I. In Focus This Week
California considers taking plunge to almost all vote-by-mail
SB 450 would move California to the “Colorado Model”
By M. Mindy Moretti
The Adams’ house in Northern California is a house divided. Marcia prefers to cast her ballot by mail and is on a permanent vote-by-mail list. Ted prefers to make his way to his local polling place on Election Day.
“I enjoy seeing how many people in my local precinct have voted, getting an “I Voted” sticker, Ted Adams said. “When my children were of an appropriate age, I took them along a number of times, which I felt was beneficial. It is a positive experience.”
However, if Senate Bill 450 is approved, Ted may soon be joining Marcia at the kitchen table to fill out his ballot before dropping it in the mail.
Senate Bill 450 would essentially shift the majority of California to the “Colorado Model” of voting. Under this model every registered voter would receive a ballot in the mail and then they would be able to cast the ballot through a variety of ways — mail, in-person at vote centers, or in drop boxes.
With many counties already majority vote-by-mail, Secretary of State Alex Padilla and many local elections officials support the legislation.
San Mateo County Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder-Chief Election Official Mark Church is supportive of the legislation and also supported AB 2028 that allowed San Mateo to conduct a three-year pilot program of conducting all local elections by mail.
“San Mateo County voters and the majority of California voters have increasingly used voting by mail as the primary method to cast their ballots,” Church said. “The potential benefits of all-mailed ballot elections include increased participation, increased efficiency, reduced costs, reduced risk of human error and earlier returns on election night. Those are the reasons I support all-mailed ballot elections.”
In Napa County, Registrar of Voters John Tuteur said that should the legislation win approval, the switch will be easy for his county because the county is currently approximately 88 percent vote-by-mail.
“We also created Vote by Mail Assistance Centers for the 2008 Presidential Election cycle with centers in each municipality,” Tuteur said. “Each center has real time access to our DFM EIMS database so that we can issue temporary and replacement vote by mail ballots. These centers, plus new, additional centers in our populated areas, can easily function as vote centers if the legislation passes.”
Unlike the Colorado law though, if approved, California counties would have the option of not participating in the program and could continue to function under the existing vote-by-mail, neighborhood polling place system.
“This policy change will increase access to the ballot, and that, I think, should be supported,” said Shasta County Clerk/Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen. “Will my county choose to participate? Hard to say, in the legislation’s current form; things are changing fast, so it may be workable in the end. Small to mid-size counties may not realize the cost savings that are currently being assumed by the authors.”
Currently, 61 percent of Shasta County voters vote-by-mail.
The impacts the legislation will have on the function of elections offices will vary. As Tuteur noted, there will be only small adjustments whereas Darling Allen said there would be major impacts on her office during the initial shift those should even out in the long run.
“The primary impact will be in shifting the focus and the workload from the back-end of the election process to the front-end,” Church said. “In a traditional polling place election, we hire and train some 1,700 poll workers, deploy and test over 1,400 voting machines, secure 209 polling places and provide a comprehensive Election Day network of field support. Most of that will be unnecessary with an all-mailed ballot election.”
Church said that instead the focus will be on voter education and community outreach, which was obvious based on the voters we spoke with who are all consistent voters but were completely unaware of the proposed legislation.
“I don’t think you can underestimate the need for voter education around this new model,” Darling Allen said. “Also needed will be targeted information – what if two of the nine Bay Area counties do not choose this model? They share a large media market, and it might be tricky to make sure that voters know what their counties are doing.”
There are changes the officials would like to see before the legislation is approved. Church would like see a requirement that all return envelopes for the ballots to be postage prepaid; Tuteur would like to see funding assistance to make the conversion to vote centers and vote-by-mail; and Darling Allen noted that there are concerns about the vote centers.
“I know some very small counties are having some concerns about the currently discussed four vote center minimum,” Darling Allen said. “While I understand completely the concerns that led to that “floor,” I also can appreciate that going from five polling places to four vote centers will not save a small county money, which could make it difficult to use this new model.”
While the elections officials are supportive of the legislation, the jury is still out with the voters we spoke with about it.
“I have mixed feelings about the legislation,” Ted Adams said. “On one side, I consider voting to be a fundamental right… On the other, nothing magical is happing here. Many voters have only the slightest awareness of the governmental process much less the issues, candidates, etc.”
