I. In Focus This Week
Providing a WOW experience for voters
Americans expect excellent customer service from shoe shopping to elections
By Matt Boehmer, director
Federal Voting Assistance Program
To avoid sending my mother birthday flowers for the umpteenth year in a row, last year I decided to get her a really nice pair of shoes she’d been eyeing. She lives on the other side of the country, and of course, just like with the flowers, I waited until the last minute.
The day before her birthday I went to the Zappos shoe website to place the order and braced myself to pay the high overnight delivery fee. To my very pleasant surprise, they waived the shipping fee in appreciation of my loyalty. She got the shoes and loved the welcome change from the expected flowers (much to my sibling’s vexation!).
Americans expect excellent customer service in every interaction in everyday experiences. They expect to find the product or information they need quickly, to be provided simple instructions on completing the task, and receive confirmation of its completion. This includes our military and overseas voters.
Wouldn’t it be great if they could get updates on their progress in the elections process – and even better – some additional information like the timeframe to expect their blank ballot? I truly feel we in the elections field need think of our voters as marketplace consumers and be a shoe company!
We’ve all heard of Zappos. As I can testify, they will take an order at midnight, and have it delivered the next day anywhere nationwide (sorry mom, it was a really busy day). They have an inordinate amount of products, for a variety of people – all at our fingertips.
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, created the “WOW” philosophy – simply providing excellent customer service to everyone, every time. Once they delivered the WOW factor to their customers, they quickly dominated the online shoe market.
I read that their customer service center once had a call that lasted over eight hours.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we don’t help our voters already, or that we need to stay on the phone that long, but that we have a system of data in place to deliver a WOW experience and create customer satisfaction for life.
Why shouldn’t we give them the experience they now expect from other service providers?
According to a survey FVAP completed earlier this year, 67 percent of Active Duty personnel were not confident that their ballot would be counted during the 2014 election, and 35 percent thought the voting process was too hard or did not know how to get their ballot.
The election community is doing great things to reach our military and overseas voters, but there is always more we can do and challenges to overcome.
The way I see it, we have three distinct opportunities:
- Educate – show the voters how to complete their absentee vote, in simple steps, delivered right to them
- Collect customer service data to understand the voter’s experience
- Create customer service in systems so that information is pushed out to the voter
In the consumer product “brand” market, if you are unsatisfied with one brand, you have the ability to simply switch to another. In the case of military and overseas voting, there is no opportunity to switch brands.
If these citizens do not receive an acceptable level of assistance the probable likelihood is that they will say it’s too hard, and not vote at all.
The men and women who protect and serve our country and allow us to enjoy the freedoms that we do deserve the WOW experience. So – let’s be a shoe company!
*You can read more about FVAP’s research and initiatives at FVAP.gov.
(Matt Boehmer made these remarks as part of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s Election Data Summit that was held in Washington, D.C. August 12-13, 2015.)
II. Election News This Week
- A poll conducted by the University of Houston’s Hobby Center and Rice University’s Baker Institute found that registered voters in Congressional District 23 did not vote in the most recent election because of misinformation/misunderstanding of the state’s voter ID law.
- Moving forward, the Registrar of Voters’ Office in Santa Clara County, California will be paying for return postage for all vote-by-mail ballots. “The Registrar of Voters’ Office is dedicated to promoting democratic participation. We are passionate about increasing voter turnout and we hope that by providing prepaid postage on Vote by Mail ballots we will make it easier for busy residents to vote,” Shannon Bushey, registrar of voters, told KRON. According to the TV station, San Francisco is the only other California jurisdiction to provide postage-paid envelopes.
- The Virginia State Board of Elections has announced that it will reconsider its plan to rework voter registration forms. The SBOE had initially said the form was being reworked so that boxes would-be voters check to affirm that they’re a U.S. citizen and haven’t lost their voting rights either because of a felony or mental incapacity were to remain, but leaving them black wouldn’t have invalidated the form. Instead the required affirmations would be handled in a signature box explaining that lying on these issues constitutes a felony. After a conservative uprising, the state is reconsidering.
