Tag Archives: election administration

Preliminary Injunction against Georgia’s Birthdate Requirement on Absentee Ballot Envelopes

Order (via Democracy Docket). The court relied on the “materiality” provision of the Civil Rights Act. Similar issues have arisen recently in Pennsylvania, and provoked an opinion from Justice Alito (as I recall), although the Supreme Court did not address the merits. The Court may need to weigh in on the scope and applicability of this provision before next year’s elections.

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“Voting rights group sues to overturn Michigan law on transporting voters to polls”

Michigan Radio.

“A voting rights law firm has sued to overturn a decades-old Michigan law.

“The law bans anyone from hiring vehicles to get voters to the polls, unless they’re physically unable to walk.

“The lawsuit says Michigan is the only state with such a voter transportation ban, and that the law’s only purpose is voter suppression. …

“Courts have upheld the state’s law before, including in 2020, when Priorities USA took a similar case to federal court.”

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Democratic Group Plans $10 Million Push to Protect Election Officials

Nick Corasaniti in the N.Y. Times.

“A group that works to elect Democrats as the top election officials in states around the country is planning a $10 million venture to pay for private security for election officials of both parties, register new voters and try to combat disinformation.

“The group, the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, is starting a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organization called Value the Vote that will initially focus on five battleground states: Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina, Nevada and Wisconsin. …

“Officials at the group say they will provide equal funding opportunities to both Democratic and Republican election officials, but how the distribution will work in practice is unclear. Republican officials may hesitate to take money from a Democratic organization, fearing political fallout from fellow conservatives.”

Read more for additional details.

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“Inside the right’s effort to build a voter fraud hunting tool”

Jane Timm reports this important story for NBC News.

“Activists are currently testing a computer program called EagleAI NETwork, a database loaded with voter rolls and other records that promises to quickly churn through the data and find registrations that may be suspect based on other sources. The activists then personally evaluate the flagged voter registrations one by one — looking up home addresses on Google Maps, searching for obituaries online — and prepare lists of questionable registrations to report to local officials. …

 “’EagleAI presentations that I have seen are confused and seem to steer counties towards improper list maintenance activities,’ Blake Evans, Georgia’s elections director, said in a statement to NBC News. ‘EagleAI draws inaccurate conclusions and then presents them as if they are evidence of wrongdoing.’ …

“…Evans said the company is misunderstanding — and misconstruing — how list maintenance works, and painting typos and formatting differences, like typing a voter registration in all caps, as problems.

“’Eagle AI data offers zero additional value to Georgia’s existing list maintenance procedures,’ Evans added.

“’The results are going to vastly over-inflate potentially inaccurate voter registrations,’ said David Becker, an election expert who led the effort to create ERIC, which is run and financially supported by member states. 

And while he warned the election officials might get overwhelmed by reports, he’s most worried about the voters.

“’Imagine if you got a notice in the mail saying that your eligibility as a registered voter in the place where you live is being challenged for some uncertain reason. You have to actually physically present yourself … to prove you are who you are and that you’re entitled to vote where you always voted,’ he said. ‘That could happen with not a handful of people, but with potentially thousands.’”

The story discusses how this is being developed as an alternative to ERIC and goes on to describe Cleta Mitchell’s involvement with the project.

The concern with excessive eligibility challenges of this nature are clear. It’s similar to the overuse of FOIA-type request we saw with election administration records after 2020. Inundation of the system overloads the system and it’s like a denial-of-service attack.

On the other hand, we obviously have a huge trust-deficit problem in this country right now with respect to election administration. And while the attack on ERIC seemed entirely unjustified to me, we need something to replace it that’s workable and acceptable to both sides of the polarized partisan divide on the topic of election administration. While the analogy to the North Ireland peace accord is not perfect, the basic point is elections necessarily involve competition between the left and the right, and we have got to figure out a way to make that competition appear transparent and fair and trustworthy to the two competing teams.

I will be curious to hear what Charles Stewart, among others, thinks about the best way forward on this issue in what seems to be inevitably, whether we like it or not, a post-ERIC world.

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“North Carolina Republicans finalize passage of an elections bill that could withstand a veto”

NBC News.

“The Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature finalized a far-reaching elections bill late Wednesday that would end a grace period for counting mailed absentee ballots, toughen same-day registration rules and empower partisan observers at polling places. …

“The bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has previously successfully vetoed three provisions contained again within the 40-plus page bill — including the absentee ballot deadline change. In a statement before Wednesday’s votes, he lamented efforts by lawmakers to pass legislation that “hurts the freedom to vote.”

“With Republicans this year holding narrow veto-proof majorities in both chambers, another Cooper veto would likely be overridden.

