I. In Focus This Week
D.C. uses data collection teams to gather info
Experienced poll workers fan out citywide to assess voter experience
By Sam Derheimer
D.C. Poll Worker
“Research is creating new knowledge.” –Neil Armstrong
During last year’s general election, instead of working the polls at the elementary school across the street, I helped election officials in Washington D.C. better understand Election Day from voters’ perspective.
The D.C. Board of Elections assembled data collection teams from its trusted poll workers to gather information on the voter experience at the polls, specifically to help understand and address delays on Election Day.
The project itself was narrow in scope and methodology — and therefore easily recreated in other jurisdictions — but the potential effect could be transformative.
On Election Day, five teams of three were dispatched to high traffic precincts, where we were stationed for the entire day. We were given instructions, tools, and access to shadow the poll workers, while not interfering with voting.
In hour shifts, we rotated between the check in process, the ballot distribution process, and a flex position whose assignment was to gather data on a more macro level.
Primary Data points
- Wait time to get to a check in clerk
- Number of check in clerks working
- Timing of check in process per individual voter
- Wait time to get to a paper ballot clerk
- Timing to distribute paper ballot
- Number of paper ballot clerks working
- Wait time to get to a touchscreen machine
- Timing to set touchscreen machine for voter
- Number of touch screen machines and number of touch screen clerks working
Total vote time (from entering the check in line to casting a ballot)
Printed survey sheets (in case of internet trouble with the tablets)
Binder with instructions and key information on the project
Prior to Election Day, the data teams received a half-day training that covered both the metrics and the tools. In order for the data to be meaningful, project coordinators needed standards and clear instructions so that the wait times recorded at one precinct were consistently measured with the wait times recorded across town.
During the training session, D.C. officials engaged the team members, most of whom were experienced poll workers and have rich knowledge of the voting process, on how to define the metrics (e.g. when exactly is a voter “in line” for a paper ballot). In that way, D.C. tapped into one of its best resources – its poll workers.
As important as clear data definitions, we were instructed to check in with the precinct captain and poll workers prior to the 7:00 am opening of polls. The precinct captains had been informed of the project, but adding a few roaming data collectors to an unavoidably chaotic day could lead to added stress. Like so many situations, communication can inoculate you from potential problems.
Also key, the recorded timings weren’t linked to the individual poll workers – this wasn’t a measurement of a poll worker’s efficiency, it was a measurement of the precinct’s efficiency. Initially, there was mild curiosity from the poll workers, but that soon evaporated as voters flooded the precinct and they got busy. Then it was time to stay out of the voters’ and poll workers’ way and start timing.
Though, inevitably, in slower times, some poll workers turned around to ask about their own performance. Personally, if they asked, I gave them their last timed transaction, and then tried to move on so as not to influence their behavior. But in the future, it may improve similar projects to establish rules on how to address poll workers who want to know about the data collected.
The data was entered into the tablets and uploaded every hour. Election officials were getting hourly updates on the performance of the select precincts. A broader project could therefore inform resource allocation District wide, as the election progresses through the day.
The data was then compiled into an after election report for the D.C. Board of Elections and will help election officials not only track, but also help alleviate delays and problems on Election Day.
With data on average wait times, by hour, by position at the polls, throughout the entire day, election officials can better allocate resources – both staff and machine. Precinct management can be form fit according to the data to assign poll workers to anticipated choke points in the voting process before they become overtly problematic.
Poll worker duties that are currently performed by two separate positions may be combined where tasks are completed with consistent quickness. Tasks that measured longer may be divided and conquered.
Additionally, the data should inform pollo worker trainings for future elections. The better D.C. can educate its poll workers on from where and when delays originate, the better they can apply resources to prevent them from occurring to begin with.
For D.C., the cost for the project was 15 poll workers and staff time to develop the metrics and configure the tablets, which D.C. already owned. But the value of the data is much larger to any jurisdiction seeking to shorten lines and improve the voting experience.
And there was one other set of recommendations that emerged from my data collection team. One of my teammates, a native Russian, believes that American elections would benefit if precincts pumped in music, and even more from a cart offering a selection of teas and cakes for purchase.
So D.C., data is great, but let them eat cake.
II. Election News This Week
- With a 43-vote lead hanging in the balance, a recount in a special election in Orange County, California will begin on Monday. According to published reports, candidate Lou Correa, who requested the recount, said he wasn’t looking to overturn the results, but had requested the recount because of reports of “irregularities and questionable votes.” On election night, there was a two-vote lead, but the margin expanded by 237 in the count of vote-by-mail ballots dropped off at polling places on Election Day. The count of provisional ballots carved deeply into the lead until Correa fell 43 short.
