I. In Focus This Week
First Person Singular
The dirty secrets of ballot counting
By Paul Mitchell
Political Data, Inc.
If there’s one thing elections officials pray for, it’s wide margins on Election Day.
A clear and convincing election result allows final tallies to be announced. Winners receive congratulations, losers give concession speeches and everyone else returns to work.
But that’s not what’s happening this year.
In the state controller’s race, we find an incredibly close result that has changed leads repeatedly throughout the counting period. Republican Ashley Swearengin is solidly in first place, nearly guaranteed a spot in the runoff.
But the vote differential between second and fourth is a mere four-tenths of a percent, with hundreds of thousands of votes to count. This easily could go to a recount if the margins remain this narrow.
With the spotlight on and representatives of each campaign lurking over their shoulders, elections officials are engaged in the painstaking process of validating ballots mailed in during the last days of the election or dropped off at polling locations. They are reviewing tens of thousands of provisional ballots used by voters who couldn’t get regular ballots at their polling places.
California doesn’t have the infamous hanging-chad or butterfly ballot, but there are damaged ballots and signatures that don’t match. Ballots are dropped off in the wrong county or mailed in the wrong envelope. Voters show up the day after the election and try to hand in their absentee ballot. Piles of ballots are marked “too late” because the mail arrived after Election Day.
The issue of signatures not matching is becoming an increasingly important wrinkle as more voters cast ballots by mail. Elections officials are reviewing more than 400,000 signatures of the 2 million early absentee voters in the June 3 election who signed registration 25 years ago. Similarly, few new online registrants realize that the signature on their registration form is actually their DMV signature, which could also be decades old. If non-matches can’t be resolved before Election Day, those ballots are invalidated.
This can be even more problematic among foreign-born voters, particularly of Asian, Armenian, Russian, Greek or Middle Eastern descent, who may have signed their voter registration cards using the English alphabet, but later revert to signing their names with their native language and alphabet.
In another example, almost every county registrar can show you a pile of ballots received after Election Day that cannot be processed.
In 2012, my firm, Political Data Inc., did an analysis of these ballots from 18 counties, extrapolating that 30,000-plus voters statewide had their ballots invalidated because they were received too late to be counted. Nearly half of these voters were under 30 years old, 14 percent were Asian-American and 17 percent were Latino.
Top-dollar political consultants don’t spend their time attending panel discussions about late ballots, the size and color of the absentee ballot voters receive, or how registrars retrieve ballots dropped off in the wrong county or at remote post offices.
The top-two primary system increases the likelihood that we are going to see contests up in the air weeks after the election. And the implementation of same-day registration in 2016 will add more steps for county registrars, slowing the process even further.
Groups like the California Voter Foundation and Future of California Elections toil in relative obscurity working on these changes to our elections, doing analyses of the best practices for processing ballots and ultimately ensuring that every Californian’s vote matters.
Few Sacramento insiders can tell you anything about signature verification, the wording of registration forms and ballots, and the processes for sending and returning absentee ballots.
But whether the controller’s candidates know it or not, these issues are taking center stage. Either by the secretary of state or a drawn-out legal battle, they could decide who survives the count.
Paul Mitchell is vice president of Political Data Inc., a bipartisan firm that provides voter information to political campaigns, pollsters and researchers in California. This article first appeared in June 15, 2014 edition of the Sacramento Bee and is reprinted with permission from Mitchell.
II. Election News This Week
- Shortly after the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would work to broaden voting rights for American Indians and Native Alaskans, the state of Montana reached a tentative settlement with American Indians who had demanded that satellite voting centers be placed on reservations. The state agreed to place voting sites on the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap reservations in time for the November midterm election.
- U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett ruled that Maryland elections officials will not be required to provide online absentee ballots to visually impaired and physically disabled voters for next week’s primary. In his ruling, the judge cited security concerns that had been raised by lawyers for the state. Bennett set an August hearing date to discuss security.
- The Virgin Islands Joint Board of Elections voted unanimously to adopt a policy to conduct post-election audits in order to rebuild public confidence in the process after numerous issues during past elections.
- As Colorado moves entirely to a vote-by-mail/vote center states, counties are looking for convenient places to serve as vote centers. In Arapahoe, the county will use its four driver’s license/motor vehicle services offices as vote centers. The county will not offer driver’s services on election day, although wouldn’t that be convenient?
- This is too damn funny. The leader of the New York-based Rent Is Too Damn High party is suing the D.C. Board of Elections for a First Amendment violation. The board recently required a slate of candidates that was using Jimmy McMillan’s party name to change it to the Rent Is Too Darn High. McMillan, who asserts the slate would have won more seats if they had been allowed to use Damn instead of Darn is suing for the board to accept the real name of the party and for $130,000 in damages.
