Election Administration and Mail-in Voting

Election Administration and Mail-in Voting

Jim Bourg/Reuters
from State and Local Conference Calls and Webinars

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United States

Elections and Voting

Coronavirus

State and Local Governments

Trey Grayson, former Kentucky secretary of state, Elizabeth Howard, senior counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center  for Justice, and Tahesha Way, New Jersey secretary of state, discuss election administration during the COVID-19 pandemic, including practical recommendations for implementing mail-in voting.

Learn more about CFR’s State and Local Officials Initiative.

Speakers

Trey Grayson

Former Secretary of State, Commonwealth of Kentucky

Liz Howard

Senior Counsel, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice

Tahesha Way

Secretary of State, State of New Jersey

Presider

Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President, National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

FASKIANOS:  Good afternoon and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations’ State and Local Officials Webinar. I'm Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. We're delighted to have participants from forty-six states with us today. Thank you for taking the time to join this discussion, which is on the record. As you may know, CFR is an independent and nonpartisan organization, think tank, and publisher focusing on U.S. foreign policy. Through our State and Local Officials Initiative, we serve as a resource on international issues affecting the priorities and agendas of state and local governments by providing analysis on a wide range of policy topics. We also publish Foreign Affairs magazine. We're delighted to have with us today Trey Grayson, Liz Howard, and Tahesha Way.

We previously shared their bios with us so I'll just give you a few highlights on their distinguished backgrounds in alphabetical order. Trey Grayson is currently a member at law firm Frost Brown Todd and is a principal in the firm's public affairs affiliate CivicPoint. Secretary Grayson served two terms as secretary of state for the Commonwealth of Kentucky from 2004 to 2011, and following his time in government held positions at the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and Harvard University's Kennedy School. Liz Howard serves as senior counsel for the Brennan Center's democracy program where she focuses on election security. Previously, she was deputy commissioner for the Virginia Department of Elections and coordinated numerous election modernization projects. Ms. Howard has also held roles as general counsel at Rock the Vote, and with a Washington, DC, law firm where she specialized in election law. Tahesha Way currently serves as New Jersey's thirty-fourth secretary of state for which she was nominated by Governor Phil Murphy and sworn in in 2018. She leads the department with a diverse portfolio, including oversight of the state division of elections. Secretary Way previously held numerous roles in public service including as an administrative law judge for the State of New Jersey. So thank you all for being with us today. We really appreciate it. I'd like to first begin with Liz Howard to ask you to just give us an overview of election administration during COVID-19, including any recommendations you have for implementing mail-in voting and what why you feel it is important to have mail-in voting.

HOWARD:  Thank you so much, Irina, and thank you to CFR for having me today and for conducting this panel. Just a quick word about the Brennan Center for Justice. We're a nonprofit, nonpartisan, law and policy institute, which means that we are part think tank and part communications hub. So we collect and analyze a lot of data and work with election officials and other stakeholders to craft and promote policies that will help make our democracy better for all. And I know that today that we're going to focus primarily on vote by mail and absentee voting, but I wanted to talk briefly about the fact that election officials intuitively know, and that is that all of our different systems that make up all the different components that make up election administration days, basically online services, in person voting, and now more than ever vote by mail voting, are interrelated. And while they may seem independent, it is critical that we work to secure all of these different systems, and unfortunately, I know from personal experience that a failure in one system can cause all the other systems to fail and cause a really big problem.

I just want to quickly take you through one of Virginia's terrible, very bad, awful election days to kind of drive home this point about why all of these resiliency measures are so important so hopefully you don't have to experience what I did. So, on Election Day back in 2014, we started getting phone calls that morning, from voters that were having problems using the touchscreen voting machines that were still in use in our state because they were trying to select one candidate and another was appearing on the summary screen. We were working through the election officials on the calibration issues when a voter videoed their efforts trying to vote for one candidate and the screen showing that they were attempting to vote for another. So this video went viral kind of mid-morning, so by that afternoon the phones at the Department of Elections were going crazy, until they weren't because our phones crashed. So now because we didn't have a backup system, voters, members of the press and public, were having a hard time reaching us. And of course, now everybody desperately wanted to know the results of the election. So guess what? Our election night reporting website went down, and we did not have a backup for that.

So, in good news, this terrible, very bad election day happened prior to widespread acknowledgement that foreign actors were attempting to interfere with our elections because these failures can not only impact the actual ability to administer elections, but also the public's confidence in the integrity of our elections system. And we learned a ton of lessons from that day, and many of the other challenges that we faced when I was an election official, and I hope that we can share some of those lessons with you today because I think there are many steps that you can take, and local and state election officials can take now to make their systems more secure.

Especially as vote by mail becomes increasingly popular and voters are increasingly choosing to use that option as a safe method to vote in the middle of a pandemic, a lot of officials are rolling out new tools that make it easier for eligible voters to vote such as an online absentee ballot tool. So for the online tools such as the voter registration tool or perhaps your new online absentee ballot tool, you can conduct load and vulnerability testing on the systems to make sure that they're ready for the potential deluge of voters that are going to have an interest in the systems. For the states that have recently rolled out online absentee ballot tools they can send confirmations via email to the voters that have requested these absentee ballots online. They could also send email confirmations to voters that have made changes to their voter registration information online. They can also work to obtain services from a content delivery network, such as CloudFlare or Akamai, to better protect them from Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks. They can do other common sense things to make their online systems more resilient. Just preparing for potential issues and putting up a static page that will have a PDF of either the voter registration form absentee ballot tool.

