I. In Focus This Week
First Person Singular: Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler
“Honey badger of Colorado politics” plans to stay active
Colorado’s outgoing Secretary of State Scott Gessler (R) has always been tenacious.
He has degrees from three different colleges, he once rode his bike through 11 states over 10 weeks, and he won the first election he ever entered.
Dubbed the “Honey Badger of Colorado politics,” Gessler was first elected to office in 2010 defeating incumbent Secretary of State Bernie Buescher (D) by 6.8 percentage points.
Gessler is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Michigan Law School. He also received his MBA from Northwestern University.
Following graduation from law school, Gessler moved to the Washington, D.C. area where he served as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice focusing on international criminal law.
He served as a U.S. Army Reservist while in the D.C.-area and joined 415th Civil Affairs Battalion in Michigan and did a stint as a Civil Affairs Officer in Bosnia.
Before coming to the secretary of state’s office Gessler was a partner in Hackstaff Gessler and focused on election law, constitutional law, public policy litigation and campaign finance litigation.
Gessler chose not to seek a second term as secretary of state and instead entered in the governor’s race. His term will come to end at the beginning of 2015.
You’ve been a pretty active secretary of state, tell us a little bit about your decision to run for governor instead of seeking re-election as secretary?
When I ran for Secretary of State, I wanted to improve the office through leadership and innovation. My first day in office I told the staff to think boldly, and they responded. I’m proud to say the office is more innovative, efficient, and bold than when I took office almost four years ago—and the people of Colorado are benefiting from that. Frankly, we have a strong case to make that we are more innovative than any department in the nation.
But leadership from the Secretary of State only goes so far. The Colorado legislature and governor continue to make bad decisions – not only decisions that affect elections, but also bad decisions that hinder economic growth and opportunity. As a western state, Colorado has always been a land of opportunity, where people seek practical solutions. It’s no secret that our current leadership has governed as though Colorado were a deep blue state, and our governor and legislative leadership have not listened to other voices. I ran for governor to change that.
What would you say has been the biggest change you have seen in elections during your tenure?
The federal government has flubbed its role in elections – specifically, the EAC tied the country in knots over its voting system guidelines. This has prompted state election administrators to cooperate and develop their own safeguards, and it’s great to see states forging cooperatives to share benefits and shortfalls of various systems. And we are watching states experiment with how to build successful election systems. Georgia’s uniform voting system has been a model that other states have looked to, for example, as we have been able to see the benefits of moving to such a system. States are also working together to share information about appropriate voting systems.
We’ve seen states voluntarily cooperate in other areas, as well. For example, Colorado is working with the ERIC project and the Kansas State Crosscheck program to improve the integrity of our voter rolls. We’re developing procedures to more quickly identify duplicate registrations across state lines so that we can cancel old records and initiate new ones.
What was the most difficult time/issue you have faced (elections wise of course) as secretary?
As our states’ chief election officials, secretaries of state enforce election laws. We’re tasked with ensuring only eligible voters cast ballots, and the eligibility requirements are few: citizens, 18 or older, and Colorado residents. Instead of relying on a loose honor system, we decided to verify citizenship, just like we check against the other two requirements. But the gridlock, partisanship, and hysteria surrounding this issue is disappointing. Just getting the federal government to comply with federal law and provide us with the information we needed was a big challenge. We got the runaround from various levels of the federal bureaucracy for over a year before we finally worked out an agreement to verify citizenship data. This helped pave the way for other states to also verify data. But it amazes me that certain partisans continue to oppose enforcement of basic, uncontroversial laws that protect election integrity.
It also disappointing that people frequently throw common sense out the door when it comes to election integrity. During the 2012 election cycle, a reporter from Mexico City interviewed me. When he disapprovingly focused on election integrity issues like photo identification and citizenship, I told him that I merely wanted to implement something like the Mexican system in Colorado. Mexico has strong integrity protections, which have helped improve the fairness and integrity of its elections. But he thought that Hispanic voters were fundamentally different than Mexican voters, and that while photo identification was fine for Mexico, it was somehow terrible in the United States. I strongly disagreed — fair and honest voting systems are a universal aspiration, regardless of race, ethnicity, or country of origin.