- Last week, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted sent a letter to President Barack Obama citing his concerns about Obama’s executive order on immigration. According to the Columbus Dispatch, in his letter, Husted said in his letter that he is concerned non-U.S. citizens may illegally register and vote because they will have increased access to the forms of identification typically needed to register to vote. In the letter, Husted also asked Obama to provide state election officials with access to accurate, searchable databases of non-citizens who have valid Social Security numbers.
- Officials in Vermillion County, Illinois are considering consolidating the county and city elections office. Currently the Danville Election Commission handles elections for the city of Danville and the county clerk’s office handles elections for the rest of the county. County Board Chairman Mike Marron told the News-Gazette that he will put together a group that will study two options: Eliminating the election commission and rolling those responsibilities into the clerk’s office; or creating a countywide election commission.
- New Yorkers love their bagels and their pizza and their lever voting machines and while the machines have been outlawed since 2002 (phased in over time of course), New York was the last jurisdiction to move away from using levers. They are however, still in use in some local elections and advocates for the disabled have had enough. Advocates are hoping that more disabled voters will use the HAVA-approved accessible voting machines in each polling place. “We encourage everyone and anyone to use the machine, even though it takes a little bit longer. The more people we can get to use the machine the more feedback we’ll get, and I think that will then improve the system quicker,” Cliff Perez a systems advocate told WAMC.
- Personnel News: Katrina Holbrook has joined the Dawson County, Georgia board of elections and voter registration. Melissa Logan has joined the Mississippi County, Arkansas election commission. According to a report in The Kansas City Star, first-term Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander is considering running for the U.S. Senate in 2016. The Lucas County, Ohio board of elections has voted to fire elections manager Hans Schnapp. John Meyer is the new director of the Marion County, Ohio board of elections. Robin Milewiski has resigned as the Worth Township, Michigan clerk for health reasons. The North Carolina State Board of Elections has granted a petition by the New Hanover County BOE to terminate director Marvin McFadyen.
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.
The Right to Vote in South Carolina: People with disabilities still have unequal access to the electoral process — Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc., January 2015:This report analyzes the results of a polling place accessibility survey conducted across South Carolina at 303 polling places in 38 of the state’s 46 counties during the November 4, 2014 election. It finds that almost two thirds of the surveyed polling places are not accessible to all voters or don’t comply with federal laws, and one in four polling places did not provide curbside voting. Recommendations are provided including evaluating the accessibility of polling places on a regular basis, better training for election officials and poll workers, and consistent statewide implementation of curbside voting.
IV. Legislative Update
Georgia: Rep. Gloria Frazier (D-Hephzibah) has introduced HB 146 that would allow voters who are already registered to vote in Georgia to update/change their name and/or address information at the polls on Election Day. Voters would only need to provide a signed statement certifying the change.
House Bill 130 would allow anyone whose voter registration is not processed in 45 days to take the county’s voter registrar or the secretary of state’s office to court. Rep. Patty Bentley, a former Taylor County voter registrar, offered the legislation. “Forty-five days is more than enough, in my opinion,” said Bentley.
Rep. Mark Hamilton (R-Cunningham) has introduced HB 194 that would limit early voting to 12 days and require every county to open on the Sunday during those 12 days. Polls would also be open on Saturday. Current law mandates 21 days of early voting including Saturdays, but not Sundays.
Hawaii: Rep. Joy San Buenaventura (D-Hawaii) has introduced legislation to limit the length of time the state’s top election official may serve in that role. The bill would limit the time of service to two years and require performance evaluations after elections. San Buenaventura cited the problems with the primary election as the reason for introducing the legislation. “They [the voters in Puna on the Big Island] felt really disenfranchised,” San Buenaventura said during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. “They felt that their vote didn’t count. Hundreds of them were prevented after Iselle from physically going to the voting booth, and when they tried to vote in the makeup election, they were denied.” San Buenaventura said voters wanted current election official Scott Nago fired, but since he was not, she chose to introduce this legislation.
Indiana: A House committee is currently considering legislation that would eliminate the requirement that both major parties agree to the switch before counties could move to vote centers. Under the bill, a simply majority on county election boards would allow for the move to vote centers.
Republican lawmakers shot down an amendment that would have kept polls open until 8 p.m. in the Hoosier State. Currently polls close at 6 p.m.