There are also simple steps that officials can take to make their in-person voting systems more resilient, such as ordering enough ballots now for 120% of voters. Many of you have seen the headlines that voter registration numbers have declined in this period compared to the same period four years ago and we just honestly don't know what that means. But it could mean that there will be a big surge in voter registration closer to the deadline. So ordering enough ballots for 120% of voters will ensure that there's enough ballots for everyone and also having a sufficient amount of provisional validating materials at the polls so in the event that there has been some other system failures along the way, the last point on Election Day, the election officials are prepared to recover from any incident. So thank you so much, Irina. I look forward to the panel and it's a delight to be here with Secretary Way and former Secretary Grayson.

FASKIANOS:  Thank you very much for that overview. Let's go next to Secretary Way about how you're preparing in New Jersey for the upcoming election.

WAY:  Good afternoon and thank you Irina and, of course, thanks to the Council on Foreign Relations for inviting me to participate today. My fellow panelists, and of course everyone watching, I hope you all are staying safe and well. So, like most secretaries of state, it is my responsibility to oversee our state's free and fair elections. For me, I want to make certain that every person in New Jersey who is eligible to vote is able to cast a ballot and that ballot is protected.

Now I know you probably all know every individual state runs its own elections. There is no cookie cutter approach to this so what I have to say today pertains to New Jersey but at the same time we all learn from each other and work collaboratively to protect our sacred democracy. Let me start also by providing a baseline in terms of New Jersey's elections and how we conduct them when we are not living through a pandemic. In New Jersey, we conduct elections every year, we are home to an estimated 6.2 million registered voters.

During my term, we have continued to work to make registering to vote more convenient and accessible than ever before in the garden state. In partnership with New Jersey's motor vehicle commission, we rolled out automatic voter registration. As of March 17, formerly incarcerated persons on parole and probation are now permitted to register to vote and participate in our elections the historic expansion of voting rights in New Jersey and prior to this November general election, we will launch online voter registration, further ensuring that registering to vote is accessible to all.

Now, in non-pandemic times, most of our voters would cast their vote on Election Day at one of the more than I want to say 3,400 polling locations. In recent years, however, a growing number of voters have chosen to cast their vote using a vote by mail ballot. Equally important, since 2005, voters have not been required to provide a reason for requesting a vote by mail ballot, which has allowed this method of voting to become more available to New Jersey residents and since last year, voters can choose to sign up for vote by mail permanently, choosing the option to automatically receive a vote by mail ballot for every future election. Prior to the pandemic, approximately 600,000 were signed up to vote exclusively using vote by mail. Thus, vote by mail isn't entirely unfamiliar to voters in New Jersey. And that's what we have been working with when the pandemic upended all of our expectations for what we thought 2020 would ultimately look like.

So, for primary elections purposes and keeping the time down, I want to say we had to weigh the safeguarding the health of poll workers, election workers, and of course our voters and their exercising the right to vote. So our primary, which just occurred July 7, was conducted primarily using vote by mail with postage paid return. There were limited in person voting for voters with disabilities and for those voters who needed to vote in person, for example if they did not receive a vote by mail ballot. Each county had at least five secure ballot drop boxes for the purpose of receiving vote by mail ballots and these locations were under video surveillance to protect against tampering, and they remained in place through 8:00 p.m. on the evening of the primary.

In addition, as we were mindful of the volume of mail the post service was processing, the deadline for receipt of vote by mail ballots was extended from 48 hours after the primary to seven days afterwards, or July 14, but at the same time those ballots had to be postmarked on or before July 7, Election Day. Now, while we were required to at least have open one polling location to be available in each of New Jersey's 565 municipalities, we had about, I want to say, 1,600 polling locations that were also available and that continued on, but at the same time we had a campaign and effort entitled "Make Your Mark New Jersey," and this was prior to the primary election, which encouraged voters to participate safely using vote by mail. The "Make Your Mark New Jersey" campaign was comprised of public communications and advertising, and across traditional and digital media platforms and focused on the four simple steps to properly vote by mail, which are vote, sign, seal, return. We also provided voters the opportunity to fix or cure their ballots if they fail to sign the sealed ballot return envelope or if their signatures did not match the one on file. Those voters were proactively contacted by their county board of elections and given approximately two weeks to verify their identity and ensure their ballot would get counted.

Now, moving forward, here is what we know about vote by mail and how it can work best--some of our best practices if you will. One, recognize that the creation, printing, and distribution of vote by mail ballots takes time. The longer lead we can provide to our county election officials who are really the front lines of our democracy the better. Two, the use of vote by mail ballots essentially means that the USPS must be an ongoing partner in the timely secure delivery of ballots and information for our voters. Three, make sure voters understand how to properly fill out their vote by mail ballot by including clear instructions within the mailing and engaging in robust opportunities to educate the public, online and in person, about how to vote by mail. Four, make ballot return as easy as possible. Give voters multiple opportunities and locations to safely return their ballot if they choose not to return it via mail. Five, give voters a sense of security by letting them track their ballot from when it leaves their hands until it is received and counted. Six, make sure local election officials have the necessary PPE, supports, and optimized equipment to process and count ballots. Seven, listen to voters, to your local election officials, and engage with their feedback on how things worked. If we want to do our best we need to be respectful enough to hear it from them and be willing to make their experiences better. So to close, ultimately the most important thing I can do for voters as secretary of state is to be a trusted source of information.

