I. In Focus This Week
Elections officials prepare for the unexpected
From manhunts to Ebola to protests, 2014 sees variety of potentially disruptive issues
In Monroe County, Pennsylvania Elections Director Sara May-Silfee is busy doing all the things elections officials do in these final weeks leading up to Election Day.
She’s updating her voter rolls, she’s making sure all her supplies are in order and that poll workers are trained. She’s got hand sanitizer for all the polling places and in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, she’s keeping a wary eye on the long range forecast.
In addition to this and so much more, May-Silfee is wondering what, if any impact the ongoing manhunt for accused cop killer Eric Frein may have on the election.
“My biggest fear at the moment is that the police, FBI, etc. still will not have apprehended suspect Eric Frein and I will have to arrange to move polling places or if they have the roads closed near the polling locations,” May-Silfee said.
While elections officials always need to prepare for the unexpected on Election Day, this year a handful of officials throughout the country are keeping an eye on unique and potentially disruptive situations.
May-Silfee said she has yet to get guidance from the state, but she’s working on a plan should elections in Monroe become impacted.
Dallas County has become the epicenter for the Ebola outbreak in the United States with three people who have become ill and with many quarantined. Because the quarantine period can be up to 21 days, there is the potential for voters in Dallas County to not be able to get to the polls on Election Day.
“As this is a uniquely rare occurrence, we do not have items in our elections administration toolkit to address the lack of experience we have with the current outbreak of Ebola in Dallas County,” Pippins-Poole said. “We are however, closely monitoring the available information; and also participating in the dialogue with the major policy and procedural decision-making parties involved with this crisis.”
Pippins-Poole said her office is also utilizing the resources it has on hand or can obtain quickly such as pre-existing health kits that are distributed to polling places.
“We are considering placement of gloves and masks into supply boxes. We must also measure how any of these responses would affect administration of the November 4th General Election,” she said.
And what about a voter who is already under quarantine? According to Pippins-Poole, the state’s chief election officer has advised her office that a voter under a quarantine order or due to risk factor has volunteered to be quarantined, does qualify for voting by mail.
However, because Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids and because the jury is still out on how long the virus lives outside of the body, Pippins-Poole said the safety of elections workers needs to be taken into consideration.
The state is currently conducting a pilot program to allow military voters serving in hostile fire pay zones to cast their absentee ballots via email. In consultation with the county attorney, Pippins-Poole believes that Dallas County could obtain the legal approval necessary to offer this option to infected/quarantined voters.
If given approval to allow affected voters to cast their ballot by email, Pippins-Poole and her staff have come up with a seven-step process for dealing with requests.
In Saint Louis County, Missouri, where protests over the killing of Michael Brown have disrupted everything from baseball games to the symphony, Democratic Director of Elections Senator Rita Heard Days said elections preparations are fairly business as usual.
“The preparation for this mid-term election is very similar to others in the past,” Days said. “We are having the usual struggles with hiring poll workers and requesting building locations for our voters.”
Days said the elections office has also met with Justice Department officials in the elections division and they have provided some suggestions. She has also been in contact with county police chief to make sure that he is aware of the polling locations that may need additional assistance.
Sixteen of the counties 444 polling places are located in Ferguson.
“We have talked to our election judges and some of them are concerned about potential unrest in Ferguson,” Days said. “Those workers have been moved to other locations. There were only a few that fit this scenario.”
And don’t rule out problems caused by Mother Nature, who has been known to be a bit of a contrarian when it comes to Election Day.
Fortunately though for John Tuteur, Napa County, California registrar, the 6.0 earthquake that rocked Napa County at the end of August happened just long enough ago that the county was able to accommodate any issues long before the last minute.
The building where the county elections offices are housed was damaged in the earthquake, but fortunately for other reasons, the county had recently purchased a four-building complex and the elections office was able to relocate there the day after the earthquake.
None of the ballot tabulation equipment or other electronic voting devices were damaged in the earthquake. Tuteur said that fortunately all the polling places and vote-by-mail assistance centers survived the quake as well and they are ready to go.
Unfortunately though, many voters were impacted and many are still displaced. Tuteur said the quake happened long enough before the election that his office had enough time to update the voter instructions that went out with all mail ballots. The county is about 88 percent vote-by-mail.
“There have been several hundred small aftershocks but I believe their frequency and occurrence have dropped to nearly zero so we do not expect any higher risk of an aftershock than of another earthquake on a different fault in the vicinity,” Tuteur said.
Robert Giles, director of elections for the State of New Jersey knows a thing or two about dealing with the unexpected during election season.
Two years ago his state was devastated by Superstorm Sandy just days before polls were set to open and his office was forced to find alternative ways for cast their ballots.