The House Elections Committee is considering a bill that will allow local elections officials to count absentee ballots that have been properly cast, but when the voter dies before the vote count.
Minnesota: Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in both chambers of the Minnesota legislature that would allow convicted felons to vote after they have completed their sentences. If approved, about 47,000 Minnesotans would automatically get their rights restored.
Mississippi: Sen. Chris McDaniel has introduced two pieces of election reform legislation. One would eliminate crossover voting and provide more options for investigating voter fraud and the other would close the state’s primaries. The bills have been referred to the Appropriations and Elections committees. Instead of McDaniel’s Senate Elections Committee which has caused McDaniel to cry foul.
Montana: The House State Administration Committee tabled House Bill 48 by an 11-9 vote this week. HB 48 would have allowed Montanans with a driver’s license to register to vote or update their existing voter registration online.
Nebraska: LB 111 and LB10 both advanced out of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee this week. LB111 would require Nebraskans to show a government-issued photo ID in order to vote and LB10 would return Nebraska to a winner-take-all system of awarding Electoral College votes.
New Mexico: While Takoma Park and Hyattsville, Maryland are the only jurisdictions in the country to allow 16- and 17-year olds to vote in municipal elections, Rep. Javier Martinez of Albuquerque wants them to be allowed to vote in school board elections in New Mexico.
Oklahoma: This week the House Elections and Ethics committee approved legislation that would allow Oklahomans to become permanent absentee voters.
Oregon: Legislation supported by Secretary of State Kate Brown that would automatically register Oregonians to vote cleared its first hurdle this week with a 5-4 vote of support from the House Rules Committee. The bill next moves to the Legislature’s joint budget committee.
Texas: State Rep. Rick Galindo (R-San Antonio) has introduced legislation that would make Election Day a school holiday so schools can be used as polling places without impacting the school day or possibly putting students in harm’s way. Election Day would be a teacher training and in-service day.
Vermont: The Vermont Senate is considering S.29 a bill that would allow voters to register at the polls on Election Day. The current registration deadline is 5 p.m. on the Wednesday before the election. Secretary of State Jim Condos testified before the Senate Government Operations Committee on behalf of the bill.
Virginia: A House panel has backed legislation that would require voters who cast their ballots by mail to include a copy of a photo ID in order to vote. Since July 2014, Virginians casting a ballot in person had to show a government-issued photo ID to vote, but those voting by mail did not have to provide any form of identification. The committee approved the legislation 16-6. It now heads to the House floor.
Several other voter ID-related bills were shelved this week including SB 820 and SB 688 that would have allowed students at private secondary schools to use their school-issued ID to cast a ballot. In addition, Senate Bill 922 was also killed. Under this bill, IDs issued by state agencies such as the Department of Health, Department of Social Services and Department of Medical Assistance Services would have been permitted to cast a ballot.
This week the Senate approved a bill that would allow those 65 and older to cast and absentee ballot without needing an excuse.
The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee approved SB 853 that allows voters 75 and older to go to the front of the line at polling places on Election Day.
West Virginia: A bill to eliminate straight-ticket voting was approved by the Senate this week. It now moves to the House of Delegates.
V. Legal Update
Arizona: Attorneys for the Arizona Libertarian and Green Parties argued before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals late last week over the state’s voter registration form that requires voters to write-in the name of smaller political parties when registering. The state argues that the forms — first issued in 2011 — increase efficiency and cut costs. Plaintiffs say voters wishing to register for one of the three minor parties have an undue burden placed on them. A lower court shot-down the equal-protection challenge to the forms.
California: Late last week, the California Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of Rubin v. Padilla, a suit brought by smaller political parties that challenged the constitutionality of the state’s top-two primary system.
A voter sued the city of Del Mar and Everyone One Counts, Inc. over the city’s decision to use an Internet-based voting system for an advisory election. The suit, which sought an injunction against this week’s advisory election claimed that the voting system had not been certified by the secretary of state’s office. Superior Court Judge Edward Mohns found that the plaintiff could not prove he would be harmed by the process and allowed the election to proceed.
Colorado: According to The Denver Post, a Douglas County judge dismissed a suit claiming that Castle Rock improperly ran a special election in summer 2014 that lifted the town’s open-carry firearm restrictions. Plaintiffs challenged the process the town used to tabulate ballots, but the judge ruled that because the town is a home-rule entity, the municipal election code doesn’t apply.
