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The Canvass | September 2019

September 1, 2019

Calling all the Kids - Youth Poll Workers Save the Day!

Written by Theresa Nelson, NCSL Summer Intern (Stanford University)

Do you pay attention to who runs your polling place on Election Day?

Voting in-person on Election Day remains the most popular method of casting a ballot according to the 2018 Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) conducted by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC).

In 2018, more than 200,000 polling places were open on Election Day, and more than 600,000 poll workers staffed them. Most of these staff are temporary workers hired by local election officials. Despite this huge workforce, polling places are often understaffed.

More than two-thirds of jurisdictions that responded to the EAVS in 2018 said that it was “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to sufficiently staff their polling locations. This problem seems to be growing significantly; in 2008, 2012, and 2016, less than half of election officials who responded to the survey reported having a hard time recruiting workers.

And if you have paid attention to the poll workers, have you wondered where the young people are?

The EAC found that “less than one-fifth of poll workers were younger than 41 years old, whereas more than two-thirds were 61 years or older.” Local officials are often dependent on retirees to meet their staffing needs, yet the long hours (only 18 states allow poll workers to work part-time or in split-shifts) and the trend towards more-technologically advanced election equipment (i.e. voting machines and electronic poll books) may pose challenges to these workers.

Rachael V. Cobb,assistant professor of government at Suffolk University, suggests that local officials start hiring who she sees as “technologically-adept workers” who are “well educated and accustomed to learning new skills”—i.e., students.

Many legislatures have taken the idea of hiring students a step further and implemented youth poll worker programs for high school teens, proposals that have historically garnered bipartisan support.

Hawaii was the first state to implement a youth poll worker program, having done so in 1990. Since then, states have moved in this direction. In 2019, two states—Alabama and Maryland—enacted legislation creating or refining statewide youth election programs. This year’s legislation brings the number of states with programs for youth participation on Election Day to 45 plus the District of Columbia.

When States First Enacted Poll Worker Laws

*Oregon established a Youth Poll Worker Program prior to 2000, but has since become a vote-by-mail state and no longer use traditional polling places.

For jurisdictions suffering from understaffed poll locations, the addition of youth and students can expand their applicant pool.

This year, the Virginia General Assembly enacted SB 589, a bill that amended the current youth poll worker program in the state to expand the tasks that youth are allowed to do. “This bill was a response to the existence of a strong opportunity to involve more community members in the important civic duty of voting and provide assistance to the officers of election.” stated Virginia Senator Adam Ebbin’s (D). All in all, it “promotes smoother election day processes.”

Beyond combatting the chronic staffing difficulty, these programs may also offer civic benefits. “We hear almost every election that young people don’t get involved… Research found that by involving young people and showing them what the election process is and how it makes an impact will help them get involved and stay involved,” said Maryland Senator Bryan Simonaire (R), who authored SB 364 that created Maryland’s Election Day Page Program.

Maryland youth as young as 14 years of age will be able to get to know the election process first-hand starting in October 2019 when this law takes effect. Maryland is the only state in the nation permitting teenagers that young to participate. Simonaire is not alone in his belief that familiarizing students with the polls will instill in them a desire to participate in elections in the future.

For example, Idaho’s youth poll worker statute includes its purpose: “to provide for a greater awareness of the election process, the rights and responsibilities of voters and the importance of participating in the electoral process, as well as to provide additional members of precinct boards.”

As we draw closer to November, when four states hold their legislative elections (Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia) and onward to 2020, many local election officials are preparing for upcoming elections. If you’d like to learn more about poll workers, such as training requirements, party balance and pay, visit our new webpage!

From the Chair

Senator Melanie Levesque (D) represents the 12th Senate district in New Hampshire. The 12th district is nestled along the state’s southern boarder with Massachusetts and covers the towns of Brookline, Greenville, Hollis, Mason, New Ipswich, Rindge, and Wards 1, 2, and 5 in the city of Nashua. Having been born and raised in Nashua, Senator Levesque is proud to represent her home city in this politically diverse district.

Q: What are the values you hold when working on elections policy?

Access to Elections for all citizens has been an issue I have always been passionate about. I am mindful that there was a day when African Americas did not have the right to vote. That our ancestors marched, fought and died for our civil rights and that the way we support our values and improve the quality of the lives of all people is ensuring we have policies that support our people. Those policies and the people who implement them are determined by voting. My role is to ensure that every citizen has access to voting, make it more accessible and efficient and ensure we have secure, fair, and integrity in elections.

Q: Have you noticed any trends in the amount of election administration legislation in New Hampshire, or interest in it?

In New Hampshire, we have had many substantial election law bills introduced, establishing an independent redistricting commission, enabling college students to vote without tying it to car registration, getting money out of politics, and no excuse absentee ballots all of which were vetoed by our Governor. A bill to implement a NH version of Automated Voter Registration with Secure, Accurate, Modern Registration Technology (SMART) has been retained in the house. Several bills were signed into law allowing the use of campaign funds for child care expenses and establishing a committee to study ways to improve civic engagement were among them.

