As jurisdictions across the country are preparing for 2016’s big election, many are already thinking of the next presidential election—2020 and beyond. This is especially true when it comes to the equipment used for casting and tabulating votes. Voting machines are aging. A September report by the Brennan Center found that 43 states are using some voting machines that will be at least 10 years old in 2016. Fourteen states are using equipment that is more than 15 years old. The bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration dubbed this an “impending crisis.” To purchase new equipment, jurisdictions require at least two years lead time before a big election. They need enough time to purchase a system, test new equipment and try it out first in a smaller election. No one wants to change equipment (or procedures) in a big presidential election, if they can help it. Even in so-called off-years, though, it’s tough to find time between elections to adequately prepare for a new voting system. As Merle King, executive director of the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University, puts it, “Changing a voting system is like changing tires on a bus… without stopping.” So if election officials need new equipment by 2020, which is true in the majority of jurisdictions in the country, they must start planning now.
The Kansas Secretary of State has begun the process of finding an election commissioner to replace Brian Newby, who for the past 10 years has overseen elections in Johnson County. Newby has taken a job as the executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Newby’s last day as the top election official in Johnson County was Nov. 13. His replacement will be appointed by the Kansas Secretary of State’s office. There is no interim county election commissioner in the meantime. The vacancy has been advertised by the Secretary of State’s office, which has an online site to submit resumes and cover letters. Qualified applicants have to have lived in the county for at least two years. Applications will close Friday.
A South Dakota county fighting the voting-rights lawsuit Poor Bear v. Jackson County has asked the court to dismiss it. The November 13 request followed Jackson County striking a deal with South Dakota’s secretary of state and top elections official, Shantel Krebs. The motion to dismiss also followed a missed early-November court deadline, when the county failed to submit an expert report supporting its election procedures. In the agreement with Secretary Krebs, Jackson County consented to spending long-allotted funding to open a satellite registration and absentee-voting office for the next four federal elections in Wanblee, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Jackson County handles elections in this portion of Pine Ridge but has refused to access Help America Vote Act (HAVA) money for a full-service polling place.
Most voting machines are only designed to last about a decade. A new study shows many of the machines in use across the U.S. are close to that age, and that could increase the chances of voting irregularities for the 2016 election cycle. Arizona Public Radio’s Justin Regan reports. The Brennan Center for Justice says the outdated machines are more susceptible to hacking and other security problems. Replacement parts for the older machines are also hard to find, and their internal computers crash more often, which could slow down the voting process.
Jackson County has decided to give up the fight about opening an in-person early voting center in Indian Country, making it the last county to do so. County officials signed an agreement with the state authorizing an in-person early voting station in Wanblee, which has a heavy Native American population. Various tribes and voting rights advocates have been asking counties to open voting stations in towns with large Native American populations, arguing that impoverished Indians couldn’t make the trip to county seats to cast early votes. Jackson County was the lone holdout, even after state officials had indicated that the county could use state Help America Vote Act funds to cover the expenses of opening a satellite voting station at Wanblee. The agreement means that the state will fund, and Jackson County will staff, an early voting station through the 2022 election.
US Virgin Islands: Attorney General Walker Says Voters Must Feed Ballots Themselves | St. Croix Source
In a formal opinion he issued this week, acting Attorney General Claude Walker told the St. Croix District Board of Elections that voters must be allowed to feed their own ballots into voting machines in the upcoming 2016 elections. Walker was responding to the board’s request for his interpretation of two major court cases affecting how ballots are processed: the 1968 U.S. District Court of the Virgin Islands case of Melchior v. Todman, and the 2014 V.I. Supreme Court case of Mapp v. Fawkes. In his letter to St. Croix Board of Elections Chairwoman Liliana Belardo de O’Neal, Walker said the 1968 case no longer applies because the law it addressed was repealed.
The United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC) announced the hiring of a new Executive Director and General Counsel for the agency today. Brian D. Newby is the agency’s new Executive Director. Mr. Newby served as the Election Commissioner in Johnson County, Kansas for the last eleven years. Newby serves on the Election Center Legislative Committee, is a member of the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, and Election Officials and is a former board member of the National Association of County Records, Election Officials, and Clerks. A Kansas City, Missouri native, Newby holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a bachelor’s degree in communications studies from the same school.