Georgia: A judge has ruled that Democrat Steve Allen may continue serving on the Macon-Bibb County board of elections through March 31, which is the end of his current term. The county Democratic Party had sued Allen claiming that he wasn’t properly appointed.
Illinois: Judge David Ackerman ordered Kane County to conduct a primary election on February 24 for Campton Hills. The county had argued that holding the primary would cost $140,000, but the judge ruled that the county should proceed and comply with election law as closely as possible in the shortened timeframe.
Missouri: Members of the Constitution Party have filed suit in St. Louis County over the county’s Charter that excludes third parties from special elections. They lawsuit alleges the Charter’s clause that only allows major parties in special elections is unconstitutional.
New Hampshire: The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion in Stafford County Superior Court this week asking the court whether Secretary of State William Gardner is violating an earlier order by sending letters to voters who cast ballots by domicile affidavit.
North Carolina: Voting rights groups argued before Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan that the state’s voter ID law — to take effect in 2016 — should be tossed as unconstitutional. Plaintiffs argued that voter ID needs to be adopted by the state as an amendment to the state constitution and not part of a larger election reform package as was the case in 2013. “We have a constitution that says every qualified voter can vote at every election and any election, and then we have this new statute, VIVA, that says, ‘Oh, in order to be permitted to vote, you also have to do this one other thing, which is to present a photo ID,'” Press Millen an attorney for the plaintiffs argued.
Tennessee: The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Tennessee elections officials who were fired in 2008 have no legal claim because their positions were political and subject to patronage. After Republicans took control of the Tennessee General Assembly — and therefore had a majority on county elections commissions — numerous election administrators were fired. “Because the position of Tennessee administrator of elections is a position for which political affiliation is a permissible requirement for the effective performance of that public office, the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on the ground that plaintiffs were lawfully subject to patronage dismissal,” U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Griffin wrote on behalf of the majority.
VI. Opinions This Week
Alabama: Voter ID
Georgia: Polling places
Indiana: Election workers
Iowa: Voter ID
Kansas: Election legislation
Minnesota: Secretary of state
Missouri: St. Louis County elections
New Hampshire: Voter registration
North Carolina: Voting rights
Tennessee: Off-year elections
Texas: Harrison County
Washington: Ballot postage
West Virginia: Straight-ticket voting
VII. Upcoming Events
Please email upcoming events — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to email@example.com.
NASS 2015 Winter Conference — The National Association of Secretaries of State Winter Conference will bring together government and industry leaders to showcase secretary of state initiatives and highlight all the latest developments in state and federal policymaking. The conference will include a special new member orientation session for newly-elected or appointed secretaries of state. Where: Washington, D.C. When: February 10-13. For more information and to register, click here.
NASED 2015 Winter Meeting —The National Association of State Election Directors will hold its 2015 Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C. in February. Topics at the meeting will include new voter registration systems, state election legislation, a voting system panel report, and a variety of speakers including Congressional staff and members of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Where: Washington, D.C. When: February 11-13. For more information and to register, click here.
Working Together for a More Inclusive Democracy— The Future of California Elections is hosting a conference that reflects the successes and innovations that have resulted from the collaborations in the field of elections in California and across the nation. The conference program focuses on the needs of California’s diverse voters and the importance of working in partnerships to ensure all voters can participate in California’s democracy Additionally, the conference provides opportunities to learn about the best practices for relaying voter information. Participants of the conference should expect to listen to dynamic panel discussions, engage with their peers in the election field, as well as meet other election stakeholders that are working toward the collective effort of modernizing elections and expanding participation in California’s democracy. Where: Sacramento, California. When: February 18-19. For more information and to register, click here.
Policy & Elections Technology: A Legislative Perspective— NCSL is hosting a national meeting to bring together legislators, legislative staff, election officials, voting technology and computer security experts, legal experts, advocates, federal agency staff and other interested parties to discuss the future of elections technology. Sessions will cover voting technology 101; a report on NCSL’s Elections Technology Project; recommendations from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration; the impact of legislation on voting system design; alternative voting methods and implications for technology; testing and certifying voting systems; the use of technology for post-election audits, recounts and resolving disputes; and what is pushing change in the way ballots are cast. Where: Santa Fe, New Mexico When: June 3 – 5. Contact: Katy Owens Hubler, firstname.lastname@example.org, 303-856-1656. For more information and to register, click here.
IACREOT Annual Conference — The International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Elections Officials and Treasurers will hold its annual conference in Vail, Colorado this year in June and July. Planning is still in the early stages, but be sure to mark your calendar. Where: Vail, Colorado. When: June 27-July 2. For more information and to register, click here.
