How the Adoption of Secure Email Accounts and Sandboxing Techniques Strengthen the Electronic Ballot Return Process for South Carolina’s Military and Overseas Voters

Electronic Ballot Return Background

Military and overseas voters, and other U.S. citizens covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), face significant challenges when attempting to cast their ballot. Recent figures from the U.S. Department of Defense Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) indicate that since 2016, there is a 60-65 percentage point gap in voting participation between U.S. domestic and overseas voters, depending on the type of federal election (presidential or midterm) being administered. Approximately half of this gap can be attributed to obstacles preventing those who want to vote from doing so.

While electronic ballot return presents potential benefits and a unique opportunity to improve voting outcomes among UOCAVA voters, balance between critical security considerations and ballot access is necessary for success. This challenge is discussed in The Council of State Governments (CSG) Overseas Voting Initiative (OVI) 2021 paper, Electronic Ballot Return for Military and Overseas Voters: Considerations for Achieving Balance Between Security and Ballot Access.

In this digital age, many jurisdictions have considered the potential risks and benefits of electronic ballot return and have opted to allow for some method of electronic return for UOCAVA voters. Thirty-one states have authorized some form of electronic return for those voting outside the polling place.* *Only 22 of these states have allowed UOCAVA voters to return their ballot via electronic mail. To mitigate the security risks associated with emailing ballots, states and local election jurisdictions continually deploy measures to verify the integrity of a voted ballot and protect local networks from malware.

Two such risk mitigation measures are the application of sandboxing techniques and the use of .gov email domains by election officials. In the cybersecurity field, a sandbox is another term for an isolated environment on a network that allows the secure review of material potentially infected with malware without risking harm to the host device or network.

Electronic Ballot Return via Email in South Carolina

South Carolina is among the 22 states allowing email return of marked ballots. In 2015, the legislature adopted §7-15-690 allowing the South Carolina State Election Commission to, “take all steps and action as may be necessary” to ensure that citizens covered by UOCAVA have the opportunity to vote. This direction authorized the State Election Commission to allow for the electronic return of marked ballots by all UOCAVA voters.

In South Carolina, as in most states and local election jurisdictions, limited resources have made it difficult for local election officials to acquire and update cutting-edge digital tools that help protect against continually evolving cyber threats. Election officials facing both resource and time constraints often have resorted to using platforms such as Google Mail and Yahoo Mail to conduct election-related duties. These commercial platforms do not necessarily have heightened security protocols in place that allow emails containing ballots to be robustly screened for malware and subsequently quarantined.

Statewide Adoption of Sandboxing Techniques in South Carolina

By late 2018, in an effort to apply heightened security protocols across all local election offices in South Carolina while still being mindful of costs, former Executive Director for the South Carolina Election Commission Marci Andino and her team began collaborating with South Carolina’s State Data Center to set up secure email addresses to be used by all 46 county election offices. The resulting accounts were set up with .gov domains to help voters better identify local election officials and therefore, give the voters confidence in the election information provided.

The creation of these secure email accounts also posed unique security benefits for local election officials. Through the State Data Center, sandboxing techniques were integrated into the new accounts to provide officials with enhanced and continuous protection against malware. In essence, sandboxing provides account holders with a more secure environment where electronic ballot attachments can be opened securely to isolate potential viruses or other malware. This is done prior to an email entering the local network or mail server. If threatening activity is detected, the email is flagged and the account holder is prevented from unknowingly opening the malicious content, thereby infecting their network.

Beginning in January 2019, all counties in South Carolina were required to either adopt the state-issued email account or provide the State Election Commission with proof the county was using another secure system. Given the significant cost of instituting sandboxing techniques individually, most South Carolina local election offices opted to transition their communication with voters to the state supplied .gov accounts. Voter instructions and other supporting ballot materials were modified using these new email addresses.

Rollout Factors Leading to Success in South Carolina

According to Andino, the transition to .gov email addresses was initially met with reluctance from some local officials. That quickly passed when officials understood how easy and cost-effective these changes would be and how much this process would enhance the security of the electronic ballot delivery process. “Resistance to change is natural and rarely is there a perfect time to implement technology changes. Our job at the South Carolina Election Commission was to explain the value of the new technology and make the transition as easy as possible for the local election officials and their voters.” said Andino. “We did just that.”

