January 31, 2013

I. In Focus This Week

Defiance County, Ohio at center of elections ‘Scandal’
Local officials not sure why show chose Defiance

By M. Mindy Moretti

It was about 48 hours after the polls closed on November 6, 2012 when Defiance County, Ohio Elections Director Pamela S. Schroder got the late-night text on her phone from another Ohio county elections official.

It’s the type of message no elections official wants to get.

There was talk on television of vote rigging in Defiance County.

Schroder looked at the text on her phone and thought “Why us?”

Fortunately for Schroder, while the text was real, the talk wasn’t. It is part of a story line on the ABC drama Scandal.

Scandal is a primetime drama on ABC starring Kerry Washington as public relations “fixer” in Washington, D.C.

The show features a variety of salacious storylines, but the one that caught Schroder by surprise that November night is a vote rigging storyline.

In the show, produced by Shonda Rimes (despite electionline’s best efforts, we could not reach Rimes for comment), a cabal of five people — the first lady, a PR executive, a Supreme Court justice, a Texas businessman and the president’s chief of staff — all scheme to get the president elected. Part of that scheming was paying a hacker to rig the vote in one small Ohio county — Defiance, population 38,884.

Why Defiance? Why Ohio? Schroder has no idea.

“It’s an interesting county name?” Schroder speculated. “We have an Indy car championship driver, several professional baseball players, the movie—“Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio,” but we really have NO idea.”

Although based on this report it may not seem like it, the show is quite popular and most recently won its time slot with overall viewers and the coveted 18-49 year olds. A reporter from the Pittsburg Post-Gazette said that “[v]iewers seem to be eating it like it’s delicious warmed brie.”

Schroder said that nothing the show has shown about Defiance elections is remotely true, right down to the voting machines the show uses.

“Ours are not the same as the ones on the show,” Schroder said. “We use Premier TSx’s (touch screen). The print outs on the show were totally different than our process.”

Schroder said she hopes that the voters of Defiance — and people everywhere — realize that the show is fiction.

“We hope this doesn’t cause distrust with our voter,” she said.

But could it happen? Would it be possible for five, well-placed people, to pick up the phone and have a hacker hack one voting machine in one small county and change the outcome of an election?

“I have not seen the show but have heard about the story line.  As with any good TV fiction, one has to be able to suspend disbelief.  In this case, as a former election official with a background in information security, I lack sufficient imagination to suspend that much disbelief,” said Dan Nolan, vice president, strategic planning and government operations, SOE Software, a Scytl Company.

Nolan said the cost and complexity of even attempting such a conspiracy would “beggar Citizen’s United.” He said that even if an undetectable Trojan Horse could be introduced into a voting system, despite intrusion detection systems, immutable logs, etc., the routine audit process conducted by elections officials would reveal anomalies.

Pamela Smith with Verified Voting agrees that the show is a bit over-the-top, but does feel that it could provide a cautionary tale for voters.

“It’s silly but it’s not,” Smith said. “I don’t actually see it, so I went on Apple TV and watched an episode.”

Smith noted that some voting systems are more securable than others and she said the show could have an impact on public perception and make voters wonder about the systems used in their jurisdiction.

“I wouldn’t necessarily want people to think that all voting systems are suspect, but I don’t want them to think that they aren’t either,” Smith said. “People need to be vigilant on an on-going basis.”

Smith and Nolan both agree though that an audit of a voting system would prevent something like what happened on Scandal from well, happening.

“If you have an evidenced-based election and you have an auditable system and you are doing audits, then you have the evidence to reconstruct the outcome if there were a question,” Smith said.

Back in Defiance, Schroder said that most people have found the storyline to be amusing and there are lots of funny grins and lots of questions from residents if anyone in the elections office has seen the show or not.

“One of our board members arrived at a board meeting and we were discussing the ‘Defiance’ episode about the voting machine being found at the high school that had been rigged and his facial expression was quite concerned—eyes bulging, eye brows raised and mouth open,” Schroder said, but. “… [T]he show is totally fiction.  We work diligently to provide fair and honest elections in Defiance County, Ohio.”

