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Interview: Doug Chapin, University of Minnesota

by Jacob Derr & Tony Glosson, Editors

Doug Chapin is the Director of the Program for Excellence in Election Administration at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. His Election Academy seeks to provide education and research to help election administrators improve and adapt their performance in the future. He spent ten years at the Pew Charitable Trusts working for voting reform at the national and state level, and to improve voting technology, including internet and mobile applications. He will be moderating panelists at the Seventh Annual Election Law Symposium at William & Mary Law School this Thursday, February 21, 2013. We asked him a few questions in advance of his appearance….

You’ve looked at the issue of election day delays for a while now. What approach do you think state election administrators should take to address the issue?

I think the biggest thing that election officials need to do is get a handle on how many voters they expect on Election Day and how long it will take those voters to cast a ballot. So many of the problems we saw in 2012 were the result of underestimating the number of voters who would turn out – and in a few cases (like Florida) underestimating how long it would take voters to navigate a lengthy ballot. I even heard reports that in some jurisdictions where pollworkers were using e-pollbooks, pollworkers’ unfamiliarity with mouse and keyboard (as opposed to printed greenbar) created delays at the front of the line. Knowing a little more about these factors in advance can reduce the possibility of surprises on Election Day.

Do you think state election administrators could be using the Internet better than they currently are? While Internet voting might be a ways off, can the Internet better serve elections in other ways?

Internet voting is an issue that will generate huge disagreement in the election community … I often joke that everyone agrees that we’ll have Internet voting “someday”, but that consensus evaporates the minute you try to define when “someday” will be. That said, we are already seeing huge strides in the ways in which election officials are using the Internet to help voters with the voting process like online voter registration and polling place locators available via smartphone (even text message). In addition, military and overseas voters can now get unvoted ballots electronically; while this doesn’t include electronic return, it does cut considerably the time it takes for these voters to cast a timely and valid ballot.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, some jurisdictions loosed rules for voting location and even experimented with Internet voting (albeit imperfectly). Do you think these examples have anything to teach election administrators about running elections?

I think the biggest thing we learned from Sandy was the importance of contingency planning for election administration. The affected states did a heroic job making the best of a very bad situation, but probably would have liked to have had a better sense of what to do if the standard election infrastructure was damaged or unavailable. As bad as things were, the country is lucky that Sandy didn’t make landfall closer to Election Day. I know for a fact that election officials across the nation are thinking much harder about contingency planning because of what they saw happen during Sandy.


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Interview: Paul Herrnson, University of Maryland

by Jacob Derr & Tony Glosson, Editors

Dr. Paul Herrnson is the director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship and a Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland. He is also the principal investigator of a project funded by the Maryland State Board of Elections which is designed to research campaign financce and voting in the state and also to design a method to deliver absentee ballots over the internet. Dr. Herrnson’s scholarship focuses on voting technology and ballot design. He was recently quoted by the New York Times explaining the causes of longer ballots in some states than in others. Dr. Herrnson will be a panelist at Thursday’s Seventh Annual William & Mary Election Law Symposium. In advance of the event, we asked him a few questions about voting technology, now and into the future.

1. In your opinion, what is the single most efficient voting technology in use today?

I don’t think efficiency is the most important characteristic of the voting process. Integrity, security, equal access to the ballot, accessibility, and usability–including the ability to cast a vote as intended without the need of outside assistance–are more important.

That having been said, I think the most efficient voting technology in existence today is an internet-based absentee ballot delivery system. There are variations among these systems. The Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland developed a highly effective system for the State of Maryland that makes voting easy and very efficient. It also makes voting a possibility for citizens located abroad, including military personnel deployed to remote locations where voting was previously impossible.

2. If you could make one universal change to voting technology in the United States today, with the wave of a wand (assuming money was no issue), what would it be?

Just one! I would make sure that there were enough high-quality voting systems available so that every citizen who wished to vote in person either on Election Day or during an early voting period had to wait in line no longer than 30 minutes.

3. It seems like voting technology is all over the place in this country, even though HAVA attempted to address the issue of outdated voting machines back in 2002. Is another piece of federal legislation (and federal dollars) needed again or should we rely on states to address the problem?

