I. In Focus This Week
News Analysis: Richland County, S.C. elections still in turmoil
Deadline looms for legislators to make changes to county board
By all accounts, it’s a nice place to live and work. Recently though, it has not been a good place to vote.
The Richland County Board of Elections and Voter Registration has been under a cloud of controversy since 2011 when the General Assembly passed a law merging Richland County’s elections office and voter registration office.
During the 2012 presidential election, voters in Richland County faced some of the longest lines in the country.
Some of the problems were blamed on a lack of poll workers, malfunctioning machines and that in many cases there were simply too few voting machines at precincts. There were anecdotal reports that hundreds of voters ultimately gave up and never cast a ballot.
In the wake of the elections the debacle, Elections Director Lillian McBride resigned under pressure in January of 2013 and the board spent more than $153,000 in legal fees to investigate what went wrong in November 2012 and for representation for McBride.
The investigation largely blamed problems on McBride and her staff’s work, but also noted that legislators were to blame for failing to pay attention to growing precincts.
The Board replaced McBride with Howard Jackson in June of 2013.
But all was not well under a new elections director. During a state canvass of election results in November of 2013, it was discovered that more than 1,000 ballots were not counted.
Even before the problems in November of 2013 though, the South Carolina Public Interest Foundation had had enough and filed suit claiming that the merger of the offices had been unconstitutional and judge agreed and ordered the board split in two once again.
“The General Assembly has returned to its unconstitutional practice of enacting special and single county legislation,” Judge Thomas Cooper wrote. “The Supreme Court has repeatedly found such actions of the General Assembly unconstitutional.”
According to numerous media reports, the county’s legislative delegation has been dragging its feet about making the split.
“We’ve done this three times now, an alien could see, it’s not getting better,” Rep. Kirkman Finlay told WIST. “You know the old joke from Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity, doing the same thing, over and over again and expecting different results. We’ve had three horrible elections. Why don’t we fix it?”
While the state legislative delegation was figuring out what to do, the county board fired its new executive director and replaced him with Boardmember Samuel Selph.
“I was asked to do some things that were unlawful,” Jackson said at a press conference following his firing. “I was told to stand down.”
During the press conference, Jackson claimed there was a power struggle between he and the board and he accused the board of racism and political posturing.
Jackson has met with investigators at the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division on at least two separate occasions and with members of the county’s legislative delegation, which has also come under fire.
The county council also recently voted to force the elections board to foot it’s own bill for legal fees and reimburse the county for time the county attorney has spent on the case.
And although legislators have been taking steps split the board, with the June primaries looming, a judge has once again ordered the delegation to do the work necessary to split the board in two.
On March 21, Judge Thomas Cooper, who ordered that the board be split about seven months ago, said legislators need to have a plan in place by April 1 (seriously).
As of press time, with April 1 only four days away, there was no word that the delegation had taken the necessary steps to split the board.
Marcy Andino, director of the South Carolina State Election Commission, said her office is monitoring the situation, but it has no authority to take over the county elections office.
“I am following the situation in Richland County,”Andino said. “The State Election Commission is available to assist the county, if necessary.”
II. Election News This Week
- Following last week’s proof-of-citizenship ruling, Alabama is the first state out of the blocks to say that it intends to move ahead with plans to require those registering to vote to show proof-of-citizenship. According to The New York Times, Secretary of State Jim Bennett wrote in an email that the federal court decision “has given us the confidence that Alabama has strong footing for implementation of the rules regarding proof of citizenship.”
- This week the Montana Supreme Court blocked the state from putting a referendum on the 2014 ballot that would have asked voters whether they wanted to move the state’s election system to a top-two primary system. According to the Billings Gazette, the court ruled 6-1 that the title of the referendum “does not comply with the plain meaning of the Legislature’s 100-word limit” in state law. The title of the referendum listed approximately 100 different laws , by their law number and not name, that would be amended or repealed by the passage of the referendum.
- A report by elections officials in Minneapolis is recommending that city elections rules be changed to save money and speed up vote counting. The election cost of the city about $400K more than what was budgeted. In the report, City Clerk Casey Carl makes several suggestions for 2017 including batch elimination based on candidates’ potential to win. The report also recommends increasing the filing fee. A survey of Minneapolis voters accompanied the report. The survey found that 41 percent of those polled prefer a traditional voting system, however 53 percent said ranked choice should be used in future municipal elections.
- The head of the beleaguered New York City elections board testified before the city council that he believes his agency is purposely being shorted of funds from the city so the BOE would fail. “While the board has historically been a convenient foil for public criticism, it has at the same time been the victim of a funding scheme that seems to have been intentionally designed to ‘cash starve’ the agency,” Michael Ryan, executive director of the BOE said during his testimony to seek an additional $55 million in city funds, including $11 million for staff raises.
- The Hidalgo County, Texas commissioner’s court has decided to have no official involvement with an investigation into voting irregularities during the March primary. However, the county’s district attorney office will continue to investigate possible tampering with voting machines. “We’re going to present to a grand jury asking them to assume the jurisdiction of the machines through a proper court order so that they, the grand jurors, with the court’s assistance and disposition with proper orders, will be able to look into the allegations as to the election machines and help us hire an expert or two to investigate,” Guerra told The Monitor.
