I. In Focus This Week
First Person Singular: Gary Bartlett
KISS for a better today and tomorrow
By Gary Bartlett
North Carolina State Board of Elections
This article is going to be about my thoughts on effectively managing the elections process. I’ll tell you that from the start in case you had other ideas. As I sat down to write this article, I started kicking around some thoughts on what was going to be my hook. How do I capture your attention in order to get my points across?
My first thought was to entitle this article: Weathering the Tides of Political Influence and Change. And while the weather presents great opportunities to present analogies about the ebb and flow of the elections process or managing political storms, I felt that this was too cliché.
So how about comparing the elections process to a playground? On a playground, there are swings and slides and see saws, monkey bars and of course, the sandbox. A playground analogy could offer up nice realisms like “take turns” or “let everyone have a turn”, “stay in line,” “play nice,” and of course, “don’t touch the metal when it’s hot.” Effective messages, but again, it’s been done before.
How about a sports theme? I’m in basketball country, for God’s sake. I graduated from Carolina and I love ACC basketball. In the past 20 years, Carolina Basketball has transitioned with new coaches (new elected leaders) and a more up-tempo offense (aggressive campaigning), while the ACC has almost doubled in size with expansion teams (changing political landscapes) and more emphasis on making the conference a revenue-making machine (the influence of PACs). I could great mileage with these themes. In fact, I’m passionate enough about all of these subjects that I have enough material for a book. But I’m not going to write a book, at least not right now.
Instead, I want your attention; so I’m going to use the hook that always works –KISSing. Sorry, no juicy or salacious stuff will be forthcoming from me. Remember, I warned you from the beginning? I’m going to hook you by speaking plain simple truths. In essence, I will be keeping it simple –because I’m not stupid.
While the average citizen may believe elections begin when the first campaign commercial is aired and ends when the media projects a winner, those of us in the elections industry know differently. An election is actually a process that starts well before the first ballot is cast or even before the first candidate files for office.
While Election Day is a culmination of a series of events that lead to citizens voting, in its truest sense, elections really describe the industry that drives these ever-evolving and dynamic events. The elections process is dynamic because by its very nature, the components of the system are designed to change. Some changes are constant (voters are added to and removed from registration lists daily), others are periodic (our local, state and national leaders are one election day away from leaving office) and some changes happen on occasion (laws are amended or new policy is implemented).
While change is inevitable in the election process, the natural order of elections is also shaped by division or partisan tensions. The industry is set up to have winners and losers, thus everyone will not always like or agree with the changes that occur. The role of election officials is to effectively manage these tensions. Reverting to the sports analogy, election officials must be like referees, they must make sure that the game is fair and everyone follows the rules.
Remember the voter
Respect for the process starts with respect for voters. Partisan influences must take a back seat to the very basic premise that individuals who are qualified and eligible to vote must be given the opportunity to cast a ballot and have their ballot counted.
The emphasis must be on inclusion rather than exclusion. It should never be a consideration whether elections officials are elected or appointed by one party versus another, it matters more that every action taken or any policy implemented permits people who are qualified to vote to be able to cast a ballot and have their ballot counted for every contest for which they are eligible to vote.
No election official wants to get caught up in political mischief and be connected with favoring one party over another. The very basic of administering the election process is the ability of a person to vote. With this basic premise, it is inevitable that after an election, someone is not going to be happy. Someone is going to lose. Someone that you’ve voted for will lose.
It’s a natural human instinct to be disappointed with a loss, maybe sometimes angry with a loss. And sometimes when we get angry, we look for others to blame or we blame the “system.” We question the system–did someone cheat? Did people vote who were not supposed to vote? Was someone who should have been allowed to vote, prevented from voting? The best elections are the ones where everyone who plays fairly gets a chance to play, even if the game is close and even if you lose.
Uniformity and equal application
Fairness is not just a concept; it must be applied and its application must be uniform and equal.
In North Carolina, there are 100 county boards of elections. When I became the director for the State Board of Elections, there were 100 different ways that elections were administered in our state. There were 100 different types of voter registration or absentee ballot forms, 100 different methods of how voter files were maintained, and more than a dozen types of voting equipment and vote tallying software or methods. Astoundingly, there were at least 16 ways that dates were recorded – MM/DD/YYYY, YYYY/DD/MM, Jul – 1972 – you get the picture.
