I. In Focus This Week
Note: Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, electionlineweekly will not publish on Thursday November 22. We will return on Thursday November 29. Enjoy your holiday.
Ten Things I Learned On (and Around) Election Day 2012
By Doug Chapin
With apologies to David Letterman, here are 10 things I picked up shortly before, during, and after Election Day:
1. At its simplest, election administration is a throughput business. We spend lots of time in our world discussing issues of equity, transparency, security and accuracy in elections, but on Election Day it’s all about turning voters into votes. Long lines in many communities across the country had a variety of causes – late openings, machine breakdowns/shortages. l-e-n-g-t-h-y ballots, etc. – but the effect in each place was the same: a reduction in throughput that resulted in lines that grew at the back faster than they shortened at the front.
2. Video of a malfunctioning voting machine is guaranteed to go viral. On Election Day, nothing – not even an adorable little girl weeping her frustration with the presidential campaign – can compete with a video of a voting machine that won’t honor a voter’s choice. The video by YouTube user centralpavote was shared liberally on Election Day. I lost count of how many times the video (which I think was of just one machine in Pennsylvania) was re-Tweeted or shared with me on Election Day.
3. Voters and experts don’t necessarily agree about voting machines. Voting technology experts are almost unanimous in their disdain for touchscreen (DRE) voting machines – and yet in my precinct (and many others) voters were willing to wait in line to use such machines even though paper ballots (which experts prefer) were available right away. I’m guessing that both voters and the experts should listen a little more closely to one another.
4. The words “may” and “could” are overplayed before and during Election Day. By midday on Election Day, the overwhelming number of conditional catastrophe headlines – where one or more election problems “may” or “could” lead to chaos, controversy, Constitutional crisis or all of the above – was making me a little nuts. There are always things that can go wrong, but the hyperventilating got very old by November 6.
5. When in doubt, don’t irritate a federal judge. Lost in the various controversies across the nation is the increasingly contentious relationship between Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and U.S. District Judges Peter Economus and Algenon Marbley. First on early voting and now on provisional ballots, Husted’s (non)responses to the two judges drew sharp reactions. Husted and his lawyers may be confident they’ll prevail on appeal, but if they’re wrong their next visit to either courtroom has the potential to be even more uncomfortable than the usual “day in court”.
6. Poll worker problems aren’t caused by what they know – but what they think they know. The reports of poll workers requesting ID despite the absence of laws requiring it in places like Pennsylvania, Texas and California are a continuing reminder that the biggest obstacle to successful poll work isn’t ignorance but misguided confidence; in other words, the trick isn’t so much learning new material but un-learning the old.
7. Poll watchers can’t cause problems if they never show up. The pre-election coverage (see #4 above) focused heavily on the prospect of poll watchers from organizations like True the Vote creating problems on Election Day. Those fears may have been overblown, but we’ll never know for sure since (like challengers in Ohio in 2004) those challengers stayed away in droves.
8. Voters don’t like lines, but they’ll stand in them anyway. Experts, advocates – and even the president – commented on the unacceptability of long Election Day lines, but the fact is that voters were willing to stand in them. Indeed, it’s important to note that in many ways voters are the most durable part of the American election system. While I fully agree that we need to do what we can to keep lines manageable, we should do so because voters shouldn’t have to stand in excessive lines – not because they won’t (because they will).
9. Partisan control of secretary of state offices is something else that didn’t change in 2012. One of the jokes you saw time and again after Election Day was that despite the billions spent on the election, precisely nothing had changed – at least not at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Interestingly enough, the same principle held in the states, where all three incumbent Democratic Secretaries (Oregon’s Kate Brown, Montana’s Linda McCulloch and West Virginia’s Natalie Tennant) were all re-elected while control remained unchanged in Missouri and Washington with the election of Jason Kander (D) and Kim Wyman (R), respectively. This could mean that despite the debate of the last two years, neither side has gained much ground on election policy.
10. You never know. A car crashed into a polling place. A spider web delayed tabulation of ballots. A woman voted while in active labor and another passed out in line. A man – literally – came back from the dead to make sure he’d cast his ballot. All of this is what makes elections so much fun for me – and validates my belief in Andujar’s Law, named for MLB pitcher Joaquin Andujar, who once said “There is one word in America that says it all, and that one word is, ‘You never know’.”
II. Election News This Week
- The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider eliminating the 1965 Voting Rights Act in a case brought forward by Shelby County, Ala. The court last considered the VRA in 2009, but did not act. According to the Associated Press, Shelby County’s case argues that state and local governments covered by Act have made significant progress and should no longer be forced to comply with oversight from the federal government. In choosing to hear the case, the court said it would examine whether formula under which states are covered is outdated. The AP said the case will most likely be argued in February or March with a decision to come by late June 2013.
- After experiencing web problems on Election Day, the Chicago Board of Elections website was down once again this week, although the site was down because the BOE shut it down after it was revealed that sensitive information of more than one thousand people who had applied to work on Election Day was easily available online. A computer security firm — Forensicon — said the security lapse left 1.7 million people vulnerable, but the city countered that it was only 1,200.
- KanVote, a voting advocacy group, is calling for the resignation of Secretary of State Kris Kobach saying that the partisan, out-of-state work he has done on immigration left him “out of touch” and led to problems on Election Day. This is not the first time that Kobach has been challenged. In October, activists filed a recall petition for Kobach.
- The New Mexico attorney general’s office has initiated an investigation into voting problems in Rio Rancho on Election Day. In a statement announcing the investigation, AG Gary King said the long lines on Election Day were a “debacle” and a “near meltdown of voting procedures.”
