Notes from the Road: Gineen Bresso
Early Voting and Election Day Observations from Florida and Georgia, October 25 - November 2
I recently visited Georgia to observe early voting activities, then traveled to Florida to observe both early voting and Election Day activities. Voters in Georgia and Florida are very fortunate to have such innovative and dedicated election officials. Voters in these states have access to a lot of information and services online, and both states have made it a priority to improve services for military and overseas voters.
I thank everyone who met with me and provided examples of how they serve voters. I believe the innovations and ideas chronicled here will be beneficial to election officials throughout the nation. I intend to continue seeking and sharing examples, practices, innovations and solutions from election officials at the state and local levels.
Duval County -- Thursday, October 28, 2010
Duval County has 532,232 registered voters and nine early voting sites. It is the only county in Florida that pays the return postage for absentee ballots. I began the day in Jacksonville at the Supervisor of Elections office and visited an early voting site. I also met with Elections Supervisor Jerry Holland, Councilman Stephen Joost and Judge Brent D. Shore, and observed canvassing activities.
The county uses the same process and system for its absentee ballots that I observed in Fulton County, Georgia. The Supervisor of Elections Web site is very customer-service oriented and demonstrates a commitment to transparency. For instance, visitors to the site can easily find a comprehensive schedule for the Canvassing Board, as well as early voting locations and information about voters’ rights.
Of course, since I was in Jacksonville two days before the Georgia-Florida game, I stopped by for a visit at the Georgia-Florida Welcome Center. I wish I could have stayed and watched the game!
Clay County -- Thursday, October 28, 2010
In the Clay County Supervisor of Elections office, they have a staff of 11, two of whom are dedicated to data processing. There are 122,339 registered voters and approximately 2,300 UOCAVA voters. Clay County has partnered with area realtors to sponsor Move the Vote, an initiative to help county residents register to vote or update registration after a move.
In addition to these initiatives, Supervisor of Elections Chris Chambless and his staff take a very modern approach to communicating with voters. For example, the Supervisor of Elections’ Office has a presence on Facebook and Flickr, as well as a very good website that is user friendly and intuitive. They also offered a candidate workshop on You Tube.
Clay County Supervisor of Elections
Candidate workshop on YouTube
Move the Vote
Seminole County – Friday, October 29, 2010
The Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Office has 15 employees. There are 659,000 registered voters, 126 precincts and five early voting sites. While observing early voting on Friday, I learned that more than 50 percent of registered voters had already voted early. Traffic was steady at the early voting site, and everyone was very patient.
At www.voteseminole.org, Seminole County voters can download sample ballots, get candidate biographies or request an absentee ballot. Voters can also check the status of their absentee ballot.
The Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Office was a recipient of a mock election grant provided by EAC in 2010. They partnered with Crooms Academy of Information Technology and launched a pilot program that mirrored the General Election, including sponsoring the only Congressional debate for the candidates seeking election to represent the third Congressional District of Florida.
Crooms Academy of Information Technology
Orange County—Friday, October 29, 2010
Orange County is the 6th largest county in Florida with 624,700 registered voters and 262 precincts. Ballot on demand was available at 10 early voting sites.
I visited Alafaya Library, an early voting site, at 4 pm and traffic was heavy but moving steadily. Voters were in a great mood and didn't mind waiting. A delegation from Australia was also observing elections in Orange County. Did you know that Australians vote on Saturdays? And if they don’t vote, they have to pay a $75 fine!
The University of Central Florida, in partnership with Valencia Community College (VCC), received a grant in 2009 through EAC’s Help America Vote College Poll worker program. The Training Through Technology: Poll Workers in the 21st Century program incorporated Second Life, an online simulation program, to simulate the real life experiences of poll workers, incorporating ideas generated through a partnership with the Orange County Supervisor of Elections. Michelle Gardner and Assistant Professor Thomas A. Bryer gave me a demonstration of the Second Life program at the University of Central Florida. It provided great insight into the real world of elections from a poll worker’s perspective. Students who participated received three course credits in civic engagement.
According to Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles, who is also a member of EAC’s Board of Advisors, the office built their own e-poll books at about $600 each, a savings of approximately $3000 per e-poll book.
Orange County Supervisor of Elections
Valencia Community College
Australian Electoral Commission
Lee County -- Saturday, October 30, 2010
In Lee County there are five early voting sites and 29 employees working for Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrison. I visited the tabulation center and observed absentee ballots being processed, a process similar to the one I observed in Fulton County, Georgia.
Lee County has a unique agreement with the Florida State Department of Transportation to place precinct signage throughout the county weeks before Election Day. The red, metal signs display precinct numbers, preparing voters in advance to be aware of their precinct location. I was especially impressed with efforts to get voter feedback. Comment cards were available at every early voting site; and comment forms were also available on Election Day.
The Web site features Sharon’s Corner: a central location for frequently requested information, voters’ concerns and other vital information. The site is available in English and Spanish and provides a how to vote video and sample ballots, including all of the Constitutional amendments.
Lee County Supervisor of Elections
Miami-Dade County -- Sunday, October 31
Miami-Dade County has 1.3 million registered voters, more than 800 precincts and 20 early voting sites. Ballots and polling place materials were available in English, Spanish and Creole. There were approximately 5,500 poll workers on Election Day, and those in charge of the voting machines are referred to as "VETS." As of the Sunday before Election Day, 205,000 people had already voted absentee; a higher number than at this point in 2008. The office’s slogan in 2010 was "Be Election Ready."
