July 31, 2014

I. In Focus This Week

‘Don’t go, just don’t go.’
‘You realize you just spent a week’s wages on that souvenir?’

By Paul Gronke
Reed College

Those two quotations — the first from a concerned coworker before I left and the second from my translator at the end of the mission — reflect much of my experience as an election observer for the OSCE/ODHIR mission to Ukrainian presidential election on May 25, 2014.

The mission to Ukraine was my third time as an election observer for ODIHR. Previously, I’ve served as an observer for the Albanian parliamentary election in June 2013 and the Kyrgyz presidential election in October 2011.

While many of my friends and colleagues were intrigued by the trip to Kyrgyzstan, and a bit jealous of my mid summer trip to Albania, the Ukrainian mission — for obvious reasons — prompted the most interest and concern.

I’d like to regale you with tales of intrigue and excitement, but this is no year of living dangerously.

My mission to Ukraine was not very different from my previous two missions. I learned about the politics and culture of a new country, made new friends, ate some wonderful food, and felt a sense of reward for helping to promote democratic development in an important part of the world.

There were tensions in the East, and many of the more experienced hands were concerned about the long-term observers situated in the eastern oblasts of Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Luhansk, where there was still active armed conflict.

I was stationed in Kherson oblast. Kherson is located in the south of the country, abutting the Crimea to the east and the Black Sea to the south. The Dnieper River runs through the main city of Kherson, and the area’s long association with shipbuilding and seafaring meant that Russian speakers were nearly a majority in the region.

We had a special security briefing as a result.

Yet, my overwhelming impression in the city of Kherson, confirmed by the other teams in our oblast, was a sense of calm. The Ukrainian citizens I spoke to wanted the election to be over, hoped for a peaceful resolution in the east, and were primarily interested in jobs and economic growth.

The quote from my wonderful translator, who was helping me buy gifts for friends, is in some ways the most memorable.

I spent most of the mission complimenting him on the great coffee, fine food, friendly people, but most of all the low cost of Ukraine. It was not until that final day — when I spent $50 on a stunning, hand-painted Matryoshka (nesting doll) — that he turned to me and told me, without a bit of frustration or anger, that the monthly income in Kherson was about $200, and I’d just spent a week’s wages on a doll.

Ukraine, I learned later, has seen it’s agricultural output drop by 50 percent since the end of the Soviet Union. The currency has collapsed since the start of the conflict in the East. No wonder gourmet dinners were $10 and hand-sewn tablecloths were $30!

There was a palpable sense of pride in the election — it was free, fair, and resulted in a decisive winner (never discount the importance of a clear and legitimate outcome).

The election will hopefully provide stability to the country, but post-election, Ukraine needs peace, and it needs a growing economy.

I gave an interview about my experiences to our local public radio station, and the host closed with this question: “Paul, now you have observed elections in Kyrgyzstan, Albania, and Ukraine. How do you compare your experiences?”

My answer:

“I met wonderful people and saw new and wonderful countries. Each country was proud to have held a free and fair election. But now each of these countries needs us—needs our investment and needs our tourist dollars. So the next time you think about visiting the Greek coast, think about traveling to Albania, just a few miles north. The next time you think about traveling to Poland, take a side trip down to Lviv, Ukraine. And the next time you’re visiting Turkmenistan, visit Kyrgyzstan as well.”

I don’t suspect any electionline readers have plans to visit Turkmenistan. But a visit to Ukraine or Albania will be well worth your time. And if you get a chance to go on an election observation mission, step up! You’ll probably see me in the same line!

Information on the ODHIR can be found at http://www.osce.org/odihr. Staffing for U.S. missions is handled by PAE-React: https://www.pae.com/career-react

II. Election News This Week

  • The rulings in two separate voter ID cases in Wisconsin were released by the state’s highest court just as electionline was going to press. The state Supreme Court upheld a 2011 law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls. The law had previously been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in Milwaukee. In order for the law to take effect, both the state and federal courts have to find it constitutional.
  • This week, the U.S. Department of Justice followed through with its earlier promises to support legal challenges to voting laws in Ohio and Wisconsin. According to The Washington Post, the department filed an amicus brief in Wisconsin’s voter ID case and a statement of interest in Ohio’s early voting lawsuit.
  • Stafford County, New Hampshire Superior Court Judge Brian Stafford recently struck down a 2012 law that essentially blocked out-of-state students from voting in the state unless they establish residency.
  • Following claims of voter suppression and discrimination against Arab-Americans, the city of Dearborn Heights will have a state elections monitor oversee the August primary. According to The Detroit News, the mayor of Dearborn Heights requested the oversight. “It should give comfort to the voters that we have some independent review,” he said.
  • In June, the Virginia State Board of Elections erroneously mailed notifications to approximately 125, 000 registered voters questioning their registration status because the voter may be registered in another state. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Matthew Davis, chief information officer for the SBOE sent an email to registrars on Tuesday of this week saying the letters mistakenly went to voters who have not moved. “The individuals had moved or updated their address with DMV, but the update was in-state and they should not have been included in the ‘What’s Your Status’ mailing,” Davis wrote.
  • Also this week in Virginia, recently elected Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that his administration as restored the voting rights of more than 2,500 non-violent felons who have completed the terms of their service. “I am proud of the reforms my administration has undertaken to expand and expedite the rights restoration process and the work my team has done restoring Virginians’ voting rights so former offenders can lead successful, productive lives here in the commonwealth,” he said in a statement.
  • Well this is certainly a sticky wicket! Voters in Washington and Hawaii are facing issues with the glue used for absentee ballot envelopes. In Washington, in addition to some voters complaining about the taste of the sealant on ballot envelopes, some voters found their return envelopes already sealed when they received their ballots. King County Elections Director Sherril Huff told the Kirkland Reporter that the problem may stem from excessive heat or moisture during the mailing process. In Hawaii, recent damp, humid weather on the Big Island has caused some absentee ballot return envelopes to arrive in mailboxes already sealed. “Up to this point we’ve replaced approximately 50 voters’ return envelopes and secret ballot envelopes,” Pat Nakamoto, elections program administrator told KITV4. Nakamoto said the issue isn’t new, but with the recent passage of tropical systems through the state, it appears more return envelopes are being damaged by humidity than in years past.
  • Personnel News: Steve Hines is the new Forsyth County, North Carolina elections director. Hines served as the Pitt County elections director for five years and also worked for the Mecklenburg County BOE. Manchester, Connecticut Democratic Registrar of Voters Francis A. Maffe Jr. plans to retire at the end of August after 17 years on the job. Greg Bellamy, director of the Brunswick County, North Carolina BOE is retiring this week after 10 years on the job. Alan Farley has been hired as the new Rutherford County, Tennessee election administrator.

