I. In Focus This Week
One county at a time, vote centers coming to Texas
Continuing pilot program gains counties each election
By M. Mindy Moretti
Some revolutions start with a shot and others take time to build.
In Texas, a slow-building revolution is moving one county at a time to switch the largest state in the lower 48 to a vote center system instead of the traditional precinct-based polling places.
Since beginning a pilot program of vote centers nearly a decade ago just over 10 percent of the state’s 200+ counties used vote centers in the most recent statewide election and more are petitioning to make the move.
While not willing to call the pilot an outright success because of the still small sample of counties using the system, the secretary of state’s report to the 84th Legislature on the program said anecdotally, vote centers do make easier for voters and elections officials alike.
“However, anecdotal evidence from the participating counties, including feedback from voters and election officials, along with the turnout percentages, suggest countywide election polling places offer a way to ensure that voters who plan to vote in the election have an increased opportunity to do so much as with early voting,” the report said.
Tom Green County became a vote center county last year and by all reports things not only went well, but voters were pleased with the new system.
“In November, according to the surveys that were completed and letters provided, the reaction was overwhelming in favor of the vote center environment,” said Vona Hudson, election administrator for the county. “There were some that were not happy that they could not use paper ballots, which by law we cannot have in vote centers. We also experienced some lines at some of the locations that made people unhappy but they were still in favor of the concept. We added a location in May and that proved to be well received. When I see voters in public, I often have feedback from them that they like vote centers.”
Hudson said that the county hasn’t seen a cost savings quite yet from the vote centers because of the need to purchase new equipment, but she is hopeful that in the long run there will be a savings.
She also noted that, at least for now, there hasn’t been a decreased need for poll workers because the new process has meant the need to have more help for voters in the polling places, but that too could change over time.
According to Hudson, the success of vote centers in Tom Green County is a team effort. From volunteers, to staff to voters to commissioner’s court, it’s taken everyone to make the centers not only successful, but also liked.
“Without everyone working together we would not have been able to get this far in the process and I hope that because of all their hard work, vote centers will one day be a permanent option in our county,” Hudson said.
While Tom Green County is already in the program, Potter County is currently completing the application process to become one of the pilot counties. While a 2013 Vote Center Committee didn’t back the idea, at the urging of new Election Administrator Melynn Huntley, the county is now ready to move forward.
“As I learned how precinct-based voting worked, I saw nothing by advantages for our county in becoming a Vote Center County [VCC],” Huntley said. “Call it naivety or perpetual optimism, but vote centers made sense to me. So earlier this year, I asked the [vote center committee] to look at the idea again.”
Huntley called on officials from other counties using vote centers to help with a presentation to county officials and she said that really helped change the minds of many of the decision-makers.
Alicia Phillips Pierce, communications director for the secretary of state’s office said this support from participating counties to each other and to those applying, has been key for successful rollouts..
“Working together, the counties have been able to learn from each other to make the use of countywide polling places go smoothly,” Pierce said.
Huntley is optimistic about the county’s application to be a vote center county. The county has created a vote center advisory group, held precinct meetings to get neighborhood input, used traffic studies and met with political subdivisions, political groups, minority interest groups and disability groups.
“If we are not chosen this time around, we will continue to submit,” Huntley said. “Our leadership knows that cote centers are right for Potter County voters. If we have to be patient, we will be. If we missed something in the proposal, we will work to correct it and ensure that the plan we roll out is the best it can be.”
Of course, as with any change in a lifelong process there have been bumps. Galveston County and Collin County both suffered a host of problems the first time they rolled out vote centers. But both counties remain in the pilot program and have been able to fix their initial problems.
Naysayers have cited those examples as well as concerns about the shift in politics or voter disenfranchisement as reasons for not making the shift. Huntley said she was able to allay those fears in Potter.
“By looking at the track record of counties that have been using vote centers in Texas, fears were allayed and the naysayers became supporters,” Huntley said. “In counties that have vote centers, voter turnout has remained consistent or improved slightly. And there have been no remarkable political shifts that can be tied to vote center polling.”
Still, Huntley said that a strong communications plan has been key, not only in changing the minds of the decision-makers, but also in shifting public opinion.
“We invited our local radio, television and newspaper friends to attend all meetings. They have helped educated the public and are a vital reason that we have momentum in our county for the change,” Huntley said. “If another county is looking at Vote Centers, bring the media along on the journey.”
This year, the Legislature failed to move on bills to expand the pilot program to more counties, but elections officials remain hopeful.
“I can’t speak for all the voters of Texas but from the input I receive from voters in our county, they would very much like to see continued use of this type of voting,” Hudson said.
