May 31, 2012

I. In Focus This Week

California elections officials prepare for first top-two primary
New format, redistricting, new language requirements bring questions

By M. Mindy Moretti

Every election cycle brings changes to the process, some big, some small, but always changes.

This year was no different for elections officials in California where multiple counties are encountering new bilingual requirements, all counties faced redistricting and the increasing popularity of vote-by-mail.

Also in California this year for the first time is the implementation of a top-two primary system enacted by voters as Proposition 14 in 2010, which while it definitely involved some technical changes for staff, more than anything created a whole new learning curve for voters.

“Our office sought to educate as many voters as possible about the new primary process and developed our Prop 14 Speakers Bureau to specifically address voter education,” explained Neal Kelley, registrar of voters in Orange County.

“We provided training and materials that offered an in-depth look at Proposition 14 and encouraged training attendees to present that information to various organizations countywide. “

Attendees received detailed powerpoints developed by registrar of voters staff, supplementary notes and in-person training on multiple dates. The website was also updated with a Prop 14 based FAQ page, and a general overview of the Top Two Primary process. The registrar and staff attend hundreds of community events within the county to provide voter education, which includes providing information about Proposition 14 and changes to the primary process.

“Through these types of events, we are able to make contact with hundreds of thousands of voters,” Kelley said.

In Santa Clara County, the registrar of voters formed a Top 2 Task Force led by the ballot layout manager. The task force reviewed laws as they went through legislative and procedural changes and looked at documentation as it was created from the secretary of state’s office.

For Rita Woodard in Tulare County, it’s been an all-out media blitz to let the public know about the new process.

“I have been interviewed by local radio stations. We have issued a letter to the editor and released it to all local media contacts.  There have been several pieces written about the Top 2 in the local media,” Woodard said.

In addition to voter outreach, counties have also had to retrain staff and poll workers in the process so they can in turn help voters who may have questions.

“Most of our questions have been about the top two primary.  For some reason voters seemed to think they would be allowed to vote for two candidates instead of one,” explained Susan Ranochak, Mendocino County assessor-clerk-recorder. “They also thought that the top two primary would apply to the presidential primary race. They were surprised when they were not given the opportunity to vote for all candidates seeking the nomination of president.”

Bilingual Voter Information
Several counties throughout California were added to the list of jurisdictions covered by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act.

Sacramento County is required to provide voting information in Chinese for the first time — it was already providing ballots in Spanish.

“We formed a community advisory board that has been great to work with.  We met with them every other week in the beginning and they helped us with the right newspapers ads, the right outreach events and the best ways to use our resources,” explained Jill LaVine, Sacramento County registrar of voters. “They even reviewed all our translations.”

Part of the work on the new bilingual information included a new contract for language translation, new Chinese-speaking staff, translating the voter website, recruiting Chinese-speaking poll workers and offering the staff a class in Chinese etiquette.

“While working with the Chinese community has been great – more Outreach is needed with those that don’t speak Chinese and want to know why it is on their ballot,” LaVine explained. “We put all three languages on the ballots, this was confusing for many voters that could not find the ‘English’.” 

As Sacramento County was relying on a community advisory board, counties in the Bay Area had a little help from their neighbors to prepare for new language requirements.

While the languages Santa Clara County is mandated to provide did not increase, a few neighboring counties did have new language requirements. 

“Santa Clara County assisted counties by sharing knowledge, glossaries, practices, and in providing last-minute translations for ballot instructions. ROV ensured that all new top-two educational materials were in all languages and distributed through our staff and community based organizations,” explained Barry Garner, registrar of voters.

Even with the U.S. Postal Service struggling to stay afloat, more and more voters are turning to vote-by-mail as their choice to cast a ballot. In many California counties more than half of the voters use the mailbox instead of the ballot box.

Although registrars have said this can ease the election-day load, the increased popularity of vote-by-mail isn’t without issues that impact the elections office.

“Over 60 percent of the voters in Marin are voting by mail for this election,” explained Elaine Ginnold, registrar of voters for Marin County. “The impact is that we are running two elections because we still have to prepare all of the supplies and equipment for the polling places.  The law limits the number of voters we can assign to each polling place.  The other issue for us is that our ballot counting equipment is old and slow so it takes days to count the VBM ballots.”

Elections officials across the country have had to deal with the complications from redistricting and those in California are no different.

“Redistricting was and still is a big job in the county.  Once the redistricting was done for the county, new precinct lines had to be created moving many voters to new precincts and voting locations,” explained Kent Christensen, Merced County assessor-clerk-recorder/registrar of voters. “Additional precincts were added which means additional polling places needed to be found.”

In Sacramento County, LaVine said redistricting has caused an expected number of problems with voters not being able to find their candidate that they have always voted for. She noted that many voters are writing in their choice thinking registrar’s office made an error.