San Diego County voter Priscilla Venegas expressed some concerns for the potential for voter fraud, especially after hearing an NPR piece this week about politiqueras, but said that whatever concerns she may have are far outweighed by the number of new voters the system would welcome.
“Overall, tapping into a new network of voters, that would make the change worth it,” said Venegas who along with her husband Martin is still a traditional polling place-based voter.
Venegas did admit that she would miss the camaraderie of heading to the local elementary school on Election Day.
“I like how micro-local it is,” Venegas said. “You see people from your neighborhood and while we don’t talk about how we voted, it’s a shared experience.”
Even supportive elections officials admit there are some things they would miss about the current system including scenic polling places and poll workers.
“It’s the poll workers that we’ll miss the most, I think, if this comes to pass,” said Darling Allen. “We won’t have space for all of them, I don’t think, and many of them might not be interested in working for 10 days, etc.”
If California moves forward and follows in Colorado’s footsteps with election reform, one only has to wonder what they will legalize next?
II. Editor’s Note
Beginning Tuesday July 14 through Tuesday August 11, electionline will be decamping to the Central Time Zone and will therefore be posting electionlineToday by 8 a.m. Eastern each day instead to the typical 6 a.m. The newsletter will still arrive in your inboxes every Thursday afternoon.
III. Election News This Week
- School may be out for the summer, but fall is just around the corner and just in time for the return to classes the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs is rolling out a new online certification course for election officials. “With this new program, the Humphrey School is poised to train leaders of election administration, at a time when there is an urgent national need to professionalize election systems,” Humphrey School Dean Eric Schwartz said in a statement. A total of 12 credits are required for completion, and all courses will be offered in an online format, covering such topics as election law, election design, and voter participation. For more information about the program, click here.
- The Ann Arbor, Michigan city council is considering putting two proposals on the November ballot that would reform how elections are conducted in the city. One proposal would switch the city to nonpartisan elections in November and the other proposal would do-away with odd-year elections and move council races to even years when turnout is higher.
- Following the threat of legal action from a voter registration group — Battleground Texas — the Texas secretary of state’s office has agree to study why, according to The Houston Chronicle, thousands of Texans have complained that they had problems registering to vote when applying for a driver’s license. According to the paper, 4,600 individuals complained online between September 2013 and February 2015 about processing issues with their voter registration submitted through a motor vehicle office.
- Also in Texas, National Public Radio has done a very interesting series on public corruption in South Texas. One of the installments focused on campaign workers that were paid to harvest votes. Politiqueras as they are called, bribe voters with everything from cigarettes to beer to cocaine to vote a certain way. In 2012 the U.S. Department of Justice and the Texas attorney general’s office filed charges against more than 10 people in two counties.
- Personnel News: Lin Stewart has been sworn-in as the Rapides Parish, Louisiana registrar of voters. Her father, B. G. Dyess, served as registrar of Rapides for 24 years beginning in 1988. Gary Sims is on the job as the Wake County, North Carolina elections director. Chris Harvey has been hired to run the elections division in the Georgia secretary of state’s office. Mike Scott has been appointed to the Paulding County, Georgia board of elections. Lindy Robinson has announced her retirement as Carteret County, North Carolina board of elections director.
IV. 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.
The Health of State Democracies — By Lauren Harmon, Charles Posner, Michele Jawando, and Matt Dhaiti, Center for American Progress Action Fund, July 2015: This report ranks the health of state democracies by evaluating each state’s accessibility of the ballot, representation in state government, and influence in the political system. Each of these categories consists of a number of subcategories. Maine ranks the highest while Alabama ranks the lowest.
V. Legislative Updates
Alabama: Gov. Robert Bentley has signed House Bill 254 into law this week. Under the new law, Alabama elections officials will able to trade voter registration data with agencies and states that reciprocate.
Connecticut: Gov. Daniel P. Malloy has signed legislation into law that creates new standards for local registrars.
District of Columbia: The Council of the District of Columbia is considering legislation that would allow permanent resident non-citizens to vote in local elections. The Council held a hearing this week and heard from proponents and opponents including current D.C. Board of Elections Executive Director Clifford Tatum who said the law would create too many administrative hurdles.
