January 22, 2015

I. In Focus This Week

Care to comment on that?
Seminole County, Florida uses comment cards to help process

By M. Mindy Moretti

Editor’s Note: This week we’ll begin a series of stories on research local elections officials are doing to help improve the process for voters, poll workers and elections staff.

Seminole County, Florida Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel knows a lot about elections, but every year, after each election the county conducts, he learns a little bit more.

Some of what he learns comes from his own experiences and those of his staff and his “volunteer” poll workers, but some of that gained knowledge also comes from thousands of comment cards the county distributes to voters for feedback on their experiences.

The county first began distributing the comment cards during the 2006 primary election to get more feedback about what happens at the polls on Election Day.

“I specifically wanted to know how voters felt about the physical make up of the polling sites,” explained Ertel.

Since then the comment cards have been distributed at every election to every voter just like our beloved “I Voted” stickers.

“Our voters love them!” Ertel said. “Remember, they have just gone into the polls to let their feelings be known and state their choices for elected office, they love they get the chance to also let their feelings be known about the process itself.”

The county compiles statistics from the comment cards and creates a Voter Experience Report that officials then use to make adjustments to future elections processes.

“[The report} takes all of our comment cards from the polls and uses the data garnered to improve the process,” Ertel said. “We also used the cards to create an instant buzz among our electorate by asking them to tweet their voting experience real-time using the hashtag #VoteSeminole.”

The county has been able to learn a lot for a relatively small amount of effort and more importantly, a small amount of money, which Ertel said is why this is something other jurisdictions, no matter their size, could easily replicate.

“The benefits of soliciting feedback far outweigh the cost, which is minimal, considering the data gathered,” Ertel said.

For example, in the past, the county used the comment cards to discern how many voters called poll workers “volunteers.”

“After the first notice of that, we modified our marketing for poll workers to step down on the civic duty aspect and remind people poll workers get paid,” Ertel said. “The next comment card report showed a 50 percent reduction in the of the word ‘volunteers’ relating to poll workers.”

The county has also learned about the level of friendliness of its poll workers. If Ertel receives several complaints about a specific poll worker or process, they look into it.

The big study from the 2014 election was on line length and ballpoint pens. Ertel said after analyzing the comment cards they noticed voters commenting that ballpoint pens took longer to use than the old felt-tip pens.

“So I did a focus group to test how much longer it took,” Ertel said.

The county had 16 poll workers and staff fill in one bubble on a sample ballot from the past election using ballpoint pens and then do the same with felt-tip pens. It took them an average of 1:48 to fill in the bubbles using the ballpoint pen and 1:06 using the felt-tip pens.

Ertel figures that by switching back to the felt-tip pens, the county will decrease the amount of time each voter spends in the booth filling in the bubbles by about 40 percent.

“This will, in turn mean they spend less time in the polling room, which will decrease the length of the lines waiting for a voting booth, which will increase turnout overall, as shorter lines increase voter turnout,” Ertel said. “So, this trickle-down time saver of using felt-tip pens will increase voter turnout.” 

Of course the comment cards aren’t always constructive to the learning process. Sometimes they are just nice. And as with anonymous comments in any form, sometimes they are just not nice. But whether naughty or nice, Ertel said the comment cards have been invaluable to improving the process in Seminole. 

