I. In Focus This Week
‘By the way, we have to do something about that’
Experts weigh in on the lines and possible fixes
The big story coming out of Election Day 2012 wasn’t necessarily what many of us predicted in the lead-up to November 6.
What became the major story of Election Day 2012 — administratively speaking — were the hours long wait many voters were faced with in order to cast their ballots in some areas across the country.
In the 20-odd days since Americans went to the polls, fingers have been pointed, legislation has been introduced and task forces and panels have been convened to determine what caused the lines and ultimately how to fix them.
But was this really a problem or just something that we now noticed because of the hyper-connected society we live in. Was 2012 any worse than 2008? And if so, why?
“It is certainly a problem which needs to be fixed,” said Richard Hasen, Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine and creator of the Election Law Blog. “My sense is that things were worse in 2012 compared to 2008, but even if they were not, it is intolerable that voters need to wait two, three, six hours or more to be able to case an in-person ballot on Election Day.”
But what is tolerable?
Edward B. Foley, Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer Professor for the Administration of Justice and the Rule of Law at The Ohio State University’s Moritiz College of Law said there have to be some reasonable expectations about wait times to cast ballots, but just what is reasonable?
“In a presidential election, I think the average voter on Election Day expects that there may be the possibility that they are going to have to wait to cast a ballot,” Foley said. “But from my view, I’d like to keep that to an hour. I start to worry if people are in lines longer than an hour.”
But in many areas people did have to wait for more than an hour and since Election Day several states and counties have created panels and task forces to look into what exactly happened to cause the long lines.
According to Doug Lewis, executive director of the Election Center, what caused the lines can vary from county to county, state to state and even polling place to polling place.
“You’ve got lots of causes for long lines and rarely are the situations identical from location to location,” Lewis said. “But there are some constants that will slow down the process.”
Lewis said that things like provisional ballots, ballots with multiple and wordy measures, shortened early voting periods and not enough voting machines — caused by a lack of funding to purchase new or fix machines — were some of the common, and fixable, problems that caused the lines on Election Day.
But one of the overarching problems and one that there is no easy fix for is the law of averages.
“Voters don’t show up in averages,” Lewis said. “Some of these things we can do better jobs at, but if we get to the point where elections officials are only allowed to buy equipment for and prepare based on averages, we’re always going to have problems.”
According to Hasen, given our decentralized system of election administration, any true fix will have to come from the state and local level.
“I would like to see a federal response, most likely in the form of carrots and sticks from Congress to induce states and localities to take steps to fix the line problem,” he said.
Hasen said given the president’s call to “fix that” he hopes it will lead to some serious bipartisan attempts, but noted the difficulty in getting movement from Congress in this area.
However, some members of Congress didn’t seem to want to wait for a commission. As of press time, two pieces of legislation have been introduced at the federal level designed help ease the crowding at polling places on Election Day.
Delaware Senator Chris Coons (D) was first out of the box when he introduced legislation on Nov. 15. The Louis L. Redding Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act of 2012 would essentially create a grant program to reward states that “aggressively pursue election reform.”
“Too many voters waited far too long to cast their ballots in this last election,” Coons said in a statement. “Long lines are a form of voter disenfranchisement, a polling place running out of ballots is a form of voter suppression, and making it harder for citizens to vote is a violation of voters’ civil rights. The FAST Voting Act is a creative way to jumpstart states’ election reform efforts and ensure that what happened last week doesn’t happen again.”
Coons said the granting program is modeled after the “Race to the Top” program for education.
Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) introduced the House version of the FAST Voting Act.
“We faced long lines at a number of polling places in Virginia. That is unacceptable,” Connolly said in a statement. “Virginia and many other states can do better. This legislation is designed to jumpstart election reform and provide states with the tools to make their elections more efficient and more accessible to all voters.”
Congressman George Miller (D-Calif.) also introduced federal legislation with the focus on early voting and sufficient resources.
Miller’s legislation, The Streamlining and Improving Methods at Polling Locations and Early (SIMPLE) Voting Act, would, among other things, require all states to provide a minimum of 15 days of early voting in federal elections, require states to ensure the resources are available to keep wait times to an hour or less, and require states to have contingency plans should lines appear.
“What we’re proposing here is a very simple solution. We’re saying give voters in every state the opportunity to vote early so that they won’t be left out on account of a last minute illness, a change in work schedules, or unavoidable emergencies, and make sure that there are enough resources on Election Day so that voters casting their ballots in person are not forced to choose between waiting hours to vote or not voting at all,” Miller said in a statement.
Even if it is FAST and SIMPLE, of course the last thing most people want to hear, even local governments is “We’re from the government and we’re hear to help you.”
Lewis said that federal legislation is not necessary and that state legislatures are better equipped to determine what procedures will suit their voters than the federal government.
“These simple and fast solutions are not plausible and wrong,” Lewis said. “You have to understand the root causes.”
Lewis said that to really fix the problem is going to take a lot of money and require the elections administration field to look closely in the mirror.