Scandal airs on ABC at 10 p.m. on Thursdays. On tonight’s episode “Gladiators in Suits,” we’ll “discover the truth about the rigged election.”

II. Election News This Week

  • Although voter photo ID has been a law on the books in Mississippi for almost a year, the state has yet to conduct one election where voters are required to present ID because the state is still awaiting approval from the U.S. Dept. of Justice. This week Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann submitted a set of proposed rules for how the state will implement the law. Under the proposed rules, any voter who lacks and ID can get a free one from the circuit clerk’s office. “Our agency is proposing procedures to ensure every eligible voter who does not currently have acceptable photo ID will be able to obtain an ID easily and free of charge,” Hosemann said in a news release.
  • With a special election looming to replace Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the Lawrence, Mass. City Clerk William Maloney says the city is not prepared to conduct the election because the voting booths are in such poor repair. Although county inmates attempted to repair about 175 of the city’s voting booths, Maloney said although well intended, the booths were “poorly constructed…that simply were not durable.” According to the Eagle Tribune, Maloney said the city needs to purchase new voting booths or there will be a repeat of November 2012 when there was a line of about 400 people waiting to cast their ballots at 8p.m. simply because there weren’t enough voting booths.

  • Like Jason Voorhees, just when you think there can be no more stories about the much-loved lever-voting machines in New York, they’re back. Counties in New York are now trying to figure out what to do with the antiquated machines. Warren County has 72 of the machines that it no longer uses and although some towns still use them for school and fire district elections, it’s not really a sellers market. The county is considering giving them away to the towns, selling them on eBay, or selling them for scrap, which could bring around $50 to $100 per machine.

  • Personnel News: Alabama State Rep. John Merrill has launched a bid to become secretary of state. In other secretary of state news, Guillaume de Ramel has announced his plan to run for secretary of state in Rhode Island. J.P. Sipp has announced that he will be stepping down as the Republican commission on State Island, N.Y.’s board of elections. Beleaguered Teller County, Colo. Clerk JJ Jamison announced that she will resign effective Feb. 1. Jamison was facing a recall spearheaded by two county commissioners and told The Mountain Jackpot that “I have been beat up too much and I’m not being allowed to make it right.” The Hawaii Elections Commission ruled that Chief Election Officer Scott Nago should not be fired over a series of Election-Day mishaps that led to ballot shortages and long lines. After 14 years of overseeing the elections in hotly contested Clark County, Nev. Larry Lomax has announced that he will retire. No timeline has been set for his last day. At 86, Bill Willis is retiring after 30 years of service as an election official/poll inspector for Sequoyah County, Okla. Christopher Thomas, elections director for the state of Michigan was recently sworn in as the new president of the National Association of State Election Directors. Nicholas Yingst, director of elections and voter registration in Lebanon County, Pa. is stepping down in order to become the township administrator in Anville.
  • In Memoriam: Former Rhode Island Secretary of State Barbara Leonard died last week. She was in her late 80s. Leonard served one term as Rhode Island’s secretary of state from 1993 to 1995.

III. Research and Report Summaries

electionline provides brief summaries of recent research and reports in the field of election administration. Please e-mail links to research to sgreene@pewtrusts.org.

The Canvass – National Conference of State Legislatures, January 2013: The most recent issue examines voting technology standards in detail, including what they are, who sets them, and challenges election officials face in dealing with limited choices in equipment.

IV. Legislative Update

Alaska: Under legislation (HB 3) introduced by Rep. Bob Lynn (R-Anchorage), voters would have to either show a photo ID to vote, or two non-photo IDs such as a birth certificate or government permit. Voters without the proper ID would need two elections workers to recognize them, instead of one, to cast a ballot. Lynn introduced similar legislation in 2011.

Rep. Les Gara (D-Anchorage) has plans to introduce legislation that will allow for same-day registration in The Last Frontier.

Colorado: Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont) is hoping that legislation he introduced will help Coloradans register to vote with greater ease. The legislation would allow 16-and 17-year olds to pre-register to vote when they get their driver’s licenses.

House Bill 1050, that would have required the secretary of state to electronically cancel the voter registrations of citizens found on a Dept. of Homeland Security database has been defeated with Democrats saying that it would take away people’s voting rights based on faulty data.

