June 6, 2013

I. In Focus This Week

Utah counties and towns considering vote-by-mail
Switch seen as way to save per-vote costs, increase turnout

By M. Mindy Moretti

Although we are a nation built on westward expansion, when it comes to vote-by-mail it’s a movement built more on eastern expansion.

Washington and Oregon are completely vote-by-mail, in the most recent presidential election more people voted by mail in California than cast ballots at the polls and the Colorado legislature recently approved a bill that will send a ballot to every registered voter.

Recently, several towns and counties throughout Utah have been considering making the switch from polling-place based elections to vote-by-mail elections.

“Over the past few years several state legislators have been excited by the idea of vote-by-mail,” said Mark Thomas chief deputy/director of elections Lieutenant Governor’s office. “They have passed several laws to make it easier to conduct election by-mail.”

According to Thomas, it used to be that a precinct could be a vote-by-mail (VBM) precinct if it had 500 or fewer voters and the county legislative body voted in favor of that precinct going VBM.  

The law was changed to allow any precinct, regardless of size, to be VBM.  Also, it is now the decision of the election officer as to whether a precinct is VBM and not the county legislative body.

In 2012, the Legislature also passed a law requiring the Lt. Governor’s Office to study how to administer an election that takes place no later than 2015 in which all registered voters received a ballot in the mail and a person may vote by mailing in the completed ballot or vote in-person at an early voting polling location or election day vote center.

“With this study in mind, our office is very interested in the data and feedback we hope to receive from the municipalities and counties that have or plan to conduct their election all by-mail,” Thomas said. “We are only in the initial stages of conducting the study, part of which is because we are waiting for the data from these elections.”

In Weber County, the elections office is knee-deep in the first all vote-by-mail election — a special bond election for the library. According to County Clerk Ricky Hatch, the library board was anxious to have the bond issue decided as quickly as possible with a June election and the county commission was concerned about low turnout for a June election—average June voter turnout is just 14 percent.

“The by-mail option uniquely satisfied the desires of various parties within the county,” explained Hatch. “Since statistics show that by-mail elections turnout is 10-15 percentage points higher than polling-place elections, and with the state legislature’s desire to look at vote by mail, we thought it would be a good fit for this bond election.  The commissioners liked the idea of a by-mail election, and one of them even mentioned that unless the election were by mail, he would not vote to have it in June.”

Hatch and Elections Director Jennifer Morrell have worked hard to promote the vote-by-mail election option, not just for the countywide library vote, but also for municipal elections. Hatch even penned an op-ed for the local paper in support of VBM.

Although the VBM elections are more expensive than traditional elections, Hatch said the county’s analysis shows that when the cost per voted ballot is taken into consideration, a VBM election is more economical.

“Once turnout hits 20 percent, the cost per voted ballot is lower with by-mail than with traditional elections.  The other benefit is that the incremental costs of by-mail elections is much lower than with traditional elections,” Hatch said. “For example, a 40 percent turnout in a by-mail election (which is almost triple the average turnout) costs only 13 percent more than a 15 percent turnout, whereas in a traditional election, the cost for a 40 percent turnout would cost 47 percent more.” 

Hatch added that by-mail elections are automatically scalable, meaning they can handle and 80 percent turnout just as well as a 20 percent turnout, with no visible impact to the voter. 

“An unanticipated high turnout in a traditional election would result in long lines at the polls, frustrated voters and poll workers, and negative press,” Hatch said.

Not needing to hire poll workers and more evenly distributing the workload in the elections office were also cited as benefits of making the switch to VBM.

By and large it has been fairly smooth sailing so far for Weber County, although there have been adjustments.

“We’ve had to plan a bit earlier for the election, so the printers could receive the ballots and envelopes in time.  We redesigned the physical layout of our elections office, dedicating more space to the secure storage of by-mail ballots,” Hatch explained. “We’ve had to fully redesign our mail-in ballot process, because of the volume.  We require that whenever ballots are being transported, batched, opened, and scanned, that two elections workers are involved. No ballot is ever touched or moved by one person only.” 

Hatch said something that the office didn’t expect was the magnitude of ballots that were returned by the post office as undeliverable.  The elections staff researched many of these ballots, and many of them are in fact valid addresses, so Hatch said he is not sure why they were returned. 

“We’re still working with the Post Office on that,” Hatch said.

The City of Riverdale, which is located in Weber County, will hold their municipal election by mail this year as well.

The county is waiting to see how things go with the library election — complete on June 24 — and in Riverdale before making any decisions about whether or not to do more vote-by-mail elections.