“The nation’s ninth-largest state is considered a presidential battleground, and the 2024 race for governor is expected to be highly competitive. …

“The omnibus measure would again attempt to require that traditional absentee ballots be received by county election offices by the time in-person balloting ends at 7:30 p.m. on the date of the election. Current law allows up to three days after the election for a mailed-in ballot envelope to be received if it’s postmarked by the election date.

“Critics of the change say the end of the grace period leaves last-minute voters at the mercy of the U.S. Postal Service, and will disenfranchise them.

“But Republicans argue that all voters should follow the same deadline regardless of voting preference and that state election officials would communicate with the public about the deadline change. A majority of states require that absentee ballots arrive on or before the election date.”

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“Lawsuit over Wisconsin absentee ballot witness addresses allowed to proceed”

Wisconsin State Journal.

“A lawsuit that would let Wisconsin election officials accept absentee ballots with partial witness addresses as long as the correct addresses are discernable can proceed, a Dane County judge has ruled. …

“The lawsuit was filed against the Wisconsin Elections Commission and Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl last September after a Waukesha County judge ruled that election officials can’t fix or fill in missing address information on absentee ballot envelopes.”

Right now, the new lawsuit survived a motion to dismiss, with further proceedings to follow. Hopefully, this issue will all be straightened out in plenty of time for clear instructions to both voters and election officials.

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“Rulebook for Arizona’s 2024 elections faces criticism from multiple sides”

Votebeat Arizona.

“As Secretary of State Adrian Fontes makes rules for how next year’s elections must be run in Arizona, Republican legislative leaders say he’s overstepping his authority. Voting rights advocates say he isn’t exerting enough authority.

“The groups publicized their qualms this week with Fontes’ new draft of the state’s Elections Procedures Manual — the giant rulebook that instructs Arizona counties how to conduct elections to comply with state law. …

“Fontes’ final version will go to Gov. Katie Hobbs and Attorney General Kris Mayes in October, who must approve it by December for it to take effect.”

The article also reports that Republicans are threatening a lawsuit over this. Given the importance of Arizona next year, keep an eye on this.

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“Judge calls new Texas election law unconstitutional but state says it will appeal ruling”

AP reports:

“The law, which would abolish a position that oversees elections in Harris County, was temporarily blocked by state District Judge Karin Crump in Austin after county officials filed a lawsuit earlier this month.

“But the judge’s order, issued Monday, was short-lived. It was put on hold on Tuesday after the Texas Attorney General’s Office filed a notice that it will appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

“The new law, set to take effect Sept. 1, was pushed through by Republican lawmakers who accused Harris County officials of mismanaging recent elections. Democrats accused Republicans of singling out the county because, like other large urban areas around the state, it has increasingly voted Democratic. …

“The Texas Constitution prevents the Legislature from passing any laws that are not uniform throughout the state and only target a specific location, Crump wrote. …

“Almost two dozen Republican candidates have filed lawsuits, alleging their losses in Harris County during last year’s election were due in part to the various problems as well as to illegally cast votes. A ruling is expected in the next few weeks in one of the lawsuits, the first to go to trial earlier this month.

“There has been no evidence that the issues affected the outcomes.”

This is an important case and very much worth watching.

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“States need to pay up to secure 2024 elections, experts warn”

Axios reports.

“Presidential elections cost $2 billion-$5 billion to administer nationally, yet most of the nation’s 10,000 local jurisdictions are woefully underfunded, Charles Stewart III, director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, told the [NCSL] conference. …

“There’s an ‘alarming’ turnover rate among staffers responsible for administering elections at the county level — 50% in North Carolina since 2020 and nearly 75% in Kansas, said Rachel Orey, associate director of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a D.C. think tank.

  • Next year will be the first time ‘huge amounts of the election workforce’ administers a ‘high-turnout presidential election,’ Orey said at the conference.”
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Tech, Training, and Tricks: Why We Should Expect a Good Deal More than “Nothing” from the President’s Commission

Jonathan Bernstein has insisted that we should “expect nothing” from the president’s electoral administration commission, headed by Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg.  It’s not a bad prediction for any pundit, because “nothing” is pretty much what we’ve been getting out of Washington for a good long while.  Moreover, I wasn’t sure that anyone was more cynical than I am about the possibility of election reform, so it’s nice to have company.  As I’ve written elsewhere, getting “from here to there” with election reform is incredibly difficult in the current political climate.  Nonetheless, I think that Bernstein is wrong and that it’s worth saying why.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I have occasionally been asked by the commission to provide technical expertise and, like most of the people in my field, know and respect both Bauer and Ginsberg).

