I. In Focus This Week
Assessing Elections with a Clear Eye
What the EPI Tells Us about Election Performance
By Charles Stewart III
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology
On Tuesday, The Pew Charitable Trusts released the latest version of the Elections Performance Index (EPI), its effort to take ideas proposed by Heather Gerken in The Democracy Index and turn them into flesh and blood (or at least electrons).
The website captures what happened during the 2014 midterm election, adding to existing measures from 2008, 2010, and 2012, as well. Having data from a series of elections makes it possible to examine the process of change across time. Most importantly, now that the EPI has two midterm elections under its belt, it is possible to do an apples-to-apples comparison of each state with how it performed in successive midterm elections.
The headline for this release — that the administration of elections in the U.S. continues to improve, slowly but surely — will certainly strike a discordant tone with many in the public, who have been fed a steady diet of stories claiming that American elections are rigged or vulnerable to hacking. Yet, the EPI points to a set of deeper truths about American elections that, one hopes, will gain the attention of the public, lawmakers, and election administrators once this election season is over.
The EPI is constructed by combining 17 measures of election administration, most of which are performance outputs, such as the percentage of absentee ballots rejected and the percentage of UOCAVA ballots unreturned. As explained in the methodology document that accompanies the EPI website, these 17 measures were chosen because they provide a comprehensive view of election administration at the state level, conceived along two dimensions.
Along the first dimension are the functional requirements for potential voters to have their ballots successfully counted: they must be registered, successfully cast a ballot, and the ballot must be accurately counted. Along the second dimension are the two normative goals we wish to achieve through our electoral process: it should be convenient to vote and the electoral process should be secure.
Conceived of this way, it is important that the EPI indicators reflect the nitty gritty of election administration. For the most part, a state can improve its performance by reforming or tightening up its administrative practices. For instance, a state that integrates its voter registration system with its Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) through online voter registration, will improve along the dimension that penalizes a state for rejected registrations and more provisional ballots.
Drilling down into the index, there are two indicators that provide the biggest boost to overall scores in 2014, which increased 5.1 points on average. The first is the so-called “data completeness” indicator, which gauges how completely a state provides core data to the Election Assistance Commission’s Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS). Readers of this posting likely know that the EAVS is a large, somewhat unruly instrument that states and localities have struggled to complete. The EPI doesn’t expect states to complete the survey entirely, but rather focuses on a small number of core measures that seem fundamental to gauging a state’s electoral workload. It seems reasonable, in other words, for a state to be expected to report how many new voter registrations were processed, how many provisional ballots were cast, and how many absentee ballots were returned for counting.
In 2010, overall data completeness averaged 94 percent, which means that the average state reported 94 percent of this core workload data. In 2014, overall data completeness grew to 97 percent. Expressed another way, in 2010, only 12 states reported all the core EAVS data; in 2014, 27 states did.
Data completeness is not a sexy measure, but touches on the core of managing with metrics — without metrics, it is impossible to manage using them.
Another pair of indicators that saw significant improvement pertained to military and overseas (i.e., UOCAVA) ballots. From 2010 to 2014, the average rejection rate of UOCAVA ballots fell from 6.6 percent to 4.8 percent, and the percentage of UOCAVA ballots that failed to be returned fell from 53 percent to 43 percent.
In the course of developing the EPI, a topic the advisory committee continually wrestled with was how to account for factors that are outside the control of election administrators, at least in the short term. A good example is turnout, especially in midterm years. The advisory committee eventually came to the conclusion that turnout was an indispensable component of any index that tried to assess the performance of an electoral system. What this means for 2014 is that virtually all states suffered a little bit in their EPI scores because average turnout fell from 44 percent in 2010 to 40 percent in 2014. (Thirty-nine states saw turnout declines from 2010 to 2014.)