II. Election News This Week
- The Peoria County, Illinois election commission, created by a voter initiative to combine the elections bodies of the city and county, met for the first time recently. According to Peoria Public Radio, the new group includes five commissioners, who in turn appointed City Election director Tom Bride to lead the countywide operations. First order of business for the new group is the upcoming special election to replace Rep. Aaron Schock.
- The Oregon Congressional delegation recently sent a letter to the U.S Postmaster General voicing concerns about the closure and consolidation of mail processing centers citing the impact it would have on many important deliveries including ballots in the all vote-by-mail state. “The proposal offered by the Postal Service is troubling in several ways,” U.S. Senator Ron Wyden said according to The Business Insider. “It would be felt across our state and Oregonians would endure these closures through degraded service and force them to wait longer for the delivery of crucial items….”
- Let’s be honest. Who hasn’t done something like this before? Ballots for the all-mail election in Florence, Arizona, which is being conducted for the city by Pinal County, went out two weeks ago, the only problem is, some of the envelopes didn’t contain ballots. According Pinal County spokesman Joe Pyritz, only a few voters had called to report the problem, which Pyritz blamed on a contractor. Pyritz told the Florence Reminder that the county would no longer be using that contractor.
- We’ll file this under “things that make you go ‘oh good grief’…” According to a report from McClatchy News Service, among the books found in Osama bin Laden’s compound when U.S. Navy Seals raided it was a copy of Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century by Bev Harris.
- Three cheers to Plymouth, Massachusetts resident Barbara Widmayer, aka The Cookie Lady, who for the last several years has been baking cookies—chocolate chip and oatmeal—for the poll workers at her polling place. “They care enough for us, to do this,” Widmayer told Wicked Local Plymouth of the poll workers. “So I am proud to care enough for them, to make a few cookies.”
- A hearty congratulations to the Hillsborough County, Florida supervisor of elections office that was the first elections office in the state to receive the governor’s Sterling Award. The award is presented to organizations for excelling in performance excellence. “Our vision is to be the best place in America to vote. And today, as the first Supervisor of Elections to earn the Governor’s Sterling Award, we received recognition that shows we’re working toward our vision in a meaningful way,” said Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer.
- We simply could not pass up posting this tidbit from Brewster, Massachusetts. According to The Boston Globe, shortly before polls closed there on Tuesday, elections officials took to Twitter and Facebook to try and figure out who left their teeth in a polling place and attempt to reunite chompers and owner. Through the power of social media, the teeth and their owner were reunited.
- Personnel News: Anita Cotteris the new Springfield, Missouri clerk. She replaces Brenda Cirtin who is retiring in August after 23 years on the job. Botetourt County, Virginia Registrar Phyliss Booz may soon be out of a job. The county electoral board did not vote to reappoint her nor did they vote to fire her. Instead the board voted to begin accepting applications for the position Booz has held for more than a decade. According to the Roanoke Times, Booz is welcome to apply for her job. The Hawaii Elections Commission voted 6 to 3 to keep Scott Nago as the chief election officer. Christine Giordano Hanlon has been confirmed at the Monmouth Counuty, New Jersey clerk. Richard Coolidge, spokesperson for the Colorado secretary of state’s office is leaving this week to take a position a government relations firm. Incumbent Kentucky Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes won the Democratic primary for her seat on Tuesday. She will face Republican Stephen L. Knipper, a health care executive. Ken Raymond and Stuart Russell have been recommended to serve on the Forsyth County, North Carolina BOE. Suzy Young has been dismissed as the Brown County, Texas election administrator. Diane Noonan is the new director of elections in Butler County, Ohio.
III. Legislative Updates
California: AB 363 has received unanimous approval from the Assembly Elections Committee. Under the proposed bill, elections officials will be allowed to begin retrieving ballots from polling places on election day before the polls have closed. Assemblyman Marc Steinorth, the bill’s sponsor, argues that the legislation will allow geographically large counties more time to get ballots to central polling locations and allow officials to begin releasing results faster once the polls have closed.
The Senate has approved SB 505 that would ensure that California’s Voter Bill of Rights and other election materials are provided to voters in plain, accessible and easily understandable language. The bill provides the secretary of state with the authority to revise election material wording and implement plain language techniques that are easy to understand and free from technical terms.
Florida: Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation into law that will move the Sunshine State to online voter registration by 2017. In his signing letter Scott cited some hesitations about signing the bill including implementation and security but said that he ultimately was confident the secretary of state’s office and Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles could get the system up and running.
Illinois: House Bill 1452 would require that election information be printed in a foreign language if a precinct has at least 10 percent of its people speaking that language and who have been identified as having limited proficiency in English. This legislation would differ from Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act because it would be precinct to precinct whereas Section 203 covers entire jurisdictions, not just one precinct in a jurisdiction.
Democratic Senators Andy Manar and Daniel Biss have filed legislation that would automatically register Illinoisians to vote whenever the update or renew a driver’s license or state ID.