- And a special shout out and congratulations to our fellow elections “geeks” at Verified Voting for celebrating 10 years of elections work.
- Personnel News: Summerset County, N.J. Election Administrator Jerry L. Midgette was recently appointed president of the New Jersey Association of Election Officials. Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R) and Clark Smith (R), Rock Springs councilmember announced they will run for secretary of state in Wyoming. Sue Strands has resigned as the Fond du Lac, Wis. clerk. Deputy City Clerk Maggie Hefter will serve as the interim clerk. April Fairfield (D-NPL) is running for secretary of state in North Dakota. California State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), considered a frontrunner in the secretary of state race, was indicted on arms trafficking and corruption charges. Bob Helland (I) announced that he will run for secretary of state in Minnesota. Helland currently works for the St. Paul department of public safety.
III. 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.
IV. Legislative Update
Georgia: The Senate approved House Bill 891 that cuts early voting from three weeks to one week in cities and towns for municipal elections only.
Missouri: The Senate approved legislation that would require some counties to phase out electronic voting machines. It also declares the paper ballot as the official ballot of Missouri elections.
Wisconsin: The Assembly has approved a bill that limits in-person absentee voting during the two weeks before the election from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and clerks may only offer a total of 45 hours of voting each week.
V. Upcoming Events
Please email upcoming event — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to email@example.com.
Arizona: Proof-of-citizenship ruling
Indiana: Porter County
Massachusetts: Voter accessibility
New Hampshire: Voting precincts
North Dakota: Voter ID
Ohio: Secretary of state race
Rhode Island: Voter ID
Tennessee: Voter ID
VII. Job Openings
electionlineWeekly publishes election administration job postings each week as a free service to our readers. To have your job listed in the newsletter, please send a copy of the job description, including a web link to firstname.lastname@example.org. Job postings must be received by 5pm on Wednesday in order to appear in the Thursday newsletter. Listings will run for three weeks or till the deadline listed in the posting.
Communication and Development Director, Rock the Vote, New York City — Rock the Vote is seeking a Communications & Development Director to help raise the profile and necessary funds to support our ambitious programs in 2014 and beyond. Specifically, the Rock the Vote Communications & Development Director will oversee the communications plan, including but not limited to: developing messages, talking points, press, and fundraising materials; reaching out to press and performing press outreach. In addition, this position will manage a group of staff running our voting rights advocacy and social media programs. Rock the Vote is looking for a great writer, an effective communicator, and a detail-oriented and pro-active person to fill this position. Qualifications: A competitive candidate for this position will have: Bachelor’s degree; 6-8 years communications and/or development experience working with campaigns or nonprofits; proven and highly effective organizational skills; proven and highly effective written and oral communication skills; ability to multitask and shift priorities; aptitude for working under tight deadlines in a fast-paced environment; commitment to the organizational mission; management experience required; this individual will manage 2-5 staff. Candidates must have a demonstrated ability to work on multiple projects at one time; to set ambitious but achievable goals; to coordinate activities of the senior leadership and leverage other Rock the Vote resources in order to meet these goals; and a willingness to work long hours as necessary; experience working effectively with colleagues, junior staff and senior leaders; including members of an active board of directors/advisors; ability to work very closely with other members of the team, but also to manage your own work independently. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Voter Registration & Voting Services Manager, Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, Salem, Ore. — successful candidate will manage and direct the daily operations of the Voter Registration and Voting Services section of the Elections Division as well as ensure Oregon’s compliance with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) program. This is accomplished in part but not limited to: Coordinate all daily activities and employee assignments with the Voter Registration and Voting Services section; work with Elections Director to prioritize projects and to maintain adherence to overall statewide election system objectives; work in partnership with county clerks, election officials and filing officers representing special districts; train county and city elections officials on procedures and changes related to Oregon Centralized Voter Registration (OCVR), HAVA, and Nation Voter Registration Act (NVRA); coordinate with counties, United States Postal Service and partner states in developing standards and practices for maintaining an accurate and effective voter registration database; interpret laws, rules policies and procedures and explain to customers to ensure compliance with and understanding of Oregon’s compliance with HAVA; implement and administer HAVA projects and objectives under the direction of the Elections Division Director; ensure HAVA Steering Committee represents cross sections of stakeholder populations, meets regularly and the concerns of the membership are relayed in a time manner to the Elections Division Director and Agency Management. Qualifications: Six years of experience in supervision, staff-technical, or professional-level work that includes experience with voter registration and/or election administration. Two years of this experience must have included program/project leader responsibility involving one or more of the following areas: a) development of program rules and policies, b) development of long- and short-range goals and plans, c) program evaluation and/or project evaluation, or d) monitoring and controlling or preparing a budget. Salary: $4881-$7,550 per month. Deadline: March 31, 2014 at 11:59pm. Application: For the complete listing and to apply, click here.