July | August 2017






Top 5 Issues States Face in 2015: Elections

By Kamanzi Kalisa, CSG Washington, D.C. Office
With the 2016 elections on the horizon, states will be looking at new policies to improve the security, efficiency and administration of elections. U.S. elections by their very nature are decentralized and often complex with each state determining its own election laws and voting equipment.
Five elections policy areas loom large for state policymakers in 2015—voting technology, overseas voting, data sharing between the states, voting law challenges and campaign finance.
  1. Voting Technology. Voting technology innovation has been stagnant as no new federal standards have been adopted for voting systems since 2005. Also, voting machines in many states are dying out, requiring secure yet affordable replacements. This will change in 2015 as the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the governing authority tasked with developing federal voting system standards, is fully functional for the first time since 2011.
One of its three new commissioners—Thomas Hicks, who served for 11 years as senior elections counsel on the House Committee on House Administration—understands the pivotal role voting machines have in ensuring the integrity of elections.
“One of the things that we need to ensure as quickly as possible is the re-examination of federal voting standards already commented on (voting system guidelines) to give the states enough guidance before this equipment crisis starts to develop in this country,” Hicks said. “The current standards were written before iPhone, iPads and cloud computing, so technology has changed and standards to examine those technologies should also change.”
Hicks is confident the commission will be successful. “A good crop of commissioners are in place that can modernize those standards and assist the states,” he said.
  1. Overseas Voting. Matt Boehmer, director of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program, is focused on working with states in 2015 to improve the absentee voting process for military and overseas citizen voters. CSG has launched a four-year, $3.2 million Overseas Voting Initiative in collaboration with the federal program to improve the rate of return of overseas absentee ballots from uniformed men and women and their families and U.S. citizens residing outside of the country.

    Since the start of CSG’s cooperative agreement with the Federal Voting Assistance Program,, two CSG Overseas Voting Initiative working groups have convened five separate meetings focusing on policy and technology. Preliminary policy recommendations have been drafted in the areas of communications, federal postcard applications, online voter registration and sample ballots.

    “The working groups’ recommendations will directly impact how we provide voting assistance and facilitate the connection between military voters and their election officials,” said Boehmer. “Our collaborative efforts can help us reach one of our many shared goals: voting success for those who protect our freedom and defend our must fundamental right.”
  1. Data Sharing Between the States. Former Texas Elections Director Ann McGeehan, who now works with CSG as an adviser, is a strong proponent of states transitioning from manually processing voter registration forms to adopting online voter registration systems and joining the Electronic Registration Information Center, known as ERIC, a multistate data-matching network that allows states to share voter information within the network. Twelve stats have joined ERIC and 21 states have adopted online voter registration systems.

    “The mobility of the American population can result in people being registered in more than one state, which means that the voter registration rolls can be bloated with the names of ineligible voters,” McGeehan said. “A growing number of states have developed innovative programs to share voter data that improve the integrity of the rolls. In addition, online voter registration is growing in popularity among the states, which improves the accuracy of the voter rolls and can increase voter participation by making voter registration more accessible.”

    The presidential election commission strongly supported both interstate voter data exchange and online voter registration as key election recommendations, she said.

    McGeehan served as a member of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration; she is now an adviser for CSG.
  1. Voting Law Challenges. For most of the 21st century, a flood of state voting laws have been challenged in state and federal courts, often going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up two redistricting cases that will affect how states draw state and federal legislative district lines—Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission and Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama.

    “While the Supreme Court takes a lot of important cases affecting states, it has been a while since the Supreme Court has taken such a significant case affecting state legislatures,” said Lisa Soronen, executive director of the State and Local Legal Center. “The Arizona case goes to the heart of a state’s redistricting authority.”
Only Arizona and California prohibit legislative involvement in the redistricting process, but that all could change after this case, according to Soronen. 

“All eyes will be on the Supreme Court’s decision in the Alabama redistricting case because it is the first time since 2006 that the court has considered a racial gerrymandering case,” Soronen said. “Whatever the court says about racial gerrymandering in this case will affect the states’ next round of redistricting.”
  1. Campaign Finance. Since the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in Citizens United and McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, outside and coordinated spending in state elections has surged in campaigns for offices that have been historically ignored—state legislator, school board and sheriff.

    Outside spending in the 2014 election shot up 20 times the 2010 levels in Connecticut, four times 2010 election levels in Maine, four times 2010 election levels in Michigan, and five times 2010 election levels in Wisconsin. Some state campaign finance regulators are concerned about this emerging trend as campaign finance oversight and enforcement has become ineffective.

    Paul Seamus Ryan, senior counsel with the Campaign Legal Center, has studied campaign finance, ethics and election law for more than 15 years.

    “Two of the most important issues for state policymakers to consider reforming are campaign finance disclosure requirements applicable to outside groups, as well as laws regulating coordination between such outside groups, candidates and political parties,” Ryan said.
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