It won’t be until after the 2016 general election that a revamped, more modern election management and voter registration system is fully implemented in New Mexico, according to the state’s top election officials. The secretary of state’s office briefed lawmakers on its progress during a meeting this week in Albuquerque. The agency already has updated the candidate filing system and streamlined the reporting of election results, but work has yet to start on revamping voter registration. Kari Fresquez, head of the elections bureau and the agency’s chief technology officer, said creating a one-stop shop for voters and integrating the numerous separate systems used by county clerks across the state marks the biggest step in the modernization process.
Clerk Inez Brown could be required to attend training school and have her office’s election work approved by the Genesee County Clerk John Gleason under the provisions of a bill approved today, May 27, by the state House Elections Committee. The substitute bill would allow Flint to have a standard primary election in August despite no mayoral candidates having turned in nominating petitions on time after Brown’s office gave them the wrong filing deadline.
Adams County is coming under increasing scrutiny — including the prospect of a legal challenge in court — after County Clerk Karen Long did not disclose that nearly 200,000 ballots in the November election could be traced back to individual voters. Gary Mikes, chairman of the Adams County Republicans, said Long should have come forward about the erroneously marked ballots six weeks ago, when she first detected the problem in late October. Long did not notify the secretary of state’s office of the error until Dec. 9, and issued a news release the next day. “It was her responsibility to inform everybody when she found that out,” Mikes said.
Illinois: Danville election official, criticized over absentee ballots, opts for retirement | News-Gazette
Almost three weeks after local Republicans called for the firing of Danville Election Commission Director Barbara Dreher for counting absentee ballots early, she has decided to retire. Dreher said Monday that she was planning to retire next year or the year after, but the election commission board members decided they couldn’t support her any more. She said she’s over the age of 60 and has more than 22 years of employment with Vermilion County, including the last 10 leading the election commission, so she will retire effective Dec. 1. But her last day will be today as she has vacation and personal time to use, she said. “I don’t need this,” said Dreher, adding that this election was very stressful with all the changes in voting times, policies and procedures. Barb Bailey, who is chairman of the three commissioners who oversee the election commission office, said Monday that she and the other two commissioners, Tom Mellen and Charles Bostic, knew this was coming. Bailey did not confirm whether the commissioners asked Dreher to resign but said that they felt Dreher’s leaving “was best.”
He didn’t ask for it and he won’t get a pay raise, but Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki’s job now includes running the county Election Commission. Czarnezki said he plans to streamline reporting of election results and get them posted quickly online on election nights, something that hasn’t been done in the past. Czarnezki also is aiming for more timely posting of campaign finance reports by candidates for county offices, another duty of the county election office. “As soon as they are received and verified, (campaign reports) should be scanned and posted on the website,” Czarnezki said Wednesday. Thanks to a provision tucked into a larger bill signed into law last week, the county clerk was designated executive director of the Election Commission. Czarnezki will answer to the existing three-person commission on election matters.
Colorado: GOP Secretary of State Gessler squares off with Republican county clerks over election reform | Roaring Fork Valley News
Colorado’s Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler arrived late to testify at the Senate committee hearing, but he came prepared. A practiced courtroom lawyer, he began slowly. He threw in folksy asides. He answered his own rhetorical questions. And he smiled at the majority-Democratic committee members as he railed against the election-reform bill they all support and that he wants desperately to derail. It was a dramatic moment in Colorado politics that had been building since Gessler took office two years ago.
House Democrats pushed through a controversial bill that would change how Coloradans vote after more than six hours of debate on the House floor Thursday afternoon. Republicans spend hours arguing against the massive overhaul of elections law, that would send a mail ballot to every registered Colorado voter whether or not they request one, install a state-of-the-art electronic database to monitor registration and voting information and detect fraud in real-time and, most controversially, allow people to register to vote as late as Election Day. But they didn’t have the votes to stop the measure, which got an initial okay on a voice vote and could see a final, recorded vote on Friday. “We need to update our systems into the 21st century,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, told FOX31 Denver. “We will know when someone’s voted and we will be able to track that.” Pabon has the support of the Colorado Association of County Clerks on his side. The group helped draft the legislation, along with other groups like Common Cause and AFSCME.