While residents are still displaced and rebuilding two years on, Giles said elections officials are ready for November 4.
“Some of what we learned is that New Jersey has an incredible group of dedicated county and local election officials that take great pride in what they do and they are always willing to do whatever it takes to conduct elections,” Giles said.
In addition to learning about the resilience of the state’s elections administrator, Giles said there were some other takeaways from the post-Sandy election that officials all over the country can use.
One important piece of advice I can give is establishing and maintaining good communication with everyone from the beginning and throughout the process,” Giles said. “This is critical in getting updated information out and keeping everyone on the same page.”
II. Election News This Week
It was a rough week for ballots.
- In Harris County, Texas hundreds of mail-in ballots were held at the local post office for insufficient postage. Although the county has an account at the post office to pay for any shortages, according to a local television station investigating the matter, postal workers were unaware of the account. Following the television report, the postal service delivered the ballots.
- The dog ate my ballot? In the case of at least 8,000 voters in San Francisco — including John Arntz, San Francisco election chief — it wasn’t the dog that ate their ballot it was a U.S. Postal Service sorting machine. The Postal Service is in the process of determining how many ballot packets were destroyed and returning those to the city elections office so they can send out new ballots.
- Once again this week, early voting was halted due to a ballot error only this time it was in Hilton Head, South Carolina. The elections office sent 108 incorrect ballots with 11 additional being voted in person. Voters will get new ballots and those who cast theirs in person will get an opportunity to revote.
- Some voters in Maricopa County, Arizona are receiving mail ballots with their address on them, but someone else’s name. The county isn’t sure of the extent of the problem, but is working with the printer to go through all 1.2 million ballots to see if it happened to others.
- Santa Clara County, California needs to reprint more than a thousand mail-in ballots after several school district races were left off the ballots. “I’m very sorry for the inconvenience that it may have caused voters,” Shannon Bushey, the county’s registrar of voters told San Jose Inside. “The first error was our fault. This one was caused by an error in the vendor’s printing process. The vendor is looking at procedures to prevent this from happening in the future.”
In a formal opinion released this week, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen ruled that election canvassing boards are subject to the state’s open meetings law when they convene to canvass election results. In his opinion, Van Hollen wrote however that canvassing boards “may impose reasonable limits on public access to the extent necessary to protect the effective and orderly conduct” of the canvass.
Say it ain’t so! Controversy has come to the “I Voted” sticker! Tennessee has replaced traditional American flag “I Voted” stickers with new stickers with the shape of the state and Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s name and that’s where the controversy comes into play and has made for some strange bedfellows. Both the chairman of Common Cause Tennessee and the Nashville Tea Party have complained about the stickers. “Putting Secretary Hargett’s name and the #GoVoteTN hashtag on the stickers provides accountability,” State Election Coordinator Mark Goins told The Associated Press. “If people have questions or comments about how an election was conducted, they know who to contact.”
Personnel News: The Washington Secretary of State’s office is making some staffing moves. Assistant Secretary of State Ken Raske is retiring at the end of the year. Mark Neary will take over the number two spot from Raske and Greg Lane, a form television executive has been hired to fill the number three spot in the office.
III. Research and Report Summaries
electionline provides brief summaries of recent research and reports in the field of election administration. The summaries are courtesy of the research staff of The Pew Charitable Trusts Elections Initiatives. Please email links to research to Sean Greene at Pew.
Racial Imagery and Support for Voter ID Laws – David C. Wilson, Paul R. Brewer, and Phoebe Theodora Rosenbluth, Race and Social Problems, October 2014: A new study found that in a survey about requiring voter identification at the polls, white respondents who saw a photo of African Americans voting expressed stronger support for voter ID laws than those who did not see any image. Seeing a photo of white people voting did not have an impact on white respondents’ support of voter ID.
IV. Legal Update
Arkansas: In a unanimous decision, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the state’s voter ID law was unconstitutional. In their ruling, the justices wrote that the requirement to show a photo ID, “…imposes a requirement that falls outside…” the four qualifications outlined in the state constitution. According to published reports, the secretary of state and attorney general’s offices are reviewing the decision.
Florida: A Florida appeals court has upheld Miami-Dade’s county law that a person can only turn in two absentee ballots other than their own—one of an immediate family member and another from a voter who has signed a sworn statement. Plaintiffs had argued that the law was unconstitutional and unfair to elderly Hispanic voters. The county argued that the law helped prevent voter fraud.
Georgia: The Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights has sued Secretary of State Brian Kemp along with five counties asking a judge to ensure that more than 55,000 voter registration applications be found and processed and those people be allowed to vote. Voter registration applications submitted in five counties by the New Georgia Project seem to have gone missing and those voters also don’t appear on the voter rolls.