Protecting the sanctity of our voter rolls shouldn’t be a wedge issue. In fact, what we’ve seen is that when voters trust the system and trust the results, turnout and participation improves. That should be our goal. If voters don’t trust the system, it makes little difference how easy it is to get a ballot.
What do feel was your greatest accomplishment and why?
We’ve turned a sleepy, administrative backwater into a focused, innovative, and customer-friendly agency. When I took office in 2011, staff morale was low. My aim was to change the culture in the office and push people toward a common mission. We met with employees throughout the office to gauge what they liked about their jobs and what they didn’t. Eventually, we settled our mission: We serve the American dream.
With everyone’s eyes set, we unleashed a host of innovations aimed at better supporting our customers. We kick-started languishing and forgotten projects, opened the doors to employee training and development, deployed additional resources to our IT development team, consolidated our call desks into one cross-trained, customer service center, and gave employees the power to succeed in our shared mission. Our employees are more enthusiastic and motivated than ever before, and statewide surveys show our agency has the highest employee satisfaction in Colorado.
The result? Colorado is a national leader in elections. Colorado is a national leader in business services. Our costs are among the very lowest compared to our sister states, and we provide world-class, innovative customer service. During the last three years, we have won multiple national and international awards. And we are at the forefront of new initiatives, such as open government data.
Our accomplishments and our customer-focused culture has produced national and international awards. And most importantly, I’m proud that we’ve built a culture where great people in this office will continue to do great things, long after my term as Secretary of State.
Is there anything you still hope to accomplish as secretary before leaving office?
In the coming months, my aim is to deliver a roadmap for developing a statewide uniform voting system. Since HAVA, Colorado counties have selected from a hodge-podge of voting equipment vendors. We’ve seen fragmentation of resources and expertise throughout the state, and our small counties struggle to keep up with their vendor service contracts. We need to move to the next generation of technology, and we’re working to design that statewide system and devise a funding stream to support county purchases.
What will you miss most about being secretary of state?
It’s been an honor to serve and to have an impact on people’s lives. I have truly enjoyed traveling around Colorado, meeting great people, and hearing their ideas about how to make Colorado an even better place to live. I’ll miss the ability to launch initiatives that make it easier for people to vote or do business with the state of Colorado. And while I’ll obviously continue to travel and learn, I’ll miss the interaction as Secretary of State.
As an expert in the field of elections, where do you see the administration of elections headed?
I think we are quickly approaching a reckoning where we have to honestly decide how much we are willing to spend on the administration of elections, and what we get out of it. There has been a real disconnect between costs and results. The mantra from some has literally been to spare no expense as we administer elections, without any visibility into the results of that spending. This is why I implemented ACE – Accountability in Colorado Elections – to actually measure and compare election costs in standardized, easy-to-understand formats. As a state, we need to get a better grip on the consequences of our policy decisions. Citizens deserve to know how their hard-earned dollars are being spent.
Voting technology is changing, which holds real promise. HAVA subsidies are pretty much exhausted, while voting equipment is coming to the end of its useful life. We’ve seen some promising technological advancements that may make voting and running elections cheaper in the long run. I think you’ll see quite a bit of innovation and change in the next several years, especially because states are beginning to sidestep the EAC’s cumbersome and ineffective approach to technological innovation.
I also think the growing dependence on mail ballots will be problematic. This has been a trend and we will increasingly grapple with the problems. Especially in the West, we have increased our reliance on the Post Office to conduct our elections, even as the USPS faces spiraling costs and reduction in service levels. Though many administrators believe mail ballots are more convenient, that won’t be the case if problems at the Post Office mean it is more expensive and less of a sure thing that your voted ballot will make it back and be counted.
What’s next for you, besides being able to sleep in on election days?
I don’t think I’ll ever sleep in on election day – elections and politics have been part of my life for a long time, and to me election day is one of the most exciting days of the year. (Trust me, I know that view isn’t normal.) I have been spending more time with my wife and two young children, and nothing is more fulfilling than being part of your kid’s lives. I’ll probably continue to teach, and I look forward to going back to the private sector and getting involved in election issues in limited, purposeful ways.
