I. In Focus This Week
Poll workers are ‘a rare breed’
What happens when the backbone of Election Day has issues?
By M. Mindy Moretti
When Brian Newby, election commissioner in Johnson County, Kansas talks about poll worker training, he likes to talk about reverse psychology.
“I often joke that if there is something I want our workers to do that is most important, I should begin the topic in training as, “whatever you do, please don’t do this…,” Newby said.
As an example, Newby noted that as social media became more prevalent, he began stressing during poll worker training that he didn’t want poll workers posting to Facebook or Twitter during the election day.
“I didn’t really think any of our workers would — I was mostly getting my patter down for our high school student training later that fall,” Newby said. “[But] [s]ure enough, in the spring, an election worker posted midway through the day on Facebook.”
Even though more and more jurisdictions are moving to vote-by-mail or vote centers, thousands of poll workers are still needed nationwide for each and every election.
Typically these are well-meaning, hard working folks who sacrifice their time for little money and little appreciation from voters. However, mistakes happen and problems do arise and how jurisdictions deal with that varies.
“Everyone makes mistakes, we understand. And poll workers are a rare breed” said Michael B. Winn, director of elections for Travis County, Texas and the current president of the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers (IACREOT).
Winn said when problems do arise, his office does its best to salvage the poll worker so they can continue to work, but if not, they are let go.
Matt Woehrle, election worker manager for Johnson County agreed that salvaging a problematic poll worker is always the first, best option.
“I am not one to like confrontation with people, but that comes with the job,” Woehrle said. “I always try to give workers the benefit. [But] [i]f you have a worker that is problematic with the voters, for example throwing their cell phone at the voter, that is something that is handled on election day, usually with the removal of the worker.”
Winn said that in Travis County, poll workers come in and meet one-on-one with the staff in the months before and after an election to talk about their performance, what’s expected and to get their input on the process.
“We retain 85 percent of our poll workers,” Winn said. “It [the one-on-ones] is good because it keeps the message of what’s expected consistent and it also so gives them an opportunity if they want to have an input then they are vested in the program.”
Although partisan issues do sometimes arise and on a rare occasion some elections skullduggery, one of the biggest problems that seem to arise on Election Day is interpersonal.
“If the behavior issue involves disruptions to the polling place, the person is removed. If the behavior issue involves merely a desire to work somewhere else or with other people, we may be able to re-assign a person to a different precinct before the next election or at the next term,” explained James P. Allen, director of communications for the Chicago board of elections.
Allen said one thing that has dramatically helped the poll worker situation in Chicago are student election judges. The city uses literally thousands of high school and college-aged election judges to serve in a variety of capacities.
“Chicago has the nation’s most successful program for recruiting, training and deploying high school and college student judges of election,” Allen said. “Student judges not only fill vacancies but also have added a degree of technological savvy that the older poll workers often appreciate.”
And of course problems in the process can also serve as learning experiences. That’s what happened in Tulsa County, Oklahoma.
“One election night, an inspector stopped by his church for choir practice before returning his supplies to the Election Board,” explained Patty Bryant, secretary of the Tulsa County election board. “We used that as an example for what NOT to do…”
Bryant said following the incident she had the assistant district attorney come speak to each training class for about two months following that episode to stress the importance of the chain of custody of ballots and not to let them out of sight.
“We also reminded them they may be called to testify should we be called to court due to an irregularity or a recount,” Bryant said.
Vetting poll workers before Election Day can be helpful to a smoother process as well.
“We have discovered things about people when they attend training class prior to working at a poll such as: bad personal hygiene, unwillingness to follow instructions, inability to read, onset of dementia, etc.,” Bryant said. “This is helpful to find out during training rather than waiting for a voter or another precinct worker to report their problem to us.”
Winn said he works closely with the local political parties to identify good candidates.
“I’m frankly kind of shocked by the number of people on that list,” Tim Burke, chairman of the board and leader of Hamilton County’s Democratic Party told The Cincinnati Enquirer at the time. “We want everyone to vote. If we have poll workers who don’t vote, we’re not encouraging that.”
Hamilton County requires poll workers to vote and according to the paper, the failure to vote often “trips up” poll workers during their review process.
Not all Ohio counties do however require poll workers to vote and while most jurisdictions do require poll workers to be registered voters—with the exception of student poll workers—whether or not their participation in the process is enforced varies.
“We do not have an established policy because this hasn’t been a chronic issue in our county,” explained Jessica White, assistant election commissioner in Johnson County, Kansas. “We proactively include an advance voting by mail application with every election worker assignment letter. This makes it easy for them to get an advance ballot and return it prior to election day.
