I. In Focus This Week
OIG report recommends USPS develop VBM strategy
Postal Service prefers to focus efforts on political mail
By M. Mindy Moretti
The U.S. Postal Service is the largest self-funded agency of the U.S. government and is supported entirely by revenue from postage and products.
Because of that, unlike most federal agencies that are always looking for ways to cut costs, the Postal Service is also always looking for ways to boost revenue.
Therefore, with the increasing popularity of vote-by-mail, the Office of the Inspector General of the USPS (USPSOIG) set out to evaluate voting methods to identify opportunities to increase voting by mail and therefore revenues for an agency that has struggled under budget constraints and the changing mailing habits of Americans.
Earlier this month the USPSOIG released a report recommending that the agency develop a plan to encourage vote-by-mail not only as a revenue booster for the agency, but also to boost voter turnout.
The Postal Service response to the OIG report? A polite thanks, but no thanks.
“The Postal Service disagrees with the recommendations presented by the OIG in its report. As stated above, the Postal Service feels the best optimization of its resources would be to stay focused on high value items such as political mail and not expend resources on election mail which will grow without involvement,” Cliff Rucker, vice president of sales for USPS wrote in his response to the report.
The performance audit, which was self-initiated by the USPSOIG was conducted from February through August of 2015. The review included the following scope and methodology:
- Reviewed Postal Service policies, procedures and guidance related to the roles, responsibilities, and structure of the Sales division, including staffing and election mail strategies;
- Reviewed fiscal year 2013 and 2014 election mail data, including, but not limited to, potential financial effects, voter challenges to accessibility, observation data on wait times, and political and election mail strategies;
- Observed operations and interviewed state and county election officials and Postal Service sales, marketing and election mail coordinators in four states;
- Reviewed Postal Service Delivering Results, Innovation, Value and Efficiency Initiative 16, Customer Growth & Retention, and Initiative 42, Marketing New and Existing Products and Services; and
- Reviewed existing industry studies and interviewed leading experts in the field of election mail.
The report states that the Postal Service has not taken full advantage of the opportunities of the growing popularity of vote-by-mail because it has focused its marketing and sales efforts on the larger, more lucrative political mail.
The report estimates that if the USPS encouraged vote-by-mail it could increase revenue by $2 million per year and “…support the Postal Service’s obligation to bind the nation together.”
The response from the USPS does not mean, however, that the agency takes lightly vote-by-mail and the role it can play in the democratic process.
“The Postal Service does not have a negative response to voting by mail. As the report states, the Postal Service already facilitates election mail performance in several ways…” said Sarah Ninivaggi, public relations representative for the USPS.
According to Ninivaggi, the Postal Service facilitates election mail by providing services such as mailpiece design and a distinct mail tag for trays and sacks that contain ballot mail so it is more visible in the mailstream. The Postal Service also designates certain employees as election mail coordinators to work with election officials and mail service providers to facilitate communication.
Tammy Patrick, senior advisor to the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Democracy Project, agrees with management’s less-than-enthusiastic response to the report.
“I think that the business of growing vote-by-mail as a marketing strategy and revenue generator is a very different articulation than what most election administrators are used to hearing or articulating themselves,” Patrick said. “The recommendations themselves would perhaps provide some resources for effective design materials and the discussion of posting VBM options in the post offices themselves, but I honestly don’t see where a national marketing strategy would be particularly helpful.”
Patrick said management’s rejection of the recommendation and plans to instead continue to focus on the operational side of getting ballots delivered and tracked is critical right now as the agency consolidates its core functions and processes. Those efforts are likely to be increasingly important given ongoing service cuts and processing center closures, which have resulted in longer transit times for ballots as well as an uptick in stories like the nearly 1,300 Utah ballots that arrived last week the day after Election Day because a postal employee had neglected to alert staff to the need for immediate delivery.
“We need to ensure that ballots are visible throughout the mail stream and are being processed within the delivery standards,” Patrick said. “VBM continues to grow without the assistance of the USPS and we need to be certain that the underlying support mechanisms are functioning properly.”
Patrick is currently working with the USPS to improve the ballot-tracking process and improve address management and list maintenance — a critical role USPS plays in our democracy.
“There are many opportunities to improve this partnership and I remain optimistic that we will continue to make improvements that benefit both the voter and election administration,” Patrick said.
