Minutes - Summary of Feb. 21 Meeting
Call to Order
Chairman Hanley called the seventh meeting of the Bi-Partisan 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, Bettie Baca, Alex Blakemore, Keith Damon, Jeremy Epstein, Olga Hernandez, William Kreykenbohm, Jay McConville, Jay Myerson, James Parmelee, Lee Ann Pender, Ginny Peters, Marcus Simon, Marion Stillson, and Jeffrey Wisoff. Members of the public were in attendance, as was County staff.
Workplan Item V
Chairman Hanley introduced Susan Datta, Director of the County’s Department of Management and Budget (DMB). The Chairman emphasized the need to ensure that the Commission knows what it considers to be priorities when it makes recommendations to the Board.
Ms. Datta explained the “Office of Elections – Summary Level Data” handout. She explained the difference between the two columns labeled “FY 13.” (Fiscal year 2013 runs from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013.) The first column is FY 2013 expenditures to date. The second column shows the Office of Elections’ FY 2013 budget as revised last fall in “carryover” (the process by which certain unspent or unencumbered funds for appropriations previously approved by the Board of Supervisors and for commitments to pay for goods and services at the end of one fiscal year are reappropriated in the next fiscal year.) Chairman Hanley explained that the Board of Supervisors adopted the FY 2013 carryover in September 2012. The FY 2013 adopted budget for the Office of Elections was $3,677,781. Another $6,218 was added to the Office of Elections budget in carryover.
Discussion followed about County budget practices relating to “replacement funds.” The County sets aside money each year in a replacement fund to replace computers. The County has not established a replacement fund for voting equipment. Ms. Datta agreed that the replacement fund approach would be a great idea for voting equipment. This would avoid having to budget millions of dollars in the years when the County acquires new voting equipment (the budgetary “pig in a python” effect). She offered to have DMB look into how it might implement a replacement fund for voting equipment in the Office of Elections’ budget.
Ms. Data explained that FY 2014 budget numbers have not been provided because the 2014 budget will not be public until the County Executive presents it to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, February 26. However, DMB was aware that the Commission had been appointed to study ways to improve the election process, so DMB left flexibility in the Office of Elections’ budget to cover costs that may result from implementing the Commission’s recommendations. Ms. Datta estimated the amount of funding flexibility to address Commission recommendations at $600,000 to $700,000.
The members discussed the budget line items relating to Election Officer payrolls. It was observed that the amount paid to Election Officers for the 2012 General Election was less than the amount paid to Election Officers for the next previous presidential election, in 2008. Discussion followed about how much Election Officers are paid and Ms. Ward pointed out that Election Officer compensation is explained in detail in the handout provided on January 31 labeled “Fairfax County Election Officer Information.”
The members discussed the numbers of voting machines the County has that are operational. Some of the machines have broken down since they were acquired. The County currently has 315 AccuVote optical scan machines, all in proper working order, and 1,205 DREs, although 186 of them are not working and cannot be repaired.
In response to questions from members, Ms. Datta will provide the following additional information requested by the Commission:
- An explanation for the increase in printing, office supplies, and computer accessories in FY 2012.
- Fluctuations in budget for office supplies and furniture.
Discussion of Budget Priorities
Chairman Hanley reminded the members that, at the conclusion of the last meeting, she had asked them to think about what budget-related recommendations they wanted to make and to prioritize those recommendations. She solicited discussion on that point from the members.
Mr. Damon responded that he thought that the County should purchase optical scan machines to replace the current voting equipment by 2016; the County should purchase additional Electronic Poll Books (EPBs); and really fast optical scan machines for the Central Absentee Precinct (CAP) because of the large volume of ballots that need to be counted in the CAP.
Chairman Hanley recounted previous Commission discussions in which the members had reached general agreement on the following priorities:
- EPBs in every precinct. The technical-oriented members had emphasized the need to get EPBs with better software and, especially, better searching capabilities. Discussion followed on whether the County could use open source software and whether such software would compromise security. Mr. Epstein advised that there is no linkage between open source software and risk level. He also said that lots of companies are creating open source software for elections. “Open source” doesn’t mean that the software is free, but it is cheaper because there aren’t licensing costs.
- Dedicated phone lines in the Office of Elections. It is not clear whether the problems with getting through to the Office on Election Day was due to an insufficient number of lines, an insufficient number of people assigned to answer the phones, or both, but the Commission doesn’t need to answer that question. The point is that the Office of Elections needs whatever resources will be required to ensure that calls can be completed and answered on Election Day and other high-volume call days.
Summary of February 13, 2013, Meeting
The summary minutes of the February 13, 2013, had been provided to the members in advance of the meeting for their review. No changes were requested.
