I. In Focus This Week
Dude! Where’s my ballot?
Democracy Works pilots new ballot-tracking program
Even in this day and age where just about everything is done online, elections officials nationwide are still tied to their telephones.
In the days leading up to an election, elections offices can field hundreds of phone calls each day as anxious voters want to check on the status of their mail ballot.
Not only can and does this put a strain on understaffed and overworked elections offices, it can put a strain on voters who get busy signals or are put on hold.
Democracy Works — which most of you may recognize as the nonprofit parent organization for TurboVote — is working on a pilot project that will help alleviate some of this pressure on both the elections officials and the voters.
“From the beginning of TurboVote, we knew that to improve elections for everyone, we needed to work with the people who actually run them,” said Kathryn Peters, co-founder of TurboVote.
So Democracy Works partnered with Reboot, a service-design consultancy to shadow election administration in six offices in Colorado, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Florida, and Vermont in 2013.
Before beginning to build tools for election officials, Peters said Democracy Works wanted to learn how they worked, what they wanted for their own voters and operations, and what good ideas and innovations they could learn from or even simply help popularize.
“What we definitely came across [while conducting the study] is that local election administrators are always trying to look for ways to do their jobs better,” said Monica Crane Childers, director of government services for Democracy Works. “There is an intense desire to serve the voter better.”
Following the study, Peters said they found a ballot tracking was a major issue facing elections officials. Also during the study they learned of ballot-tracking systems several elections offices were using and liking and so Democracy Works set out to make a similar tool available to a wider audience.
The system that Democracy Works has designed uses the Intelligent Mail Barcodes (IMb) that are already provided by the U.S. Postal Service to track mail. It provides elections officials with a dashboard to review ballot envelopes so they can see when a voter has returned the ballot, anticipate big waves of mail and help officials let voters know when their ballot has arrived.
So far the new system is just for domestic ballots because military postal system doesn’t use the bar-coding system like the U.S. Postal Service does.
The pilot ballot-tracking program — which doesn’t yet have its own name — is being conducted in several jurisdictions including Martin County, Fla. and Boone County, Mo.
“We are very excited to be a part of this pilot program,” said Debbie Dent, chief deputy, Martin County, Fla. Elections Center. “More and more of our voters are opting to vote by mail and this program will be a great tool for both voters and election staff.”
In 2012 40 percent of Martin County voters cast a ballot by mail and Dent anticipates that number increasing with each passing election. Although Martin County did partner with an outside vendor to track the ballots in 2012, the vendor only allowed elections staff to track the ballots.
The Democracy Works program will allow voters to track their ballot just like their latest order from Amazon.
“We anticipate fewer phone calls from voters,” Dent said. “The voter’s and election staff’s comfort level will be higher since they will be able to identify where the ballot is at all times.”
Wendy Noren, Boone County, Mo. clerk has been working with Democracy Works by reviewing screen layouts, data transfer methods and usability as they move through the design process.
According to Noren, Boone County voters have been receiving email notifications of absentee milestones since 2004. These include emails sent to voter when their application is received, ballot sent, ballot received back in office and processed/counted. These are sent the night the transactions occur.
“Most jurisdictions require voters to remember to go to a website to look up their status,” Noren said. “I modeled ours on web-based shopping sites that send you notifications of order received, order shipped etc. rather than requiring you to constantly check their site. Our voters really like this approach.”
Noren noted that despite even their best efforts and those of the local postal officials the Boone County system is imperfect in tracking ballots, especially those delayed in other parts of the country.
“This part of the process can only be resolved by implementing intelligent mail barcode,” Noren said.
The program is free to the localities that are working with Democracy Works during the pilot process, but there will be a fee of some sort once the program is available to all. Crane Childers said in addition to working with the counties on the actual program, they are also working with counties to settle on a price point that makes sense for everyone.
II. Election News This Week
- Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to set voting hours. According to a statement from DeWine, the Ohio Voters Bill of Rights initiative language did not include a “fair and truthful statement of the measure.”
- In an effort to save money, officials in Yuma County, Ariz. are considering combining the county recorders office with the county’s elections office. Both Elections Director Sue Reynolds and Recorder Robyn Stallworth Poquette support the idea, but supervisors expressed some hesitations. “…staff has realized there are many election functions that work more efficiently and more cost effectively through this collaboration and we can often share staff, costs and refine/improve procedures,” Reynolds wrote in a September 2013 memo about the proposed plan. While supervisors balked at the proposal for a variety of reasons, one of the biggest sticking points seemed to be putting the responsibility of elections under an elected official — Stallworth Poquette.