Q: What does the future of elections policy look like in New Hampshire? What issues are you considering?

The future of election policy will be very much the same. We will continue to work on Independent Redistricting because we feel it is necessary to ensure there is fair representation and confidence in government. We will continue to promote the modernization for our voter registration and election process with security in mind.

Q: What is your relationship with local election officials? How important is that relationship?

I continue to work on building relationships with state and local officials to gain an understanding of the challenges they face during the election process. We recently met with Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and her team Rob Rock, Director of Elections, and Jason Martiesian, Director of State and Federal Affairs and Policy. We learned about their implementation and best practices for automated voter registration and online voter registration. The New Hampshire Deputy Secretary of State, a town moderator, supervisor of the checklist and a few election advocates participated in the visit. It was a good opportunity for all participants in the chain to reflect on the impact new processes would have on their roles. It was a very positive and collaborative meeting.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about election administration in New Hampshire with the readers?

New Hampshire is a small state steeped in tradition: first in the nation primary, town meetings, paper ballots all of which are good. We are a state with very limited revenue sources and must be careful how we spend our dollars. We are also slow to adopt new processes but must realize that we can modernize without losing our charm. Modernization will allow us to use our limited resources in a more efficient manner and bringing more citizens into the voting process will strengthen our state, not weaken it.

Q: Do you have any advice for other legislators looking at election legislation?

Work with all stakeholders to understand the impacts of legislation on their position. Even If your legislation does not pass the first session you can learn a lot about overcoming objections, gaining consensus and educating citizens on the issues and be more prepared to pass legislation in future sessions.

From the Administrators Perspective

Phillip Warren and Tammy Smith, administrator of elections and assistant administrator of elections respectively, are the tag-team duo which oversee elections in Wilson County, Tenn. Due to Wilson County’s proximity to Nashville, Tenn., the area has seen substantial growth in the past two decades. Present day Wilson County was once a part of Sumner County, until the Tennessee General Assembly broke it off in 1799.

Q: What about elections do you find interesting or unique?

Phillip: From the first day on the job, I have been intrigued by the many moving parts involved in preparing for and administering elections. The challenges of understanding and implementing policies and procedures to ensure fair and honest elections that provide the voters with the best voting experience possible have been exciting.

Tammy: Every election is different, and every day is unique. Elections create an excitement that I’ve never experienced with prior careers. Election Day is the event which we all prepare for and can take many months to do so. It takes a variety of skills to prepare an election thus making each day exciting and different.

Q: What are you most proud of when it comes to running good elections?

Tammy: Being innovative and thinking “outside the box.” We have implemented many new and exciting changes in our office. We always think of what’s best for our voters and try to make best use of our tax dollars. I am also proud that we have created a great team that works with us each Election Day. Many have become friends and are like family to us. While our mission is to ensure that integrity of every vote cast is protected, we also want our voters to have the best voting experience possible.

Q: What are some of the election issues that you see right now in your jurisdiction or state? How are you tackling these challenges?

Phillip:The greatest challenge we see surrounding elections today is the issue of voter confidence. The disinformation and uninformed rhetoric circulating causes voters to question the integrity and security of the elections. The challenge we see is to ensure our voters that their vote is secure, secret and that every vote matters. We have tried to anticipate challenges before they were problems. In 2016, we replaced the DRE voting system used since 2006 with a hybrid system that includes a printed ballot for the voter. The first time a voter’s eyes light up when they see the names of the candidates they wanted to vote for printed on their ballot you know the effort is worth it. We hear the excuse for not voting, “my one little vote doesn’t matter,” all the time. Being able to provide the voter confidence that their vote counts as cast gives trust in the process and, hopefully, a desire to continue to participate.

Q: Are you and your office doing anything different this year to prepare for the 2020 election cycle?

Tammy: We are one of three counties that will be piloting vote centers on Election Day. Rutherford County did a pilot in 2017/2018 and it was very successful. We appreciate all of their hard work as pioneers of a concept that will change how people vote in this county. Vote centers will allow individuals to cast a ballot at any of the locations vs. the traditional precinct polling location. This will make voting very convenient for the voters of Wilson County.

Q: What is your office doing to help secure elections?

Phillip: The emphasis we place on physical security of our office and voting equipment has always been a top priority. Cybersecurity has become a major part of our day-to-day operations with new tools and procedures being implemented regularly. The threats we face as election administrators are multi-faceted and changing daily. Whether the threat is from social or traditional media, from the cyber world or from a physical attack, we are constantly preparing, learning and adapting to this reality.