In South Carolina, the State Election Commission plays an integral role in the conduct of elections at the local level. All local jurisdictions receive the technology infrastructure necessary to conduct an election from the State Election Commission. This structure has facilitated the adoption of secure .gov email accounts throughout the state. Uniform voter registration databases, voting systems and corresponding administrative procedures also have helped minimize the number and type of issues encountered at the local level. Furthermore, the authority of the State Election Commission has helped ensure all South Carolina local election offices, not just a select few, are using secure email accounts.

As of early 2022, the .gov email accounts have been used throughout South Carolina in hundreds of elections without issue. Through leveraging the State Data Center to create these accounts, local election officials in South Carolina have gained access to effective threat detection and mitigation safeguards that would otherwise be too costly for local jurisdictions to implement and troubleshoot.

When authorized by state statute, email remains the most popular electronic ballot return method used by UOCAVA voters. As technology evolves, the cyber threats to the email transmission of ballots increase. Enhanced security measures and risk mitigation strategies are warranted to ensure the secrecy and integrity of a voter’s ballot is preserved. CSG’s work with South Carolina and other states utilizing sandboxing techniques has uniquely positioned OVI to support states as they seek to implement similar solutions. Please reach out if OVI can assist in connecting your office with other states and local election offices who have successfully transitioned to secure email and sandboxing.

*Special acknowledgement to CSG OVI Working Group member and former Director of the South Carolina Election Commission, Marci Andino, for working with the OVI team on this piece, as well as to CSG team member, Rachel Wright.

**For the purposes of this article, forms of electronic ballot return include email, fax, and secure web portal.

Enhancing the EAVS with Administrative Data

Heat map of the World showing number of ballot requests by country excluding US

The Election Administration and Voting Survey – Purpose and Limitations

The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) released the 2020 biennial Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) results. The EAC administers the EAVS to state election officials, who provide aggregated administrative election data. That data is analyzed by the EAC, researchers, and election officials to better understand the voting process—including voter registration, voting equipment, poll workers, polling locations, and a variety of other topics. EAVS is an important mechanism providing a source of data that is unavailable anywhere else.

As important as the EAVS is, there are still issues with the data that is supplied. For example, election administrators report that EAVS questions are often confusing and attempt to translate practices that vary widely across localities to standardized categories. As a result, administrators may be asked to supply answers to questions that are not applicable to their locality. While we have seen steady improvement in the level of data completion of the data sets, there is still work to be done.

As Jack Williams, Senior Researcher at MIT Election Lab, noted in a recent article, “(The EAVS) is the most valuable in getting a national perspective on how Americans vote. Still, it’s no substitute for the administrative data maintained by the states themselves, which often differ from EAVS for many reasons that are justified.”

The EAVS Section B Data Standard – Purpose and Added Value

A comprehensive analysis of administrative election data stands to provide critical insight into effective policies. At this time, the EAVS can only provide limited information due to the nature of aggregated date and, at times, ambiguous questions subject to interpretation by election officials. The Council of State Governments Overseas Voting Initiative (OVI) is dedicated to improving the process of voting for military and overseas citizens and intends to use the implementation of the EAVS Section B (ESB) Data Standard as a catalyst to do so. We wrote more about the development of the ESB Data Standard here.

Section B of the EAVS collects data about military and overseas citizen voting. There is a wealth of knowledge that can be gleaned from this data, especially if collected at a transactional level. The ESB Data Standard does just this. This standard allows us to dig deeper into the data than EAVS, thus providing us with a better understanding of what can lead to either voting success or voting failure among military and overseas citizens.