Presentation and discussion of previous information requests
The Chairman provided responses to information requests by Commission members at previous meetings:
The Commission had asked for information on where absentee ballots are sent outside Fairfax County. The State Board of Elections (SBE) has advised that there is no existing report that will provide that information. It would have to be generated from the SBE’s VERIS system. SBE may be able to develop such a report, but nothing has been forthcoming yet.
There was a request at that last meeting that a recommendation be made to the General Assembly that a mechanism be put in place to notify people if their DMV voter registration form is incomplete or not approved. “Motor Voter” applications get sent to the local General Registrars for processing – the DMV doesn’t deny them. The General Registrar sends denial letters for incomplete or improper “Motor Voter” applications, just like any other incomplete or improper applications. However, the General Registrar spends a great deal of effort following up with applicants to get information in an effort to avoid denials. Our General Registrar has 1 FTE who is almost completely devoted to following up on registration applications to avoid sending denial letters. They contact the voter by telephone to get the missing information if possible. Applications that are for change of address, as opposed to original registration, can be used even if they’re incomplete, so long as the name, address, and signature is there, and the voter is in the statewide VERIS system.
The Commission had asked how many rovers the County uses; how many precincts does each rover cover; and can the County increase the numbers of rovers, so each can cover fewer precincts? We have 18 rover routes. Each route has about 13 precincts (this is the average). Then there are 7 rovers who don’t have routes – they answer phones in the tech center, and they’re on call to cover if a Chief or another rover gets sick or to go out to polling places if a machine needs work, etc.
The members discussed the fact that rovers have access to voting machines to bring to polling places to replace machines that break down. Mr. Damon said that dividing the number of voters in the precincts by the number of DRE voting machines allocated to precincts yields a sum of 306 voters per DRE. He referred to the number of voting machines required by state law [Virginia Code § 24.2-627(A).] However, it was then noted that the state law imposes minimum numbers of voting machines that must be supplied per registered voter in the precinct, not according to the number of voters who actually vote.
The Commission asked for additional information as follows:
- Do the rovers think that their routes are too long?
- What did the Office of Elections’ FY 2013 budget request for rovers? Did the Office get the full budget it had requested for rovers?
- How many DREs were held in reserve and not allocated to precincts?
The Commission had asked staff to provide information on whether satellite locations could be opened earlier and the cost for running these offices. Satellite locations could be opened earlier, although the costs of doing so would have to be carefully weighed against the benefits, given the low turnout in the early days. Opening satellites earlier in presidential election years than in other years also presents problems with voters who will expect the same level of service even in non-presidential election years. A rough estimate of the cost is as follows:
- For 2012, the average satellite cost was about $15,300 for each satellite. (10 people X $13/hour X 118 hours) (3 Saturdays @ 9 hours and 13 weekdays @ 7 hours per person per day).
- For 2011, the average satellite cost was about $4,500 for each satellite. (5 people X $13/hour X 68 hours) (2 Saturdays @ 9 hours and 10 weekdays @ 5 hours per person per day)
The hours stated include ½ hour before and after published hours for set-up and take-down.
The Commission had asked staff to provide information on how many voters showed up at the precincts and said they hadn’t received their ABs, and were allowed to vote provisional? These voters are encompassed in a larger category that includes a variety of situations – it includes voters who said they didn’t receive the ABs, voters who said they had received their AB but misplaced it, overseas voters who were automatically sent an AB but who had returned home since the last election, and other situations. The total number of these voters was 438. Of the 438 provisional ballots, 427 were determined to be qualified voters and the votes were counted.
As part of its discussion on absentee voting last week, the Commission had observed that the absentee voting rate was lower in 2012 than it had been in 2008. The Commission had asked staff whether the Office of Elections had expected that more people, not fewer, would vote absentee in 2012, and whether an expectation of more absentee voters was a factor in how resources were allocated to the polling places. Yes, it was. The Office of Elections saw a trend of increased absentee voting and thought it would continue. Both political parties were encouraging people to vote absentee and there was a great deal of national publicity to get out the vote early.
Finally, Chairman Hanley noted that the following requests for information from staff are still outstanding:
- Pay rates for seasonal employees and timeline for hiring seasonal employees, especially information on at what point in the election season were additional staff brought in to handle the “tsunami” of absentee ballot applications? However, staff provided the pay rate for new seasonal hires: $13.08 / hr.
- Recommendations for improving the process for mailed-in absentee ballots.
- Three recommendations the Office of Elections would make to improve DMV process.
- What was the number of seasonal employees working on absentee voting that had prior experience? How many were hired in 2008, 2009 and 2012?
Mr. Kreykenbohm noted one additional information request still pending:
- Can absentee voting be opened on Sundays?