I first met with Supervisor of Elections Lester Sola, who is the only appointed supervisor of elections in the state of Florida. I then went to three early voting sites. Traffic was heavy; there were lines outside the door. Again, people at all three sites were in a good mood and waited patiently to cast their votes.
WEST DADE REGIONAL EARLY VOTING SITE
• 26 voting booths
• Good coordination between VETS, technicians and poll workers
CORAL GABLES PUBLIC LIBRARY EARLY VOTING SITE
• Reminders posted in privacy booth telling voters to look on both sides of the ballot
• Had magnetized sheets that made items on the ballot appear bigger for people who needed assistance or forgot to bring their eyeglasses
STEPHEN E. CLARKE EARLY VOTING SITE
• County employees detailed as poll workers for Election Day and early voting
• They have poll workers on call if needed
Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections
Broward County – Tuesday, November 2, Election Day
In Broward County there are 782 precincts and more than 1 million registered voters. Approximately 85,000 people had voted before Election Day. Broward County schools are closed for gubernatorial and presidential general elections.
I observed activities at the Broward County Canvassing Board in the afternoon and met with Broward County Supervisor of Elections Dr. Brenda Snipes and the Canvassing Board who were canvassing absentee ballots that had been determined by staff to be missing a signature on the outside envelope.
The Supervisor of Elections' office had formed a partnership with Broward County schools so that students could work at polling sites and assist with technical calls on Election Day. Teenagers worked and the money earned went back to the schools. Also, 120 schools held mock elections, complete with polling places.
The Supervisor of Elections’ Web site features an online poll worker training program, as well as poll worker recruitment materials in Creole and Spanish. Results from mock elections are also available.
Broward County Supervisor of Elections
Palm Beach County -- Tuesday, November 2, Election Day
In Palm Beach County there are 785 precincts and 826,625 registered voters. The office of Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher hosts an extensive call center that is the nerve center for Palm Beach County elections – this system tracks the entire life of a call. During elections, temporary employees are brought in to help field calls. However, only Supervisor of Elections' employees return calls. At the time of my visit around 6:30 p.m., the call center had already processed more than 3,000 calls. Information stored by the call center system provides insight into making future improvements.
After I left the supervisor’s office, I went to the warehouse where canvassing and election night tabulation was taking place. There were 17 drop-off locations for all precincts. At the drop-off locations, all items are reviewed and processed through a checklist, including the memory cards and ballots. All of these items were then transported to a warehouse for processing. Boy & Girl Scouts volunteered at the warehouse, helping bring in bags with ballots and memory cards and sorting them according to precinct. The first trucks started arriving at the warehouse at about 9:45 p.m.
Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections
A partnership between Clay County, Florida & area realtors.
Instructions for how Seminole County, Florida voters can track the status of their absentee ballots.
Lee County, Florida voter feedback form.
Fan with general information about voting and instructions for how to vote absentee in Broward County, Florida.
Palm Beach County, Florida Poll Worker Guide in Spanish.
Instructions for voters in Miami-Dade County, Florida.
Good Day Atlanta & The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, Atlanta, Georgia -- Monday, October 25
Georgia is one of 32 states that offer some form of early voting. In Georgia, early voting begins at least 45 days before a general election or 21 days before a municipal general election. I traveled to Georgia to observe the state’s early voting procedures as well as initiatives to assist military and overseas voters. My advice to Georgia voters was: prepare and confirm before you cast your ballot.
My first stop was the set of Good Day Atlanta at Fox 5. Co-host Suchita Vadlamani interviewed me about common sense tips for voters to make sure they had a successful experience casting their ballot. We discussed how to vote early in Georgia and advised viewers to prepare by knowing where and when to vote, and to confirm that their registration status was valid and up-to-date. Thank you to Good Day for allowing me to provide information to educate and empower voters.
After the interview, I met Wesley Tailor, Elections Division director for the Georgia Secretary of State. He gave me a tour of the offices as well as a tour of the Georgia State Capitol. We walked across the street to the Sloppy Floyd Building, which is where many Secretary of State employees work. We saw the server farm, which helps support Georgia’s My Voter Page (MVP), and the delivery of voter registration information between Georgia’s 159 counties and the Secretary of State Office.
MVP is a multi-faceted, customer service portal for Georgia voters. Visitors can find out the status of their voter registration, absentee ballot, polling location and even view a sample ballot. The vote safe feature offers anonymity to those voters who need to keep information confidential. This is especially important to women who have been victims of domestic violence. According to Mr. Tailor, his office constructed MVP internally with no additional funds.
Military and overseas citizen voters also benefit from the technology Georgia has developed. These voters may choose to receive their ballots electronically or by regular mail. In accordance with the MOVE (Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment) Act , they can also track the status of their voted ballot to make sure it has been received by the Secretary of State’s office.
We spoke with those who manage the Election Day Issue Tracing system, which processes calls from election officials, voters and the general public, routing them to experts who can resolve problems or answer questions. This year was the first time a dedicated line was established for people with disabilities who need assistance during the voting process.
Fulton County Department of Elections and Registration, Atlanta, Georgia -- Monday, October 25
The Fulton County Department of Registration and Elections serves Fulton County and 14 municipalities: Atlanta, Alpharetta, Chattahoochee Hill Country, College Park, East Point, Fairburn, Hapeville, Johns Creek, Milton, Mountain Park, Palmetto, Roswell, Sandy Springs, and Union City.