Almost 10 years ago, we implemented an elections uniformity project that mandated procedural standards throughout the state’s local elections jurisdictions. These standards were recorded in a uniformity manual that provides guidance to election officials throughout various aspects of the elections process. As laws and regulations were amended, we updated the manual, thus providing a training and reference resource. A documented uniform process ensures consistency in an elections system and provides for equal application of the law without regard to partisan considerations.
Self-audits and wellness checks
No system can prevail unless there are assurances in place that the system is operable as designed and its functioning goals are met.
Since elections are a service industry, periodic audits can assess whether optimal services are provided to citizens. Audits are not just based on data analysis, but should also evaluate the health of an elections office: is an elections office adhering to the law and uniform policy; are there security measures in place; does the office have plans to handle emergency situations; is the office meeting list maintenance standards. Audits of local elections offices should not solely be performed by a state’s election officials; local elections administrators should also be given the tools for self-assessments. Audits and wellness checks offer a proactive approach to remedy problems or issues to prevent harm to the elections process.
Participation in professional associations and groups fosters competency and helps to build skills. Reliance and exposure to other professionals in the elections industry provides an opportunity to learn from other’s experiences while sharing your own unique qualities. Regional, statewide, and national participation in professional associations can offer individuals problem solving avenues that make elections fairer, more efficient and promotes an atmosphere for continued growth and overall excellence.
It is essential to not forget the importance of education and training. Offering a certification program and continuing education courses to election board members and staff ensures that skills will always be enhanced and refreshed.
Communication and relationship building
No industry, business, organization or any other entity can be successful without effective communication skills. The key to the election industry is understanding the players with whom relationships need to be built.
Obviously, election officials must communicate effectively with voters, political parties, and elected officials. Not surprisingly, relationships must also be established with advocacy groups, the media, and even election officials in other counties or states.
What may not be as obvious is establishing good working relationships with other federal and state agencies like the United States Department of Justice or the Federal Voting Assistance Program and state departments of motor vehicles or vital statistics authorities.
On a local level, election officials must work with local officials like police and emergency management officials, or GIS and mapping specialists, or city/county managers, attorneys or other pertinent non-elected bureaucrats. These relationships will serve as a valuable resource when unexpected events occur and there is a plan in place to prevent unexpected events or emergencies from becoming a crisis.
The other key to effective communication is to ensure you are providing consistent and accurate information and the information is readily available. In today’s age, making public information available on the Internet is the clear preference.
Elections agencies should proactively dedicate a section of their webpage to providing current data and statistics. Citizens, political parties, or other groups who frequently request the same type of data from elections agencies can be directed to a web portal that will permit them to access the data at their convenience. This openness to providing data creates an atmosphere of trust and confidence in elections officials.
Fighting the rumor mill
Despite elections officials’ best efforts, at some level, a lack of trust and confidence in the elections process is inherent to elections. Misinformation or misinterpretation goes along with the territory. In the political world, rumors and allegations of fraud and impropriety are to be expected. At some point, notwithstanding election officials’ attempts at open, consistent, uniform, and honest communication, there will be individuals or groups that will question or even cast aspersions on the elections process.
Questioning the process can actually be healthy for the process because it provides an opportunity to evaluate nuances that may be taken for granted. Attacks on the process, especially when unfounded are a little trickier. It is important not to brush off such talk, but to actively and aggressively investigate and research such claims, and if evidence is lacking, then it should just as aggressively be dispelled.
Misinformation creates a lack of confidence in the system. Don’t let problems fester. Election officials should use their websites, the media, and social networking resources to refute inaccurate information. Sadly, there are self-appointed election experts out there that don’t understand the historical basis of many laws or policies, nor do they have the proper interpretation of many laws. These “experts” try to imprint their partisan beliefs on the process. Although dealing with these individuals or groups can be frustrating, it is important to just promptly and accurately refute misinformation, and quite frankly move on.
While consistency breeds stability, tradition can impede progress. Just like any other modern industry, election officials must stay abreast of technology and other strategies that can improve performance and efficiency.
More progressive election processes can lead to a reduction in administrative costs, increased productivity and more effective management of limited resources.
For instance, the use of barcode scanners to verify proper ballot distribution, or electronic poll books to look up and verify registration, and for those lucky states, the use of online voter registration has led to incredible cost savings while improving the integrity of the elections process.
Technology is not the only focus when it comes to staying current. Election officials must also be sure to keep informed about changes in laws and regulations that both directly impact and indirectly impact the elections process. In essence, don’t be afraid to seek out the current trends and determine the benefits while weighing possible risks.
