Minutes - Summary of Feb. 13 Meeting


Call to order

Chairmen Hanley and Mendelsohn called the sixth meeting of the Bipartisan Election Process Improvement Commission (“Commission”) to order in Room 232 of the County Government Center at 7:15 p.m. Members in attendance included: Bob Brostrom, Chuck Caputo, Cesar del Aguila, Alex Blakemore, Keith Damon, Olga Hernandez, Tania Hossain-Almaraz, William Kreykenbohm, Jay McConville, Jay Myerson, James Parmelee, Ginny Peters, Kelsey Phipps, Susan Platt, Brian Schoeneman, Marcus Simon and Marion Stillson. Members of the public were in attendance, as was County staff.

Summary of Feb. 7, 2013, Meeting

The summary minutes of the Feb. 7, 2013, had been provided to the members in advance of the meeting for their review. No changes were requested.

Reports From Members of Findings About Precinct Problems

Copies of emails and comments on Election Day precinct problems were distributed to the Commission members.

Previous Information Requests

Chairmen Hanley reviewed information that was requested at previous meetings:

2012 data for mailed-in and in-person absentee voting was distributed for discussion of Workplan Item IV.

Information on where absentee ballots are sent outside Fairfax County – staff is checking to see if the VERIS system can run a report.

Number of first-time election chiefs for 2012 election – not available; staff is working on it.

Pay rates for seasonal employees – pending review, per litigation.

Timeline for hiring seasonal employees – pending review, per litigation.

Why only 20 designated parking spaces at polls at schools?  The Office of Elections is aware of the limitations on parking space at the schools.  This year, staff increased its request to 20 spaces; traditionally it had requested 15 spaces.

Voter registration at the DMV – It was noted that the DMV and State Board of Elections are actively looking into electronic voter registration and a bill is pending in the General Assembly that would allow electronic registration through the DMB. Chairman Hanley explained that a vast majority of the voter registrations in the county come in through DMV and electronic registration will be a tremendous help. She also noted that the Office of Elections plans to scan voter registration applications and that the plan was to move to optical character recognition (OCR) for scanning registrations.

Regarding possible use of iPads or tablets with a searchable electronic version of the election chief’s notebook - there is no legal prohibition against election officers using electronic devices in the polls.

Number of absentee applications that did not receive ballots and voters were provided provisional ballots - Chairman Hanley explained there were 2,537 provisional ballots cast during the 2012 General Election; 1,102 were counted, and of those counted 665 were from voters who said they applied for an absentee ballot and did not receive it. The Commission discussed that there appeared to be no pattern among precincts or geographically related to provisional ballots. It was noted that when an absentee ballot is sent to a voter, they are “starred” in the system. There was a discussion about why absentee ballots may not be received in time to vote by mail.

Potential for use of ballot-on-demand – It was determined that ballot-on-demand technology (printing a voter’s specific paper ballot on site at the absentee voting location) is legal in Virginia and that use of the technology is encouraged by the State Board of Elections.

Problems with inaccurate number of paper ballots in printer packs – The number of ballots in printer packs are machine counted and machines may make errors.

Cost of replacing all voting machines – The cost to replace existing voter machines, including optical scan machines, is estimated to be $10-12 million.  The price will be subject to negotiation.  Mr. Blakemore requested information on the cost of ballot marking voting machines for people with disabilities. The Commission discussed that the county may have the option of buying through a statewide contract, or it can negotiate its own price.  There are also ongoing costs for software, licensing, paper ballots and other associated items.

Electronic Poll Books (EPBs) – The Electoral Board estimates that the county needs an additional 300 EPBs and the General Registrar’s FY 2014 proposed budget requests funding for that.  It was also noted that the software licensing on the existing EPBs expires this summer. A request was made staff to provide the costs per EPB machine.

Ms. Ward clarified that in regards to the previous discussion on the archiving of voter registrations – the Office of Elections will first scan new voter registrations and then go back and scan existing voter registrations.

DMV Information – Chairman Hanley reviewed the Motor Voter Point Sheet dated Feb. 8, 2013. The chairman requested that the General Registrar’s office provide a list of two to three recommendations for improving the DMV voter registration process. There was a discussion about the receipt that is required on voter registration applications that had a date and contact information on it. The receipt is used for accountability and is required, although it was recognized that the receipt may not always be provided.   Chairman Hanley acknowledged that even with a receipt there continues to be confusion, which can be an issue on a busy Election Day.

Mr. Blakemore noted that people are not being informed if their voter registration application is incomplete or otherwise rejected. He requested information on the number of voter registration applications that are rejected and if the application can be changed to avoid incomplete errors.