We were greeted at the Department by the new director, Barry Garner. He told us early voting was going smoothly so far in Fulton County, and that as of October 23, more than 20,000 had already voted. Mr. Garner noted that recruiting poll workers for the early voting sites was easier now than in years past, and he attributed it to the slow economy. Fulton County applies the same hiring process to poll workers as it does for county employees. Recent innovations include a candidate open house, a completely redesigned and a refurbished absentee ballot processing center. The early voting traffic in Fulton County was light but steady.
Mr. Garner is a highly regarded change management expert, and his philosophy was displayed on banners throughout the office: No Excuses. Just Results.
The Kenny G and Charles E Morning Show, Macon, Georgia -- Tuesday, October 26
I began the day with an interview on the Kenny B & Charles E Morning Show, which airs on Fox-TV Ch. 24 and Mix 100.9 FM. Charles E., or Charles Richardson, had to rush out to do an interview with a gubernatorial candidate, so Kenny B (Burgamy) took over. We discussed common sense tips for voters, and the steps they should take to make sure they could successfully cast their ballot.
Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections, Macon, Georgia -- Tuesday, October 26
Next stop was the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections Office. Elections Supervisor Elaine Carr met us at the office where we saw early voting in action. Traffic was heavy, but the lines were moving quickly. As of October 25, 700 people had voted early. Ms. Carr told us that this was the only early voting site, and that there were 41 precincts in Bibb County.
She showed us the front line team, who deal directly with voters and provide customer service. We then learned about the absentee ballot process and the election night provisional team. She said one of the biggest challenges was recruiting younger poll workers.
Ms. Carr said their philosophy was to "touch ballots as little as possible."
Before leaving town, I had an authentic southern breakfast at Nu-Way in downtown Macon. The grits were served with lots of butter!
The Board of Elections of Chatham County, Savannah, Georgia -- Wednesday, October 27
Elections Supervisor Russell Bridges met us at the board’s office on Eisenhower Drive, which also served as one of five early voting sites in Chatham County. The board is the only elected one in Georgia. There are two republicans and two democrats, and they each serve a four-year term. Voter registration and elections are handled separately in Chatham County.
Mr. Bridges told us about some of the voting rules in Chatham County. For example, his staff is diligent about enforcing Georgia’s 150 foot barrier around polling places. Even exit pollsters have to observe the same boundaries. They do not allow cell phones to be turned on or visible campaign literature in the polling place. He says their goal is to make sure voters are not disturbed during the voting process.
Chatham County’s election preparation and tabulation process are thorough and transparent. For example, as part of the supplies provided to each polling place captain, they receive a bag to store and seal the memory cards of each voting machine in the polling place. The back of the bag is transparent so when the captain drops off the bag at the processing center after voting, election officials can verify that the correct number of memory cards is in the bag without breaking the seal and opening the bag. The bag is then transported to the tabulation center, which is accessible via windows to the public, and then the seal is broken and the memory cards are removed for processing.
He showed us the ballot room in which staging and processing of polling place materials takes place. The materials are then stored in specially marked containers and then labeled according to precinct. Mr. Bridges said they follow the CASE – Copy And Seal Everything -– philosophy.
We visited the voting machine storage facility, which was climate controlled due to Georgia’s high humidity levels. The room was hooked up to an alarm system, the windows were hurricane proof, and the voting machines were always stored on the second shelf in case of flooding.
We also visited the poll worker training facility. Mr. Bridges said poll worker retention usually wasn’t a problem in Chatham County, but this year they had been forced to dip into their stand-by pool of workers.
Good Day Atlanta Interview
My Voter Page
Fulton County Elections
The Kenny B. and Charles E. Program
Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections
Chatham County Board of Elections
Pre-Election Activities in Orange County, California, October 15, 2010
While in California for EAC’s October public meeting and hearing, I traveled to Orange County to meet with Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley. The Orange County Registrar of Voters serves 1.5 million registered voters and has 49 full time employees, four of whom are language support staff fluent in Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese and Korean. For the recent election, the Registrar’s office had approximately 200 employees and 6,000 volunteers.
My day began with Mr. Kelley giving me a tour of the elections office. Highlights included the Map Room where all precinct maps are drawn; the Election Night Tally Room where the public observes the tabulation of early voting, absentee and Election Day ballots in-person or on-line, as the activities are also streamed live; and the warehouse where I observed the vote-by-mail processing system.
Orange County anticipated sending over 700,000 vote-by-mail ballots this election cycle. To accommodate this amount of ballots, Orange County uses a high-speed mail sorter system that encompasses tracking, sorting and verification of signatures for all vote-by-mail ballots. Mr. Kelley reports that the implementation of this system not only saved money but also produced a zero percent error rate. Also, for the first time this election cycle, Orange County will use a machine to extract ballots from the vote-by-mail envelopes.
Another cost-saving measure Mr. Kelley implemented was a conveyor system to sort items for delivery to and from polling locations. This system not only saves money but increases efficiency and accountability because when supply boxes are returned to the warehouse on election night, staff can easily and quickly see what each precinct has returned and if anything is missing. So far, the conveyor system has saved the Registrar’s office five days and $40,000 in labor costs.
Mr. Kelley also testified at EAC’s October public meeting and hearing about voter preparation and information delivery methods, with a particular focus on social media and the Internet. Orange County voters are very fortunate to have multiple information platforms about elections to choose from including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. The Registrar’s Web site offers the public an RSS feed, a portal dedicated to military and overseas voters, webinars, ballot tracking and registration lookup and live streaming of election night activities.
