I. In Focus this Week
News Analysis: Elections administrators deal with legal decisions
With election looming, administrators grapple with ever-changing landscape
Elections officials across the country are busy preparing for the upcoming November 4 general election.
For many, while the days and sometimes nights are busier than normal, it’s relatively business as usual in the ramp up to the 2014 midterm election.
However, officials in a handful of states are grappling with recent court rulings or waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop as they await court rulings.
Nowhere does it seem have recent court rulings been more acutely felt than in Wisconsin.
Last week the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the state’s voter photo ID law and now elections officials, state agencies and colleges and universities are scrambling to not only inform voters about the law, but make sure voters have the necessary ID.
The state’s Government Accountability Board (GAB) said at a press conference following the ruling that they are taking “extraordinary efforts” to put the ID law into place.
“Implementing the photo voter ID law close to an election will not be easy,” GAB Executive Director Kevin Kennedy said at the press conference. “But the GAB and Wisconsin clerks are up to the challenge.”
McDonell told the talk show that while he was confident elections officials and poll workers would be prepared for November 4th, his greatest concern is for the voters.
“But what I’m concerned about are voters who are going to have to scramble to try to figure out a way to have an ID in a short window,” McDonell said. “You have people who are born in other states, other situations and they’re really going to struggle to be able to exercise their right to vote under this current court ruling.”
In Madison, it’s become a citywide scramble to get voters the necessary ID. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, city works are being encouraged to serve as poll workers and Mayor Paul Soglin’s office is working to figure out ways to get voters to the DMV to get the necessary IDs.
For his part, and on some level making a small attempt to bring some levity to a very serious situation, Dane County’s McDonell will reprise Chad Vader to help get the word out about the new law.
In Milwaukee, Clerk Jim Shelenske said they will be ready for November 4, but it is going to require some additional work and training.
“It’s part of our job and we’re ready, we’re going to come prepared,” South Milwaukee clerk Jim Shelenske told CBS 58. “For the poll workers, we’re going to have a couple days or a couple sessions for training, one for the chiefs and one for the regular poll workers.”
Elections officials in The Badger State did dodge one potential bullet this week when a Waukesha County Circuit judge tossed a lawsuit filed by the state’s GOP against the GAB over the design of this year’s ballot.
Things were a bit less chaotic in Maryland earlier this month when U.S. Judge Richard D. Bennett ruled the state must allow disabled and blind voters to use an online ballot-marking tool for their absentee ballots.
Because the tool had been ready to go for the spring primary before the plug was pulled when state election board members failed to certify it, Nikki Charlson, deputy state administrator with the State Board of Elections said there was relatively little her office had to do to prepare for its implementation for the November election.
“The online ballot-marking tool was ready for use in the April primary election.,” Charlson said. “To implement the court’s ruling, we just needed to test the ballot-marking tool with ballots for the 2014 General Election…[W]e are ready for the ballots to go out.”
Charlson said that the SBE’s focus has been on getting the system ready for the election and that they will look to organizations that represent individuals with disabilities to educate those voters on accessible voting options.
However, earlier this week the state attorney general’s office said that it will appeal the ruling. Charlson said the SBE is ready to comply with whatever the Appeals Court decides.
With the clock ticking and an appeal looming, elections officials in Ohio counties are moving forward with plans to begin early voting and to allow for early voting and registration during the state’s so-called “Golden Week.”
Prior to the ruling early voting in Ohio was set to begin on Oct. 7 and now, until further notice, early voting will begin Sept. 30.
Although he continues to appeal the court’s ruling, Secretary of State Jon Husted ordered county officials to be ready for early voting to begin at the end of September.
Officials in Clark County told the Springfield News-Sun that they are ready for the new hours.
“It’s just one of the realities of working in the elections business because you just have to make changes and make adjustments along the way. We’re used to that. This election, we’re just getting better at it,” Matthew Tlachac, Clark County BOE director told the paper.
The changes seem to be hitting the state’s smaller counties the hardest.
In Highland County, the decision to reinstate the early voting hours is going to cost the county about $11,000.
“I’m really disappointed,” elections board member Kay Ayres told The Highland County Press. “The additional hours are going to cost our county $11,000 more. Is it worth it?”
Elections officials in Alaska are scrambling to ensure that Yup’ik and Gwich’in-speaking voters have the necessary language assistance as mandated by U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason just this week.
According to the Alaska Dispatch News, Gleason’s order requires state officials to provide written translations for most election materials and increase six-fold the number of hours bilingual outreach workers are paid to help Yup’ik and Gwich’in voters.
Poll workers in the affected areas must also wear buttons with “Can I help” in English, Yup’ik and Gwich’in.
“The state is committed to doing everything it can to implement the court’s order and provide robust language assistance,” the attorney general’s office wrote in a prepared statement. “With the clear guidance from the court, we look forward to providing the additional assistance outlined by Judge Gleason to the best of our ability to enhance the state’s existing language assistance program.”
At press time, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing arguments in a suit that challenges North Carolina’s new voting law which for the 2014 election ends same-day registration and limits early voting hours (the law has other provisions such as voter photo ID which will not be implemented until a later date) among other things.