Even prior to the pandemic, my team and I were extremely concerned, as well as others nationally, about misinformation and disinformation, and its impact on voters in the November general election. Whether or not it is done intentionally, sharing false information about our elections is voter suppression and it harms our democracy, and unfortunately, in the age of social media, it occurs more and more frequently. So one of the ways to combat bad misinformation and disinformation is to help voters identify the people, the organizations that can be trusted to have accurate information about how, when, and where to vote. My office, the New Jersey Department of State, and specifically our state's divisions of elections are trusted sources. We are nonpartisan, we are here to help. Our website and our elections app are both one stop shops for voters to check their registration status, get updates on election deadlines, learn what public questions will be on the ballot this fall, polling location and find key information for county election officials.

So, simply put, with every state, perhaps making at least some election changes in light of COVID-19 is all the more important that voters know where to turn for correct information because things may look very different from the last time they voted in a general. So know that your state secretaries, local election officers, etc. are all your trusted voices. Again, thanks to the Council on Foreign Relations for this kind invitation and to all present. I look forward to our panel discussion.

FASKIANOS:  Wonderful, thank you and let's go next to Secretary Grayson to hear about his experience administering elections in Kentucky, and lessons learned.

GRAYSON:  Sure, thanks Irina. I’m still around elections, you heard in the introduction that I was secretary of state a few years ago and still serve on a lot of nonprofit boards and help out in trying to make our elections work better, including service on President Obama's presidential commission on election administration. So I've been watching and helping during this primary election season in trying to get ready, help states and locals get ready for the general election.

I still live in Kentucky and we went through a very unique primary. Kentucky's a state that has traditionally been an Election Day kind of election. It's an excuse, historically, has been an excuse-based system so you had to have an excuse to vote absentee either by mail or in person, although some of those excuses were simply a category if you're a senior citizen--that was considered an excuse. In Kentucky when I was secretary,we passed a law allowing the election to be postponed a month, and that the legislature and the election legislators realized we actually needed to be able to change the manner of the election to make it clear that the law allowed that. So the legislature tweaked that law and the governor, the secretary of state, and State Board of Elections came up with a plan that may shift Kentucky's election, mostly to mail-in voting, did it in about a two month period and it was fairly successful. We still had Election Day voting and we still had some early voting, and that became no excuse as well.

I wanted to highlight in conclusion, because we've had some great suggestions from the two folks who spoke before me, a couple lessons from Kentucky and a couple more broad lessons as I've watched and observed and assisted in other states. So one in Kentucky, I thought that the secretary and the election administrators did a great job of utilizing the media, and they use the media in a couple of different ways.

One was helping to communicate very clearly the changes, the new options that were available. Now in some states it may not be that there's new options, it's just that there are existing options that people had never used before. You know, maybe they could, in New Jersey for example, you could vote by mail, but you didn't know that because you always just voted on Election Day. But using the media to help explain the new options, explaining the current and the old options, so that people can choose the best manner to vote.

 

Also using the media to help voters understand, especially in states that are adding a lot of vote by mail, that election night isn't going to be as conclusive as it usually is. If more votes are being cast by mail that likely means that more votes are going to be counted in the days following election night or Election Day. All votes are going to be counted, but it might take a little longer to get results, especially in close races. And I thought Kentucky did a great job of getting the media to tell that story so the media itself didn't have expectations of immediate results.

You saw public television, which always has election night coverage, and I was actually one of--I was on Kentucky's public television on both election night, but they scheduled their election wrap up a week later rather than election night. So on election night, we talked mostly about how the election went from an administrative standpoint. There were some results that were big enough that you could predict a winner and talk about that, and then but we waited another week to actually talk about who won and who lost and what that meant for the fall. The media was a really important ally in that, and so I encourage election administrators and local officials use the media as your ally. They want to cover this, they know it's a big deal, and so give them that information, help them out, or ask them to help you out, and I think they'll do that.

The second thing that I thought was a good suggestion that Kentucky adopted in a couple of locations, they adopted these mega centers. We'd never used vote centers in our state before where anybody could vote at a certain spot in the county or jurisdiction, and we had a couple really big mega centers, it was easy to communicate, people knew where to go, there were plenty of poll workers and assistance. One thing I thought that was a great idea that one of the counties did, was they had a special line for people who had trouble with an absentee ballot. So some people may have requested a ballot and it came late or didn't come at all or maybe the wrong party was sent. This has gotten to be a problem for the general but you could get the wrong ballot that's sent to you and what do you do.

 

So rather than having that person go in and try to figure out which line to go in, there was a special line just to cure those problems with the vote by mail ballots. I thought that was a great idea. It allowed the regular lines to be used for people who were just checking in and they could vote seamlessly, and it didn't cause those that had problems, it took a little bit longer to work out, to clog up the rest of the lines. That's a great, great suggestion that Kenton county in the northern part of the state came up with, and it's something that I would highly recommend, especially in, again, in states where they're adding vote by mail and people just aren't used to it and so there's probably going to be more challenges there.