More than that, the data can point to opportunities for further research. This would involve meeting with states and local jurisdictions to better understand what the data is showing. For example, perhaps we suddenly see a sharp decline in the rejection of ballots due to a missing voter signature. This could be caused by any number of things—more effective voter education, a new curing policy, a different set of instructions included with balloting materials, or just sheer luck. Upon speaking with election officials, we could determine if there was a particular action that yielded this result and highlight these findings for jurisdictions interested in doing the same. As another point of analysis, the ESB Data Standard can help officials mitigate the ever-changing difficulties of mail delivery during a pandemic. Data gathered according to the Standard can determine where a voter is located overseas , where a mail service disruption(s) took place, and if the mitigating strategies put in place were successful . This information is collected through multiple data fields of the Standard such as a voter’s mailing country. A visualization is provided below demonstrating the number of ballot requests by country. This figure was generated using the ESB data provided by a subset of working group members who have implemented the standard in their local context.*

Heat map of the World showing number of ballot requests by country excluding US

It is important to work with the election officials to not just understand what is in the data set, but “the why” behind that data. Because EAVS is asking very specific questions that are at times confusing to election administrators, the full story behind the data is sometimes lost. Our goal with our project is to ensure that we are asking the why, as that can better inform reflections on policy changes.

Additionally, the work election administrators put into completing the EAVS is extremely burdensome. Often, states must enlist the help of local election officials to answer some parts of EAVS. These officials often have limited resources and, in many cases, numerous other job duties in addition to election administration. Our hope with the ESB Data Standard is that, upon creating either a database query or a report that aligns with the standard, it will be easy for election officials to pull all relevant transactional data with little effort.

Adaptability of the Standard

What is most exciting about the ESB Data Standard is its adaptability. Because the standard was designed to accommodate both traditional absentee voting models and vote-by-mail models, it can easily be modified to capture EAVS Section C data. EAVS Section C deals with all other by mail voting from absentee voting (other than military and overseas citizens), permanent absentee voting, to by-mail voting. As such, the structure of the ESB Data Standard already aligns with Section C of the EAVS.

Development of the Standard

The ESB Data Standard was developed in collaboration with election officials. Through soliciting their insight, the Standard was designed to incorporate the data that jurisdictions currently collect as well as the data that are central to a comprehensive understanding of the voting process. The OVI has also worked with election officials in one state to map processes pertaining to how military and overseas citizens register to vote, request their ballot, and vote their ballot. Such work revealed where the state’s database system captured or failed to collect ESB data points. The OVI also learned that some data points were captured and maintained outside of the state database, helping to explain why certain data points were not available in our research.

Overall, the EAVS provides us with a wealth of information. However, we believe that leveraging data standards such as the ESB Data Standard is a worthwhile investment. These standards allow us to acquire transactional level administrative data directly from the states in a manner that is less time consuming, creates less ambiguity in the data responses from election officials, and provides a more robust data set to analyze.


*The map was generated with the data from Colorado, Washington, Orange County, and Los Angeles County, and excludes records where the mailing location was the United States.

Beyond the Ballot with Jeffrey Danovich

Black Man placing ballot into ballot box with an american flag background and the words Beyond the Ballot on navy background in foreground
Jeffrey Danovich headshot with a VOTE mask on

Following the American – led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Jeffrey Danovich found himself among the many military men and women deployed to the country’s Northern region as part of the “War on Terror.” While serving in the Nineveh Province, Danovich was assigned to his battalion’s government legal team, where he worked as a Civil Affairs Operator with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Following the CPA’s dissolution in 2004, Danovich was selected by his battalion commander to become a Voting Assistance Officer (VAO).

As a VAO, Danovich quickly became well-versed in every aspect of military voting. The program, managed by the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), is designed to ensure citizens covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) are aware of their voting rights and know how to exercise them – no small feat. For Danovich, this meant completing online training, in-person workshops and becoming versed in state-specific election rules, processes, and deadlines pertaining to the voters in his unit.

For Danovich, the role of VAO was a collateral, rather than primary duty. This required him to complete many of the position’s responsibilities in his downtime. Although many deployed VAOs find themselves in similar situations, the nature of Danovich’s battalion posed a unique challenge. Put simply, his battalion was divided into three smaller units that were stationed throughout the Province. Managing transportation to and from the different units according to various election cycles soon became an inescapable reality.

Over the course of his deployment, Danovich spent numerous hours in the back of a Humvee to fulfill his responsibilities as a VAO. “What little downtime deployed service members have is spent catching up on sleep, sending an email to family or reading a book, etc. Upcoming elections and how to vote in them are not at the forefront of their minds. That’s where my role came into play. It was my job to make a seemingly convoluted process as easy as possible for our soldiers,” said Danovich.