Don’t risk the process just to be the first out of the gate — be on the leading edge and not the bleeding edge. Vision cannot supplant an attention to detail and common sense.
With these guiding principles, change can simply be just that – a change. A change in direction due to partisan or political reasons does not have to result in a sharp detour from proven practices that have benefitted the elections process. What must be avoided are any solely partisan acts that could potentially undermine a sound elections process. More must be done with the election administration to take the partisanship out of what should strictly be a civic endeavor. Simple enough?
Editor’s Note: On May 1, 2013 at the first meeting of the newly appointed North Carolina Board of Elections, the board voted to replace long-time Director of Elections Gary Bartlett. Bartlett served as director of elections for 20 years. Electionline would like to wish Gary well on his future endeavors. He will be missed.
II. Election News This Week
- The Takoma Park, Md. city council approved a series of charter amendments this week, one of which will allow 16-and 17-year-old to vote in city elections. According to The Washington Post, Monday’s vote made Takoma Park the first city in the U.S. to lower its voting age. Only one member of the council voted against the charter amendment. Other charter amendments approved on Monday allow ex-felons who have served their sentence of incarceration to vote and allowing for same-day voter registration.
- Although Electionline’s annual In and Out list is still more than six months away, news out of New York City this week already has us anticipating one item on the In and Out list: lever-voting machines. At a budget hearing on Monday, the city’s board of elections warned that the September mayoral primary could be a “disaster” because there is no money in the budget to conduct a runoff. Then, on Wednesday at an event scheduled to discuss fire inspections, Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) called on the city to bring back the much beloved lever-voting machines.
- The Indiana secretary of state’s office has committed to spending $2 million to help counties clean up their voter rolls. Although counties are responsible for maintaining their own voter rolls, funding deficiencies in recent years has made that difficult leaving some counties with more people on their voter rolls than the number of voting-age people living in the county. According to the Herald Bulletin, the Legislature was pushed into taking action by the U.S. Department of Justice. Officials in the Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section found that at least 10 percent of Indiana’s 92 counties have a higher number people on their active voter rolls than they do who are old enough to vote.
- Personnel News: Susan Inman, a longtime election official from Little Rock announced she will seek the Democratic nomination for Arkansas secretary of state in 2014. In other secretary of state news, Guillaume de Ramel will once again seek the secretary’s seat in Rhode Island. De Ramel lost to current Secretary of State Ralph Mollis in 2006. The Davidson County, Tenn. election commission voted 4-1 to fire embattled Elections Administrator Albert Tieche. Also in Tennessee, Rhea County Administrator of Elections Theresa Snyder was removed from her post by a 4 to 1 vote of the county’s election commission. Jeff Sponsel, a former city councilman has been hired to serve as elections deputy in Shelby County, Ind. Carver, Mass. Town Clerk Jean McGillicuddy will not seek re-election for the seat she has held for 15 years. Gigi Hanna, San Bernardino city clerk is the subject of a recall. Because her office oversees recalls she has recused herself and the deputy clerk will handle matters. Hayley Lewis, a five-year employee of the Greene County, Ohio BOE has been fired. Gena Frye, Sullivan County, Tenn. election administrator was let go by the newly Republican-controlled election commission. Lisa Douglas has been elected to serve as the chairman of the Robeson County, N.C. board of elections. Jack Garton has been re-elected to serve as the Dickson County, Tenn. election commission chairman. Richard Barron is officially the new director of registration and elections in Fulton County, Ga. Barron had previously served as the elections administrator in Williamson County, Texas. Bonner County, Idaho Clerk Marie Scott is retiring as of July 1. Rachel Bohman, director of elections in Hennepin County, Minn. is resigning effective June 1. Betty Smith, elections director in Montgomery County, Ohio will resign this summer to “alleviate health concerns.” And finally, the Richland County, S.C. election commission has voted to hire Howard Jackson as its new executive director. Jackson previously worked in voter registration in Orangeburg County.
- In Memoriam: Former Connecticut Secretary of State Julia Tashjian died late last week. She was 74. Tashjian served as secretary of state from 1983 to 1991. “We mourn the loss of Julia Tashjian, a self-made woman of the modern political era in the mold of Ella Grasso and other strong leaders of the state of Connecticut,” Denise Merrill, the current secretary of the state said in a statement. “Julia Tashjian was a fierce defender of democracy, wanting every voter to have a voice. She took her role very seriously, even serving as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.”
