October 11, 2012

I. In Focus This Week

Elections officials aren’t the only ones prepping for Nov. 6
National and local media outlets making coverage plans

By M. Mindy Moretti

While the 2002 and 2004 elections were certainly watched following the issues in Florida in 2000 and the implementation of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 this year could prove to be under the microscope more than any in the past.

Not only will all eyes being the administration of elections this year because of the multitude of new laws and regulations governing how voters cast their ballots, but also because anyone on social media becomes a de facto “reporter.”

With a little more than a month to go till Election Day 2012, elections officials and campaigns are hard at working making sure everyone is properly registered and that those who want a ballot will get a ballot.

But they aren’t alone. In newsrooms across the country editors and reporters are plotting their November 6 course of action as well. Even for those of us who cover elections 24/7/365 there is planning to be done.

Pam Fessler with National Public Radio who has been covering elections for several cycles will be based in NPR’s Election Night headquarters in D.C. monitoring reports from around the country.

“As always, I will be looking out for last-minute shenanigans – deceptive phone calls and other “dirty tricks” employed to influence whether voters do or don’t show up at the polls,” Fessler said. “ I will also be looking for how smoothly things are going throughout the day, and what, if any, concerns are raised.”

Fessler said that she finds warnings about huge election-day disasters seldom come to pass, but that there is always something that pops up that no one expected.

“Our elections are so closely watched these days by so many groups, that it’s hard for anything to go wrong without it being reported,” Fessler said. “My job will be to try to sort fact from fiction, and to put it in perspective.”

In Florida, Steve Bousquet, Tallahassee bureau chief for the Tampa Bay Times, has been covering politics and elections in the Sunshine State for more than a dozen years.

While Bousquet will be out and about on November 6, he’s currently focusing a lot of his attention to the run-up to Election Day.

“What I’m looking for is how well Florida conducts its absentee and early voting team because of all the legal changes and new schedule,” Bousquet said.

Other things Bousquet will be keeping an eye on during early voting and on Election Day are is expanded use of provisional ballots, long lines generated by a particularly long ballot, ballot drop-off (under votes) and the impact a new law requiring 60 percent approval for passing a constitutional amendment will have on several proposals on the ballot.

Although like Fessler, Bousquet said you never really know what to expect on Election Day, he was confident that by and large the elections supervisors are ready to handle whatever comes their way, especially a large turnout.

“Florida is not a state that traditionally has high turnout, but in 2008 it was 75 percent, so I’ve talked to supervisors this week and they working hard to prepare,” Bousquet said. “I do get the impression they are ready to handle whatever turnout is.”

And should something happen on Election Day? Bousquet will be there to cover it and the lawyers will be there to litigate it.

“Because of what happened in the year 2000, we always look to see to what extent both sides get lawyered up,” Bousquet said. “And this year, both sides have armies of lawyers.”

Pennsylvania polling place access
And speaking of lawyers, in Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette filed suit against the county and state to gain access to polling places on Election Day.

Under Commonwealth law, no one other than voters or election workers and poll watchers are allowed within 10 feet of a polling place. The paper sued to gain access to watch how the state’s voter ID law would be implemented.

The paper had also sued in 2008 to gain access and at the time Pennsylvania Common Pleas Judge Joseph James granted the paper the right to photograph around, but not inside polling places.

Seeking to expand the 2008 decision, in July the paper sued the state and county in federal court seeking to photograph and/or video voters signing in at the polls, but not in the act of voting.

“Voting is one of the very few shared American experiences and there’s something out of synch when the free press is restricted from recording Americans in their most important civic action,” said Post-Gazette executive editor David Shribman said in an interview at the time the lawsuit was filed.

Throughout the court proceedings the paper and the state and local elections officials worked to settle their differences. In late September, the paper and Allegheny County reached an agreement that would allow members of the media “…to observe members of the electorate as the voter signs in to vote at the polling place…” and as elections officials determine their eligibility.

However, Judge Nora Barry Fisher was nonplussed with the agreement and gave the paper and elections officials until Friday, Oct. 5 to come up with an alternative agreement.

“The court’s inclination here is to dismiss this lawsuit,” Fischer said according to the court proceedings. The judge noted that parties in a lawsuit “cannot agree to disregard valid state laws.”

The state too is in opposition to the agreement.

According to Rich Lord, a reporter for the paper that has been covering the legal proceedings, how the Post-Gazette plans to proceed in light of the recent court ruling on the state’s voter ID law remains to be seen, but in the mean time, the paper and state have until Friday to come up with some sort of agreement that Fisher may be willing to accept.