 

The third thing, and maybe I'll wrap up on this one, is I'll just use the term more allies. We always want to be creative and around the time of election, we're always looking for poll workers, we're always looking for other folks to talk about these changes, but obviously this year, as you've heard, and you expect is very different. It's been great to see new allies step up, like professional athletes and professional sports teams and more and more businesses. My hope is the Chamber of Commerce world where I used to work, Chambers of Commerce is across the country, social groups, churches, everybody will step up to recruit coworkers to help with polling place locations, because a lot of places are probably going to--a lot of polling places may change, and so we may need to be creative and identify some new places. And also, again, communicating, just as I talked about the media being the ally, communicating all these new roles and new opportunities and new ways that people can vote in the best manner possible during a pandemic. So, more allies, that kind of creativity is going to be especially important and so I encourage folks to think about how that might look if you're--in your local community, who are those trusted sources as allies? Who have those big megaphones, who are those influencers?

And I did say that was my last point, but my final, actual last point is this. Congress is debating federal legislation, you know the cares two act or whatever they're going to end up calling it, we need to make sure there's federal dollars to help state and local governments. It's not clear that the money is going to be there and so for those who are on this webinar, viewing this webinar, make sure you reach out to your members of Congress, your senators, especially if you're in Republican states, the Republican Senate bill didn't include the money. I think we can get money in the bill--it was in the last cares act. It's essential for our local governments and our state governments to have more resources to do the kinds of things that we need to do to buy the PPE and, you know, pay extra rent for new places and all these unexpected and unplanned expenses. We need more financial assistance, and so I encourage everybody to reach out to your members of Congress over the next week or so and let them know that you need help.

FASKIANOS:  Great, thank you very much for that. We're going to go now to all of you for your questions and comments. So please, if you're on a computer you click on the participants tab and raise your hand there, if you're on a tablet, just click on the "More" button and you can raise your hand there, and you can also use the chat feature, and if you could say who you are so that we can--it gives context to our panelists and maybe direct your question to everybody or just one person directly. So we're going to first go to Dr. Tonya Stewart. And if you can accept the unmute prompt, that would be great.

Q:  My name is Gregory Rose, I'm the city manager for University City, Missouri, and I have a question, I guess it would really be for everyone. I think in this environment I'm becoming increasingly more concerned about not necessarily the mechanics of voting, but the validity that people believe within our voting processes, which is a little bit different than the actual mechanics. So, what approach are you taking to assure the public about the validity of the outcomes?

HOWARD:  So, this is Liz, and I will talk about a couple of things. So, first, to reference one of the points that Trey made earlier, it's about communicating to the press and other stakeholders about reasonable expectations for how this election is going to run. One of the results of the pandemic, as we talked about earlier, was a spike in absentee voting by mail, and the reality is that this is causing election officials to drastically change a lot of their back end processes and the election results are probably going to be delayed because of this new volume of ballots that they have to tabulate centrally.

Trey talked about and Secretary Way talked about working with stakeholders and communicating out the appropriate expectations for voters so when those results are delayed, that is not something that causes them to think that there has been a problem or a concern with the election administration process. In fact, it means the election administrators are doing their job. Second, there has been some concerns raised about fraud related to absentee voting and I think for that, that I would encourage you, and you know, everyone else to actually work with and talk to your local election official, like Secretary Way talked about earlier, there are Republican and Democrat election officials that fiercely defend the number of election integrity measures that they implement to ensure that the count ballots from eligible voters only.

So many election officials that I've seen have actually asked people that have called with concerns to come into their office, observe their process, and watch what they're doing and or learn more about the process and that has been a very important point here. I also just want to take a second to thank you and to thank all of the other state and local election officials on this call for administering an election under, you know, the most challenging circumstances that I've ever seen and just thank you so much.

FASKIANOS:  Yes, go ahead, Secretary Way.

WAY:  Thank you. I echo Liz's sentiments but I just want to also add I think even before this pandemic, I think with election officials, our main charge was countering any interference, either domestic or international, and we really had a true focus--not to say we're not doing it now--but the focus was really on cybersecurity, and the reason why I'm bringing this up is because I know that secretaries, I can speak for myself, we work with our federal partners from Homeland Security. I know that I have state law enforcement partners, if you will, our state Homeland Security, and also the offices of the Attorney General, we work with the FBI, and we've had I want to say what's the last year, New Jersey hosted our first national tabletop exercise, in which we drill down on various scenarios. There were about 400 participants, fourteen out of state delegations, about fourteen to sixteen federal partners who came, and third party organizations that came to somewhat focus upon emergencies and the integrity and the protection and validity of our voters. So I just want everyone also to recognize that, and I did speak about the misinformation and disinformation, and again, this is really why we truly need to communicate with our voters so that they can understand there is a way you can track your vote. You go on to our portal, by way of example, so that there can be some understanding and feelings of security in terms of making sure their votes are protected.