Kansas: By a 63-57 vote, the House has given preliminary approval to legislation that would give the secretary of state’s off the power to prosecute alleged voter fraud. According to The Wichita Eagle, if the majority holds, the bill that has already been approved by the Senate will go to the governor’s desk.
Maryland: Still no word on when or even if Gov. Larry Hogan will sign legislation into law that would restore the voting rights of about 44,000 ex-felons. If Hogan does not sign or veto the bipartisan legislation it would automatically become law on June 1.
Michigan: After a mistake left most candidates off the Flint ballot this year, the state Legislature is considering a proposal that would extend the city’s filing deadline. The problem arose when Clerk Inez Brown gave candidates a filing deadline that was a week later than the actual deadline. The deadline cannot be extended without legislation. The full Senate approved the extension on the same day the Genesee County election commission sent the ballots to the printer without the Flint races.
Minnesota: In other ex-felon voting rights news, the push to restore them in Minnesota is on hold until at least next year after language restoring them was removed from a budget bill funding courts and public safety programs.
Nebraska: Sen. Paul Schumacher has once again introduced legislation that would require county elections offices to include a privacy sleeve with vote-by-mail ballots. Schumacher said he has heard from numerous constituents who have expressed fears about their right to a secret ballot. The Omaha World News reports that the bill is unlikely to advance again this year, although the Senate Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee has indicated it will study the proposal this summer.
Nevada: With less than two weeks remaining in the session, it seems that legislation to move Nevada’s primary to February and do away with the state’s caucus system will not move forward.
IV. Legal Updates
California: According to the Los Angeles Times, attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice have requested documents from the secretary of state’s office and Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye after accusations that the state and courts are unlawfully denying voting rights to some intellectually disabled residents.
Missouri: Secretary of State Jason Kander announced this week that his office has turned over investigative findings to Boone County law enforcement officials who have filed felony charges against four people who are accused of forging more than 1,000 signatures on a ballot initiative to put early voting on the ballot.
New Hampshire: The New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled that legislation requiring a voter to be a resident of the state and not just domiciled there is unconstitutional. In more simple terms it would require anyone wishing to register to vote to have a driver’s license from New Hampshire. In their opinion, the court noted that the language of the law is confusing and inaccurate and could potentially cause voter confusion.
New Jersey: A Superior Court judge has refused to issue an injunction for Passaic County freeholders that has sought to void a labor contract between Election Supervisor Sherine El-Abd and Local 1032. Without the injunction, the contract will remain in place as the lawsuit continues.
New York: Prosecutors in the Bronx have charged Hector Ramierz, a failed candidate for state Assembly, with voter fraud alleging that he used fake absentee ballots.
North Carolina: Former Hanover County Elections Director Marvin McFadyen has filed an unlawful termination suit in Superior Court. The suit seeks reinstatement and compensatory damages. In January the county elections board voted 2 to 1 to petition the state to be allowed to terminate McFadyen. The state board of elections granted the county’s request.
Pennsylvania: Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has filed charges against four elections officials who allegedly tampered with voting machines at one city polling place during the 2014 general election. It is alleged that the officials added six votes to one of the voting machines and that they did not live in the district where they were working.
Tennessee: A lawsuit against the state election commission and Elections Coordinator Mark Goins alleges that they are ignoring court order to restore the voting rights of former felons. Tennessee is one of 11 states that permanently disenfranchises felons unless they apply to a circuit court to have their rights reinstated.
Texas: Two losing candidates for Dallas city council seats have filed a challenge to the election in district court alleging that the results were rigged. The losing candidates are asking for access to election records, expedited hearings and a new election.
Virginia: The U.S. Department of Justice has sent a letter to officials in Augusta County telling them that they must correct access for voters with disabilities at 21 of the county’s 25 voting precincts. According to the letter, an investigation of the precincts conducted in July of 2013 found that the county is violating Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act by denying persons with disabilities access on election day. The investigation was based on a citizen complaint.
V. Tech Thursday
The Oregon Secretary of State’s office has certified ClearVote, which is a next-generation voting system from Clear Ballot. According to a release, the system pairs commercial off-the-shelf hardware with visual software.
VI. Opinions This Week
National Opinion: Electronic voting
Arizona; Cochise County
Colorado: Election schedule
District of Columbia: Instant runoff voting
Maine: Voter ID
Minnesota: Early voting
Nebraska: Ballot security
New Hampshire: Nonresident voting
New York: Voting rights
Ohio: Voting precincts
South Dakota: Voting rights
Utah: Count My Vote
Wisconsin: Voting technology
VII. Available Funding
Grants for new ERIC members
For states considering membership in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), The Pew Charitable Trusts offers the opportunity to apply for financial assistance to facilitate their participation.
