Florida is paying attorneys who represented the state and national Democratic Party more than $82,000. Court records filed last week show the administration of Gov. Rick Scott agreed to pay the money to end a lawsuit over the state’s vote-by-mail law. Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, verified the amount that will be paid. The Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee sued the state last year because the law did not require voters to be notified if their signatures on their ballot and voter registration forms don’t match. A federal judge called the law “illogical” and “bizarre.”
A dramatic change planned for California elections next year is morphing into a partisan battle over how the state’s ballots should be cast. When Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB450 in September, it was billed as a new way to boost California’s falling election turnout. Mailing a ballot to every voter in participating counties and replacing the traditional neighborhood polling places with a relative handful of community voting centers would cut costs and make it easier to cast a ballot. “This landmark law will provide voters more options for when, where and how they cast a ballot,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who sponsored what has been dubbed the California Voter’s Choice Act, said in a statement at the time. The bill, he said, “will increase civic participation and make our democracy stronger.” But Padilla was far less jolly last month after Orange County supervisors, worried about what they said was the potential for abuse, unanimously refused to sign on to his plan, dismissing it without discussion.
Washington: ‘New reality’ of vote-by-mail includes delays and problems with postmarks | The News Tribune
The U.S. Postal Service isn’t delivering mail as quickly as it used to, and elections officials say that has the potential to disrupt voting-by-mail in the first presidential election since the service changes took effect last year. First-class mail, which includes ballots, no longer arrives at its destination within one to three days, but instead takes two to five days — a reality that led the Postal Service this year to advise elections officials that voters should mail their ballots back a week before Election Day. Theoretically, the longer delivery timeline shouldn’t matter in a state like Washington, where ballots are deemed valid based on the date they are postmarked, as opposed to the day they arrive at election offices. But documents show that Postal Service officials also have noted issues with postmarking of ballots — and that’s what has elections officials in Washington and across the country especially worried. “Elections officials have indicated illegible or missing postmarks are an issue,” according to a presentation the Postal Service prepared for election officials in August. At that time, the agency said it was “working with elections officials to identify (the) scope of (the) problem.”
In a presidential election as competitive as this one, you don’t want to risk any complications with your precious vote. Be careful: If you’re voting by mail, something as simple as postage could impact your ability to do your civic duty. “The number of ballots mailed back to election officials with insufficient postage is on the rise,” the Unites States Postal Office writes on its website. “Each election cycle presents a different set of parameters for ballot creation and for the size and weight of the return mailpiece. As a result, many voters do not know the correct amount of postage required to return their ballot by mail.” 2016 is no exception. People are already flooding social media with questions about how many stamps they need, why they have to pay to vote and what happens if they don’t use the right postage, according to Snopes. Here’s what you need to know. Depending on where you are, you may need two stamps. If your absentee ballot says “extra postage required” or “apply first-class mail postage,” a single regular $0.47 stamp might not cut it. Whereas usually you can mail about four pages with one stamp in a standard envelope, absentee ballots often weigh more, according to NPR. The more pages there are, the more you need to spend to vote.
It’s finally come to this: Ballots for the general election are in the mail, and within days, Washington state voters can register their choice for president. But how do you know the vote won’t be rigged, or ruined by Russian hackers? It’s prudent to be concerned, but the state official in charge of the election process says it’s “irresponsible” to make baseless accusations about the integrity of the voting process. “I have full and complete confidence in our system,” Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican who’s up for re-election this year, said in a blog posting this week. “Every eligible ballot will be handled securely and will be tabulated carefully and accurately.”
California will overhaul its election system beginning in 2018 so that voters have more options on when and where to cast their ballots in future elections, under a bill Gov. Jerry Brown signed Thursday. SB450 by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, allows counties to opt into the new system, and if they do, those counties would be required to mail all voters a ballot that can be cast at voting centers up to 10 days before election day. The ballots can also be returned by mail. “People lead increasingly complicated lives; we should provide them with maximum flexibility when it comes to voting,” Allen said in a statement. “Under this new law, people will be able to choose the time and place to vote that is most convenient for their lifestyle and their schedule.”
Voting rights across the country are under attack, according to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s office. To combat that, Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley introduced a bill Thursday to expand Oregon’s vote-by-mail system nationwide. Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer is spearheading a related measure in the House. The bill – the Vote By Mail Act of 2016 – would require every state to provide registered voters the chance to vote by mail and send ballots and pre-paid envelopes out at least two weeks before an election. It would also amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to provide for automatic voter registration through a state’s department of motor vehicles.