Orange County Registrar of Voters
October 14 Testimony by Neal Kelley
EAC Collection of Links to Election Officials’ Social Media Outlets
Washington, D.C. & Maryland - Observations from the September 14, 2010 Primaries
As an EAC commissioner, one of the most important responsibilities I have is to gather information about election administration and share it with election officials and the public. That is why I strive to visit as many as many election offices as possible. I continued my efforts to learn and share about innovative practices and creative solutions in elections by observing the Sept. 14, 2010 primaries in Washington, D.C. and Maryland.
My first stop was the polling place at Weems Creek Baptist Church in Annapolis. As we entered the church, we saw polling place signage on the walls, including a poster warning of the penalties per Maryland law for tampering with voting equipment. The polling place was small, and the traffic was light but steady. Election judges greeted us and expressed their satisfaction with the electronic polling books and noted that they had been greatly improved since the last election. (Maryland refers to poll workers as election judges.) They showed us how the poll books were synchronized so that no one could vote more than once. The precinct captain showed us an evaluation form that the Maryland Board of Elections is using to get feedback and suggestions for future improvements in the polling place. This was the first time I’d seen a form of this kind, and I thought it was great idea.
Next stop was the Maryland State Board of Elections, where we were greeted by State Administrator Linda Lamone and Deputy State Administrator Ross Goldstein. Mr. Goldstein showed us around the office, including the war room in which voting machine vendors and staff was assembled to monitor the elections and be prepared to trouble shoot issues.
We observed staff conducting parallel testing, a process that duplicates a portion of the election under conditions that are identical to the time and conditions that occur in a polling place. This process, which occurs on Election Day, helps inform election officials that the voting system is operating the way it should in the field, as well as provides a method to determine whether malicious code may have been introduced into the voting system software. One person was casting ballots into the voting machine, and two other people were comparing those selections by hand counting the ballots.
We then visited the polling place at Crofton Middle School. (Maryland public schools were closed on Election Day.) We were greeted warmly by the poll workers, one of whom had been serving as a poll worker since she became a citizen in 1992. The room was large, so the poll workers taped arrows on the floor to direct voters through the process. We heard again how much the poll workers liked the electronic poll books. Voter traffic was light.
In Prince George’s County, we visited Arrowhead Elementary School, which was the location of two polling places – the school gym and the cafeteria. We arrived around lunchtime, and the voter traffic was heavier than we’d seen at the previous polling places. The poll workers were well organized and most of them had years of experience. We observed voter information signs and posters for both polling locations, including the same materials posted in Spanish.
The first polling place we visited in DC was at the St. Francis Xavier Church on Pennsylvania Avenue, SE. The space was very large and poll workers made good use of the space. The precinct captain told us that the precinct usually had a very high turnout, and that so far, the number of provisional ballots cast was higher than he remembered from the last election. As we exited the polling place, we saw curbside voting in action.
At Union Temple Baptist Church, the polling place was one flight down, but there was an elevator and a ramp to accommodate all voters. The precinct captain told us that he was a second generation poll worker, and his mother was working at the same polling place. He told us that while voting, people in the community use it as an opportunity to visit and talk with neighbors, which we observed. Due to the polling place logistics, the curbside voting bell could not be heard, so there were poll workers out front to greet and assist those voters.
Jefferson Jr. High School on 7th Street, SW, used the school’s auditorium as the polling location. Unlike Maryland, school was in session, but it didn’t seem to impact voting. There were campaign staff outside the school, but they were not within the restricted area around the perimeter of the polling place. Traffic was light, and voters were in and out in a matter of minutes.
The last polling place we visited was the gym at St. John’s College High School. As we pulled up, several poll workers were out front, directing voters and making sure campaign staff did not enter the restricted area as well as a poll worker stationed at the curbside voting stand. The precinct captain had more than 10 years of experience, and we were grateful to learn about the process from him. He showed us the ballot counts as of 4:23 p.m. – 91 people had voted on the touch screen, and 223 voters had cast their choices on the optical scan machine. As in Maryland, each polling location we visited in D.C. had prominent signage and the poll workers liked having the electronic polling book.
The last stop was the D.C. Board of Ethics and Elections office, where the staff had set up a transparent process so the public could observe activity that takes place after the polling places close. We had the opportunity to observe the voting machine cartridges being unloaded after arriving from the polling place, a process the public observed through windows. The Board had set up a public information center which offered camera feeds of the election night activities. In addition, the spokesperson provided the public and the media regular updates about the process.
It was interesting to observe the different ways Maryland and D.C. administer elections. For example, Maryland uses direct electronic recording (DRE) or touch screen voting machines statewide. In D.C. voters have a choice between an optical scan and a DRE voting machine. D.C. poll workers sometimes ask voters which voting machine they prefer by saying, "Would you like paper or plastic?"
The differences I observed reiterate my belief that one-size-fits-all does not apply when it comes to elections. Different voters have different needs, and state and local election officials are the most qualified to decide what is in the best interest of their voters.
Election Day was a full one for me, but not nearly as long as it was for the thousands of poll workers and election officials who worked behind the scenes to make sure voters had a successful experience. I continue to have great respect for everyone who takes the time to serve their county and community on Election Day. I appreciate the help and access provided by election officials, and I hope sharing the innovations and creative solutions I observed will benefit election officials and voters.
Tbilisi, Georgia - ACEEEO Conference: Developing Accurate Voter Lists, September 9-11, 2010
As a representative of the United States, I was honored to participate on panel at the 19th Annual Association of European Election Officials (ACEEEO) Conference in Tbilisi, Georgia. The ACEEEO is an independent and non-partisan organization that provides a forum to exchange information among election officials and experts on ways to promote open and transparent elections with the objective of supporting good governance and democracy. The focus of this year’s conference was the development of accurate voter registration lists in transitional democracies.
I arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia and attended a welcoming reception for all conference attendees and participants with the Ambassadors at the Marriott Hotel. Upon arrival, I was greeted by two familiar faces, former chair of the Election Assistance Commission Paul DeGregorio and former secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pedro Cortes. I also met with the secretary general of ACEEEO Dr. Zoltán Toth, who was one of the founders of ACEEEO along with Mr. Richard Soudriette, president of the Centre for Diplomacy and Democracy, who has worked with ACEEEO since its inception.
The conference opened with a press conference and welcome ceremony conducted by the president of ACEEEO, chairman of the Parliament of Georgia and the secretary general of ACEEEO. There were over 170 participants from 32 countries present at the conference and translations available in English, Georgian, Russian and Hungarian. The first plenary session included speakers from ACCEEO and IFES President William Sweeney, representing the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF). The discussions focused on ACEEEO’s Voter Registration Project and its draft handbook for developing accurate voter lists in transitional democracies. The afternoon panels were comprised of participating countries of the Central Election Commissions of ACEEEO and they continued to discuss the Voter Registration Project. Throughout the conference, attendees were able to view exhibition booths of suppliers of election equipment.
Each night conference attendees were taken to a local restaurant, including entertainment, hosted by the Central Election Commission of Georgia. The first night I went to the Dzveli Armazi restaurant where I enjoyed traditional Georgian food and a cultural program of traditional Georgian folk dances. I was told that most of the traditional Georgian dishes was very rich and was best described as a blend of Russian, Turkish, Persian and Arabic cuisines. One of my favorite Georgian foods I tasted that night was "khachapuri" which is a cheese pie made with eggs and butter.
I started the morning presiding over a professional workshop about legal and procedural issues associated with voter registration lists. My presentation included a discussion of the National Voter Registration Act, 1993, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and the mission and responsibilities of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Conference attendees appreciated learning more about the voter registration system in the United States since our system is decentralized. A majority of the participating countries operate a more centralized elections system. There was another workshop going on simultaneously in which panelists discussed technical solutions for keeping accurate voter registration lists.
There were two plenary sessions in the afternoon. In the first session, representatives from The Center for Diplomacy and Democracy, International IDEA, IFES, Creative Associates and Competence Center for Electronic Voting and Participation discussed their voter registration projects which included topics such as combating vote fraud and the use of a national ID card. The second session summarized the morning workshops by the panel moderators.
On the second evening, conference attendees were taken to a restaurant called "Tsiskvili" to enjoy another evening of Georgian cuisine and a cultural program involving modern Georgian Dance.
On the last day of the conference, attendees heard reports from each ACEEEO participating country on their elections and administrative programs. I learned about Election Day preparation and issues that arose during each country’s presidential or parliamentary elections. The afternoon session was the ACEEEO’s General Assembly Meeting for official business.
On the last evening, conference attendees were taken to a restaurant called "In the Shadow of Metekhi" for a closing reception. Again, we indulged on delicious Georgian food and we were entertained by two singers that performed contemporary genres of music. We all danced to many American dance favorites; including two renditions of Gloria Gaynor’s "I Will Survive."
Visiting Georgia and learning about the different ways transitional democracies administer voter registration lists was a great experience. We exchanged information about best practices, future innovations and technology solutions. Exchanges like this provide a forum for shared solutions and challenges, and provide everyone with a wealth of information and support.
North Dakota Statewide Election Conference, March 23-24, 2010
In March I attended the North Dakota Statewide Election Conference at the invitation of Secretary of State Al Jaeger and Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum. The Statewide Election Conference, held in Bismarck, was for auditors from all 53 counties in North Dakota. The conference allows ND election officials the opportunity to collaborate amongst themselves and with the Secretary of State’s office, share ideas, and be informed of new procedures or legislation.
Tuesday, March 23
Tuesday morning, I arrived at the Capitol building and was shown around briefly before the conference started. The entrance hallway houses the North Dakota Hall of Fame, comprised of portraits of Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award recipients, chosen by the Governor, with concurrence by the Secretary of State and the Director of the State Historical Society. Recipients, who have ND roots, included Bobby Vee, Peggy Lee, Lawrence Welk, Phil Jackson, Angie Dickinson, Louis L’Amour, Bertin Gamble, Eric Sevareid, Elizabeth Bodine, Brynhild Haugland, Warren Christopher, General Harold K. Johnson, and my favorite – Roger Maris. Go NY Yankees!
I also had the opportunity to meet some of the staff in the Deputy Secretary of State’s office, including John Arnold (North Dakota Voting Facilitator), Lee Ann Oliver (Elections Specialist), Steve Bourgois (Election Administration System Manager) and Phil Schmaltz (Agency Central Database Specialist). They work with the local election officials to make sure they have all the resources and materials they need for elections. Additionally, this crew works hard to make sure the Central Voter File is up to date, and that the counties are aware of the various rules and regulations regarding elections and candidates. Perhaps most important, they ensure that the Secretary of State’s office is aware of the needs of the counties.