In Tulsa County, precinct workers must be active voters, but that doesn’t mean they must vote in all elections.
“Precinct officials must be active voters. Occasionally their name will come up as having not voted in past elections,” Bryant explained. “When that happens, we contact them and tell them they must vote to stay active. Because we don’t check voting records of each precinct official, we rely on our state voting system to alert us when this happens.”
II. Our Say
Our Say is an occasional section giving elections officials, academics, policymakers or elections geeks a chance to have their say on election administration. If you’ve got an opinion about some element of election administration and would like to write about it, please email electionline.
It’s unanimous: Election preparedness is worth the time and money
By Joseph A. Calandrino, Ph.D.
With Republicans and Democrats announcing their intentions to run for president, it’s a reminder that the 2016 election cycle is just around the corner. As the races and rhetoric heat up, questions will be raised about how officials can conduct a massive, complicated, high-stakes, and technology-centric election process without incident.
However, officials charged with making elections across the country run smoothly should ask a different question, and soon: Have we prepared ourselves to handle the issues that inevitably will arise on Election Day in spite of our best efforts otherwise?
The introduction of electronic voting systems came with benefits for the American election process but also introduced new challenges. Though races are unlikely to hinge on hanging chads these days, replacements for aging and dated voting systems have generated their own share of controversy.
In the November 2014 midterm elections, voters in Virginia Beach watched as touch-screen machines switched their votes between candidates. That same day, malfunctioning machines in Harris County, Texas created endlessly long waits for voters.
If we fail to prepare now, similar stories could undermine voter confidence in 2016.
Some states, including California, have attempted to address concerns generated by voting technology. In 2007, I participated in a top-to-bottom review of California’s electronic voting systems, which raised significant security concerns. As a result, California’s secretary of state recommended major changes to protect voters.
We all want fair and accurate elections, and the hardest time to tackle problems with electronic systems objectively is on primary day or Election Day, when glitches can directly impact vote tallies. No amount of planning can guarantee trouble-free elections or eliminate technological issues.
Fortunately, jurisdictions can take steps now to minimize risk and uncertainty, and make plans to handle problems or issues that could arise. States reviewing their voting systems and procedures should do so with three goals in mind to help prepare for the 2016 cycle:
- Generate evidence and backups. States must have strong independent evidence ready to support the election’s outcome should questions emerge. VerifiedVoting.org, a non-partisan organization that lobbies for accuracy and verifiability of elections, reports that some states — including swing states like Virginia and Florida — used electronic voting systems with no paper trail for the 2014 midterm elections. When states choose voting systems, they should select systems that produce paper ballots that can be verified by voters and checked against reported results. Optical-scan voting machines are ideal because officials retain voter-verified paper ballots; these ballots can be manually reviewed if necessary to confirm a voting machine’s count.
- Review the evidence. Evidence should routinely be reviewed after an election, not just when controversy erupts. Audits verify the outcome and serve as a quality assurance measure for future elections. A transparent and statistically meaningful manual review of evidence like paper ballots can detect unexpected flaws in election systems and improve confidence in an election’s outcome. Even in the case of a landslide, flaws uncovered can improve future elections, giving audits a critical quality control role. Funding for audits should be a top priority of election officials; they can help increase public trust that voting systems worked as they should.
- Prepare and vet contingency plans. Contingency plans must be ready for when, not if, something goes wrong. Precincts should be prepared for one or more machines to fail on Election Day. A benefit of using optical scan machines is that the ballots can be completed without a working machine if necessary and scanned after the equipment is repaired. All polling stations should have backup paper ballots on hand. States should review their guidelines for triggering and managing both recounts and post-election audits. Support and clear guidance should be documented and provided to local election officials and poll workers, especially for any actions required at the end of a long, grueling election day.
Used properly, technology makes our elections more efficient, secure, and transparent.
Election Day 2016 will likely bring plenty of controversy even if the voting process is flawless, but preparation can allow election technology to mitigate controversy rather than contribute to it.
The writer is a Data Security and Privacy Specialist with Elysium Digital.
III. Election News This Week
- Dona Ana County, New Mexico Clerk Lyn Ellins is proposing that New Mexico drop Social Security numbers from voter registration forms. According to the Albuquerque Journal, New Mexico is one of only four states that requires the number on voter forms. Ellins’ push comes following a security breach in his office that had federal authorities arresting a member of the staff for allegedly stealing registered voters names. “New Mexico has been using Social Security numbers for the purpose of voter registration since the early 1940s, so it’s deeply embedded in the system,” he said.