Guam: The head of the Guam Election Commission appeared before the Committee on Appropriations to request supplemental funds to the 2016 budget in order to purchase 70 voting booths and 116 privacy curtains. According to the Pacific Daily News, the $1.56 million budget request is a 13 percent increase from the agency’s current budget.
Missouri: Secretary of State Jason Kander announced this week that an initiative petition regarding voter ID has met the state standards for circulation. The ballot title reads: Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to allow a law that would require voters to identify themselves and verify their qualifications to vote by providing identification, which may include a valid government-issued photo identification?
Tennessee: The Sumner County election commission voted 4-1 to eliminate early voting at satellite vote centers for the presidential preference primary, the general election primary and the general election.
VI. Legal Updates
Arizona: The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission’s statehouse district plans. The case was brought by more than a dozen voters who accused the commission in 2012 of improperly drawing legislative district boundaries in favor of Democrats.
California: The City of Fullerton has settled a lawsuit against its at-large voting system and has agreed to put a district-based approach before the voters in November 2016.
Louisiana: An East Baton Rouge Parish judge has tossed out a lawsuit filed by supporters of a failed ballot measure that would have allowed the city of St. George to incorporate. Supporters of the measure argued that the registrar’s office had improperly disallowed signatures.
Nevada: A lawsuit has been filed in Mineral County over 178 missing votes in the 2014 general election. According to KOLO, there were 178 more votes cast than what showed up in the final tally and those missing votes have been traced to one electronic voting machine. The lawsuit seeks a new election.
Tennessee: Voting machines in Rhea County are still sealed under a court order because of a pending lawsuit filed by opponents of a 2014 state constitutional amendment. Because the state may be tasked with reviewing the ballots from the November election the ballots cannot be removed from the voting machines. County Elections Administrator Tom Davis is hopeful that the he will be able to access the voting machines soon. During an election earlier this year, the county was forced to borrow voting machines from Monroe County.
Wisconsin: A group of Democrats have sued the state’s Government Accountability Board over legislative maps drawn in 2011. The lawsuit argues that the maps are so partisan that they are unconstitutional.
VII. Tech Thursday
National News: Move over .org and or .gov, .vote is now available as a domain name. According to The Press of Atlantic City, the registry for the domain, Monolith Registry, sees using the .vote as a way to reduce confusion with domain names and create a recognizable Internet space where voters can find reliable information. The company will do monthly audits to make sure the domains are not fake/parody accounts. Although the registry is focused on candidates, it is open to political parties, candidates and states (no word on cities and counties) and Alabama and Arizona have already registered their names.
Kansas: The Kansas secretary of state’s office has launched a new website and hotline for residents to report suspected voter fraud.
Ohio: The Mahoning County Board of Elections is working with CivicPlus to create a mobile voter app for smartphones and redo the county’s website. The app will allow voters to confirm their voter registration, where to cast ballots and provide election schedules and results. The county expects the app to be ready to go by September.
VIII. Opinions This Week
Alabama: Voting rights
Indiana: Potter County
Iowa: Election reform
Minnesota: Instant runoff voting
Missouri: Ex-felon voting rights
North Carolina: New citizens
Tennessee: Voter registration
Washington: Yakima elections
IX. Available Funding
U.S. Election Assistance Commission Grants
EAC Grants Management Division is responsible for distributing, monitoring, providing technical assistance to states and grantees on the use of funds, and reporting on requirements payments and discretionary grants to improve administration of elections for federal office. The office also negotiates indirect cost rates with grantees and resolves audit findings on the use of HAVA funds.
X. Upcoming Events
Please email upcoming events — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 Election Center 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.
MEOC Conference — The Midwest Election Officials Conference is back! Following a several-year hiatus, Brian Newby, Johnson County, Kansas election commissioner is bringing back the regional conference for elections officials. There are still a lot of details to work out, but if you’re an elections official in the Midwest, mark your calendars now! Where: Kansas City area. When: September 30-October 2. For more information, stay tuned to electionline and Brian Newby’s Election Diary.
XI. Job Postings This Week
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.
