Following up on a pledge in his State of the Union address, President Obama established a commission to address voting issues arising from last November’s election. The New American observed that the cyberattack on Florida’s primary was not the first documented attempt to hack an American election. The Canvass called for more accurate election data. The Arkansas Senate voted to override Governor Mike Beebe’s veto of the State’s Voter ID law. In Iowa, new regulations allowing election officials to remove people from voter registration lists if their citizenship is questioned that took effect this week have been challenged by voting rights advocates. A bill aimed at easing voting for military and overseas voters was passed without specific provisions for allowing the electronic transmission of voted ballots, but the provision will be considered by a legislative task force. Governor McDonnell signed a law restricting the forms of ID allowed for voting in Virginia and the incumbent Kenyan President charged that technology failures led to fraud in elections earlier this month.
President Obama signed an executive order Thursday creating the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, a panel tasked with formulating suggestions on how to cut down on long lines to vote and other problems that plagued voters in 2012. Obama announced plans to launch the effort — co-chaired by lawyers Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg who represented the Obama and Romney campaigns, respectively, during the 2012 election — during his State of the Union address. But the White House hadn’t offered details on how the commission would work until Thursday. The order directs the nine-member panel to produce a report for Obama within six months of its first public meeting that will “identify best practices and otherwise make recommendations to promote the efficient administration of elections in order to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots without undue delay, and to improve the experience of voters facing other obstacles in casting their ballots, such as members of the military, overseas voters, voters with disabilities, and voters with limited English proficiency.”
In what is being touted as the first known cyberattack on a U.S. election, many mainstream news outlets are reporting on the approximately 2,500 bogus absentee ballot requests that were flagged as suspicious by Miami-Dade County’s absentee ballot processing software in last year’s primary elections. A Miami-Dade County grand jury investigated the incident and described it as: a scheme where someone created a computer program that automatically, systematically and rapidly submitted to the County’s Department of Elections numerous bogus on-line requests for absentee ballots.
Fortunately, the software had safeguards that verified IP addresses on the absentee ballot requests. That was instrumental in detecting this cyberattack, but the incident still leaves questions unanswered regarding the inherent insecurity of the Internet and why it should be used at all in the balloting phase of elections. There’s also the question of how many cyberattacks might have been carried out elsewhere or at other times that were not detected.
President Obama created a special commission Thursday designed to find ways to make voting easier. The bipartisan commission will report to the president later this year with proposals on how state and local officials can “shorten lines and promote the efficient conduct of elections,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “That report is intended to serve as a best practices guide for state and local election officials to improve voter’s experience at the polls under their existing election laws,” Earnest said. Obama authorized the commission by signing an executive order Thursday. The order said members will examine such challenges as processing overseas and military ballots, and voters who have disabilities or “limited English proficiency.”
Editorials: New Voter Suppression Efforts Prove the Voting Rights Act Is Still Needed | Ari Berman/The Nation
In 2011 and 2012, 180 new voting restrictions were introduced in forty-one states. Ultimately, twenty-five laws and two executive actions were passed in nineteen states following the 2010 election to make it harder to vote. In many cases, these laws backfired on their Republican sponsors. The courts blocked ten of them, and young and minority voters—the prime target of the restrictions—formed a larger share of the electorate in 2012 than in 2008. Despite the GOP’s avowal to reach out to new constituencies following the 2012 election, Republican state legislators have continued to support new voting restrictions in 2013. According to a report by Project Vote, fifty-five new voting restrictions have been introduced in thirty states so far this year. “The 2013 legislative season has once again brought an onslaught of bills to restrict access to the ballot, including proposals to undercut important election laws that have recently opened the electorate to more voters,” writes Erin Ferns Lee. These measures include “strict photo ID policies … voter registration restrictions; voter purges; [felon] disenfranchisement; and policies to cut back or revoke voting laws that have made voting more convenient.”