Polls released this week indicate that the November presidential election could be very close, much closer than previously expected. In most elections, the margin of victory is large enough to avoid questions about how the votes were cast and counted, but when elections are close and contested, things like how the voting machines function and what constitutes a valid ballot can become very significant. With voting by mail becoming increasingly common — according to a recent study by PEW Trusts, more than 20 percent of votes are now cast by mail nationwide — the possibility of a major controversy involving mail ballots is also increasing. Like other voting methods, voting by mail is not perfect. Sometimes ballots are lost in the mail, sometimes they arrive at election centers after the deadline. Mail voting is susceptible to fraud, there can be disagreements over whether a ballot is valid due to a postmark issue, and it may take days or weeks to count all the ballots, which can mean long delays without a clear victor.
California: State takes issue with Contra Costa elections chief over double-voting concerns | East Bay Times
The California Secretary of State’s office is taking exception to the Contra Costa County elections chief’s call for a change in how vote-by-mail voters are accommodated at election-day polling places, and wants to see evidence backing allegations made last week that following state rules allowed double-voting in the June 7 primary election. Secretary of State spokesman Sam Mahood said Monday his office as asked Contra Costa Registrar of Voters Joe Canciamilla to provide evidence that 113 people successfully voted twice in the primary election in that county. Canciamilla said this week he will comply.
Regular readers of this blog will remember that the last year has seen a sharp uptick in stories about how issues with the U.S. Postal Service have begun to affect states’ and localities’ management of vote by mail ballots. Many of those officials have wondered what to do about it – and the Bipartisan Policy Center has just issued a new report that examines the “new realities” of vote by mail and makes recommendations about how everyone involved can and should respond. Here’s an excerpt describing this “new reality:”
The Postal Service of 2016 does not operate under the same service standards as it did even one or two presidential cycles ago. Mail volume is down, and the USPS has adjusted its infrastructure accordingly. A restructuring of the USPS’s backbone—called “rationalization”—has resulted in the closing of many smaller processing plants across the country. Mail is now routed to larger plants equipped with sophisticated automation equipment that allows for ballot tracking. Delivery standards have also changed. First-class mail is now delivered to recipients within a two-to five-day window; standard mail now reaches its destination in three to ten days.
The reduction of mail-processing plants coincided with a shorter production schedule at each remaining processing plant. The shorter schedule helps the post office to maximize efficiencies of resources and has resulted in many fewer plants operating during the weekend. The impact of this change, though, is slower mail and less processing capacity ahead of Election Day, when ballots must be returned to election offices.
Where a voter lives determines the ways by which he or she can request a ballot, receive it, and return it. Laws about ballot counting govern what a voter must do to ensure that the ballot is counted. There are policies that can be implemented to work within this new reality and to maintain a vibrant alternative to funneling all voters to the polls on a single Election Day.
California: Looking outside California for election reforms that improve turnout and save money | CAFWD
California elections are in a difficult place: fewer citizens are turning out to vote, the cost of running elections are on the rise, available funds are insufficient and the state’s voting systems are growing old and outdated. “The world is changing and voting should change too,” says Caitlin Maple, California Forward research analyst. She points out recent statewide strides in making it easier to register to vote. Online registration and the 2015 Motor Voter bill both work toward increasing the number of registered voters. Unfortunately, more registered voters hasn’t necessarily translated to more voting. This year in particular saw a significant early spike of registration in January, according to Mindy Romero, the founder and director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. But, the actual turnout of just over 47 percent was lower than the 2008 presidential primary turnout of 59 percent.
Ever since Oregon approved voting exclusively by mail in 1998, Hasso Hering took comfort that a sealable “secrecy envelope” would guarantee his right to a private ballot. So when the 72-year-old from Benton County opened his ballot for the May primary, he was confused to see a non-sealable “secrecy sleeve” instead. Benton is among at least five Oregon counties, including Multnomah County, Marion County, Deschutes County and Washington County, to trade sealed envelopes for sleeves in hopes of speeding up ballot counts while still protecting voters’ privacy. But voters such as Hering worry the change could make it easier for elections workers to put a name to a ballot marking. “It is a principle of our ballot,” said Hering, a retired journalist. “How you vote is your business and no one else’s.”
Statutes pertaining to Oregon election laws run for pages and pages. But, for the most part, voter fraud and related illegalities are exceedingly rare, according to Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne P. Atkins. “I’ve been in this job since last March (2015),” she said. “And I’ve had only four or five of those come across my desk. I’d call it a relative rarity.” What scant voter malfeasance exists almost always involves one family member signing the ballot envelope of another — something that’s strictly prohibited by law. “You just can’t sign someone else’s ballot,” she said, “regardless of how well intentioned it may be.”