Kentucky: U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman struck down Kentucky’s 300-foot rule that banned campaigning within 300 feet of a polling location. “A 300-foot zone is a far greater distance than is necessary to prevent the targeted evils,” Bertelsman wrote. “As in the present case, such a distance can run across busy streets and highways. It can cover areas, including private yards, not even visible from the polling place. It prohibits activities in private homes. Indeed, the Court fails to see how the typical, stationary yard sign could ever intimidate a voter or abet election fraud, unless it was blocking the entrance to the polling place.” The secretary of state and attorney general’s office are reviewing the ruling.
Idaho: Bonner County Clerk Ann Dutson-Sater will be arraigned the day before Election Day on a charge of subornation of perjury. It is alleged that Dutson-Sater told someone that it was OK to lie about the signature-gathering process in a school district recall election.
Mississippi: U.S District Judge Nancy Atlas filed an order last week dismissing the lawsuit filed by True the Vote to obtain the birthdates of Mississippi voters. The organization has said that it will not appeal Atlas’ dismissal.
New Hampshire: Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Jacalyn Colburn ruled this week that Secretary of State William Gardner was not in contempt of court for refusing to put Nashua-specific questions on the November ballots in Nashua.
New Mexico: According to court records the Sandoval County clerk and the county bureau of elections have filed an appeal in the September federal court ruling requiring the county elections office to comply with a resolution approved by county commissioners requiring the elections office to establish 17 vote centers in Rio Rancho and two in Corrales.
North Carolina: Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens ruled this week that Watauga County must place an early voting site on the campus of Appalachian State University. “All credible evidence indicates that the sole purpose of that plan was to eliminate an early voting site on campus so as to discourage student voting and, as such, it is unconstitutional,” wrote Stephens in his order.
Ohio: Following a ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court, more than a thousand voters in Powell will have to recast their absentee ballots. The Supreme Court ruled that the county place a ballot initiative on the November ballot even though the ballots were already printed and voting had begun.
South Dakota: Four Lakota residents on the Pine Ridge Reservation, including Oglala Sioux Tribe Vice President Thomas Poor Bear filed suit against Jackson County claiming that the county was discriminating Native Americans by not opening a satellite voting site on Jackson County’s portion of the reservation.
Texas: Late last week U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled that Texas’ voter ID law is unconstitutional. In her ruling, Gonzales Ramos equated the law to a poll tax. “The Court holds that S.B. 14 creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose,” Ramos’ opinion said. “The Court further holds that SB 14 constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax.” On Tuesday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the law. An emergency application to vacate the Fifth Circuit’s stay was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Wisconsin: The U.S. Supreme Court blocked Wisconsin from implementing the state’s voter ID law for this year’s election. The court issues a one-page order with three justices — Alito, Scalia and Thomas dissenting— vacating the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of the law.
V. Legislative Update
District of Columbia: Mayor Vincent C. Gray signed Bill 20-0264 into law last week adding the District of Columbia to the growing list of states that offer online voter registration. The D.C. Board of Elections now has 180 days to implement the new system.
New Mexico: The Carlsbad City Council this week voted not to require photo IDs for municipal elections. The initial ordinance — which would have required voters to show a government-issued photo ID to vote in municipal elections — failed due to a lack of a second.
Ohio: State Sen. Frank LaRose, who pushed through legislation to shorten Ohio’s early voting period is now planning to introduce legislation to designate the fourth Tuesday in September as Voter Registration Awareness Day.
VI. Tech Thursday
National Tech: Bing and Google are both launching new search tools to help voters get all the news and information they need in advance of the November election. Bing Elections includes news, predictions on races as well as personalized voter guides and eventually a “My Ballot” option that will display location-specific ballot information and polling place information. How do I vote, Google? allows users to find state-by-state voter information and sign up for election reminders.
Georgia: In an effort to encourage people to vote, elections officials and voting advocacy groups in the Peach State have launched a #PostThePeach campaign to encourage voters to post pictures of their I Voted stickers on social media after they cast their early ballot.
Johnson County, Iowa: Johnson County isn’t just bringing the ballot box to the voters, the county is also making sure that voters know all they need to know in the palm of their hand. The county has launched the “Go Vote Johnson County” app for smartphones. The app, which works in English, Spanish and Arabic helps voters find their polling place and provide point-to-point directions.
Mississippi: In addition to emails, phone calls and the Internet, voters in Mississippi can now get important election information via text. “We want our citizens to have access to the most up-to-date information leading up to every election,” Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann told WLOX. “A text message is a quick, easy way to help keep everyone informed.”