Hawaii: Following a series of miscues in the 2012 primary and general elections, Hawaii legislators are working to make changes. Aaron Ling Johanson (R-District 31), the House Minority Leader has introduced legislation that would give the state’s chief elections officer the power to supervise inexperienced clerk and would also require the chief elections officer to use a checklist when preparing for elections.

In other legislation, Rep. Sharon Har (D-District 42) has introduced legislation that would eliminate the state’s chief elections officer and elections commission altogether and transfer the responsibilities of elections to the lieutenant governor.

Idaho: Democrats introduced a collection of five bills this week under the title of the Voting Opportunity and Trustworthy Elections Initiative. Items in the legislative package include online-voter registration, early voting centers and requiring political parties to contribute to costs if they insist on a closed primary.

Iowa: Senate Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock), have once again introduced voter photo ID legislation. According to The Associated Press, the bill (SB 435) resembles legislation introduced by Secretary of State Matt Schultz (R).

Michigan: With the support of Gov. Rick Snyder, Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) reintroduced legislation that would allow voters to cast a no-excuse absentee ballot. Currently, Michigan voters must meet certain criteria to vote absentee, but under HB 4058, no reason would be needed.

Woodrow Stanley (D-Flint) has introduced HB 4103 that would establish early voting in Michigan. Many local election clerks support early voting as a way to ease their workload in the days before the election.

Montana: Late last week, the House State Administration Committee tabled a bill that would have limited acceptable forms of voter ID to state driver’s license, non-driver ID cards and tribal ID cards. However the same committee advanced a bill that would end the state’s same-day voter registration law. The bill now moves to the House floor.

New Jersey: A Senate committee approved a bill this week that would institute early voting in the state. Under the legislation, polling places would be required to be open eight hours a day, seven days per week beginning 15 days before either a primary or general election. The bill (S2364) next moves to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

New Mexico: While some states are considering eliminating straight-party ticket voting, Democratic legislators in New Mexico want to bring the practice back after Secretary of State Dianna Duran eliminated it last year saying that state law did not specifically allow for it. Senate Bill 276 would codify the practice and require legislative action to eliminate it again in the future.

North Dakota: A series of bills introduced in the North Dakota Legislature has some county auditors concerned. Among the bills are legislation that would shorten the time for early and absentee voting and would double the amount of time someone must live in a precinct before being permitted to vote there.

House Bill 1332 would require a resident a resident to live in a precinct for at least 70 days before they are able to vote there.

House Bill 1238 would prevent local elections officials from sending absentee ballots more than 20 days before the election.

House Bill 1400 would cut the number of early voting days from 15 to seven.

Ohio: Sen. Nina Turner (D-District 25) this week introduced the Voter Protection Act that calls for online voter registration, early voting hours beginning 35 days before the election and stipulations to make it more difficult to disqualify provisional ballots.

Although it has yet to be introduced, Rep. Mike Dovilla (R-Berea) said this week that there is interest amongst House Republicans to reintroduce voter photo ID legislation.

South Carolina: This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously advanced a bill that would allow for early voting in the Palmetto State. The bill (S 4) would provide for 10 days of early voting and direct local officials to set up at least one early voting center per county.

Utah: A bill that would have eliminated the state’s straight ticket voting was defeated 4-3 in the House Government Operations Committee. According to KUTV it is unlikely the bill will be revived.

Virginia: At press time, one bill to require photo ID to vote was dead in the Virginia House while a Senate bill survived a 7-6 committee vote. The bill (SB1256), which had to be amended to include a provision to provide free photo IDs, now moves on to a full vote by the Senate sometime this week.

Wyoming: Add Wyoming to a growing list of states considering voter photo ID in their current legislative sessions. The bill (SF134), introduced by Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) would require a photo ID to cast a ballot. Currently residents need only show a photo ID when registering to vote. The bill failed to receive Senate committee approval and was pulled.