Clerk-Recorder Services Specialist, Contra Costa County, California— specialist performs the most complex and technical support activities associated with the responsibilities of the Clerk-Recorder Division, plan, coordinate and direct/lead the day-to-day work activities of subordinate staff and ensure that proper procedures are followed while performing those activities. The ideal candidate will possess knowledge and understanding of the County Clerk and Recorder functions. Working knowledge of the principles and practices of work organization and the ability to apply them in planning, coordinating and completing work activities to meet specific deadlines is a must. Salary: $3,910-$4,752. Deadline: July 24. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Elections Management Analyst, New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office, Santa Fe — position conducts research and analysis regarding best practices for the administration and implementation of the election code. Prepares plans and writes guidelines, documentation, and rules for areas related to the Election Code. Develops operational procedures and guidelines related to administering the election code and provides county clerks appropriate guidance and documentation on election related activities. Minimum Qualifications: Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and two (2) years of experience in the procedures of business and managements principles involved in strategic planning. Any combination of education from an accredited college or university in a related field and/or direct experience in this occupation totaling six (6) years may substitute for the required education and experience. Salary: $31,782.40-$55,307.20 annually. Deadline: July 22, 11:59 pm. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Elections Services Specialist, Contra Costa County, California — position is assigned to one of the functional unites of the elections division. Position performs the most complex and technical support activities associated with the preparation for and the conduct of elections; performs database managements in one or more database systems; and has lead responsibility over the Elections Services Technicians and unit clerical staff. Ideal candidate will possess knowledge and understanding of the entire election process cycle and the interrelationships of each section of the Elections Division. Salary: $3,910-$4,752 monthly. Deadline: July 24. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Elections Technology Specialist III, Boulder County, Colorado — position will perform a variety of complex and specialized tasks associated with elections management, elections processing systems and the statewide voter registration system. The position is responsible for the implementation and results of related processes, as well as related procedural development, training and technology support, while ensuring compliance with elections rules, laws and policies. This role requires varying degrees of process management and supervisory support of temporary employees, as well as a high level of initiative, attention to detail, collaboration, problem-solving and analytical ability. Ability to work effectively under pressure while remaining positive and flexible is also key to success. This position requires additional hours; evenings, weekends, and some county holidays as needed during election cycles. Salary: $52,572-$75,696. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
General Registrar, Fairfax County, Virginia — The Fairfax County Electoral Board, serving Fairfax County (population 1.1 million), the largest locality in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and a suburb of Washington, D.C., is currently recruiting qualified candidates with exceptional senior leadership and management experience for the position of General Registrar to serve a four-year term. With close to 700,000 registered voters, and using advanced technology, the incumbent will be responsible for the oversight of a large and complex non-partisan voter registration and election administration agency. Duties include adherence to Virginia Code Sec. 24.2, and other federal, state and local codes; and management of the Office of Elections, an office with approximately 28 full-time, 200 temporary and 3,700 Election Officer employees. This is an executive management position that reports to the Fairfax County Electoral Board. Specifically, the General Registrar oversees the day-to-day operations of the Office, which is responsible for the registration of voters, the conduct of elections, and other related activities. The General Registrar is also responsible for formulating policies and procedures for carrying out the Office’s goals and objectives, and suggesting and implementing changes in methods and procedures to improve operations. Salary: Negotiable. Deadline: July 31. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
IT Coordinator, Bowen Center for Public Affairs, Dept. of Political Science, Ball State University — administer and coordinate all activities related to the computer operations and databases created and maintained by the Voting system Technical Oversight Program (VSTOP) in the Bowen Center for Public Affairs; work with the co-directors and other staff of the project; provide professional and technical advice in the areas of maintaining and integrating databases and web-based interfaces; maintain responsibility for all database operations; update protocols used in the testing of voting equipment and related peripherals and provide oversight on field tests of voting equipment. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
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There are still items available for purchase from Yavapai County Arizona’s previous Diebold system. Most notably, Accu-Vote Precinct Packages, which are $35.00 and include 1 Scanner w/ key, transfer case & power cord. This is good news for Jurisdictions who may be interested in AVOS central count machines, as vendors have indicated that they are still selling the EPROMS that turn AVOS precinct counters into central count machines (see vendor for details). Other items still available for purchase include: 128K Accu-Vote Memory cards ($25.00), 32K Accu-Vote Memory cards ($25.00), and TSx PCMCIA Memory cards ($25.00). Equipment is being sold as-is on a first come, first served basis until all items have been liquidated. Interested parties may send a request for more information to: email@example.com. Please be sure to include in your email: Contact Name, State, County, and phone number.