The states that saw the biggest turnout declines from 2010 to 2014 were those that had a U.S. senator on the ballot in 2010 but not in 2014. (For Senate geeks, these are the 13 states whose senators are in classes I and III.) Among these states, turnout fell an average of 6.8 percentage points. This compares with an average drop in turnout of 2.5 points among all other states. Certainly, these differences in turnout declines were not because of differences in how elections were run.
It should be noted that consumers of the EPI don’t have to take the judgement of the advisory committee as the last word on a topic like this. If you don’t think turnout should be used as part of the EPI — either as a general matter, or in midterm elections — the EPI website allows you to remove turnout from the index rankings with the click of a mouse. (Spoiler alert: When you do this, very few states move very far in their ranking. Only three states move more than five rank positions when turnout is excluded.)
Because the EPI was inspired by Gerken’s Democracy Index idea, there is no hiding the fact that one goal of the EPI is to instill a little bit of competition among states so that all will continue improving how they run their elections. There’s another goal that’s equally important. It is hoped that the EPI will provide a starting point for conversations at all levels of government about what makes for a well-run election, and how to achieve it.
Let the conversation begin.
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III. Primary Updates
Voters in several more states headed back to the polls for their primaries this week including in Connecticut, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Sometimes light turnout can be a good thing, such was the case for Madison, which was dealing with numerous issues including the need to replace all of the city’s voting machines in the days before the primary. The light turnout also meant that poll workers could focus more time on remaking faulty absentee ballots which had been sent to voters before it was discovered there was a problem with the printing margin.
Poll workers in Janesville experienced some difficulties with a new centralized absentee counting method. The new method brings all absentee poll workers to one location to count the ballots, but according to WKOW there were some issues with transitioning to a centralized location.
There was also some ballot selfie controversy when a candidate posted a photo of his marked ballot—showing that he had voted for himself. While state law prohibits showing anyone your marked ballot, Elections Commission Spokesman Reid Magney said the manner is complicated because the law was written long before the days of cell phone and because the commission does not have the authority to prosecute.
IV. Election News This Week
- Although he has vowed to individually restore the voting rights to more than 200,000 ex-felons, as of this week, Gov. Terry McAuliffe has not signed the paperwork to restore the rights for a single disenfranchised ex-felon. According to The Washington Post, McAuliffe’s spokesman Brian Coy said the governor is working to make sure the rights-restoration orders are handled properly. “The headline here is, ‘Governor ensures process is correct,’ ” Coy said. “We’re making sure we fully comply with the court’s order, making sure he’s done a review of the individuals in question here, and then he will take action.” No timetable for the restoration has been set.
- The state of Texas has brought in Burson-Marsteller, a public relations giant and global strategic communications firm—with offices in Austin—to work with the state to develop court-mandated voter outreach efforts for the upcoming election.
- The New York City Board of Elections is under fire again, this time for closing polling locations at two apartment complexes and forcing voters — many of them seniors — to walk up a steep hill to the relocated polling place. Norm Levine, 91, told DNAInfo that he wanted to vote in the primary in June — but to access the polling place he was forced to take a cab. Previously, Levine had voted in the basement of his apartment building.
- The next time you happen to be in Sacramento, California, take some time to visit the California Museum and the exhibit that chronicles 165 years of voting in the Golden State. The exhibit is quite expansive and covers both election administration and politics. Power to the People: Voting in California 1850-2016 runs through November 13.
- Well this isn’t something we get to write about every week, but hats off (sorry, we don’t like snakes) to South Dakota Secretary of State Shantel Krebs for taking matters into her own hands when she spotted a rattlesnake in her backyard. During 60-mile-an-hour winds, Krebs shot the snake with her judge pistol. “It’s one of those moments where the adrenaline kicks in,” Krebs told KSFY. “It’s amazing how you stop, and think, and reason.” The snake was 32-inches long had eight buttons (rattles for those not in the know).
