Category Archives: election administration

“WV will NOT accept voter registrations collected by Biden Administration”

Justin here.  The title of this post is the header of the email version of a press release issued earlier this week by the office of WV Secretary of State “Mac” Warner, currently running for governor.

I’m pretty sure the title’s not true. But we’ll get there in a sec.  (It’s not the only piece of inaccurate information in the release.)

The press release is a broadside against a fictional version of Executive Order 14019, the President’s directive that federal agencies review their authorities to “consider ways to expand citizens’ opportunities to register to vote and to obtain information about, and participate in, the electoral process.”  (Disclaimer: I had no part in drafting the EO, but in my role as a federal official, I had a hand in helping to implement it, including listening to state election officials — Secretary Warner among them — during consultative conversations that Secretary Warner asserts didn’t exist.)

The release claims that the EO is an unconstitutional direction to federal agencies to “take over voter registration processes from states.”  It cites, as support, half of the constitutional foundation for the EO, in noting that “Article 1 Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution says the times, places, and manner of holding elections, shall be left to the state legislatures.” 

There are other words after that snippet, of course: Congress may at any time change that default.  And Congress has.  The NVRA directs states to designate specific government offices as one-stop voter registration agencies — including federal recruitment offices for the armed forces, as a means to facilitate electoral participation by servicemembers.  Those recruitment offices are part of the Biden Administration.  And contrary to the Secretary’s email header, it’s hard to imagine that Secretary Warner, himself a veteran, plans to refuse the servicemembers’ voter registrations collected there.

The NVRA also permits states to designate as one-stop registration agencies other state offices, and offices of federal agencies with the agreement of those offices.  And it requires, to the greatest extent practicable, federal executive agencies to cooperate with states in effectuating those designations. 

The heart of the EO is just carrying out this congressional demand.  (There are other bits too, like explaining the proper and improper uses of agency funds, but the heart is effectuating the NVRA’s mandate.) 

Nobody’s taking over voter registration processes from the states.  Several states not attempting to turn customer service into conspiracy theory have worked with agencies to help constituents get registered to vote while they’re doing other government paperwork.  In 30 years of the NVRA’s existence, the first state to designate a federal entity’s office as a voter registration site was Kansas, when it designated Haskell Indian Nations University (operated by the Department of the Interior) in May 2022.  The second was New Mexico, designating the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (also operated by DOI), two months later.  Kentucky and Michigan and Pennsylvania have announced partnerships with the Department of Veterans Affairs to let veterans more efficiently register to vote.  Those federal agencies are ready to partner with red states and blue states and purple states in part because the executive order told them to be.

VA sites can only be designated as one-stop voter registration agencies if states step forward: without West Virginia’s blessing, no VA site in West Virginia will be acting as a designated site.  I think it’s great that veterans in Kentucky will have more opportunities to smoothly register to vote while they’re already filling out paperwork, and a shame that there’s resistance just over the border to offering other veterans the same — but no matter how politically convenient it may be to conjure into rhetorical existence a strawman federal takeover, EO 14019 in no way limits West Virginia’s continuing choices about how best to serve its would-be voters.  If the press release portends a fight, it’s a fight with nobody on the other side.

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“Election worker turnover has reached historic highs ahead of the 2024 vote, new data shows”

Jane Timm for NBC News:

Election officials across the country are leaving their jobs at the highest rates in decades, according to new research shared first with NBC News, putting thousands of new officials in place to oversee a tense and high-stakes 2024 presidential contest. 

At least 36% of local election offices have changed hands since 2020, following a similar exodus in the run-up to the midterms in 2022, when 39% of jurisdictions had new lead election officials from four years previously. Both points in time represented the highest four-year turnover rates in two decades, a development that worries election experts and officials who say such jobs are complex and come with a steep learning curve and no margin for error. And 2024’s turnover rate could continue to rise as the year goes on.

Election workers have been exposed to unprecedented scrutiny, threats and harassment following the presidential election in 2020, when Donald Trump falsely claimed the election was stolen and made baseless claims of voter fraud. And as Trump seeks the presidency for the third time, he has continued to predict voter fraud — seeming to lay the groundwork to again claim the election was stolen if he loses in November.

While the turnover rate has jumped in recent years, researchers found that it has been gradually rising for years, suggesting that both new and long-standing challenges are driving administrators from their jobs. From 2000 to 2004, about 28% of local election officials left their jobs. Four years later, 31% of election offices had changed hands.