Secretary Jaeger opened the conference, which was held in the ND House Chamber, and introduced me to the audience. Before I started, he presented me with ND’s letter to the EAC certifying that they had their 5 percent match and was ready to receive their 2010 Requirements Payment. I was honored to be the opening speaker, and I used the opportunity to reiterate my firm belief that the best ideas come from those who run elections. Local election officials are the ones who physically administer the elections, and my visit presented the opportunity to learn from them. Also, I encouraged attendees to view our election management materials and submit any ideas for future topics EAC should focus on leading into the 2010 election cycle. I was pleased to announce that our Research, Policy and Programs division was working on a Voter’s Guide to Federal Elections in three Native American languages (Dakota, Cherokee, and Navajo) as well as one Alaska Native language (Central Alaskan Yu’pik).
During the break, I met Governor John Hoeven who made a surprise visit to the conference. He briefly addressed the group before turning the microphone over to Gary Poser, elections director of Minnesota. Gary is the state representative for MN to the EAC Standards Board, and spoke about the MN U.S. Senate recount, a topic of great interest to everyone. Accompanying him, to provide a MN local election official’s perspective, was Ryan Tangen, the Becker County, MN, auditor-treasurer. They provided a thorough account of the challenges facing election officials due to the recount, and how MN handled them. Gary’s presentation was a perfect transition to the next session, which dealt with clarifications between the recount procedures in MN and ND. Secretary Jaeger’s office had worked on recount guidelines that were provided to each attendee at the conference, which included citations to ND code as well as examples. Later in the afternoon, the Secretary’s office went over ND election law changes so that local officials would be prepared to implement them.
Next, I went to the local CBS affiliate to be interviewed on the 5 o’clock news by Marci Narum. The segment lasted for 2 ½ minutes, and I talked about what I was learning in ND, including learning about ND VOICES, the state’s new election administration system, as well as about the collaboration between the local election officials and the Secretary of State’s office. ND county auditors work year-round to prepare for elections, and that’s not their only responsibility. In ND, they are working especially hard in preparation for the state’s June 8 primary. I reminded ND voters that they should also prepare by looking up their precinct location, familiarizing themselves with the ballot, or even learning how they can serve as a poll worker.
Wednesday, March 24
I arrived at the Capitol in the morning for day two of the conference. There were two breakout sessions: during the first, counties that had absentee and early voting had a discussion session and during the second, counties that had vote-by-mail had a discussion session. Each session also had an opportunity to learn more about VOICES. Both sessions were opportunities for the county auditors to exchange ideas and for the Secretary’s office to receive feedback regarding current election laws and future legislation that could impact their work. At both sessions, the Secretary’s office asked the participants how they could be of further assistance.
Some of the ideas and best practices offered by the auditors included:
• The auditors said voters were sometimes given absentee ballot applications at sporting events, but were then confused when they received their absentee ballot in the mail. It became clear that some voters didn’t realize the form they filled out was an absentee ballot application, and perhaps the Secretary’s office could explore solutions to minimize voter confusion.
• To reduce the time it takes to process absentee ballots in counties using vote by mail as the primary method of voting, many county auditors alphabetize by voter all absentee envelopes with ballots as they come in, which expedites the voter verification process by the election board on Election Day.
• In response to an auditor’s comment about voters’ difficulties finding their information in the poll book, another auditor shared her solution, which was to use a template – a piece of paper fitted over the poll book with the exact length of the row referring to each voter cut out, so that the voter would see only their information.
• In ND, election boards may begin processing absentee ballots the day before Election Day. This allows officials to get a head start processing these ballots, including verifying the signatures, so that on Election Day they can focus on the in-person voting process.
After the breakout sessions, Bob Carey, Director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), spoke to the auditors about FVAP initiatives to improve voting for military and overseas citizens, including upcoming pilot programs for ballot delivery. He talked about FVAP’s new outreach activities, including its Facebook page and state-specific Twitter feeds, as well as its collaboration with the EAC.
The conference concluded with remarks from Secretary Jaeger, who thanked all of the participants and reiterated his commitment to collaborate with the county auditors on behalf of ND voters.
After lunch, we went to the ND Heritage Center and toured the ND State Capitol. I enjoyed having the opportunity to learn more about the state, its government and its history. I was surprised to learn that ND and South Dakota became states on the same day, but there is no official record regarding which one became a state first. The statehood proclamations were intentionally shuffled, and President Harrison never revealed which was signed first. However, ND is considered the 39 state as it was published first in the Statutes at Large as ND appears first in the alphabet.
In the afternoon, Bob Carey and I met with Secretary Jaeger, his election staff, and State Senator Dick Dever, Chairman of the Government and Veterans Affairs Committee, who explained ND’s legislative process – every bill introduced by its respective chamber gets an up or down vote. We talked about EAC and FVAP activities as well as ND’s VOICES system, a single point of entry system that manages three databases: 1) election management, 2) election results, and 3) the central voter file.
Even though this was a short visit, I learned so much from election officials in the only state in the nation that does not have voter registration. However, some of these officials face challenges similar to their peers in other states. For instance, voter education makes a big difference and reduces Election Day confusion. Also, it is so important for local election officials to collaborate and exchange ideas, as we’ve seen here in ND. State legislatures must be informed about the election process so that laws and appropriations will work in the real world of elections.
Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award
State Historical Society of North Dakota
North Dakota Secretary of State’s Office, Elections and Voting
Federal Voting Assistance Program
North Dakota Heritage Center
North Dakota Office of the Governor
North Dakota Seal, used to identify official records, such as election certification
Sakakawea Statue - North Dakota Capitol Grounds
Buffalo Statue - North Dakota Capitol Grounds
OAEO Winter Conference, January 19-20, 2010
In January I attended the Ohio Association of Election Officials (OAEO) Winter Conference in Columbus, Ohio. The OAEO is comprised of election officials from all 88 counties in Ohio. It was formed to allow Ohio’s election officials a forum to collaborate, attend continuing education sessions, and communicate their concerns as one voice. I arrived in Columbus on the night of January 19 ready to learn from these election officials over the next few days.