- Personnel News: Marsha Massey is the new Alabaster, Alabama elections director. Oregon Elections Director Jim Williams has resigned amid reports that he was about to be terminated for alleged inappropriate comments about female employees. Gala Sheats-Hester has been nominated to the Hall County, Georgia board of elections. Congratulations to Floyd County, Georgia Supervisor of Elections Willie Green III, for earning his doctorate in Political Science from Clark Atlanta University. Green worked on his degree for five and half years while working full time.
V. Research and Report Summaries
electionline provides brief summaries of recent research and reports in the field of election administration. The summaries are courtesy of Sean Greene, project management specialist with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
The Need for Accessible Voting in Jail – Disability Rights Washington, August 2016: This report highlights the challenges people with disabilities in jails in Washington face in the voting process.
The 2016 Primaries in Review – Jennifer L. Patin, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, August 4, 2016: Using phone calls received by the Election Protection coalition during the 2016 primary season, challenges faced by voters in 10 states are described.
VI. Legislative Updates
California: A bill pending in the General Assembly would allow Shasta County to join a growing list of California counties that conduct their elections exclusively by mail.
Also in California, the San Diego City Council has voted against a proposal to post the text of two citizen initiatives online instead of in a ballot pamphlet that will be mailed to all voters. Voters will all received two pamphlets, each more than 100 pages long. Printing the supplemental pamphlets could cost between $800,000 and $1 million, City Clerk Elizabeth Maland told KPBS. The vote to skip printing the full ballot language for the two initiatives failed on a 4 to 2 vote.
Illinois: Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has signed legislation into law that will allow 17-year-olds who turn 18 by the time of the general election to vote in primaries.
Nevada: An initiative has been filed with the secretary of state’s office that if successful would require the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to automatically register voters when they apply for or renew a license. The measure will not appear on the 2016 ballot. The initiative language would have Nevada’s law mirror that of Oregon.
Oregon: A group supporting ranked choice voting in Benton County submitted enough signatures to the measure on the ballot this November. The Better Ballots for Benton County turned in more than 4,500 signatures, which is about 1,700 more than needed.
Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania lawmakers held a rare summer session this week to discuss updating the commonwealth’s guidelines on voting machine technology.
Utah: The Alliance for a Better Utah is calling on lawmakers to change the state’s vote-by-mail election law after 64 ballots that were postmarked on primary day were discounted. Current law requires the ballots to be marked a day before the election, but in rural areas of the state, ballots that may be dropped off the day before the election, aren’t postmarked till the next day when they are shipped to Salt Lake City.
VII. Legal Updates
Alabama: The City of Daphne, Alabama is facing tough questions after the closure of polling places in neighborhoods with large black populations. According to the Alabama Media Group, a group of election watchdogs, including the Voting Rights Institute and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, is calling on the U.S. Dept. of Justice to investigate the elimination of all but two polling places where voters in the affected areas can vote in the August city elections.
Also in Alabama, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld the conviction of a Dothan woman who was found guilty of 24 counts of absentee voter fraud.
Connecticut: In a joint memorandum with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles has admitted that it failed to implement 1993’s Motor Voter Act.
Florida: According to published reports, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is reviewing allegations that fraudulent vote-by-mail requests were submitted to Palm Beach County for the upcoming primary election.
Illinois: The Liberty Justice Center has sued the state in federal court challenging the state’s same day voter registration law. The Center alleges that because the same day voter registration law only applies to counties with more than 10,000 people that the law unconstitutionally discriminates against voters in counties with smaller populations.
Kansas: A petition has been submitted to the Douglas County Court asking that a grand jury investigate the state’s online voter registration system. Petitioner Devon Weisenbach and his wife both registered online and within a week he received a voter registration card, but she did not. Weisenbach submitted a petition with more than 900 signatures. Under state law, 15 registered voters will make up the grand jury, which must be summoned within 60 days.
North Carolina: The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the state’s motion to stay the court’s recent decision to strike down a 2013 law that included voter ID, early voting provisions and same day registration. North Carolina AG Roy Cooper has refused to pursue the case further so Gov. Pat McCrory (R) said that he will take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Also, following a status hearing between lawyers for the state and plaintiffs, Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan has ruled that a state-level trial on voter ID issues would not move forward until the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in.