- 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 email@example.com
IV. Legislative Update
Arizona: Work resumed on several elections-related bills in the Senate. The legislation would allow county officials to remove voters from permanent early voting lists if they didn’t cast a mail ballot in the two most recent elections. The legislation would also prevent political organizations and committees from returning ballots for voters.
Also this week, a Senate panel approved SB1493 that would add new rules to how initiatives and referendums are circulated.
California: Senate Bill 519, which would require the state to reimburse counties for legislative and congressional special elections, was debated this week. The state reimbursed counties for elections till 2007.
Hawaii: Voters in Hawaii faced a multitude of problems casting their ballots in 2012 and for every problem, there seemed to be a legislative fix introduced. With the 2013 legislative session now closed, an article from the Honolulu Civil Beat takes a look at what passed and what didn’t.
Minnesota: A provision to allow early voting was stripped from the Senate elections bill that was unanimously approved this week.
Nevada: A committee vote on AB440, which would have extended the voter registration deadline to the Friday before election day, has been postponed and according to The Associated Press most likely spells doom for the legislation.
New Jersey: Gov. Chris Christie (R) vetoed legislation that would have allowed voters in The Garden State to participate in early voting at designated polling places up to two weeks before an election.
South Carolina: By a 12-12 vote, a bill that would have given the secretary of state the authority over the state’s elections is stalled in the Judiciary Committee.
V. Upcoming Events
Please email upcoming event — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.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. Registration.
Connecticut: Early voting
Iowa: Voter fraud
Kansas: Kris Kobach
Kentucky: Early voting
Louisiana: Number of elections
Maine: Constitutional officers
Maryland: Wicomico County
New Hampshire: Voter ID
North Carolina: Voter ID
Oklahoma: Voter turnout
Pennsylvania: Election reform
West Virginia: Election dates
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.
Application Specialist, Pitkin County, Colo. — under direction of the Elections Manager, incumbent is responsible for performing complex, technical and specialized tasks associated with election management hardware and software applications. Role requires a varying degree of process management and supervisory support of election judges, and election board members. Duties include: Implements the setup, design, programming, proofing, ordering and inventory control of election ballots. Troubleshoots basic hardware, software, application and connectivity issues; assists the public in understanding the necessary flow of procedures to accomplish citizens requested goal; makes corrections, updates and maintains accuracy and compliance of paper and computer records with or without the aid of a specialized computer system; reviews and proofreads material and verifies information for accuracy and completeness, make corrections as necessary; works closely with the Secretary of State’s office (SOS) and ensures compliance of election programs and elections laws/procedures with SOS requirements; works with the user community to resolve technical problems and application performance issues; maintains the Elections office website and various other media, and assists elections staff with technical requests. Qualifications: Bachelor’s degree in related field; and, two (2) years experience working with a variety of software and hardware systems, preferably including election systems; and, four (4) years of progressively responsible work experience related to administrative management/supervisory support; or, any equivalent combination of education, training and experience which provides the required knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the essential functions of the job; experience with job related tasks requiring adherence to and application of federal, state and local laws and regulations preferred; previous experience or course work in public administration, or related area as appropriate to the position preferred. Salary: $21.63-$25.06. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job posting and to apply, click here.
Registrar, Prince William Co., Va. — provides leadership and management in the Office of Elections in Prince William County, Virginia. Prince William County has a diverse and growing population (currently 413,500) and is located in Northern Virginia. There are over 250,000 registered to vote in the County. In 2012, Prince William County was “bailed out” of the U.S. Department of Justice Preclearance requirement, after demonstrating decades of fair electoral practices. The General Registrar’s responsibilities are directed by the Code of Virginia as it relates to registering eligible voters and maintaining accurate lists. Additionally, the General Registrar is responsible to the Electoral Board in the conduct of fair and accurate elections. The General Registrar must maintain impartiality in the discharge of duties. The General Registrar is the Department Head for the Office of Elections, and is expected to interact with other agencies and the general public. As Department Head, the General Registrar must manage an office of 10 employees, manage hundreds of volunteer Election Officers on Election Days, and manage the office budget of approximately $2 million. Education and Experience: Education and experience equivalent to a Bachelor’s Degree in Public/Business Administration or a related field; 3-5 years of progressively responsible work in a registrar’s office to include management and budgeting experience; 2-3 years of experience at a supervisory level. Relevant experience in election law/administration, voter registration, as an election officer, or political experience may be considered toward required experience. Deadline: May 25, 2013. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.