Upon returning stateside, Danovich attended George Washington University where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Shortly thereafter, he decided to leverage his experience  as a VAO to re-enter the field of elections. Danovich has since worked for the District of Columbia Board of Elections, the Open Source Election Technology Institute and the Fulton County Government in Atlanta, Georgia. Through these roles, Danovich has trained poll workers and poll managers, managed mobile voting units and performed Logic and Accuracy Testing, among other things. In August 2021, he accepted a position with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office as the Election Training Administrator.

Danovich has worn many different hats throughout his career in elections; however, his sustained and close contact with poll workers has made clear to him the mounting threat to their safety. Throughout the U.S., poll workers complete numerous tasks that are pivotal to any given election. Despite their centrality to the electoral process, the recent proliferation of disinformation has led poll workers to experience an increasing number of threats and abuse. “Because of the constant threat posed to poll workers, many of the folks who work the polls on Election Day are leaving. We are losing some of our best and brightest,” said Danovich.

Although poll workers experience some of the most significant impacts of election disinformation, they also play a crucial role in combatting it. Those working or volunteering at the polls on election day have extensive knowledge of precinct procedures and are trusted members of the community. This uniquely positions current and former poll workers to serve as reliable sources of election information within their communities.

In regard to the importance of poll workers, Danovich stated that, “One of my biggest takeaways from the 2020 election is that many of our fellow citizens are willing to step up in a crisis situation. The spread of misinformation is currently one of the biggest threats to the conduct of our elections. My colleagues throughout the country and I have sought to mitigate this by encouraging more and more people to become poll workers.”

In the coming months, Danovich will begin to transition into his new role with the Secretary of State’s Office. While he looks forward to the opportunity to shape elections policy at the state level, Fulton County always will hold a special place in his heart – after all, who else can say they found love in a polling place? Through all the turmoil that characterized the 2020 Presidential election, Danovich happened to exchange contact information with an observer who wanted to know more about the conduct of elections. Semi-formal conversations over dinners  quickly turned into something more and nearly a year later, the two have never been happier.

Election 2020: What Did We Learn? Check Out New OVI Ballot Duplication Recommendations

In the spring of 2020, the members of the Sustainability of UOCAVA Balloting Solutions Subgroup(SUBSS) of The Council of State Governments Overseas Voting Initiative (OVI) developed  recommendations for duplication of damaged and/or machine unreadable ballots. Our Working Group of state and local election officials wanted to aid other election officials and inform the greater election stakeholder community as contingency planning for the 2020 election began to unfold. These enhanced, pandemic-era recommendations built upon the previous work of the OVI on ballot duplication.

After assessing the 2020 election cycle in relation to lessons learned regarding ballot duplication and other post-election processes, including how they were discussed in both social and mainstream media, the OVI SUBSS Working Group members developed the following recommendations:

Ballot Duplication Technology

  • In addition to continuously evaluating emerging ballot duplication-specific technology solutions, election officials could also explore the possibility of using dedicated ballot marking devices to aid in the ballot duplication process. In an effort to move away from completely manual ballot transcription processes, many jurisdictions reportedly did this successfully in 2020.

Ballot Duplication Observation

  • When broadcasting ballot duplication processes, captions, narrations and other explanatory information should be given by election officials to provide context for observers given their curtailed ability to ask clarifying questions in person. This will also help provide context to the media and aid in fighting attempts at video manipulation and disinformation.
  • Election officials should keep any recordings of the duplication or other post-election processes so that they have the original footage should a manipulated version show up online.
  • Officials should consider keeping a record of remote observers, either by having them agree to observer guidelines and collecting their information ahead of time, or by tracking observers’ internet service providers so they can be tracked down if they violate observer principals.
  • Educational materials on post-election processing, including ballot duplication, shared by election officials should include a spot for signatures of both in-person and remote observers indicating they have read and understand the materials and are trained or certified to begin observation.
  • Election officials should consider observer area signage and room layout with clear physical distancing markers. Additionally, cameras should be considered for both on-site and remote observers who must keep physical distance but find it hard to see the process when distant.
  • Election officials should provide staff availability for observer questions both on-site and via remote access as well as to implement a process for advance sign-ups, limiting the number of observers at one time.
  • Chain of custody and security processes and procedures for ballot duplication and post-election processing should be reviewed by election officials and strengthened as appropriate to address evolving risk mitigation needs.