- Next time voters in Madison, Wis. they might notice that the poll workers looks a bit more familiar. City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said that her office has made a concerted effort to hire more diverse poll workers. “Several years ago the polling place election officers were primarily white,” Witzel-Behl told The Capital Times. “Our goal is for the polling places to be reflective of the communities they are located in.” Witzel-Behl said her office has made great strides on hiring enough African American poll workers, but that work remains to hire more Latino poll workers and younger poll workers.
- It was a bumpy week for copy editors and Wheel of Fortune fans. In Texas many newly issued voter ID cards in Fort Bend County had names misspelled. For some reason if a name had the letters G, J, Z or Q in it, those letters were dropped from the cards. Also in Texas, officials in Tom Green County were forced to reprint 16,000 ballots the day before early voting began due to an issue the name order on the ballots. And in Pulaski County, Ark., officials were forced to reprint more than 53,000 ballots—at a cost of more than $12,000—for a special election after a numerical typo was discovered.
- This week Connecticut officially became the 15th state to offer online voter registration. The legislation paving the way for online voter registration was introduced in 2012. In addition to registering to vote, those already registered will be able to easily update their voter registration information.
- Personnel News: Matt Waggner, Democratic registrar of voters in Fairfield Conn. announced that he will run for state representative. Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz has been named to the executive committee of the Republican Secretaries of State Committee. Clermont County, Ohio Board of Elections Director Judy Miller was named Election Official of the Year for the Buckeye State. Tommy Gong, assistant county clerk-recorder for San Luis Obispo County, Calif. announced that he will run for the seat being vacated by current clerk-recorder Julie Rodewald. Gary Poser, director of elections for the state of Minnesota was named the new president of NASED. Mike Morsch has resigned as the Montgomery County, Pa. director of voter services. David Rodabaugh is rejoining the Allen County, Ohio board of elections.
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.
National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) State Laws & Practices for the Emergency Management of Elections Report of the NASS Task Force on Emergency Preparedness for Elections, February 2014: The NASS Task Force surveyed the states to identify relevant laws and policies related to disaster and emergency planning and describe strategies for effectively dealing with emergency scenarios that could impact future elections. Only 12 of the 37 responding states had a law specifically authorizing the suspension, delay or postponement of an election due to an emergency situation.
The California Association of Clerks and Election Officials is seeking proposals for an Irvine-funded project to create an elections cost database as part of CACEO’s participation in the Future of California Elections (scope of work starts on page 19). Deadline is 3pm PST Monday March 3, 2014. Lead contact is Neal Kelley, Orange County Registrar.
IV. Legislative Update
Arkansas: A bill that would avoid the costs of a special election and keep the lieutenant governor’s seat vacant cleared a Senate committee this week. Holding the election would cost the state at least $1M.
Arizona: The House voted 33-26 along party lines to repeal House Bill 2305 that was signed into law in 2013. The 2013 legislation trimmed the state’s permanent early voting list. A citizen-led referendum to repeal the law is also in the works.
In a party-line vote, the Senate Elections Committee approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would mandate a revote every eight years on any measure that spends or collects public dollars.
Colorado: House Bill 164, an update of election code for nonpartisan elections, which sponsors of the bill said creates a standard of residency, was approved by both the House and Senate and the governor is expected to sign it.
Senate Bill 116 died on a 5-0 vote in committee. The bill would have reduced the number of signatures that must be checked on ballot petitions. Sponsors of the legislation say lowering the number of signatures to check would have saved thousands of dollars.
Hawaii: Under legislation introduced by Rep. Kaniela Ing, beginning in 2016 Hawaiians would be allowed to register and vote at absentee polling places and in 2018 would be allowed to register and vote on election day.
Idaho: A bill to allow Idahoans to register to vote while applying for a driver’s license passed a committee vote and now heads to the full House for a hearing.
Iowa: Iowa is one step closer to joining the many states offering online voter registration after a Senate subcommittee advanced legislation that would implement the program.
Kentucky: With support from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, legislation that would restore the voting rights of most ex-felons was approved by the Senate with a 34-4 bipartisan vote. The legislation would automatically restore the rights of felons after a five-year waiting period.
Missouri: The Senate Finance and Elections Committee is discussing legislation that would phase out the state’s electronic voting machines and replace them with paper ballots.
Nebraska: Sen. John Murante has introduced LB1058 which if approved would have Nebraska join a growing list of National Popular Vote states.
Under LB 746, registered voters in Nebraska who move to another country and forget to update their address will be able to register and vote with a provisional ball on election day.
Ohio: This week, the House approved two elections-related bills that would make changes to the state’s absentee ballot applications and in-person early voting period. Senate Bill 238 would eliminate six early voting days when people may register and cast an in-person absentee ballot. Senate Bill 205 would prohibit county boards of election from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot applications.