NASS 2015 Summer Conference — The National Association of Secretaries of State Annual Summer Conference is set for July this year. Planning is still in the early stages, but be sure to mark your calendar. Where: Portland, Maine. When: July 9-12. For more information and to register, click here.
NACo Annual Conference and Exposition— The 80th Annual Conference and Exposition of the National Association of Counties will be in Mecklenburg County (Charlotte), North Carolina. Registration opens February 9th. Where: Charlotte, North Carolina. When: July 10-13. For more information and to register, click here.
NCSL Legislative Summit 2015 — The National Conference of State Legislators will hold their 2015 Legislative Summit in August. Planning is still in the early stages, but be sure to mark your calendar. Where: Seattle. When: August 3-6. For more information when it becomes available and to register, click here.
Election Center 31st Annual Conference— The National Association of State Election Directors will 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.
VIII. 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 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.
Elections Administrator, Grays Harbor County, Washington — the Election Administrator is responsible for all aspects of elections, voter registration, and supervision of other election workers for federal, state, and local elections occurring within Grays Harbor County. Salary: $3,761-$4,560. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply click here. For questions or additional information, contact Vern Spatz, auditor.
Election Specialist Lead, King County, Washington — Distribute work load among other employees, including short term temporary election workers; update or create training curriculum and conduct training for permanent and temporary staff; provide direction and monitor the quality and completion of work. May also provide input on the performance of co-workers and participate in employee selection process. Research and interpret election laws, policies, procedures, and guidelines as outlined in RCW 29A and WAC 434. Explain established policies, procedures, codes, and regulations to internal and/or external customers over the telephone, in writing and/or in person. Provide or coordinate additional training as needed to ensure all current or new policies and procedures are understood. Train and lead up to 45 staff responsible for answering incoming calls to main elections phone line. Answer inquiries or questions, resolve problems, and provide written, in-person, or over-the-phone customer service to staff, citizens, and stakeholders. Employee in this high-profile position may deal with sensitive and/or potentially volatile situations. Develop spreadsheets, word documents, and reports; review documents for proper formatting and accuracy. Demonstrated skill in operating a personal computer including but not limited to utilizing a broad scope of office data processing and email functions with proficiency in Excel, Word and MS Outlook or Exchange. Improve work processes, address quality control issues, and document procedures. Provide oversight and quality assurance for the state and local voter registration databases. Fulfill general duties that involve typing, filing, data entry, answering telephones, developing and preparing reports, forms, and documents utilizing a variety of computer programs as required. Salary: $21.51-$27.27 hourly. Deadline: February 20. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Multimedia Officer, IFES, Washington, D.C. — support IFES’ Communications and Advocacy department through production of creative multimedia content. This individual will also maintain IFES’ social media presence. This is a mid-level role that reports directly to the Director of Communications and Advocacy. Responsibilities include: maintain photo database, produce multimedia content in various formats, manage video pre and post-production; support audio and visual needs at events; oversee annual photo contest; manage and maintain IFES’ social media presence; and manage editorial process of IFES’ monthly e-newsletter. Application: Applications will be accepted online only, through IFES’ website. To apply, visit our careers page. Then follow the instructions to upload your resume and cover letter (in a single document) and answer prescreening questions.
Research Fellowship, Democracy Fund, Washington, D.C. — Democracy Fund is seeking a current or recent graduate student to serve as a Research Fellow, supporting our Program on Governance and Bipartisan Problem Solving. The Research Fellow will work closely with the Democracy Fund’s Governance team, gaining first-hand knowledge of how creative philanthropy can work to improve democracy in the United States. The Research Fellow will be responsible for a variety of tasks, including:Conduct research on issues related to Congressional reform and dysfunction. Some crossover work on elections, campaign finance and media policy may be included on occasion; participate in grantee meetings, policy briefings, Congressional hearings, and other events; support research and due diligence on new grantee candidates; compile press clips, write blog posts, and post to the organization’s social media accounts; help organize internal and external events; and work to support the administrative needs of the team with editing, scheduling, or other relevant administrative tasks and functions. The Research Fellowship is for a term of six months and may be renewed for an additional six-month period. Fellows will be paid on an hourly basis at a rate of $25 per hour. The fellowship is based in Washington, DC. All candidates should send a cover letter and resume to Betsy Hawkings at info (@) democracyfund (dot) org. Cover letters should include a clear description of the candidate’s available start date and longer-term availability.