Category Archives: election administration

“Local election officials in Florida call for scrapping new ID rules for mail voting”

NPR:

County election supervisors in Florida are urging the state to throw out new vote-by-mail restrictions that are set to be rolled out next year, saying the measures could present serious logistical and security issues.

In a report sent to the Florida Department of State earlier this month, a working group of local elections officials warned that the new identification requirements — which will require voters to provide a driver’s license number or partial Social Security number on their ballots — will create significant election reporting delays and a slew of costs for local election offices, and could disenfranchise large numbers of voters.

“Unanimously, Florida Supervisors of Elections view this legislative proposal as unnecessary and lacking adequate feasibility for implementation,” they wrote in their report.

Florida’s new vote-by-mail measures are part of sweeping legislation signed into law last year by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. Provisions in the law, known as Senate Bill 524, are similar to vote-by-mail ID rules that went into effect in Texas last year.

Share this:

“Cochise County elections director resigns after protecting midterm ballots from Republican officials”

Votebeat Arizona:

During last fall’s fights in Cochise County over hand-counting ballots and rejecting the election results, county residents say they were glad there was one person standing up to defend elections.

Elections Director Lisa Marra repeatedly explained — to the supervisors, to reporters, and, finally, to a judge — that she would not break the law and release the ballots from her custody, as two Republican supervisors and the county recorder had ordered her to do.

“I believe that is a felony,” Marra testified during a Nov. 4 court hearing challenging the full hand count. The judge later ruled that the full hand count would be illegal.

Now Marra is leaving her post. Her departure after five years running elections in the rural southern Arizona county leaves many residents there concerned about the accuracy and security of future elections. Marra, also president of the Election Officials of Arizona, is known across the nation as a fierce defender of election integrity.

County Democratic Party Chairwoman Elisabeth Tyndall said it was reassuring that a trusted person such as Marra was running elections during the controversies, as she “wasn’t going to just let the election deniers have their way with our votes or our ballots.”

“It is kind of scary what may happen going forward,” Tyndall said, “without having someone as knowledgeable and brave as Lisa in that office.”

Marra  resigned through a letter to the county from her attorney, she confirmed to Votebeat on Tuesday. Marra is to be employed by the county for 15 more days.

Marra’s attorney wrote in the letter that her working environment was threatening, both physically and emotionally, and she was publicly disparaged, according to the Washington Post, which first reported on her resignation and the letter. 

Share this:

“The American Law Institute Launches Restatement of the Law, Election Litigation”

I’m thrilled to share the details about this new project from the ALI:

The American Law Institute’s Council voted today to approve the launch of a Restatement of the Law project on Election Litigation. The project will be led by Reporters Lisa Manheim of the University of Washington School of Law and Derek T. Muller of the University of Iowa College of Law.

The Restatement’s goal is to provide guidance to federal and state court judges adjudicating election disputes, focusing on the areas governed by equitable principles and guided by judicial common law. Topics will include the “Purcell Principle” on timing of judicial intervention, the preservation of pre-established conditions for election conduct, the roles of state and federal courts in election disputes, administrative flexibility for emergencies, remedies for failed elections, and claims over exclusion of parties from the ballot and lack of voter access. The Restatement will not address broader questions bearing on the substance of election law.

I’m really looking forward to working with someone as outstanding as Lisa on this new and transformative project in the years ahead.

Share this:

Georgia: “No takeover recommended in Fulton County elections board probe”

Stephen Fowler for GPB:

Fulton County’s elections board should not be suspended and replaced under a 2021 “election takeover” law, according to a recommendation from a bipartisan panel tasked with reviewing the county’s operations over the past 17 months.

In a 19-page report sent to the State Election Board Friday afternoon, the panel wrote that while there were still areas of improvement for elections in the state’s most populous county, progress in streamlining processes and training made a noticeable difference in recent elections.

“The Fulton County Board of Elections and Registration is engaged and helping to drive those improvements,” the report says. “Replacing the board would not be helpful and would in fact hinder the ongoing improvements to Fulton County elections.”

Share this:

“Despite mail voting changes, ballot rejections remain relatively low in 2022 midterms”

NPR:

Hundreds of thousands of mail ballots were rejected across the country during the 2022 general election, according to a state-by-state analysis by NPR. That’s about 1% of ballots that were returned to election officials, a rate similar to prior years.

The analysis, which drew primarily from states that track ballot rejections on a statewide basis, provides an incomplete picture. That’s because many states don’t track this information at the state level, and other states that do track ballot rejections statewide told NPR that their data were not ready to be shared.

For example, Illinois had shared data with NPR that showed a far higher rejection rate than other states’. When asked about it, Illinois officials retracted the data and said they needed more time for the final numbers….

In some cases, however, these new rules did lead to a sharp rise in ballot rejections. For example, after new ID requirements went into effect in Texas, the state had an unprecedented share of mail ballots rejected in the following election. During the state’s March primary last year, more than 12% of mail ballots were rejected. The overwhelming share of those ballots were tossed out because voters completely missed the part of the return envelope that required a driver’s license number or partial Social Security number. This was a stark increase from previous elections. In 2020, Texas had a 0.8% mail ballot rejection rate; in 2018 it was 1.7%.