Oregon may have been first on the vote-by-mail train, but that doesn’t mean the system doesn’t have kinks. Each primary election, county clerks send out thousands of extra ballots to voters who wait until the last two weeks before the deadline to join a party or make other changes to their registration. This year has been no different. The problem? With more than 2 million ballots to send, clerks have to work ahead of time to package the ballots up for mailing. While the deadline to register, change parties or ask for an Independent Party ballot was April 26, clerks already had prepared millions of ballots, leading thousands statewide to receive a first ballot with their old information and a second ballot with the new. High interest during this presidential election has amplified the issue, as voters have flocked to join the major parties to vote in their primaries. County clerks and Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins say the system is working fine, and there’s no need to fear that votes will be counted twice.
Be warned if you changed your political party — like thousands of Oregon voters — right before the state’s April 26 deadline. Elections officials say the ballot that hit your mailbox this week is almost certainly the wrong one — full of races from the party you switched from, and not the one you switched to. That’s likely true for anyone who submitted a change after April 13. But don’t fret about losing your chance to vote. Updated ballots, correctly assembled, are already on the way, officials promise. If you haven’t sent back the first one (most Oregonians tend to wait), then all you have to do is sit tight, wait for the replacement and vote before May 17 like you normally would. Even you voted promptly, officials say, fill out the new ballot and send that one in, too. That’s the one they’ll count.
Voting by mail — and only by mail — has become an option in the United States. Will it spread? According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all states will mail an absentee ballot to voters who request one. While 20 states require a reason, 27 states permit “no-excuse” absentee voting. And three states now use mail-only voting. Oregon’s Ballot Measure 60 kicked off in 1998, making Oregon the first state to conduct its elections exclusively by mail. In 2011, Washington’s legislature moved the state to an entirely vote-by-mail system. Colorado joined in during the 2014 general election. In 2015, California launched a limited all-mail pilot as a test run. Lawmakers will use that pilot to learn how such an election would work in California. Supporters hope that voting by mail means more citizens will vote. Is it so? Generally, the answer is both “no” and “yes,” but with important qualification
California: Lawsuit: San Mateo County absentee voting system excludes blind voters | San Jose Mercury News
A federal lawsuit filed Thursday challenges San Mateo County’s absentee voting system for excluding blind and visually impaired residents by relying on paper ballots. San Mateo County, like nearly every other California county, has no alternative for people who cannot read a paper ballot. Other jurisdictions outside the state have offered electronic ballots with screen-reading technology. California is behind the curve because the secretary of state hasn’t certified an absentee voting process for the blind, said Michael Nunez, a litigation associate who works for Rosen, Bien, Galvan & Grunfeld, the San Francisco firm that filed the lawsuit. Counties can’t use a voting system in local elections without state certification.
The Anchorage Assembly unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night to support conducting the 2017 city election by mail, rather than by in-person polling precincts. In a vote-by-mail election, the city will automatically mail ballots to every registered voter in Anchorage, deputy clerk Amanda Moser said in a recent interview. Voters would no longer visit a polling precinct on Election Day to fill out a ballot. Officials have been exploring the change for several years and say it will boost low voter turnout in city elections.
San Mateo County’s recent mail election did more than boost voter participation in a sleepy off-year cycle, a preliminary analysis shows. It yielded dramatic spikes in turnout among young people and minorities. The eye-popping numbers from the county’s experiment, the first of its kind in an urban county in California, are sure to bolster a movement to expand mail elections throughout the state, following the lead of Oregon, Washington and Colorado. Turnout was up 16 percent over the last comparable election in 2013, and the voting rate among Asians increased by more than 30 percent in six cities.
Pennsylvania: Coalition pushes for voting reforms to get more to the polls in Pennsylvania | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Bemoaning a 25 percent turnout in this fall’s general election, a nonpartisan coalition wants to make it easier for Pennsylvanians to vote, proposing reforms like same-day registration and optional voting by mail. But it’s unclear whether reforms could have an impact on next year’s presidential election. Keystone Votes is seeking a sweeping overhaul of restrictions on voter registration and access to the polls. Many voters “really struggle to make it to the polls on Election Day,” said Karen Buck, executive director of Philadelphia-based SeniorLAW Center. And all voters, she said, “would welcome more flexibility and choice in deciding when and how to cast a vote.” Other members of the group include the state League of Women Voter Pennsylvania Voice, Common Cause Pennsylvania and the state ACLU.
With ballots still being tallied, San Mateo County’s elections chief says one of the state’s first all-mail elections is proving a success on several scores, starting with turnout. The last time San Mateo County held a similar election, in 2013, turnout was 25.4 percent. This year, it’s well over 28 percent, according to Chief Elections Officer Mark Church. He adds that all-mail elections are also cheaper, because of everything the registrar doesn’t have to do.
If you’re a registered voter in San Mateo County, you won’t head to your usual neighborhood polling place on Nov. 3. And chances are you already got your ballot in the mail — whether you registered for vote-by-mail or not. That’s because San Mateo County has launched an all-mail election effort. More than 353,000 official ballots have been sent out to all registered voters in the county, according to Mark Church, chief elections officer for the county. Voters have until Nov. 3 to put those ballots in the mail, or drop them off at any city or town hall in the county, at a 24-hour drop box or at one of 32 voting centers. (Check San Mateo’s election website for a full list of locations.) “This election is already underway,” said Church. “Voting is now taking place.”