Wednesday morning I met with Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. Secretary Brunner discussed the election-related bills being considered in the Ohio legislature, and provided a general overview of current elections issues in Ohio. Thank you to Secretary Brunner for being so welcoming and taking an hour out of her busy schedule to talk with me.
After the meeting with Secretary Brunner I went to the OAEO conference. I was honored to be the keynote speaker for the opening session of the conference. I reiterated my firm belief that the best ideas come from those who run elections, and I was there to learn from them. Also, I encouraged attendees to view our election management materials and submit any ideas for topics EAC should focus its attention on leading into the 2010 election cycle.
Wednesday evening OAEO hosted an All Sports Tailgate Party, DJ, and Corn Hole Tournament. I had a great time talking with election officials and learning the ins and outs of playing corn hole, a game that was new to me. Conference attendees were encouraged to wear their favorite team’s gear and, I showed my support for the New York Giants by wearing my Eli Manning jersey. Thank you to all who attended the tailgate party -- it was great to meet and talk with everyone.
Thursday began with a lively panel discussion on pending election legislation in the Ohio House and Senate. Ohio legislators have introduced omnibus election administration bills in both houses and were currently undergoing the process to reconcile the two bills. The panel consisted of the bills’ sponsors, two election officials, a representative from the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office, and a representative for Ohio county commissioners. Election officials expressed several concerns including funding and having enough time to implement many of the requirements. The discussions were extremely productive and an excellent model for public discourse and collaboration.
The luncheon on Thursday afternoon featured Jim Dickson, vice-president of Governmental Affairs for the American Association of People with Disabilities and chairman of the EAC’s Board of Advisors. Mr. Dickson discussed the challenges that voters with disabilities encounter, and the need for well trained poll workers to assist them. He eloquently described the first time he voted without the assistance of his wife or a poll worker thanks to the requirements in the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) that all voters be able to vote privately and independently. He concluded by thanking the election officials for their hard work and emphasized their important role as the gatekeepers of democracy.
After lunch I attended a breakout session about the modernization of voter registration systems and the electronic transmission of overseas ballots. Election officials learned about a proposed voter registration modernization project and emerging technologies and innovations to better serve their military and overseas voters. The recently passed Military and Overseas Citizens Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act was a major topic of discussion as attendees worked through implementation and technological issues.
Thursday evening’s social event was comprised of a night of dancing and karaoke at the conference hotel. There are many talented singers among the OAEO, and I was particularly impressed with the karaoke performance of Allen County Board of Elections Director Keith Cunningham, who is also the vice chair of EAC’s Board of Advisors. Again, I appreciated the opportunity to meet and talk with everyone.
I thank the election officials in Ohio for their time, hospitality, and the opportunity to learn from them. I will take their ideas, concerns and perspectives back to Washington, DC to share with my colleagues and EAC staff.
Ohio Secretary of State
Ohio Elections Commission
EAC Board of Advisors
EAC Election Official Center
Wyle Labs and Secretary of State of Alabama, December 8-9, 2009
In December, I traveled to Alabama to visit Wyle Labs, which has been accredited by the EAC to test voting systems, and to meet with Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman and other local election officials to learn about how elections are administered in the state, and to hear about legislative proposals to improve services for overseas and military voters in accordance with the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
We arrived at Wyle Labs in Huntsville, Alabama in the morning and received an overview about the facility from Frank Padilla and Jack Cobb. Afterwards, we toured the facility and observed where voting equipment was tested. We also saw a wide variety of other equipment being tested, as Wyle evaluates products for numerous industries and federal agencies. For more information about the voting systems being tested by Wyle, visit the Voting System Center at www.eac.gov.
Tuesday began with Secretary Chapman in Shelby County, Alabama, the fastest growing county in the state with approximately 118,000 registered voters. We met with the following public officials: Kim Melton, chief clerk to Judge Fuhrmeister of the Shelby County Probate Court; Board of Registrars Chair Carol Hill; Circuit Clerk Mary Harris; and Board of Registrars Members Mary Sue Ludwig and Ginger Pitts. Discussion topics included the statewide voter registration database, the election administration procedures at the local level in Alabama, and efforts to help overseas and military voters participate. The officials discussed challenges getting ballots to UOCAVA voters, and the amount of preparation involved to make sure they have correct addresses for these voters prior to an election. The Alabama Secretary of State’s Web site features a section for UOCAVA voters which includes contact information for local election offices, instructions to register to vote and other helpful resources. I was very impressed by the cooperative spirit of the election officials, and their dedication to voters, especially those serving in the military. They reminded me of something I hear frequently from local election officials – their work does not end when the election is over. Administering elections is a full-time, year-round job. In many cases, local officials have other duties in addition to administering elections.
After visiting Shelby County, we drove to Montgomery to Secretary Chapman’s office in the State Capitol. We met some of her staff and took a brief tour of the Capitol. Then it was back to the Secretary’s office for an interview with Jenn Rowell of the Montgomery Advertiser. The topic was UOCAVA voters, and I talked about EAC’s efforts to help states make improvements, as well as the new Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment (MOVE) Act, passed by Congress last year. The MOVE Act, a bipartisan effort, will help improve services for UOCAVA voters by simplifying the process. Secretary Chapman discussed legislation pending in the Alabama State Legislature and her recommendations to improve the process. I also shared with the reporter the input the EAC had received at the two public meetings we held about UOCAVA voters as well as the recent UOCAVA survey conducted by EAC.
