I. In Focus This Week
Fall is coming
Can we save democracy from campaigns?
By Seth Flaxman
The presidential campaign is now upon us, and with it comes a nearly endless line of presidential candidates and a wave of money that will crash over our democracy like we’ve never before experienced.
You will read the now-routine media story of “how much the election costs” and you’ll stagger at the hugeness of the numbers. In 2012, presidential and congressional campaigns combined to spend more than $7 billion. The midterms of 2014 posted $3.7 billion all on their own.
I’d caution you to be mindful of the true cost conveyed to you in those stories, however. The sensational numbers and high watermarks mentioned don’t represent money spent on elections — those are the totals spent by campaigns to get candidates into office. There are very real differences between the ideas.
Campaigns spend countless time and energy focused on persuading exactly the right number of voters they need to win in a single shot, one time. This operation is finite and usually has little to do with the actual process of governing.
On the other hand, election administrators across the country, working with relatively diminutive budgets, strive to make our elections work better. They hope to build civic participation year-over-year and to increase voter access while making the process more user-friendly.
Election administrators are the stewards of our democracy and yet their budgets are often an afterthought or rounding error.
They care about counting every vote — not just the ones that help a particular cause. Their vision of creating a more functional electoral process requires they keep the big picture in mind while also managing the many facets of a vote-counting operation.
At Democracy Works, we partner closely with election officials of every stripe as we help weave technology into the civic core of our nation’s elections. We see their commitment to serving every voter, regardless of political affiliation.
It really comes down to a very simple idea. As turnout increases, our democracy becomes more representative, reflecting the hopes and concerns of more people.
The election administrators we meet are wild about the notion that improving elections makes for a better democracy. The biggest movement right now is to simultaneously cut costs and improve the voting experience by moving to online voter registration. It’s a necessary and smart move.
According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, states reported saving between $0.50 and $2.34 for every voter who registered online instead of with paper. California saved nearly $2 million in 2012 when it moved to online registration, easily covering the costs of moving to the new system.
But here’s a radical idea: Let’s give election administrators at least 1 percent of what will be spent on campaigns and provide them the resources to help everyone turn out more often.
That’s why I hope that anyone writing about the presidential race will help distinguish these administrators from the stories of bloated campaign spending and shed some light on the fantastic work they do in the electoral space.
Eighteen months from now, after the primaries and the debates and the speeches and the final tallies, maybe you’ll hear the news stories about the exorbitant tabs accumulated in the name of party politics and the new record sums will leave a sour taste in your mouth.
Meanwhile, you can be confident your local official is already looking ahead, preparing for the next election, not the next campaign.
(Seth Flaxman is co-founder and Executive Director of Democracy Works. Flaxman co-founded TurboVote while receiving a Master’s in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government Flaxman was inspired to create TurboVote after being frustrated about missing several elections while living away from home.)
II. Election News This Week
- The Maryland Board of Public Works cut $1.8 million the State Board of Elections had proposed to use on a voter education plan for the new optical scan voting machines Maryland will roll out in 2016. Maryland has used DRE machines for a decade and the SBE argued that the voter education campaign was necessary to voters aren’t “surprised” when they go to vote in 2016. “I guess I just think people are smart,” Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford said in voting to oppose the funding.
- Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced this week that ex-felons that have served their time and wish to have their voting rights restored will not have to pay outstanding court costs in order for those rights to be restored. According to The Daily Press, the ex-felons will still ultimately have to repay the fees, but will be able to have their rights restored while those fees are still outstanding.
- After admitting that she violated the law by failing to have enough ballots in 2014, Hinds County, Mississippi Election Commission Chairwoman Connie Cochran is taking no chances of running out of ballots in the county’s upcoming August primary. Cochran told The Clarion-Ledger that she is planning on ordering about 66,000 more ballots than there are voters in the county. “We will have adequate ballots for the primaries,” Cochran told the paper. “There is a lot of waste in here. We are throwing away thousands and thousands of dollars, but it is the law.”
- Massachusetts officially launched the state’s online voter registration system this week. “This is the first step in a cycle to participate in the 2016 election. It’s a great step forward,” Secretary of State William Galvin said in a State House press conference. The site is accessible in Spanish and Chinese.
