Earlier this month, the EAC released two videos from experts in the field about how to visualize elections data and how visualizing these data can be used in policy and budget discussions. And last week the Pew Charitable Trusts released its most recent iteration of the Elections Performance Index (EPI) with data from the 2014 elections, using 17 indicators to examine how states administer elections. What do these videos and the EPI have in common? Both highlight or use data from the EAC’s very own Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) – for example more than half of the EPI’s indicators use data from the EAVS. This survey is the only effort to gather in-depth election administration data from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. And of course it is hardworking state and local election officials who supply these data to the EAC, responding to this massive survey every two years.
Ever since the Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act went into effect in 2013, there has been a seemingly endless string of legal battles over its legitimacy. The controversial law requires people to provide proof of citizenship when registering to vote. It was authored by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who believes the law protects Kansas from fraudulent voting. Here, a look into the wonderful world of state and federal lawsuits to find out how the SAFE Act may affect upcoming elections in Kansas. Back in 2014, Kris Kobach stood on the steps of the federal courthouse in downtown Wichita after a long day of court proceedings. “This case is about Kansas’ right as a sovereign state to enforce our voter qualifications—specifically that voters must be U.S. citizens,” he said.
With little advance notice of the hearing, a state panel this week approved a temporary election rule that will have some Kansans vote with provisional ballots, but only their votes in federal races will be counted. Votes for state and local races will be tossed out. Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach proposed the rule. The Kansas Rules and Regulations Board approved it Tuesday morning after notice of the meeting was sent out Monday afternoon. The change will affect around 17,000 Kansans who registered to vote at the DMVbut didn’t turn in a citizenship document required under state law. The rule change comes after a federal court said those suspended voters should be allowed to vote, at least in federal races. Bryan Brown, an attorney in the secretary of state’s office, said despite an ongoing legal battle, the state needs to continue enforcing election security measures in the SAFE Act. “It has been passed by the Legislature. It has been signed by the governor. It is the law of Kansas. That is all the secretary of state is trying to do here,” said Brown.
A federal appeals court will hear oral arguments in September in an appeal that could affect the voting rights of thousands of voters in Kansas, Georgia and Alabama in upcoming elections. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Thursday set a Sept. 8 hearing date in the case of a U.S. election official who without public notice required documentary proof of citizenship on a national voter registration form used by residents of the three states.
Voting Blogs: TGDC Releases Draft Project Charter for New Voting System Standards | Election Academy
The Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) may not be well-known, but it plays a crucial role in the process of standards-setting in the field of voting technology testing and certification. About a year ago, the TGDC announced that it was going to convene a series of public working groups as part of a new approach to updating the federal Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG). Late last month, the TGDC issued a draft project charter for VVSG version 2.0 that attempts to define both the scope of the project and lay out a way forward.
The right to vote is turning into a tooth-and-claw saga in Kansas, thanks to right-wing ideologues’ determination to force new voters to produce a passport, a birth certificate or naturalization papers as proof of citizenship. This is unheard-of in most of the nation, where aspiring voters are required only to swear to being citizens under penalty of prosecution for fraud. But in Kansas, the requirement that citizenship be documented has become a grave electoral impediment that is being challenged on two legal fronts. In the first, a federal district judge in May ordered the state to register thousands of people who had been denied federal voting privileges because they did not produce proof of citizenship when they tried to register at motor vehicle offices. Judge Julie Robinson ruled that the requirement violated the National Voter Registration Act provision that “only the minimum amount of information” is needed to certify a voter. The state is appealing her ruling.
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union are asking a federal judge in Washington, D.C., to act quickly on their motion to block the use of amended federal voter registration forms that require Kansans to show proof of U.S. citizenship. In a letter to Judge Richard J. Leon, the ACLU said leaving the issue unresolved threatens to complicate upcoming state and federal elections in Kansas and the two other states involved in the case. “The federal primary elections will take place in Kansas on August (2), 2016, just over a month from now,” the letter stated. “The general federal elections will occur in November, a mere four months from now, and voter registration requirements in Kansas, Alabama and Georgia require resolution well before then.”
