, the secretary of state’s report recommended to the Legislature that pilot program should be expanded to include other counties with large military populations to achieve a larger sample size of data.
Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) has introduced SB1115 that would extend the pilot program until 2017 and directs the secretary of state’s office to include additional counties in the program. The bill was referred to the State Affairs Committee that reported the bill favorably without amendments.
“While we would wait to name additional counties until after expansion of the pilot program has been approved, two criteria for selecting a county would be a significant population and the technical capabilities to conduct the program,” said Alicia Phillips Pierce, communications director for the Texas secretary of state’s office.
Shawn Snyder, elections administrator for the county said that no one has contacted his office yet about a possible expansion of the pilot program, but they would be very interested.
“If given the opportunity, we would be very interested,” Snyder said, noting that while turnout fluctuates based on the election, in the past the county has had to send out thousands of absentee ballots. “The new program would have the capacity to help out hundreds of Bell County voters who find themselves in hostile fire zones.”
Callanen is thinking even bigger.
“I think the next iteration would be to just any military members and eventually their families,” Callanen said. “It was fantastic to mail the ballots out to the service members, but then everyone else said hey, what about me?”
II. Election News This Week
- Follow up on the news: This week the Virginia State Board of Elections held a public meeting and officially decertified the state’s WinVote electronic voting machines. The board’s decision was effective immediately. While some counties are still trying to determine what they will do to replace their machines, others, like Botetourt have a plan. According to The Roanoke Times, Botetourt County will count ballots from the June 9 GOP primary by hand. Because it was not economically feasible to use the scanning part of the system for the June primary, Botetourt officials plan to have voters take the pieces of paper produced by the ExpressVote and place them in wooden ballot boxes that still exist the paper wrote. The ballots will then be counted by hand after the polls close.
- More follow up on the news: A Superior Court judge ruled this week that the Hartford city council does not have the power to remove the city’s three registrars. Judge Constance Epstein ruled that Hartford’s charter doesn’t give city officials the authority to remove two of the city’s registrars, and doesn’t include a provision that would allow them to appeal a removal. A third registrar resigned on Tuesday after reaching an undisclosed agreement with the city. Republican Registrar Shelia Hall has said she will serve out her term. Secretary of State Denise Merrill said the court’s ruling just underscores the need to change the registrar laws in The Nutmeg State. Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra expressed disappointment in the decision but said the city has not decided whether or not it will appeal Epstein’s ruling.
- The Marshall County, Illinois county board is not pleased with the idea of having to spend $76,000 to conduct a special election replace former Rep. Aaron Schock. The board voted unanimously to send Schock a letter requesting he reimburse the county for the costs. According to the Peoria Journal-Star, the letter was sent in a vein similar to a collection letter. “Schock has more money [in a campaign fund] than the county has in its reserve,” said State’s Attorney Paul Bauer. Additional counties are considering following Marshall’s lead.
- When workers for the Mahoning County board of elections visited a Youngstown-area nursing home to provide an early voting opportunity for the May 4 primary, they were faced with an unexpected challenge. A patient in quarantine with MRSA wanted to vote. A nurse working with the patient sealed the voted ballot into a biohazard envelope and the county’s coroner — after the department of health declines — agreed to open the ballot and read the vote to the county’s election director who then made a duplicate ballot. The original ballot was then destroyed. “This was a very rare case for us,” Joyce Kale-Pesta, the county elections director told the local paper.
- Not sure whether to laugh or cry over this item. Someone reported a suspicious object on top of a ballot box in the Sacramento County, California registrar’s office and reported to the sheriff’s department that is housed in the same building. After the building was evacuated and bomb technicians arrived, it was discovered that the mysterious object was actually an old 8-track cassette tape. “We still had to X-ray it and make sure it was safe, ” Sgt. Lisa Bowman told KEYT. “But it was just an 8-track tape.”
- Personnel News: Jim Vorkal, Middlesex County, New Jersey administrator has been re-elected to serve as the vice president of the state’s association of elected officials. Tracie Thomas is the new director of elections in Transylvania County, North Carolina. Her mother was elections director from 1975-1993. Lisa Adams is the new elections administrator in Guadalupe County, Texas. She replaces Sue Basham who retired in January after 8 years on the job.
III. Research and Report Summaries
electionline provides brief summaries of recent research and reports in the field of election administration. The summaries are courtesy of the research staff of The Pew Charitable Trusts Elections Initiatives. Please email links to research to Sean Greene at Pew.
Ranked Choice Voting and Civility – FairVote, April 15, 2015: In conjunction with the Eagleton Poll at Rutgers University and a core team of academics, FairVote analyzed the voter experience in the four Bay Area California cities that use ranked choice voting (RCV). Findings include:
- A majority of likely voters in each of the four cities using RCV support it;
- Support for RCV is highest among people of color, low-income voters, and young people; and
- 89 percent of respondents in these cities found the RCV ballot easy to understand.