- With paper ballots still being counted, the attorney general for the U.S. Virgin Islands announced that he would be investigating allegations of improprieties on and leading up to Election Day. Some of the alleged improprieties include St. Thomas-St. John not certifying voting machines until about 12 hours before the polls opened and on St. Croix, public access was “severely restricted” to the room where votes were being counted.
- Eight days later and following several court rulings, the results finally arrived in Richland County, S.C. around 11:15 p.m. Wednesday night. According to The State, although the results are now in — and scheduled to be certified by 8 a.m. Friday — it is still unclear what exactly caused the Election Day chaos that saw voters waiting in line for hours and the county unable to count votes when the polls finally did close.
- Personnel News: Charlie Smithson has joined the Iowa secretary of state’s office as the office’s legal counsel. Smithson previously served as the Iowa House’s chief clerk and executive director of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. Linda Dowdy Martin won a write-in vote to serve on the Pontotoc, Miss. election commission. Elaine Carr, Macon-Bibb County elections supervisor plans to retire at the end of the year. Carr has been with the board of elections for 26 years and the elections supervisor for 12. She was will be succeeded by current Elections Secretary Jeanetta Watson. Diana Bradick has joined the Whatcom County, Wash. auditor’s office as chief deputy auditor. Bradick started work on Oct. 8 and will oversee the day-to-day operations of the office.
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.
The Top Two Primary in Action: Washington State, 2008-2012 – Drew Spencer, FairVote, October 2012: This report examines the effect of the top two primary system now in use in Washington. Instead of partisan primaries, the state now has an open preliminary election where candidates run against each other irrespective of party label. The two candidates who get the most votes then run against each other in the general election. The report analyzes the impact on voter choice, the role of “spoiler” candidates in the preliminary round, and turnout in both the preliminary and general elections.
National News: Voting system, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV; Lines; Early voting; Informed voters; Local election officials; Voting machines; Absentee voting; Voting Rights Act, II, III; Voter ID
Alabama: Voting Rights Act
Arkansas: Voter ID
Connecticut: Changes at polls;
Iowa: Voting hours
Kansas: Kris Kobach
Massachusetts: Election process
Missouri: Early voting
Nevada: Voter citizenship
Tennessee: Rutherford County
West Virginia: Marshall County
**Some sites may require registration.
V. 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.
Administrator, Elections Division Government Accountability Board, Madison, Wis. —position will function as an integral part of the management team for the Board. Under the general policy direction of the G.A.B. and the direction of the Director and General Counsel, responsibilities include providing the administrative leadership and support necessary to enable the Board to carry out its statutory functions with respect to the administration and enforcement of elections. Provide administrative leadership and support to the Board in such areas as rule development; drafting and review of proposed legislation; data collection, analysis and dissemination; identification of problems which may require investigation or interpretation; preparation of special reports; and preparation for Board meetings. Supervise and manage staff who provide election-related training, statewide voter registration, ballot access, certification of election results, voting equipment, disability access and division finances and operations. Special Notes: Wisconsin statutes prohibit individuals who have been a lobbyist or any individual who may have served in a partisan state or local office from being appointed to this position. No individual who serves as an employee of the G.A.B. for 12 months prior to becoming so employed, may have made a contribution, as defined in Wis. Stat. §11.01 (6), to a candidate for a partisan state or local office. Wisconsin law requires employees of the G.A.B. to be nonpartisan. The G.A.B. has adopted a policy of not hiring anyone who has signed a recall petition for a state officeholder in 2011 or 2012. Salary: $85,000 to $110,000. Application: To apply submit an Application for State Employment Form which is available online, a letter of interest and a detailed resume providing information on your relevant education, training and experience. Application materials should be submitted to: Terry Wm. Kraus; Human Resources Specialist – Senior; Department of Administration; 101 E Wilson St, 9th Floor, Box 7869, Madison WI 53707-7869, FAX (608) 264-7648, or e-mail: email@example.com. For more information, click here. Deadline: 4:30pm November 30.
Registration and Elections Director, Fulton County, Ga.— incumbent in this class performs duties related to directing the overall activities of the Department of Registration and Elections. Responsibilities include overseeing elections administration, voter registration, absentee balloting, voter education and outreach, and support services and establishing the department’s mission, vision, goals, and objectives. Directs overall functions and activities of the Department of Registration and Elections, including elections administration, absentee balloting, voter registration, voter education and outreach, and support services. Manages assigned staff, including establishing workloads; prioritizing work assignments; evaluating employee performance; developing, interpreting, and enforcing policies and procedures; resolving staff issues; making hiring or termination decisions/ recommendations; and administering disciplinary action as required. Oversees departmental planning, budgeting, staffing, and the accomplishment of established goals and objectives. Serves as Supervisor of Elections and Chief Administrative Officer for the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections, including ensuring implementation of Board policies, scheduling meetings, and preparing agendas. Qualifications: Bachelor’s Degree in business or public administration, political science, organizational development, project management, social science or related field. Seven (7) years of progressively responsible management experience in government administration, business administration or a legal field including three (3) years of experience managing various voter registration and election and elections activities and five (5) years of supervisory experience. Valid State of Georgia license required. Salary: $93,489-$151,455. Application: Online application available at the county’s website, and completed Fulton County application forms will be accepted at the County Personnel Dept., 141 Pryor St., Suite 3030, Atlanta, Ga., 30303. Deadline: November 21, 2012.