Pew is offering limited financial assistance to states to help defray the expense, such as bulk mail service provider charges and postage, of the initial outreach to eligible but unregistered citizens by mail. Pew aims to maximize the effect of this funding by assisting multiple states.
Applications must be received by 5 p.m. EDT on May 31.
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.
VIII. Upcoming Events
Please email upcoming events — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Future of Voting Conference — The Future of Voting interactive presentation and workshop event has been designed to engage local and state election officials and legislators in a discussion about verifiable Internet voting. The event is part of a 4-city tour by the technical and project managers of the End-to-End Verifiable Internet Voting: Specification and Feasibility Study (E2E VIV Project). The project was funded by a grant from the Democracy Fund in support of a research-based approach to the unanswered question of whether remote absentee voting can be conducted securely online. Specifically, it was designed to examine a form of remote voting that enables a so-called “end-to-end verifiability” (E2E) property. This technology is of particular interest in the continued aim toward improved overseas, military and disabled voter solutions. When/Where: Washington, D.C. May 28; Seattle, Washington May 29; Portland, Oregon June 1; Santa Fe, New Mexico June 3. For additional information and questions, please contact Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, (202) 470 2480.
Policy & Elections Technology: A Legislative Perspective— NCSL is hosting a national meeting to bring together legislators, legislative staff, election officials, voting technology and computer security experts, legal experts, advocates, federal agency staff and other interested parties to discuss the future of elections technology. Sessions will cover voting technology 101; a report on NCSL’s Elections Technology Project; recommendations from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration; the impact of legislation on voting system design; alternative voting methods and implications for technology; testing and certifying voting systems; the use of technology for post-election audits, recounts and resolving disputes; and what is pushing change in the way ballots are cast. Where: Santa Fe, New Mexico When: June 3 – 5. Contact: Katy Owens Hubler, email@example.com, 303-856-1656. For more information and to register, click here.
Maryland Association of Election Officials Annual Conference— The Maryland Association of Election Officials will hold its annual conference and meeting in Ocean City this year. The agenda is filled with presentations from the State Board on the new elections system, MAEO’s annual membership meeting and lots of opportunities to mingle and network. When: June 9-12. Where: Ocean City, Maryland. For more information and to register, click here.
NASED Summer Meeting— The National Association of State Election Directors will hold it’s 2015 summer meeting in Cleveland, Ohio this year. Registration will open soon. Where: Cleveland, Ohio. When: June 23-25. For more information and to register, click here.
IACREOT Annual Conference — The International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Elections Officials and Treasurers will hold its annual conference in Vail, Colorado this year in June and July. Planning is still in the early stages, but be sure to mark your calendar. Where: Vail, Colorado. When: June 27-July 2. For more information and to register, click here.
Continuing Legal Education — Need CLE? Late breaking news!With support from the Bipartisan Policy Center, IACREOT is developing 7 hours of continuing legal education (CLE) on Saturday, June 27 in conjunction with the IACREOT annual conference in Vail, CO. In addition to 2 hours of ethics, the CLE will include an overview of federal election law, and also cover current hot topics in voter access and voting integrity, legal implications regarding the 2014 Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) report, and ballot access. While the current schedule and faculty is not yet final, confirmed speakers include nationally renowned ethics expert, Tom Spahn, EAC Commissioners McCormick and Masterson, John Fortier and Don Palmer from the Bipartisan Policy Center, Doug Chapin of Election Academy blog, Wendy Underhill from NCSL, Colorado SOS Wayne Williams, and IACREOT’s long time General Counsel, Tony Sirvello. While IACREOT members will get a discount, the CLE is open to non-IACREOT members, as well, so please share this with the lawyer(s) who work in or support your office so they can be better prepared to legally assist you. Where: Aspen, Colorado. When: June 27. Registration: Separate registration is required; the form and further information is on the IACREOT conference website.
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.
IX. 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 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.
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.
Summer Internships, Democracy Fund, Washington, D.C. — Democracy Fund is seeking bright, enthusiastic interns to work with us this summer. Interns will gain first-hand knowledge on how creative philanthropy can work to improve our democracy. Interns may be responsible for a variety of tasks, including: Producing original research on issues related to elections, local journalism, campaign finance, Congressional reform, and media policy; participating in grantee meetings, policy briefings, Congressional hearings, and other events; supporting research and diligence about new grantee candidates; compiling press clips, writing blog posts, and creating content for the Democracy Fund’s social media account; helping to organize internal and external events; completing and presenting a self-directed project aligned with the goals of the Democracy Fund; working to support the administrative needs of the team with editing, scheduling support, photocopying or other relevant administrative tasks and functions; and assist in preparation and copying, packing, and mailing meeting materials. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
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