Voters may get to skip the lines at the polls this summer by receiving and marking their ballots online, but election officials must first decide if the convenience outweighs the security risks. The State Board of Elections will vote this month on using a new online ballot marking system, which includes electronic delivery of absentee ballots, in the June 24 gubernatorial primary election. But voter advocates and security hawks warned in recent months that poor authentication methods — as well as inconsistent online requirements — make the system vulnerable to voter fraud. For one online ballot request option, requesting an absentee ballot requires only a voter’s name and date of birth. For another, the voter’s driver’s license number, issuance date and last four digits of their social security number is required. Information for either format can be easily obtained, advocates say. Under Maryland’s “no-excuse” absentee voter policy, any voter can request an absentee ballot without providing a reason for needing one.
The state Republican Party can intervene in a lawsuit over how absentee ballots should be handled under the state’s new voter ID law, a Pulaski County circuit judge ruled Monday. The party had asked Judge Tim Fox to allow it to intervene in a lawsuit the Pulaski County Election Commission filed against the state Board of Election Commissioners. The suit alleges that the board exceeded its authority when it adopted rules on how absentee ballots should be handled when voters submit them without the proof of identity required under Act 595 of 2013. The attorney general’s office is representing the Board of Election Commissioners in the case. George Ritter, attorney for the state GOP, argued in a hearing Monday that the party should be allowed to intervene because Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat, cannot provide vigorous and effective representation in the case.
Lawmakers have been unable to change a state law on postmarked absentee ballots that may accidentally void some valid ballots. Election officials say some valid ballots over the years could have been invalidated because the Postal Service doesn’t always postmark business reply mail envelopes, The Des Moines Register reported (http://dmreg.co/Q6Vtv7 ). Voters return completed absentee ballots in those envelopes. State law requires that absentee ballots received after Election Day must be stamped with a postmark from the day before Election Day or earlier. The law has been in effect for years. But an accompanying administrative rule that allowed election officials to open ballots received after Election Day without a postmark and check the date on the enclosed voter affidavit was repealed in 2011.
An early voting initiative petition is prompting a Missouri lawmaker to propose another version that could lead to voters deciding between competing plans. A House committee last week endorsed a constitutional amendment and companion legislation that would establish an early voting period. That comes as the Missouri Early Voting Fund is using professional petition circulators and volunteers to gather thousands of required signatures from registered voters in hopes of getting its proposal on this year’s ballot. The campaign treasurer for the initiative campaign is a former chief of staff for Attorney General Chris Koster. The initiative petition would allow early voting for six weeks and require that officials accommodate early voting on Saturday and Sunday for the final 21 days before federal or state elections. The proposal in the legislature calls for nine days of early voting and depends upon lawmakers to approve funding.
Arkansas’ Board of Election Commissioners on Wednesday adopted rules for handling absentee ballots under the state’s new voter ID law despite a lawsuit that accuses the board of overstepping its authority. The rules allow an absentee voter who does not provide a proper ID when voting until noon on the Monday after the election to provide an approved form of ID — such as a copy of a driver’s license. The rules also say those absentee voters should be notified via first class mail that they must submit approved forms of identification before their votes can be counted. “What we’re doing is making sure that we’re not disenfranchising any voters,” said Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin, the chairman of the election board.
National: Obama, Citing New Laws, Says the G.O.P. Is Moving to Restrict Voting Rights | New York Times
President Obama deplored on Friday what he called a Republican campaign to deny voting rights to millions of Americans as he stepped up efforts to rally his political base heading into a competitive midterm campaign season. Appearing at the annual convention of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in Manhattan, Mr. Obama accused Republicans of trying to rig the elections by making it harder for older people, women, minorities and the impoverished to cast ballots in swing states that could determine control of the Senate. “The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” Mr. Obama said in a hotel ballroom filled with cheering supporters, most of them African-American. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.”