Kansas: Judge Reiterates Kansas Attorney General Kobach Unable to Encumber Voting | Associated Press
A judge is standing by his earlier ruling that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has no legal right to bar people from casting ballots in local and state elections because they registered to vote using a federal form that did not require proof of citizenship. In a ruling made public Thursday, Shawnee County District Judge Franklin Theis rejected Kobach’s request that he reconsider an earlier decision. Theis said in January that the right to vote under state law is not tied to the method of registration. Two weeks after that decision, Brian Newby, the new executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, added a documentary citizenship requirement on the national voter registration form for residents of Kansas, Georgia and Alabama. Newby unilaterally changed the national form without approval from the agency’s commissioners. That change prompted Kobach to ask the judge to reconsider his ruling.
Kansas: Former Johnson County election chief Brian Newby rises, then falls into national controversy | The Kansas City Star
The League of Women Voters in 2014 honored Brian D. Newby, then the Johnson County election commissioner, for his work in helping people register to vote. The league this year sued him for allegedly doing the opposite. Yet, as Newby said recently in a brief phone interview, “I’m the same person with the same values” as that award recipient. Recent headlines tell a different story, one of a spectacular fall into unfamiliar controversy. Once regarded as something of a rock star among the nation’s election gurus, Newby has drawn intense fire from more than one direction after becoming executive director of a bipartisan federal elections panel in November. Voting rights groups have asked a federal court to invalidate one of Newby’s first actions taken at the helm of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Some have alleged that a unilateral decision he made was a gift to his former boss, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who had offered high praise of Newby to the federal commission considering his appointment.
Three Democratic U.S. congressmen on Wednesday asked a federal agency to provide information regarding whether a top federal elections official had the right to unilaterally change voter registration forms in three states to require proof of citizenship. Reps. Elijah Cummings, Robert Brady and James E. Clyburn asked the chairman of the Election Assistance Commission for records connected to EAC executive director Brian Newby’s amendment in February of forms in Kansas, Alabama and Georgia. The group is seeking documents relating to requests from the three states to modify voter registration forms; all analysis of the impact of modifying federal voter registration forms; and all documents giving Newby the authority to unilaterally make the changes. Voting rights activists criticized the changes Newby made in February as a “secretive move” that created additional barriers for potential voters.
Brian Newby’s once-sterling reputation as the leader of the Johnson County Election Office has lost most of its shine in recent months. The latest blow: District Attorney Stephen Howe’s office reportedly is investigating allegations that Newby misused public funds during his time at the office, which is financed with county taxpayer dollars. An audit released earlier this year identified about $36,000 in costs it considered questionably related to Newby’s duties. The county said it would ask that he reimburse $5,478 in travel expenses. Newby has denied doing anything wrong. However, controversy also has dogged the former Johnson County official in his new role as executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission in Washington, D.C. The nonpartisan office is supposed to help make voting more accessible and promote good election practices.
A Kansas prosecutor is looking into allegations of misuse of public funds against a top U.S. election executive when he was a county election commissioner in the state, two county officials confirmed Monday. Johnson County spokeswoman Sharon Watson said that the county had concerns over the findings of an audit completed after Brian Newby left Kansas to take a job as executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission in November last year. The federal commission was created in part to help make voting easier but advocates have said Newby has worked for restrictions. “It was appropriate for us to inform the district attorney of what we were finding in the audit and provide him with that information,” Watson said.
National: Election Assistance Commission Advisory Board Disagrees With Director Over Citizenship Rule | NPR
It looks like more bad news for the new executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Brian Newby is already being sued by the League of Women Voters for his decision earlier this year to allow Kansas and two other states to require residents to show proof of citizenship when they register to vote using a federal form. The move effectively reversed a long-standing EAC policy. Now, the EAC’s advisory board — composed of election officials from around the country — has approved a resolution saying that such changes should be made by the commissioners themselves. The resolution, passed by a 13-7 vote during a two-day board meeting in Chicago, is only advisory, but clearly shows dissatisfaction with Newby’s actions. Commission Chairman Thomas Hicks says it’s now up to the commission to take the recommendation “under advisement” and decide what to do.
