I. In Focus This Week
What if you throw an election and no one shows up?
It’s bad for democracy, but is low turnout bad for elections officials?
What happens if you hold an election and no one shows up? Well that’s what happened recently at one polling place in Sonoma County, California.
The Rohnert Park precinct on the Sonoma State University campus saw not one voter on June 3. Not one.
“Maybe a couple of people came by to drop off mail ballots, but we didn’t have a single voter,” Gloria Colter, assistant registrar told The San Francisco Chronicle.
This is of course an extreme, but as we prepare to hit the halfway point in the 2014 mid-term election cycle, turnout has been abysmally low with some states and the District of Columbia hitting record low numbers.
Obviously there is a litany of reasons for why voters don’t show up during non-presidential years, but what impact does low voter turnout have on elections officials?
“Our staff understand the election trend and anticipated turnout going into the election. Having this understanding helps keep everyone’s expectation in line with the work load,” said John Gardner, assistant registrar of voters of Solano County, California.
In fact many elections officials said that they use the opportunity of low-turnout elections as training for the future.
“The good part of a lower turnout election is that it provides some freedom for staff to participate in parts of the process that they wouldn’t see in a high turnout election,” Gardner said. “This helps us work cross training into both line level staff and supervisors. Additionally it provides some room to evaluate and improve upon processes and technology to help us perform better in a heavier turnout election.”
In Marion County, Indiana where turnout was 7.96 percent, which was lower than expected, Clerk Beth White noted that whether turnout is large or small, conducting the election is all in a days work for her staff.
“My election board staff works extremely hard and I am very proud of their efforts. They are a dedicated team of individuals who understand that whether 7 percent or 70 percent of voters turn out, everyone deserves a positive Election Day experience,” White said. “They are committed to training poll workers, opening the polls on time, and tabulating results in a timely manner no matter the turnout.”
While turnout might not affect morale, it can have financial impact.
“Obviously, if we plan for higher turnout elections and are not able to utilize resources that have to be pre-paid, then we have spent taxpayer dollars unnecessarily,” said Maggie Toulouse Oliver, Bernalillo County, New Mexico clerk. “However, under a vote center model of election administration, we are able to scale up when necessary, and in some cases scale back, giving us greater flexibility and the ability to save resources when possible. “
Overall turnout for the 2014 Primary Election in Bernalillo County was 16.5 percent that was slightly lower than Toulouse Oliver expected but, she said, not surprisingly low.
But why is it so bad?
Some, like Michael P. McDonald, associate professor at George Mason University, have argued that turnout isn’t really as bad as it seems because the turnout calculation is an “artifact of poor measurement.”
McDonald argues that voter turnout should actually be measured by eligible population. However, elections officials and academics tend to think turnout differently.
Elections officials look at overall registered voters to determine turnout and therein lies a problem as well because many states struggle to keep accurate voter rolls.
“We do think this has an impact,” said Valerie Kroger, spokeswoman for Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson. Overall Indiana had a 13 percent turnout. “We are currently in the process of updating our voter list, which will give us clear data on turnout numbers in future elections.”
And it’s because of a “poor measurement” that during this week’s Virginia primary, City of Falls Church Registrar Dave Bjerke tweet out turnout percentages based on active and inactive voters.
“Most ‘inactive’ voters are no longer part of our electorate but we cannot, by law, remove them without going through these procedures. Therefore their registration is included in our total registration numbers,” Bjerke said.
“However, we think that is an inaccurate calculation for turnout. Voter registration is a constantly moving train as our society is becoming ever more mobile and updating a voter’s registration may not be a voter’s priority. Therefore, we think the population of “Active” voters is a much more accurate measure of the actual voter turnout for a given locality.”
Some believe too that the constant changes to election procedures dictated by partisan legislatures has hampered turnout.
“…[I]t causes confusion for voters because the laws are introduced and discussed in the media, if passed, they are normally challenged which means they might be suspended, whatever the decision, it is normally further challenged in the courts, and so on and so on. This back and forth tends to lead to mass confusion among voters, especially among groups that are not the most consistent voters,” said Kelly Ceballos, director of communications for the League of Women Voters.
“It’s likely that these rules have also kept voters away because they lack the necessary documentation or the voting option they would normally use is no longer available, impact during the primary season is likely not that high. We expect to see greater impact during the general election.”
Is it fixable?
Even in places where voting is about as easy as it can get — Oregon with its vote by mail for instance — turnout has been low.