Mr. McConville noted the last paragraph on the Motor Voter Point Sheet, which states that the number of [voter registration] issues on Election Day have decreased and that DMV’s research shows DMV not at fault. He requested a recommendation to the General Assembly that a mechanism be put in place that people are notified if their DMV voter registration form is incomplete or not approved.

Ms. Ward clarified that the point sheet was provided by the DMV. She explained that the Office of Elections has additional information about the how the DMV voter registration process works and how the Office of Elections processes them, but that their lawyers in the ongoing litigation were reviewing whether it would jeopardize their position in the litigation to provide it to the Commission.

In response to a discussion about the Commission’s charge, the chairman noted that while fixing voter registration problems is not in the scope of the Commission’s work, the impact of confusion at the polls is in the Commission’s purview.

Ms. Ward also clarified that the Office of Elections notifies applicants if their voter registration application is incomplete; the volume of correspondence is encompassed within the numbers of pieces of correspondence listed in the handout [labeled:  VOTER REGISTRATION ACTIVITY 2007-2012 GENERAL ELECTIONS] provided to the Commission [at its February 7, 2013, meeting].

Chairman Hanley then encouraged the Commission members to read the chief’s and rovers notes that were distributed. She noted that she had redacted some information for privacy concerns and that there were a lot of recommendations by the chiefs on improving set up, teamwork and planning, among other issues.

Workplan Item IV: Absentee Balloting

A. Absentee by Mail Process Legal Requirements; training for workers

Chairman Mendelsohn reviewed the information requests for absentee voting at the last meeting; included in the meeting minutes:

The number of people who:

  • Applied for a mailed-in absentee ballot.
  • The number of applications that were sent.
  • The number of applications that were rejected.
  • The number of ballots that were voted.
  • And of the number of ballots that were voted, how many were counted?

A subset of the same information was requested for military personnel who voted by mailed-in absentee ballot.  

The Commission discussed that it is a legal requirement for the mailed-in absentee ballots be mailed out within three days of when the ballot application is received at the Office of Elections. The discussion continued on whether that requirement was met and who in the Office of Elections opens the applications, answers the phone and email questions on the ballot applications. What is the process for handling absentee ballot applications and what happens if an application is filled out incorrectly?

The chairman recognized Maggi Luca, former Secretary of the Electoral Board, to explain how the absentee ballot applications are processed.  Ms. Luca explained that when an application comes in, it is date stamped and then trained staff, including seasonal employees, open the applications and process. If something is wrong on the application, a communication is sent to the voter.

Chairman Mendelsohn asked if there was knowledge that the process did not happen in some cases. A discussion ensued that there may have been a delay due to the overwhelming number of absentee ballot applications.  It was also noted that third parties, including the political parties, would send out absentee ballot applications to voters and have the applications sent back to them, instead of directly to the Office of Elections.  The applications would be batched and sent to the Office of Elections, often causing a delay of weeks in the processing. It was noted later in the discussion that there is no legal requirement for third parties to turn in absentee ballot applications within a specific time frame.  Chairman Hanley referred to processed and rejected absentee applications she had that did not show a date stamp.

It was noted that Sept. 19 was the first day of absentee voting (for 2012 Nov. election).

There was a discussion that there were approximately 6,000 unreturned absentee ballots that had been mailed to voters.

A request was made to staff to provide information on at what point in the election season were additional staff brought in to handle the “tsunami” of absentee ballot applications? Also requested was an explanation of the measures that are taken if a ballot application is incomplete.

Discussion continued on whether having adequate resources for processing mailed-in absentee ballot applications is budget related.

Mr. del Aguila asked if ballots could be requested by email and it was discussed that certain persons could be sent a ballot by email, for example military personnel. He also asked what happens if there is a bad email address.

Ms. Ward noted that if a ballot is emailed and the email comes back as undeliverable, the Office of Elections follows up to see if the email address as input incorrectly or other reasons.

The request to staff for an explanation of the mailed-in absentee ballot process was reiterated.

Mr. McConville noted that the political parties have a list of absentee ballot applications that were denied and the parties make calls to their known affiliated voters to let them know.  He inquired about what happens if there is no known party affiliation for the voter, is there still follow up?

Mr. del Aguila provided information that he had received that a voter had emailed an application request from overseas, that the ballot was emailed, but never received and the email was not returned as undeliverable.

Ms. Ward noted that if a ballot is not received, the voter can contact the Office of Elections to receive another ballot.

There was a discussion that there it is the responsibility of the voter to follow up if they do not receive a ballot.

A request was made to staff to provide recommendations for improving the process for mailed-in absentee ballots.

 B. Absentee In Person

1. Number and time frame of satellite locations

It was discussed that Hurricane Sandy had an impact on in person absentee voting. 