In addition, the EAC announced the hiring of Cliff Tatum of Washington, DC as its new General Counsel today. Mr. Tatum spent the last four years at the DC Board of Elections serving as Executive Director. Tatum previously served as the Interim Director of the Georgia State Elections Division and as an Assistant Director of Legal Affairs for the Georgia Secretary of State. Previously, Tatum was an active trial attorney practicing commercial and general litigation in Atlanta, Georgia. He also served as Deputy Solicitor General for the City of East Point in the State of Georgia. Tatum is an alumnus of Thomas M. Cooley Law School and has a degree in Administration of Justice from Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina.
It’s a new age of machines. Voting machines. Arizona and 42 other states have election equipment that has exceeded or is close to passing its expected life span of 10 years, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice, a law and policy institute at New York University School of Law. “The equipment for the most part has been fairly durable,” said Eric Mariscal, election director of Gila County. Mariscal said that Gila County Dept. of Elections has used the Accuvote paper ballot scanner units since 2004. “We’ve had very few problems,” he added
In his victory speech after his re-election in 2012, President Obama offered special thanks to those Americans who had stood in long lines to vote — some of whom were still waiting even as he spoke — and then offhandedly added, “by the way, we have to fix that.” The line got big applause, but now, three years later, much of the country is still far from fixing one major cause of the long lines: outdated voting machines and technologies. With the 2016 presidential election just a year away, the vast majority of states are still getting by with old machines that are increasingly likely to fail, crash or produce unreliable results. The software in them, mostly from the 1990s, doesn’t have the capabilities or security measures available today. A study released last month by the Brennan Center for Justice found that nearly every state uses some machines that are no longer manufactured. And 43 states are using machines that will be at least 10 years old next year, close to the end of their useful lives. A member of the federal Election Assistance Commission told the report’s authors, “We’re getting by with Band-Aids.” The central problem is a lack of money. The report estimates that it will cost at least $1 billion, and probably a good deal more, to upgrade voting systems nationwide. Election officials in 22 states say they need new machines but don’t know where the money will come from. Those states alone represent more than 120 million registered voters, and account for a majority — 324 — of the nation’s 538 electoral votes.
Depositions were under way last week in a voting rights case that could indirectly cost taxpayers in Sioux Falls and other South Dakota communities hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. Jackson County was sued last year by four Native Americans after the county refused to establish an in-person absentee polling place in Wanblee. County officials last year argued they didn’t have the money to establish an absentee polling place in both Wanblee, which is 96 percent Indian, along with an existing polling place at the county seat in Kadoka, which is 95 percent white. But the money argument ceased to exist after the state agreed to make federal Help America Vote Act funds available for counties to establish satellite polling places for federal elections. The funds are available for counties with large impoverished populations that live farther away than other residents from county seats or other satellite polling places.
After more than a decade, Michigan voting booths are in line for an upgrade. Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson announced Thursday the state is starting the process of replacing the election equipment that has served the state for more than 10 years in the state’s 4,800 precincts. On Thursday, the state began the process of taking proposals from election equipment vendors. The state is seeking upgraded voting systems that still use a paper ballot. The proposals need to be in by early September. “The voting equipment Michigan voters use each Election Day has served us well over the past decade, but there’s no question it’s starting to show its age,” Johnson said in a statement. “I thank Bureau of Elections staff and local election officials for their efforts to begin the process to replace the equipment before we start to see wide-scale issues with the aging equipment.”
The long-awaited replacement for California’s aging voter registration database has started to deploy, with Sacramento and Orange counties serving as test counties for the VoteCal system that will begin expanding to other counties this fall. All 58 counties will be covered by June 2016 if the process stays on schedule. VoteCal’s debut comes more than a dozen years after the Florida election debacle in the 2000 presidential election prompted Congress to order a revamp of states’ voting procedures with the Help America Vote Act. Since it went live in Sacramento and Orange counties, VoteCal already has helped voting officials identify about 400 seemingly duplicate registrations, said Neal Kelley, Orange County’s registrar of voters. Reconciling the duplicates, which usually stem from people moving, used to rely on a paper-based system. “That’s a big deal,” Kelley said.
