I. In Focus This Week
L.A. County designs a whole new voting system
Nation’s largest elections jurisdiction designing system unlike any other
By J.B. Wogan
Local election administrators across the country say the hardware they’re using is outdated and in need of either repairs or outright replacement.
As Governing recently reported, public officials are delaying the necessary updates due to cost, regulatory barriers and limited options on the marketplace.
But Los Angeles County is bucking that trend.
Dean Logan, the registrar-recorder/county clerk, is overseeing a process to design a new voting system unlike anything currently being used around the country.
Governing spoke with Logan to discuss the Los Angeles County project.
The conversation transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
Would you start by explaining a little about the existing elections model that you’re trying to get away from?
The traditional model of voting systems procurement is that jurisdictions contract with a vendor for a system that has been designed, built and certified by that vendor. So there is a profit relationship. In many cases, the equipment remains owned by the vendor and it’s serviced by the vendor, with oversight by the jurisdiction.
Los Angeles County is somewhat unique in that we have a very old voting system that was developed by L.A. County government back in the late 1960s with punch-card voting. We have different contracts for the components of our voting system, but we’re not tied to a single relationship to one commercial vendor operating and supporting the whole voting system.
We see value in that. There isn’t a voting system that meets our needs, so that takes us out of the market in the first place. But we also believe that it’s important that the voting system be publically owned and operated and that it has transparency and security provisions to ensure that voters have confidence that their vote is being cast as intended and counted as intended.
Why are you taken out of the market right off the bat?
First of all, we are the largest jurisdiction in the country, so we have 4.8 million registered voters. We have 5,000 polling places and we employ over 25,000 poll workers on election day. To scale the distribution of voting equipment over a large geographic area, to numerous locations, and to get those ballots back to a central location and have them counted and reported in a timely manner — the current systems that have been on the market just don’t have that ability. Add to that that we have to provide our voting materials in 11 different languages other than English under the Voting Rights Act. That’s another requirement or design feature that none of current voting systems contemplated.
We also have a very diverse electorate and we are economically diverse. So we serve areas that are very affluent and conditioned to options with technology; we also serve areas that are dependent on public transportation. We have a homeless population that needs to be served in order to vote. It’s just really a unique jurisdiction in terms of the combination of all of those elements.
Ok. Scalability and multiple languages are two features that you would like in a new system. Are there other features you would like to add as well? What about security features?
We’ve had by and large the same voting system for more than 40 years here. We’re going to make a sizeable public investment in a new voting system and we want to be sure that is a modernized voting system, not just a rebuild of the previous model.
When you talk about security, we want to leverage off-the-shelf hardware. We want open-source software for the interface. We want to separate the process of marking the ballot from the process of counting the ballot. With the existing voting systems, that’s an all-in-one system.
We want to build a ballot-marking process that has flexibility and is adaptable to the electorate we serve, for those voters who vote by mail, for those voters who might want to go to a vote center, or vote early or at neighborhood polling places. We want to give them a ballot to mark that is both intuitive and accessible. But then we want that to produce a uniform paper-based, human-readable ballot that is tabulated on an entirely different system that has no physical relationship to the device where the ballot was marked. That’s a security feature that doesn’t exist today.
Both you and Dana DeBeauvoir in Travis County have mentioned creating some kind of open-source election software. What are the main differences between what the two jurisdictions are doing?
We’ve worked closely with Dana and the project in Travis County. It’s another model that I think will be useful in moving the nation toward the more modernized approach to voting systems. We’re both still in development, so things are still undefined. I think the main distinctions between the L.A. County project and the Travis County project is that in L.A. County we started by designing around the voter experience rather than starting with designing a technological solution. We wanted to get the voter experience right and then to have the technology respond to what ends up being defined as the ideal voting experience. In Travis County, I think they started with a technology team that put together a technology solution. I think they put together something that will still be more a one-entity system from marking the ballot to tabulating the votes. It will be an all-in-one system. We’re looking at separating those things. I think what’s common to the two projects is the desire for transparency, looking at open-source code and looking at off-the-shelf hardware components.
When you say “off-the-shelf hardware components,” what do you mean?
So, for instance, if the touch-screen interface is a tablet-based process and there’s a commercially available tablet that meets those specifications, rather than have a company build customized tablets that are just for the voting system that will age out and have to be replaced over time, we could leverage the use of existing tablet components, printer components, all of that, and we would then load them with secure software interface and we would some disable features — they would still require some customization — but we don’t need somebody to go out and develop a tablet or a touch screen. Those are components that exist on today’s market and in fact are constantly being improved upon. We want to be sure that as those hardware components continue to advance and get better, that we have the ability to upgrade and integrate them into our voting system, rather than having to start over and build an entire new voting system every time there’s new technology available.