Colorado: Rep. Hullinghorst says elections measure would modernize voter-registration, ballot-casting systems | Longmont Times-Call
House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, the sponsor of a bill that would move Colorado to a predominantly mail-ballot system, said Thursday that the measure amounts to “a 21st Century approach to voting.” Gunbarrel Democrat Hullinghorst’s House Bill 1303, which was introduced Wednesday, would require Colorado’s county clerks to send mail ballots to all eligible registered voters, including those who under current law are on “inactive” lists because they didn’t participate in a recent general election. People could mail their completed ballots back or drop them off at designated locations. Voters who prefer showing up in person to cast their ballots still could do so, at early-voting centers before Election Day, or at centralized voting locations on Election Day. County clerks would no longer have to provide neighborhood precinct polling places. Hullinghorst said her bill — entitled the “Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act” — would provide “full voting options for all of the voters in the state of Colorado” while simplifying and standardizing voter-registration and ballot-casting systems for would-be voters and for county clerks.
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.
Local election officials likely won’t have to wait around on Christmas Eve for candidates to file for office or pay out thousands of dollars in overtime costs because of a proposal awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature. The Daily Herald reported this month that because of the local election calendar, the last day for candidates to file for offices like school board is set for Christmas Eve. But legislation approved by the Illinois Senate Thursday would push that final date back to Dec. 26. The House already approved it, and Quinn’s spokeswoman says he supports the plan. Local offices then would be free to close or observe holiday hours on Christmas Eve.
The Colorado County Clerks Association today unleashed a litany of complaints on Secretary of State Scott Gessler, pointing to a “cumbersome list of issues” with his office.In a letter from Executive Director Donetta Davidson, the clerks’ association called for greater cooperation. Gessler, a Republican, was not available for comment, but a spokesman Andrew Cole, defended the office. “The items that they (clerks) are complaining about have all been meant to and have increased voter registration to the highest level ever in Colorado and have made it easier for military voters to vote than ever before,” Cole said.
State elections officials say they will take back oversight of Election Day voting on the Big Island because problems relating to the Aug. 11 primary have not been adequately addressed. Hawaii Chief of Elections Scott Nago said Tuesday he is rescinding state elections responsibilities that had been delegated to Big Island clerk Jamae Kawauchi. A small group of staff members hired by the state will take over Big Island Election Day activities, according to state elections spokesman Rex Quidilla. One of them is Lori Tomczyk, the office’s Oahu-based ballot operations section head who helped out with state elections operations in Hilo on the day of the primary. Tomczyk, who has been on the job since 2000, will be filling in as lead administrator. “We’re injecting our supervision and expertise,” said Quidilla, adding that little would actually be changing in terms of personnel. “This is something we see being done only under these current circumstances. With a great deal of hand-wringing did we come to this point. We certainly hope that this isn’t something that has to be done in the future.”
The state Office of Elections issued its report Thursday concerning how the County of Hawaii handled the Primary Election. In a six-page report, Scott Nago, head of the state election’s office, ripped into Jamae Kawauchi, who as County Clerk also serves as the Hawaii County election chief. Nago said he sent a state staff member to observe the election at the Hilo county building and found ” poor planning, implementation, and leadership by the County Clerk.” Nago, however, praised county staff and volunteers who “did their best under the circumstances and were able to get through the election.” He said while the public’s confidence had been undermine, but the problems did not meet the standards used to determine whether final results might have been impacted.
Hawaii: Election Officials Conducting Own Investigation into Big Island Election Issues | Big Island Now
A meeting Tuesday with Big Island County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi about Saturday’s election problems did not provide enough answers for state election officials who are now conducting their own investigation. Chief Election Officer Scott Nago met Tuesday in Hilo with all of the state’s county clerks and most of the counties’ chief election administrators. State elections spokesman Rex Quidilla said today that such a meeting is typically done after an election to review procedures and problems. While Big Island County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi attended, Hawai`i County’s interim elections administrator, Arlene Boteilho did not. According to Quidilla, Kawauchi did not give a reason why. Boteilho reportedly went out on sick leave before Saturday’s primary election. She had been named the temporary replacement for Pat Nakamato, the county’s longtime elections administrator who was fired early this year. Nakamoto was reinstated to her job following a union grievance procedure but was placed by Kawauchi on paid administrative leave immediately upon her return in late July.