Experts say that dynamic only reinforces the need to provide better funding and support for election workers to ensure the smooth administration of future elections.

“This gradual increase that we’ve seen over the last two decades really does highlight the need for comprehensive, coordinated strategies that seek to better fund election administration, that seek to reduce the burdens being placed on these election administrators,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Rachel Orey, senior associate director at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Elections Project. “Because clearly, this isn’t something that only happened back in 2020.”

The research was conducted by UCLA researchers Daniel M. Thompson and Joshua Ferrer, who spent years collecting lists and directories of election officials in counties and municipalities around the country to produce the most accurate and expansive picture of election worker turnover available yet. Their data was analyzed and published in partnership with the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C., think tank, in an effort to better understand turnover as election administrators face harassment, violent threats and increasingly complex and heavy workloads….

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“Inside the Election Denial Groups Planning to Disrupt November”


As the most consequential presidential election in a generation looms in the United States, get-out-the-vote efforts across the country are more important than ever. But multiple far-right activist groups with ties to former president Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee are mobilizing their supporters in earnest, drawing on one baseline belief: Elections in the US are rigged, and citizens need to do something about it.

All the evidence states otherwise. But in recent weeks, these groups have held training sessions about how to organize on a hyperlocal level to monitor polling places and drop boxes, challenge voter registrations en masse, and intimidate and harass voters and election officials. And some are preparing to roll out new technology to fast-track all of these efforts: One of the groups claims they’re launching a new platform for checking voter rolls that contains billions of “data elements” on every single US citizen.

These groups could have a major impact on the 2024 election. In addition to disenfranchising voters and putting additional pressure on already overstretched election offices, they could convince more and more people that US elections are fraudulent.

Catherine Engelbrecht and her organization True the Vote have effectively tried to disenfranchise voters for more than a decade by claiming that voter rolls are filled with phony voter registrations. Engelbrecht’s rhetoric was given an unprecedented boost in the wake of 2020, when Trump and other elected officials mainstreamed conspiracies that the elections had been rigged in favor of Democrats. Hundreds of national and local election denial groups were formed, and many of them amassed huge followings on social media platforms like Telegram. As the 2024 presidential election looms, they are ramping up efforts to do it again.

“It could be exponentially worse than what we saw in 2020, but we’re going to be awake, we’re going to be engaged, we are going to understand the process, and we’re going to have options to continue to hold to those truths,” Engelbrecht said during a March webinar titled “Election Integrity Team Building 101.” “We’re not going to back down. There’s too much to lose.”

The hour-long presentation was delivered from a hotel room in Denver, with Engelbrecht laying out what could sound like a relatively benign plan to monitor elections and check voter rolls. “Keep a soft heart, keep a kind word in your mouth, approach people irrespective of party with love. You will find that things will be much better if that is the approach that is taken,” Engelbrecht said. The session, she said, was overbooked.’

Engelbrecht then began speaking about elections being “perilously close to cracking in half,” and her presentation became a highlight reel of election conspiracies, references to crystals, Christian nationalist rhetoric, and militaristic jargon. “If this republic’s to be saved, it’s because [of] people like all of you that are on this webinar right now. There are some bad actors out there and we live in particularly chaotic and caustic times,” said Engelbrecht. “If we wait on somebody to do something, we will watch freedom slip away on our watch. That’s how close we are.”

“These groups are trying to lay the groundwork to potentially make later claims about the election that very well may be false. But the more chaos that can be caused along the way will give more fodder to that disinformation,” Andrew Garber, an expert at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Voting Rights and Elections Program, tells WIRED. “It’s not just bad if there’s a mass voter challenge because people might get kicked off the rolls. It’s also bad if people then take that challenge and say, ‘See, look at all these ineligible voters,’ when in fact that’s not the case.”…

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“Tarrant County approves use of pre-numbered ballots. Do they ensure election integrity?”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

The Tarrant County Election Board Tuesday approved an initiative to use pre-numbered ballots in the general election in November. 

In a briefing to the county commissioners ahead of the board’s vote, Tarrant County Election Administrator Clint Ludwig said that pre-numbered ballots would increase election security and allow for more accurate auditing in the case of voter fraud inquiries. 

The practice, however, is outdated, largely unused by electoral authorities elsewhere in the United States and, contrary to proponents’ claims, could actually facilitate voter fraud, rather than prevent it, according to legal, political and computer science experts. 