GRAYSON:  I think what I would add, and both the speakers before me made some great points, is one--I'll just begin. It is unfortunate that we see candidates, office holders, and political parties and presidents raise questions and we've seen it where, you know, trying to undermine the election process to their base to basically lay the groundwork that if you lost it wasn't fair, the election wasn't conducted correctly. This is not a new thing. This has been going on for a couple decades now. I guess it's probably gone on for the history of the country, but we've seen in the last 20 years, I think, a steady increase in trying to undercut the confidence people have in elections, and unfortunately, we've seen survey data that shows that people don't quite have the same confidence.

So it's incumbent upon folks in election administration space, who do this job in a nonpartisan way, even if they wear a republican or a democratic hat at some point, you know, in other parts of their lives that to be transparent, you've heard that earlier, to show all the things that are out there to focus on security and trusted information. There are a lot of people who are involved in the process, political parties are intimately involved in the process, and they are right there in the room where the votes are being counted, they're in the Election Day most precincts are required to have poll, you know, precinct officers that are bipartisan nature. So we try to make these elections as transparent as possible and that's where I think organizations like the Secretary of State's Association and state election directors, and other local election administration organizations need to continue to do a great job of saying, look, we're running our election so whoever gets the most votes, wins, period, I don't care who it is and we're going to take the time to count all the votes accurately, fairly, and you the public need to be able to trust in that.

And so it's like I said, all of us need to step up and explain how that works. I think transparency is an important principle that can really help overcome some of that misinformation that's out there, it's just trying to sow doubts in a system that works pretty well. It's not perfect, no system is perfect. The system works pretty well.

FASKIANOS:  Thank you. So we have several raised hands and several people have raised their hand in the chat. So I'm going to read out a couple of the comments in the chat for you to address and I will go back to the raised hands in queue. So from Calhoun County Commissioner Rochelle Hatcher, she's from Michigan, please explain how citizens with felonies are able to exercise their right to vote and can they vote by mail. And then we had Larry Burks from the town of West Chester Ohio, ask about heightened tensions and protests riots, who is responsible for security of voting facilities, in person voting polls, and how are you thinking about that? I only put two out there. And then I'll go to the third later.

GRAYSON:  I'll jump in on the felony one, just to start. So one, that law varies state by state. Most every state allows felons now, at least of certain categories of felons, to automatically get their rights to vote back upon the conclusion of a prison term or something like that, but you’ve got to look at each state's own law. In a few states, it's by an executive order, like in Virginia and then now in Kentucky, that it's a governor's executive order under certain categories. Usually, you have to go ahead and re-register. There are two states where felons can vote from jail. You never lose your rights in Vermont and one other state and I can never remember the second state, Liz-

HOWARD:  Maine.

GRAYSON:  --Okay, so in those two states they never lose the right to vote. But it varies state by state. And we're seeing, I think, a big effort over the last decade or so to allow more felons to get the rights to vote back. I mean, to be honest, you know, this was a push in the late 1800s and in most states that was race based, it was designed to try to disenfranchise African Americans. And over time, we've seen that that's, you know, all part of trying to improve our voting rights in America. But in a few states, it's taken a little bit longer, because it's in the constitution or for other reasons, and so, I think Iowa was the most recent state to do--the governor did an executive order.

I believe in all states, some category of felons, and sometimes there's a distinction between violent and non-violent, get their rights to vote back. But you just got to look at a state by state issue and it's something that--we still have to work on it in those states with executive orders to make sure that it's permanent, and also to expand those categories. And then we've also seen things like in Florida, where there's a question about what is paying that debt to society. Is it a court fine, or is it merely your criminal fine and we need to simplify that so that more people can get back to becoming part of civil society and exercising the right to vote.

WAY:  Yeah, I know that in New Jersey, the governor signed the legislation. I had mentioned in I believe it's March or early this year, and it's for those who are serving parole and probation now they are able to register to vote and what is of equal importance is that they do not have to pay any fees or fines to do that.

FASKIANOS:  And voting security at polls?

HOWARD:  So, this is also going to be a state by state and potentially jurisdiction by jurisdiction decision and it may also vary by facility. So a school may have different regulations than a church and a senior center or than a government center. In Virginia, we had a fusion center and we put together a committee that included representatives from the local sheriffs, from the state police, from the FBI, and local election officials right to work together to respond not to just cyber threats, but all sorts of other threats that could potentially have an impact on the integrity of our elections.

WAY:  Here in New Jersey, similar to what Liz is saying, we do have on every election, the statewide election days, we have a fusion center it's the New Jersey kick on the communication cell, which is an umbrella of our New Jersey State homeland security and preparedness department. What we do is, on various hours when polls open, we get on calls various stakeholders, and there are generated reports as to what, if anything, is going on statewide, which is a good thing to make sure that everyone from law enforcement, from elected officials are all in communication with one another if there are any sort of incidents impacting the elections.

GRAYSON:  So in Kentucky, for example, one of the precinct officers is actually designated as the sheriff and part of that person's duty is to be the point person for law and order if there are any challenges. A lot of states have electioneering zones around a precinct which are designed to prevent people from campaigning close to the polling place. Sometimes that provides a little bit of a buffer to try to, you know, keep people away from the polling place. You know, and law enforcement always on call on Election Day. It's tricky because we don't want a law enforcement be too visible on Election Day because that can be intimidating to voters. But they do need to be around and available because there are things that can happen on Election Day and you'd like to be able to nip something in the bud as opposed to having a compromise a precinct for an entire day.

