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Notes from the Road

 

EAC Chair Donetta Davidson
Notes from the Road
The Election Verification Network Conference (EVN), March 25—27, 2010

“The Art of the Possible: Partnering to Ensure Secure, Transparent and Accurate Elections”

I was very pleased to be invited to the EVN Conference here in DC. EVN consists of people who are dedicated to making sure elections are accurate, fair and transparent. The organization boasts a wide variety of expertise in the areas of technology, elections and advocacy. I commend EVN for inviting election officials and facilitating a dialogue. Below are highlights that I observed during the conference.

Friday, March 25
Day one began with a session that included introductions and “fingerprinting,” which was a way to identify the commonalities among the participants. For instance, one of the participants stood up, introduced herself and said her fingerprint was election audits. She asked how many people shared this fingerprint and several people raised their hands.

The first session was Where are We Now? – The Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment (MOVE) Act, the Merger and More News from the States. Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat of the Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF) provided an overview of the MOVE Act. Other topics included the ES&S/Premier merger and the recent decision by the Department of Justice to require divestiture.

The Sexy Audits session was extremely technical but very informative. Election audits are a hot topic, and there are many different opinions about methodologies and sample sizes. One question that looms large: how many ballots are enough to constitute a valid random sample? Another popular topic is how best to combine hand counting with machine tabulations. EAC has provided information about developing an audit trail through our Election Management Guidelines program. Developing a formal record of all election components is crucial. It allows election officials to accurately evaluate strengths and weaknesses. We advise that in elections, “there’s no such thing as too much documentation.” I also believe that having a robust audit program will help to increase voter confidence.

Saturday, March 26
The day began with remarks from Assistant United States Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, who discussed election issues as well as the importance of the 2010 Census. He mentioned that the Civil Rights Division will soon publish Section V, Pre-Clearance Provision guidelines for public comment.

Next was the Working with Election Officials session, which included L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan, Franklin County, Ohio, Board of Elections Deputy Director Matt Damschroder, and Connecticut Deputy Secretary of State Lesley Mara. The discussion was frank; the panelists talked about challenges they face administering elections and the need to build trust between them and advocates on behalf of voters. The exchange was healthy because both sides discussed the value of constructive criticism and how to open lines of communication. I was disappointed that the session was not better attended and was held at the same time as another session. I believe that real change occurs in elections when all parties work together – voters, election officials and advocates. Nothing will get done if we only talk to each other. I hope that next year, EVN will make the election official presentation a plenary session so that everyone can attend. This was a great start for a conversation that must continue.

The Interactive Testing Election Materials (Before the Election): A Usability Testing Workshop was led by Whitney Quesenberry and Ginny Redish. I was very pleased that EVN recognized the importance of usability and plain language in elections by including this session. Sometimes during our discussions about voting systems, manual recounts, auditing and everything else, we forget to focus on the voter’s experience. Is the ballot easy to use? Is the language we use in voter guides, polling place signage and on the ballot clear and unambiguous? The best voting system and procedures in the world won’t mean much if voters cannot understand how to make their choices on a ballot. We’ve seen time and again that poor ballot design leads to voter error and confusion. EAC has produced a thorough report, Effective Designs in Elections, as well as developed many camera ready images of ballots and polling place signage in several languages. These resources are available free to election officials. It is important to note that in many states, ballot design is dictated by state law. Some states are updating their laws to reflect widely accepted best design practices. Again, usability and design directly impact voters and I hope EVN continues to facilitate these discussions.

EAC’s Elections Operations Assessment (EOA) was the subject of the Voting System Risk Assessment: The State of the Art session. The goal of the EOA project is to produce a scientifically founded risk assessment tool that will facilitate informed decision making by EAC and its Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) when developing voluntary voting system guidelines. The tool will provide EAC with information needed to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of a comprehensive list of risks associated with voting systems. It will also help us develop voting system requirements that can help mitigate risk. The session was moderated by Dr. Alec Yasinsac of the University of South Alabama, who is EAC’s consultant on the project. He described the scope of the project and the wide variety of experts who participated.  For more information about the EOA project, visit the Voting System Testing and Certification Center on the EAC Web site.

The afternoon featured a panel of Congressional staffers to discuss federal legislation and activities regarding election administration. Most of the discussion focused on the MOVE Act and the ES&S merger. All of the staffers urged EVN participants to provide input and notify them about issues they observe in the field.

