I. In Focus This Week
Election boards’ impact on administering elections
Turnover and inexperience often biggest hurdles
By M. Mindy Moretti
While so much post-November 2012 Election attention has focused on legislation and how “to fix that,” in the months leading up to the election and the months since there has also been a lot of movement on local election boards that no amount of current legislation will address.
Elections boards have clashed with each other, state officials and their administrators over everything from early voting to performance to reviewing voter rolls for noncitizens.
In Ohio, both before and after the election there have been a lot of changes to local elections boards. Some of those changes proved to be quite contentious.
“I would say being a swing state puts the local officials more in the spotlight, so it also puts pressure on board members of the opposite party of the secretary of state to vote against the secretary of state,” said Edward B. Foley, Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer Professor for the Administration of Justice and the Rule of Law at the Moritz College of Law.
“In other words, there is a greater likelihood that the party will want its representatives on the board to act in a partisan manner, to protect the party’s interests. Consequently, this cuts both ways, for and against the secretary of state.”
In the past, we’ve discussed the difficulties of doing a nonpartisan job — administering elections on the state level — in a hyper-partisan world, but what about locally?
“I actually think that for local election boards, competence is a much bigger issue than partisanship,” said Daniel P. Tokaji, Robert M. Duncan/Jones Day Designated Professor of Law; Senior Fellow, Election Law at Moritz College of Law.
Tokaji, speaking specifically about Ohio, said that he thinks the make-up of the boards in Ohio — two representatives of each of the two major parties — the partisanship tends to balance itself out. He said the bigger issue of partisanship comes from the state level.
“The much bigger problem is the partisanship with the secretary of state’s office,” Tokaji said. “I believe bipartisan boards can work pretty well, but it doesn’t work well at the state level because that’s where the policy is made.”
Although the resigning board members cited a variety of reasons for stepping down, the all three had recently clashed with the State Board of Elections that had denied a petition to allow the board to fire Elections Director Dana King.
Rokey Suleman, who has worked for elections boards in Ohio, Virginia and the District of Columbia and is currently a sub-contractor for the Carter Center working in Nepal, said an administrator’s interactions with elections boards really varies from board to board.
“For the most part, boards stay out of the way administratively,” Suleman said. “Each board is a different dynamic however. Once a board member changes, the board goes through learning curves and growing pains.”
Suleman said the most difficult part for him as an administrator, in any of the three states, was when a new board member would come in with their own agenda.
“It’s tough for an administrator when boards change constantly and priorities change constantly amongst the board,” Suleman said by cell phone from Katmandu. “The best board members, and this is really, really selfish of me, are the ones that come on and ask the administrator questions and try to learn from the administrators. The worst are those who want to change things and yet have never run an election.”
Candace Hoke, associate professor at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law said the impacts of partisan elections boards aren’t just potentially tough on the elections administrators, they can also prove difficult for the voters.
She pointed specifically to the fight over early voting in Ohio during the 2012 election.
“It varies but the types of disputes in 2012 included early voting hours, which had a direct, negative impact on voters,” Hoke said. “This partisan strategy to restrict early voting and eliminate it entirely on the weekend before the election backfired, however, because it was widely painted as deliberately contrived to disenfranchise urban and racial minority voters. Turnout escalated as a result. I wish ‘lessons had been learned’ about not twisting early voting and other election rules for partisan gain but cannot.”
In 2009 there was quite a shake-up in Tennessee when election commissions became majority GOP after the party won control of the statehouse. Numerous election administrators, some who had been on the job for decades, were fired.
Even though county election commissions remain majority Republican, recently in Davidson County, Tenn. all three GOP members of the election commission were dismissed with the local GOP planning on replacing them with three new members.
No announcement has been as to who will replace the three commissioners, but Albert Tieche, election administrator for the county told The Tennessean that he would be ready for whatever comes his way.
“Those are my bosses, and I look forward to working with who’s assigned,” he told the paper.
II. Election News This Week
- This week, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling that says all residents, not just U.S. citizens should be counted when adjusting the sizes of voting districts. Project on Fair Representation — the same group that has led the challenge to the Voting Rights Act — filed an appeal in a Texas case urging the court to review the one person, one vote rule which the court has supported since the 1960s. According to The Los Angeles Times, the group argued that because of “changing immigration patterns,” the standard method of counting all residents shifts political power “away from rural communities to urban centers with high concentrations of residents who are ineligible to vote.”
- Elections officials looking to bolster their sagging budgets might want to take a page out Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board’s book. According to local media reports, the GAB made almost $400,000 in two years selling voter information to candidates and political parties. For information on all 3.7 million Wisconsin voters, it costs $12,500. Partial data is $25 plus $5 for every 1,000 voters.