If you have any ballot duplication questions or suggestions for additional recommendations based on your experience, please reach out to us at elections@csg.org. We’d love to hear from you!

Beyond the Ballot with Brianna Lennon

Black Man placing ballot into ballot box with an american flag background and the words Beyond the Ballot on navy background in foreground

Inspired by events surrounding the 2020 election, you turn to your computer in search of answers. How do local offices utilize technology to administer an election? What events take place prior to your ballot arriving in the mail? How do election officials know vote tallies are correct? After reading through numerous articles, you come across a podcast about election administration. You click on the most recent episode and hear the voice of Brianna Lennon, Boone County Clerk and co-host of High Turnout Wide Margins. 

Elected Boone County Clerk in 2018, Lennon’s expertise in election administration has been forged by years of experience and mentorship under seasoned practitioners. As an undergraduate, Lennon completed an internship with the League of Women Voters where she worked to reformat voter education materials. Upon entering law school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law, she secured a position with the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office, then under the administration of Robin Carnahan. It was during this time that Lennon fell in love with elections. 

After graduating with her Juris Doctor, Lennon worked briefly in the Missouri Attorney General’s Office before returning to the Secretary of State’s office, where she assumed the role of Deputy Director of Elections and Elections Counsel. In this role, she collaborated with county clerks to ensure state election procedures supported the operations of clerks at the local level. She also worked alongside vendors and fellow election officials to design and implement the statewide Military and Overseas Voting Access Portal.  

Having worked closely with numerous county clerks throughout the state, Lennon was soon drawn to the position. For Lennon, it was the challenging nature of the job that compelled her to run for office. “At the local level, officials are afforded a lot of discretion in how they implement policies. This is both a challenge and an opportunity. For me, I saw the position as allowing me to leverage this discretion to uniquely serve voters,” said Lennon. By 2018, she had mounted a successful campaign for Boone County Clerk and assumed office in January of the following year. 

Through these experiences, Lennon has become attuned to the importance of communication and the solicitation of feedback by state officials. Although the Military and Overseas Voting Access Portal was developed by state-level officials, the feedback of local officials has greatly shaped and improved the customer service experience for voters. “Election officials at all levels need to seek out conversations to share and solicit feedback. There are many lessons to be shared; it’s often just a matter of asking the right questions.” 

As Clerk, Lennon has personally sought to connect clerks with subject-matter experts and one another to better share best practices. In Missouri, the work of a county clerk depends on the assessed valuation of the county. The smaller the locality, the wider the range of responsibilities a county clerk is assigned. As a result, some clerks have less time to explore the practices of fellow election officials. According to Lennon, this is where her podcast, High Turnout Wide Margins, came into play. 

 Thirty-nine episodes strong and counting, High Turnout Wide Margins was started by Brianna Lennon and her fellow election administrator, Eric Fey, in December 2020. In each episode, Lennon and her co-host take approximately 30 minutes to touch on a pressing topic in elections through consultation with prominent subject-matter experts. “The purpose of the podcast is to act as a resource for fellow election authorities. We want to highlight local election stories, national trends, and really anything that may be useful for practitioners just entering the field,” said Lennon. 

Through the podcast, Lennon has had the opportunity to connect with some of the nation’s most experienced practitioners. Guests have included Overseas Voting Initiative working group members Neal Kelley (Orange County Registrar of Voters) and David Stafford (Escambia County Supervisor of Elections). When asked what she enjoys most about the podcast, Lennon stated, “you can just feel the guests’ devotion and enthusiasm for the profession.”  

Conversations that have emerged through the podcast also have highlighted the adaptability of election officials. When it comes to the 2020 election, everyone has a story to tell. Lennon has proven no exception. As the November election approached, her office was tasked with joining the statewide voter registration database. As the existing system was gradually phased out, staff were required to enter voter registration data in both systems.  

Although dual data entry took its toll on Lennon’s staff, the coronavirus pandemic later took hold and quickly overshadowed the stress of the task. Rapidly changing public health and safety protocols soon led to confusion among voters regarding absentee voting eligibility. Added to this confusion was the prevalence of election mis- and dis-information online.  