Of course not everyone has been quick to embrace the notion of vote-by-mail. Several towns — Layton, Farmington, Syracuse — have chosen not to move to VBM, despite the cost-savings sales pitches from elections officials.

“The county officials have been very supportive of this election format,” Hatch said. “We have received a handful of concerned calls from voters.  Often, once we explain the process and controls, they are satisfied that it is a controlled process. But the resistance is very minor so far.” 

In Sunset — which is located in Davis County — in March, the city council voted to move its upcoming municipal election to VBM, however, in April the council reversed course saying that it did not want to be Davis County’s only “guinea pig” for a VBM election.

Still, despite the resistance from some, towns like Riverdale, West Jordan and Cottonwood Heights are moving forward with vote-by-mail.

“Having jurisdictions move to VBM allows election officials, including our office, to gather data and information on the process.  This data will help provide policy makers with the information it needs to make a good decision,” Thomas said. “It also helps voters to begin to understand the VBM process so if the state or other jurisdictions decides to go by-mail, they have some understanding of it.”

II. Election News This Week

  • While everyone is waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule several key voting rights cases, this week, without comment, the court refused to hear a case brought by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette requesting access to voting sites. Commonwealth law bars anyone except voters, election workers and registered poll watchers from coming within 10 feet of the entrances to polling places on election day. The paper sued in 2012 arguing that with the state’s new voter ID law having a dry run, it was vital reporters be given access to polling places. “We are disappointed. The justices did not take the case and we continue to believe that the issues raised in the case involve significant First Amendment rights for the media,” attorney Frederick Frank said.
  • The state of North Dakota finally closed the books on the 2012 presidential election last week when the state canvassing board changed vote totals from Walsh County — none of which affected the outcome of any race. The vote count problem stemmed from photocopied ballots—used when a precinct ran out of originals—that were hand counted and counted or entered incorrectly. The federal court system, which uses elections to update its jury pool discovered the discrepancy. Sec. of State Al Jaeger told The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead that human error happens and that this is the latest the canvassing board has ever met.
  • Late last week, an Appeals Court in Wisconsin ruled that the state’s voter ID law does not violate the state constitution, however the law remains in limbo because of a ruling in a separate case. The case, brought by the state’s League of Women Voters argued that the law violated a provision of the state constitutions that limits what restricts the Legislature may impose on who votes. The League’s attorney said they would decide over the summer whether to appeal to the state supreme court.
  • File this one under, you think meetings at your office are bad…This week the Joint Board of Elections in the U.S. Virgin Islands attempted to hold a meeting, but a quorum was broken when one of the members walked out of the meeting and subsequently went across the street to McDonald’s to get breakfast. The board had several important issues before it including purchasing new voting equipment, compliance with UOCAVA and appointment of an acting elections supervisor. But after it was determined the board was in violation of open meeting laws because the meeting was not being recorded, the meeting was temporarily adjourned, but when the board chairwoman tried to call it back to order they did not have a quorum because board member Harry Daniel had left to the building — only to be found at McDonald’s. Daniel returned to the meeting only to walk out again after being heckled by members of the audience for going to McDonald’s.
  • Update: As we reported last week, the combined Macon-Bibb County, Ga. government was contemplating canceling their first election in July due to questions from the U.S. Dept. of Justice. On Friday the nine new countywide commissioners voted unanimously to postpone the election indefinitely.
  • Personnel News: Minn. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie announced this week that he will not seek a third term in 2014. Ritchie told the Pioneer Press that he has no concrete plans for what he will do leaving office. “My public service will take a different form,” Ritchie told the paper. “I don’t know what it will be, but it won’t be as Minnesota’s next secretary of state. That will be for a new generation of leadership.” Following the announcement, several people announced their candidacy or intentions to run. Colo. Secretary of State Scott Gessler has suspended his re-election campaign to focus his efforts on running for governor. Dan Burk, Washoe County, Nev. registrar recently received the Medallion Award from the National Association of Secretaries of State. Michelle Wilcox is the new director of the Auglaize County, Ohio board of elections. Jamie Six, the longest serving county clerk in Wood County, W.Va. has announced that he will resign in July.

  • In Memoriam: Westport, Conn. Republican Registrar of Voters Robert Lasprogato died this week. He was 71. Lasprogato was first elected to serve as registrar in 2010. Prior to that he was a selectman from 2006 to 2009. Lasporgato was also an accomplished jazz drummer and actor who had appearances in shows such as Law & Order, Law & Order SVU and The Sopranos.