More than 116,000 people have signed an online petition urging the inspector general to investigate what it calls voter suppression at a federal government agency entrusted with making voting more accessible. The progressive advocacy group CREDO Action said it planned to deliver petition signatures Wednesday to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s Inspector General Patricia Layfield.
Last week, President Obama sent the Senate a new nominee for the vacant fourth seat on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, replacing Matthew Butler, his choice in November 2014. His choice, Kate Marshall, is a Democrat and former Nevada State Treasurer who was the party’s unsuccessful candidate for Secretary of State in 2014. … The Republican National Lawyers’ Association called the nomination President Obama’s “third strike,” noting Marshall’s lack of elections background and criticizing Democrats for “view[ing] the EAC [as] a place to reward partisans for their service to the liberal movement” and saying “[i]t is sad that the left has so little regard for election administration.” If and when Marshall’s nomination progresses in the Senate, don’t be surprised to hear similar views in committee or on the floor.
Voting rolls in Kansas are in “chaos” because of the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirements, the American Civil Liberties Union has argued in a court document, noting that about two-thirds of new voter registration applications submitted during a three-week period in February are on hold. Kansas is fending off multiple legal challenges from voting rights activists, and just months before the state’s August primary, the status of the “dual registration” system remains unclear. Federal judges in separate voter-registration lawsuits unfolding in Kansas and Washington, D.C., could rule at any time. There’s also greater urgency because registrations typically surge during an election year. Kansas is one of four states, along with Georgia, Alabama and Arizona, to require documentary proof of citizenship — such as a birth certificate, passport or naturalization papers — to register to vote. Under Kansas’ challenged system, voters who registered using a federal form, which hadn’t required proof of U.S. citizenship, could only vote in federal races and not in state or local races. Kansas says it will keep the dual voting system in place for upcoming elections if the courts allow its residents to register to vote either with a federal form or at motor vehicle offices without providing proof of citizenship.
A federal judge has turned down a request to block a federal official’s move allowing three states to enforce proof-of-citizenship requirements for people attempting to register as voters. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon declined to issue the temporary restraining order civil rights and voting rights groups sought to block approval of changes the states of Alabama, Kansas and Georgia obtained recently to a federal form that can be used in lieu of state voter registration applications. “Given that the registration deadlines for the Alabama and Georgia primaries and for the Kansas Republican Caucus had already passed at the time this TRO motion was filed…and that the effects of [the federal] actions on the ongoing registration process for the Kansas Democratic Caucus and plaintiffs’ rights and efforts thereto are uncertain at best, plaintiffs have not demonstrated they will suffer irreparable harm before the hearing on their Motion for a Preliminary Injunction,” Leon wrote in a four-page order issued Tuesday afternoon.
National: Want honest elections? Meet America’s new election integrity watchdog | Public Radio International
With the 2000 presidential election’s voting debacle still raw, President George W. Bush in 2002, signed into law the “Help America Vote Act,” which he promised would help “ensure the integrity and efficiency of voting processes in federal elections.” A key component: the Election Assistance Commission, a new, bipartisan federal agency tasked with adopting voting system guidelines, distributing grants and otherwise aiding states in improving their election processes. But the little commission soon hit downdrafts. Congress routinely cut its already modest budget. The federal government moved its headquarters from prime digs in downtown Washington, DC, to a nondescript office tower in suburban Maryland. Then in 2010, the Election Assistance Commission began a nearly five-year stretch where it lacked enough appointed commissioners to conduct meetings, and, therefore, conduct its most important business. Some members of Congress tried, and failed, to kill what had effectively become a zombie agency.
National: DOJ Backs Injunction Against Citizenship Proof On Federal ‘Motor Voter’ Forms | International Business Times
The League of Women Voters, a national voting rights advocacy group, has sued a federal commission charged with standardizing voter registration. But instead of defending its voting commission, the Obama administration appears to agree with the basis of the lawsuit seeking injunction against a proof of citizenship requirement on voter registration forms in three states. According to papers filed Monday in U.S. District Court, the Department of Justice has urged Judge Richard Leon to block a decision by the director of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) allowing registration forms in Kansas, Alabama and Georgia to insist that voters provide documentation of citizenship. The federal National Voter Registration Act requires states to allow voter registration when residents apply for or renew a state government-issued ID or driver’s license, but does not sanction proof of citizenship requirements on so-called “motor voter” forms.