- Recycling is always good, except when it’s not. Recently five absentee ballots for the April 16 primary in Compton, Calif. were discovered in a recycling bin behind a post office. The ballots, still in their original envelopes, should have been returned to the elections division when they were deemed undeliverable. The recycling bins also contained hundreds of undeliverable sample ballots. City and postal officials told the Los Angeles Times they are confident these are the only actual ballots that were not returned to city hall.
- Moving is never easy, especially if you’re an elections office. Marion County, Ore. is facing opposition to moving its elections functions into an office in downtown Salem. Voting rights groups claim the move will make the elections office less accessible because of fewer parking spaces and that the office will be on the second floor thus requiring voters to take the stairs or use an elevator. Members of the county commission claim the move will save the county hundreds of thousands of dollars on a lease, but former clerks and the current clerk Bill Burgess question the impact the move will have on voters. “People have a more joyful experience, when they can get in, do their business and get out easily.” Burgess told Willamette Live, “I’m concerned that [Courthouse Square] may be more challenging for my customers.
- Crime Update: Charges were dropped this week in two high-profile elections administration criminal cases. Charges have been dropped against 86-year-old Margaret Schneider of St. Peter, Minn. who had been charged with voter fraud after casting an absentee ballot and at the polls in the 2012 primary. Schneider suffers from dementia and said she had forgotten about the absentee ballot. In Virginia, felony charges were dropped against a 26-year-old Pennsylvania man who was accused of throwing away voter registration forms. Although the felony charges were dropped, Colin Small will still have to appear in court to face misdemeanor charges.
- Personnel News: Long-time Larimer County, Colo. Clerk Scott Doyle announced that he is retiring in May. Doyle is credited with being the creator of vote centers, a concept that is increasingly growing in popularity. Also in Colorado, Secretary of State Scott Gessler announced he will seek re-election in 2014. All three Republican members of the Davidson County, Tenn. election commission will be replaced. According to The Tennessean, Patricia Heim, Lynn Greer and Steve Abernathy will be replaced before the commission meets in April. Joe Canciamilla is now officially the new registrar of voters in Contra Costa County, Calif. Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman has announced that she will not run for office in 2014. Stat law does not allow her to run for a third consecutive term. David Kern has been appointed to serve on the Butler County, Ohio board of elections. Pending approval from the secretary of state, Janet Leahy is expected to join the Seneca County board of elections. Leahy had previously served on the board for 24 years including 12 as the director.
III. Research and Report Summaries
electionline provides brief summaries of recent research and reports in the field of election administration. Please e-mail links to research to firstname.lastname@example.org.
IV. Legislative Update
According to the latest issue of The Canvass from the National Conference of State Legislatures a total of 1,991 elections bills have been introduced in 2013. Currently 43 states remain in session, six—Kentucky, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming—have adjourned and Louisiana’s legislature is set to convene on April 8.
Arkansas: By a vote of 52-45, the House joined the Senate in voting to override Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto of a photo ID bill. Under the new law, voters must show a government-issued photo ID in order to cast a ballot. If a voter does not have a photo ID at the polls, they may cast a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots will be counted if voters ultimately provide a photo ID to the county elections office or sign an affidavit stating they are indigent or have a religious objection to being photographed for an ID. The new law requires the state to provide free photo IDs.
California: A bill making its way through the Senate would lower the pre-registration age in California from 17 to 15. If approved, SB 113 would make California the only state to allow residents as young as 15 to pre-register.
Hawaii: Senators shelved House Bill 1027 that would have prohibited employers, unions and political candidates from helping voters complete their absentee ballots and would have required absentee voters to sign an affidavit saying they completed their ballot without influence. Although the bill cleared the House, senators expressed doubts about the enforceability of the bill.
Idaho: This week, Gov. Butch Otter signed SB1108 into law. The new law will require groups seeking to get measures on the ballot to get 6 percent of the registered voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts. Under previous law, petitioners only need signature from 6 percent of registered voters regardless of location.
Massachusetts: Lawmakers are considering legislation introduced by Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover) that would bring sweeping changes to how residents in the Commonwealth register and vote. Among the proposals are online voter registration, pre-registration for 16- and 17-year olds, mandatory public audits of election results and early voting for up to seven days before election day.
Missouri: Senator Will Kraus (R-Lee’s Summit), a veteran of the Iraq War, has introduced legislation that will make it possible for military and overseas voters in Missouri to request and receive their absentee ballot via e-mail.