The impending lawsuits have left elections in a state of flux with concerns about finding sites for expanded early voting — should the law be overturned — being the most pressing issue.
Michael Dickerson, elections director in Mecklenburg County told The State that in addition to all their regular pre-election duties, his office is working with the county’s parks and library system to secure sites that can accommodate the earlier voting dates if necessary.
How all these changes impact voters remains to be seen, but Daniel Tokaji, of The Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law told NPR’s Pam Fessler things could get messy.
“In the event of a close election, this could be a real mess,” Tokaji told Fessler.
The states mentioned here is just a small snapshot of what elections officials — and by default voters — may be dealing with in the coming weeks.
There are numerous court cases pending from one end of country to another including voter ID in Texas and Arkansas as well as advisory ballot questions in New Mexico and polling place access in South Dakota, all of which could be decided before November 4 thus making a busy time for elections folks even busier.
II. Election News This Week
- With a bit more than a month to go until Election Day, and court cases raging on throughout the country, Democrats are hoping the fight for voting rights will encourage more minorities to cast a ballot this year. “We’re going to do some things to raise the profile of the Voting Rights Act and the fact that the Supreme Court gutted it,” Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) told USAToday. “You will see us be more active. We tried to do it in a very bipartisan manner. … But it just doesn’t seem like that’s going to go far enough soon enough, so it’s going to be a fight.”
- There was once a time when Facebook was a fun way to keep up with old classmates and spend all of your time taking quizzes or commenting on cute photos of your friends’ kids, but maybe not so much anymore in the elections world. According to reports from the Ohio Media Group, the Summit County, Ohio board of elections may ban employee cell phones following a blow up over postings on Facebook. Apparently board administrator Cecilia Robarts was posting messages to Facebook critical of Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters and it seems the postings were done on company time. In Wisconsin, a Facebook page recently appeared for a group calling itself the Wisconsin Poll Watcher Militia. The page said the group’s members plan to head to the polls in November and confront people who signed 2012 recall petitions against Gov. Scott Walker.
- There will be limited early voting in Bonneville County, Idaho this year, but it’s not due to partisan bickering, instead it’s because the elections office is being renovated. Voters may still request a mail-in ballot but it will be a few weeks before they can cast their ballot early in the office.
- Voters in Iowa are requesting absentee ballots in record numbers this year. With less than 50 days to go until the election — and still plenty of more time to request absentee ballots — absentee ballot requests have just about doubled from this time in 2010.
- Spartanburg County, South Carolina elections officials are laying the groundwork now to prepare voters for potential long lines on Election Day. Director of Voter Registration and Elections Henry Laye said the county needs about 960 poll workers to comply with state law. “We will be lucky to get 600,” Laye told the local paper. Laye said he is unclear why it’s been difficult to recruit new poll managers to replace aging long-time poll workers, but he did speculate that the difficulties may be the result of more families with two working parents and people taking second jobs to make ends meet.
- Personnel News: Sarah M. Jackson, director of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance will retire effective November 1. Jackson has been director since 1999. Roxanne Hagewood has been appointed interim administrator of elections for Dickson County, Tennessee. Mike West, Cuyahoga County, Ohio media and voter education specialist was recently honored with an award for excellence in election administration from the National Association of Election Officials. Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander has been named co-chair of the National Association of Secretaries of State Voter Participation Committee. Mario Jimenez III, chief deputy clerk for Dona Ana County, New Mexico has resigned. Elections Supervisor Scott A. Krahling will be appointed to replace Jimenez. Jim Parker has been appointed the interim Wise County, Texas elections administrator.
III. Report and Research Summaries
FSASE Position Paper: Online Voting – Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, September 2014: The Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections released a brief supporting the use of online voter registration in the state. They suggest pursuing legislation allowing online registration in 2015 with implementation in 2017.
Restricting Voter Registration Drives – Stephen Mortellaro and Michelle Kanter Cohen, Project Vote, September 2014: A new report from Project Vote examines recent state laws restricting third-party voter registration drives. These include the registration of individuals or organizations that conduct voter registration drives, additional training requirements for those involved in these drives, restrictions on who may collect applications, and early deadlines for organizations to submit the registrations they have collected.
IV. Legal Update
Alaska: With the ballot printing deadline ticking, Judge John Suddock agreed to move quickly on a lawsuit challenging an emergency order that allowed two gubernatorial candidates to fuse their campaigns into one ticket.
Also in Alaska U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason ordered state officials to provide written translations of most of the important election materials they provide. The judge also directed officials to increase six-fold the number of hours bilingual workers are paid to help Yup’ik and Gwich’in speakers. According to Alaska Dispatch News, Gleason said she was issuing her order on an interim basis for just the coming election and provided a series of timed steps by which to measure compliance.
Arkansas: Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel (D) announced this week that attorney’s for Secretary of State Mark Martin’s (R) office will argue on behalf of the state’s voter photo ID law before the state Supreme Court next week instead of his office. “I have made a commitment to uphold my constitutional obligation to defend the law, and I will continue to do so as counsel to the Board [of Election Commissioners],” McDaniel said in a statement released by his office. “However, Secretary Martin’s attorneys have asked to argue the appeal, and I have no objection to them taking the appellant’s argument time.”