Tammy: As a member of the EI-ISAC (Elections Infrastructure – Information Sharing and Analysis Center) executive committee, I am continuously learning about the many ways to protect our office. We are implementing many elements to protect our systems as well as doing testing to ensure that our systems are safeguarded and protected. Security is a top priority for our office.

Q: Does your office do much work with informing and educating the public?

Phillip: Our goal in everything we do is to improve the voting experience and confidence our voters have in elections in Wilson County. We have offered an Election Institute to interested members of the public to give them a “behind the scenes” look at what is involved to preparing for elections. The Institute provides context to the details that are necessary to administer the single day voters see when they come to vote. Voters with this knowledge are informed and can better understand the media stories and anecdotal tales surrounding elections.

Also, we believe in encouraging young people to register and to vote. Our office supports many school elections each year. This introduces high school students to the process of voting and, we have found, encourages them to register and vote. Tammy and I regularly speak to civic groups, political parties and any other organization that has an interest in learning more about elections and voting.

Worth Noting

Florida to Join ERIC.

Last month we noted that Kentucky and Vermont were the most recent states to join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). Their reign as the new guys was short. On Aug. 21, Florida governor Ron DeSantis announced that Florida will be joining ERIC, bringing the total number of participants to 30. In 2018, the Florida legislature voted unanimously (HB 85) to authorize the Department of State to join the interstate agreement.

Monthly Dose of Cybersecurity.

Illinois—The Macon County, Ill. Circuit Clerk’s Office webpage was recently the target of cyber attackers. The attacker claimed to be Iranian and included an image of the Iranian flag and a Guy Fawkes mask. Although access was disabled to the webpage, the Circuit Clerk said system security and defenses worked as expected and no information was compromised.

Texas—State officials confirmed that 22 Texas municipalities were targeted and affected by ransomware attacks. Although which municipalities were affected has not been released, an official from the Texas Department of Information resources stated that most are rural and a single actor is believed to have initiated the attacks. It is not known when full service and access to affected systems will be restored.

Responding to Ransomware—The Department of Homeland Security’s Critical Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has announced that it will be working to counter ransomware attacks leading up to the 2020 election. CISA’s program will reach out to state election officials and provide educational material, remote penetration testing, vulnerability scans and guidelines on how to prevent and recover from ransomware attacks.

DEF CON—Like previous years, the 2019 DEF CON Hacking Conference featured elections equipment. This year’s target, the AccuVote, an optical scanner used in 900 jurisdictions throughout the country. The white-hat hackers were able to find vulnerabilities. However, local and state election officials noted that security measures that are present in election precincts, such as limiting physical access to the equipment, were not in place at DEF CON. They note that since AccuVote is an optical scanner, paper ballots are the ultimate failsafe and could still be tabulated and audited.

Faithless Electors? Perhaps not.

In a decision that could have major impacts on future elections, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1, that presidential electors have the constitutional right to vote for anyone who is constitutionally qualified to be president. The court case stems from a lawsuit after three Colorado presidential electors were told they would be removed and replaced if they did not vote for Hillary Clinton, the popular vote winner in Colorado. Two of the electors relented, but one did not and was replaced. A similar case in Washington, which found that electors could be fined in they did not vote for the expected presidential candidate, is already on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Worth the Wait?

In a time when things like cellphones are updated and upgraded every year or two, it is hard to imagine waiting 10 years for something new. But for Los Angeles County, the nation’s largest voting jurisdiction with just over 5.2 million registered voters, the wait for new voting equipment is over. L.A. County decided to build its own system utilizing open-source technology to develop the Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP), the only jurisdiction in the nation to do so. The machines will be rolled out next year as L.A. County completely switches to the VSAP for all elections.

Blockchain Bug Bounty Finds a Problem.

Moscow is planning to utilize a blockchain-based voting system in their City Duma elections. As a sign of confidence, in July, officials published the source code and placed a bug bounty on it. A French researcher said it took him roughly 20 minutes to break the encryption and acquire the private encryption keys. This netted him a hefty $15,000 reward. Moscow officials have acknowledged the issue and have promised to increase the security of the system prior to the election.

An AVR Audit.

California launched its effort to automate the voter registration system at the Department of Voter Vehicles in April 2018. More recently, California conducted and released an audit of the first five months of that new program. The 113-page audit found 83,684 duplicate records, attributed to inconsistencies in the political party selection of those voters and 171,145 DMV records that did not align with state election information. Since its launch, the system has been upgraded and the state is actively working to implement changed proposed by the audit.

From the NCSL Elections Team

With a successful Summit in the rear-view mirror, we are looking ahead at another busy fall. We have also begun our prep-work to cover the 2019 elections in Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia, where 538 legislative seats are up for grabs. This month, we will also be welcoming two new, full-time team members who will help expand our information and knowledge on campaign finance and redistricting.

And as always, let us know what’s on your mind, elections-related or otherwise.

Dylan Lynch and Wendy Underhill

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