Colorado: Gessler’s proposed changes to election rules draw heated objections | The Colorado Independent
Over the course of a five-hour rulemaking hearing Monday, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler probably got the message that a lot of people are unhappy with proposed rules that would stop county clerks from mailing ballots to inactive voters in some elections, change the way canvass boards are selected and give county clerks more power to determine how much access election watchers have. About 40 people signed up to testify at this week’s hearing; nearly all of them spoke in opposition to one or more of Gessler’s proposed rule changes, which covered three general areas. “It was pretty much all opposition,” commented Luis Toro, executive director of Colorado Ethics Watch, who did not speak. “I don’t think it (the opposition) will change anything, though,” he said. The rules, (pdf) either as presented by Gessler or as revised by his office as a result of the hearing and written testimony, could go into effect as early as Monday, at Gessler’s discretion.
In an unprecedented move, the State’s Chief Election Officer has weighed in on controversy surrounding the Hawaii County Elections office. Scott Nago, Chief Elections Officer for the State, sent a letter to Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi Wednesday afternoon. He said his office has been fielding calls as to what is going on in Hawaii County. He said Kawauchi’s decision to close the elections office on July 23 and her failure to thoroughly communicate to the other election offices and the media as to the reasons for the closure has unnecessarily lead to significant speculation in the public about the integrity of the elections. He went on to say, “This is simply unacceptable on the part of a fellow election administrator. The public relies on us to be assured that their elections are safe and secure.” Nago’s letter goes on, “The lack of communication of your office in the last few days has seriously undermined the hard work that the election community does to build the trust of the public in the integrity of the electoral system.” He says a written request sent by the State Elections Office to Kawauchi on July 23 asking for information has gone unanswered.
In a move one veteran state election official called unprecedented, the Hawai`i County Elections Division office in Hilo was closed today. A sign on the front door said the office was “closed for auditing.” The notice signed by County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi said the office would reopen on Tuesday. The sign said telephone calls were being routed to the Kona elections office at 323-4400. Walk-ins were directed to the Council Services office across the hall. It was not immediately clear who was conducting the audit or why, or if it is related to the primary election 19 days away. Staff at the Council Services office said they did not know. That office has pamphlets and other elections information on the counter to hand out to anyone seeking basic information, but its staff was taking down names and telephone numbers of anyone with other questions to be answered tomorrow. Staff there also said Kawauchi, who heads the county’s Election Division, was not immediately available for comment, but would return queries after 4:30 p.m.
Colorado: Election watchers see officials chipping away at public oversight | The Colorado Independent
Marty Neilson, Republican Party election watcher, walked out of the Boulder County Clerk’s building in disgust as workers there tabulated primary voting results the last week of June. Neilson said she couldn’t see anything of substance and felt like she was participating in a sham exercise in oversight. “[Clerk Hillary Hall] kept us behind [solid] walls and behind glass walls,” Neilson told the Colorado Independent. “We are there to view the whole process, which is what the statutes say we’re supposed to do, from the time the [election workers] get the ballots to the time they verify the signatures and then count the votes. But it was a charade. I left because why stay? There was no reason to be there.” Neilson said she phoned Secretary of State Scott Gessler to complain and that he later called back to say he was sympathetic to her concerns. His office didn’t return messages left by the Independent seeking comment, but the update to election law Rule 8.6 (pdf) he has proposed with the aim of bringing clarity to the regulations governing election watchers may well exacerbate the kind of problems watchers complained about in Boulder. The new version of the rule would give greater discretion to county clerks to direct watcher activities. The secretary of state’s office is holding a public hearing on the rule June 23.
Sorry, but the recall debate isn’t over. In fact, prior to the next session, legislators should put their heads together and talk a great deal about it, then adopt stronger, clearer laws in 2013. Both sides of the recent attempt to recall four Coeur d’Alene City Council members are still sorting out the significance of lessons learned, but they can largely agree on the need for clarity in state recall election statutes. One concern is the nebulous nature of the 75-day window from the start of the petition drive to the last moment the petition signatures can be verified. Between the offices of the Secretary of State, the Kootenai County Clerk and the Coeur d’Alene City Clerk, nobody seemed to clearly understand how that 75 days should be divided between collecting signatures, turning them in to city officials and then having the county verify those signatures. The timeline seemed to twist and turn like an unruly river, leaving too much room for arbitrary interpretation. The fact that the Secretary of State’s office changed its mind in the midst of the Coeur d’Alene petition drive offers ample proof that more specificity is needed for all parties involved.