II. Election News This Week
- While there is no doubt that vote-by-mail increased turnout in Salt Lake County and other jurisdictions during the recent primary, some unintended consequences also arose, namely that several races will not be finalized for weeks because ballots are still making their way through the system including 1,300 ballots that were delivered by the Post Office the day after the election. “As much as everyone tries, there is just no such thing as a perfect election — there never is,” State Elections Director Mark Thomas told KKSL. “By conducting vote-by-mail in such a widespread election in so many cities, it allows us to learn what we need to do better. I think everyone did the best they could to prepare, knowing there was going to be some challenges.” [See also Legislative Updates for more news on vote-by-mail in Utah]
- A new Rutgers-Eagleton poll found that a majority of New Jersey residents support election reform in the Garden State. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed support the state allowing online voter registration as well as 67 percent supporting an increase of early in-person voting. Two-thirds of those surveyed also support automatic voter registration when applying for a driver’s license. “Even if Gov. Christie vetoes the Democracy Act, public opinion for the State Legislature’s side could translate into success for some form of the bill as a ballot initiative in 2016,” Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University told PolitickerNJ. “And this solid support exists even though few know how poorly our state does on voter participation: a third of eligible voters turned out in 2014, and just 5 percent voted in the most recent primaries.” Results are from a statewide poll of 867 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from July 25 to August 1. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points.
- What’s November without an election? Well residents in five Elkhart County, Indiana counties will find out this year because the county election board recently voted not to hold municipal elections in those towns because the races on the ballot are all unopposed. According to WNDU, the towns will save thousands of dollars by not having to pay the county to hold the elections.
- Depending on how you look at it, relief is in sight for voters in Lawrence, Massachusetts that will no longer have to cast their ballot in the Relief In, a social club that serves alcohol. Earlier this year the state told city council that it needed to move the polling site from it’s long time location because of accessibility problems and alcohol sales.
- According to KSTP Minnesota does not have an emergency plan in place should a natural disaster strike on or just before an election so a legislative task force is working on a plan that it hopes to deliver to the full Legislature during the 2016 session. The 14-member task force held its second meeting Wednesday and is made up of lawmakers, local elections officials and emergency management personnel. They’ll consider everything emergency scenarios to communications to ballot security in the event of a state or national emergency.
- Personnel News: Lamar Joyner has been named the interim elections director for Forsyth County, North Carolina. Carol Heard is the new chief election official in Decatur County, Georgia. Tom O’Neill has retired as deputy commissioner of elections for Dubuque County, Iowa after 30 years on the job. Jim Baker, a Madison County commissioner has been appointed to the North Carolina state board of elections. Alex Britt will be the new Weakley County, Tennessee election administrator following the retirement of Barbara Castleman on August 31. Becky DeMars is stepping down as the Sauk County, Wisconsin clerk after 36 years as a public servant. She will be replaced by Becky Evert, a 15-year veteran. Traci Spradlin Clark is the new Botetourt County, Virginia registrar of voters. Jacob Wright a Forsyth County, North Carolina elections training specialist has been terminated.
III. Legislative Updates
California: The Assembly has approved SB505 that will require that California’s Voter Bill of Rights and other election materials be provided in plain, accessible and easily understandable language. SB 505 provides the Secretary of State (SOS) with the authority to revise election material wording and implement plain language techniques that are easy to understand and free from technical terms. This bill will improve voter access and usability of election material and help to ensure that voters are better informed about their key electoral rights.
Florida: Although the idea is not completely dead, it looks like a plan to offer free bus rides on Election Day in Broward County is running on fumes after a vote on the idea was postponed so the financial impact could be better analyzed. The idea was proposed by Commissioner Mark Bogen who thought it would help boost turnout. Other commissioners worried that the free rides would be abused by nonvoters.
Minnesota: After a lengthy debate lasting over two meetings, the Duluth city council agreed to ballot language that will put ranked-choice voting before the voters in the November election.
New Hampshire: A recent WMUR Granite State Poll shows that 57 percent of the respondents support a 30-day residency period before voting and now lawmakers are considering how they may be able to override Gov. Maggie Hassan’s veto of the bill.
New Jersey: Legislation that would drastically reduce the number of ballots messengers or bearers are allowed to deliver has been signed into law. Previously, messengers — who may bring ballots to voters — were allowed to transport 10 ballots. Bearers, who can bring completed ballots to the Board of Elections, could transport an unlimited number of ballots. Under the new law, the messengers and bearers are limited to three ballots each.
Texas: House Bill 1927, set to become law in September 1 will require that anyone conducting an election, be it county election authority or school system or other, must send ballots those on the state’s permanent vote-by-mail list, which is typically senior citizens and the disabled. As the law was originally written in 2013, it applied only to elections conducted by county elections officials that ruled out school elections and some others as well.