Overall turnout in Oregon was 35 percent, which was one of its lowest turnouts, but as Tony Green, director of communications for the secretary of state’s office, it was still higher than many other states.
“Vote-by-mail has kept Oregon’s turnout at or near the top in primaries compared to other states,” Green said. “A big factor that no one can control is the excitement that the candidates generate.”
Ceballos of the LWV said there are simple things too that local elections officials can do to help boost turnout.
“They can place polling places in accessible locations in relation to public transportation…and on college campuses. They can create and support websites that are user friendly for their constituents,” Ceballos suggested.
Providing voters with as much information as possible was also a suggestion from Ceballos and Toulouse Oliver agreed.
“My personal belief is that ensuring that voters have information and tools available to them to make voting decisions about how, where and when to cast their ballot can lead to increased turnout. This belief has certainly been borne out anecdotally, but also statistically by certain measures,” Toulouse Oliver said.
“Widespread advertising of the election and how to obtain election information, providing easily accessible and customized voter information on the Internet, and providing ample customer service goes a long way to reducing barriers to the ballot box, making voting easier and more accessible. As a result, we may see increased turnout, because the negative impacts of voting on time, information, and resources to the voter are greatly reduced.”
Ultimately though, the show must go on and to a one, the elections officials we spoke with said, regardless of turnout predictions, the law, pride in a job well done and a civic responsibility makes them get up and ready for one voter or hundreds of thousands.
“Regardless of turnout, we are required by law to find those 3,000+ poll workers, offer early voting options, maintain election equipment to serve Marion County’s 600 precincts, and otherwise conduct a successful election,” White said.
“Elections in Marion County cost around $1 million dollars each no matter how many voters participate. I want voters to come to the polls out of a sense of civic duty, but if that doesn’t resonate with them, then I want them to come out and make use of how their tax dollars are being spent!”
II. Primary Roundup
Five more states went to the polls this week and as we discussed in our main story this week, turnout, or lack thereof, continued to be the big story.
Because of the overall low turnout, voters have not faced lines like they did in 2012, but that cannot be said for some voters in Maine. In Rumford a higher voter turn lead to lines at polling places because there weren’t enough voting machines to go around the vote tally was delayed because of the volume of ballots. Voters in Hollis also faced long lines, but that seemed to stem more from the fact that the town was using new voting machines and there were some issues with those machines. A 12-year-old girl in Brunswick is facing felony criminal terrorizing charges after she pulled a fire alarm at a polling place. And three legislative primary races in York and Cumberland counties could face recounts due the “razor-thin” margins.
Just because turnout is low doesn’t mean an election is trouble-free. In Clark County, with some ballots still to be counted, it appeared that the county was going to hit its lowest, or second-lowest turnout ever. Also in Clark, Registrar Joe Gloria assured people that cartridges containing the ballots 127 voters left behind at a polling place were not compromised. Probably the most interesting thing coming out of the Nevada election is that “none of the above” received the most votes in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. “I think it’s always a surprise when ‘none of the above’ wins,” Secretary of State Ross Miller told KRNV. “It’s only won a handful of times in the state’s history.”
Continuing a theme, North Dakota experienced its lowest turnout since 1980 on Tuesday! But turnout wasn’t the only thing. There were a handful of issues throughout the state including some problems in Fargo with polling place spaces due to scheduling conflicts, in Kindred city ballots weren’t immediately available and the secretary of state’s website suffered a technical glitch just as results were coming being posted. And this was the first major test of the state’s new voter ID law and there were some problems. Also, a ballot question moving the deadlines for submitting petitions for ballot measures narrowly won with just over 50 percent of the vote.
All eyes were on beleaguered Richland County and while things weren’t perfect, there was certainly an improvement from past elections. There was some confusion in Anderson County over new polling places. In Horry County voters were confused to learn that they lived in split districts and could not vote for the candidate they wanted to. Also in Horry County, a glitch in the vote counting process changed the outcome of two races. There were a handful of ballot problems in Greenville County where poll workers loaded the wrong ballots into voting machines. Candidates in Florence and Dillon counties were challenging ballots before the polls had even closed.
We’re not being glib when we type this, but seriously, we’ve got nothing. Not one story about the administration of the Virginia elections popped up during our searches. Sure, there were a lot of stories about the results, but that was it. Well done Virginia.
III. Election News This Week
- U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus this week ruled that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted must restore early, in-person voting on the three days before an election. Husted has said he will comply with the ruling.