- This gives snail mail a whole new meaning. Two weeks after the New Jersey primary voters in Gloucester County are just receiving their sample ballots now. “It’s probably the worst situation we’ve ever had,” Gloucester County Clerk Jim Hogan told the South Jersey Times. Elections Supervisor Stephanie Salvatore has the paperwork to prove the ballots were printed and delivered to the post office, which is where the problems seem to have occurred. Some voters did get their sample ballots and others did not. Salvatore said it seems like entire pallets of the ballots went missing or were delayed. An investigation has been launched. “Somebody dropped the ball big time,” Hogan added.
- Morehead Voting House Number 10 is for sale. The historic polling placed owned by Morehead City, Kentucky has been deemed surplus and is on the market. Listed on the National Register of Historic Place, the native stone voting house is in need of repairs that the city cannot afford. The building, which one housed three voting booths, was used as a polling place from about 1935 until sometime in the 1970s. The building is the last publicly owned, Depression-era polling place in Rowan County — for now.
- Mmmm…beer! A Minnesota group called Duluth Better Ballot Campaign that is pushing for a ranked-choice voting system recently held an event to show off the system to local residents and leaders called Brews for a Better Ballot. Participants voted for their favorite beers using a ranked choice system, just as if the beers were running for office. According to WDIO, it’s not clear if the event swayed opponents of the system, but it was clear by the end of the night that Bent Paddle Brewery was the winner.
- Personnel News: Derek N. Lyallwill be the new Washington County, Virginia registrar beginning July 1. He replaces Mary Ann Compton who will retire June 30. Michael Boose and Kevin Hight have been recommended to the Cumberland County, North Carolina board of elections. John Donovan has retired after 35 years in the Boston Election Department. Donovan started out in an entry-level position ultimately working his way up to head assistant registrar of voters. Dr. Laina Reynolds, senior manager and Molly J. McGrath, national campaign coordinator have both recently joined VoterRiders. The good folks at TurboVote are growing by leaps in bounds and people! Carmen Hicks, researcher, Daniel Cohen, developer, Maggie Moore, government outreach lead and Eric Normand have all joined the team either in New York or at remote and not-so-secret locations. Shari Williams and Kayana McCalla were appointed Working Families registrar and deputy registrar in Hartford, Connecticut. Bill Murphy has joined Clear Ballot as the director of sales.
- In Memoriam: Pittsylvania County, Virginia Registrar Jenny Lee Sanders died unexpectedly on June 12 from congestive heart failure. Sanders was appointed registrar in 2007 following a stint at deputy clerk in the Pittsylvania County General District Court. “It’s a shock to the community,” Raymond Ramsey, chairman of the Pittsylvania County Electoral Board told the Star-Tribune. The board had just reappointed Sanders to another four-year term beginning July 1. “She was a very hard worker, very energetic,” Ramsey said. “She cared about people and gave everybody a fair chance.”
IV. Legislative Updates
Alaska: The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly in Alaska has chosen not to move to an all vote-by-mail system. Although members of the Assembly seemed supportive of the idea, especially as a way to boost turnout, the Daily News Miner said the majority balked at the wholesale move to vote-by-mail. “In general, I’m really a strong supporter of trying to increase the voter participation,” said Assemblywoman Diane Hutchison, “but I really feel that this is something that should be phased in, transitioned in, not just telling everybody cold turkey that this is how it works now.”
Michigan: Secretary of State Ruth Johnson is backing legislation that would allow for no-excuse absentee voting. Introduced by Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto), House Bill 4724 would allow voters to apply for an absentee ballot for any reason as long as they meet the same identification requirements as when voting on Election Day.
New Jersey: The ranking Democrats in the New Jersey Senate and Assembly have vowed to work together to quickly pass the “Democracy Act,” a bill that features a mix of new and already pending legislation including same-day voter registration and expanded early voting.
New York: The Legislature has approved a bill (A.2104-A) that would allow blind and visually impaired voters to request Braille or large-print absentee ballots.
Rhode Island: By a 62-10 vote, the House approved legislation that will allow Rhode Island residents to register online to vote. The bill now heads to the Senate.
Utah: Legislators are unsure if they will come up with a solution this session to a problem created by the Count My Vote legislation. Because the legislation allows parties to bypass the state’s caucus/primary system by simply getting enough signatures to get on the ballot, the possibility is there that the winning candidate may not have a plurality. “This one is an interesting one because we could do nothing and just see how things shake out in 2016,” Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, told the Deseret News.
V. Legal Updates
Colorado: According to a memo from the Boulder County attorney’s office, Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall did not violate any Colorado laws or state rules during the processing and tallying of ballots in November 2014. In December 2014 outgoing Secretary of State Scott Gessler issued a report saying Hall and her office violated state law in several ways. The county attorney’s memo said Gessler’s report was based on incomplete or inaccurate data.