Foley, who said he was less interested in assigning blame and more interested in looking forward, added that some of the issues can be handled by law, but like Lewis, believes real fixes are going to require money and some internal soul-searching by the elections field.
“I think for the most part we can get to the point where we can do this,” Lewis said. “We’re going to look for solutions and rational solutions.”
Editor’s Note: In an upcoming edition, we’ll speak with local election officials to get their take on what caused the lines and what they would like to see happen to help alleviate them.
II. Election News This Week
- New Jersey’s use of email and fax voting in the wake of Superstorm Sandy drew mixed reactions and now the Constitutional Litigation Clinic at the Rutgers School of Law is questioning whether those ballots were properly counted. According to The Associated Press, the group requested records from the state and all 21 counties about how ballots were handled. Specifically, the group wants to know the details of procedures for processing applications and counting fax and email ballots. They also requested to see copies of the ballots.
- Following a slew of negative comments and media attention, Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz relaxed two administrative rules this week that had drawn fire from civil libertarians and immigrants rights groups. According to the Des Moines Register, the changes do away with a written complaint form and extended period in which voters whose eligibility had been challenged may contest the complaints against them. “The tremendous amount of public attention and input has been helpful in fine-tuning the original administrative rules filed this summer,” Schultz told the paper.
- After several years of being the last of California’s 58 counties to complete the vote, this year Riverside County was the 10th fastest. With a 71 percent turnout, about 55 percent cast their ballots by mail making this the first time more than half of the county voters cast their ballots by mail.
- Clerks in Idaho are once again hoping for a legislative change so that voters who cast their ballots early don’t have to use two envelopes. State law requires that absentee ballots must have two envelopes. An effort to change the law failed in the state legislature in 2012. Clerks complain that not only is the process confusing and cumbersome for voters, but also elections workers spend hours of additional time removing the ballots from the two envelopes. The double envelope process also costs additional money. The secretary of state’s office has said it will once again introduce legislation to stop the practice.
- Following a tumultuous primary and general election, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced this week that his administration is going to propose all-mail voting for The Aloha State. Abercrombie said that he will have a bill ready to submit in January when the legislature is back in session. “ It’s a sensible cost-effective, tried and true way of doing things,” Abercrombie told KHON. “It’s not brand new to us. We certain can look to other jurisdictions as to how to make that as efficient as possible.” In related news, although there had been talk about firing Elections Chief Scott Nago, the state elections commission instead created a subcommittee that will investigate the ballot shortage that occurred on Oahu on Election Day.
- In other vote-by-mail news, the city of Morgantown, W.V. voted 4 to 3 to drop the city’s vote-by-mail program at a meeting last week. According to WBOY, most of the citizens at the meeting expressed concerns about voter influence, integrity and fraud as their reasons for opposing the program.
- Personnel News: Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s Director of Elections Jane Platten is resigning effective December 14. Since her appointment to the position in 2007, Platten has been credited with turning around a jurisdiction plagued with election problems. “I did what we set out to do, which was improve the election administration in Cuyahoga County and improve the culture at the Board of Elections, and we’ve done that, and it’s time for a new challenge,” she told The Plain Dealer. In other big personnel news, Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade submitted a letter of resignation to Gov. Rick Perry, effective November 23. According to The Houston Chronicle, Andrade’s resignation follows controversy over an effort overseen by her office to remove dead voters from the rolls ahead of the presidential election. Andrade was the first Latina to serve as Texas secretary of state. Following his election on Nov. 6, Litchfield, Conn. Democratic Registrar of Voters, Robert Blazek, resigned on Nov. 8 citing the amount of duties required by the job. With new leadership in the Hawaii County council, a new clerk will take over the elections process on the Big Island. The new council chair has nominated Stewart Maeda, a 17-year employee of the Department of Human Services to replace Jamae Kawauchi who came under fire for her handling of the county’s elections and had the state take over the process for the Nov. 6 election. In other Hawaii personnel news, Lori Tomczyk, section chief for ballot operations for Hawaii is resigning at the request of Chief Election Officer Scott Nago after 24 polling places on Oahu ran out of ballots on Election Day. Tomczyk had been with the elections division since 2000. Nat Robinson, election administrator for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board is leaving the position he’s held since 2008. GAB Director Kevin Kennedy praised Robinson for customer service and staff, but said in a memo, “I believe it is time for a change in leadership in the Elections Division…” Kristen Stavisky has been appointed to the Rockland County, N.Y. board of elections.
National News: Voting Rights Act, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X; Counting votes, II; Voting lines; Absentee voting; Voter fraud, II; Voting system, II; 2012 Election; Polling places; Voter ID; Election reform, II
Florida: Early voting, II; Recounts, II; Vote tallies, II; Voting system, II; Lee County; Indian River County; Voter confidence; Voting problems; Election reform, II, III, IV; Ballot questions; Palm Beach County; Broward County
Maryland: Voter determination
Mississippi: Voter ID
Missouri: Polling place
Nebraska: Early voting
Nevada: Voter ID
New Hampshire: Recounts
New Mexico: Ballot counting
Washington: Sam Reed
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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 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.