As nearly all election administrators can attest, the burden of combatting misinformation fell on the shoulders of local officials. In anticipation of a challenging election cycle, Lennon’s office created social media accounts earlier that year to enhance voter outreach and voter education efforts. These accounts later became key avenues through which Boone County officials communicated with voters. Posts were made online to eliminate gray areas surrounding absentee eligibility and public health protocols as well as to communicate the safeguards in place to protect elections from wide scale fraud. 

Looking back on 2020, Lennon realizes that, unlike the pandemic, the heightened scrutiny of elections and election administrators will linger. Another wave of practitioners will retire, and a younger generation will step into positions of leadership. Creative strategies must be applied to meet the challenges posed by the digital age. According to Lennon, these creative strategies must be built on a solid foundation and a deep understanding of the laws and policies that govern elections. “Read all the statutes that apply to your job. Even go as far as to read them once a year. Also, get to know your fellow independently elected officials. It’s always good to glean their perspective and put your minds together to solve the issues you may collectively face,” said Lennon. 

Election 2020 in Review: Ballot Duplication Technology Implementation in Orange County, California

The Council of State Governments (CSG) Overseas Voting Initiative (OVI) has been examining the November 3, 2020 election in relation to all things “ballot duplication” and sharing insights in our latest article series. We recently highlighted ballot duplication in the news followed by a look at poll watchers, observers and the ballot duplication process. In this third series installment, we’re providing an overview on the rollout of new ballot duplication technology by the office of the Orange County, California Registrar of Voters (ROV)  following their research efforts to advance this process in one of the largest U.S. voting jurisdictions.

Background

For several years, Orange County ROV Neal Kelley and his team researched technology-aided solutions to help streamline the process for duplicating ballots marked outside of a polling place that may have become damaged or are otherwise unable to be read by vote tabulation scanners. Potential tools to partially automate the transcription of these ballots – including military and overseas ballots – were part of the overall election modernization effort. More importantly, continuous innovation better serves the jurisdiction’s voters while meeting the new requirements of the California’s Voter’s Choice Act of 2016. Orange County was mandated to reach compliance to this act in 2020.

In 2016, the ROV’s office issued a request for information (RFI) on several segments of election technology including voting systems, electronic pollbooks, and ballot duplication solutions. Following an in-depth review of the RFI responses received, the ROV’s office hosted an election technology fair with over 20 providers demonstrating their offerings in 2017. This allowed the ROV’s office to learn more about the latest election technologies available in the marketplace.

Around this time, the OVI Working Group, in which Orange County ROV Kelley participates, began its study of tools and processes to aid in ballot duplication. The OVI released its initial set of ballot duplication recommendations in January 2016, and an in-depth report on the group’s ballot duplication research in December 2016.

In early 2019, armed with robust election technology research outputs from their exhaustive work, the Orange County ROV’s office issued a request for proposals (RFP) for election technology solutions. They selected each type of desired technology and entered into contracts with providers to implement these solutions during the 2020 election cycle. Ballot duplication technology was just one of the many solutions procured by the ROV’s office, with Novus optical character recognition ballot duplication software from Runbeck Election Systems selected.

The ROV’s office gradually phased in the Novus software with its first small-scale test usage during the March 2020 primary with its legacy voting system. Use of the Novus software expanded significantly during the November 3, 2020 general election in conjunction with the implementation of their new voting system plus many additional election technologies and processes.

The 2020 general election was an extremely challenging time to implement any new technology, but the Orange County ROV’s office experienced great success. Over 1.54 million ballots were cast by Orange County during the November 3, 2020 election representing an 87.3% turnout, the second highest voter turnout percentage ever experienced in the county. To add even more service to voters due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the California Secretary of State’s office mandated that all registered voters automatically received a vote by mail (VBM) ballot from their county election office. Both in Orange County and throughout the state, this resulted in a significant increase in VBM ballots. Despite the large number of VBM ballots, COVID-19’s significant impact on election administration, and the introduction of a new voting system and additional election technology, Orange County ROV Kelley said 2020 was one of the smoothest elections ever in Orange County’s history.

How did the ballot duplication technology work?

