January 10, 2013

I. In Focus This Week

Editor’s Note: This week electionlineWeekly introduces a new occasional feature called First Person Singular (thanks Washington Post) in which someone from the elections field — administrator, geek, advocate — speaks about some aspect of the work they do in elections. If you’ve got a story for First Person Singular, please send us an email.

First Person Singular
The Show Must Go On

By David B. Bjerke
General Registrar, City of Falls Church, Va.

In my previous employment I was a drummer. Actually, I was a drummer, manager, booking agent, accountant, web developer, public relations contact, etc; but still only got paid as a drummer. Does this wearing of many hats in an occupation sound familiar?

I call it event management and I see many parallels from my previous employment existing in my current employment as the General Registrar of Voters for the City of Falls Church, Va.

Running elections is event management and a background in performance art, from music to theatre, helps me understand that the show must go on.  Of course, voter registration and election professionals know this all too well.

No matter how much we prepare for an event like an election, we cannot prepare for everything.  

On past Election Days I’ve dealt with an earthquake, fire alarms that were not practice drills, gas leaks in polling places, severe lightning storms, and let us not forget Hurricane Sandy just before this last presidential.

The earthquake, fire alarms and gas leaks cause us to train our election officers on how to evacuate the polling place. We have a priority list in place so that during evacuation, election officers know what they can take if they have the time. Their lives and safety are our number one priority of course so I won’t dwell on the common sense priorities.  

However, if there is any time we want all cast votes to be secured with the election officers. After that we want to be able to run the election in the parking lot.  We provide extension cords, batteries, and plenty of emergency paper back up.

We also work with our local government to have back up generators ready if needed.  In the best-case scenario, our polling places are functioning without issue outside away from the building. In a less than best case scenario, the election officers are able to allow voters to use the provisional ballot process to cast paper ballots in a locked ballot box because there is no power to use electronic equipment.

However, even with this much preparation for an event, we can’t plan for everything.  

I work a mile from where I live so I do not have many excuses not to keep my office open. No matter the weather outside I feel obligated to be in my office running the election that includes the 45 days of in-person absentee voting prior to Election Day.  

As Hurricane Sandy bore down on us on Sunday October 28, 2012, the Electoral Board and I made the decision that we would keep our in-person absentee voting hours normal for Monday even though most businesses and governments had already closed.  We did not want to disenfranchise any voters who were willing to brave the elements to have their chance to vote absentee in case they had to be absent on Election Day.  

We opened the polls that Monday morning without incident at 8 a.m.  At 10 a.m. we noticed a problem: Heavier than normal turnout. Normally this is a good thing, but not during times of inclement weather with public safety being a top priority.

With our office of communications releasing the news of city government closures with the exception of absentee voting, we realized we were actively encouraging voters to come out to vote. With everything else in the area shut down for public safety reasons, we were the one destination still open for people who were seeking something to do.  

Our purpose was to not disenfranchise people but that purpose was contrasting with a need for public safety. Therefore, we announced at 10 a.m. that we were suspending in-person absentee voting at noon and would reopen when city hall reopened. We reopened on Wednesday and extended our hours from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. through Saturday to make up for the hours we were closed.

In cases of inclement weather, evacuating the polling place is not an option.  If an ice storm hits before the polls open on Election Day, we train our election officers that the first person able to open the polling place needs to deputize the first two voters in line and start the voting process concurrent with Virginia law.  However, this won’t always be possible.

On September 11, 2001, New York City was holding primaries for that year’s Mayoral Election.  The atrocities of that day caused the primaries to be postponed until September 25, 2001. Obviously postponements can happen, but they are exceedingly rare. Our job is to operate as if there are no do overs or postponements on Election Day, as our New Jersey and New York peers know all too well in regards to Hurricane Sandy.

On a personal note, my family had some interesting timing plans of our own.  My wife gave birth to our second child, a daughter named Ashley, on November 9, 2012, just three days after the presidential election, and only a day after her expected arrival.  Perfect timing I say, but I’m sure glad I didn’t have to juggle family obligations with work obligations if Ashley had arrived earlier. On the other side of the family and life cycle, I know a few election administrators that also lost family members right around Election Day. I can’t and don’t want to imagine how hard that is for them, but my thoughts and prayers are always with them.

We get the pleasure of this work with a hard deadline and the inability to allow even one mistake all on a shoestring budget and somehow we continue to pull it off successfully.  Staying out of the news is usually our goal on top of successfully run elections, yet the bottom line continues to be that we can’t explain this job to anyone.

Unless you work in this field, it is nearly impossible to explain. Most people seemto think we work one day year, or worse, one day every four years, as if magic fairy dust is responsible for fully staffed and equipped polling places on Election Day.