 II. Election News This Week

  • A special committee formed following Hartford, Connecticut’s Election Day meltdown has found that elections officials failed to provide the secretary of state with information about polling place moderators; failed o file final registry books with the town and city clerk by October 29, 2014, failed to prepare and deliver final registry books to moderators by 8pm the night before the November election and failed to correct discrepancies in vote tallies. “The first part of this was just getting to the facts. We have that now and the council will have to deliberate in very short order,” Council President Shaw Wooden told the Hartford Courant. “Cleary, this is unacceptable. It’s outrageous. We need to be able to do better in terms of running elections in this city. Following the release of the report, members of the city’s council said that it will act to remove the city’s three registrars. At least one of the city’s registrars has vowed to fight her removal.
  • While Hartford had a people problem on Election Day, in Minnehaha County, South Dakota an election review commission there found that Election Day problems stemmed from machines. The vote tabulations machines — which cost the county $110,000 each — froze up for about 45 minutes on election night (and twice during a demonstration for the review commission) proved overly sensitive rejecting countless ballots for tiny marks in the wrong place as overvotes. The machines also rejected ballots for coffee and food spills as well as light pencil marks. Unlike other counties in the state, Minnehaha also had problems with the statewide address system for absentee ballots.
  • Using Freedom Of Information Act requests, WWRC found that Maryland officials pulled 35 voting machines from use during the 2014 general election. According to the state, some machines had calibration issues and others had inoperative touch screens. Although WWRC found that reports of vote flipping doubled in 2014 elections officials said they don’t believe any voter wasn’t able to fix and cast their corrected ballot. Maryland will be moving to paper ballots for the 2016 election.
  • In March, voters in Burlington, Vermont will decide whether or not the city’s roughly 1,900 noncitizens will be allowed to vote in future local elections. The idea was first floated in 2007 and again in 2011, but gained no traction, but four years later and enough changes on the city council will put the initiative on the spring ballot.
  • This week, a special committee appointed by Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann to look into the election process released its final report and recommendations. In the report, a majority of task force members supported a top-two primary system, early voting for two weeks and that the Legislature adopt online voting registration.
  • The City of Gaston, Oregon seems to have a problem filling a vacant councilor seat. With two city councilor seats on the ballot last fall with no candidates for either, one went a local firefighter who got five write-in votes, but there was no plurality for the other seat so officials decided to draw names from a lunch sack, only to find the name pulled was not a registered voter. The city council will now appoint a member.
  • Personnel News: Don Wright, longtime general counsel to the North Carolina State Board of Elections and a 30-year state employee, is retiring from the state as of Feb. 1. Wright plans to go part-time into private practice, specializing in election law and consulting to advise county boards of elections and municipalities on elections matters. Linda Rodrigue, longtime Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana registrar of voters announced that she will retire in mid-February. Mary Foley, 90, is retiring after 20 years on the job as Glastonbury, Connecticut registrar of voters. Mike Busman is the new chair of the Sumter County, Georgia board of elections and Meda Krenson is the new vice chair. Senior Clerk Daniel Taveras has resigned from the Lawrence, Massachusetts election division leaving the office with only one employee. Hank Nicols, Otsego County, New York Democratic elections commissioner for 27, announced he will step down in 2015. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has revamped the state board of elections. James B. Alcorn is the new chairman, Mathew Gray is new vice chair and Singleton McAllister is the board’s new third member. Rita Days, St. Louis County, Missouri’s Democratic director of elections has been removed from office and replaced by Eric Frey. The St. Criox, U.S. Virgin Islands elections board has elected Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal as their new chairman.

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.

Analysis of November, 2014 General Election, Prince William County, Virginia – Kimball Brace, Dec. 8, 2014: An analysis of the November 2014 vote in Prince William County, Virginia finds that the drop-off rate (or residual vote rate, the over or under vote of a ballot) varied by the type of voting technology used. Absentee ballots that were cast on paper, mailed in, and counted at a central location had a drop-off rate 11 times higher for the US Senate race than the rate for ballots cast in person on the county’s direct record electronic voting machines.  

 IV. Legal Updates

Alaska: While both sides are seeking to reach an agreement, plaintiffs in the Native voting rights lawsuit said that while the state has attempted to translate more documents than in previous elections, there was no change in the state’s approach to language assistance during the 2014 election season. According to The Associated Press, the plaintiffs filed court documents saying that there were no outreach workers available in 40 percent of Native villages in the affected Census areas.

New Jersey: A suit seeking to overturn the recent Asbury Park mayoral election will go to trial in February. According to The Asbury Park Press, the judge will from at least 230 people whose ballots were rejected in the November contest. In the 48-page lawsuit, Redmond Palmer, the plaintiff, claims that the board of elections failed to follow the proper procedures. Trial is set to begin February 23.

Ohio: The Oho General Assembly has joined a lawsuit in U.S. District Court that is challenging reductions in early, in-person voting. After the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a lower court’s ruling denying the General Assembly’s bid to join the suit, Judge Peter C. Economus allowed it to intervene as a defendant.

Tennessee: Proponents of a marijuana legalization initiative have sued the Davidson County elections commission to force the commission to allow online signatures in their petition effort.