IV. Legislative Updates
Arizona: Gov. Doug Ducey signed several pieces of elections legislation into law this week including House bill 2407 which tightens the rules for signature-gathering for ballot referendums and recalls and House Bill 2608 which increases then number of signatures third-party candidates need to get on the ballot.
Florida: At press time, the full House was expected to vote on proposed legislation that would allow The Sunshine State to join 25 other states in allowing voters to register online. Before the final vote on the legislation, the House voted to amend it to include $1.8M for the program. The Senate’s companion legislation is almost identical except for implementation date.
Idaho: Gov. Butch Otter signed legislation into law this week that will move Idaho’s presidential primary from May to March on the same day that school bond and levy elections are held.
Maryland: A bill that would restore the voting rights to approximately 40,000 Marylanders is on its way to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan (R). The bill, which would restore the voting rights of most ex-felons as soon as they are released from jail, was approved by both the House and Senate before the end of the legislative session this week.
Also in Maryland, the General Assembly approved legislation to move the state’s primary from the first Tuesday in April to the fourth Tuesday in April beginning in 2016. There was only one dissenting vote in both chambers.
Nevada: By a 6-4 vote, the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee approved AB459 that sets up a process of cross-checking noncitizen driver authorization cards with voter rolls to ensure that noncitizens are not registered to vote.
In other news, the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee has approved a number of elections bills including: SB433 that would keep early voting sites open until 8 p.m. as well as SB331 that would allow the DMV to forward voter information electronically, SB203 that would allow 17-year-olds to pre-register and SB436 that would require any person who intends to register more than 50 people to register with the secretary of state’s office.
New Mexico: Gov. Susana Martinez has signed SB 643 into law that will eventually allow New Mexicans to register online to vote. Initially under the new law residents will be allowed to update and change their registration online and eventually residents with driver’s licenses will be able to register online. Both chambers unanimously approved the legislation.
New York: Assemblyman Al Stripe, D-Cicero has introduced legislation that would closed New York public schools on Election Day if the schools are used as polling places.
In New York City, Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) is sponsoring legislation that would require landlords to distribute voter registration forms with every new lease.
Ohio: Under legislation introduced this week, the Buckeye State’s presidential primary would actually move back a week to March 15, 2016. The move would allow the state’s GOP to avoid being penalized under new national party rules.
Lawmakers have rejected a request by the secretary of state to include $1.25 million in the state’s budget so the secretary’s office can mail absentee ballot applications to every registered voter. Spokesman for the secretary’s office said Secretary Jon Husted would continue to work with legislators to make sure the funding gets appropriated.
Rhode Island: With support from the secretary of state’s office, H 6051 was introduced this week that would create an online voter registration system in Rhode Island. The legislation also includes language to create in-person early voting beginning the 28th day before a primary or general election. Early voting will take place during normal business hours Monday through Friday and on Saturday and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tennessee: Barring a veto — which according to the Knoxville News Sentinel seems unlikely — it will soon be illegal to use a cellphone, “mobile electronic or communication device” for conversations, taking photographs or recording videos inside a polling place beginning in 2016.
West Virginia: The Fairview town council approved an ordinance that would move the town to an early vote-by-mail system for municipal elections. The mayor expects the move will save the town about $400 per election.
V. Legal Updates
Alabama: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will decide whether the government must pay the legal bills of the lawyers who represented Shelby County before the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawyers are owed about $2 million. The U.S. Department of Justice has argued that a trial judge correctly applied a tougher standard in deciding that the firm was not entitled to fees.
California: This week, Superior Court Judge Eddie Sturgeon ruled that San Diego County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu did not err when he left about a dozen ballots uncounted in a race that was won by two votes. According to the Union Tribune, the decision concluded that Vu was right in declining to count 10 provisional ballots.
New Hampshire: The New Hampshire Supreme Court declined to issue an opinion on House Bill 112 which links a person’s voting domicile to the state’s motor vehicle laws. The House approved the bill but had tabled it until the court weighed in. The legislation is similar to what was recently line-itemed by Ohio’s governor and requires that a person’s voting address must be the same for their license or vehicle registration.
New Mexico: The New Mexico Court of Appeals is allowing two lawsuits challenging firings of former employees of the secretary of state’s office to proceed to trial. The appellate court overturned one lower court ruling and upheld another.