Michigan: McCotter resignation, special election create a “nightmare” scenario for city clerks | Michigan Radio
City clerks in Thaddeus McCotter’s former Congressional district say his resignation has created a “nightmare” scenario for them. McCotter’s resignation last week means clerks in suburban Detroit’s 11th Congressional district have to do a lot more work in very little time. Livonia city clerk Terry Marecki says she was surprised when state officials called the special election to fill what will amount to just a few weeks of McCotter’s remaining term. “I kept thinking ‘There is no way they can dump this on us,’” Marecki said. But city and county clerks will have to pick up both the cost and the burden of the special election–which includes an additional September primary for the remainder of McCotter’s term, and running another special election alongside the regular November general election.
For years, county elections supervisor jobs were viewed as mundane administrative posts with so little public policy work that most politicians did not even consider running for them. Now, along Florida’s west coast, seasoned political players are looking to parlay their years of experience in partisan battles into an advantage in becoming elections overseers.
• In Sarasota County, three-term county commissioner Jon Thaxton, a Republican, is challenging supervisor Kathy Dent.
• In Manatee County, state Sen. Mike Bennett, a Bradenton developer known for antagonizing Democrats in Tallahassee, is banking that his decade of name recognition will help him succeed retiring supervisor of elections Bob Sweat.
• In Charlotte County, former four-term county commissioner Adam Cummings is looking to unseat first-term incumbent Paul Stamoulis.
• In Hillsborough County, former state Rep. Rich Gloriso, a Republican, passed up an opportunity to run for the state Senate to instead run for supervisor of elections.
It’s part of a trend term limits created in Florida politics, said University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus. Limits on how long state legislators and local officials can serve have forced politicians to seek new avenues to remain in public office.
The waiting is the hardest part. With more than 830,000 primary ballots still uncounted, many candidates and campaigns in California remained on pins and needles Thursday awaiting the results of undecided races. Proposition 29, the proposal to increase taxes on tobacco products to pay for cancer research, was among the contests that remained too close to call. Election officials warned that more of the same could occur after November’s general election, when the stakes are even higher, due to California’s all-paper voting system and meticulous legal requirements for counties that tabulate results. More than half of California voters now cast ballots by mail, requiring elections officials to verify signatures and voting status. Ballots delivered to polling places on Election Day cannot be verified and counted until after polls close at 8 p.m. In addition, thousands more voters cast provisional ballots when their eligibility is in question, they move, or lose their vote-by-mail ballot.
Senate Democrats moved to take down what they say is a roadblock that makes it more difficult for more than 100,000 voters to participate in the November elections, resurrecting a proposal Monday that House Republicans previously rejected. The legislative action would send mail-in ballots to so-called inactive voters who otherwise would have to cast ballots in person. And the implications are huge. About 37 percent of the affected voters are Democrats. Around 23 percent are Republicans. The remaining 40 percent are unaffiliated — a bloc both parties think they can use to pick up support. Democrats say they are pressing the issue to make voting easier, adding that the issue is more urgent with important state issues and the White House on the line. “I would think that we would want every possible soul who’s eligible to vote, to be able to vote in that election,” said Sen. Rollie Heath, the chair of the committee that brought back the plan.
Colorado: Democrats resurrect bill that would allow counties to mail ballots to inactive voters | The Denver Post
In a move likely to inflame partisan tensions, Colorado Democrats plan to graft dead legislation allowing counties to mail ballots to 439,560 “inactive voters” onto a resurrected Republican bill. House Republicans said Senate Democrats were “hijacking” the House bill. But Democrats said the issue of allowing registered voters who didn’t vote in the last election to receive mail ballots was too important to give up. “If it’s going to be a fight, this is worth fighting over,” Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, an organizer of the Democratic effort, said. House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, said he was surprised by the Democratic move. “I know that from time to time bills are hijacked for other purposes,” McNulty said. “It’s pretty extraordinary that Senate Democrats would resurrect a (Republican) bill like this. It is extraordinary that they would go to these efforts.”