During the brief time in the election cycle when the voting booths are actually open, we hear a lot how smoothly elections are going—where voters are waiting in long lines, where ballots are getting rejected, and the like. Elections expert Doug Chapin, who heads the University of Minnesota’s Elections Academy, calls it “anec-data”—anecdotes substituting for hard numbers. In a presidential election, we tend to hear all about problems in swing states, since the national press corps is already there, but we’re less likely to hear about issues in Montana or Connecticut, where the election outcome is almost a foregone conclusion. Good data would make it easy to compare states’ election performance, and more importantly, let us see how states are improving or declining from one election to the next. That’s why Pew’s 2012 Elections Performance Index is a big deal. Released this week, the index uses standardized data from the U.S. Census, the Elections Assistance Commission, and a major survey to assess states on 17 different variables and judge just how well they are running their elections. Because Pew offered an index for 2008 and 2010, we can now compare two different presidential elections to actually see whether election administration is getting better or worse—rather than just guess. It’s the first time such a tool has been available. For the most part, the results are encouraging. A quick perusal shows 40 of the 50 states have improved since 2008—wait times are down an average of three minutes and online registration is spreading quickly, with 13 states offering online voter registration during the 2012 election, up from just two in 2008. (Since the election, another five states have started offering it.) Many of the top-performing states in 2008, like North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Colorado, stayed on top in 2012 while low performers, like Mississippi, Alabama, California, and New York remained at the bottom.
A hearing has been scheduled in a lawsuit over how absentee ballots should be handled under the state’s new voter ID law. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox on Tuesday scheduled a hearing on motions in the case for Monday at 9 a.m. The suit, filed March 12 by the Pulaski County Election Commission and Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane, alleges that the state Board of Election Commissioners exceeded its authority when it adopted an emergency rule in February concerning absentee ballots. Also this week, the commission argued in a filing that the state GOP should not be allowed to intervene in the case. The emergency rule states that if county election officials receive an absentee ballot that is not accompanied by a copy of the voter’s ID, as required under Act 595 of 2013, they should treat it as a provisional ballot and give the voter until noon on the Monday following the election to submit ID and have the ballot counted.
The state Board of Election Commissioners voted Wednesday to approve proposed permanent rules on how absentee ballots should be handled under Arkansas’ new voter ID law. The rules state that if an absentee voter fails to submit a copy of his or her identification with an absentee ballot, as required under Act 595 of 2013, the ballot should be treated as a provisional ballot and the voter should be given until noon on the Monday following the election to submit ID and have the ballot counted. The rules go next to the Administrative Rules and Regulations Subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council for review.
From long lines, to near ballot shortages – Tuesday’s election left behind some questions. The last minute rush, absentee voting, and the ballot size itself are just a few of the challenges city officials faced. About 32,000 votes were cast. “We still seem to have a bit of energy,” Lorie Hogstad, Sioux Falls City Clerk, said. Hogstad’s office is a bit quieter the day after the big city vote. While she and her team work on post-election details, she touched on the previous night. Election night started like a sprint, but slowed to marathon pace down later in the evening. The polls were set to close at 7 pm, but the first voting center did not submit ballots until 8 pm.
An independent nonprofit organization has released its third analysis of how each state conducts its elections and for the third time North Dakota took the top spot on the list. The Pew Charitable Trusts released its elections performance index Tuesday, which it has released every two years since the 2008 election cycle. Pew based its results using 17 election indicators including voter turnout, the percentage of military and absentee ballots that aren’t returned, online registration to vote and the wait time for being able to vote. With North Dakota being the only state in the country that doesn’t have voter registration, it is exempt from several indicators used in the performance index. In the areas North Dakota was ranked in, it rated above the national average in every single category. “When you see Pew looked at all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and North Dakota consistently ranks very high, that’s encouraging,” North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger said.