President Obama and leaders in both parties, in calling for improving American elections, point to long lines at the polls last year as a significant problem that needs to be solved. And with good reason: Longer wait times can discourage people from voting and fuel the perception that their right to vote is in jeopardy. A post-election poll by the Pew Research Center found that only 55 percent of voters who waited 30 minutes or more to cast a ballot thought that the election was managed “very well,” compared with 79 percent for voters who waited less than a half-hour and 83 percent for voters who had no wait. Long lines, however, are just the tip of iceberg; much more needs to be done. To achieve an election system that is convenient, accurate and fair, state and local leaders need data to review and track their voting processes–from registration to ballot-counting. This kind of analysis is not easy. Our nation’s locally run elections lack a common set of performance measures and a baseline from which reliable comparisons–between election cycles and across jurisdictions-can be made. Accurate data on what leads to better or worse results in any particular area are often scarce.
Anecdotes are illustrative, evocative and memorable—and a staple of election policy debates. Just think back to February’s State of the Union Address, when President Obama introduced Desiline Victor, the Floridian who waited six hours to vote. The President was illustrating why he created a bipartisan election commission. But anecdotes make a weak foundation for public policy. Instead, “evidence-based management” is underpinning all kinds of government services these days, whether the topic is health care, transportation, criminal justice, education or election administration. For election administration, finding “evidence” is tricky. Every state, and frequently every jurisdiction, conducts elections differently, making comparisons difficult. Data is not gathered uniformly nationwide as it is in many other government arenas. Election costs are hard to track because they’re borne by several levels of government. You get the idea—it is hard to get facts and figures to support election evaluation.
Voting Blogs: First Person Singular: Data is a useful tool for elections officials | Steve Weir/electionlineWeekly
There are two major observations that I have had during my 24 years as County Clerk-Recorder. First, the people who work in elections are extremely dedicated and ethical. Second, we have in our hands access to a wealth of data that we should use to tell our story. However, many of us miss the opportunity to review and to “own” our data. I slowly found out in my early days as Clerk, that our elections information management system had TONS of reports on virtually every aspect of our operations. From simple over-under reports (that can identify individual precinct problems) to rejected vote-by-mail ballots, patterns of problems could be easily identified and tracked. In 1996, we had a close contest for a California State Senate seat. Out of about 300,000 votes cast, the spread was about 700 votes, not close. However, the losing party asked for a recount. After 25,000 ballots were hand counted, the spread had hardly changed and the recount was called off. As part of this process, I noticed that 3,200 vote-by-mail ballots had been rejected, almost 4 percent of the total vote-by-mail ballots cast. Most of these arrived after election day. No one seemed bothered by this statistic. No one except me. These were voters who did not have their ballots counted.
Editorials: Groups study future of voting in Indianapolis | Elizabeth L. White/Indianapolis Recorder
Marion County political leaders, elected officials, poll workers and community groups met this week in the Public Assembly Room of the City-County Building to begin the discussion about the future of voting in Indianapolis. Launched in February, the Voter Experience Project is the Marion County Election Board’s effort to listen, deliberate and ultimately decide how and where we will vote in the future. Why are we having this conversation now? Our current fleet of voting equipment is more than 10 years old. Purchased in 2002, the first generation machines are starting to show signs of wear despite a vigorous maintenance schedule. Replacement parts are also becoming more difficult to find. In addition, our software license and maintenance contract expires in 2014, and we don’t know if the software vendor will continue to support their product after next year.
Legislation ensuring every resident in the state the right to vote 15 days before certain elections awaits Governor Christie’s signature, and municipal officials in northwest Bergen County are holding their collective breath. “This is going to cause pure havoc,” said Waldwick Borough Clerk Paula Jaegge, who was initially concerned that every municipality would be required to provide polling locations. “We would have to reschedule meetings and juggle a lot of things around to make this work for that long a time period.” An amendment to the bill, which cleared its last legislative hurdle last week, instead would require seven polling locations in Bergen, a figure based on its population. The county Board of Elections would be responsible for determining where the polling locations would be. Even so, many are questioning the need for it at all. “We already have it,” said state Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Cresskill, who represents District 39, which includes Ramsey, Mahwah and Oakland. “We have early voting through vote by mail. This just creates a whole series of expenses, more government layers.”