Kansas: The state Supreme Court ruled that the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate must be removed from the ballot following his withdraw from the race. Secretary of State Kris Kobach had argued that Chad Taylor’s name must remain on the ballot. In other news in the Chad Taylor withdraw, the Supreme Court kicked another case on the issue back down to a lower court. A registered Democrat from Kansas City had filed a petition with the court trying to compel Democrats to appoint a replacement for Taylor in the Senate race. Kobach has filed a motion to intervene in the case.
Maryland: The state attorney general’s office is filing an appeal in the ballot-marking device case. Earlier this month a judge ruled that the state must allow for usage of an online ballot-marking tool to blind and disabled voters. The state is appealing to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mississippi: On Monday, the Mississippi Supreme Court granted permission for Conservative Action fund, an Alabama-based organization, to file briefs in the Senate primary runoff case.
New Mexico: The New Mexico Supreme Court consolidated and remanded back to a lower court two cases pitting Secretary of State Dianna Duran against Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties. The counties wanted to include advisory questions on the November ballots and Duran refused.
North Carolina: Arguments in the appeal against North Carolina’s new voting law were set for the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at press time. The court will consider whether the November elections can be held under the voting law approved by Republican lawmakers.
Ohio: A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s earlier ruling restoring early voting cuts and reinstating the “Golden Week.” Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced that he will ask the full court of appeals to overturn the panel’s ruling.
South Dakota: A voting rights group has filed a federal lawsuit against Jackson County claiming that there is unequal access to the polls in the county that includes the northeast corner of the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Texas: The case against Texas’ voter photo ID law is now in the hands of U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos. Both sides completed their closing statements on Monday with plaintiffs arguing that the law would adversely impact poor and elderly voters while the defense argued that the state had done “extensive research and there was no evidence to show the law was discriminatory.” Gonzales Ramos did not indicate when she would rule but it could be in advance of the November election.
Wisconsin: Waukesha County Circuit Judge James Kieffer has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin GOP against the Government Accountability Board (GAB). The GOP had sued the GAB over the board’s new model ballot arguing that the new design had the potential to confuse voters. Kieffer dismissed the case because the filing of the suit did not follow the correct procedures.
V. Legislative Update
Federal: U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has introduced the Voter Registration Modernization Act that would provide national standards for online voter registration.
VI. Tech Thursday
Indiana: Secretary of State Connie Lawson’s office has introduced a new voter registration app to coincide with this week’s National Voter Registration Day. In addition to other services like a polling place locator, the app will allow Hoosiers to register to vote directly from the app. The app is available for Android and Apple devices.
King County, Washington: In honor of this week’s National Voter Registration Day, King County launched an Instagram campaign to encourage voter registration. Voters are encouraged to take a selfie with a sign saying “I’m registered to vote, are you?” and then tag the photo #kceNVRD and @kcelections.
Michigan: Recently we wrote about an app offered by the Democratic Party of Michigan that allowed voters to request an absentee ballot with an electronic signature. The state has asked the party to suspend the program citing concerns that voters may be disenfranchised because state officials do not believe the system is ready for a statewide roll out.
Nevada: The Nevada Secretary of State’s office has launched EASE — the Effective Absentee System for Elections — a system designed to make it easier for military and overseas voters to register and cast their ballots.
Oklahoma: The Oklahoma State Election Board recently launched a new web page to educate voters about absentee voting.
California: Voter turnout
Indiana: Voter registration
Kansas: Kris Kobach
Michigan: Detroit voter rolls
New Jersey: Voter registration
New York: New York City BOE
Pennsylvania: Voting process
Rhode Island: Voter ID;
VIII. Upcoming Events
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 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.
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.
Project Coordinator, Future of California Elections, Los Angeles — the Future of California Elections (FoCE) seeks a temporary full-time Project Coordinator to serve as a California-based staff person responsible for administration and program support of all the activities of the Future of California collaboration, a coalition of election officials, civil rights organizations and reform advocates dedicated to an open, transparent and well-functioning system of democracy in California. The position is based in Los Angeles from November 2014 through April 2015. Responsibilities include: Assist with aspects of website, manage social media outlets, assist with tracking press mentions, manage public outreach for 2015 conference, assist with monitoring developments in California/nationwide, assist with research, manage logistics for 2015 conference, and assist with legislative tracking. Qualifications: Bachelor’s degree; experience in web design and social media management; demonstrated ability to work with spreadsheets and budgets with a high degree of accuracy; strong analytical, oral and written communication skills, including proofreading and editing; excellent project management skills, including the ability to create and maintain files and recording systems accurately; demonstrated proficiency in computer technology including applications for project and data management and electronic calendars (Excel, Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Outlook); experience in conference planning and support preferred; ability to take initiative and work independently, with little supervision; and able to conduct oneself in a highly professional manner; and demonstrated appreciation for the diversity of California’s population. Application: Please send cover letter, resume and salary requirements to Deputy Director Astrid Garcia at astrid@FutureofCAElections.org. For the complete job listing, click here.