Indiana: Faintly, the fine print – Printed boxes on absentee ballots too light, longtime voter discovers | Terre Haute Tribune Star
In the warm sunlight bathing the front porch of Margaret Taylor’s South 14th Street home, faint boxes are barely visible on her absentee ballot for the May 6 Democratic Party primary. According to instructions on the ballot, the boxes are vital because they are what voters must fill in to have their votes counted for various candidates. Voters must fill in the boxes across from the names of the candidates they support. However, when Taylor stands up and takes her ballot into her home, the reduced lighting makes the lightly shaded boxes nearly invisible. “I have a lot of trouble seeing it,” Taylor said. “You gotta really look hard.” Taylor, 82, a former Democratic Party vice precinct committee person and longtime activist in local politics, has been voting since she was legally eligible, and this is the first time she’s seen a ballot like this one, she said. She worries that the boxes may be difficult for older people or those with weak eyesight to see. “I think it’s unfair to everyone on that ballot,” she said, adding that other people she has spoken with share her concern.
The Arkansas Republican Party wants to intervene in a lawsuit over how absentee ballots are handled under the state’s new voter ID law, arguing that the state’s Democratic attorney general can’t adequately represent GOP voters. The GOP on Wednesday asked a Pulaski County judge to allow it to help defend the state Board of Election Commissioners for adopting a rule that gives absentee voters additional time to show proof of ID. The Pulaski County Election Commission claimed in a lawsuit earlier this month that the state panel overstepped its bounds with the new rule.
Florida’s new battleground over voting is the unlikeliest of places: a cozy branch library in Pinellas Park. It’s one of five remote locations where Pinellas voters put absentee ballots in locked boxes under the watchful eyes of poll workers. Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark has used libraries and tax collectors’ offices as dropoff sites in the past three election cycles as a way to encourage people to vote absentee and avoid the possibility of long lines at early voting locations. Clark’s dropoff sites have become symbols of her emphasis on voting by mail or absentee over all other forms of voting. Her three early voting sites in the 2012 election were by far the fewest of any large county in Florida.
A Secretary of State analysis said about 10.4 percent of absentee ballots that were definitively accepted or rejected in Hattiesburg’s special mayoral election in September were incorrectly counted. According to a “Report of Absentee Voting” released Friday morning by the Secretary of State’s Office, a review of 1,044 of the 1,048 absentee ballots cast showed about 8.5 percent of those marked “accepted” should have been rejected, while about 31.9 percent of those marked “rejected” should have been accepted.
The director of the state Board of Election Commissioners on Friday filed an emergency statement that he said was inadvertently omitted when the commission previously filed an emergency rule on how absentee ballots should be handled under the state’s new voter ID law. The board adopted an emergency rule Feb. 28 stating that when voters submit absentee ballots that are not accompanied by a form of identification as required under Act 595 of 2013, those ballots should be treated as provisional ballots and the voters should have until noon on the Monday after the election to submit ID and have their ballot counted. Act 595 requires voters to show photo ID at the polls and requires absentee voters to provide a form of identification, not necessarily photo ID. The board adopted the emergency rule after confusion arose as to whether a cure period provided in the law for voters who fail to show photo ID at the polls should apply to absentee voters as well.
Arkansas: Pulaski County election panel, county clerk sue state election board over absentee ballots | Associated Press
The Pulaski County Election Commission and County Clerk Larry Crane have filed a lawsuit against the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners over rules on how county election commissioners should handle absentee ballots under the state’s new voter-identification law, alleging the board overstepped its authority. The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, asks that the rules passed Feb. 28 be declared invalid. The rules allow an absentee voter who does not provide a proper ID when voting until noon on the Monday after the election to provide an approved form of ID — such as a copy of a driver’s license. The rules also say those absentee voters should be notified via first class mail that they must submit approved forms of identification before their votes can be counted.
Florida is once again trying to constrain voter rights by restricting satellite locations where citizens can deposit absentee ballots. The Legislature is considering a bill that would ban county elections supervisors from accepting completed absentee ballots at branch libraries and tax collector offices, in response to Pinellas County’s defiance of a state order to quit that practice. That voter-friendly option is not only convenient but also saves money, according to several elections supervisors. Florida should allow the eastiest balloting possible, not the toughest.