Oregon: Senate Bill 1515 would establish a working group to study the feasibility of Internet voting. The group would be required to submit a completed report to the full Legislature by Dec. 1.
Utah: Debate continued this week on a bill that would allow people to keep personal information on voter rolls protected from inclusion on voter information lists that are sold to campaigns and others.
A bill introduced by Rep. Jon Cox (R-Ephraim) would allow Utah to hold the first presidential primary and conduct online voting.
Wyoming: While U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is pushing for the restoration of ex-felon voting rights, the Wyoming House defeated a bill that would have automatically restored the voting rights of non-violent felons as soon as they have completed all the provisions of their sentences.
V. Upcoming Events
Please email upcoming event — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Future of California Elections 2014 Conference: The FoCE conference has a focus on election reform and its potential impact on communities across the state. It is an opportunity for policymakers, researchers and advocates to learn about how the state and communities can implement the many great reforms and improvements identified over the last few years to expand California’s democracy. Where: Los Angeles. When: March 3. Registration: For more information and to register, click here.
Arizona: Elections bill
California: Secretary of state race
Iowa: Ex-felon voting rights
Kansas: Dual elections
Nevada: Voter fraud
North Carolina: Voter purges
Ohio: Voter suppression
Texas: Voter ID
Wisconsin: Voting hours
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 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 of Elections, Forsyth County, N.C. —position is the department head appointed by the Forsyth County Board of Elections. The position works in a fast-paced environment and utilizes a thorough knowledge of procedures and policies set forth by the State Board of Elections and the General Statutes for registration, voting, and reporting the results of elections. The position requires the ability to interpret and apply election laws and regulations; the ability to train and supervise others effectively and to maintain an effective working relationship with employees; the ability to establish and maintain good working relationships with precinct officials and representatives of news services and the ability to deal courteously with the general public. Responsibilities include preparing the ballots for Board approval and arranging for the distribution of all essential materials to all precincts; preparing budget proposals and administering the budget for the department. The Director obtains legal opinions from the State Board of Elections on election procedures and advises municipalities, proposed new municipalities, and attorneys on various election procedures. Qualifications: Experience in election administration through several presidential elections is preferred. Previous experience in supervising employees is preferred.Graduation from a four-year college or university in public administration, or related field and three years management experience. A higher education level may be considered as a substitution for all or part of the experience requirement. A four-year degree outside of the relevant academic field plus additional years of relevant experience may also be considered. Deadline: March 11, 2014. Application: For the complete listing and to apply, click here.
Election Programmer, Jefferson County, Texas — coordinate and code all ballot information including precinct, office, candidate, and polling location data; and provide English, Spanish and audio coding. Coordinate the accuracy of the paper and iVotronic ballot. Responsible for loading election data on iVotronic touchscreens, personal electronic ballots, and flash cards. Responsible for performing operational testing. Responsible for overseeing the logic and accuracy testing of ballots. Program and make ready all electronic pollbook tablets which contain the voter registration database, including backup of data. Create and maintain election equipment inventory database. Must assist field technicians during early voting and on Election Day. Responsible for backing up all audit data and election files. Report election results to Secretary of State of Texas. Create and maintain computer database files utilizing various software applications to create documents. Preserve the election files as prescribed by the Secretary of State. Provide training to employees and election workers in the use of voting equipment and on pertinent election laws. Coordinate work orders to Warehouse Supervisor, to prepare, test and set up election equipment as needed. Maintain the Online Poll Worker training and election websites through website publishing, quality assurance, feedback monitoring, and performance monitoring. Assist with training scheduling and support at the Election Barn. Perform the management duties of the Elections Warehouse Technician Manager in his/her absence. Education & Experience: Education and experience equivalent to an Associate’s degree from an accredited college or university in computer science, or in a job related field of study required. One (1) year of work related experience. Experience in election programming preferred. Salary: $43,094-$58,858. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job posting and to apply click here
Elections Administrator, Tarrant County, Texas — shall perform the duties and functions of the Voter Registrar; the duties and functions placed on the County Clerk by the Election Code or by statutes outside the Election Code. Provides executive strategic and tactical direction and support to directors, managers, and supervisors in the operations of their department or division. This level of support and direction is achieved by delegating and/or reviewing the management of work assignments, service delivery, resources provided, and budget required; ensuring the training, evaluation and personal development of their employees; handling difficult problems; managing the development, implementation, and oversight of applicable unit products and services; monitoring department resources; and ensuring compliance with policies and laws. Salary: $3,283.96 – $3,612.36 biweekly. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job posting and to apply, click here.