Montana: With the deadline looming for referendums, Montana lawmakers are scrambling to submit referendums including one that would eliminate election-day registration and cut off voter registration at 5 p.m. on the Friday before an election. Although legislation was approved by the House that would eliminate election-day registration, and is up for a debate in the Senate, Sen. Alan Olson (R-Roundup) introduced the referendum to put election-day registration to a vote because he feared if would be vetoed by Gov. Steve Bullock (D).
Nebraska: Debate began this week on a bill that would reduce the number of in-person early voting days from 35 to 25. Several elections administrators testified in support of the bill saying that it would give them more time to prepare for the election.
Nevada: While this isn’t really election administration legislation, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to note that the Senate is considering a bill that would make it legal to bet on federal elections in Nevada casinos.
North Carolina: With voter ID already making its way through the Legislature, two more controversial bills were recently introduced. One would shorten the early voting window by a week and eliminate voting on Sundays. Another bill would put an end to straight ticket voting and same-day registration.
North Dakota: This week, the North Dakota Legislature sent a bill to the governor’s office that would eliminate the state’s unique affidavit process to vote and instead replaced it with a requirement to show a photo ID in order to vote. The bill requires the state Department of Transportation to provide free non-driver IDs to anyone without a license.
Oregon: The House voted to support a bill that would allow 16-year-olds to pre-register. Currently 17-year-olds are already allowed to pre-register, but House Bill 2988 would allow 16-year-olds to do the same when getting their driver’s license.
V. Upcoming Events
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Arizona: Election reform
California: Special elections
Hawaii: Election-day registration
Indiana: Voter ID
Maryland: Lowering voting age
Missouri: Early voting
New Jersey: Early voting
New York: Election reform
Ohio: Provisional ballots
Oregon: Voter registration
Tennessee: Polling place cameras
Wisconsin: Voter registration
VII. Job Openings
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.
Project/Election Coordinator, Burleigh County, ND – under the supervision of the County Auditor/Treasurer, performs a wide variety of professional level administrative duties and responsibilities which normally include responsibility for management of programs and projects. Coordinate the activities associated with election functions including recruitment and training of election workers, absentee voting, early voting, coordination and setting up of polling locations. Perform duties requiring analytical and administrative skills necessary to provide professional-level coordination, interpretation, communication, and research in completing tasks. Plan and coordinate activities related to new technologies and their application in departmental operations. Maintain accurate records, with respect to real estate tax assessments and collections, and prepare necessary documentation to create real property assessment rolls, tax lists and property tax statements. Assist department head in supervisory role, identify and analyze problems that require action and recommend solutions. Minimum Qualifications: Requires five (5) years of work experience in high-level administrative support duties which includes participation in the development, or modification of major projects or procedures. College-level coursework in computer science, business or public administration, or related field with coursework reflecting the required abilities may be substituted for the required work experience on a year-for-year basis. Requires knowledge of administrative processes, procedures, or methods, and work experience with considerable knowledge, skill, and ability in duties similar in type and complexity to those performed at this level. Must be proficient with word processing, and spreadsheet software, such as MSWord and Excel and have extensive knowledge of mainframe and microprocessor computer systems. Starting Salary: $45,760 – $51,459. Deadline: May 15, 2013. For a complete job listing and to apply click here.
Senior Information Technology Specialist, Montgomery County, Md. Board of Elections — lead permanent technology staff and directly responsible to and supervised by the Election Director. Responsibilities include: planning and implementation of technical programming, testing and preparation of the county’s allotment of the statewide voting system, voting equipment and voter registration system in collaboration with state, the contract holder; is experienced and familiar with system integration, functionality and usage of the Oracle database and preparation of Crystal reports, GIS, Word, Access, and Excel, and analyzing statistical data; supervises and works with permanent and temporary programming employees; evaluates alternative system and equipment funding sources; represents department and addresses election issues at election system related meetings and board meetings; and performs technology related duties as required and necessary, maintaining a high standard of accuracy. As required by the State Board of Elections, the successful candidate must be a registered voter in Maryland and successfully complete a background check. The successful candidate must possess a Maryland driver’s license and use of a vehicle. The employee must work with and supervise permanent and temporary employees in a secure environment and be able to responsibly handle sensitive equipment and related security in an orderly and timely manner according to prescribed procedures. Minimum Qualifications include: Five (5) years of experience in the information technology field in areas such as programming, systems analysis, and data/telecommunications. Education: Bachelor’s Degree in computer science or related field from an accredited college or university and/or certifications in specific programming languages or operating systems to include programming languages such as SQL, Oracle Developer 2000. Equivalency: An equivalent combination of education and experience may be substituted. For applicants possessing very hard-to-find skills that are a critical need to the department/agency, training and certification may be accepted in lieu of full degree requirements. Salary: $64,960-$108,343. Deadline: April 20. For a complete job listing and to apply, click here.