House Republicans on Wednesday killed a bill on voter registration from one of their own members, Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose. The bill was a reaction to Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s effort to prevent county clerks from mailing ballots to people unless they voted in the last major election. After the vote, Democratic leaders were so angry they called for Gessler’s removal as the state’s top elections official. The House Local Government Committee killed Coram’s bill on a party-line, 6-5 vote. It had passed the Senate 24-10.
Colorado Democrats unleashed some of their strongest criticism yet of Secretary of State Scott Gessler Wednesday, saying he should be removed from office after he opposed an election-related bill that was later killed by fellow Republicans. “(Gessler) has once again prioritized his partisan agenda above the rights of Coloradans to vote,” Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio said. “If (he) is unwilling to fulfill his duties as a non-partisan election officer, the people of Colorado should consider all avenues necessary to remove him as Secretary of State.” Asked if the Democratic party was referring to a recall election, spokesman Matt Inzeo replied: “I wouldn’t rule it out.”
Colorado: Secretary of State Gessler embraces being targeted over his push for reforms | The Denver Post
During his first meeting with county clerks, newly elected Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler made a comment that some at the table found odd but would later prove prophetic. I’m probably going to be in court more than any previous secretary of state, Gessler said, according to several people in the room.
Just one year into his first term, the prediction hasn’t come true yet. But neither Gessler nor his critics will be surprised if it does. “Folks are gunning for me, and the lawsuit-happy folks are the ones I fought for years,” the former elections attorney said. “I’m a target.”
If the Republican Gessler is a target, his critics contend, it’s because he’s made himself one with a series of moves — from trying to work at his former job while in office to suing two county clerks to proposing a wholesale rewrite of Colorado’s campaign-finance rules.
The state’s county clerks plan to ask the Colorado Legislature when it reconvenes in January to make ballots exempt from the Colorado Open Records Act. The clerks say a Colorado Court of Appeals ruling in August that ballots are public records has turned election law on its head and could allow someone to find out how people voted, no matter how careful clerks are in guarding voter secrecy. But fixing the problem could be more problematic than most people think, Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner said.
Reiner and Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson, who are facing identical lawsuits demanding to make their ballots public, say doing so would identify individual voters and how they voted. As a result, they think ballots should be made exempt from open-records laws. … Some people disagree, saying a balance can be struck that maintains election transparency without violating secrecy laws.
Get ready for a battle royal over the integrity of elections in Colorado — and just in time for this state’s apparently pivotal role in the 2012 presidential race. If the clash shapes up as expected, lawmakers will have to choose sides between a would-be election priesthood exempt from public oversight — I’m referring to the county clerks — and advocates for a fully open and accountable government.
The clerks, you see, are in a panic about a recent appeals court ruling that says voted ballots are public documents under the Colorado Open Records Act, so long as “the identity of the voter cannot be discerned from the face of that ballot.”
The court’s definition should include the vast majority of ballots, assuming election officials and voters follow the law. But if you listen to the clerks, you’d think the opposite. Embracing Chicken Little as their role model, the clerks’ association issued a statement after the ruling, claiming it “has removed the curtain from our voting booths. Most Coloradans believe their votes should be a secret from their friends, coworkers and even spouses, but today’s ruling means Coloradans’ personal choices can be seen by anyone who asks.” The clerks’ statement is either contemptible fear-mongering or an admission that they supervise a system that comprehensively thumbs its nose at the state constitution’s mandate of anonymous ballots.
Colorado: Judge’s ruling allows Nov. 1 election ballots to be sent to inactive voters | The Denver Post
Thousands of inactive voters in two Democratic strongholds will be mailed ballots for the Nov. 1 election following a judge’s ruling Friday. Denver District Judge Brian Whitney denied a motion for a preliminary injunction filed by Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who argued that state law prevents Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson from mailing ballots to inactive voters.
Following the decision, Johnson and Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert Ortiz said they will proceed with plans to mail ballots to those voters — about 54,000 in Denver and 17,000 in Pueblo.