During the 2022 general election, though, the statewide mail ballot rejection rate in Texas was 2.7% — higher than other states but far lower than the primaries. State officials attribute the drop to design changes to the ballot and efforts to educate voters.

Share this:

“New Report on Enhancing Security and Integrity Through Rethinking Election Funding”

Ryan Williamson at Electionline:

A recent report published by the R Street Institute highlights the need for improved election funding and offers suggestions on how to address funding shortfalls while improving election security and integrity. Though the 2022 midterm elections were secure and largely incident-free, many threats remain, especially as presidential elections draw more attention and voters. Therefore, it is not too early to begin supporting efforts to ensure safe and secure elections in 2024 through better funding.

Elections cost billions of dollars, and the price will only increase in future cycles. Unfortunately, elections in many jurisdictions are insufficiently funded, but there is general approval for the federal government to increase its support for elections. Around three in four election administrators of all political leanings would like to see more support from the federal government. And more than three in five people support the federal government providing $500 million per year in election funds. This would represent a marked improvement over recent history, in which the federal government has appropriated funds amounting to less than one-tenth of the cost of elections since 2018.

While it is important that Congress provided for some election security grants in the recent omnibus legislation, this irregular, unpredictable approach to funding is not ideal. Election offices around the country would benefit more from a reliable stream of funds that allows them to plan and budget according to their specific jurisdictional needs. And by providing funding well in advance of elections, offices would not have to give as much weight to the expediency of solutions and could instead give even greater consideration to cost and effectiveness. Regular funding also has the benefit of reducing the need for emergency spending when new, unforeseen issues such as a pandemic arise.

With these things in mind, the report offers the following recommendations. …

Share this:

“Elections director in Pinal County got $25,000 bonus after reporting inaccurate results”

Jen Fifield for Votebeat:

Pinal County’s outgoing elections director collected a $25,000 bonus for running a smooth election despite reporting final results with significant inaccuracies, including around 500 uncounted votes in the neck-and-neck attorney general race.

Virginia Ross, the former county recorder brought in to oversee the election on a short-term contract, either did not catch the mistakes or failed to disclose them before the results were certified in November, according to county officials. 

The inaccuracies were only revealed publicly last week as part of the results of the statewide recount, and officials attributed the problems mostly to human error during ballot counting on Election Day. This week the new elections director indicated that Ross may not have taken steps after the election to ensure the results were accurate. Regardless, she collected the bonus and retired. 

Ross was brought on specifically to fix the county’s elections after a disastrous primary in which county officials made mistakes they later said were easily preventable, such as not ordering enough ballots for polling places. Ross was paid a towering $175,000 for four months of work, with the $25,000 bonus contingent on certain conditions.

County Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh said at a supervisors meeting Wednesday that he would like to consider whether it’s possible to rescind Ross’s bonus. A few residents who spoke at the meeting demanded it….

County officials have assured voters that the recounted results are accurate. But county supervisors still have questions about how and why the results changed. 

The inaccuracies still have potential ramifications for the outcome of at least one of the 2022 races. The revised results for the attorney general’s race brought an already-tight margin even closer, with only 280 votes now separating the winner, Democrat Kris Mayes, and her Republican opponent, Abe Hamadeh. Hamadeh’s lawsuit challenging the election results was dismissed last month, and he is now requesting a re-trial, saying the new information from Pinal’s recount amounts to new evidence that the election was inaccurate.

Share this:

“Don’t Blame RCV for Alameda County Election Snafu”

Rob Richie:

First, let’s understand what went wrong. According to both Oakland’s City charter and RCV election norms, if a voter skips a first-choice column or writes in an ineligible candidate, that voter’s ballot should be advanced immediately to the voter’s second-choice candidate. That’s how it’s always been done in San Francisco, which has the same Dominion equipment as used in Alameda County, and how Alameda configured its software for years.

In preparing for the 2022 elections, however, the Alameda County Registrar’s office turned on an incorrect setting on the vote-counting equipment to count local RCV races in several Alameda cities, including Oakland. This setting determines how ballots are counted if a voter leaves the first-choice column blank or writes in an ineligible candidate.  It “suspended” such ballots so that they were not included in the first round. The rest of the votes were then used to determine whether a candidate had earned a first-round majority and, if not, which candidate was in last place and should be removed. Only in the second round, after a candidate had already been removed, were the suspended ballots brought back into the tally.

While that error may sound trivial and impacted only a few hundred votes that were delayed when they were added to the tally, it could have a big impact in an RCV system designed to make as many votes count as possible. Oakland’s District 4 school board race was extremely close among three candidates, with only 29 votes in the original first-round tally separating the original second-place finisher Pecolia Manigo and Mike Hutchinson. As a result, Hutchinson was removed after the first round, and only then were the suspended ballots added to the tally. Manigo picked up most of Hutchinson’s support, but narrowly lost to Nick Resnick in the final instant runoff.