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.

2014 Statewide Primaries Half-Time Report: National Turnout Trending Toward Record Low – Curtis Gans, Center for the Study of the American Electorate, July 21, 2014: In the first 25 statewide primaries held this year, turnout in 15 of those states set record lows and overall turnout was down 3.5 percentage points from the 2010 primaries. Only three states had higher turnout in 2014 compared with 2010.

The High Cost of ‘Free’ Photo Voter Identification Cards – Richard Sobel, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, June 2014: This report examines the costs individuals may incur in obtaining photo identification in states where photo ID is required to vote at the polls.

IV. Legislation Update

Illinois: Legislation approved this year — and signed by the governor — requires voting be made available in a “high traffic area” on every state university campus in Illinois.

V. Tech Thursday

Kansas: The Sunflower State has joined a growing list of states and localities offering apps to make it easier to find out as much pertinent information as possible about elections. The VoteKansas app is “designed to connect voters with the essential information needed to cast their ballot.” It is currently only available for Apple users, but an Android version is expected to be available in September and a Spanish-language translation will be available “shortly”.

VI. Opinion

National News: Voter turnout

Arizona: Secretary of state race, II

Arkansas: Mark Martin

California: Recount; E-poll books

Kansas: Secretary of state race, II

North Carolina: Voter registration | Early voting

Tennessee: Election administrator position

Virginia: Voter ID

VII. Upcoming Events

Please email upcoming event — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to mmoretti@electionline.org.

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 Voter Registration Day — The 3rd annual National Voter Registration Day is scheduled for September 23. In its first two years, more than 1,000 groups and 10,000 volunteers registered over 360,000 people to vote. When: September 23. For more information, 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 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 Assistant, Ramsey County, Minnesota — postingis for a temporary, seasonal positions required to administer the 2014 state elections in Ramsey County. These positions will be filled for up to six months, depending on the needs of the elections office. Reappointment for future election years is possible. Typical duties include: processing high volume, time sensitive election materials with a high level of accuracy; preparing election equipment and supplies for shipment to and from polling places; explaining election procedures to voters in-person, on the phone and by email; entry of voter registration and absentee applications into databases; and preparing absentee ballot materials for mail and in-person voting. Qualifications: Successful applicants will be enrolled in or recent graduates from an academic program leading to a bachelor’s degree in political science, government, public administration, planning, computer science and engineering, business administration or related fields. Experience in a paid or volunteer capacity in an election-related activity is highly desirable. Hands-on experience with Microsoft Office applications is also desirable. Deadline: August 1. Applications: For the complete listing and to apply, click 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.

Technology Manager (Business Analyst IV), Fairfax County Office of Elections — Leads and manages the Office of Elections Information Technology Program with reporting or coordinating responsibility to the General Registrar’s office COO as directed. Provides direction to align technology with elections strategy, priorities, and business needs. Serves as the lead architect of business processes around complex technical systems that support the Office of Elections and elections process. Works with Chief Operating Officer and elections officials, as needed, to oversee the evaluation and redesign of information technology-related business processes to enhance business functionality and efficiency and to facilitate large-scale change. Stays abreast of technology changes. Leads efforts to seek ways of applying new and existing technology; provides expertise on technical trends and external practices; assesses available solutions, maps required processes and plans and manages approved projects. Qualifications: Advanced knowledge of methods, metrics, tools, and techniques of business process reengineering; advanced knowledge of procedures for developing technical and operational support documentation and tools for analyzing and developing test and evaluation procedures; considerable knowledge of interdepartmental and/or countywide processes, procedures, and requirements; considerable knowledge of the capabilities of information technology software, hardware, and network communication technology; considerable knowledge of effective project management methods, practices and techniques; ability to manage/administer multiple computer systems in a diverse computing environment; ability to manage both small and large long and short-term projects under project timeline and resources; ability to write effectively, including technical writing; and ability to work cooperatively with technical staff and end users and establish and maintain relationships. Employment Standards: Any combination of education, experience and training equivalent to possession of a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems, business administration, or related field; plus five years of experience in information systems and process redesign, managing and implementing all phases of the systems development life cycle, including at least one year of supervisory experience. Salary: $70,609.34 – $117,682.66. Deadline: August 1. Application: To view the complete listing and to apply, click here.