Ballots in Tarrant County already receive a unique identifying number at the moment of voting, and adding more identifying information to voters’ ballots could potentially make it easier for bad actors to commit fraud like vote buying and voter coercion, according to David Kimball, a political scientist and ballot design specialist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

“The best thing preventing vote buying is the secret ballot,” he said in a phone interview. 

Ballots in federal elections are available for public viewing for 22 months after the election. If a person’s vote is tied to a specific number, then someone who has bought or coerced votes could use the pre-numbered ballot list to confirm that they got their bribe or intimidation obtained the desired result. 

Kimball said that pre-numbering ballots is “extremely rare” in the United States and that most ballots cast in the country have no identifying numbers at all on them. “I don’t know that anybody does it,” he said. “You want the ballots to be anonymous.” 

Andrew Appel, a computer scientist at Princeton University who has done extensive research on voting machines, pointed to the same risks associated with serial numbers on ballots. 

“The secret ballot is pretty important as a principle, since well over 100 years ago, to prevent people from being paid or coerced to vote a certain way,” he said in a phone interview. 

The best way to prevent ballot stuffing and other types of fraud mentioned by proponents of pre-numbered ballots is to staff polling places with a sufficient number of adequately trained election workers, Appel said. 

“The standard practice is to have enough confidence in your poll workers and to pay enough attention to poll worker training,” he said, adding that staffing polling places with multiple election workers is another age-old tactic for avoiding fraud. “One dishonest poll worker can’t stuff ballots, because there’s another poll worker that can keep an eye on that.”…

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“Wisconsin voters OK amendments aimed at private election grants after ‘Zuckerbucks’ scrutiny”

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Wisconsin voters on Tuesday approved two referendums that change the state Constitution to prohibit clerks from using private grants to administer elections and add that only appointed election officials can perform tasks to conduct elections.

With over 99% of the vote reported by Wednesday morning, 54.4% of voters approved the first question and 58.6% had approved the second. A majority of Wisconsin voters must vote in favor of a constitutional amendment in order for it to go into effect.

Because a majority of voters selected “yes,” clerks will no longer be able to apply for, accept or use private donations and grants, and the state Constitution will include that only election officials designated by law can perform tasks to conduct elections.

An analysis from the Legislature’s nonpartisan attorneys found that state law already says only appointed election officials can conduct elections, but doesn’t say what activities count as conducting an election. Liberal groups that opposed the referendum worried the lack of clarity could lead to lawsuits….

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“Prioritizing the People in the Procurement of Election Infrastructure”

Dennis Mema has posted this draft on SSRN (53 Pub. Con. L. J. 261 (2023)). Here is the abstract:

The continuous and successful holding of elections stands as one of the foundational pillars of American democracy. In the two decades since the passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), federal, state, and local actors have worked in tandem to improve election administration, and, through funding provided by Congress to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), states have been given the means to implement federal best practices. However, there exists a glaring gap wherein many states have diverged from both federal best practices and the behavior of other states—the procurement of election infrastructure such as ballots, voting machines, and tabulators. The procurement processes of some states impose inefficiencies or otherwise negatively impact the administration of elections, while the processes present in others can much more effectively facilitate the resolution of these issues. These processes can have a direct impact on voting rights and the security of election administration. Congress should create a federally implemented procurement standard within HAVA that states must meet in order to receive additional EAC funding; by doing so, the interests of all American voters may be protected at the highest level.

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Third Circuit, on 2-1 Vote, Rejects Argument that It Violates the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act to Not Count Timely But Undated Absentee Ballots in Pennsylvania

You can find the majority opinion and the dissent at this link.

The majority holds that the provision applies only to the question of who is eligible to vote, not whether an eligible voters’ votes are counted.

The court remanded for a consideration of an equal protection challenge, but that will be a tough claim to make.

This issue can really matter in a close statewide election. As the dissenting judge noted, “More than one million Pennsylvania voters mailed in their ballots in the November 2022 election. Of them, 10,000 timely-received ballots were not counted because they did not comply with the State law requirement that the voters’ declarations (‘the declarations”) on the mailing envelopes include a date below the voter’s signature [Citation], even though the date on the envelope is not used to (1) evaluate a voter’s statutory qualifications to vote, (2) determine the ballot’s timeliness, or (3) confirm that the voter did not die before Election Day or to otherwise detect fraud.”

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“Exclusive: A high-level election security group is back. NSA and Cyber Command want to keep it under the radar”

The Record:

U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency will not identify the latest leaders of their joint election security task force, in part to shield them from the threats and harassment other election officials have received for merely being associated with such work.