- A number of Utah cities and towns conducted their first ever vote-by-mail elections this week and by all accounts, the elections were deemed a success. Salt Lake County recorded a 32 percent turnout. “This is just unprecedented,” Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen told the Deseret News. “What it says is the vote-by-mail process absolutely worked in increasing voter turnout.” In Lehi, the first vote-by-mail election doubled the turnout from two years ago. Voter turnout topped 20 percent in Orem, which a city spokesman said was a “huge success.”
- Electionline.org just returned from our four-week annual volunteer trip to Guatemala where basketball is the focus of daily activities, therefore we could not pass up posting this item. Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan is partnering with the Phoenix Suns and Mercury for a joint voter effort to educate school children about the electoral process and improve voter registration rates among adults 18-24.
- Personnel News: Suzanne Morgan is resigning as the Sebastian County, Arkansas election coordinator effective August 28 to move to Texas with her husband. Tom Mahoney, III has been sworn in as the new Chatham County, Georgia board of elections chairman. Steve Hines has resigned as the Forsyth County, North Carolina elections director. Hines has been on the job just about a year and will be moving to Greene County to become that county’s elections director. Brown County, Ohio BOE Director Kathy Jones and Deputy Director Elizabeth Thorne-McKenzie both resigned their positions this week. Ralph Davis and Randy Ingram have joined the Forsyth County, Georgia board of elections. Jodi F. Dibble, Trumbull County, Ohio board of elections director has resigned from her position after only six months on the job. Alex Britt is the new Weakley County, Tennessee administrator of elections.
III. Legislative Updates
Alaska: Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott has certified a ballot petition that would link Alaska Permanent Fund dividend applications with voter registrations, which initiative sponsors say could add tens of thousands of Alaskans to voter rolls. But according to the Alaska Dispatch News, Mallott’s Elections Division is also warning it would cost nearly $1 million to implement and another $300,000 a year to manage.
Maryland: The Perryville town commission has delayed a vote on a charter amendment that would do away with write-in votes. The board held off of the vote for Charter Amendment 2015-02 to study possible alternatives to the problems found with a wholesale end to the practice.
Minnesota: The Duluth City Council tabled discussion on whether or not to put an initiative on the November ballot that if approved would move the city to ranked choice voting. The council could not agree on the wording of the initiative. Council president Emily Larson hopes to bring the matter back up for discussion at a special meeting on Friday.
North Carolina: The Durham Public Schools board is set to consider a resolution that will support high school voter registration by asking high school principals to designate at least one employee to assist students in completing voter registration forms and to work with community organizations throughout the year.
Washington: An effort to move Washington’s primary –which was supported by Secretary of State Kim Wyman—failed to make it out of committee this week when all five Republican members of the nine-member committee voted against it.
IV. Legal Updates
Arizona: Late last week, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Arizona may continue to use a ballot registration form that lists only the two larges political parties in the state. According to Courthouse News Service, in 2011, the Arizona Libertarian and Green parties had sued then-Secretary of State Ken Bennett after the state legislature decided that only the two largest political parties would be listed by name on the voter forms. The statute “does not directly inhibit the ability of any party to gain access to the ballot, nor does it articulate different criteria for major and minor parties who seek to get their candidates on the ballot,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima on behalf of a three-judge panel. “All new political parties (and parties that have lost continuing ballot access) are required to comply with the same criteria to get their candidate on the ballot.”
New Hampshire: A federal judge has ruled that New Hampshire’s ban on the ballot selfie is a violation of a voter’s free speech and is not needed to prevent election fraud. According to the Associated Press, in his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro said it’s speculation to think people will be coerced into selling votes if they can post the image online. During arguments in June, lawyers for the state acknowledged there are no known cases of vote-buying or coercion in New Hampshire.