The best solutions in elections come from local officials like those I met with in Alabama. I was also reminded how busy they are and the incredible pressure they face to provide excellent customer service to all voters. We can all contribute to the success of elections by making sure we notify our local election officials when we move and visit their Web sites to stay informed about polling place locations. Most importantly, serve your community and your country by volunteering as a poll worker.
Thank you to everyone in Alabama for spending time with me and sharing your expertise. I especially thank Alabama HAVA Director Adam Thompson and Brandon Walters for helping set up meetings and make arrangements. And, of course, thank you to Secretary Chapman for inviting me and for making sure I had time to eat some of Alabama’s famous barbecue and my first experience trying fried okra! And I really appreciate the wonderful cake I had in Shelby County.
I will share the innovations I observed with my colleagues in D.C. and with election officials throughout the nation, as I continue my goal of gathering and sharing best practices at the local level.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission
EAC UOCAVA Surveys and Resources
EAC Public Meeting Military and Overseas Citizens: Counting Their Votes – Part 1
EAC Public Meeting Military and Overseas Citizens: Counting Their Votes – Part 2
Alabama Secretary of State
Information for Alabama’s Military and Overseas Citizens
Shelby County, Alabama Board of Registrars
Madison, Wisconsin, October 18-21, 2009
I recently traveled to Wisconsin to learn more about its election process. My objective was to see examples of best practices, innovative approaches, and meet with election officials, the public and policy makers. I accomplished my objective and much, much more.
Monday I met with staff of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) to learn about the state’s 2009-2014 Election Administration Plan. This plan was recently submitted to the EAC as required by the Help America Vote Act. Wisconsin is one of the most decentralized election administration systems in the nation. The state’s elections are conducted at the municipal level by 1,850 municipal clerks, assisted by 72 county clerks – a total of 1,922 clerks. In addition to background information about Wisconsin elections, staff provided a very thorough briefing about everything from registration practices to voting systems.
Next was a working lunch with judges William Eich and Gerald Nichol, members of the Government Accountability Board (GAB), and staff. GAB is an independent state agency comprised of six former judges and is supported by an agency of non-partisan staff members. It is responsible for administration and enforcement of campaign finance, elections, ethics and lobbying laws in Wisconsin.
Local election officials also attended and shared their expertise. We discussed a wide variety of issues, including the Election Management Guidelines material distributed by EAC. Poll worker shortages were a common theme.
At 2 p.m., I met with several members of the public to discuss their views regarding elections in Wisconsin and to answer their questions.
A reporter from the Badger Herald stopped by, and we discussed what I had observed about Wisconsin’s elections.
Then we walked to the beautiful Wisconsin State Capitol for a meeting with State Senator Mark Miller, who is the co-chair of the Legislative Joint Committee on Finance.
Back at the hotel, I met with Paul Malischke and other members of Fair Elections Wisconsin. We discussed EAC’s certification program, voting equipment and other election issues.
It was a very productive first day, and I was very fortunate to have spent time with such a wide variety of experts, including Wisconsin voters.
Tuesday began at the Wisconsin Department of Administration, where we discussed state and federal election administration issues with Deputy Secretary Dan Schooff and Director of Federal Relations Tanya Bjork.
At 10 a.m., we met with Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle and discussed trends in election administration, as well as innovations taking place in various states.
After meeting Governor Jim Doyle, we wound our way around the Capitol and briefly discussed election administration issues with Senator Alberta Darling, Representative Fredrick Kessler and Representative Robin Vos. They were in session, so I really appreciate these officials carving out a few minutes to speak with me.
Next was another working lunch back at the GAB office! I received a presentation about the Wisconsin Election Data Collection System (WEDCS), which was funded by a grant issued by EAC. Staff described the set up of a system to collect precinct information and showed us the online tool used to collect the data. WEDCS partners from the WI Dept. of Administration, the University of Wisconsin-Extension and the University of Wisconsin-Madison also made presentations.
At 2 p.m. we returned to the State Capitol and met with Senator Spencer Coggs and Representative Jeff Smith. We discussed election administration from the state legislative perspective, with a special emphasis on the need for poll workers.
And the day was not over just yet… back at the GAB office, I spoke with the Associated Press and told them about my visit, my observations and the forward thinking contingency planning Wisconsin has in place. I was especially impressed that GAB had even planned for HINI and the flu season by addressing poll worker shortages and polling place prevention measures. I had recently asked state and local election officials to share flu season contingency plans, and Wisconsin was the first state to submit one to the EAC clearinghouse.
The best solutions in elections come from the local level. I believe that one of my most important roles as EAC chair is to visit state and local election officials, voters and policy makers, gather solutions and bring them back to Washington, D.C. to share with the public, election officials and the Congress. I thank GAB Director and General Counsel Kevin Kennedy and Elections Division Administrator Nat Robinson for inviting me to Wisconsin. I also thank the GAB staff for taking time out of their busy schedules to meet with me. I look forward to my next visit!
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission
EAC Seeks Flu Season Contingency Plans from Election Officials
Wisconsin H1N1 Plan First to be Submitted to EAC Clearinghouse
EAC’s Election Management Guidelines
Wisconsin Government Accountability Board
Wisconsin’s 2009-2014 Election Administration Plan
Wisconsin State Government
Fair Elections Wisconsin