V. Upcoming Events

The Election Assistance Commission and NIST will host a symposium to explore emerging trends in voting system technology. The symposium will provide an environment for interactive discussions among the attendees including election officials, voting system manufacturers, voting system test laboratories, standard developers, academics, and Federal, State, and local government officials. The symposium will encourage attendee participation through panel discussions with limited presentations to frame the topics to be explored. When: Feb. 26-28. Where: NIST Administration Building, Gaithersburg, Md. Registration: For more information or to register, click here.

Nonprofit VOTE is hosting a webinar “Get Started with Nonprofit Voter Engagement” that will provide an overview of nonpartisan dos and don’ts, as well as effective tactics for voter registration, voter education, ballot measure advocacy, candidate engagement, and get-out-the-vote efforts. We’ll focus on ways to help you integrate outreach into services you already provide. When: Feb. 21 at 2p.m. Where: Online. Registration: For more information or to register, click here.

VI. Opinion

National News: Instant-runoff voting | Election reform | Voting Rights Act, II | Voter ID | Constitutional voting

California: Special election | Pre-registration

Connecticut: Election reform

Florida: Election reform, II, III | Early voting | Collier County | Politics at the polls | Voter confidence

Illinois: Voter registration

Kansas: Election dates

Maine: Instant-runoff voting

Maryland: Early voting; Petition reform

Montana: Smoother elections | War on voting | Election reform

New York: New York City BOE | Early voting

North Carolina: Voter ID, II | Runoff elections | Election changes

Ohio: Voting myths and legends | Voting modernization

Oregon: Voting modernization

Tennessee: Voting machines | Fair elections | Sevier County

Utah: Election reform

Virginia: Election reform

Wisconsin: Voter ID

**Some sites may require registration.

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 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.

Assistant County Registrar, Contra Costa County, Calif. — under direction of the County Clerk-Recorder, the incumbent in this single position, division head classification is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Elections Division; including division administration; budget development and adherence; personnel selection, development, management and supervision. Division Heads are responsible for maximizing the use of department financial, technical and personnel resources to perform their division’s operations. Qualifications: The ideal candidate should be a dynamic, energetic and confident professional with an actively engaged management style, excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate with, relate to and adjust to a variety of situations and personalities. The ability to communicate with all levels of staff, management, members of the public, press and/or other agencies is essential. This person should be politically astute and sensitive to the issues that accompany service under an elected public official in a department that conducts elections for the County, State and Federal governments. The preferred candidate must be an excellent problem solver, be able to deal with multiple issues at the same time and work in a fast-paced office environment. The ideal candidate should be detail-oriented and have excellent organizational skills. This person will have demonstrated technical and managerial knowledge and skills and be able to dedicate this capacity to develop staff and procedures to continually strive toward department excellence. Education: Possession of a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university with a major in business, public administration or a related field. Experience: Five (5) years of full-time, or its equivalent, increasingly responsible experience in business administration, public administration or elections work. At least two (2) years of experience must have included supervisory or administrative responsibility. Salary: $95,296-$115,833. Deadline: February 13. Application: For more information and to apply, click here.

Registrar of Voters, Clark County, Nev. ­­— develops and directs the implementation of long-and short-term goals, objectives, policies, procedures and work standards for the department; directs the preparation and administration of the department’s budget. Plans, organizes, administers, reviews and evaluates the activities of professional, technical and office support staff through subordinate managers and supervisors. Contributes to the overall quality of the department’s service provision by developing and coordinating work teams and by reviewing, recommending and implementing improved policies and procedures. Works with the Board of Commissioners, state legislative bodies, appointed and elected officials, political parties, citizen groups and county management to formulate policies and plans related to voter registration and elections operations. Prepares and directs the preparation of a variety of written correspondence, reports, procedures and other written materials. Monitors and interprets changes in laws and regulations related to voter registration and election operations; evaluates their impact upon County activities, and develops and implements policy and procedural changes as required; drafts changes to laws and ordinances and lobbies the legislature and provides supporting testimony as required. Education: Bachelor’s degree in business or public administration, government, political science or a field related to the work and six years full-time senior level management experience in voter registration and election operations. Salary: $104,208-$161,553.60. Application: For the complete job posting and to apply, click here. Deadline: Feb. 25, 2013