The evidence suggests we cannot rely solely on the states. Some states have done an outstanding job, but others have shortcomings in terms of voting machines, poll books, the maintenance of accurate voter rolls, and other administrative matters.


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This Week: Seventh Annual W & M Election Law Symposium

by Jacob Derr & Tony Glosson, Editors

This Thursday, February 21, the William & Mary Election Law Society and Election Law Program are proud to present the Seventh Annual Election Law Symposium. The symposium features prominent election law attorneys, the Colorado Secretary of State, election law scholars, and Virginia registrars. The symposium centers upon voting delays and is titled “We Have to Fix That: Bipartisan Solutions to Election Day Delays.”

In advance of the event, State of Elections will be publishing special entries all week. We will have advance interviews with Paul Herrnson and Doug Chapin, two of Thursday’s panelists. We will take an in-depth look at the Wisconsin War Game conducted by the Election Law Program last December, which will be discussed at Thursday’s event. We will also highlight and outline the issues for Thursday’s panelists, including a look at what states around the country have been doing in the wake of election delays last year.

We hope you will join us in conversation by commenting on our coverage this week, and we hope you will participate in the Seventh Annual Election Law Symposium at William & Mary Law School this Thursday, February 21, 2013.



Virginia Senate Redistricting Bill Catches Governor by Surprise

By Tony Glosson

On Monday, the Virginia Senate approved a redistricting bill that the Virginia Public Access Project claims will shift some traditionally democratic voters from competitive districts into already solidly Democratic ones. This would provide Republicans, who control an evenly divided Senate via Lt. Governor Bill Bolling’s tiebreaker vote, with an advantage going into 2015 elections.

Bolling indicated that he may not have voted for the bill had his vote been required to break a 20-20 tie citing concerns about its effect on bipartisanship for other legislation, but Democrat Henry L. Marsh III was absent from the vote. Marsh took the day off to attend the presidential inauguration. Thus, the bill passed in the Senate on a 20-19 vote without Bolling’s tiebreaker.

The bill will have to pass the Republican-controlled Virginia House, and be cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice, before it reaches Governor Bob McDonnell’s desk.

McDonnell, a Republican, said he was surprised by the move, but will make a decision about signing the legislation should it reach his desk. McDonnell also stated that he did not feel it was a “good way to do business,” and emphasized that he considers his transportation and education initiatives to be higher priorities than redistricting measures like this one. Proponents of the measure, however, argue that the bill creates districts that better comply with the U.S. Voting Rights Act and are more compact than the ones set by current law.

The Battleground 2012: Introduction

by Jacob Derr & Tony Glosson

During the next two days we’ll be posting a special series of entries under the banner “The Battleground 2012.”

Over the past decade, every major presidential campaign and many state campaigns have litigated state election law as a part of their races. Candidates spend money, time, and human capital fighting in courtrooms in states across the nation, especially if the vote looks close. This is not merely a luxury, but an election strategy itself.

We’ll be taking a look at some of the fights going on in several states considered “battlegrounds” this election cycle, where either the presidential race is close or there is a state race that is strategic to the national party. We will examine a campaign finance free-for-all in Missouri, attempts to shoehorn third party candidates onto the ballot in Oklahoma, and the aftermath and continued importance of the legal wrangling in Ohio this fall.

We hope you will enjoy this series, which aims to take us inside battles that, in an election cycle as contentious as this one, will continue in the courtroom long after election day.

Jacob Derr & Tony Glosson are the editors of the State of Elections blog. Continue reading

Illinois party leaders: Unlimited candidate contributions for me, but not for thee

by Tony Glosson

A recent lawsuit filed by Illinois-based Liberty Justice Center poses an interesting question for campaign finance law: Should legislators be allowed to exempt their own party committees and leaders from limitations placed on contributions to candidates? The complaint, filed on behalf of Illinois Liberty PAC and amended to include a private citizen, alleges that Illinois Public Act 96-832 “…treats Illinois Liberty PAC and other nonparty speakers differently from similarly situated political parties” and that “this disparate treatment burdens Illinois Liberty PAC’s First Amendment rights to free speech and equal protection guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment…” Continue reading

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