The members then reviewed the numerous handouts provided by staff in response to previous requests for information.
Among the handouts reviewed was the chart showing the state absentee ballots rejected and the reasons for the rejection. It was noted that the single most common reason for rejection was that the B envelope was left unsealed. The members discussed the category “voter did not submit an absentee ballot application, but submitted a ballot” and how that circumstance could occur. Among various possibilities, it was explained that sometimes an absentee voter may photocopy the ballot and share it with family members, who all mail the ballots back together in one envelope.
Regarding the handout with the absentee satellite history, Chairman Hanley observed that in 2010 and 2011, for budget reasons, the satellites were open fewer days and weekday hours, otherwise the days and hours open have been very consistent over the years.
The Commission reviewed the flowchart showing how the Office of Elections processes domestic (non-UOCAVA) mailed applications for absentee ballots. Regarding this flowchart, the Commission asked staff for the following additional information:
- A narrative description of how the process actually works in Fairfax, focusing on whether one person follows the application all the way to resolution, or whether different people work on various parts of the process; is the process automated or is it done by hand?
Chairman Hanley then inquired of the members what information they would still like to receive in preparation for concluding their task and making recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. The following information was requested:
- Why did the formula for allocating resources to precincts change from 2008 to 2012? The Commission would like additional explanation.
- Information about “best practices” for elections. Ms. Hernandez agreed to provide it.
- If the Electoral Board could have all of the Election Officers it wanted – money being no object – how many would it want in a presidential election year and in a non-presidential election year?
- Can the County’s Department of Information Technology tell us how many calls to the Office of Elections went unanswered between October 15 and Election Day 2012?
A discussion was had about occurrences of voters having voted, but they were not marked off as having voted and how that could happen. Mr. Epstein and Ms. Hernandez responded that it happens because Election Officers are human and sometimes make mistakes. It was generally concluded that such human error could not be entirely eliminated.
Items from Commission members/Announcements
Chairman Hanley asked the Commission “where do we go from here?” She estimated that the Commission needs two to three more meetings to conclude its work. The Co?Chairmen will prepare an outline of a report for the Commission to review and approve. They may have it ready by the next meeting, on February 28. After the Commission has agreed to the outline, they will flesh it out.
She asked the members to come to the next meeting with a list of the things they want to address in the report. She referred to the first letter in the packet of emails from Chairman Bulova’s office, which were included in the handouts provided for this meeting. As that letter shows, when the system is stressed, any one thing breaking down or going wrong will cause the system to fail.
Chairman Hanley solicited suggestions from the members on how to bring their work to conclusion.
Discussion ensued about how the Commission would deal with budget issues. By next week’s meeting, the Commission will have access to the County Executive’s proposed budget for the Office of Elections. The members agreed that the Commission doesn’t need to recommend that the Board budget a specific amount of money for things, it just needs to identify things that need to be done to improve the process.
Mr. Kreykenbohm raised the issue of Election Officer pay. He thinks that people often volunteer for civic reasons, not for the money, but he suggested that the County look at giving bonuses in certain situations. For example, Election Officers who speak another language, or who volunteer in precincts that are short on Election Officers might get bonuses. It was responded that first the Commission would need to know if paying people more would help recruitment. Discussion turned to the timeline for recruitment. Chairman Hanley referred to the February 7 handout on “key messages,” and stated that October is way too late to recruit for a November election.
Mr. Long observed that the political parties are supposed to provide the Electoral Board nominations of Election Officers in January each year to represent their parties. The Chairman recognized John Farrell, counsel to the Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC), who represented that FCDC gave the Electoral Board 2,200 names, 700 more names than the 1,500 he said that FCDC had been told it needed to submit.
It was requested that staff provide the following information on that point:
- How many Election Officers were nominated by FCDC and by the Fairfax County Republican Committee, when did they supply the names to the Electoral Board, and what became of those nominations?
There was discussion about whether the Office of Elections needs more funding for scanning of voter registration applications as discussed last week.
Mr. Caputo stated that he felt “swamped” by the volume of material that had been provided to the Commission for its consideration. Chairman Hanley noted that the material had been provided in in response to the Commission’s requests. She stated that she had reviewed the minutes of the previous meetings and identified the recommendations on which the Commission had reached consensus to date. She further noted that none of those recommendations had been prioritized.
Chairman Hanley said that the Co-Chairmen would have two things for the Commission’s next meeting:
- A list of things the Commission has already agreed to.
- A list of things that the Commission may recommend, in concept.
A request was made to also have a list of all the questions the members had posed in their meetings and the answers to them.
Items from Commission Members
Thereafter, the meeting adjourned.