Kentucky: In a 2-1 decision, the Kentucky Court of Appeals threw out the results of the 2014 judge executive race in Magoffin County.”We are not sure which candidate won the election, but we know who lost — the voters of Magoffin County who were entitled to confidence in the fairness and integrity of their election,” Judge Irv Maze wrote for the majority. “We hope that requiring an entirely new election will restore their faith.”
Massachusetts: A coalition of voting rights groups that had sued the secretary of state, the secretary of health and human services and the office of Medicaid over access to voter registration forms has reached a settlement with all three defendants. “This has been a long process but we are very happy about the procedures and safeguards that Massachusetts is instituting to ensure its low-income citizens have the same opportunity to register to vote as citizens who visit the Registry of Motor Vehicles,” Lisa Danetz, legal director at the voting rights organization Demos and a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
New York: Judge Katherine B. Forrest has denied a request for dismissal in a lawsuit filed against Sullivan County board of elections over the voting rights of Hasidic Jews living in the town of Bloomingburg.
South Dakota: The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit against a new South Dakota law that shifted the deadline for new political parties to submit declarations to participate in the 2016 election process.
Virginia: The Democratic Party of Virginia has filed a federal lawsuit a saying that state elections laws — voter ID and felon voting rights — disenfranchise voters and violate their civil rights. According to The Washington Post, the suit was filed on behalf of two Virginia activists by Marc E. Elias of Perkins Coie, who is general counsel to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign and formerly represented the successful gubernatorial campaign of Terry McAuliffe (D) as well as Mark R. Herring (D) in the recount that sealed his election as state attorney general in 2013.
VI. Tech Thursday
Arkansas: In a follow-up to last week’s newsletter story about replacing voting machines, Secretary of State Mark Martin has chosen to enter into a $29.9M contract with Nebraska-based ES&S to purchase a statewide integrated voting system including voting equipment. In addition, instead of rolling the machines out statewide for 2016, Martin has decided to only implement the machines in four counties as a test run for statewide implementation.
VII. Opinions This Week
Alabama: Voter registration
Delaware: Voter registration
Georgia: Early voting
Illinois: Precinct consolidation
New York: New York City BoE
Oklahoma: Ex-felon voting rights
South Carolina: Voter registration
Tennessee: Early voting
Texas: Election reform
Washington: Number of elections
VIII. 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.
IX. Upcoming Events
Please email upcoming events — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NASED Summer Meeting— The National Association of State Election Directors will hold it’s 2015 summer meeting in Cleveland, Ohio this year. Registration will open soon. Where: Cleveland, Ohio. When: June 23-25. For more information and to register, click here.
IACREOT Annual Conference — The International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Elections Officials and Treasurers will hold its annual conference in Vail, Colorado this year in June and July. Planning is still in the early stages, but be sure to mark your calendar. Where: Vail, Colorado. When: June 27-July 2. For more information and to register, click here.
Continuing Legal Education — Need CLE? Late breaking news!With support from the Bipartisan Policy Center, IACREOT is developing 7 hours of continuing legal education (CLE) on Saturday, June 27 in conjunction with the IACREOT annual conference in Vail, CO. In addition to 2 hours of ethics, the CLE will include an overview of federal election law, and also cover current hot topics in voter access and voting integrity, legal implications regarding the 2014 Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) report, and ballot access. While the current schedule and faculty is not yet final, confirmed speakers include nationally renowned ethics expert, Tom Spahn, EAC Commissioners McCormick and Masterson, John Fortier and Don Palmer from the Bipartisan Policy Center, Doug Chapin of Election Academy blog, Wendy Underhill from NCSL, Colorado SOS Wayne Williams, and IACREOT’s long time General Counsel, Tony Sirvello. While IACREOT members will get a discount, the CLE is open to non-IACREOT members, as well, so please share this with the lawyer(s) who work in or support your office so they can be better prepared to legally assist you. Where: Aspen, Colorado. When: June 27. Registration: Separate registration is required; the form and further information is on the IACREOT conference website.
NASS 2015 Summer Conference — The National Association of Secretaries of State Annual Summer Conference is set for July this year. Planning is still in the early stages, but be sure to mark your calendar. Where: Portland, Maine. When: July 9-12. For more information and to register, click here.
NACo Annual Conference and Exposition— The 80th Annual Conference and Exposition of the National Association of Counties will be in Mecklenburg County (Charlotte), North Carolina. Registration opens February 9th. Where: Charlotte, North Carolina. When: July 10-13. For more information and to register, click here.