With oversight from Orange County ROV office’s operators, the Novus software read each ballot needing duplication, then extracted a “clean” ballot in the same style from the ROV’s election definition software. The Novus software then replicated the original ballot, adding duplicate identification numbers on both the original and the replicated ballot in order to match the newly replicated ballot to the original. The ROV team operators then manually verified all ballot selections that the Novus software suggested. The duplicate ballots were then printed, matched, and checked for quality control.

How did the ballot duplication technology fare?

The Orange County ROV’s office conducted time and process studies to compare the new ballot duplication technology solution with traditional manual remaking of ballots. While not dramatically increasing through-put and time savings, time and staff-power was still saved, plus the addition of the ballot duplication technology resulted in a smoother, more efficient, and easier to track / easier to audit process. Improvement in transparency and chain of custody alone makes this solution critical to the Orange County ROV’s post-election processing.

To learn more about ballot duplication technology, please see our 2020 and 2021 article series and be on the lookout for our new OVI ballot duplication recommendations for election officials.

Beyond the Ballot with Michael Winn

Black Man placing ballot into ballot box with an american flag background and the words Beyond the Ballot on navy background in foreground

The Greek philosopher Aristotle said that by nature, man is a social animal. For Michael Winn, this quote has long resonated deeply with his desire to bring about positive change. While working as a sanitarian in the mid-1990s, Winn realized it was time to switch paths and pursue this passion through a career in public service. Shortly after beginning his job search, Winn was approached by an acquaintance working in the Bexar County Clerk’s Office regarding an open position as a contract specialist. Shortly thereafter, he was brought on staff. What he anticipated to be a 9:00-5:00 commitment quickly became a life-long passion. 

As a contract specialist, Winn developed a foundational understanding of election processes in his jurisdiction and an awareness of how these procedures contributed to a cohesive statewide system. Winn continued to build upon this foundation as he rose through the ranks to become the Administrator of Elections in Harris County in 2019 and the Chief Deputy of Administration for the County Clerk’s Office one year later. According to Winn, his experience as an administrator has greatly facilitated his ability to educate voters on critical aspects of elections at the municipal, county, and statewide levels. 

Given this background, Winn soon came to prioritize engagement with the community as Chief Deputy to better reach and educate his jurisdiction’s diverse voting population. Harris County, home to the city of Houston, boasts one of the most diverse populations in the nation. As of 2016, the County’s foreign-born population totaled approximately 1.2 million, with residents hailing from Mexico, El Salvador, India, and Vietnam, among others. Although Winn had previously held positions in Bexar and Travis counties, the diversity of Houston posed a new and exciting challenge. 

To address this challenge and better meet the needs of his constituents, Winn and his colleagues turned to the numerous community organizations throughout the city for support. In Houston, these organizations exist to foster a sense of belonging, maintain cultural ties and traditions, and advocate for the interests of the group(s) they represent. As such, organizational leadership is uniquely positioned to inform election administrators of their community’s needs and assist in voter education efforts. 

In Harris County, long-standing relationships have been built with organizations such as the Texas Civil Rights Project, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and those representing the interests of the Hispanic and Asian communities. Over the years, these relationships allowed Winn and his colleagues to effectively disseminate information regarding upcoming elections and polling place locations. Through feedback solicited from these organizations, the Clerk’s Office also was able to better locate polling places based on voters’ access to private and public transportation. 

Community partnerships also have played a critical role in helping Houston’s voters overcome the language barriers they may experience prior to and once having arrived at their polling place. Although election officials in Harris County have incorporated four languages – English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Chinese – into their operations, numerous other languages and dialects also are prevalent within the community. Therefore, further action was needed in order to better serve all voters. 

Recognizing this need, Winn and his colleagues in Harris County worked alongside a local vendor to expand the language services available to voters. Prior to the 2020 presidential primary, officials in the Clerk’s office were looking for ways to repurpose older iPads that had long fallen out of use. With the help of the local vendor, 29 different languages were incorporated into each tablet’s software. Volunteers in the field were then equipped with the tablets so they could better communicate timely and accurate election information to voters with limited English proficiency. When asked about this collaboration, Winn stated that “While forging connections with community groups may be a daunting task, it is critical to ensuring that this (electoral) process works for everyone.” 

By the November 2020 election, the COVID-19 pandemic had yet to subside, leaving election officials throughout the nation with mounting uncertainties. In Harris County, relationships with community leaders were once again leveraged to put procedures in place that protected the health of poll workers and voters alike.  

At the time of the election, conflicting guidance from varying state officials in Texas resulted in confusion among residents regarding mask wearing requirements at the polls. Winn and his colleagues resolved this confusion by first consulting with members of the community on what procedures they felt were necessary to ensure their safety. Through surveys, the Clerk’s Office found overwhelming support for mask mandates and social distancing requirements within election facilities. Upon finalizing procedures with this feedback in mind, relationships with trusted community leaders were then leveraged to ensure these requirements were made clear to the public.  

After the results had been declared and the election fervor subsided, the success of Harris County’s contingency planning was made clear. Despite over 1.8 million Houston residents having voted in the November election, Chief Deputy Harris is not aware of any cases of community transmission linked to the County’s polling locations. According to Winn, the success of the November election was reliant upon one key takeaway: listening to your electorate. “When you listen to the electorate that you serve and include them in critical conversations taking place, it makes for a better process,” stated Winn.  

Beyond the Ballot with Lynn Bailey

Black Man placing ballot into ballot box with an american flag background and the words Beyond the Ballot on navy background in foreground

In 1978, Lynn Bailey had just graduated from high school when the Richmond County Board of Elections recruited her to work in the upcoming gubernatorial election. As with many high turnout elections, local offices were in desperate need of temporary workers to help complete their ever-growing list of administrative tasks. Although Bailey knew little about her new role, she brought with her a strong desire to learn and serve her community.  

Within a short amount of time, it became clear Richmond County’s investment in the recent graduate would pay off. Bailey rose through the ranks to become Assistant Director of the Richmond County Board of Elections in 1988. She remained in this role for five years before accepting the position of Executive Director in 1993, when longtime Director Linda Beazley resigned to serve as Richmond County administrator. According to Bailey, the formative impact of her predecessor’s dynamism and mentorship cannot be overstated. 

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Achieving Balance Between Security and Ballot Access when Serving Military and Overseas Citizen Voters

Members of The Council of State Governments (CSG) Overseas Voting Initiative (OVI) recently released a position paper titled, “Electronic Ballot Return for Military and Overseas Voters: Considerations for Achieving Balance Between Security and Ballot Access.

Created by 14 state and local election officials comprising the Sustainability of UOCAVA Balloting Systems Subgroup (SUBSS), this set of recommendations was issued in response to the current state of change within the states regarding election policy. As states grapple with how to best serve their voters, SUBSS members are seeking to make clear that military and overseas voters face novel challenges when participating in elections. These challenges may necessitate the consideration of additional voting solutions such as electronic return of voted ballots. These recommendations are targeted towards key stakeholders within the elections community, such as election officials, state legislators, researchers and election-centered federal agencies.

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Beyond the Ballot with Paul Lux

Black Man placing ballot into ballot box with an american flag background and the words Beyond the Ballot on navy background in foreground

“The sun never sets on voting in Okaloosa County,” shared Paul Lux as he showcased the pins representing his overseas voters that dot the world map in his office. In 1999, Lux was working as an information technology (IT) specialist for a local real estate office in Okaloosa County when he was approached by the company’s secretary regarding an open position with the Supervisor of Elections. Influenced by his educational background in government and his voting experience during his military service, Lux soon applied for the position. Shortly thereafter, he was brought on staff as an Information Systems Coordinator, a role in which he served for five years before rising through the ranks to become Supervisor of Elections in 2009.

While in office, Lux has witnessed numerous advancements in the technologies used to administer elections. During the early 2000’s, lever machines and punch card voting were still commonly used to cast and count voters’ ballots. Following the Bush v. Gore Presidential Election, punch card voting was largely abandoned due to counting issues stemming from incompletely punched chads. Direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines were then adopted due to their utility for voters with disabilities, provision of immediate feedback to voters, and prevention of overvotes. Some machines, however, do not produce voter-verified paper audit trails (VVPAT), and thus many jurisdictions have since transitioned back to the use of paper ballots and optical scanners.

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