  • Available Grant: The Federal Voting Assistance Program strives to be a data-driven organization. We design and redesign our program based upon what we learn from our surveys and other data. The 2011 EASE grant program was created to better understand the different challenges that military and overseas voters face at every step of the voting process. The EASE grant program funded 35 programs that included online ballot delivery, online voter registration, automated ballot duplication, online ballot requests and online ballot tracking. With the research that we receive from this program, FVAP will be able to focus efforts on the necessary portion of the voting process to ensure that military and overseas voters are more successful. As we move forward to the next grant program, FVAP will narrow the scope of its research and address two of the most critical aspects of the electoral process for military and overseas voters: ballot transit time and voter confusion. The Effective Absentee System for Elections 2 grant program will focus in two specific areas: the development of online ballot delivery tools and the establishment of single points of contact (single POC) in State election offices. It is vital that we have a significant statistical sample in order to validate the effectiveness of these programs. In order for this to occur, we want to focus on statewide solutions in areas that have a great number of voters covered by UOCAVA. Closing Date: June 24. For the complete posting and to apply, click here.

III. Research and Report Summaries

electionline provides brief summaries of recent research and reports in the field of election administration. Please e-mail links to research to sgreene@pewtrusts.org

IV. Legislative Update

Illinois: Lawmakers approved legislation that will now allow residents to register online to vote. The bill was approved by the House 66-49 and is headed to Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk where he is expected to sign it. When it will be implemented remains to be seen. The legislation did not include any funds to set up the program.

Within the online registration legislation was a paragraph stripping the Lake County clerk of election duties and would instead require the county create a five-member election commission.

Kansas: With just hours remaining in the 2013 legislative session, legislation to give Secretary of State Kris Kobach the power to bring court action against voter fraud cases failed by a vote of 45-64 in the House. The Senate had approved the legislation 24-13 on Saturday, but it ran into bipartisan opposition in the House.

Maine: Legislation that would have had state officials — including secretary of state — be directly elected instead of appointed failed by an 18-16 vote in the Senate.

Missouri: House Speaker Tim Jones has created a temporary committee that will focus its efforts on studying the state’s elections process and determine which outdated or redundant laws should be eliminated and how to best replace the state’s aging voting equipment.

New Hampshire: The House killed legislation that would change requirements for registering to vote, but agreed to negotiate with the state Senate on conflicting versions of a separate bill addressing forms of identification required when someone steps into the polling place to cast a ballot.

New York: The likelihood of New Yorkers returning to their lever-voting ways for the upcoming mayoral election got a bit closer to reality this week when a Staten Island assemblyman introduced a bill allowing the use. Unlike a Senate bill, the Assembly bill would limit the use of lever-voting machines to this year’s mayoral election.

V. Conferences

Please email upcoming event — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to mmoretti@electionline.org.

IACREOT 42nd Annual Conference and Trade Show — The excitement is building; the crowds are restless; the speakers are at the gate raring to go! And, we’re off to the IACREOT Annual Conference in beautiful Louisville, KY, home of world famous Churchill Downs. IACREOT has a stimulating, educational and yes, exciting conference planned for you. Timely seminars conducted by experts in your field, professional classes on best practices and nationally known speakers will bring you the latest developments in your division. Scroll through the Call to Conference for an in-depth calendar of classes, activities and speakers. Add a world-class Trade Show with vendors who conduct business in a variety of counties, parishes, states and countries and can demonstrate their products in front of your eyes. Mix an entertaining venue and you have all the ingredients for a successful conference. We just need you! So pack your bags, bring your Derby bonnet and let’s go! There also will be pre and post conference public administration courses taught by the faculty of George Washington University, our partner in the Certified Public Leadership Program. Where: Louisville, Ky. When: June 28-July 2, 2013.

VI. Opinion

National News: Voting Rights Act, II, III, IV, V, VI, VIII

California: Cost of recalls

Colorado: New election law

Delaware: Voting system

Illinois: Election administration

Maryland: Voting age

Minnesota: Ranked-choice voting

New Hampshire: Voter ID

New Jersey: Email voting | Special election, II

New York: Lever voting machines, II, III, IV | NYC BOE

Ohio: Voter fraud

Pennsylvania: Media access

South Carolina: Richland County

Tennessee: Dickinson County

Utah: Vote-by-mail

Virginia: Roanoke election changes | Ex-felon voting rights

Wisconsin: Voting rights | Voter ID | Election legislation

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 mmoretti@electionline.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.