National: Department of Justice disowns EAC director’s move on proof of citizenship for voters | MSNBC
Even the federal government says the director of a federal election agency erred when he allowed a group of red states to require proof of citizenship for those looking to vote. In a court filing Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice wrote that it supported a motion by voting groups to immediately halt the controversial move made last month by Brian Newby, the executive director of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). DoJ lawyers wrote that because the proof of citizenship requirement violates federal voting law, Newby’s decision was “not consistent with the statute” and “contrary to governing law.” The filing means that Newby’s position that the change was appropriate is in effect being disowned by his own legal team. Despite the DoJ’s stance, at a hearing Monday afternoon, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon declined to grant the voting rights groups’ request for a temporary restraining order against the move. Leon indicated that he wanted to wait until the full facts of the case are presented. A hearing is scheduled for March 9.
A federal judge sounded skeptical Monday about a request from voting and civil rights’ groups to block a federal official’s decision to embrace requirements in three states that new voters submit proof that they’re U.S. citizens. During a 90-minute hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon repeatedly asked about past and upcoming registration deadlines in Alabama, Georgia and Kansas, suggested that the parties who brought suit earlier this month may have acted too slowly and seemed focused on the fact that only a small percentage of voters register in any given year. While the judge said he would not rule until Tuesday on the temporary restraining order requested by the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and voter registration organization Project Vote, the thrust of his questions to several lawyers hinted that he was inclined against granting the order.
Kansas: Want to vote in this state? You have to have a passport or dig up a birth certificate. | The Washington Post
Ralph Ortiz served in the Air Force for 13 years. He was stationed on bases in the Middle East and in Kansas, where he decided to live after leaving the military. He registered to vote more than a year ago. But Ortiz was stunned to find out recently that his name was purged from the Kansas voting rolls because of a requirement he did not know about: He had to prove he was a U.S. citizen. Ortiz had gone to the Kansas Department of Motor Vehicles to renew his license, and he registered to vote at the same time. Ortiz did not have documents that prove his citizenship, and no one asked him for any. Last fall, he received a letter saying his voter registration was “in suspense” because he had not shown proof of citizenship documents, a state requirement to register in Kansas. His name is off the rolls. “I was shocked,” said Ortiz, a 35-year-old father of four who was born in New York. “I defended my country for 13 years. I own a home here in Kansas. I pay taxes in Kansas. I register my vehicles in Kansas. I’m a veteran who’s registered with the VA. There were many different avenues for them to figure out that I was a U.S. citizen. It was insulting.”
A group of voting rights activists is up in arms after the executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) told elections officials in three states that they could require residents to provide documented proof of U.S. citizenship when using federal forms to register to vote. On Wednesday, the coalition filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asking a federal judge for a temporary restraining order blocking the changes in Alabama, Georgia and Kansas. “Voters have been using the Federal Form to register without having to comply with a documentary proof of citizenship requirement for over two decades, but the Executive Director’s sudden unilateral changes to the Federal Form – implemented without public notice – ratchet up the requirements for registering to vote at the last-minute, mere weeks before primary elections and a presidential caucus in the affected states,” according to the complaint. “Imposing such eleventh-hour restrictions on voting risks voter and election official confusion and is contrary to the public interest,” it argued.
Voting Blogs: EAC Wants YOU to Help Develop New Voting System Guidelines! | Matthew Masterson/EAC Blog
Recently, the EAC and NIST rolled out a new approach to developing the next set of Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG). Since the creation of the public working groups, EAC and NIST have been working to recruit as many election officials, information technologists, accessibility professionals and virtually anyone else ready, willing and able to help to join the working groups. Earlier this month, we introduced the next phase of the project with a kick-off conference call and the creation of the public working group Twiki site. We were overwhelmed with the response as over two hundred people participated in the call.