Any parting words of advice for your successor?
Regardless of the din and controversy, remember that you serve the people of the state of Colorado.
II. Election News This Week
- As if dealing with a tropical storm during the primary wasn’t enough, elections officials in Hawaii are now preparing for the possibility that lava could affect voting on the Big Island. According to West Hawaii Today, officials have identified about 7,500 who could be affected — largely the same voters who were impacted by August’s tropical storm. Unlike the tropical storm though, officials have a bit more time to make changes and are encouraging voters to vote early/by absentee and are preparing to move polling places if necessary. Lava!
- We’re not even done with the 2014 election season and already Duval County, Florida Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland is concerned about what budget cuts are going to do to spring 2015 elections. Holland’s office is facing $141,000 in budget cuts and deal with that Holland said he will have to either reduce precincts or reduce early voting hours.
- Minnesota is the latest state to join ERIC (the Electronic Registration Information Center). The North Star State joins Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington as part of the multistate consortium.
- The Putnam County, Tennessee election commission is considering a written policy that would prevent voters from snapping photos — selfies or not — at polling places on election day or during early voting.
- Earlier this summer, officials in the city of Los Angeles stirred up some controversy when they suggested possibly paying residents — through some sort of lottery — to vote would help boost turnout. Now a citizens panel has come up with 32 recommendations for cleaning up the voting process and in return, hopefully boosting turnout. Some of the recommendations include moving the city elections to even-numbered years, a longer early voting period, increased outreach on voter registration and using more non-traditional sites for polling places like shopping malls.
- At least two Virginia localities are doing what they can to make sure all eligible voters have a photo ID in advance of the November election. In Lynchburg, the voter’s league will be offering free rides to the registrar’s office for anyone who needs an ID and in Botetourt County, the electoral board has authorized an direct-action mail outreach aimed at the 418 county voters they believe do not have the necessary ID in order to cast a ballot.
- The Council of State Governments Capitol Ideas fall 2014 edition is all about U.S. elections. There are pieces on everything from technology to voter ID to military and overseas voting. Oregon’s Kate Brown is on the cover.
- Personnel News: Lannie Noble is the new Denton County, Texas elections administrator. Noble comes from Wise County where he has been elections administrator since 2006. Beginning on January 1, 2015 Steve Sandvoss will be the new executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections. Sandvoss, who is currently the board’s general counsel, has been with the SBOE since 1988. Linda Medely has been fired as the Dickson County, Tennessee elections administrator. Charlottesville, Virginia Registrar Sheri Iachetta and electoral board member Stephanie Commander both turned themselves into authorities this week. Iachetta and Commander are both facing felony charges for the misuse of public funds.
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.
Election Day Long Lines: Resource Allocation – Christopher Famighetti, Amanda Melillo, and Myrna Pérez, The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, September 2014: In analyzing precinct-level data in Florida, Maryland, and South Carolina from the 2012 general election, researchers for the Brennan Center for Justice found long lines at polling places were in part due to a lack of enough poll workers and not enough voting machines. They also found precincts with more minorities had longer wait times.
IV. Legal Update
California: A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has dismissed a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit filed against the city of Whittier by three Latino residents. The judge ruled that the city’s change from an at-large voting system to voting districts alleviates the problems the suit originally sought to address. Activists have filed an appeal.
Kansas: This week the Kansas Supreme Court heard arguments about whether or not Democrat Chad Taylor should be allowed to have his name removed from the November ballot following his withdraw from the race. Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach argued that Taylor did not include “the magic words” in his request for withdraw and therefore should have to remain on the ballot. Taylor has endorsed the Independent candidate running against Republican Pat Roberts.