Montana: A new online tool—available via computer, tablet or smartphone—will allow qualified residents to begin the voter registration process before coming to the polls or elections office. Complete online registration is not yet available, but the new process allows people to pre-register.
Tennessee: This week Secretary of State Tre Hargett launched GoVoteTN, a new smartphone app available for iPhones or Androids. The app allows voters to look up polling place hours and locations, candidate information, sample ballots, county election commission information and follow results on election night.
Galveston County, Texas: This week the county launched a first-in-the-state smartphone app that gives voters access to election dates, information on voting by mail, and as up-to-the-minute as possible information on what ID may be required to cast a ballot. Voters will also be able to get election night results on the app. “We are really excited about this new addition to our election outreach effort,” County Clerk Dwight Sullivan told the Galveston Daily News. “A voter can use the app to find the closest polling locations to wherever they are in the county, and have a map display directions on how to get there.”
Arizona: Secretary of state race
Florida: Palm Beach County
Idaho: Secretary of state race
Illinois: Voter rolls
Kentucky: Voting laws
Maine: Voter ID
Michigan: Absentee ballots
Missouri: Early voting
New Hampshire: Ballot dispute
New Mexico: Secretary of state ruling
Oregon: Top-two primary
Virginia: Voting rights
VIII. Upcoming Events
Please email upcoming events — conferences, symposiums, seminars, webinars, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NPR Presents Michel Martin: Voting Rights — in partnership with WFAE, NPR’s Michel Martin is taking the studio to the story, she’s going where the nation’s most important conversations are happening. Michel joins audiences in Charlotte to talk voting rights. Voting rights are under the microscope in communities across the United States, and North Carolina is no exception. There are court challenges around the state’s voter ID law: from the elimination of same-day voter registration, the reduction of early voting times to the shifting demographics of voters. What’s happening in North Carolina is a window into what’s going on across the country. Where: McGlohon Theater, Charlotte, North Carolina. When: October 27 7pm-9pm. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.
EVOTE2014: Verifying the Vote — The Competence Center for Electronic Voting and Participation is hosting a 6th annual conference on electronic voting. This conference is one of the leading international events for e-voting experts from all over the world. One of its major objectives is provide a forum for interdisciplinary and open discussion of all issues relating to electronic voting. The format of the conference is a three-day meeting that deals with the topics from a both a theoretical perspective and a practical one. Practical papers should use case studies. No parallel sessions will be held, and sufficient space will be given for informal communication. Where: Lochau/Bregenz, Austria. When: October 29-31, 2014. For more information, click here.
National Student/Parent Mock Election — Now in it’s 34th year, the National Student/Parent Mock Election invites you to join the world’s largest national mock election and nation’s larges civic education project. Since 1980, students have learned what it means to be informed voters, casting votes for Presidential, U.S. Congressional and gubernatorial candidates. What’s more, students continue to demonstrate the value of civic engagement – from organizing their own debates and campaign activities to holding student rallies. When: October 30, 2014. For more information and to register, please click here.
National Conference of State Legislatures Forum— Fifty states, one voice is the theme for this year’s forum. Attendees will have the opportunity to discuss policy with national experts working on pressing issues as part of NCSL’s standing committees, advocate for the states on Lobby Day and participate in special programming developed for legislative staff. Where: Washington, D.C. When: December 9-12. For more information and to register, click here.
IX. 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 email@example.com. 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.
Counsel, Brennan Center Democracy Program, New York City — The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is seeking an experienced attorney to work in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. The Counsel will be assigned primarily to our Voting Rights and Elections team, which works to ensure that voting is free, fair, and accessible for all Americans. Our current signature proposal is to modernize the voter registration system which would save money, increase accuracy and participation, and add an additional 50 million voters to the rolls permanently. At the same time, we actively defend against to restrict the vote by spearheading strategic impact litigation, groundbreaking studies, and national public education campaigns. The Counsel may also be assigned to another team as well. Qualifications: The position requires a J.D.; 6 or more years of legal experience (including clerkships, if any) in the public interest, private, or government sectors; and admission in the New York State Bar either before or shortly after it commences. The ideal candidate will have a strong litigation background; demonstrated success in policy advocacy; a strong entrepreneurial spirit; a passion for the work of the Center; and experience working with the media. This position requires the ability to work effectively in a team-based and deadline-driven environment. It also requires exceptional writing skills (for a variety of audiences, including legal, legislative, journalistic, and public); excellent analytic, strategic, and research skills; creativity, versatility, and flexibility; strong coalitional and coordination skills; and the ability to work effectively with diverse clients and allies. Demonstrated commitment to the public interest field a real plus. Salary: The salary is highly competitive in the field and commensurate with experience. Excellent benefits package as well. Application: For the complete listing and to apply, click here.