But the suspended ballots should have been counted before Hutchinson was removed. After receiving the cast vote record provided by the county, my research team colleagues at FairVote determined that Hutchinson should have earned 80 additional votes in the first round and Manigo an additional 14. The corrected vote totals put Hutchinson in the first round ahead of Manigo by 37 votes. With this corrected tally, Manigo is the one who should be eliminated, with Hutchinson now facing Resnick in the instant runoff.  Manigo and Hutchinson are both black and are more aligned on education policy, and Hutchinson was strongly preferred by Manigo’s backers as backup choice – enough to give him the edge over Resnick in the instant runoff.

So how does a mistake like this happen and what can we do about it?

First,the Registrar of Voters Tim Dupuis should be thanked for recognizing his mistake and correcting it. Less than a week after FairVote and the Cal RCV Coalition alerted him to the error, he had confirmed the error, reviewed all elections that might have been affected by it and alerted the candidates in the school board race. Although earlier access to the cast vote record would have been ideal, providing it allows interested parties to examine the results for themselves – and the error is now fixed.

More broadly, it’s an unfortunate reality that election workers are overworked and underfunded. Between the demand for “stop the steal”-inspired FOIA requests and labor shortages, we’re witnessing human mistakes across elections of all types. Californians in 2022 saw errors on ballots in RiversideMerced, and Tulare counties, for example.

We should provide election officials with more resources and support, twinned with greater transparency of decision-making. The Alameda County error was the equivalent of attempting to follow a recipe and accidentally mixing in the wrong ingredient. The answer isn’t to throw out the cookbook and the oven, or never to cook again. Instead, the answer is to get more help in the kitchen – and build in means to confirm your ingredients…..

…Looking ahead, Alameda County should set up a task force to study these elections, make recommendations and perhaps establish an ongoing advisory board to review and suggest practices and key decisions and institutionalize communication between the registrar’s office and the community…..

Share this:

Must-Read: “After election debacle in Oakland, what’s next for ranked choice voting?”

Mercury News:

The revelation this week of an unprecedented error in Alameda County’s counting of election results has upended an Oakland school board race. But more lasting damage could be done to the reputation of ranked choice voting, a novel “instant runoff” format that is growing in popularity around the country.

Mike Hutchinson, the third-place finisher in a race for Oakland Unified’s District 4 school board seat, was told by election officials Wednesday that he may actually have won the race due to a technical mistake in how the county’s Registrar of Voters tabulated ranked-choice results.

The mistake itself involved a simple switch — a feature in the county’s election software that was incorrectly turned on, rather than left off. As a result, ballots where a first-choice candidate was missing were incorrectly counted.

“We incorrectly had the software set so that it did not elevate those votes when there wasn’t a vote in the first-choice column,” Registrar Tim Dupuis said in an interview Wednesday. “It was an error, and after being notified we immediately took that seriously and did the research to validate it.”

County officials are scrambling to figure out the process for re-certifying election results after they were formalized Dec. 8, and Dupuis hinted that it could require legal action on the part of the candidates involved. He could not be reached Thursday for an update on what steps need to be taken for Hutchinson to be rightfully elected.

The school board race is the only one that was affected, the registrar says. But it could not come at a worse time for election officials who are trying to allay fears about the legitimacy of results provided to the public.

The debacle could particularly be a black eye for ranked-choice voting. The system allows voters to select more than one candidate for a particular race by ranking them in order of preference and redistributes votes from the lowest performers until one candidate secures majority support and is declared the winner. The system eliminates the need for a separate runoff election when no candidate gets a majority of votes.

Ironically, the error affecting Hutchinson’s totals was detected by advocacy groups working to get jurisdictions around the country to adopt the format. They noticed a discrepancy while reviewing all of Oakland’s election results, which indicated that a special category of votes wasn’t being counted until the second round of ranked-choice results. The error was also caused by a decision made by the registrar’s staff, not a flaw in the election software.

“This is a learning moment for all of us, and I think it’s crucial we maintain transparency around the process no matter what,” said Rob Richie, the CEO of FairVote, which successfully lobbied for Oakland to first implement ranked choice in the city’s 2010 elections.

Share this:

“COVID-19 and Voter Turnout and Methods in the 2020 US General Election”

Paul Hernnson and Charles Stewart have posted this draft on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

COVID-19 caused worldwide disruption to virtually every aspect of human life, including elections. This study assesses the impact of COVID death rates, convenience voting policies, and partisanship on voter behavior in the 2020 U.S. general election. Using a new data set comprising county and some state data, we demonstrate that countywide COVID-death rates depressed turnout somewhat from 2016 levels, and it contributed to increased use of mail and early-in-person voting options. We also show that the availability of different options structured the methods voters used to cast a ballot. Our results reveal that the emergence of voting policies as a salient issue contributed to a new partisan gap in voter behavior.

Share this: