Tuesday, March 30, 2010

State Affairs - Division of Elections Overview

8:00 am   House State Affairs Committee
Capitol 106
Audio stream will be available when the meeting starts.
Overview: Division of Elections
SB43     Second Verse of Alaska's State Song
HB241     Divest Investments in Iran
HB128     Introduction of Measures / Fiscal Notes
HCR8     Uniform Rules: Measure Sponsors / Readings
(TV coverage is planned)
I'm going to do separate posts on the Division of Elections Overview and on SB 43 - second verse of the flag song - and HB 241 Divest Investments in Iran.  This one covers the Division of Elections Overview. 

The first item on the agenda was a presentation from Director of Division of Elections Gail Fenumiai (Fe (e as in let) Nú-Me-Eye).  The basic issues discussed were (see notes below for more details):
1.  Preventing Double Voting:  Fenumiai procedures for making sure voters don't vote absentee and in person. 
2.  Rural and urban vote counting time differential.  People voting absentee in-person in regional centers - Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Nome - have their votes counted on election day.  Other absentee votes are not counted until 7-10 days after the election.  Rep. Seaton was concerned that since the parties often organize before all the votes are counted, rural legislators may be at a disadvantage in getting committee assignments, chair positions, etc. and wanted to know if there was a way to get the rural and urban area counts more balanced.
Rep. Johnson said he was concerned that they were involving the election board in party organization.  Seaton agreed that wasn't proper, and that the Division of Elections was doing its job as assigned by the legislature to be sure there was no voter fraud, and he wasn't asking about vote outcome, but was asking if the legislature's instructions to the Division of Elections had this unintended consequence of differential vote counting time in the rural and urban areas and if there was a way to correct this. 

3.  Voting Rights Act Compliance in Aftermath of Nick Case 
Rep. Gruenberg wanted to know whether the State was now fully compliant throughout the State after the settlement of the Nick case, which he said cost the State a million dollars just to pay the legal fees of the party that brought suit.  Fenumiai said she was confident the state was now in compliance and gave examples of things the Division has done. 

A few other issues were discussed briefly and the discussion was not as neatly divided as I've made this.  Below are my running, rough notes of the discussion. WARNING:  These notes are my best effort to record what happened.  DO NOT RELY on my notes.  I've added the audio of the session at the bottom where you can listen.  The Elections discussion started the meeting. 

1.  Preventing Double Voting. Gail Fenumiai Division of Elections: Over 99,000 absentee ballots counted in 2008. This includes early voting. In primary found that there were 26 people who voted twice. Talked to those people. Not an issue of fraud. A lot were elderly people who forgot. Applied for ballot. It's three weeks early. They voted. Then three weeks later they go to vote, thinking it was a new election.

In the general election there were no duplicate voters. We did not count absentee ballots on election night. We needed to get the precinct registers back and get in-person voting history done by district. Then we run duplicate voter check for all ballots received and logged and we compare. If we have an absentee ballot from someone who voted at polling place. We count just the election day vote.

Gatto: Did you have experience of person voting twice but differently?
Fenumiai: We have no way of knowing.
Absentee voting locations and mail-in starts 15 days before election. For processing and logging. All absentee ballots are viewed by bi-partisan board. It takes time. When they come into office. Received and logged. Voter's eligibility determined. Then, absentee review board has to count and validate by 15?th day after election.

Seaton: What percent was the 99,000?
Fenumaia: Just under 40%.

2.  Rural and urban vote counting time differential.
Seaton: Since regional offices have the precinct books, then those voting at regional offices - Fairbanks, Anchorage, etc.  were counted for up to three days before the election.
But for more rural precincts - Kenai, SE, Western Alaska - were all counted seven days after election. That third that vote earlier than those who vote on election day because of the close races. Concern that we have most of the ballots counted for Juneau, Fairbanks, Anchorage and known, but then the rural districts will be unknown and in question.
Important because party organization takes place after election, so if rural districts decided 7 days after election but urban decided right away, this will influence how the political organization process in a way that was not intended. Is there a way to balance the regional hubs and outside regional hubs?
Fenumiai: A huge proportion of the 99,000 absentee are mail-in which we don't count until seven days later. Our goal is to have the absentee mail-in ballots done by the tenth day after the election.
Seaton: So absentee, whether cast in Anchorage or Kenai, will be counted the same day?
Fenumiai: That's our intent.
Seaton: Distinguish absentee and early voting?
Fen: Early voting takes place in regional offices, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Nome. I could go to regional office in Juneau.
Difference: My eligibility to cast ballot is determined on the spot. They have info in that system, It is displayed, printed, verified, nothing has changed, witnessed by voting official, and it goes to be counted on election.
Absentee in person: Someone votes out of his district. [I didn't get this]
Seaton: Trying to understand how voting early in regional centers in rural v. regional. So rural ones won't be counted until 7-10 days after the election. But in the urban regional centers, they get their votes counted right away on election night. But rural won't be counted til 7-10 days after. I realize a few people from Homer could vote in Anchorage. But all the people voting in Anchorage could early vote and their vote would count on election night. Correct?
8:22 Fenumiai: That's correct.
Seaton: I guess the problem is that people in Homer go to City Hall. Those ballots won't be counted - even though the process is the same as in urban center - the process of counting the votes won't affect the outcome, but how soon we know the outcome. So you haven't figured out a way to get around that?
Fenumiai: No we haven't. Statutes say where the regional offices are.
There were over 73,000 other absentee ballots election night. It appears that some elections are determined before election night and nothing is official until after the final counting. We are charged with insuring that everyone who casts a ballot actually was eligible and staff takes great pride.
Lynn: The parties organize after the election. Didn't the Republican side organize seven days after the election. When we organize - speak speaker of the house, committee chairs, etc. I've seen in the past when we were trying to do that when we weren't sure if someone had won the race or not. Of course, the party could change the time.
Gatto: Do you separate out the military vote?
Fenumiai: No we don't. We know how many applied and returned their ballots.
Gatto: The overseas military. Do they vote?
Fenumiai: I don't have stats in front of me, but I could get that information to you.
Gatto: Because it might help me in the future. I'm interested in that number in presidential election years and other years.
Johnson: I'm a little uncomfortable quizzing the division of elections on how parties organize. The D of Elections' duty is to insure the elections are honest - one person one vote, are you eligible, did every vote get counted. We shouldn't be raising party organization with them.
Seaton: The question isn't whether the division should be involved. I'm asking if we've set up a differential process so urban centers get counted before the rural. They shouldn't be involved in our party process. The Question is how do the processes we established have had urban/rural differential results or reporting of results. I wouldn't want anything to result in double vote. Question here is whether there is some other policy method to have everything balanced now we've had you be sure there is no double vote.
Wilson: You said something about 327,000 votes. That was?
Fenumiai: That was total votes cast.
Wilson: How many was mail in v. doing something in person.
Fenumiai: I don't have that, I could get it.

 3.  Voting Rights Act Compliance in Aftermath of Nick Case
Gruenberg: Yesterday, we passed our supplemental budget. One part was payment of legal fees in Nick case - just for the other side's attorney. Brought on behalf of voters in the Bethel region based on the federal voting act. I'm concerned we might have other suits. What steps are being taken to be sure that other rural areas have the same rights too. Will they have to sue to get their rights?

Fenumiai: No they won't have to sue. We believe the Nick case gave us an opportunity to improve our language rights system. There are only a few languages that we are required to provide. We believe we have a very effective language assistance program now. We have hired bi-lingual translators and improved our training in language assistance. Our workers are very well aware of sec. 203 of the Voters Rights Act. We were providing assistance, but it had been oral. Over the years I think people assumed it was being done, but it turns out not adequately.
Gruenberg: I want to follow up with you. I don't know if committee is interested, but I certainly am. ARe you saying there is nothing further the division needs to do to comply with Voting Act?
Fenumiai: It's our understanding we are in compliance which requires language assistance to be provided and I'd be more than happy to go over this with you.
Gruenberg: There's nothing further you need to do under the 2000 census figures?
Fenumiai: Yes that is correct. Having come in two years into the Nick case.

Seaton: We have early voting system, but also absentee and in-person allowed. What would be the effect if all those early voting people at regional centers were counted as the rest?
Fenumiai: There would be more votes for the division to log and process after election day.
Gatto: I've always wondered if we can get a list of people who asked for an absentee ballot. We do know voter reg, but we don't know if people voted.
Fenumiai: I believe the information that people purchase,
Gatto: If you don't do that, can anyone determine I voted.
fenumiai: Anyone can buy that.
Gatto: Why would we release the name of people who requested a ballot. I thought the vote was private?
Fenumiai: I don't know.
Seaton: What was the percent of turnout.
Fenumiai: 66.0?% statewide.
Seaton: do you think it was high because of absentee?
Fenumiai: I don't know. We do get turnouts in the 60s% for presidential elections.

Below is the audio of the hearing.

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