In a departure from previous election cycles, neither organization will publicize the names of the co-chiefs of the Election Security Group (ESG) because of the often-hostile environment surrounding U.S. elections since the 2020 presidential race, Recorded Future News has learned.

The identities also are being withheld, government sources said, as part of a larger push by top U.S. national security and law enforcement officials to convey that election security is a whole-of-government effort and therefore public messaging on the charged topic should be driven by agency chiefs — such as the Director of National Intelligence or the head of the FBI — and not bureaucratic entities or career employees.

The shift in strategy and the heightened concern for the safety of officials both come as the Biden administration warns of potential foreign interference in the November elections as well as dangers to individuals who help run the system.

The warnings are on top of longstanding concerns about potential cyberattacks targeting voting infrastructure, or human errors becoming amplified in influence operations that undermine confidence in election outcomes — especially with the rise of commercially available artificial intelligence tools that can assist an array of attacks at scale….

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Must-read WaPo: “Republicans plan blitz of election-related lawsuits, but prospects uncertain”


When Donald Trump installed a new chairman of the Republican Party this month, he explained privately and publicly what he wanted from the GOP: a bigger focus on election-related lawsuits, a more aggressive operation to monitor voting and a vow to make “election integrity” the party’s No. 1 priority.

The party is now striking a more aggressive tone as it recruits poll observers to keep an eye on in-person voting and boasts of positioning thousands of lawyers to challenge ballots and bring lawsuits. The strategy — an outgrowth of the one it used both before the 2020 election and after, when Trump sought to overturn the result — is meant to please Trump, electrify the base and persuade judges to tighten voting rules.

“It’s an extremely high priority for the president,” said the new Republican National Committee chairman, Michael Whatley, referring to Trump.

But the reality of what Republicans can achieve may not match Trump’s desires. Democrats have raised huge sums to fight Republican efforts, even as the GOP remains cash-strapped.

And the legal terrainis more settled now than it was four years ago, when courts had to weigh in on how to conduct voting during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.That leaves fewer opportunities to change the rules through the courts.

“Courts are a lot less tolerant of bringing cases now that could have been brought before,” said Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor who previously advised the Biden White House on voting rights. “A raft of new litigation over the summer is going to run into an awful lot of: ‘The things you’re protesting aren’t new. Where were you a couple of years ago?’”…

Whatley is bringing on board attorneys who have differing views of 2020. Charlie Spies, who has denied claims that voting machines flipped votes from Trump to Biden in 2020, will serve as the RNC’s chief counsel. Bobb, who has promoted false claims about the 2020 election, will be the RNC’s senior counsel for election integrity. Spies did not respond to a request for comment and Bobb said she could not speak publiclyuntil she moves into her post next week.

Bobb worked in front of the camera and behind the scenes to undermine Biden’s win in 2020. In Arizona, she helped Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani arrange a meeting that aired false assertions of mass election fraud and later promoted a review of 1.1 million ballots in the state’s most populous county that election experts widely discredited as unreliable.

Benjamin Ginsberg, a longtime Republican election attorney who represented George W. Bush’s campaign during Florida’s 2000 recount, described Spies as seasoned and reasonable and Bobb as an “unguided missile.”

Ginsberg said the election lawsuits that Republicans and Democrats are filing often are aimed less at winning in court and more at boosting fundraising and getting their supporters to the polls. As a result, the public has less faith in elections, he said.

“If more evidence-free lawsuits are filed based only on the belief that the other side is rigging the election, it will be increasingly difficult for whoever wins to actually govern,” Ginsberg said….

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“Ballot Measure May Scare Away the People Who Help Run Wisconsin Elections”


For the past two years, Nick Ramos has volunteered his time to ensure more Wisconsinites can participate in elections: with a mobile printer in hand, he visits polling places in the Milwaukee area to help people who lack proper identification obtain it on the spot, so that they are eligible to vote.

But Ramos, who directs the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, an organization that promotes good government, says he may not volunteer in the future if voters approve Question 2, a constitutional amendment on the state’s April 2 ballot. “This thing gets passed, and I’d be very afraid to do that again,” he told Bolts.

The measure would require that only “an election official designated by law may perform tasks in the conduct of primaries, elections or referendums.” It can easily read as an innocuous codification of existing statute, and it has generated no campaign spending on either side of the issue since Republican lawmakers chose to place it on the ballot late last year.