And then, you know, with more voting by mail and more voting in early in advance of Election Day, those are different types of security arrangements. That's why you have the signature requirements and application requirements and things like that, that's in effect the security process for vote by mail. And then early voting, usually it's fewer locations and so you may have more formal--might be a government building, or something like that. And so there's different types of security there. But it is something to look out for and, you know, there's 800 numbers and all kinds--and people monitoring social media and all kinds of other things that are done on Election Day to try to keep everything safe and secure.

FASKIANOS:  Thank you. Let's go to Gail Pellerin, please.

Q:  Hi there. I'm Gail Pellerin I'm the Santa Cruz county clerk, and thanks for this today this is really helpful. I'm just wondering, because there is a national effort to make people question the accuracy of the vote, is there any united effort among all state and local election officials to basically put out that, you know, a verification and accuracy of the vote totals, once we've done all of our due diligence and audits and have released our final counts? I just suspect there's going to be some national discourse on that, you know, and I'm just wanting a strong united front among state local election officials verifying these are the results they need to be respected and accepted.

HOWARD:  Well, as Secretary Way mentioned earlier, every state has a slightly different approach to administering elections. But I, you know, you hit on this a little bit, Gail, the post-election audits I think are an integral piece of providing voters with confidence in the accuracy of the election results. So there is a gold standard of risk limiting audit--a post-election audit called the risk limiting audit, and actually, Secretary Way has been a pioneer and she's worked with local officials in her state to pilot this type of post-election audit. We just saw officials in Michigan conduct a statewide pilot of the risk limiting audit and we're working with officials in many other states. And Colorado and Rhode Island now require these and you'll see many other states coming soon that will also adopt these these audits. There's certainly more work to do. And, you know, I think in California, they're also piloting the risk of bidding on it. So I'd love to talk to you more about this and I definitely think there's work to do here.

FASKIANOS:  Great, so we have two questions that kind of follow on to this. I know Secretary Way talked about tracking your ballot. Mike Cady, supervisor of the City of Eagle River in Wisconsin asks, "How can I determine if my vote was recorded correctly?" And then Leslie Hoffman from Yavapai county Arizona recorder says, "We just implemented a five day cure period. I heard some speakers talk about a longer time period frame. How do you respond? Ours pushed for--how do your candidates respond, ours push for fast results. Therefore, even a five day period poses issues and I know Secretary Grayson, you talked about the administration on election night and then a week later talking about the results. So how are you dealing with that tension?"

GRAYSON:  Yep. So yeah, I think you know, the five days is probably a decent balance that you can strike especially in a state like Arizona that's historically had a lot of vote by mail. I don't know if it's--at least in Maricopa County, I know it's had a lot of vote by mail, I mean, I don't know if that's a statewide thing or local thing. The one thing to make sure with the cure period is that you provide the opportunity to cure what you need to cure. So, for example, one of the things we learned in Kentucky is that we gave an opportunity to cure mismatched signatures, but not an omitted signature.

 

What I mean by that is, in Kentucky, and this is similar to most states, you have, you know, you have your ballot, where you actually vote, you put that inside of an envelope, you seal it, and in Kentucky, you sign across the seal so that way, and then you put that inside of an outer envelope, and the outer envelope acts as both an outer envelope that you mail it or drop it off in so it's the protected envelopes, but it's also essentially the--because all the application information, it's not an application, but it has all the information that the administrator needs to determine whether that ballot is valid or not without having to reveal the inside of that ballot. So once you you've done that you set the outer ballot aside and so one of the things that we discovered is that we didn't allow the cure on the inner envelope if you left it blank, and--or on the outer envelope for that matter if you left it blank, only if you had it mismatched. And so that's something I think they're going to try to fix for the fall.

And so it's not just the duration, it's the length of time, but it is this balance. People want results quickly. You know, five days gets you through, especially, you know, depending on whether you count the weekends as in your five days or not the five days get you if it's if you don't cut the weekend to a week later. Longer than that people--candidates are probably really going to get antsy. And in some states, they do a little bit less than that, they make it through that Friday, so it's really just three days to cure it. If you're also determining that ballots eligibility in advance of Election Day, you know, then you may have a little bit more time to cure if--depending on how the law is written. If it's not from the day the ballot is judged at the problem or is it from the day of the, you know, the actual election.

WAY:  If I may just supplement going back to the audits and thank you, Liz, for raising that. In New Jersey, we were one of the first states to pilot the risk limited audit. We're not there yet, as to you know, any type of decision in terms of you know, the November but what I can say is that when we piloted with the federal funds that we had received from, I believe it was the 2018 funds, it was it was successful because that too is a way to validate the votes to make certain whatever vote was recorded is recorded. Now moving forward to the cure. This is the first time in our primary was the first experience for us doing the cure and we know we all have an expectation for election results to be as timely as possible but we have to also weigh and ensure that every vote is counted. So, with all of those things being put into play, I think that it adds to the integrity of our elections, which is so very much want even in a pandemic.

FASKIANOS:  Great, thank you. Liz, go ahead.