Conclusion
I left the EVN conference with a renewed sense of optimism about advocates and election officials actually working together and not talking past each other. I truly believe we’ve begun to build a foundation based upon trust and the mutual goal of serving voters. As a former secretary of state and a county clerk, one of the comments made by an election official really hit home with me. He said we’re all voter advocates; it happens to be our profession. I agree.

Below are links to some of the entities that participated. EVN – get a Web site already!

Related Links
Overseas Vote Foundation
Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division
Federal Voting Assistance Program
EAC Home Page
EAC’s Effective Designs in Elections
EAC’s Election Management Guidelines
EAC’s Voting System Testing and Certification Program
Public Comment Opportunities at EAC

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Vice Chair Donetta Davidson traveled to Ohio and Indiana on November 3, 2008 to observe pre-election preparation activities.


Today started with a drive from Cincinnati, OH to Wayne County, IN to meet with County Clerk Sue Anne Lower. Ms. Lower spoke to us about her county being one of three pilot counties in Indiana for the use of vote centers. Wayne county has been using 4 locations as vote center locations for early voting. In order to educate voters about the vote centers and their use Wayne county created mailer cards that indicated the early voting vote center locations as well as the additional election day vote center locations. The use of the state voter registration database in combination with e-pollbooks made the vote centers in Wayne County a big success with voters. Ms. Lower explained that except for a couple of simple logistical problems voters were thrilled with the vote centers and the ability to vote at them regardless of precinct. In addition to talk about vote centers we also spoke with Ms. Lower about the incredibly high in person absentee voting numbers she was experiencing and the overall registration and participation increase she had noticed. Ms. Lower indicated that she was prepared for huge turnout on Election Day and that she looked forward to large numbers hitting the polls tomorrow.

From Wayne County we moved on to Indianapolis, IN for a meeting with Secretary of State Todd Rokita and his staff as well as three county election officials that attended the meeting. Secretary Rokita's staff briefed us on the huge registration increase Indiana has seen this year. According to the SOS office numbers Indiana has:

4,513,593 registered voters, This includes 4,136,263 active and 377,330 inactive registration records.
In 2008, Indiana experienced an over increase of 818,164 voter registrations (345,620 New/472,544 Updated)
Since the May 6, 2008 Primary Election, Indiana Counties have processed 514,254 new and updated voter registration records.
From the 2006 General Election, Indiana experienced an overall increase of 1,308,078 voter registrations (525.302 New)

In addition to the registration numbers, the SOS office also indicated that: As of 5:00am on November 3, 2008, over 685,000 Indiana voters have requested absentee ballots. For perspective in 2004 Indiana voters case 262,550 absentee ballots in the General Election.

Indiana has also undertaken an immense voter education effort. The effort was targeted at informing voters where and when to vote as well as what they needed to have with them (voter ID) when voting and voter rights i.e. disability rights and absentee ballot laws. This education effort included TV commercials, radio spots, advertising on public transportation and web based efforts. The SOS office also reached out to over 20 colleges across Indiana to help inform students about their status for voting and to encourage participation.

The Indiana SOS office has also reached out to military and overseas voters by working through FVAP to transmit and receive ballots via email. This effort included working with the Indiana Guard to blast an email to over 30,000 service people abroad informing them of how to get a ballot and how to transmit the ballot back through the FVAP program. The election officials in attendance indicated that they had many service people that had taken advantage of the program and overall felt it was working well.

Overall Secretary Rokita and the election officials in attendance felt they were ready to roll for Election Day and felt extremely confident that they had made proper contingency plans and that voters were properly prepared to vote on election day. The amount of county and state communication and overall confidence in the process was extremely encouraging. The voters in the Hoosier state have every reason to go to the polls with confidence that they will have a great voting experience with election officials committed to an efficient and accurate election process.

Tomorrow: Kentucky and Ohio for Election Day!!!!!

Report on Florida

EAC Vice-Chair Donetta Davidson and EAC Research Program Specialist Matt Weil traveled to Florida to observe early voting before the primary. They described their experiences to Commissioners and staff in the following report on August 19, 2008.