Texas: The U.S. Department of Justice has sued Harris County for violations of the American with Disabilities Act. The violations include polling places that are inaccessible to voters with disabilities.
Wisconsin: The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has put on hold a ruling by Judge Lynn Adelman that would have allowed voters without the proper ID to vote, cast an affidavit ballot. The three-judge panel said Adelman’s decision was likely to be reversed on appeal and the “disruption of the state’s electoral system in the interim will cause irreparable injury.”
VIII. Tech Thursday
Nevada: Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske has launched a website designed to show those too young to cast a ballot, just how the process works. Youthvote.nv.gov is the site for the 2016 Nevada Student Mock Election. The interactive site is open to youth groups from a variety of backgrounds, include public and private schools, homeschoolers and community organizations.
Pennsylvania: Since its launch a year ago, more than 400,000 Pennsylvanians have used the state’s online voter registration system to register to vote or update their information. According to the state, nearly two-thirds of the people who handled their voting registration business online — 62 percent — were under the age of 35, the largest age group to use the program. With 448,188 people using the system, that has saved the state at least 800 reams of paper!
IX. Opinions This Week
National Opinion: Voting schemes | Voting rights, II, III, IV, V, VI | Ex-felon voting rights | Critical infrastructure | Election hack | Rigged elections | Voter ID, II | Automatic voter registration | Online voting | Instant runoff voting | Voting Rights Act, II, III | Election unrest | Election Performance Index | Voter access | Lines
Alabama: Absentee voting
Connecticut: DMV voter registration
Iowa: Voting rights
Maryland: Early voting
Massachusetts: Ballot counting
Minnesota: E-poll books
New Hampshire: Voting rights
New Mexico: Secretary of state race
New York: Absentee ballots
North Dakota: Rigged elections
Ohio: Legal battles
Oklahoma: Voter fraud
Rhode Island: Hacked elections
Virginia: Ex-felon voting rights
Wisconsin: Voting lawsuits
X. Upcoming Events
Election Center Annual Conference— Conference attendees will be inspired and energized as we head into the stretch of the Presidential Election year. We will share substantive elections issues including crucial information from federal agencies to local election of cials sharing practical information for day to day election administration operations. This is the also the time to honor and celebrate the winners of the Election Center’s acclaimed Professional Practices Papers’ Program. You will not only hear the winning presentations but you will take home all of the innovative programs and ideas that were submitted by your colleagues in other jurisdictions around the country. When: Aug. 16-20. Where: Philadelphia. For more information and to register, click here.
National Voter Registration Day — In 2008, 6 million Americans didn’t vote because they missed a registration deadline or didn’t know how to register. In 2016, we want to make sure no one is left out. On September 27, 2016, volunteers, celebrities, and organizations from all over the country will “hit the streets” for National Voter Registration Day. This single day of coordinated ﬁeld, technology and media efforts will create pervasive awareness of voter registration opportunities–allowing us to reach tens of thousands of voters who we could not reach otherwise. When: September 27th. Where: Nationwide. For more information, click here.
XII. 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 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.
Customer Relations Manager, Dominion Voting Systems, Chicago, Illinois— Dominion Voting Systems is seeking a highly motivated and enthusiastic, Customer Relations Manager, based in the Chicago, Illinois area! This position will be responsible for providing world-class customer service in order to achieve our core purpose of delivering solutions for the advancement of fair, accessible, and secure elections! You will problem solve, collaborate, create and improve processes, and make our customers successful in the execution of seemingly impossible tasks. Excitement lives here!. Salary: Negotiable base + bonus target & benefits. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply click here.