A request was made to staff to provide information on whether satellite locations could be opened earlier and the cost for running these offices.

Ms. Hernandez expressed her concern that there wasn’t enough privacy for voters at the in-person absentee voting satellite at the Government Center and that the logistics in the room were difficult. She also recommended that a larger room be used at the Government Center.

There was a discussion of the data provided on numbers of people voting at satellite locations.  It was noted that the large number of people don’t vote until the final days of absentee voting, and that opening the satellites earlier may not be fruitful.

Mr. Schoeneman recommended asking the Board of Supervisors for access to the needed larger rooms for absentee voting at the Government Center.

There was also a discussion of the availability of adequate parking at the Government Center for in person absentee voting.

Mr. Schoeneman noted that by law, the satellite voting locations do not have to be treated the same as precincts on Election Day, but recommended that they should be.

A request was made to Ms. Ward to see if the satellite voting locations could be open on Sundays.

There was a discussion that absentee voting was lower in 2012 than it had been in 2008 – and was there an expectation that it would be greater?  Was an expectation of greater numbers of absentee voters a factor in how resources were allocated to the polling places?

Ms. Hernandez noted that in 2008, due to the impact of an ice storm during the primary election, that there may have been a more liberal interpretation by registrars of reasons to vote absentee and that more voters were encouraged to vote absentee, versus what happened in 2012.

A discussion ensued on if there were changes in reasons for absentee voting between 2008 and 2012 and whether there was less promotion of absentee voting in 2012.

Discussion continued on the legally allowable reasons that voters can vote absentee. It was noted that per the state law, many voters must include some private health information regarding their reasons for voting absentee and that this is considered public information.

A discussion was held on early voting versus absentee voting. There was concern that voters who ask about early voting may be turned away without a clear explanation that Virginia has absentee voting and who is eligible to vote absentee.

Items from Commission Members

DMV Voter Registration

  • What is the mechanism for notifying voters is registration is incomplete, etc?
  • What three recommendations would the Office of Elections make to improve DMV process?

Absentee Voting by Mail

  • What is the process by which the Office of Elections processes requests to vote absentee?
  • How and when does the Office of Elections staff up and what are the budget implications?

Absentee Voting In Person

  • Can satellite voting locations be opened sooner and can they be open on more Saturdays?  What would that cost?
  • There should be better training provided so that staff will provide opportunity to voter to vote absentee in person if they ask for “early voting”; this especially affects voters with language barriers.  Staff should always hand the voter the application to vote absentee.
  • Recommendation made for early voting, expanding reasons for voting absentee, and to eliminate requirements that voters provide private health information to substantiate their right to vote absentee.
  • Request that satellite locations be treated as precincts.
  • Request that larger rooms be used at the Government Center for absentee voting.
  • How did efforts to promote absentee voting in 2008 compare to the efforts in 2012?
  • How did the state law governing absentee voting change between 2008 and 2012?

Rovers

  • Rovers provide a lot of support to precincts. How many rovers does the County use?  How many precincts does each rover cover? Can the county increase the numbers of rovers, so each can cover fewer precincts?

Election Officers

  • It was recommended that election officers try to make it possible to make every vote count.

It was noted that a lot of people may prefer satellite locations being opened further in advance of Election Day because they do not have transportation to the polls on Election Day.

Absentee Voting

  • Why was absentee voting higher in 2008 than in 2012?
  • Why did absentee voting jump in 2008?
  • Request the number of absentee applications that were rejected and what was the follow up, if application rejected?  How successful were those follow-up efforts?
  • What was the number of seasonal employees working on absentee voting that had prior experience? How many were hired in 2008, 2009 and 2012?

Announcements

Chairman Mendelsohn noted that the Feb. 21 meeting agenda would focus on budget. He also noted that he would not be able to attend that meeting.

Both chairmen noted that they would develop a list of recommendations for the Commission to hash out at the March 7 meeting.

Requests for Feb. 21 Meeting

  • A request was made to have the election expenditure information provided by the Department of Management and Budget (DMB) emailed to Commission members.
  • A request was made to have a representative from DMB at the next meeting for the budget discussion.
  • In regards to budget, Chairman Hanley requested that members think about what budget-related recommendations they wanted to make and to prioritize those recommendations.
  • It was noted that every polling place in the county should have an electronic poll book.
  • It was noted that salaries for Office of Election staff looked relatively flat for the last several years.
  • A request was made for the full-year FY 2013 budget numbers.
  • It was noted that expenditures vary according to the number of elections held in a year.
  • It was noted that the county’s fiscal year is July 1 to June 30. (Fiscal Year 2014 begins July 1, 2013).

Thereafter, the meeting adjourned.


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