Matt Weil and I went down to Orlando, FL to visit with election officials and observe election preparation, absentee and early voting.  Due to the weather we were only able to visit Orlando and were not able to make it over to Tampa.  Bill Cowles, the Orange County, FL supervisor of elections, was a great host and we were very impressed with his facility.  Mr. Cowles is one of the lucky election officials who has a warehouse connected to his office, leaving his whole operation in very close proximity. 

The election system that they are using this year is brand new.  It is the ESS DS200 model.  We reviewed the testing process.  They are testing the equipment now for the fifth time since they have run into some significant issues in the testing done previously.  Their technical experts have noted that this model is untested and Mr. Cowles has insisted on being able to identify potential problems before the election.

One very impressive thing I observed was the fact that they were distributing colorful and very detailed step-by-step instructions given to poll workers before Election Day in their preparation packets.  That included set up for the equipment and the materials they needed for election night.  Every step was accompanied by a visual pictorial. 

Mr. Cowles also has an election countdown which details every step of daily activities to be done before the election.  This list includes L&A, and all of the activities that must happen on Election Day. 

We attended an early voting site and observed absentee voting.  When the voter arrived at the site to vote early, the staffers had the ability to scan their sample ballot or drivers license and were able to confirm their address and ballot type.  They were able to immediately access their ballot on demand and be able to print and sign their "pink slip" declaration. 

They have a user friendly and easily accessible process.  We learned quite a bit from our short visit to Orange County and will be more than happy to share the materials we brought back.  Also, see below for Matt's response to the Orlando trip.

Sincerely,

Donetta

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Matt Weil's Comments:

At the beginning of the day, I had no idea what to expect from a behind-the-scenes look at an elections office. I have never worked at the State or local level in the administration of elections, though I have spent about 4 years researching the election reform issues such as early voting, absentee voting, UOCAVA, hotlines, paper trails, ADA-compliance, etc. Just over a week before the State's primary election, the Orange County elections office was an exciting operation to see. The "customer service" representatives were the first people anyone would see when he or she entered the building. The prospective voter was moved quickly through the check-in process. His or her ballot was created by ballot on demand technology and was waiting at the ballot issuing location before the voter was even able to walk there from the check-in table. Then the voter went to privacy voting booth to mark the ballot followed by the ESS DS200 for required overvote/undervote checking and depositing of the ballot.

Elections supervisor Bill Cowles was a great host as he moved us around his elections office. The first thing I noticed and about which I was repeatedly reminded as we were taken from department to department was that the number of moving parts in the elections office could be mind-boggling. Dozens of employees were testing the ESS DS200 to make sure the newest firmware upgrade, which was the second one in two months, is working correctly. Others were testing the ESS iVotronic DRE to make sure that those machines were working correctly for HAVA compliance for voters with disabilities. About 10 employees were separating ballot styles (the county will use about 100 different styles for this Election Day) into their correct precincts and polling places. Still others were preparing the hardware, signage, pens, pencils, tape, and basically every other tool to be included in each precinct clerk's supply box, which will be picked up beginning on Saturday for next Tuesday's primary. In the warehouse, employees were moving the heavier equipment into 19 groups in preparation for loading onto moving trucks for delivery to the 262 polling places before Election Day. About 30 temporary employees were answering voter hotline calls, which are tracked electronically, and we saw where the additional voter hotline operators as well as the poll worker hotline operators will be set up on Election Day. Twenty more staffers were updating and adding voter registration information, and the commissioner and I were brought around to the remaining sections where employees or temporary workers were managing poll worker recruitment, planning for training sessions, working with GIS mapping software, or studying weather-related information in case Tropical Storm Fay moved towards Orlando. Though we had not intended to observe it, we were able to see a little bit of the office's contingency planning.

The last thing I would note would be the Orange County Adopt-A-Poll program. Community groups pledge to provide the 10 or so poll workers to a polling place on Election Day and receive in return the compensation that the poll workers would have received. Many groups use this program as a fund-raiser including high school marching bands, churches, fraternities and sororities, etc. At current rates, the groups stand to make about $1000 or more per election. Other polls are adopted by businesses that pay for the poll workers themselves and view the program as a community service opportunity. The groups and businesses receive some advertising on Election Day outside the polls and Orange County benefits by being able to staff about 30% of its poll worker slots without any real recruitment effort. Bill Cowles was especially proud of this program, and it is one that I think could be featured in future EAC research on poll worker recruitment.