Ohio: A lawsuit filed by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless and the Ohio Democratic Party against the state argues that recently passed laws create hurdles for minority voters casting absentee and provisional ballots.
Washington: The city of Yakima filed a 33-page brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday in support of arguments that could effectively unravel the city’s new district elections system. The amicus brief, was filed in Evenwel v. Abbott, a voting rights case out of Texas that seeks to further define the court’s principle of “one person, one vote.”
V. Tech Thursday
Travis County, Texas — Austin will be the testing ground for Text Request that will allow residents to request a postage-paid voter registration application. According to The Austin Chronicle, all residents will have to do is text “Register” to IVOTE or 48683: the system will then ask them for their home address, and the form will be sent for them to fill out and return.
VI. Opinions This Week
Missouri: Voter ID
Montana: Voting Rights Act
Wisconsin: Government Accountability Board
VII. Available Funding
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.
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.
MEOC Conference — The Midwest Election Officials Conference is back! Following a several-year hiatus, Brian Newby, Johnson County, Kansas election commissioner is bringing back the regional conference for elections officials. There are still a lot of details to work out, but if you’re an elections official in the Midwest, mark your calendars now! Where: Kansas City area. When: September 30-October 2. For more information, stay tuned to electionline and Brian Newby’s Election Diary.
IX. Job Postings This Week
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California Program Coordinator, Civic Engagement, NALEO, Los Angeles — California Program Coordinator for Civic Engagement will provide support to the NALEO Educational Fund’s Civic Engagement program work across California. This includes providing program, logistical and administrative support as needed for the implementation of the department’s naturalization promotion and assistance, voter engagement, and capacity building programs. The Program Coordinator will be responsible for oversight of community-focused initiatives; organization of and responsibility for NALEO Educational Fund technical trainings and community events; development/use of program assessment tools and implementation of program improvements; management, training, and engagement of regional volunteers; reporting on California-based civic engagement activities; effective and professional management of external partner relationships; and other programmatic and administrative support for the team as needed. Salary: $16.00-$18.00 per hour. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Elections Technology Specialist III, 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. Ability to work effectively under pressure while remaining positive and flexible is also key to success. This position requires additional hours; evenings, weekends, and some county holidays as needed during election cycles. Salary: $52,572-$75,696. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Hotline Operator, Civic Engagement, NALEO, Los Angeles, California — NALEO Educational Fund seeks motivated individuals to staff its national bilingual hotline. The Hotline Operator will be responsible for answering calls, documenting calls and assisting individuals with basic non-legal information and local referrals related to U.S. citizenship, elections and administrative relief programs. Duties also include, but are not limited to recording all call details in a simple database, following up on pending calls and retrieving voicemail as instructed. This is an entry-level, part-time/temporary position. Work hours will vary and may range from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. (PST) Monday through Friday. Salary: $12.00 per hour. Application. For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
IT Coordinator, Bowen Center for Public Affairs, Dept. of Political Science, Ball State University — administer and coordinate all activities related to the computer operations and databases created and maintained by the Voting system Technical Oversight Program (VSTOP) in the Bowen Center for Public Affairs; work with the co-directors and other staff of the project; provide professional and technical advice in the areas of maintaining and integrating databases and web-based interfaces; maintain responsibility for all database operations; update protocols used in the testing of voting equipment and related peripherals and provide oversight on field tests of voting equipment. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
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There are still items available for purchase from Yavapai County Arizona’s previous Diebold system. Most notably, Accu-Vote Precinct Packages, which are $35.00 and include 1 Scanner w/ key, transfer case & power cord. This is good news for Jurisdictions who may be interested in AVOS central count machines, as vendors have indicated that they are still selling the EPROMS that turn AVOS precinct counters into central count machines (see vendor for details). Other items still available for purchase include: 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: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please be sure to include in your email: Contact Name, State, County, and phone number.