 V. Legislative Updates

Federal Legislation: Outgoing Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) has introduced The Right To Vote Act of 2015. Under the legislation, states that require photo ID to cast a ballot would be required to provide free IDs for those in need, would exempt senior citizens from having to show ID and allow all people without an ID to cast a provisional ballot.

Alabama’s congressional delegation introduced legislation this week that would award the Congressional Gold Medal to those who marched and were beaten by state troopers in the fight for voting rights in the 1960s. It is expected the legislation will become law by March 7, the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

Alaska: Rep. Bob Lynn (R-Anchorage) has pre-filed legislation that would require voters to show a state-issued government photo ID in order to cast a ballot. Lynn has introduced similar legislation in the past, which proved unsuccessful.

District of Columbia: D.C. Councilmember David Gross (I-At-Large) has introduced a bill that would allow certain noncitizens to cast ballots in local elections. According to Census statistics, about 54,000 District residents are foreign-born, but not naturalized U.S. citizens. Similar legislation was introduced in 2004 and 2013.

Hawaii: The 2015 legislative session opened this week with Senate President Donna Mercado Kim saying approving legislation to move to all-mail voting for two upcoming elections.

Indiana: House Bill 1008 would eliminate straight-ticket voting in the Hoosier State. “As we revolutionize elections and technology continues to creep into the way we campaign and the information available to voters, it’s clear folks are looking at candidates rather than party affiliation,” Rep Dave Ober (R-Albion), told the Journal Gazette. Currently only 12 states allow for straight-ticket voting and there is pending legislation in several of those states to eliminate it.

Iowa: Several pieces of elections-related legislation have been introduced including SF 10 which would change the state’s primary process to include a runoff system if the top vote getter doesn’t meet the existing 35 percent threshold; HF 4 would eliminate straight-ticket voting; HF 29 would allow cities of 200 people or less to conduct their elections solely by mail; and HF 28 would create online voter registration.

Missouri: Senate Bill 34 extends the voter registration deadline for military overseas voters serving in active combat areas.

Also in the Show Me State, members of the Jackson County board of elections are hoping to work with legislators to close schools on election days since state law requires that schools be used as polling locations.

Montana: While it’s still very in in the legislative season, the first elections-related bill has met its fate in the House State Administration committee. The committee voted to kill HB 18 that would have given counties the option of using 16 and 17-year olds as apprentices at polling places during elections. “I am very disappointed in what can only be described as shameless partisanship,” Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said in a statement. “There was not a good reason to vote against this measure and many good reasons to vote for it, which is why 39 other states currently use student election judges.”

North Dakota: Rep. Corey Mock (D-Grand Forks) has introduced legislation that will, as he told Prairie Public Radio, start the conversation on making changes to the state’s voter ID law. The legislation would once again allow voters to use affidavits as proof of ID, something they were permitted to do prior to 2013.

Oklahoma: Several pieces of elections legislation have been introduced including bills to move Oklahoma to an all vote-by-mail state by 2020; creating a top-two primary system; online voter registration; permanent absentee voting; adding Wednesdays and Saturday afternoons to early voting; and allowing same-day registration during early voting.

Oregon: Once again this year, Secretary of State Kate Brown says she has plans to propose legislation that would use motor vehicle records to automatically register Oregonians to vote. According to Brown, if approved, the law would add about 300,000 people to the state’s voter rolls. Legislation was introduced in 2013 but failed along party lines.

South Carolina: Senate Bill 318, introduced by Senator Geraldy Malloy (D-29th District) would allow a voter without a valid photo ID to make a written affirmation of identity to be able to cast a provisional ballot.

South Dakota: A package of election reform legislation has overcome its first hurdles this week by clearing two Senate panels. The legislation would allow the secretary of state’s office to randomly audit signatures on statewide candidate petitions and another piece of legislation would create a “drop dead” deadline for lawsuits for ballot initiatives.

Washington: House Bill 1379 would eliminate elections in February and April and instead limit elections to August primaries and the November general election—special elections and recalls excepted. Senate Bill 5344 would require that return envelopes for primary and general elections include prepaid postage. Counties would pay the postage and then get reimbursed by the state.

Wyoming: Despite concerns from rural lawmakers, legislation that allow Wyoming counties to move to a vote center system passed an initial vote late last week. Senate File 52 must pass two more rounds of voting before moving to the House.