Will you still make use of private contractors?
Our project does contemplate private contractor engagement. What we’re trying to do is to develop the system and specifications for the system, separate from the manufacturing. So, instead of a vendor that will build the system, designing it around its business model and its ability to make a profit on it, we want to design it. We get the specifications and then we put it out to bid for a competitive process to determine who wants to build it, but according to the specifications that are already adopted.
This article first appeared on July 7 on the Governing website and is reprinted with permission.
II. Election News This Week
- The Alabama Attorney General has issued a 7-page advisory that in essence tells county commissions that they do not have the authority to prohibit voters from bringing firearms into polling places. The opinion, sought by the Chambers Co. commission states that while county commissions cannot explicitly prohibit firearms from polling places, state law that prohibits guns from courthouses and schools — many which serve as polling places — still holds. The opinion also states that private locations that serve as polling places, such as churches, may prohibit firearms from being brought into a polling place. The state’s sheriff’s association has asked for more clarification on their responsibilities.
- A month after the June primary registrars in 15 California counties are preparing to recount, by-hand, hundreds of thousands of ballots in the state comptroller race. “There are more questions right now than answers,” said Michael Scarpello, registrar of voters in San Bernardino County told The Tribune. San Bernardino will recount 495 of the county’s nearly 1,700 precincts. Registrars are calling staff back from long-planned vacations and are brushing up on the state’s recount laws. Close races in California don’t automatically trigger recounts. In this case, candidate John A Perez has requested — and will pay for — the recount. Perez has requested that the recount begin in Kern and Imperial counties and move on from there. According to the Sacramento Bee, there are concerns that a hand recount will be complete in time for the race to make the November ballot. This is only the third statewide recount in California history.
- The District of Columbia will spend around $300,000 to conduct a special election for a vacant school board seat. According to The Washington City Paper, Printing fees are expected to cost around $38,500, while voting systems cost $37,000. $43,730 will go to payments to poll staff, including $28,200 just for election day work. The city’s election board had urged the Council to act to either delay the election until the November general election or conduct the special by mail, but the area in question is represented by Councilmember (and former Mayor) Marion Barry and he failed to bring anything before the council.
- What’s in a name? In Nevada, Secretary of State Ross Miller has directed county clerks and vote registrars to get rid of any ballots or elections materials that use Democrat Party and not Democratic Party. “It’s being used as a slur,” Washoe County Democratic Chairwoman Janice Flanagan told the Reno News & Review. “We have received some complaints lately and there was a recent article about the incorrect usage of ‘Democrat Party,'” Miller said in a June 26 memo.
- Well this is sorta meta. Voters in the Village of Greendale, Wisconsin will head to the polls in November to vote on whether or not they will continue to use the village schools as polling places. Due to logistics and the difficulty in finding accessible and available locations to host elections, the Village trustees decided to put it to a vote instead of unilaterally making a decision.
- Personnel News: George Mushro, Lockport, Illinois clerk has retired after 21 years on the job. Rutherford Co., Tennessee Election Administrator Nicole Lester was fired following a unanimous vote by the county election commission.
III. Legislative Update
Arkansas: The Benton Co. Quorum Court’s Legislative Committee has included limiting special elections to no more than two days per year in a “wish list” of topics to be reviewed by the state Legislature in 2015. There was an unsuccessful attempt to limit special elections in 2013.
Guam: Legislators acted this week to appropriate $206,000 for the purchase of new vote-tabulating machines after a previous bill did not contain the funding language.
Michigan: House Bill 5693 would give local elections administrators the authority and tools necessary to conduct elections by mail. The proposal outlines how ballots should be prepared, handled and delivered, while still allowing for administrative rules for proper implementation.
Wyoming: The Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee is preparing to debate legislation that would create an automatic process to allow some felons to regain their right to vote at the completion of their sentence.
IV. Tech Thursday
National Tech: The U.S. Elections Assistance Commission certified the EVS5200, a new election management system from ES&S. According to a press release from the company The ExpressVote system combines paper-based voting with touch-screen technology to “create a system that improves convenience for voters while making it easy and cost-effective for election administrators.”