- This week the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it will consult with tribes nationwide to develop ways to increase voting access for American Indians and Alaska Natives. During the announcement, Attorney General Eric Holder cited several examples of currently legal barriers American Indians and Alaska Natives face in an effort to vote including one Alaskan village that is separated into two parts by a river and the towns only ballot machine is moved from one side of town to another giving each side only a short period of time to vote. “These conditions are not only unacceptable, they’re outrageous,” Holder said. “As a nation, we cannot — and we will not — simply stand by as the voices of Native Americans are shut out of the democratic process.”
- Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach told The Associated Press that Kansans who register to vote using the National Voter Registration Form will be given provisional ballots in the August 5 primary and that only the votes cast in federal races will actually be counted. Although as of Tuesday more than 18,000 residents still had their voter registration pending providing citizenship documentation, Kobach told the AP that fewer than 100 who have used the federal form will be affected.
- Fallout continues this week over efforts by several people in Alabama to bring guns into polling places during that state’s primary. County commissioners in Shelby County have said they will address the issue at a special meeting. The secretary of state’s office has said that while officials are sorting out the interpretation of the law that may — or may not — allow guns in polling places, it is up to law enforcement in each county to determine whether guns are permitted.
- The Missoula County, Montana county commissioner voted unanimously this week to make the county’s elections administrator position appointed as opposed to elected. Under the new plan, the elections administrator will be appointed to a 3-year term. Following the initial three years, the commission will review the process leaving open the possibility that it could return to an elected position. The proposal was the idea of Vick Zeier, the former clerk and recorder who administered elections for the past 21 years.
- Apparently it’s not just the residents of Brazil who are unhappy with the staging of the 2014 World Cup. Earlier this week the New York State Board of Elections website was hacked by Anonymous to protest the $1.1 billion it cost to bring the Cup to Brazil. It’s unclear why the NYSBOE, which as far as anyone knows doesn’t even field a rec league soccer team, was the victim of a hack.
- Personnel News: Leonard C. Piazza, III, the former Luzerne County, Pennsylvania elections director is headed south to a position as election supervisor in DeKalb County, Georgia. Don Markum is the new Parker County, Texas elections administrator. Lake County, Florida Supervisor of Elections Emogene Stegall was recently recognized as the state’s longest serving elections supervisor. She’s been on the elections job for more than 50 years. Sherry Poland has been appointed the new director of elections for Hamilton County, Ohio. Lynda Roberts, a former election official in Mono County is new Marin County, California registrar of voters. Teresa Greer, Hawkins County, Tennessee elections commissioner announced that she will be taking a leave of absence until after the primary since her husband is a candidate on the ballot.
IV. Legislative Update
Delaware: A bill pending in the General Assembly would allow homeless residents to list a homeless shelter as their place of residence in order to register to vote. The voter registration language is part of a larger bill that is in essence a homeless persons bill of rights.
Illinois: While localities struggle with whether or not to keep using schools as polling places, lawmakers in Illinois have proposed legislation that would keep using schools for accessibility reasons.
Minnesota: By a vote of 5-4, Duluth City Council rejected a plan to consider moving the city to a ranked-choice voting system. Under the failed plan, the city would have studied RCV and provide a report in time to possibly place a referendum on the November ballot.
New York: A Bronx council member introduced a bill this week that would allow for the creation of an online voting system for local elections. The councilmember, Fernando Cabrera, said he hopes to have a system created that mirrors one recently tested in Toronto.
Also in New York City, the council is considering a bill that would end the city’s primary runoff system. Under the proposal, voters would use instant runoff voting instead.
Alaska: Voting rights
Arkansas: Voter ID
Delaware: Elections reform
District of Columbia: Attorney General race
Illinois: Voter fraud
Massachusetts: Election reform
Michigan: Online voter registration
New Mexico: Closed primaries
North Carolina: Elections hiring process
Rhode Island: Election legislation
Texas: Voter ID
VI. Upcoming Events
Please email upcoming event — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to email@example.com.