The state Board of Elections approved use of four additional devices for voting and counting ballots in South Dakota and adopted an assortment of small rule changes Thursday for the 2016 elections. The four types of machines are products from Elections Systems and Software, a company based in Omaha, Neb. They include a basic counting device, a high-speed tabulating device, the company’s version of an AutoMARK machine for persons with disabilities, and the company’s ExpressVote Universal Voting machine that also can be used by persons with disabilities. Election officials from the South Dakota Secretary of State office tested the four machines as required under state law and state regulations. “That was an all-day process and it was very thorough,” Secretary of State Shantel Krebs said.
What makes you lose sleep?” That’s what NCSL staff asked members of the National Association of State Election Directors back in September 2012. The answer wasn’t voter ID, or early voting, or turnout, as we expected. Instead, it was this: “Our equipment is aging, and we aren’t sure we’ll have workable equipment for our citizens to vote on beyond 2016.”That was NCSL’s wake-up call to get busy and learn how elections and technology work together. We’ve spent much of the last two years focusing on that through the Elections Technology Project, funded by the MacArthur Foundation. One thing we learned is that virtually all election policy choices have a technology component. Just two examples: vote centers and all-mail elections. While both can be debated based on such values as their effect on voters, election officials and budgets, neither can be decided without considering technology. Vote centers rely on e-poll books, and all-mail elections depend on optical scan equipment to handle volumes of paper ballots.Below are nine more takeaways we’ve learned recently and that legislators might like to know too.
Recounts, inefficient or outdated voting equipment, and efforts to keep up with the changing times have put Cochise County in the market for all-new electoral infrastructure. Staff from the county’s procurement, geographic information system, elections and special districts, and the county attorney’s office, met with the board of supervisors at a work session on Tuesday. … Elections staff saw a demonstration of Yavapai County’s Unisyn Voting Systems Inc. equipment, an ES&S demo in Graham County, and demonstrations of Pinal County’s central count approach. Unisyn also provided a local demo, as did ES&S. In February, the Arizona Secretary of State conducted a joint training session for county elections and recorder’s office staff.
The Nebraska Secretary of State has announced that 48 county election offices will receive reimbursements totaling nearly $50,000 to help cover costs associated with the use of voter disability equipment during the 2014 general election. The money is provided to the Secretary of State’s office through a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002.
North Carolina: Cost to switch to paper ballots in Henderson County triples to $3 million | Times-News
Henderson County commissioners thought they were looking at roughly $1 million to comply with a state law requiring the Board of Elections to switch to paper ballots. The estimated cost of replacing its current touchscreen machines has now jumped to $3 million. During a discussion of the unfunded mandate earlier this month, a majority of commissioners said they nonetheless want to hold off on setting aside any money for new voting machines in the coming 2015-16 fiscal year. “I would just say to you that this is a moving target,” advised County Manager Steve Wyatt. “I have no confidence in these numbers; I had no confidence in the previous numbers. What I am confident is right now, the law says you’ve got to change the machines.”
A purchase approved Thursday by the Cape Girardeau County Commission will allow visually impaired voters a little more autonomy when it comes to casting ballots. Starting with April’s election, the county’s accessible voting units will have larger screens — 15 by 15 inches versus the 7-by-3-inch screens currently in use. County Clerk Kara Clark Summers said the larger screens were not available when the county originally purchased accessible voting equipment. The requirements included in the Help America Vote Act of 2002 were the kick-start that brought such equipment to many counties, including Cape Girardeau.
Ohio: Jon Husted seeks $1.2 million to mail absentee ballot applications statewide in 2016 | cleveland.com
Secretary of State Jon Husted plans to request state money to send absentee ballot applications to Ohio voters for next year’s presidential election, continuing a practice voter advocates worry will end now that lawmakers hold the purse strings. A state law enacted last year prohibits county boards of election from sending unsolicited absentee ballot requests but allows the secretary of state to do so if the General Assembly pays for it.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, joined other House Democrats in a letter Wednesday urging the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the status of voting machine technology and the potential problems posed by using outdated equipment. The members asked the GAO to review challenges state and local jurisdictions face with aging voting systems, the impact of federal standards on developing new voting systems and benefits and challenges of policies in place regarding voter turnout. The letter cites a report by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration issued in January 2014, which lists its findings and recommendations to President Barack Obama. Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 as an attempt to modernize voting technology, including optical scanning and touch screen voting devices.