Utah: Earlier this week the Utah County commission voted 2 to 1 to place a tax issue on the county ballot in November and within the resolution was language that requires the vote to be all either in-person or absentee leaving five cities that moved to entirely vote-by-mail in limbo. Commissioners felt that voters in the vote-by-mail cities would have a greater advantage to cast their ballot and therefore wanted to make the opportunities equal.
IV. Legal Updates
Georgia: The state election board has approved a settlement with Fulton County. The settlement has the county admitting to 30 violations of state law during the 2008 and 2012 elections. The county will also have to pay $18,000 in penalties.
Hawaii: Four Native Hawaiians and two non-Hawaiians have filed suit against the state Hawaii, Office Hawaiian Affairs and others in an attempt to block a “race-based” and “viewpoint-based” election planned for this fall. The suit argues that the election—which is being overseen by an independent organization and not local elections offices—violates the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act by using race and political qualifications to determine voter eligibility.
Indiana: The same week one of Indiana’s most famous residents pleads guilty to exploiting children, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of a Hartford City who is concerned that a new law that prohibits “serious sex offenders” from entering school property may infringe on his right to cast a ballot. The suit acknowledges that the plaintiff could vote absentee, but calls that an “onerous” process.
New Jersey: According to The Record, Superior Court Judge Margaret McVeigh has decided that Passaic County must honor the labor contract Superintendent of Elections Sherine El-Abd negotiated with her staff’s union, despite objections by the freeholder board that the county can’t afford the pay hikes and perks contained in the three-year pact.
New Mexico: Robert Hernandez, a former employee of the Dona Ana County clerk’s office who tipped off authorities to an alleged voter ID theft and check-cashing scheme in the office was terminated shortly after the story surfaced. Hernandez is now suing the county for wrongful termination.
North Carolina: In court papers filed Monday, attorneys representing the North Carolina NAACP and other plaintiffs said that their pending claims in a lawsuit against the state’s voter ID law “may be able to be resolved through discussion and negotiations with Defendants.”
North Dakota: The Burleigh County commission voted 3 to 2 to reject a proposal that would have shifted four rural precincts to all vote-by-mail.
South Dakota: A voting rights case against Jackson County has entered the deposition phase and the phase that according to the Argus Leader could cost county and state taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. The county was sued for failure to open an early voting site in a town that is 96 percent American Indian claiming it did not have the money to do so. Even after the state made funding available and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission said earlier this summer that HAVA funds could be used, the county refused to settle the suit.
Tennessee: According to the Courthouse News Service, one former and three current Tennessee state legislators must give depositions in a student voting rights case, a federal judge ruled. The students sued earlier this year arguing that the exclusion of student IDs issued from state institutions as an acceptable form of voter ID is unconstitutional. The lawmakers had sought to quash the subpoenas, but U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger said they were allowable.
V. Tech Thursday
National Tech: Digital activist group 18 Million Rising has launched an Indiegogo campaign to create a translation-mapping app, VoterVOX to connect multilingual Asian Americans with voters in their area needing language assistance.
VI. Opinions This Week
Arizona: Ballot harvesting
Kentucky: Online voter registration
Mississippi: Voter ID
Missouri: Voter ID
New Jersey: Voting rights
New Mexico: Primary election
New York: Voting opportunities
North Carolina: Voter suppression
Pennsylvania: Election legislation
South Dakota: Voting rights
Tennessee: Weakley County
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.
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
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.
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.
Trial Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.— trial attorneys selected for these positions will be responsible for developing investigations and litigation addressing all aspects of the Voting Section’s enforcement duties. Responsibilities include: (1) planning and conducting investigations to assess potential violations of the federal laws enforced by the Voting Section; (2) analyzing and evaluating data and evidence, including witness statements, documents, electronic databases and records, demographic and geographic data, election records, historical evidence and statistical studies; (3) researching factual and legal issues, including likely defenses and counter-arguments; (4) preparing written recommendations for further investigation and/or litigation and drafting pleadings; (5) litigating cases, including conducting pre-trial written discovery, electronic discovery and depositions, drafting motions, briefs, and other court filings, working with expert witnesses, trial preparation and conducting hearings and trials; and (6) drafting settlement proposals, preparing for and participating in settlement negotiations, and monitoring compliance with consent decrees and other settlements. In addition, trial attorneys participate in monitoring elections around the country and may conduct administrative reviews of voting changes under the Voting Rights Act. Salary: $76,378-$158,700. Deadline: September 18. 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.