Director of Elections, Craven County, N.C. — Plans and supervises daily operations, ensuring accuracy and efficiency in voter registration. Receives, reviews and approves registration applications. Processes completed registrations in master file, precinct file and precinct registration book. Supervises and assigns work to subordinate office personnel and ensures accuracy and efficiency. Receives candidates’ registration for county offices and others designated by the State Board of Elections [SBE]. Sends requested absentee ballots, submits applications for Board approval, and mails ballots for all approved applications. Maintains current registration files; maintains timetable of Board duties; notifies Board members of all deadlines and meetings. Prepares all reports required by the SBE according to General Statutes. Maintains current statistics of all registered voters by precinct and party affiliation. Contacts news media and publicizes voter registration laws. Supervises and instructs precinct Judges in preparation for elections. Prepares all voting equipment and supervises the storage, maintenance and delivery of such to the polls. Prepares budget proposal for Board approval. Monitors expenditures and administers approved budget. Interviews and recommends personnel to Board of Elections on new hires and terminations. Performs various related functions in connection with the administration of State and County Election laws and regulations. Qualifications: Graduation from high school supplemented by college-level course work in management, business or a related field and three to five years of experience in office management involving public contact, preferably in a Board of Elections office. Graduation from a four-year college or university preferred. Applicants must have certification from the State Board of Elections, or the ability to obtain within three years of employment. Thorough knowledge of electoral procedures and policies as set forth in general statues and regulations of the State Board of Elections is preferred. Computer skills and the ability to use general office equipment are required. Deadline: July 3, 2013. Application: Please submit letter and resume to: Employment Security Commission, 2836 Neuse Blvd., New Bern, N.C. 28560 or click here.

Elections Administrator, Coconino County (Flagstaff), Ariz. — performs work of considerable difficulty in the management, planning, coordination and administration of elections for state and county mandated elections and by contract with other political jurisdictions in the County. Manages the planning, direction, development, implementation, administration and evaluation of all office and field operations related to poll worker recruitment and training, voter education and outreach, election mapping, election systems, campaign finance, nomination, recall, initiative and referendum processes, ballot preparation and tabulation, elections services, and elections logistics; develops and writes procedures to conduct elections and ensure compliance in accordance with federal and state law, the Arizona Secretary of State’s Procedures Manual, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and any other applicable; oversees programming of election management software; researches and analyzes issues, legislation and decisions as they relate to the election process; prepares and manages division budget and provides input and direction into departmental action plan and goals; directs the development of training curricula and the conduct of training of election workers at the polling places on election day; coordinates with state, cities, towns and special districts the timely election results for official canvass for all elections conducted by the County; researches administrative, programmatic and technical problems in the County election processes and develops timely solutions to the problems encountered. Minimum Qualifications: Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science or related field and four years of progressively responsible governmental management experience including two years in administration of elections; OR, any combination of education, training and experience which demonstrates the ability to perform the duties of the position. Ideal candidate will have 4 or more years experience doing direct supervision of election personnel involved in all aspects of elections; have a thorough knowledge of federal and state laws and procedures governing election conduct and administration; knowledge of theory, principles, practices and techniques of election management; and thorough knowledge of voting equipment and effective procedures for their use. Salary: $54,809-$78,282. Deadline: June 21, 5pm. Application: For the complete job posting and apply, click here.

Senior Associate, Elections Initiatives, Pew Charitable Trusts, Washington, D.C. — the Trusts is seeking to hire a senior associate to work on the Upgrading Voter Registration (UVR) initiative and report to the UVR project manager, Election Initiatives.  The senior associate will be expected to contribute at multiple levels, assisting with implementation of UVR’s state assistance strategies, tracking legislation, conducting outreach to states and partners, and supporting the entire spectrum of activity under the project, including interaction with the other election initiatives, research, communications, and both state and national campaigns.  The position will be based in Pew’s Washington, D.C. office. It is expected that this position is for a term period through December 31, 2015, with the possibility of an extension pending the success of the program, funding sources and board decisions on continued support. Requirements: Minimum of five years professional experience in public policy arena; working knowledge of issues around state voter registration systems and election administration preferred; Bachelor’s degree required; Masters or other advanced degree in a relevant area preferred; experience convening groups of policy makers, practitioners, stakeholders, researchers and other constituencies, and supporting their efforts to develop consensus and move toward a desired outcome. Acute political awareness and non-partisan perspective and approach; experience working with complex policy and political issues, and developing sophisticated communications and government relations strategies; demonstrated strong analytical skills applied to public policy issues, including an ability to synthesize and summarize large amounts of information and to focus quickly on the essence of an issue; ability to communicate ideas, thoughts and concepts clearly and concisely and in a compelling way, both in writing and orally and to multiple audiences including policy makers, the media, and public. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job posting and to apply, click here.