Utah: A federal judge has denied a GOP-requested injunction to delay the implementation of SB54, a law the GOP believes is unconstitutional. While representatives for the state’s Republican party said they will discuss what to do, Mark Thomas, chief deputy in the Lt. Governor’s office told KUER, the ruling doesn’t mean much. “From the elections office standpoint, the Lt. Governor’s office, we are moving forward,” he says. “We are preparing. We are going to be getting the candidates and political parties, and the public ready and knowledgeable of what SB54 does and how it changes the election law.”
Washington: The Yakima city council voted 5-2 this week to appeal a federal court ruling requiring the city to create a new voting system. Elections on the calendar for 2015 will proceed under the new system though.
VI. Opinions This Week
Alaska: Voter access
Delaware: Same-day registration
Georgia: Election costs
Iowa: Absentee ballots
Maine: Ranked choice voting
Nevada: Voter ID
North Carolina: Election laws
Rhode Island: Young voters
Washington: Voting Rights Act
VII. Available Funding
Grants for new ERIC members
For states considering membership in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), The Pew Charitable Trusts offers the opportunity to apply for financial assistance to facilitate their participation.
Pew is offering limited financial assistance to states to help defray the expense, such as bulk mail service provider charges and postage, of the initial outreach to eligible but unregistered citizens by mail. Pew aims to maximize the effect of this funding by assisting multiple states.
Applications must be received by 5 p.m. EDT on May 31.
U.S. Election Assistance Commission Grants
EAC Grants Management Division is responsible for distributing, monitoring, providing technical assistance to states and grantees on the use of funds, and reporting on requirements payments and discretionary grants to improve administration of elections for federal office. The office also negotiates indirect cost rates with grantees and resolves audit findings on the use of HAVA funds.
VIII. Upcoming Events
Please email upcoming events — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to email@example.com.
National Democracy Slam 2015 — National Democracy Slam 2015 is a day-long conference that will explore 17 bold ideas for breaking partisan gridlock, ending gerrymandering, and improving America’s elections and politics. The conference will feature leading electoral reform thinkers and policy makers. The conference will also present attendees with plenty of opportunities to engage with the reforms via a live polling system that will be used throughout the day. Since the conference is being broadcast via webcast, both in-person and online attendees will have an opportunity to weigh in on each of the 17 electoral reforms that are discussed, with real-time results for each poll. When: April 22. Where: American University’s Washington College of Law. For more information and to register, click here.
Policy & Elections Technology: A Legislative Perspective— NCSL is hosting a national meeting to bring together legislators, legislative staff, election officials, voting technology and computer security experts, legal experts, advocates, federal agency staff and other interested parties to discuss the future of elections technology. Sessions will cover voting technology 101; a report on NCSL’s Elections Technology Project; recommendations from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration; the impact of legislation on voting system design; alternative voting methods and implications for technology; testing and certifying voting systems; the use of technology for post-election audits, recounts and resolving disputes; and what is pushing change in the way ballots are cast. Where: Santa Fe, New Mexico When: June 3 – 5. Contact: Katy Owens Hubler, firstname.lastname@example.org, 303-856-1656. For more information and to register, click here.
Maryland Association of Election Officials Annual Conference— The Maryland Association of Election Officials will hold its annual conference and meeting in Ocean City this year. The agenda is filled with presentations from the State Board on the new elections system, MAEO’s annual membership meeting and lots of opportunities to mingle and network. When: June 9-12. Where: Ocean City, Maryland. For more information and to register, click here.
NASED Summer Meeting— The National Association of State Election Directors will hold it’s 2015 summer meeting in Cleveland, Ohio this year. Registration will open soon. Where: Cleveland, Ohio. When: June 23-25. For more information and to register, click here.
IACREOT Annual Conference — The International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Elections Officials and Treasurers will hold its annual conference in Vail, Colorado this year in June and July. Planning is still in the early stages, but be sure to mark your calendar. Where: Vail, Colorado. When: June 27-July 2. For more information and to register, click here.
NASS 2015 Summer Conference — The National Association of Secretaries of State Annual Summer Conference is set for July this year. Planning is still in the early stages, but be sure to mark your calendar. Where: Portland, Maine. When: July 9-12. For more information and to register, click here.
NACo Annual Conference and Exposition— The 80th Annual Conference and Exposition of the National Association of Counties will be in Mecklenburg County (Charlotte), North Carolina. Registration opens February 9th. Where: Charlotte, North Carolina. When: July 10-13. For more information and to register, click here.
NCSL Legislative Summit 2015 — The National Conference of State Legislators will hold their 2015 Legislative Summit in August. Planning is still in the early stages, but be sure to mark your calendar. Where: Seattle. When: August 3-6. For more information when it becomes available and to register, click here.
Election Center 31st Annual Conference— The Election Center hold its 31st Annual Conference in Houston in August. Planning is still in the early stages, but be sure to mark your calendars now. Where: Houston, Texas. When: August 18-22. For more information and to register, click here.