Elections Specialist (two openings), Wake County, North Carolina— The Wake County Board of Elections is seeking two Elections Specialists to perform a variety of voter registration and election management duties. Deadline: August 14. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Manufacturing Engineer III, Toronto, Ontario — Dominion Voting Systems is seeking an experienced and passionate, Manufacturing Engineer III, to join our team in downtown Toronto! This position will work with Contract Manufacturer’s (CM’s) Engineering Teams to develop, implement and maintain methods, operation sequence and processes for the manufacture of parts, components, sub-assemblies and final assemblies; Interface with design engineering, estimating, determining time standards and making recommendations on product lines; Provide technical support to CM’s engineering teams; and Maintain records and reporting systems for coordination of manufacturing operations and accountable for on-site monitoring and audit of CM’s manufacturing processes to help identify and resolve issues causing defects and affecting product quality. Salary: Negotiable base + bonus target & benefits. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Product Manager (Owner), Toronto, Ontario — Dominion Voting Systems is seeking an motivated and experienced, Product Manager (Owner), to join our team in downtown Toronto! This position will be responsible for managing the planning, forecasting and marketing of one or more products at all stages of the product lifecycle; Investigating, selecting, and developing the products by considering such factors as intended market, products offered by the competition and how well the product fits with the company’s business model. This position may be assigned a jurisdiction to coordinate a Requirements Elicitations and Gap Analysis (REGA). Salary: Negotiable base + bonus target & benefits. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Product Specialist, Denver, Colorado — Dominion Voting Systems is seeking a tech-savvy and passionate, Product Specialist, to be based in our downtown Denver, Colorado office. This role is responsible for responsible for the installation, operation, repair, and maintenance of all Dominion Voting Systems elections products; providing elections support services and customer training; and interfacing directly with customers, co-workers and election officials. Salary: Negotiable base + bonus target & benefits. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Project Manager, Hart InterCivic — project managers at Hart InterCivic are highly motivated “self-starters” who are enthusiastic about providing exceptional customer service. Working with other members of the Professional Services and Operations teams, the project manager directs activity, solves problems and develops lasting and strong relationships with our customers. Hart InterCivic’s unique and industry known culture of innovation, transparency and customer-centric focus creates an environment where team members will continually grow and be challenged to develop their careers. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Senior Project Manager, Denver, Colorado — Dominion Voting Systems is seeking an experienced, well-organized and passionate Senior Project Manager to join our team in downtown Denver! This position will be responsible for overseeing the successful execution of assigned projects in the State of Colorado as well as managing a team of local and remote employees. This position is critical to the success of our customers throughout the State of Colorado. Salary: Negotiable base + bonus target & benefits. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Senior UI/UX Designer, Toronto, Ontario — Dominion Voting Systems is seeking a talented and passionate, Senior UI/UX Designer, to join our team in downtown Toronto! This position will be tasked with creating an easy-to-use voting experience for voters and election workers. The ideal candidate should have an eye for clean and artful design, possess superior UI skills and be able to translate high-level requirements into intuitive and functional user interfaces. Salary: Negotiable base + bonus target & benefits. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Senior Software Developer, Lead, Toronto, Ontario — Dominion Voting Systems is seeking highly technical and passionate, Senior Software Developer, Lead to join our team in downtown Toronto! This position will be responsible for providing high-level technical expertise to design development, coding, testing and debugging of new voting system software and/or significant enhancements to existing software for our customers. This position will Lead a team utilizing an Agile development environment. Salary: Negotiable base + bonus target & benefits. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Software Developer II, Toronto, Ontario — Dominion Voting Systems is seeking a talented and passionate, Software Developer II, to join our team in downtown Toronto! This position will be responsible for providing high-level technical expertise to design development, coding, testing and debugging of new voting system software and/or significant enhancements to existing software for our customers. This position will work on a team utilizing an Agile development environment. Salary: Negotiable base + bonus target & benefits. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Training Specialist, Wake County, North Carolina — The Wake County Board of Elections is seeking a creative and experienced Training Specialist to design and manage instructor-led and online training programs for our 3,000+ precinct officials. Deadline: August 21. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
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