HOWARD:  Well, I would just, in response to Leslie's question, say, you know, as a former counsel to multiple candidates, I don't know that there's any cure for their anxiety. But I was hoping to ask Trey about the results reporting process in Kentucky, and I think I have this right, but correct me if I'm wrong, that the locals and the state withheld the results from the absentee ballots until all of the counties have counted everything and I don't know what you thought about that and if you thought it had an issue impact on, you know, candidates anxiety levels or public confidence.

GRAYSON:  So we got the sense that I think because we communicated that this is just the way it's going to be that obviously candidates are anxious. I mean, as a former candidate a couple times on the ballot, you know, yes, they're going to be anxious, but I think they had some clarity on expectations. Now, I will say that there was some will say, never again, we've got to make sure we get you know, as soon as we're out of this pandemic, we got to get back to having more either in person, earlier--if we're going to expand voting, we're going to do it in person, so we can get our results quicker. But yeah, it held back pretty good. You know, a few of the few of the results leaked.

What a lot of counties did is on Election Day, they released the votes on Election Day itself. So we knew how many--we generally knew in probably 90% of the counties, what votes are counted on--cast on election day, but it was the absentees and the early in persons that were held back until the following Tuesday. And then they started rolling in on Tuesday. So we kind of had, I wish I had thought about this, I should have scheduled as many things to do on that Tuesday because I kept following on Twitter and social media and the secretary of state's website, all the results, you know, trying to come in because there were a couple legislative primaries that were really close. And we had a U.S. Senate primary that was really close. And so we were all anxious throughout the day. And so it made a different kind of election experience, but it went okay. There were some criticism about the lack of transparency, though, because you had some results that could have been released earlier and weren't. But that was the system that that Kentucky adopted and it went over okay, let's say, yeah.

 

FASKIANOS:  Great. Let's go to Stephen Urban next.

Q:  Hi, how are you today? So I'm Luzerne County council member here in the great state of Pennsylvania, and this was the first year that we basically went to pretty much a paper trail type of system versus what we had because our governor had decertified all of our machines and forced all the counties in Pennsylvania to buy new machines this year, which are in essence ballot marking devices, and then we have tabulators. So you know, you have a paper trail. But I can tell you from a primary experience, and I will be on a meeting this evening with my fellow colleagues, and we will have our local board of elections there, but I firsthand I can say this is probably one of the worst elections that I've experienced in my life. My own father getting the wrong party ballot sent to him. You know, absentee wise, you know, he was actually a county official and he got the wrong party ballot received. It's possible people got the wrong ballot for their wards.

Multiple ballots were actually sent to some individuals that they could have cast a vote twice. These write-ins weren't counted correctly. Wrong party ballots were given out at the election polls with the consolidation of wards people were getting the wrong wards passed to them. So they're led, you know, that leads to over voting and under voting in certain wards, lack of training of poll workers. There's issues with secret, you know, like the secret envelope, you know, does the ballot count if it's not sealed in the secret envelope within Pennsylvania, and then Pennsylvania kind of convoluted the process because we have both a mail in ballot and an absentee ballot which are two different processes in our Commonwealth. You know, the mail in if you order a mail in in the primary, you get one in the fall and up to about the third week of February of the following year. If there's any special elections where the absentee, if you choose to spoil it, you can take it to a poll, give it to a judge of elections, you know, sign a declaration that you're not using it and use a machine. But there's a whole multitude of issues that I found that If we're wrong, which hopefully I'm going to be able to address them tonight when our board of elections but these are things that, you know, will skew accuracy, the integrity, and in some cases in my county, they're not even being transparent even to myself as an elected official, unfortunately.

FASKIANOS:  Thank you. Does anybody want to respond to that?

GRAYSON:  I'll just say that it's, you know, things like that unfortunately do happen. And you know, especially in states that were rolling out new voting systems, even in the best of times, there are bumps and there are challenges with new voting systems and poll workers having to get used to them. I mean, the good news is they were rolled out on a primary which has lower turnout than in the general election. It doesn't excuse things that were happening. I mean, hopefully, you know, when the ballots are the wrong ballots are mailed, sometimes wrong ballots are given out on election day too, and we always tell voters, you know, make sure you check the ballot out, make sure you got the right ballot, because there is a little--there is a voter roll for this. But it is a challenge, and I'm disappointed though to hear because the thing that bothered me the most not, I mean, you obviously want perfection, was the lack of transparency. There needs to be transparency about the challenges and the problems and how to make them better. And that's probably the most disappointing thing that I heard from Mr. Urban, and, you know, hopefully that meeting will go well tonight to start that transportation--or transparency conversation so that the fall is in a much better spot.

FASKIANOS:  Do you have any suggestions on how to allow poll ranchers to observe beyond just being in the room? There's a question in the chat room, specifically when it comes to duplicating the provisional and absentee ballots.

HOWARD:  So, because of the pandemic, election officials are struggling to implement procedures that allow them to be as transparent as possible. But it is a challenge. We, you know, and election officials are very concerned about the safety of their poll workers, their staff, voters. So we've seen a couple of local election officials kind of across the country do a really good job with it. Some will have video recorder (inaudible) feeds available online, and most of this you will see in big counties and the issue with this and with so much else that we are talking about here today has to do with money. And as Trey referenced earlier, while the federal government gave some money to elect--to election officials to help with the additional costs that they're facing because of the pandemic, it wasn't nearly enough and Congress is negotiating right now about whether or not they're going to include any money for our election officials that desperately need the funds to pay for PPE, for the additional equipment and the additional people necessary to ensure the integrity of the election when so much of how we're putting vote by mail. So, just echoing what Trey said, so please reach out to your federal elected officials and encourage them to ensure that elections funding is included in this next stimulus package.

