I. In Focus This Week
First Person Singular: Steve Weir
Data is a useful tool for elections officials
By Steve Weir
Contra-Costa County, Calif. Clerk-Recorder
There are two major observations that I have had during my 24 years as County Clerk-Recorder.
First, the people who work in elections are extremely dedicated and ethical. Second, we have in our hands access to a wealth of data that we should use to tell our story. However, many of us miss the opportunity to review and to “own” our data.
I slowly found out in my early days as Clerk, that our elections information management system had TONS of reports on virtually every aspect of our operations.
From simple over-under reports (that can identify individual precinct problems) to rejected vote-by-mail ballots, patterns of problems could be easily identified and tracked.
In 1996, we had a close contest for a California State Senate seat. Out of about 300,000 votes cast, the spread was about 700 votes, not close. However, the losing party asked for a recount. After 25,000 ballots were hand counted, the spread had hardly changed and the recount was called off.
As part of this process, I noticed that 3,200 vote-by-mail ballots had been rejected, almost 4 percent of the total vote-by-mail ballots cast. Most of these arrived after election day. No one seemed bothered by this statistic. No one except me. These were voters who did not have their ballots counted.
We developed an educational program and watched these numbers decline significantly. This felt right. And, with this base line, we were able to discover other occurrences of rejections.
In the March 2, 2004 Presidential Primary, we had a spike in rejections due to late arrival. We drilled down and found that the “problem” was in our mandatory vote-by-mail group. For mandatory vote-by-mail, we pay the return postage through a business reply category.
While our late category of rejection was under 1 percent we had a spike and quickly were able to see that it was in this category. Come to find out, the clerk who processed this business reply mail was out on the Monday and Tuesday of election week. So, these voters had almost 12 percent of their mail rejected for being late.
This prompted us to meet with our Post Office representatives to guarantee they would process this mail in a timely manner. Had we not tracked this data, the problem could have continued over time with no one being any-the-wiser.
As we also tracked rejection rates for “no-signature match”, we witnessed a spike in rejections in June and November, 2010. With this on our radar, we ran a program equating age and rejection. We thought that our older voters might be responsible for the spike in rejections.
Quite to the contrary, it worked out that our voters (many of whom had been part of the 2008 registration efforts) who were in the 20 to 29 age group, accounted for 6.2 percent of our total vote-by-mail ballots cast while they accounted for 30 percent of the total rejection rate for no-signature match.
We designed an education program to try to address this phenomenon. It seems that this “new” generation is not use to using their signature as a security device. We’re hoping that an educational effort via social media can help address this issue.
All of us have been beseeched with requests from lawyers, academicians, activists, etc. only to have that data recast and thrown back at us. I believe that many of us a “gun shy” when it comes to data. My position is that we ought to “own” our data, its right at our finger tips and available for us to track and to adjust our operations when warranted.
If you are interested in seeing a copy of our report, go to: http://www.cocovote.us/
In the right column (second selection from the top) is the election report. Click on it to download.
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II. Election News This Week
- A new study by researchers at UC Berkeley has found that California’s new online voter registration system seems to be bringing more low- and middle-income residents to the voter rolls than researchers had anticipated. According to the Los Angeles Times, the researchers focused on Census tracts in two counties and found that in San Diego County 71 percent of Latino, 57 percent of white and 50 percent of Asian American online registrants lived in areas with medium incomes lower than $75K per year and in Alameda County 65 percent of Latino voters, 52 percent of whites and 44 percent of Asian Americans lived in low- to middle-income neighborhoods.
- The Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled that Williamson County elections officials may use the Brentwood Library as an early voting site even though the city of Brentwood had denied the use. In 2012, the city denied the county’s request to use the library for early voting saying that it was disruptive to library patrons and that the space had already been reserved. The county sued and a Chancery Court ruled in favor of the city. The county appealed to the state. “In this declaratory judgment action, we have held that the Commission has the sole responsibility to designate polling locations and it is the duty of public building authorities to make public buildings available for voting,” the ruling said.
- A controversial new rule in Iowa that allows election officials to remove voters from the rolls if their citizenship is questioned took effect this week despite protests from numerous groups including the ACLU. According to the Associated Press, the rule allows the secretary of state’s office to compare voter registration records against federal immigration lists.
- According to a report from the Legislative Audit Council, it will cost South Carolina $17.3 million to upgrade the state’s electronic voting machines so that they include a paper trail. The findings, according to The State, are part of a 46-page review of South Carolina’s elections.
- With “senioritis” no doubt in full effect a hearty electionline.org congratulations to Meadow Bridge High School in West Virginia for having 100 percent of the senior class registered to vote. This is the 12th year in a row that the school has achieved this status. “I am proud that our seniors at MBHS have continued this tradition of 100 percent registration of eligible voters for the 12th straight year. It is a challenge the kids take on themselves from one year to another,” Principal Al Martine told The Fayette Tribune.
- Personnel News: Becky Deese, election supervisor in Carroll County, Ga. announced that she will retire effective April 30. Pat Bowser, the retired Lynchburg, Va. voter registrar has been appointed chair of the Lynchburg electoral board. Peter Lumaj, an attorney, has announced that he will seek the Connecticut secretary of state seat in 2014. Deametrious A. St. John has been appointed to the Stark County, Ohio board of elections.
- In Memoriam: Longtime Victoria County, Texas Clerk Val Huvar died last week. He was 93. Huvar served the county for 50 years. “I’ve known Mr. Huvar for most of my life,” County Judge Don Pozzi told the Victoria Advocate. “He was probably the most knowledgeable county clerk in the state of Texas and the longest running county clerk we’ve had in this county. He was a valuable asset to the county for many years.”
- Former King George County, Va. Registrar of Voters Patricia McGinniss died this week. She was 79. McGinniss served as registrar for 21 years and following her retirement served on the county electoral board.
