This is the time of the year that many look back over the past year and assess the significance of recent history. These retrospectives can be helpful in situating ourselves as we enter a new year and can serve as a basis of future improvement. I thought I would offer my own review of the last year in the field of elections.
Beginning on personal notes—it was nearly a year ago that I launched this blog. My posts have been read by thousands of people around the world (nearly 20% are readers outside the US) and have occasionally triggered interesting conversations about the administration of elections. Through this blog I have met many new colleagues and have renewed relationships with others. My posts have been personally cathartic and have hopefully added to the knowledge base and conversations about election administration in both “theory and praxis.”
Further the year has brought a personal “return to the trenches” of election administration from the halls and towers of academia. Ironically this change has confirmed to me the uneasy (maybe even incompatible) relationship between administration and academia on practical, cultural and professional levels. Practitioners seem to lose standing with academic colleagues while fellow election officials grant little credibility to theoretical and scientific approaches to public/election administration. Nonetheless, I and this blog, have a firmly planted foot in each camp and will continue to attempt to frame issues and topics in a way to foster common understanding and collaboration.
I hoped to trigger many conversations with this blog. While the exchanges and discussions we have had have been thoughtful and interesting, I hope for more meaningful discussions in 2014. Please share your ideas and responses to the ideas in this blog with all the readers. Many readers have shared or retweeted this blog. Please pass on the ideas, posts and links to those who study, administer, report on or have an interest in elections.
We lost a giant in the field of elections administration with the passing of Dick Smolka in 2013. Dick and his ”Election Administration Report” were not only icons, Dick was a friend, mentor and role model for generations of us in the field of elections.
2013 saw the end of more than a decade of Doug Chapin’s Electionline and ElectionWeekly which has left a huge void in the daily routine, socialization and education election geeks around the country. Doug’s Election Academy Blog, Brian Newby’s Election Diary, Rick Hasen’s Election Law Blog, NCSL’s Canvass newsletter and this Election Guru blog are the new on-line gathering places.
The President appointed another commission to examine the administration of elections and make recommendations. The Commission has completed its hearings and information collection and we are awaiting its report. The Election Assistance Commission’s future is uncertain and the organization is still rudderless without Commissioners or an Executive Director.
There has been no significant change in federally certified voting technologies or products. Aging HAVA era voting systems remain the most viable systems going into the 2016 Presidential election cycle. California passed SB 360 which changes the requirement for federal certification, streamlines the state process for certifying voting systems and offers the possibility of new development and business models to get system to the market and in use. Time will tell.
The SCOTUS gave us two major election related decisions in 2013, both of which leave doors open for new issues and legal challenges. In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court struck down Section V of the Voting Rights Act but left Section IV intact. The decision did not remove the authority of the DOJ to enforce provisions of the VRA but merely removed the requirement for pre-clearance. In Arizona et al. v. Intertribal Council of Arizona, the decision to strike down the Arizona requirement for proof of citizenship at the time of registration was less a decision than a punt. The Court found that as the proof of citizenship provisions were not on the prescribed federal registration form, the state could not require the information if the registration was to be used for the voter rolls in a federal election. The decision offered no opinion on the constitutionality of the proof of citizenship requirement and opened the door to dual (federal and state) registration rolls.
Several states, Florida, North Carolina and Kansas and others, continued to pass restrictive election laws on the pretext of preventing fraud even though there is no evidence of the type of fraud the measures could detect and prevent.
Internet voting in the US is still stuck in 1999 (and is likely to stay there for another generation) despite the efforts of FVAP to facilitate electronic delivery (and return) of ballots and election information to service members deployed abroad.
On a positive note- a generation of young, smart and action-oriented election officials is entering the field. This generation is well exemplified by Kammi Foote, the Clerk, Recorder, Registrar of Inyo County, CA, who recently organized an international panel of scholars, administrators, technologist, vendors and activists to discuss the future of voting technologies. It will take a generational change led by people like Kammi to find solutions for today’s most insoluble issues in the field of elections.
While much has happened in 2013, in the end, little if anything has really changed. That shouldn’t be hard to improve upon.