FASKIANOS:  And we're going to go to I think, Bethany Hallam will have to have the last question.

Q:  I'm Bethany Hallam, I'm Allegheny County council member at large. I'm also on our board of elections here. Again, also in Pennsylvania. So we really had an overhaul this year of a lot of changes along with a pandemic. So it was really a perfect storm. But my big concern is one of the new changes in the Pennsylvania election code was the ability for folks to apply for a mail in ballot up to seven days prior to Election Day. So a big problem that I saw was so many folks who never received a ballot at all and had to put their health and well-being at risk to go to the poll on Election Day and it was simply because we were not able to keep up with the demand of mail in ballots the first time we were ever able to no excuse vote by mail, and then also the pandemic. So I was wondering if any of you have any advice. Do you outsource your mailing to a company that specializes in mail? If you do that, how do you ensure the security and integrity of the process? I'm really just looking for how we can get ballots out quicker because we recruited dozens of additional workers for our elections division. We really thought we did everything that we could and it didn't work. It wasn't enough. So I'm just looking for advice on that.

WAY:  Well, what I can say is, and I think I mentioned it earlier on, is in light of the mail delivery situation. That's why in New Jersey, we had extended the receipt date by I want to say a week. I also know, you know, on a national front, secretaries of state, you know, are in constant communication through our organization, the National Association of Secretaries of State, in terms of the any postal service issues.

On a local level, I can speak in New Jersey, my counties actually had a postal service representative who they liaised with, not to say everything was picture perfect, but if there seemed to be a slow delivery that was impacting various counties or what have you, our director of division of elections, his team, the local election officials, were in constant communications with the Postal Service and I truly believe, not, again, saying everything can be utopic, but we have to communicate across all spectrums. With voters with, you know, poll worker recruitment.

Former Secretary Grayson he mentioned that he said, you know, there needs to be a wider bench in terms of getting poll worker selections. It's going to take all hands on deck in terms of us moving forward into November and that is why we have to be transparent. We have to be able to get on the phone. We need to show our support if there's the need for an amplified--if there are the need for state resources, for better and more optimal equipment to process ballots by way of example. So again, it's going to take all of us not just the secretaries of state or the county clerks or county boards, or supers, it's really going to take a united front for the election to go on and, of course, be as successful on all fronts as possible.

GRAYSON:  I can add to this a couple quick things. You know, one, I would say, you know, some jurisdictions have had success with mail houses. So that can be something to look at it, you can do that in a secure manner. The second thing is that working to try to--and this costs money--but the intelligent barcodes which allow you to track the ballots along the way and it also helps the postal service out so they'll probably mail it a little bit quicker, or processes a little bit quicker. And the third thing is working really hard with, again, the media and I would say the campaigns and the political parties to get people to request them just because you can do it a week out doesn't mean you should. And that should be a last resort. Because the reality is, is that getting, even in states where the ballot can be postmarked on Election Day and received later, getting a ballot to a voter and getting it back within a week turnaround is really hard. And so maybe, you know, part of this is just communicating proactively request it now, request it now, request it now. Do not wait. You don't actually have to mail it back, though, you know, as soon as you get it, you can wait and see in case there's some last minute thing happening with the election that might cause you to change how you vote. But get that request in early. Don't wait until there's a week out or whatever the law allows. There's needs to be some responsibility on the voter to self care, if you will. And I think communicating that out and maybe those allies can be helpful in communicating that message out.

FASKIANOS:  And Liz, do you want to wrap up with any last thoughts?

HOWARD:  I just want to echo I think what Secretary Way said that this is, you know, we election officials across the country are facing the most challenging circumstances that I've ever seen and this is absolutely going to take teamwork. And, you know, I know that there were some hiccups in the primary but I think the most important piece is that we learn from those mistakes, as we all work together to help election officials administer an election this November.

FASKIANOS:  Fantastic, there's been--I haven't flagged all of it. I hope that you all have been watching the chat and people's sharing what's happening in their states and their communities. It's really been great. So thank you for contributing your thoughts there as well and for all of your questions. So we appreciate you all being with us. A big thanks to Secretary Tahesha Way, Secretary Trey Grayson, and Liz Howard for today's conversation, for taking the time, we appreciate it. And if you want to know more, you can follow them, and I will go in alphabetical order. Secretary Grayson on Twitter at @KYTrey, Liz Howard at @LizLHoward, and Tahesha Way at @SecretaryWay. So I encourage you all to follow them. We will be sending a link to the audio and video and transcript of this webinar so you can review it, share with your colleagues, and others. And please do let us know how we can continue to support the important work you are doing by sending us an email to stateandlocal@cfr.org. So thank you all, stay safe, stay well, and we look forward to continuing the conversation.

WAY:  Thank you.

FASKIANOS:  Thank you.

(END)

 

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