International Tech: iVoteIsrael, has licensed an Overseas Vote Foundation Hosted System Solution, a customized suite of voter services from OVF. The system offers the full suite of OVF applications, including voter registration and ballot request, election official directory, state voter information services and ballot services.
“The connection that voting creates between American citizens in Israel and their native country is unparalleled,” Matt Solomon, National Director, iVoteIsrael said in a statement. “Given the razor thin margins that have decided the victor in numerous elections, we believe that iVoteIsrael’s outreach to Americans in Israel can impact the outcome in certain midterm election contests.”
Missouri: The secretary of state’s office has launched a new website designed to make it easier for military and overseas voters to participate in the democratic process. The website, which works for all state, federal and local elections eases the process of registering to vote and requesting and receiving an absentee ballots. Secretary of State Jason Kander served in Afghanistan as an Army intelligence officer.
Alabama: Polling places
Illinois: Election-day registration
Indiana: Voter rolls
Kansas: Secretary of state race
Maryland: Primary date
Michigan: Ballot language
Minnesota: Instant-runoff voting
New York: Lever voting machines
Rhode Island: Master lever
Tennessee: Rutherford County
Texas: Ex-felon voting rights
VII. Upcoming Events
Please email upcoming event — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org.
National Association of Secretaries of State Summer Conference: NASS is celebrating a Star Spangled Summer at this year’s annual conference in Baltimore. Members will exchange ideas, share lessons learned and highlight best practices in policy making and programming for state member offices. Agenda programming will include: Expert speakers who will inspire new ways of thinking about state agency leadership; Real-world lessons & success stories from state peers; Topical workshops focused on communications & professional skills advancement; Networking opportunities with public and private-sector attendees; and Excursions to explore Baltimore & learn more about culture and state government. Where: Baltimore. When: July 13-16. For more information and to register, click here.
International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers’ (IACREOT) Annual Conference: IACREOT will hold its annual conference this summer in Bonita Springs, Fla. The agenda will include seminars, training sessions, a delegate awards luncheon, IACREOTs elections and board meeting as well other opportunities for networking. Where: Bonita Springs, Fla. When: July 19-24, 2014. For complete information and to register, click here.
National Conference of State Legislatures Legislative Summit: Bring home 1,000 ideas from the land of 10,000 lakes this summer. For 40 years, the Legislative Summit is where legislators and staff come together across the aisle to tackle critical problems and find solutions that work. With more than 100 sessions, the time to dig deep into issues you care about, and opportunities to make new friendships and connections. Where: Minneapolis. When: August 19-22, 2014. For more information and to register, click here.
Elections Center 30th Annual National Conference: More information will be forthcoming, but mark your calendars now for the annual conference. Courses offered at the annual conference will include Course 5 (Ethics in Elections); Course 6 (Communications in Election Administration); Renewal Course 20 (Federal Impact on Elections-1960s to present); and New Renewal Course 27. Where: San Francisco. When: August 19-23, 2014. For more information and to register, click here.
National Association of County Recorders, Elections Officials and Clerks: More information will be forthcoming, but mark your calendars now for the annual conference. Where: Long Beach, Calif. When: August 22-25, 2014. For more information and to register, click here.
National Association of State Election Directors: More information will be forthcoming, but mark your calendars now for the annual conference. Where: San Francisco. When: August 22-24, 2014. For more information and to register, click here
National Student/Parent Mock Election — Now in it’s 34th year, the National Student/Parent Mock Election invites you to join the world’s largest national mock election and nation’s larges civic education project. Since 1980, students have learned what it means to be informed voters, casting votes for Presidential, U.S. Congressional and gubernatorial candidates. What’s more, students continue to demonstrate the value of civic engagement – from organizing their own debates and campaign activities to holding student rallies. When: October 30, 2014. For more information and to register, please click here.
VIII. Job Openings
electionlineWeekly publishes election administration job postings each week as a free service to our readers. To have your job listed in the newsletter, please send a copy of the job description, including a web link to email@example.com. Job postings must be received by 5pm on Wednesday in order to appear in the Thursday newsletter. Listings will run for three weeks or till the deadline listed in the posting.