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.
Legislators joined disability and voting advocates at a press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 13 in Albany to call for an end to the use of lever voting machines in local elections. Although lever voting machines have been replaced in most elections in New York since the implementation of the Help America Vote Act in 2002, many are still in use in village, school district, and other local elections due to repeated extensions by the state Legislature. Some local municipalities and schools prefer to use lever machines because some do not own newer voting machines and must borrow or rent them from the Board of Elections or pay a private company to conduct their elections using more modern voting machines. But advocates say voters with visual, mobility and cognitive disabilities are unable to use the lever machines privately, needing the assistance of a caretaker or poll worker to help them vote.
Black Hawk County’s election system is ill-equipped to deal with the skyrocketing number of voters using absentee ballots. Grant Veeder, the county’s auditor and commissioner of elections, is seeking an estimated $532,000 in next year’s county budget to help purchase new voting equipment and software. The 76 precinct ballot scanners and 66 accessible ballot marking devices — purchased in 2008 with federal Help America Vote Act dollars — still work. But the system lacks a large central count machine that could efficiently tally the stacks of absentee ballots. “We’re trending towards half the votes in the state being absentee,” Veeder said.
US Virgin Islands: EAC sees ‘no reason for concern’ about Elections System’s corrective action plan progress | Virgin Islands Daily News
Elections officials said they got good news after a teleconference with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission on Thursday. The commission representatives were calling to check in with the boards and the V.I. Elections System and provide a status update on the corrective action plan the Elections System implemented following a scathing 2013 audit. In November 2013, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission released an audit that looked at the Elections System’s compliance with the Help America Vote Act of 2002. In the audit report, completed by the Office of the Interior’s Office of the Inspector General, Inspector General Curtis Crider said his office found that the V.I. Elections System’s lax posture on internal controls put $3.3 million in Help America Vote Act funds and other funding at risk of fraud, waste or mismanagement.
North Carolina: Forsyth County elections office wants to replace equipment; proposal could cost about $1.4M | Winston-Salem Journal
The Forsyth County elections office wants to buy new elections equipment this year, but the county commissioners will have to decide whether to fund the request. Steve Hines, director of elections for Forsyth County, said his office is asking to replace all of its voting equipment – including the optical scanners that record paper ballots at precincts and the larger tabulator used at the elections office. Hines said his office is still in talks with the vendor for Election Systems & Software equipment, but has a rough cost estimate of about $1.4 million. Hines said he hates to ask for that much. “But I’d hate to go through what we went through this past year on a presidential scale,” Hines said. The elections office dealt with a number of hiccups in the general election last November, including breakdowns of vote-counting machines at precincts and the elections office. The equipment is about a decade old. … The county uses paper ballots on Election Day, but it uses iVotronic touch-screen machines for early voting and Election Day handicap-accessible voting. The county will no longer be able to use those machines as of 2018 because they don’t print a ballot.
It cost around $33,000 more to run the vote-by-mail election this year than a similar election in 2010, but Cache County says it’s worth it compared to the cost of replacing 395 voting machines. “At first glance, that actually cost us more to do it that way,” said County Finance Director Cameron Jensen, referring to the mail-in ballots. “The problem, what becomes savings in my mind, is we are at a place with our equipment that we’re not replacing it.” The county set aside $850,000 in replacement funds in the mid-2000s, when they last purchased voting machines. At that time, the machines were paid for by a federal grant, the 2002 Help America Vote Act. The act, created in response to the Bush-Gore recount debacle in the 2000 election, helped pay for a slew of new electronic voting machines across the country and replaced old, unreliable machines. These machines are now over a decade old and need replacing, but there are no federal funds this time. As a result, Jensen said by-mail voting is a better long-term investment for electioneering in Cache County.