 VI. Opinions This Week

National Opinions: Ex-felon voting rights | Voting Rights Act | Voting laws

Alabama: Voter fraud

Arkansas: Voting machine contract

Connecticut: Hartford

Florida: Online voter registration

Kansas: Kris Kobach, II | Election politics

Nevada: Voter ID

North Carolina: Paper ballots | Voter suppression | Forsyth County  

Texas: Polling places | Guadalupe County

Wisconsin: Government Accountability Board

VII. Upcoming Events
Please email upcoming events — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to mmoretti@electionline.org.

Voting and Elections Summit— The U.S. and Overseas Vote Foundation, FairVote and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights will host the Ninth Annual Voting and Elections Summit that will examine the profound and persistent issues surrounding U.S. voter participation, engagement in our democracy and what can be done about it. Where: Washington, D.C. When: February 5-6, 2015. For more information and to register, click here.

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.

Elections Policy & Technology: A Conference for Lawmakers and Practitioners — 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; the Presidential Commission on Election Administration’s recommendations for voting technology; online voter registration and electronic poll books; testing and certifying voting systems; the use of technology for post-election audits, recounts and resolving disputes; accessibility and usability of voting systems; and Internet-assisted voting.Where: Santa Fe, New Mexico When: June 3 – 5. Contact: Katy Owens Hubler, katy.owens.hubler@ncsl.org, 303-856-1656.

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
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.

Absentee Supervisor, Collier County, Florida — leads and supervises 2 absentee team members. Assigns tasks among staff and self. As a player-coach, executes and contributes to all tasks assigned to staff. Directs, coaches and evaluates staff. Demonstrates the ability to learn and function in voter registration, absentee and address research software. Provides leadership for continuous database quality improvement. Develops links with vendors, other elections jurisdictions and agencies. Designs and operates procedures for communicating with voters. Assists voters by phone, email and in-person meetings. Operates large inbound mail equipment. Prepares records, reports and forms. Establishes, updates and maintains data in automated information systems. Salary: $42,000-$48,000. Deadline: Open until filled. For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.

Assistant to the Elections Coordinator, Boulder County, Colo.— position is instrumental in our office’s duty to implement successful elections for Boulder County’s voters. The objective of this position is to coordinate and manage the mail-in ballot and replacement ballot processes; manage the voter registration process and workflow; oversee the coordination and implementation of Voter Services Polling Centers, and supervise 1-3 full time staff. We are passionate about the work we do for democracy and the citizens of Boulder County and we’re looking for someone who’s equally passionate about this work. The ideal candidate must have the ability and desire to serve the public and Boulder County. He or she is experienced in supervision and motivating employees to success. Other skills include the ability to implement ideas and processes that are forward thinking; being self-motivated and collaborative with excellent communication skills in both verbal and written form. He or she is willing to learn and has the capacity to set clear goals, prioritize tasks, manage time efficiently, and effectively work with others for completion of projects. Additionally, he or she demonstrates excellent organizational skills and the ability to manage a project and people in order to meet tight deadlines. This position will require overtime, nights and weekends during election season. This is a non-exempt position, eligible for overtime pay. Salary: $41,016-$59,076. Deadline: Open until filled. For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.

Elections Division Director, Ada County, Idaho — collaborates with the clerk of the District Court and chief deputy to plan, oversee and administer elections for more than 200,000 registered voters across 145 precincts. The elections director is responsible for ensuring all of the necessary resources are acquired and in place, poll workers are well prepared, and that Ada County’s elections are conducted in an accurate, efficient and transparent manner that leaves Ada County voters with the utmost confidence in the elections process. The elections director is expected to exercise independent judgment and discretion, to manage the administration of all federal, state, county and local district elections. The director is responsible for planning, designing and carrying out programs, projects, studies or other work related to election administration within Ada County. Salary: $65,000-$75,000. Deadline: February 4. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.

Network Administrator, Collier County, Florida — administration of computer network to include servers, design, setup, installation, configuration and troubleshooting. Monitors network operations and ensures network connectivity. Ensure network is operating effectively and efficiently. Researches new technology and developments in systems network. Manages network security. Administration of print and switch environments. Identifies users’ needs and prepares users by designing and conducting training programs. Provides network training to internal IT staff. Salary: $58,000-$65,000. Deadline: Open until filled. For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.