Florida: First Step To Online Voter Registration In Florida, Bill Moves Forward | Daily Business Review
A Senate committee moved forward with a bill that would allow online voter registration in Florida and put new restrictions on drop-off locations for absentee ballots. The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee unanimously approved introducing the measure (SPB 7068), which will still have to return to the panel for another vote. Because of that, Democrats backed away from offering amendments that could still become flashpoints in the debate over the measure. Much of the controversy over the provisions in the bill focused on language that would allow elections supervisors to provide secure boxes to receive absentee ballots, but only at early-voting locations and supervisor of elections’ offices.
Florida: Voting bill would allow on-line registration; restrict absentee drop-off locations | Palm Beach Post
A Florida Senate committee Monday moved forward with a bill that would make a few changes in Florida election law, including putting new restrictions on drop-off locations for absentee ballots and allowing online voter registration in the state. The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee unanimously approved introducing the measure (SPB 7068), which will still have to return to the panel for another vote. Because of that, Democrats backed away from offering amendments that could still become flash points in the debate over the measure. Much of the controversy over the provisions in the bill focused on language that would allow elections supervisors to provide secure boxes to receive absentee ballots, but only at early-voting locations and supervisor of elections’ offices.
At the urging of state Sen. Jack Latvala, the Senate will take up voting law changes that include preventing counties from using satellite locations where voters can drop off absentee ballots. The proposal is aimed at Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark, but it antagonized two other supervisors who say dropoff sites save money and are convenient for voters. The Senate plan follows a confrontation in December between Clark and Gov. Rick Scott’s top elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who ordered an end to dropoff sites because no law allows it. Clark continues to defy the directive and is using five sites in the Congressional District 13 special election.
Indiana: 3,700 Warrick County votes not counted in 2012 due to technical error | Evansville Courier & Press
More than 3,700 absentee ballots cast in-person in Warrick County for the November 2012 general election weren’t counted due to an error made by an electronic voting machine technician, county officials confirmed Monday. According to the Warrick County Clerk Sarah Redman’s office, Indianapolis-based MicroVote, which services the county’s electronic voting machines, found that one of its electronic technicians inadvertently incorrectly uploaded votes cast early at the Warrick County Election Office. The technician reportedly used a microchip card-reader that didn’t have the storage capacity to hold the total amount of early votes cast. The error resulted in only 10 percent of in-person, early votes being tallied by the county for the 2012 general election — leaving 3,791 Warrick County votes behind. “And nobody ever caught the error until Pat (King) went looking,” said Kevin Derr, chairman of the Warrick County Democrats Central Committee.
Arkansas: Pulaski County to sue over state election board’s rule on absentee voting | Arkansas Times
As expected, the Pulaski County Election Commission voted this morning to sue over a new state Board of Election Commissioners rule on handling absentee ballots submitted without ID required under a 2013 law. The action will be broad, which means it could expand into the whole question of the constitutionality of the Voter ID law generally. The vote was 2-0 by Democratic commissioners Chris Burks and Leonard Boyle. The Republican member, Phil Wyrick, resigned last week because he became a candidate for county judge. The Party must appoint a replacement. Wyrick had favored following the attorney general’s opinion on handling absentee ballots, which is at variance with the state board’s new rule.
Howard Jackson has been fired after eight months as director of the Richland County Elections & Voter Registration Office. Jackson, 43, was dismissed Monday on a 4-1 vote by the election board, with member Adell Adams the only “no” vote. His last day in the office will be Feb. 28. “Things were not going right,” board member Samuel Selph said in confirming the board’s decision. Jackson, who was hired at an annual salary of $78,000, said he would be holding a news conference Tuesday to discuss the turn of events as well as recent elections. He was brought in by the board after the election disaster of November 2012, when too few machines were deployed and voters waited in long lines, some for as long as seven hours, to cast ballots. Then-director Lillian McBride, who oversaw that election, was demoted to another position.