Missouri: A panel of judges on the Missouri Court of Appeals rewrote the ballot summary for an early voting proposal ruling that the wording approved by lawmakers was misleading because it failed to mention the measure is contingent upon funding. “We have little doubt that the current summary statement would lead voters to believe that, should the amendment pass, early voting will be permitted in all future general elections in Missouri,” the appeals panel wrote. “That is not the effect of the proposed amendment, however. … The current summary statement is insufficient and unfair for failing to make reference to the funding contingency.” The attorney general’s office announced that it will not appeal the ruling. A report from The Daily Record noted that the late change will cost some counties significant money.
Nebraska: With the deadline to mail military and overseas ballots, elections officials in Nebraska were holding their breath waiting for a judge to rule on who will appear on the ballot as the running mate for the Republican gubernatorial nominee. On Wednesday a district judge upheld Secretary of State John Gale’s decision and ballot printing and mailing may go forward as planned.
New Mexico: Calling the 2012 election in Sandoval County “a debacle” District Judge William P. Johnson granted a preliminary injunction ordering the Sandoval County elections office to comply with a resolution approved by the county commission in 2013 establishing 17 vote centers in Rio Ranch and two in Corrales. The order states that the county “no longer has discretion to change the location or amount of polling centers without an order approving such change by a state district judge.”
Also in The Land of Enchantment, the state Supreme Court ordered election workers in Bernalillo County to postpone the mailing of general election ballots until the court can decide whether or not it is legal for the county to add advisory questions to the ballot. The county commission voted to include two advisory questions on the November ballot, but Secretary of State Dianna Duran refused to allow the questions on the ballot.
Ohio: This week, U.S. Senior District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel ruled that voters arrested and jailed the weekend before Election Day must be given an opportunity to cast and absentee ballot. The judge ruled that someone arrested after 6 p.m. on the Friday before the election and not yet convicted by 3 p.m. on Election Day should be afforded the same rights as someone who is hospitalized. Those rights include sending a two-person, bipartisan team to the jail to deliver the ballot.
Tennessee: A Johnson County voter has filed a lawsuit claiming that the county election commission is not running fair elections. According to WJHL the lawsuit claims several election violations including sending absentee ballots to deceased residents, mail ballots being denied to seniors and people with disabilities and doors to the elections office being closed while the ballots are counted.
Wisconsin: Late last week, a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals cleared the way for the implementation of Wisconsin’s voter photo ID law. However, on Wednesday plaintiffs, including the American Civil Liberties Union ask the full court to reconsider lifting the ban citing the potential for disenfranchisement the late implementation could cause.
Also in Wisconsin, the state’s Republican party has filed suit against the Government Accountability Board over the redesign of the ballot for the November election. The Republican party said the ballot doesn’t clearly separate state offices from the candidates. It’s asking a judge force state election officials to use the old version.
V. Legislative Update
Rhode Island: Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed legislation into law eliminating the state’s “master lever” in all non-primary elections held after Jan. 1, 2015. The new law includes a requirement for poll worker training and voter education.
Wyoming: The Joint Judiciary Committee unanimously approve a bill that will make it easier for non-violent felons to regain their rights once they have completed the terms of their sentence. The bill calls for the state to eliminate the current waiting time for rights restoration and to streamline the entire process. It goes before the full Legislature in 2015.
VI. Tech Thursday
California: Residents in California are now able to use ABVote to register to vote from their smart phone or computer. In addition to registering to vote, voters can input their address and view upcoming election dates, a list of candidates and ballot measures as well as polling place location and hours. ABVote is free and available for Adroid or Apple.
Arapahoe County, Colorado: The county — which is moving to largely vote-by-mail elections for the first time this year — has launched a new ballot alert system that will allow voters to track their ballots throughout the process. Ballot Track will send an alert via email, phone or text.
Los Angeles County, California: This week the Registrar-Recorder’s office launched a new, mobile-friendly website that allows county residents to access services in nine languages, access ballot information and register to vote. According to Efrain Escobedo, 30 percent of the site’s web traffic was already coming from mobile devices so making the site mobile-friendly was the logical step. “We know these efforts are more important as voter turnout continues to decline,” Escobedo told the Los Angeles Daily News.