National: With no money to replace them, can we count on old voting machines? | The Kansas City Star
Election authorities in Kansas and Missouri are growing nervous. Their touch-screen and optical-scan election machines that voters poked and punched just a few weeks ago are growing old. Some devices now exceed their expected life cycle and need to be replaced. But the enormous cost of buying new election equipment has left legislators and budget officers with little appetite for the job. Replacing all the voting machines in just Jackson and Johnson counties would cost between $10 million and $20 million, according to some estimates, far more than lawmakers have set aside for such purchases. As a result, election officials say, voters in the 2016 presidential election may confront old, unreliable machines — and the potential for another Bush vs. Gore debacle. “We’re just really concerned,” said Bob Nichols, the Democratic election director for Jackson County. “Going into a presidential election year with old equipment — we don’t want to be another Florida.” The Presidential Commission on Election Administration warned of a voting machine crisis in a report it issued nearly a year ago. “This impending crisis arises from the widespread wearing out of voting machines purchased a decade ago,” it wrote. “Jurisdictions do not have the money to purchase new machines, and legal and market constraints prevent the development of machines they would want even if they had the funds.”
In the days leading up to the 2014 Midterm Election, our former colleague Dan Seligson became part of a growing trend. In his mailbox was an official-looking document detailing his voting history and comparing his voting history to his neighbors’. While the details about his voting history weren’t correct, Seligson, like many others, was none-too-pleased about the attempt to “vote shame” him. “…[F]rankly, it wasn’t an incentive to vote. It made me lash out at the organization that thought this was a good idea,” Seligson said. “I was motivated alright, motivated to tell them how much they insulted me.” Seligson isn’t alone. Since 2008, “vote shaming” or social pressure as academics and others prefer to call it has become an increasingly popular tool in the GOTV toolbox. During the 2014 election cycle, there were news reports — typically about angry voters — from Alaska to Maine to Florida and lots of places in between about voters receiving “vote shaming” materials.
The machines that will count ballots on election day Tuesday aren’t your grandparents’ voting machines. No punch cards. No levers to pull. Those went the way of the dinosaur after the 2000 election 14 years ago, when punch card voting resulted in the “hanging chad, dimpled chad” controversy in Florida, invalidated a couple million ballots, and delayed the outcome of the presidential election as recounts and courts sorted it all out. When the smoke cleared, Republican George W. Bush claimed Florida’s electoral votes and the presidency even though Democrat Al Gore won the nation’s popular vote. What came after that was the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which in part required states to replace punch card voting with updated electronic voting machines built to federal standards. Congress, so far, has appropriated $3.8 billion to assist states with the upgrades. The updated optical scan machines were first used in Oakland County in 2005.
Editorials: How racism underlies voter ID laws: the academics weigh in | Michael Hiltzik/Los Angeles Times
The voting laws requiring photo IDs inherently racially discriminatory, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg maintained in her blistering dissent Saturday morning? A team of politician scientists from Appalachian State, Texas Tech and the University of Florida took on that question for an article just published in Political Research Quarterly (h/t: Justin Levitt). Their conclusion is that the claims of proponents that they’re just upholding the principle of ballot integrity can be discounted; the photo ID laws aim to disenfranchise Democratic voters; they cite findings that the raised cost of voting imposed by photo ID requires “falls overwhelmingly on minorities.” In other words, the answer is yes. The researchers are William D. Hicks of Appalachian, Seth C. McKee of Texas Tech, and Mitchell D. Sellers and Daniel A. Smith of Florida. They observe that voter ID laws in general and photo ID laws specifically surged in 2006 and later, when the electorate became highly polarized. In 2000, four states–Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan and North Dakota–had enacted ID laws, none of them photo-based; they aimed to clarify voting rules, part of a trend that led to the Help America Vote Act, which was passed by a bipartisan vote in Congress in 2002. At the time, the idea of straightening out confusing differences in voting rules was noncontroversial: “why would any member of Congress oppose helping Americans vote?” the authors ask. The atmosphere soon changed. In 2001, only 14 states required identification to vote, of which only four specified photo IDs; by 2014, 34 states had ID laws, including 17 photo ID laws. In 2011 alone, six states added a photo ID requirement.