Among advocates for voting rights and for well-resourced election administration, however, this under-the-radar proposal is alarming. A slew of lawyers, elections experts, and nonprofit leaders tell Bolts Question 2 is written so vaguely as to invite lawsuits over what constitutes a “task” and what, exactly, it means to help “conduct” an election. 

They fear this confusion will have a chilling effect on the many non-governmental groups and volunteers who assist in election administration. If it passes, the measure is set to go into effect this year, ahead of November’s presidential election in which Wisconsin is again considered a critical swing state.

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“Wisconsin is lagging behind other swing states in shoring up election policies following 2020 chaos”

NBC News:

Four years ago, Wisconsin arguably was the state where Donald Trump came the closest to overturning the election results.

A barrage of lawsuits aimed at invalidating hundreds of thousands of mostly Democratic votes in the crucial battleground sought to take advantage of certain election policies in the state related to absentee ballots that were cast early and by confined or disabled voters, as well as those where election workers completed certain missing information on the envelopes.

The effort made its way all the way to the state Supreme Court, then controlled by conservatives, which ruled by one vote against Trump’s bid to overturn the results.

And yet, heading into the next presidential election, lawmakers in Wisconsin have done little to prevent a similar scenario from playing out again in the event of a close race.

State lawmakers have failed to enact any measures that would serve to clarify the nuances of absentee ballots that Trump, now the presumptive 2024 Republican nominee, attempted to exploit. They also have not closed loopholes that could provide allies of the former president with openings to insert conspiracy theories and misinformation.

And the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which oversees elections in the state, has issued pieces of modest guidance, but remains flooded with partisan attacks and efforts to impeach its top official.

That all stands in contrast to other swing states that were also targeted by Trump allies in the wake of the 2020 election. In Michigan, Democratic lawmakers have implemented broad reforms to election security and ballot counting. And in Pennsylvania, the Democratic governor recently rolled out an election security task force designed to mitigate threats to the vote this year.

But in Wisconsin, many of the same obstacles, questions and gray areas — regarding drop boxes, disabled and elderly voters, ballot processing and, perhaps most importantly, the protection of an election oversight apparatus that has been inundated by threats and attacks — remain unaddressed, alarming election workers and watchdogs in the state.

“Statewide, I don’t see a lot of change,” said Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell, the top election official in Wisconsin’s second-most populous county. “It’s not like something dramatically different has happened here,” added McDonell, a Democrat.

Jay Heck, the executive director Common Cause Wisconsin, the state’s branch of the national nonpartisan government watchdog group, added that the consequences could be dire if the right mix of circumstances were to emerge on or following Election Day.

“It could all explode,” he said.

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Funding elections

Justin here. The President’s 2025 budget dropped on Monday, and it once again includes a substantial, long-term, sustained investment in funding elections. $5 billion, this time around.

I continue to think that this is right at the top of the list of critical election issues. It’s not as juicy as mapping out the endless labyrinth of hypothetical post-election shenanigans, or repeatedly saying AI — the “blockchain” of 2024. But it’s profoundly important, and (with some notable exceptions) tragically undercovered.

You want voting systems that are secure and reliable? That costs money. You want officials who know what they’re doing? That costs money. You want a communications structure able to withstand information dysfunction? That costs money. You want an electoral process that’s accessible to eligible voters? That costs money. You want results that are fast and accurate? That costs money.

Election officials have been making stone soup for way too long now, even as our expectations have expanded, county budgets have tightened, and the environment has gotten more difficult. Jurisdictions have taken philanthropic options — a last resort in the first place — off the table without stepping up to cover the gap. At this rate, we’re asking to get the elections we pay for, rather than the elections we demand and deserve.

After a few collapses, America finally decided to invest in roads, bridges, sewers, and broadband. The election system is the infrastructure of infrastructure: everything else we do in this country builds on that substrate. The President has repeatedly (FY2023 here and here, FY2024 here, FY 2025 here) tried to add the election system to the infrastructure we actually maintain. Congress has completely ignored the call. The strategy appears to be “hope it all holds up again.” Which is not actually a strategy.

Funding local election infrastructure is a profoundly bipartisan issue. Every member of Congress got their current job through the elections process, which elects Republicans in Republican areas and Democrats in Democratic areas. The bridge every member takes to get to work is the same bridge they’ve stubbornly refused to maintain. Can we please shore it up before it breaks, this time?

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