Ohio: House passes bills to change absentee ballot rules, eliminate six days of early voting | Cleveland Plain Dealer
The GOP-controlled Ohio House passed along party lines on Wednesday two bills that make changes to the mailing of absentee ballot applications and cut six days from Ohio’s 35-day early, in-person voting period. The Senate approved House-made changes to the bills before sending them to Gov. John Kasich, who is expected to sign them into law. Senate Bill 238 would eliminate six early voting days referred to as “golden week,” when people can both register to vote and cast an in-person absentee ballot. The Ohio Association of Election Officials recommended the five-day period be scrapped to create a clean break between when voters can register and when they can cast ballots. The bill passed in a 58-39 vote in the House and the Senate passed the bill along party lines, 23-10, on Nov. 20, 2013.
Not too long ago, any effort to change election law that seemed to restrict voting rights would have been tantamount to political suicide regardless of which party was attempting the change. But now there appears to be no shame or fear. For many years there was an emphasis on increasing voter turnout. As Florida grew so did the number of polling places and the expansion of voting methods. Absentee ballots were open to everyone, not only to those who could demonstrate they were unable to vote on Election Day. My party, the Republican Party, was quick to embrace absentee voting and expertly adapted to campaigning to absentee voters. Early-voting days were added as a convenience to those who found it difficult to make it to the polls on Election Day. This appealed to those working long or irregular shifts and became popular among the working class, younger voters and minorities.
Voting Blogs: Canvassing, Contests, and Recounts, oh my! Rejected Absentee Votes in Virginia’s Attorney General’s Race | State of Elections
The victor in Virginia’s attorney general race was up in the air well into December. Localities had until November 12 to turn in the results of the contest between Sen. Mark Obenshain and Sen. Mark Herring. One of the delays in declaring a winner arose from a problem in Fairfax County, where a discrepancy in absentee votes was uncovered. In the 8th District in Fairfax County, only 50 percent of absentee ballots that were requested were cast compared to 88 percent in the 10th District and 86 percent in the 11th District. Once localities sent in their tallies to the state, the State Board of Elections will review the totals. The SBE had until November 25 to certify the results. If the margin of victory is within one percent, the losing candidate can request a recount, as Obenshain has done.
The state Bureau of Elections head says Flint’s inability to recount absentee ballots from the November election here was “unfortunate and disheartening” and says the bureau will work with Clerk Inez Brown and her staff to ensure that training and written staffing plans are completed before the next election. Sally Williams, director of the Michigan Bureau of Elections Election Liaison Division, made the comments in a four-page letter to Genesee County Clerk-Register John Gleason, who had asked the state in December to review why the county Board of Canvassers could not recount absentee ballots from Flint’s Nov. 5 election.
Ohio Republicans are poised to pass a new round of restrictive voting laws this week. Taken together, the measures could limit access to the ballot in this year’s midterms and the 2016 presidential race, and revive the obscenely long lines at the polls that plagued the Buckeye State a decade ago. No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio, and it remains the single most pivotal state in presidential elections. That status is giving an added intensity to the battle over voting rights there. The Ohio House could vote as soon as Wednesday on two GOP-backed bills. One would cut early voting from 35 to 28 or 29 days. More importantly, it would end the so-called “Golden Week” period when Ohioans can register and vote on the same day—a key way to bring new voters into the process.
Election commissioners in Craighead County have suggested a change in Arkansas’ voter ID law, saying they received conflicting advice on how to treat absentee ballots submitted during a recent special election. The local panel said the State Board of Election Commissioners told them voters were required to present a valid form of identification when turning in ballots during a special state Senate election this month, and that any that came in without a proper ID should be rejected. The secretary of state told the Craighead County Election Commission to give voters a period of time to show a proper ID after submitting an absentee ballot. Craighead County Election Commission Chairman Scott McDaniel said the panel chose to wait and give voters extra time. In a letter to Gov. Mike Beebe, Secretary of State Mark Martin, the Election Commissioners Board and numerous state senators and representatives, the Craighead County panel said it was concerned that, in the future, different counties would follow different procedures involving the same race.