- Three cheers to the Brevard County, Florida supervisor of elections office for recently presenting a check for $6,010 to the United Way/Project Hunger. Supervisor of Elections Lori Scott and her staff raised the money through Scott’s 6th Annual Vote to End Childhood Hunger Raffle and Bake Sale. “As a mother, I am very passionate about this program,” Scott told the Space Coast Daily. “My staff embraced the ides of this bake sale from the very start. We are honored this money will make a difference in the lives of children in our community.”
- Personnel News: Jody Foskeyis retiring from the Coffee County, Georgia board of elections where she first started as a poll worker more than 20 years ago. Erica Inderlied is the new Pismo Beach, California city clerk. Marian Coffey has been named the deputy director of the Medina County, Ohio board of elections. Barbara Castleman has retired as the Weakley County, Tennessee administrator of elections. Gaye Swanwick has been appointed to serve as the permanent city clerk for the city of Parsons, Kansas.
III. Legislative Updates
Federal Legislation: Congressional Democrats have introduced the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 in an effort to fix problems they see stemming from the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby v. Holder. According to CNN, the proposed legislation would, among other things, expand the attorney general’s authority to request federal observers at the polls and would establish a new geographic formula for deciding which states need preclearance for elections changes.
Maine: The House has defeated a bill that would have made it more difficult for residents to get initiatives on the ballot. While the bill was approved 92-54, it was short the two-thirds support it needed to advance to the Senate.
Michigan: A bill that would end February elections won final approval by the Senate late last week. Elections will still be held in May, August and November and presidential elections will continue to be held in February and March, but no more local elections.
Also in Michigan, following testimony before the House Elections Committee on no-excuse absentee voting, Sen. Dave Robertson said that the legislation would not move forward if it reaches the Senate. “I believe that Election Day is a focal point in our electoral process for candidates, and I don’t want to diminish the value,” Robertson, R-Grand Blanc Township.
New Jersey: A package of sweeping election reforms cleared its first hurdle in the Assembly this week when the Appropriations Committee approved the bill 6-3 along party lines. The committee also voted to remove the same-day voter registration provision in the bill.
New York: Legislation in both the Senate and the Assembly would make the general election day a non-student day at schools so the schools could be used as polling places.
North Carolina: While voters throughout the state are attending meetings about new voting rules, the state Legislature has voted to soften some of the recently imposed voter ID requirements. By a 44-2 vote, the Senate voted to allow voters without ID to sign an affidavit in order to cast their ballot. The law is similar to South Carolina’s. The House approved the legislation 104-3 and it now heads to the governor’s desk.
Ohio: By a 31-1 vote, the Senate has approved legislation that would allow for online voter registration.
South Carolina: The Legislature has approved a bill that will allow military and overseas voters to cast a ballot in special elections for state and national elections.
IV. Legal Updates
Illinois: The Cook County State’s Attorney office has launched a criminal investigation into a series of robocalls election judges received that gave misleading and false information to the judges about where they had to be and when the weekend before primaries earlier this year.
Indiana: Allen Circuit Court Judge Tom Felts signed an order allowing the Allen County Election Board to certify Ryan Reichhart as the Democratic Party nominee for Woodburn mayor, following incumbent Mayor Richard Hoeppner’s withdrawal as a candidate. Reichhart originally lost the May 5 primary to Hoeppner, a fellow Democrat, by 12 votes.
Michigan: The City of Grand Rapids is considering suing the Northpointe Christian School claiming that the school is reneging on a promise to serve as a polling place just two years after the city used HAVA funds to help improve the schools parking lot so it can serve as a polling place.
North Carolina: Following the Legislature’s move to soften the state’s voter ID regulations, a lawsuit filed by advocates against the law is now in question. Early this week, lawyers for both plaintiffs and defendants asked the presiding judge for more time to figure out how they wanted to proceed with the case.
Pennsylvania: A judge in Fayette County has denied a recount request by the losing candidate for the Democratic nomination for sheriff. The candidate had requested the recount alleging that voting machines had been tampered with.
Virginia: Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has hired outside counsel to represent the state in lawsuit filed by Democrats over the state’s voter ID law. Herring voted against the legislation while serving in the General Assembly.
Washington: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the city of Yakima’s appeal seeking a stay to city council elections. The appeals court said the city’s appeal should be heard by the federal district court judge who first ordered the elections. The city was also ordered to pay the ACLU $1.8 million in legal fees.
V. Opinions This Week
Delaware: Same day registration
Maine: Ranked choice voting
New Hampshire: Election fraud
New Mexico: Social security numbers
VI. 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.
VII. Upcoming Events
Please email upcoming events — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
VIII. 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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