- Personnel News: Former prosecutor Risa Sugarman has been nominated to serve on the New York state board of elections. Teresa Onica, Atlas Township, Michigan clerk was named 2014 Township Clerk of the Year by the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks. John M. Carlevale, Sr. is running for Rhode Island secretary of state. This will be the third time that he has sought the job.
III. Legislative Update
Federal Legislation: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has scheduled a June 25 hearing on the Voting Rights Amendment Act, a bill aimed at updating sections of the original 1965 Act that the Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional.
Alaska: The Kenai Peninsula Borough is prepared to vote on moving the borough at all-mail elections. Although recent study found that the switch would not save the borough any funds, assembly members seem supportive of the switch.
Delaware: Late last week the House of Representatives approved a bill that will consolidate the state’s three county election boards into one state panel. The bill was recommended by the Election Law Task Force, which recently reviewed the state’s elections procedures. Each county would still have elections offices, but those offices would report directly to the state.
Guam: The Legislature has approved a bill that appropriates $134,250 for the Guam Election Commission to purchase a new ballot tabulation system and $48,500 to buy ballot stock.
Kentucky: Voters in Urban County could soon toast their votes with an adult beverage if the county council agrees to do away with the ban on alcohol sales on election day.
Michigan: Under House Bill 5693 the secretary of state’s office and local clerks would be allowed to conduct elections only by mail if they deemed the situation warranted a vote-by-mail election.
New York: A bill awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature cuts in half the amount of time county boards of election have to hold poll books. With a shortened period of time, county boards will no longer have to pay for storage of the bulk books.
Also in New York, under a recently introduced bill The New York Is Home Act, non-citizens, even those who are undocumented, who can show they have lived and paid taxes in New York for at least three years, would be given voting rights in state and local elections.
The Legislature has approved an amendment to the state election law that prohibits candidates from serving as poll watchers in a district where they appear on the ballot.
Rhode Island: A Senate committee voted 10 to 1 to eliminate the “master lever” but not until 2015.
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 State of Voting in 2014 – Wendy Weiser and Erik Opsal, Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, June 17, 2014: This report examines changes in states’ election laws since the 2010 midterm vote and the potential impact these changes may have in upcoming elections. These changes include:
- Photo ID requirements at the polls;
- Requiring registrants to provide documentary proof of citizenship; and
- Cutting back the number of days and hours of early voting.
The report also noted several states have added online voter registration while others have expanded early voting opportunities.
V. Tech Thursday
Recently we wrote about some of the new technologies elections offices and NGO’s are using to help keep voters informed and get them registered. This occasional section highlights some of the new, or new-to-you technologies out there.
National Tech: ABVote, which provides voters with access to upcoming election dates, a listing of candidates and measures, turn-by-turn directions to their polling place, and polling place hours, recently launched in Maryland in advance of that state’s primary.
The app, which has been used nationwide throughout this primary season, also provides voters with information on how to request an absentee ballot and how to register to vote.
It differs from existing voter lookups on secretary of state and local websites in that it does not rely on the voter registration database, so it does not ask voters any identification questions. Voters gain access to all of their precinct’s election information by simply entering their address.
“We want to provide voters with an easy and safe way to get informed for the upcoming election,” said Eugene Yu, president of Konnech, the company that runs ABVote. “That’s why we don’t require confidential information such as name, date of birth, or social security number. Our system just uses the address.”
ABVote is free and available for download from the Android or iOS app store. Voters can also access it on their computers by visiting ABVote.com.
Minnesota: This week the secretary of state’s office launched a new online tool that will allow voters to request their absentee ballots online without needing to print any forms or fax, email or snail mail them back.
“Providing online services that are efficient and convenient for voters leads to greater voter participation, helping to ensure every eligible voice can be heard in our elections,” Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said in a statement.
The online tool also allows voters to track their absentee ballot once they’ve dropped it in the mail.
National Opinions: Voting restrictions
Alabama: Runoff voting
Arizona: Voter registration
Delaware: Election changes
District of Columbia: Attorney General’s race
Florida: Marion County
Illinois: State election board
Indiana: Secretary of state race
North Carolina: Poll workers
Rhode Island: Master lever
South Carolina: Election reform
Tennessee: Non-resident property owners
Virginia: Polling places
VII. Upcoming Events
Please email upcoming event — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
VIII. Job Openings
electionlineWeekly publishes election administration job postings each week as a free service to our readers. To have your job listed in the newsletter, please send a copy of the job description, including a web link to email@example.com. Job postings must be received by 5pm on Wednesday in order to appear in the Thursday newsletter. Listings will run for three weeks or till the deadline listed in the posting.
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.