II. Election News This Week

  • The big troubles on the Big Island continued this week when the state of Hawaii announced that it would take over the administration of the November 6 election. “We’re injecting our supervision and expertise,” state elections spokesman Rex Quidilla, told the Honolulu Civil Beat. “This is something we see being done only under these current circumstances. With a great deal of hand-wringing did we come to this point. We certainly hope that this isn’t something that has to be done in the future.” A small group of staff members hired by the state will take over the Election Day activities. Officials have already set up a state elections space at the Hilo State Office, where they’ll be running the control center, the central phone bank that supports telecommunications coming from the island’s 40 polling places.

  • Iowa Secretary of State Matt Shultz is at odds with a state lawmaker over the use of HAVA money to investigate alleged voter fraud in The Hawkeye State. Sen. Tom Courtney, chair of the Senate’s Government Oversight Committee sent formal letters to the state auditor and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s inspector general. According to the Des Moines Register, Courtney said federal money is supposed to be used to help educate voters about procedures, voting rights and voting technology. Courtney asserts that hiring a law enforcement officer isn’t an allowable expense. Schultz countered that Courtney’s motives are purely political.

  • More than a week after they were scheduled to be in the mail absentee ballots for Hinds County, Miss. military and overseas voters are still sitting in an office this week waiting to be mailed. According to the Clarion Ledger, Election Commissioner Jermal Clark was tasked with creating the ballot and meeting a Sept. 22 deadline, which he missed. Clark claims he missed the deadline because he didn’t know how to create a ballot and his fellow commissioner refused to help. Deputy Circuit Clerk LaGecha McKinley told the paper 32 online ballots had been sent on time to military voters, but the county missed the deadline for 13 others who had requested paper ballots. McKinley said all 13 were contacted and agreed to vote online.

  • In a report released this week, the Tennessee Comptroller’s audit division concluded that the Shelby County election commission has “demonstrated an inability to conduct elections without significant inaccuracies, including those identified in the 2012 elections.” Despite that, the report also said that there was “not discernable evidence of intentional misconduct or other actions intended to affect or influence the election process or election outcomes…” The report was conducted at the request of Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office. In April 2013 election commissioners will be recommended for all 95 counties. According to The Daily News Hargett moved for the audit review after numerous complaints in Shelby County of voters getting the wrong district races on their ballots. The complaints began during the early voting period in July.

  • Personnel News: Missouri State Rep. Gary Fuhr was appointed this week as St. Louis County’s new Republican elections director. Fuhr lost his house seat to redistricting this year. He is a retired FBI agent who also had worked as a police officer in the city of St. Louis.

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 sgreene@pewtrusts.org.

Marin County Voter Survey – Elizabeth Bergman, Cal State East Bay: This report examines voter turnout in Marin County, CA for the June 2012 primary. Just over 50 percent of registered voters did not cast ballots and this survey found that some of the reasons for not voting included:

  • For 54 percent voting was “inconvenient to my schedule.” An additional 42 percent were not interested in the election – voters were allowed to give multiple answers.
  • 12 percent said the process was too confusing.
  • 4 percent could not find their polling place. 

Democracy in a Mobile America – Youjin B. Kim, Demos: This report examines the challenges voters and election officials face in maintaining up to date voter registration information in our very mobile society and provides recommendations including allowing same-day registration and better enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act.

The Canvass – National Conference of State Legislatures, October 2012: The current issue of the Canvass issue examines elections and the courts as well as a refresher on how the Electoral College works.

IV. Opinions

National News: Voting Rights; Early voting, II, III; Election Day; Voter fraud, II; Voting machines

Alabama; Voting rights case

California: Election day registration

Colorado: Ballot secrecy

Florida: Voter purge; Long ballots; Voter registration fraud, II, III

Guam: Election Day

Illinois: Vote count

Indiana: Polling places; Voter access

Iowa: Voter registration fraud

Michigan: Voter ID

Minnesota: Voter fraud

Mississippi: Voter ID

Nevada: Voter registration, II

New Mexico: Vote fraud; Dona Ana County

North Carolina: Voter ID

North Dakota: Voter registration

Oklahoma: Voter fraud

Pennsylvania: Voter ID, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X

Tennessee: Voter ID

Virginia: Ex-felon voting rights, II

Washington: Secretary of state race, II, III

Wisconsin: Military & overseas ballots

**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 mmoretti@electionline.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.