National Association of Counties Annual Conference and Exposition: NACo’s 79th Annual Conference and Exposition provides an opportunity for all county leaders and staff to learn, network and guide the direction of the association. This year, the conference will be held in Orleans Parish, (New Orleans) Louisiana. The Annual Conference provides county officials with a great opportunity to vote on NACo’s policies related to federal legislation and regulation; elect officers; network with colleagues; learn about innovative county programs; find out about issues impacting counties across the country; and view products and services from participating companies and exhibitors. Where: New Orleans. When: July 11-14. For more information and to register, click here.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
Deputy Director of Auditing and Accounting, New York City Campaign Finance Board — unit’s core function is to perform detailed, timely audits of campaigns’ financial disclosure statements and supporting documentation in accordance with Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS). This position reports to the Director of Auditing and Accounting. Responsibilities: Manage the unit’s workflow. This includes assigning caseloads to audit staff, ensuring deadlines are met, and re-assigning work as needed to ensure balance and timeliness; train, supervise, direct, and evaluate senior auditors on audit assignments and ensure quality of work. Ensure that all audit staff receives appropriate training and supervision from senior auditors; review work performed by staff; approve work papers, audit findings, and audit reports; edit draft and final audit reports and other correspondence; communicate with management and other CFB units on various audit and compliance issues and assist other units in investigations and enforcement actions; make oral and written presentations to CFB staff members and the Board; and assist the Director in the overall management of the unit and perform Director’s duties in Director’s absence. Qualifications: A master’s degree or pursuing a graduate degree from an accredited university and at least six years of experience, at least three in a supervisory capacity, in one or a combination of the following: financial administration, accounting, compliance or investigative auditing, fraud reviews, forensic accounting, budget administration, economics, finance, fiscal or economic research, fiscal management, personnel or public administration, program evaluation, or a related area; OR a satisfactory combination of education and experience in the areas described above; previous experience in conducting performance audits in accordance with GAGAS and extensive knowledge of The Yellow Book; excellent written and verbal communication skills; experience editing and preparing audit communications; strong analytical, problem solving, and organizational skills; meticulous attention to detail; a demonstrated ability to meet tight deadlines, coordinate multiple projects and staff, and manage shifting priorities; and New York City residency within 90 days of starting the position. Application: If you would like to be considered for one of these opportunities, please email, fax, or mail your resume and cover letter, including current salary and salary requirements, to: Ms. Elizabeth Bauer; NYC Campaign Finance Board; 100 Church Street, 12th Floor; New York, New York 10007; Fax #212-409-1705; or email@example.com. For the complete listing, please click here.
Director of Elections, Duplin County, N.C. — position is department head appointed by the Duplin County Board of Elections. This position requires ability to supervise and train employees, the ability to interpret and apply elections laws, ability to establish and maintain a good relationship with County Board of Elections and staff, precinct officials, media and county manager. Director attends County Board of Election meetings and records minutes. Deal courteously with general public; prepares election ballots for the Board’s approval, organizes and arranges distribution for all materials and delivery of equipment and sets-up leases for each precinct Polling Place. Prepare an elections budget proposal for Board and County Commissioners approval. Work closely with the State Board of Election, State Executive Director and Staff for legal opinions and regulations. Qualifications: Honest and strong positive attitude – Graduation from four year college or university in public administration, business or related field and two or more years computer experience or an equivalent combination of education, training and experience. Salary: $39,818-$53,588 annually. Deadline: Position open until filled. Application: For more information and to apply, click here.
Director of Training, Champaign County Clerk, Urbana, Illinois — will develop and conduct training programs for employees, Deputy Registrars, Election Judges and other election workers. The Director of Training will provide effective and meaningful training services to insure accurate and efficient delivery of election, vital records, and property tax services to the residents and agencies throughout Champaign County. Duties: trains or supervises the training of new and current employees in the elections, property tax, county board and vital records functions of the County Clerk’s Office; formulates teaching outlines and determines instructional methods such as individual training, group instruction, lectures, demonstrations, meetings and workshops; develops and administers tests of trainees to measure progress and to evaluate effectiveness of training; and provides input and technical support necessary for the development and maintenance of Champaign County Election Day pollbook software and voter registration software. Qualifications: Bachelor’s Degree in Business, Education or related field with a minimum of three years of training experience; excellent computer, software, and writing skills and good interpersonal communication skills; experience speaking to and training groups; experience with online and/or technology based training preferred; ability to manage time to meet deadlines; ability to work independently and as a member of a team; and excellent organizational, analytical, verbal and written skills. Salary: $41,730. Deadline: June 30, 2014. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Election Management Advisor, D.C. Board of Elections, Washington, D.C. — serves as a key member of the management and advisory staff, and participates in recommending and formulating policies and strategies on operations and planning, human resources, management, information technology, budgeting and finance, contracting and procurement, election operations, voter registration and outreach services, public information, external relations, poll worker management, and all administrative support activities. Provides technical advice on the automation and cleansing of the voter roll, website enhancements and technological solutions for current manual and automated applications. Salary: $95,000-$125,000. Deadline: July 7. Application: To apply, send resume and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org.