II. Election News This Week

  • With the dawn of 2013, South Carolina officially joined the growing ranks of states that require a photo ID to cast a ballot. The first test of the state’s new voter ID law came this week when residents of the small town of Branchville cast ballots in a council election. Representatives from the U.S. Dept. of Justice were on hand to observe the election. According to reports, there were few, if any, problems with the election. Most people showed their IDs with little prompting although a few did have to go home to retrieve appropriate identification. There were no reports of provisional ballot usage.
  • In a report released this week, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced that a record number of absentee ballots — 1.86 million — were cast in Buckeye State in this year’s presidential election. In addition to a record number of absentees, a record number of provisional ballots — 208,087 — were also cast. According to The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 17 percent of the provisional ballots were ultimately rejected. Of that 17 percent, nearly 60 percent were rejected because the voter was not registered in the state of Ohio. “Thanks to improvements we made to Ohio’s provisional ballot process and our election system overall, more provisional ballots were counted this year,” Husted said in a statement.
  • Delaware and Virginia both took steps this week to increase the voting rights for ex-felons. In the First State, a proposed constitutional amendment has been introduced in the state legislature that would eliminate the five-year waiting period for eligible felons once they have completed their sentences. The amendment must pass in two consecutive sessions of the legislature and was approved for the first time last year. Down Interstate 95 a couple of hours Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell called for the automatic restoration of ex-felons voting rights during his final State of the Commonwealth speech as governor.
  • The Louisiana State Board of Elections Supervisor made several recommendations this week that would help protect voter’s personal information. Among the recommendations would be to make it a felony to copy or reproduce a completed voter registration application and a requirement that poll workers sign affidavits that information contained in poll books will not be disclosed. In addition, voter’s phone numbers — which are provided so they can receive election updates — will be kept in the secretary of state’s office instead of at the local level.
  • Personnel News: Embattle Richland County, S.C. Elections Director Lillian McBride will be stepping down, effective Jan. 12. McBride will remain employed in the county’s election and voter registration office, but it was unclear at press time in what capacity. Jasper Salmond, a former elementary school principal will serve at the interim elections director until a new director can be found. After more than 30 years in the Highland County, Fla. supervisor of elections office, Joe Campbell is retiring this week. Tappie Villane was sworn in as the new Santa Rosa County, Fla. supervisor of elections late last week. Villane has worked in the office since 2005 and is replacing Ann Bodenstein who is retiring. In Hillsborough County, Fla. Craig Latimer was sworn-in on Monday as supervisor of elections. Latimer has been with the office since 2009 as chief of staff. After more than 36 years as Johnson County, Iowa’s auditor Tom Slockett is leaving the office after being defeated in the June 2012 primary. Slockett told the Iowa City Press-Citizen, “When I look back on it, the best decisions I made were controversial.” In 1974 Eileen Garbagni was working in a restaurant and happened to do such a great job busing a table where the then-Sandoval County, N.M. clerk was sitting, she got hired on the spot to work in the clerk’s office. Today after more than three decades working on and off in the office, Garbagni is the new county clerk, taking over for the retiring Sally Padilla. Sissie Furguson has joined the DeSoto County, Tenn. election commission. Bessie Ann Morefield has retired from the Spotsylvania County, Va. voter registration office twice, but this time, at age 83, she swears it’s her last. After 15 years of service, Clarence R. Smith is retiring from the Mahoning County, Ohio board of elections. Also in Ohio, Andrew Higgins is the new Miami County board of elections director. Mike Bennett was sworn in as the new Manatee County, Fla. supervisor of elections this week. Bennett is replacing Bob Sweatt who retired after 28 years in office. Juan Verdu was sworn in as the Democratic registrar of voters in New Britain, Conn. this week. Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett was elected to a second, four-year term by the state legislature. William Riley, one of two Republican appointees to the Fulton County, Ga. elections board, resigned this week citing a busy schedule.

III. Upcoming Conferences

Seventh Annual Summit brought to you by the Overseas Vote Foundation and the U.S. Vote Foundation. Now addressing domestic voting issues as well as overseas and military – Summit 2013 will feature an outstanding line-up of keynote speakers, the release of OVF and US Vote’s 2012 Post Election Research results including the first review of the MOVE Act’s full implementation. Lively, in-depth roundtable discussions on open data technology, military voting, and absentee balloting policies and procedures. When: Thursday, January 24, 2013. Where: George Washington University, Washington, D.C. Registration: Click here to register.

IV. Opinions

National News: Electoral College; Election reform; Elected elections officials; Voting Rights Act, II

Florida: Election reform, II, III, IV, V, VI; Early voting, II; Volusia County; Long lines

Iowa: Ex-felon voting rights; Election reform

Minnesota: Early voting; Ranked-choice voting

Mississippi: Voter ID; Voting machines

Montana: Vote counting, II

Nevada: Voter registration

New Mexico: Voter confidence

North Carolina: Voter ID, II

South Carolina: Richland County, II

Tennessee: Polling places; Liquor votes

Virginia: Voter ID

Washington: Voter guides

West Virginia: Voter ID

**Some sites may require registration.


V. 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 mmoretti@electionline.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.

Elections Manager, Jefferson County, Texas—performs administrative work of a managerial nature to ensure that elections are carried out properly. Duties involve managing the conduct of federal, state and local elections in accordance with state and county laws, regulations, and policies. Education: Bachelor’s degree or minimum six years of experience in related field, Certified Elections Registration Administrator (CERA) preferred. Requirements include: Thorough knowledge of state and county election laws, regulations and procedures; general knowledge of the common requirements, policies and procedures of the news media regarding information pertaining to elections; ability to repair, develop or install complex software or management information systems; and ability to supervise employees. Salary: $45,276-$60,000. Deadline: Applications will be accepted Jan. 1, 2013 through Jan. 15, 2013. For more information and to apply, click here.