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.
X. 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.
Associate, Elections Initiatives, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Washington, D.C. — will report to the project director of Election Initiatives and will be part of a project staff including a director, a project director, a manager, two officers, three senior associates, two associates and an administrative assistant. The associate’s primary responsibilities involve supporting the activities and goals of the portfolio of Pew’s Election Initiatives work which includes the Elections Performance Index, Upgrading Voter Registration, the Voting Information Project, as well as other projects aimed at improving the research portfolio of the elections team. The associate will be an integral part of all these projects, spending much of his or her time researching and drafting data dispatches, reports, memos, policy briefs, 50-state scans and other research products that are highly relevant to policy deliberations. This individual will need to analyze and translate large amounts of data and research related to election administration into written products that policymakers and the public can easily understand. Additionally the associate will be part of team collecting, cleaning and coding data as well as communicating with states and counties when conducting research. Consequently, the associate must be able to think creatively about how to collect, use and report elections information from state and local officials. This individual will be required to coordinate and sustain our inquiries and relationships as well as manage research consultants we work with. The project and position are approved through June 30, 2017, with the possibility of renewal depending on the initiative’s progress, board approval and continued funding. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Communications Specialist III, King County, Washington — position reports to the Department of Elections’, Chief Communication Officer and is responsible for researching, writing, designing, and creating communication to inform voters, stakeholders, and others about all aspects of elections in King County. This includes media contacts, public relations and/or public involvement, as well as the design and development of information for the website, social media, and other communications materials for both internal and external audiences. As a Communications Specialist, you will meet the challenges of managing high profile communications by inspiring and capturing creative ideas, continually improving customer satisfaction and take lead responsibilities for supporting the communication needs of alternate language populations. The person in this position must also be capable of working collaboratively and maneuvering through complex situations effectively, relating well to customers at all levels both internal and external to the organization. This position is open to all qualified applicants. Additional consideration will be given to Teamsters, Local 117 and King County Career Service employees. The Department encourages people of all backgrounds to apply, including people of color, immigrants, refugees, women, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, and veterans. Salary: $32.84-$41.62 hourly. Deadline: June 26, 2015, 4:30p.m. Pacific. Application: For the complete job posting and to apply, click here.
Elections Services Manager, Contra Costa County, California — management position reports to the Assistant Registrar in the Elections Division of the Clerk-Recorder’s Office and acts in the place of the Assistant Registrar during his/her absence. This position is responsible for assisting the Assistant Registrar in planning, organizing and directing the day to day activities of the Elections Division; the development, establishment, implementation and evaluation of County elections policies and procedures according to Election and Government Codes, applicable laws, rules, procedures, court cases, regulations and ordinances that affect the preparation and conduct of elections and registration of voters. The ideal candidate will possess knowledge and understanding of the election process, cycle and Election law as well as knowledge and understanding of the interrelationships of each unit of the Election Department. This classification will supervise Elections Division administrative, technical and supervisory staff. Strong management and administrative skills are required as the incumbent will have primary responsibility for day-to-day direction and coordination of the Election Division activities. Excellent Interpersonal skills are required, as the incumbent will interface with staff on all levels as well as county officials, news media, and the public. Salary: $75,260.28 – $91,479.36. Deadline: June 26, 11:59pm Pacific. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Government Services Associate, Center for Technology and Civic Life, Chicago, Illinois — as Government Services Associate at CTCL, you will develop and lead courses that advance the digital, data, and design skills of local election officials so they can effectively communicate with the people they serve. Responsibilities: develop and maintain relationships with new and existing members of the ELECTricity network; draft tech tutorials and curriculum for our network of local election officials; conduct in-person and online trainings to help election officials build technology skills; and ensure ongoing programmatic excellence, rigorous program evaluation, and consistent quality of communication and curriculum. Salary: $45-$50,000 annually. Deadline: Rolling, but with an anticipated start date between July 13 and August 4. Application: For the complete listing and to apply, click here.
Statewide Coordinator, VoteRiders, Wisconsin — statewide coordinator will identify, reach out to and recruit Partner Organizations (POs). POs will in turn educate their constituents regarding voter ID on a one-to-one basis (e.g., door-to-door canvassing, phone calls, tabling). An ideal Statewide Coordinator will have a community organizing background in Wisconsin with experience in voter activities including voter registration and education as well as GOTV efforts and relationships with grassroots organizations with such focus. Salary: This is a contracted, part-time position. The Statewide Coordinator will be a paid consultant for VoteRiders and will receive $2,000/month, based on a 20-hour workweek, through November 2016. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
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