NACRC Annual Conference— The Annual Conference of the National Association of County Recorders, Election Officials and Clerks is set for Houston in August. Planning is still in the early stages, but be sure to mark your calendar. Where: Houston, Texas. When: August 21-25. For more information and to register, click here.
IX. 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 email@example.com. Job postings must be received by 5pm on Wednesday in order to appear in the Thursday newsletter. Listings will run for three weeks or till the deadline listed in the posting.
Director, Wayne County, North Carolina — manage the day-to-day operations of the board of elections. Have a baseline understanding of the rules, processes, procedures and equipment used in local election administration. Act as the system administrator for the State Election Information Management System for Wayne County. Perform the planning, coordinating, and overall controlling of the board of elections to ensure that goals and objectives are accomplished as required by the county manager, the board of elections board members and the state board administrator. Salary: $54,936-$85,681. Deadline: April 23. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Elections Technology Specialist II, Boulder County, Colorado — position will perform a variety of complex and specialized tasks associated with elections management, elections processing systems and the statewide voter registration system. The position is responsible for the implementation and results of related processes, as well as related procedural development, training and technology support, while ensuring compliance with elections rules, laws and policies. This role requires varying degrees of process management and supervisory support of temporary employees, as well as a high level of initiative, attention to detail, collaboration, problem-solving and analytical ability. The ideal candidate must be self-motivated and collaborative with excellent communication skills, in both verbal and written form. He or she has the demonstrated ability to effectively communicate technical information to nontechnical personnel at all levels of the organization. He or she has the capacity to set clear goals, manage time efficiently, effectively work with others for completion, and take initiative with projects and team. Additionally, he or she demonstrates creativity and innovation through problem-solving and improvement identification processes. Ability to work effectively under pressure while remaining positive and flexible is also key to success. Salary: $52,572-$75,696. Deadline: April 22. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Executive Director, U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Silver Spring, Maryland — executive director in consultation with the commissioners is expected to: (1) prepare policy recommendations for commissioner approval, (2) implement policies once made, and (3) take responsibility for administrative matters. The Executive Director may carry out these responsibilities by delegating matters to staff. The incumbent serves as the senior official in a line capacity for overseeing the staff and carrying out the mission of the agency as set by the Commissioners. The Executive Director serves as the interface with other Federal agencies providing support services (i.e., GSA, NARA, SAC, etc.). The Executive Director has wide latitude to direct staff and resources in accomplishing the Commission’s goals and desired results. Reporting to this position are senior EAC staff with expertise in their areas of responsibility. Salary: $148,700. Deadline: April 20. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Statewide Elections Expert, Netrorian, Annapolis, Maryland — Netorian has an immediate opening for an Statewide Elections Expert in our Annapolis office who will guide the evaluation and implementation of new voting system technology for the State of Maryland. The Expert will support the technical and process requirement development necessary to convert the State from its current voting system to a precinct-based new voting system solution. As a senior member of the team, the Expert will support the Maryland State Board of Elections leadership in shaping the team’s perspective on the high level goals and detailed activities of the entire project. Specific duties will include these tasks: Assist and support the team in gathering and documenting the requirements, business processes, and workflows necessary to successfully convert the State of Maryland from a Direct Recording Electronic-based (DRE) voting solution to a precinct-based scanning voting solution; Provide expertise and the leadership necessary to develop and execute at least one statewide Mock Election with the selected voting system; Participate and assist in leading “Lessons Learned” sessions to improve the implementation processes of the new voting system solution and for the ongoing improvement of election processes utilizing the chosen system; Contribute to the development of effective training methodology for election official management, election support staff, other election operations staff, and poll-workers. This includes the change management components of converting to a new system at the operations level; Provide insights and guidance for unforeseen problems and issues that may arise as part of a major voting system replacement and will assist with the development and execution of voter outreach and education efforts. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
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Arizona’s Yavapai County recently acquired new voting equipment, and is looking for buyers interested in purchasing equipment from their previous Diebold system. Items available for purchase include (price per each, not including shipping): TSx Packages ($50.00), Accu-Vote Precinct Packages ($35.00), Accu-Vote Central Count Packages ($175.00), Accu-Vote Central Count Scanners ($45.00), Accu-Feed Systems ($100.00), 128K Accu-Vote Memory cards ($25.00), 32K Accu-Vote Memory cards ($25.00), and TSx PCMCIA Memory cards ($25.00). Equipment is being sold as-is on a first come, first served basis until all items have been liquidated. Interested parties may send a request for more information to: email@example.com. Please be sure to include in your email: Contact Name, State, County, and phone number.