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 email@example.com
IV. Legislative Update
Arkansas: This week Gov. Mike Beebe (D) vetoed a bill that would have required voters in Arkansas to show a photo ID in order to vote. On Wednesday, the Senate voted 21-12 to override the veto, however the House must now do the same.
In an effort to keep voters from exchanging votes for favors, the Senate is considering legislation that would make it illegal to take a photo of your cast ballot. The House has already approved the legislation.
Kentucky: This week the General Assembly passed legislation that make sales of alcohol on election day legal in Kentucky. South Carolina now remains the only state that prohibits the sale of alcohol on election day. Cheers.
The General Assembly also approved legislation that will allow members of the military living and working overseas to receive their absentee ballots electronically. They will still need to return their ballots the traditional way, but the legislation did allow for the creation of a task force to study the electronic return of ballots.
Maine: Under legislation being reviewed by the state and local government committee, any statewide constitutional officer—including the secretary of state—would be barred from running for statewide office without resigning.
Massachusetts: Senate President Therese Murray has proposed legislation that would allow Massachusetts’ voters to cast an early ballot at designated sites for the 10 days in advance of an election.
Missouri: Sen. Paul LeVota (D-Independence) has introduced legislation that would shift oversight for Kansas City elections to Jackson County. “There’s just too much inconsistency between two different election boards in the same county,” LeVota told The Kansas City Star. “Two different systems. Two different ways to register. Two different places to register.”
A Senate panel heard testimony this week on legislation that would require voters to use paper ballots. The secretary of state’s office opposes the legislation.
New Hampshire: Although the House has rejected a proposal to repeal the state’s voter ID law, it did pass legislation that would prevent tighter regulations from taking effect until an inquiry into the November 2012 election is complete.
New Jersey: In a largely party-line vote, the New Jersey General Assembly has approved early voting for The Garden State. The law, if signed by Gov. Chris Christie (R) would allow voting in three to seven locations in each county for five weeks ahead of an election.
Pennsylvania: Legislation to allow voters in the Commonwealth register online to vote cleared the Senate Government Committee with bipartisan support this week. The legislation now moves to the full Senate.
Tennessee: A bill that would have banned using cellphones and cameras in polling places has hit a roadblock in the House. HB921 was unanimously approved in the Senate, but members of the House Local Government Committee question the need for such legislation.
Legislation currently being considered would allow counties in Tennessee to test the use of vote centers in the 2014 election cycle.
Texas: A bill introduced by Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth) would make it illegal to pay workers to help voters with their mail-in ballots. The bill would make the practice a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine and up to a year in jail. The bill did receive some opposition, but only the portion that would punish those who accept payment for helping voters.
Print journalism may be a dying format, but that didn’t stop controversy from arising in the House Elections Committee over a proposal that would allow counties to opt out of a state law mandating they publish polling places in the newspaper.
West Virginia: A bill approved by the Senate will eliminate outdated language with regard to updating voter registration rolls. It will also increase the time canceled registrations remain in the database from three years to five.
V. Upcoming Events
Please email upcoming event — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Accessible Voting Technology Research Workshop — The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are sponsoring a two-day workshop to explore current and future research in accessible voting technology. The sponsoring organizations seek to have lively discussion on the following topics: Innovative assistive applications and techniques; new approaches to accessibility in voting; accessibility research benchmarks and results; transitioning research to industry; new and existing devices that provide accessible access to elements of the voting process and challenges in accessible voting. The workshop will provide an environment for interactive discussions among the attendees including researchers, election officials, government officials, and voting system manufacturers. The workshop will encourage attendee participation through panel discussions and breakout sessions, with trending research presentations to frame the topics to be explored. The goal of the discussions for the workshop is to foster collaborations in the testing, evaluation, and transition of accessible voting technology. Where: Gaithersburg, Md. When: April 1-2, 2013. For more information, click here.
Arkansas: Voter ID
Illinois: Voter turnout
Iowa: Voter ID
Mississippi: Absentee voting
New Jersey: Early voting
New York: Village elections
North Dakota: Voter ID
Ohio: Election reform
Vermont: Election reform
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 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.
Senior Information Technology Specialist, Montgomery County, Md. Board of Elections — lead permanent technology staff and directly responsible to and supervised by the Election Director. Responsibilities include: planning and implementation of technical programming, testing and preparation of the county’s allotment of the statewide voting system, voting equipment and voter registration system in collaboration with state, the contract holder; is experienced and familiar with system integration, functionality and usage of the Oracle database and preparation of Crystal reports, GIS, Word, Access, and Excel, and analyzing statistical data; supervises and works with permanent and temporary programming employees; evaluates alternative system and equipment funding sources; represents department and addresses election issues at election system related meetings and board meetings; and performs technology related duties as required and necessary, maintaining a high standard of accuracy. As required by the State Board of Elections, the successful candidate must be a registered voter in Maryland and successfully complete a background check. The successful candidate must possess a Maryland driver’s license and use of a vehicle. The employee must work with and supervise permanent and temporary employees in a secure environment and be able to responsibly handle sensitive equipment and related security in an orderly and timely manner according to prescribed procedures. Minimum Qualifications include: Five (5) years of experience in the information technology field in areas such as programming, systems analysis, and data/telecommunications. Education: Bachelor’s Degree in computer science or related field from an accredited college or university and/or certifications in specific programming languages or operating systems to include programming languages such as SQL, Oracle Developer 2000. Equivalency: An equivalent combination of education and experience may be substituted. For applicants possessing very hard-to-find skills that are a critical need to the department/agency, training and certification may be accepted in lieu of full degree requirements. Salary: $64,960-$108,343. Deadline: April 20. For a complete job listing and to apply, click here.