“With all these changes our phones are busier than ever,” LaVine said. “When a voter calls and says we gave them a wrong ballot, each call must be researched to make sure we have given them the correct ballot.”

The additional cost of implementing these changes has ranged from nominal to thousands of extra dollars.

In addition to extra staff time for training, the largest cost for many counties has come from printing larger ballots to accommodate the “plain-English” instructions for voters for the top-two primary and the bilingual ballots in other counties.

“A second factor affecting the primary is the economy and consequent budgetary restrictions the department is under,” Kelley said. “Staffing, equipment, and voting materials must all be considered as we join others in ‘tightening our belt’ while still conducting a successful election.”

II. Election News This Week

  • This week, six Democratic members of Congress called on Fla. Gov. Rick Scott to suspend the state’s current voter purge. According to the Associated Press, the members of Congress send a letter to Scott questioning the time and the accuracy of the effort to purge voters identified as non-citizens.
  • On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit with the Minnesota Supreme Court to keep a proposed constitutional voter ID amendment off the November ballot. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune the petition claims the wording of the ballot question is misleading and unclear. Supporters say the language is as straightforward as possible, considering it boils a complicated piece of legislation down to a single sentence.
  • Pending a signature from Gov. Bobby Jindal, voting hours in Louisiana will shorten by an hour for Saturday elections beginning in 2013. The legislation is supported by Secretary of State Tom Schedler. Currently polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. some of the longest polling hours in the country.
  • Maryland is currently working on an online ballot-marking tool that could be used by all absentee voters, now just military and overseas voters. State Sen. Edward Kasemeyer has requested an opinion from the state’s attorney general whether or not the elections board should see federal and state certification for the tool.
  • Elections officials in Wisconsin had to remind voters that it’s illegal to post photos of their ballots to Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media this week after several party leaders posted photos of their recall ballots online.
  • Personnel News: After serving as deputy registrar for a number of years, Robert McDowell has stepped into the role of acting Democratic registrar of voters in Kent, Conn. Also in Connecticut, longtime Registrar of Voters Rose Scarpa was not voted to the November ballot in Millford so her tenure will end in January. Florida State Rep. Rich Glorioso is stepping down from his position in the statehouse to join the race for the Hillsborough County supervisor of elections. Vicki Davis, Martin County supervisor of elections was recently sworn in as the new president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections. Longtime Cambria County, Pa. Elections Director Fred R. Smith is retiring June 12. Smith first joined the elections office in 1977 as an assistant election supervisor and was promoted to director in 1981. Arapahoe County, Colo. Clerk and Recorder Nancy Doty is running for a seat on the county commission in the June 26 primary.

III. Opinions

National News: Voter Empowerment Act

Alaska: Anchorage clerk

Arizona: Election lawsuit

California: Primary election, II; Poll workers

Colorado: Voter registration; Colorado Springs clerk; Ballot bill

Florida: Voter purge, II, III, IV, V; Voting rights

Iowa: Johnson County, II, III

Michigan: Election reform legislation, II; Polling places;

New Hampshire: Voter fraud

Ohio: Election reform

Oregon: Primary system

Pennsylvania: Voter ID, II

South Carolina: Election commission

South Dakota: Secretary of state

Texas: Voter ID, II; Polling places, II

Virginia: Voting rights; Voter ID; Voting rights

Washington: Voter access

Wisconsin: Voter fraud

**Some sites may require registration.

IV. 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 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.

Communications Manager, Election Initiatives, Pew Center on the States, Washington, D.C. – position offers a unique opportunity for an individual to contribute to exciting, high-profile initiatives. This position, based in Pew’s Washington, D.C. office, reports to the Pew Center on the States’ Senior Officer, Communications and is part of the staff of Pew’s communications department. The communications manager is responsible for developing and executing a comprehensive and robust communications program to increase the visibility and impact of Pew’s experts, research, initiatives and events with target audiences. This position will also work with other communications colleagues to plan and execute integrated strategies, campaigns and outreach and other duties as assigned. Requirements: Bachelor’s degree required including skills associated with completion of an undergraduate degree program in communications, journalism or related major, such as an understanding of media operations, news organizations and new media technologies. Graduate degree in public affairs, public policy or journalism desirable; at least eight years of direct experience in position with communications/PR responsibilities, with considerable experience as a media relations professional – knowledge of pitching, media strategies – required. Experience in public policy preferred; superior oral and written communications skills. Proven experience drafting media materials and other public documents including press releases, fact sheets, speeches and op-eds; ability to synthesize and summarize large amounts of information and to focus quickly on the essence of an issue, as well as to identify, understand and address different policy perspectives. Confident in presenting one’s own ideas and diplomatically persuading others as appropriate; and strong interest and/or experience in state policy required. For the complete job posting and information on how to apply, click here