Voting Blogs: Certification Provides Critical Resources for Election Officials | Matt Masterson/EAC Blog
Last week I attended the Midwestern Election Officials Conference (MEOC) in Kansas City. It was a fantastic gathering of engaged election officials from across the Midwest focused on practical boots on the ground info to prepare for the 2016 election season. Prior to the start of the conference I had the pleasure of meeting with the leadership and staff at the Kansas City Board of Elections. Meetings like this are the best part of my job. I get to share what the EAC is doing while seeing local election offices and hearing from those who deal with the day to day work to prepare for the election. At the MEOC conference Brian Newby of Johnson County Kansas moderated a panel with all three EAC Commissioners. During that conversation Brian asked, “What does certification do for us?” After I answered the question and had a chance to reflect on my conversation with the KC staff I realized that many election officials must be wondering the same thing.
Voting Blogs: EAC-NIST Form Public Working Groups for New Voting System Guidelines | Matthew Masterson/EAC Blog
This week the EAC and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provided information to the election community regarding the formation of public working groups to help inform the work of the EAC and its Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) in creating a new version of the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG). We are very excited about the creation of these working groups and moving forward with the next VVSG. Public working groups are something that NIST successfully used in a variety of areas to help develop standards and receive broad based buy in from various communities as standards are being worked on as opposed to seeking that buy-in after the fact. The creation of the working groups was done as a direct response to feedback received from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA), EAC Standards Board as well as the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED).
At its first meeting on Tuesday, the new quorum of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) took an important, much-awaited step toward making the work of election officials easier and improving the voter experience around the country. For four years, the lack of a quorum of Commissioners blocked the accreditation of new voting system test laboratories, which meant only two facilities in the country were able to review the quality and accessibility of voting systems. Yesterday’s accreditation of a third test laboratory promises to help alleviate the looming risk of major voting machine problems that have worried many smart observers. Federally accredited labs commonly test products we use everyday, from toasters to children’s toys, to ensure they are safe. Similarly, to protect the legitimacy of our elections, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires the EAC to put voting machines through rigorous testing and certification.
Ohio voters would lose most of their Election Day polling places under a plan for centralized voting pushed by the head of the group representing county elections officials. Urban areas such as Franklin County could see a reduction of 60 to 75 percent, translating into a potential drop from the current 404 voting locales to perhaps a little more than 100. The tradeoffs: Voters could cast a ballot from any polling location in their home county. And the cost to run elections would drop substantially, especially with most Ohio counties due to replace aging voting equipment. “The more I talk to people nationally, the more I read and learn, this has the potential to be a game-changer for voters, for taxpayers and for elections administrators,” said Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials. “We’ve got to be more efficient. We have to take advantage of technology and think outside of the box.”
Voting Blogs: PCEA Co-Chairs Call on New EAC to Take “Quick Action” on Voting Technology | Election Academy
Last week, I engaged in what my friend and colleague Rick Hasen called “irrational exuberance” regarding the confirmation of a 3-member quorum at the EAC. [I plead “giddy as charged.”] I did note that there was work to be done, however, and already the new commissioners are hearing about what they can and should do once they formally take office. PCEA co-chairs Ben Ginsberg and Bob Bauer have written letters to the new commissioners laying out some immediate short-term steps they can take to get the nation’s voting technology testing and certification system back up to speed. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Matt Weil – himself a former EAC staffer – has a summary of those letters on the BPC blog:
Voting Blogs: Back to Two-Track? Tenth Circuit Reverses on Arizona, Kansas Proof-of-Citizenship | Election Academy
Back in August, I blogged about the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals’ apparent skepticism about the case involving proof-of-citizenship requirements and the federal registration form in Kansas and Arizona. Two-and-a-half months later, the judges handed down a unanimous decision reversing a lower court and prohibiting the two states from imposing proof-of-citizenship on the federal form. … This decision reignites a series of conflicts:
1. The ruling doesn’t invalidate the imposition of proof-of-citizenship on state forms (the court specifically notes that it is not ruling on that issue) so, for the time being, two-track registration could be back on the table in Kansas and Arizona – perhaps with those states’ courts being asked to rule on its constitutionality;