Iowa: Vote centers
Kansas: Elections office
Kentucky: Voting laws
Maryland: Voting inconveniences
New Jersey: Vote-by-mail
Ohio: Voter ID
South Carolina: Richland County
West Virginia: Polling places
VIII. Upcoming Events
National Voter Registration Day — The 3rd annual National Voter Registration Day is scheduled for September 23. In its first two years, more than 1,000 groups and 10,000 volunteers registered over 360,000 people to vote. When: September 23. For more information, 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— Mark your calendars now for NCSL’s fall forum. More information will be available in September, but make sure to get this in ink on your calendar now. Where: Washington, D.C. When: December 9-12.
IX. Job Postings
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.
Associate, Pew Charitable Trusts, Election Initiatives, Washington, D.C. — primary responsibilities involve supporting the activities and goals of the portfolio of Pew’s Election Initiatives work, which includes the Elections Performance Index, Upgrading Voter Registration, the Voting Information Project, as well as other projects aimed at improving the research portfolio of the elections team. The Associate will be an integral part of all these projects, spending much of his or her time researching and drafting reports, memos, policy briefs, 50-state scans and other research products that are highly relevant to policy deliberations. This individual will need to analyze and translate large amounts of data and research related to election administration into written products that policymakers and the public can easily understand. Additionally the Associate will be part of team collecting, cleaning and coding data as well as communicating with states and counties when conducting research. Consequently, the Associate must be able to think creatively about how to collect, use and report elections information from state and local officials. This individual will be required to coordinate and sustain our inquiries and relationships as well as manage research consultants we work with. The Associate also will work closely with the senior associate in the processing of contracts and subgrants, ensuring they are complete and accurate, as well as other aspects of supporting the team’s operations such as assisting with meeting planning. It is expected that this position is for a term period through December 31, 2015, with the possibility of an extension pending the success of the program, funding sources and board decisions on continued support. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job posting and to apply, click here.
Associate (Research), Pew Charitable Trusts, Election Initiatives, Washington, D.C. — primary responsibilities involve supporting the activities and goals of the Pew’s Elections Performance Index project. The Elections Performance Index provides election officials, policy makers and citizens the data and tools they need to assess the state of election administration in America and identify specific improvements that can be made in the way elections are conducted. At its core, the Elections Performance Index provides an empirical assessment of how well the nation’s democracy is working. This position will be an integral part of this project by overseeing its data and spearheading communication with states and counties. The associate will ensure the project meets internal and external deadlines by conducting and overseeing the data work necessary to construct the index and ensure the highest quality of reporting available. Along with this work, this individual will be required to coordinate and sustain our inquiries and relationships in the states with regards to this project. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job listing and to apply, click here.
Election Assistant, Los Angeles County — performs one or more of a variety of assignments essential to the conduct of elections and related functions of the Department of Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. Positions allocable to this intermediate level class work under the supervision of an Election Assistant III or other higher level supervisor on a variety of assignments essential to the conduct of primary, general and special elections and related election functions of the Department of Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. Such assignments include: Supervising teams of subordinate staff processing voted ballots; troubleshooting precinct operational problems; preparing election related equipment; distributing and retrieving election materials; and developing and conducting election related training. Some assignments may require frequent heavy lifting over 25 lbs. combined with bending and stooping. Depending on the nature of the various assignments, incumbents may work a definite short-term basis or an indefinite longer-term basis depending on the needs of the Department. Salary: $19.56 per hour. Application: For the complete job posting and to apply, click here.
Research Assistants, George Mason University, Fairfax County, Va. — George Mason University has partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology to help researchers at those universities collect data about Election Day line waiting. Researchers seek to understand what causes long lines at some polling places and whether we can develop new and improve upon existing tools to reduce line waiting on Election Day. Research teams of two will collect data at select Fairfax County polling places on Election Day, Tuesday, November 4, 2014. Teams will follow scientific protocols and record observational data. Research assistants will not interact with voters. Research assistants will record data such as the rate at which voters arrive at the polling place and how long it takes for voters to perform all the tasks expected of them (like checking-in at the polls and completing their ballot). Compensation: Research assistants will be paid a stipend of $500 and can receive up to $50 reimbursement for travel and meal expenses. Application: For the complete posting and to apply, click here.