Members of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission (NNHRC) attended the September 1 meeting of the San Juan County Commission to express concern about voting rights in San Juan County. Leonard Gorman, the Executive Director of the NNHRC and Lauren Benally, a policy analyst, said they are concerned about the county policy to hold elections by mail-in only ballot. Gorman said it was too late to respond to the new policy by the time they became aware of the procedure last year. And, he added, now the primary election for 2015 has been held in the same manner. Gorman said he is concerned that the policy can be used as a way to screen voters. He backed up this claim by saying he had polled the post office on the reservation and was told that a lot of ballots were thrown away in the garbage at the post office.
Residents in the five Utah County cities holding vote-by-mail elections this year won’t have to cast two ballots to weigh in on both city and county issues. Elections officials have reached a compromise after five cities — Alpine, Cedar Hills, Lehi, Orem and Vineyard — protested the Utah County clerk’s refusal to allow a proposed sales tax increase to be printed on mail-in ballots. The compromise came in a private meeting Monday afternoon between Utah County Clerk Bryan Thompson and representatives from the five cities and the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office.
After another municipal primary in which very few people bothered to vote, more area officials have been talking about the possibility of moving to a by-mail balloting system the next time around. The Aug. 11 primary, which involved city and town council races in four Washington County municipalities, saw historically low voter turnout for some. St. George finished with a turnout of 10.2 percent, while Hurricane was 9.6 percent. Washington City finished comparatively high at 14.8 percent. The town of Virgin, where voters had been primed by a special election in June over a zone change request regarding a proposed RV resort, had by far the highest turnout, with 54 percent.
Utah: Residents in some Utah County cities may be asked to vote twice on Nov. 3 | The Salt Lake Tribune
Chicago gangster Al Capone supposedly told corrupt friends to vote early and often. Now, officials may also ask some Utah County voters to do just that — but legally — in the upcoming Nov. 3 election. A fight between the county and five cities may force voters to cast one ballot by mail to choose their city leaders and then again in person at traditional polling places on a countywide proposal to raise sales taxes for transportation. Asking people to cast two different ballots in two ways in the same election “just doesn’t seem like it’s a smart thing, and frankly it’s not in the best interest of the voters,” complained Orem City Administrator Jamie Davidson. But Utah County Clerk-Auditor Bryan Thompson said the dual vote is needed to ensure fairness on the tax-hike proposal in a county where five cities vote by mail, but the rest of the county uses traditional in-person voting.
The U.S. Postal Service is the largest self-funded agency of the U.S. government and is supported entirely by revenue from postage and products. Because of that, unlike most federal agencies that are always looking for ways to cut costs, the Postal Service is also always looking for ways to boost revenue. Therefore, with the increasing popularity of vote-by-mail, the Office of the Inspector General of the USPS (USPSOIG) set out to evaluate voting methods to identify opportunities to increase voting by mail and therefore revenues for an agency that has struggled under budget constraints and the changing mailing habits of Americans.
When the Utah County commissioners voted Tuesday to place a local sales tax increase on the general election ballot, they included a modification to the motion that would not allow cities to hold a vote-by-mail option in the general election. According to the modification, made after the recommendation of Utah County Clerk/Auditor Bryan Thompson in order to have “equal access to all citizens that will be voting on this countywide issue,” cities will not have a vote-by-mail option when it comes to the sales tax measure. County residents will have the option of voting at a polling place on paper or electronically, or they can request an absentee ballot, according to Thompson. Thompson said that by allowing the five cities that held a vote-by-mail election for the primary election to provide that same option to their respective cities, “You’re giving the citizens in those five cities a greater say potentially.”
National: USPS could boost revenue, voter turnout by promoting mail-in voting, IG says | FierceGovernment
The Postal Service could both generate revenue and help voter turnout by working with states to promote mail-in voting, says an Aug. 4 USPS inspector general report. Although traditional poll voting is still the most popular method, the report (pdf) says, voting by mail is increasing across broad segments of the American electorate. In the 2014 midterm federal election, 25 percent of voters cast ballots by mail — an increase of 3.5 percent over the 2012 presidential election.
The newest tool for Hawaii voters went live last week, with the implementation of an online voter registration system. It’s part of an overall process to streamline the voting process and increase accessibility and participation. “It is (about) convenience,” said Pat Nakamoto of the county elections division. A bill passed during the 2012 legislative session required the online system to be in place by 2016. In order to register to vote, residents must have a Hawaii driver’s license or state ID. Voters who are already registered also can use the system to update their own information, such as name and address changes.