Legal Mobilization Assistant Coordinator, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Washington, DC – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (“Lawyers’ Committee”) is seeking a bright, creative, qualified organizer to serve as an Assistant Coordinator for our Legal Mobilization Project (“LMP”). LMP works across and with all Lawyers’ Committee subject matter projects. The LMP staff attorneys and organizers utilize pro bono, technology, litigation, public policy advocacy, online communications, public education, non-litigation assistance and management tools to address civil rights challenges. At the core of LMP is the recognition that a comprehensive multi-dimensional approach can be incredibly effective in enforcing civil rights today. While the Legal Mobilization Project supports various initiatives and projects, the Assistant Coordinator will primarily work with the Voting Rights Project.The LMP Assistant Coordinator will provide logistical and organizing support to the Voting Rights Project team members as they organize Election Protection—the nation’s largest, non-partisan voter protection program—hearings for the National Commission on Voting Rights hearings and trainings for state and local partners. Salary: Competitive with fringe benefits package, included employer-funded health insurance. Deadline: July 25. Application: Please fill out the application form, which includes the full job description here.
Program Associates, The Democracy Fund, Washington, D.C.— Democracy Fund seeks to hire two Program Associates, each of whom will be focused on supporting one of our three initiatives and providing assistance to the other two. The three initiatives aim to create a more responsive political system, foster more informed participation, and improve the capacity of our political system to solve problems. We are looking for candidates who are passionate about making our political system work better and have significant experience working in at least one of the fields that we are engaged in, including election administration, campaign finance reform, civic and media innovation, or reducing political dysfunction. Strong candidates will be excellent writers, have strong research skills, work well with others, and have a proven track record of being able to get things done in a complex professional environment. As a bipartisan organization, we welcome applications from Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – a willingness to work across the aisle is essential. A major area of responsibility for each Program Associate will be to support our Program Directors in sourcing and evaluating grant opportunities, as well as working with our portfolio of grantee organizations to help them succeed. Additionally, Program Associates will work with the Democracy Fund team to design and implement strategies to more directly advance our goals through research, convening, and advocacy. Application: For the complete listing and to apply, click here.
Research Associate, Pew Election Initiatives, Washington, D.C. — associate’s primary responsibilities involve supporting the activities and goals of the Pew’s Elections Performance Index project. The Elections Performance Index provides election officials, policy makers and citizens the data and tools they need to assess the state of election administration in America and identify specific improvements that can be made in the way elections are conducted. At its core, the Elections Performance Index provides an empirical assessment of how well the nation’s democracy is working. This position will be an integral part of this project by overseeing its data and spearheading communication with states and counties. The associate will ensure the project meets internal and external deadlines by conducting and overseeing the data work necessary to construct the index and ensure the highest quality of reporting available. Along with this work, this individual will be required to coordinate and sustain our inquiries and relationships in the states with regards to this project. Responsibilities will include data validation, cleaning and coding; managing consultants; maintaining internal and external communications; and writing for reports, memos, policy briefs, 50-state scans and other research products that are highly relevant to policy deliberations. Additionally the elections team is exploring creating similar indices within several states. The associate will be part of the team that helps develop and manage all elements of this work and must be able to think creatively about how to collect, use, and report elections information from state and local officials. The associate may also undertake special projects aimed at improving the research portfolio of Election Initiatives and other projects in Pew’s elections portfolio as their workload permits. Deadline: Position open until filled. Application: For the complete job posting and how to apply, click here.
Voter Registration Division Director, Travis County, Texas — Responsible fordirecting, administering, managing, and coordinating all activities of the Voter Registration Division. Oversees division programs and functions including, but not limited to, administration of the voter registration and elections database system, geographic information and redistricting assignment system, State TEAM system, Voter web pages and content, public information requests and data release, imaging system, hardware platforms, and over 3200 member volunteer registrar program. Serves as the official Voter Registrar and subject matter expert in responding to public information requests and signing legal documents, attending legal proceedings and meetings, certifying election lists and data, and interpreting Federal, State, and local election law for 600,000+ registered voters, over 247 precincts, and over 230 election jurisdictions. Establishes and enforces plans to safeguard and ensure security of official voter documents and data, hardware and software systems, and the safety of staff and the general public Plans, organizes, implements, continuously evaluates division programs, and develops policies and procedures. Consistently seeks efficient methods for improvements to the Division by developing strategic planning activities and attending professional associations meetings and seminars. Qualifications: Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, Business Management, Public Administration, Government, Communications, Public Relations or a directly related field and five years of increasingly responsible program development division level experience, including four years of mid- to senior level management experience. Master’s degree strongly preferred. CERA designation strongly preferred. Salary: $85,925 – $96,820. Deadline: July 31, 2014. Application: Submit the application, a cover letter, resume and current organization chart here.