Your view of the commission will depend on what you think it’s realistic to expect on the reform front.  Bernstein, much to his credit, candidly admits that he wasn’t sure what President Obama should have done in the wake of the 2012 election.  He suggests that Obama should have pushed for legislation in the hope of slipping it into an omnibus bill, although he ruefully admits it “probably would have died.”  (On that prediction, I’d just omit the “probably.”) Or perhaps, says Bernstein, Obama should have pushed to draft “model legislation” for the states.  (This doesn’t strike me as any more likely to succeed; it’s hard to see why state legislators will pass meaningful reform given that they are no less self-interested than members of Congress.)  Bernstein nonetheless thinks that a dead bill that squeaked through the Senate or model legislation for the states will do more to reform our system than the president’s commission will.

If this were yet-another commission pronouncing on the deep systemic reforms we need (or, worse, trotting out the liberals’ list of pet reform projects), I’d be with Bernstein.  I’d be even gloomier than Bernstein, actually.  But Bernstein either isn’t paying enough attention to the structure of the commission or doesn’t realize how much good a commission structured in this fashion can do.

As Bernstein astutely points out, this commission doesn’t look like it’s structured to “cut a deal” on election reform.  To my eyes, it doesn’t even look like it’s structured to propose Bernstein’s “strong” federal bill or his model legislation for the states.   I assume we aren’t going to see some substantial compromise proposal on the hot-button issues of the day.  And with good reason.  In the current political climate, there is no grand bargain to be had.  I don’t care who is on the commission or who is sponsoring Bernstein’s proposed legislation.  The votes aren’t there.

The Commission is, however structured to get something done.  It’s a commission filled with highly respected election administrators and Fortune 500 CEOs.  No representatives of “the groups,” no office holders, no academics, no political types save Bauer and Ginsberg.  What can a commission like that do?

It can get something done.  I’ve spent a great deal of time working with election administrators under the auspices of the Pew Foundations, which has turned my proposal for a Democracy Index into a reality.  That work really brought home the lesson familiar to anyone familiar who understands the root causes of the lines we saw in 2008 and 2012: election administrators are doing an extraordinarily hard job with extraordinarily few resources.  Many lack the planning expertise and technical support they need to do the job we’ve assigned them.  Some don’t have the tech, some don’t have the training, and some don’t know the tricks necessary to deal with the administrative problems they face.  They lack, in short, the tools and knowledge possessed by . . . that’s right, Fortune 500 CEOs.

Having a problem with lines?  Maybe you should talk to Brian Britton, a top executive at Disney.  Struggling to do the short- and long-range planning necessary to predict voter turnout, allocate staff and machines, and use what resources you have wisely?  Maybe you should talk to Joe Echevarria, the CEO of Deloitte.  Election administrators routinely encounter an endless number of technical, nuts-and-bolts problems.  Election administrators don’t need a grand bargain.  They need small, pragmatic solutions.  They need more technical capacity.  They need, in short, the knowledge and capacity that Fortune 500 companies possess.

And, lo and behold, guess who’s on the commission?  The election administrators who know the must about the nuts-and-bolts problems of election administration and the Fortune 500 CEOs who know the most about solving those kinds of problems.  I would expect a commission structured in this way to offer low-key, deeply pragmatic, easily implemented, and assiduously nonpartisan proposals for making our election system work.  I would expect a commission like that to begin the important task of getting the technical tools and business know-how to the election administrators who desperately need it.  That’s a nonpolitical solution, but it’s also a cure for at least some of what ails our politics.

Progressives are likely to be disappointed in such an outcome.  They want nationally mandated standards.  They want the states to pass model legislation.  They want a solution to the voter ID fight.  They want a lot of things that are never going to happen in this political climate.  But they ought to appreciate what a commission like this can do.   To the extent we’ve seen any meaningful election reform during the last few years, most of it has come from capacity-building efforts like the Pew Foundations’ efforts to improve the voter-registration process through its ERIC project or Doug Chapin’s tireless efforts at the University of Minnesota “Election Academy” to raise the level of professionalization among election administrators.  None of this work is glamorous.  It’s the type of technocratic work one expects from CPAs, not civil rights crusaders.  It’s not the stuff of reporter’s dreams.  It’s not the stuff of anyone’s dreams.  But it matters.

Having watched two presidential elections from the Obama campaign’s Boiler Room, I’ve become convinced that if you care about the rights of voters, you should focus as much on what business school teaches us as what the Constitution teaches us.  Sometimes, a well-run, properly administered election system is a civil-rights solution.  If the commission helps us get even a little bit closer to a well-run, properly administered system, that’s a victory in my book.  At the very least, it ain’t “nothing.”

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