Friday, January 6, 2012

Dateline Washington--Legislative Conference

Each January, election industry organization The Election Center (also known as the National Association of Election Officials) holds a legislative conference in Washington with election officials.  I’m at that event right now.
There aren’t too many national legislative election issues right now, but the biggest one involves the fate of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC).  The EAC was created when the Help America Vote Act passed in 2001 and is basically a defacto regulatory body for elections.  One of the roles of the EAC is to certify voting equipment, and the process has become so expensive and convoluted that very few communities actually use equipment that has been certified by the EAC, despite the fact that this organization has existed for 10 years and any new equipment deployed must be EAC-certified (well, sort of--future post on that one).
The EAC has four commissioners, two Republican and two Democractic, appointed by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate.  Only thing, right now, there are no commissioners and no executive director.  The United States House of Representatives has passed a bill to eliminate the EAC but it hasn’t been brought up in the Senate.
(By the way, when evaluating the potential for this blog, I wondered what I might write about during a “slow news day.”  Then, I thought of the EAC.  There is so much to type and talk about here, particularly the answer to the question, “Why don’t we vote on the Internet?”   In due time, dear reader.  In due time).
For now, this post is just to let you know of this event.  About 100 election officials from around the country are here, and we’ve heard from the U.S. Post Office, the EAC, the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) for military and overseas voters, national organizations such as the National Association of Secretaries of State and National Conference of State Legislatures (the NCSL), and congressional staffers.  Beyond the EAC, there’s so much here to sprinkle in over the next few weeks, including the movement to eliminate the Electoral College before the 2012 presidential election (I really don’t see that happening, but some here see it as possible, if not likely).
I had high hopes for the postal service discussion because last year, it was announced that the U.S. Postal Service was very close to rolling out a special election-mail classification that would be treated as first-class mail at less-than-first-class rates.  This is huge because after election workers, our biggest cost drivers in elections are anything tied to natural resources and fuel--postage, delivery of equipment to polling places, and the printing and delivery of paper ballots. 
What sounded promising a year ago was killed within the first 15 minutes of yesterday's meeting.  The chief marketing officer of the postal service then went on to explain that despite that and despite all of the concerns with the post office's financial troubles, mail will continue to be delivered and the post office is here to stay.  It sounded a lot like the many newspaper and magazine letters from the editor I've read over the last couple of years which said that despite cutbacks in production, the publication was thriving.  I've watched many of those publications cease and if our local paper gets any lighter on Mondays, the carrier will have to include some pebbles in the newspaper bag to keep it from blowing off my driveway.
The biggest near-term issue from the post office will be the delay in first-class delivery, from 1-2 days to 2-3 days.  By Kansas law, we have to send an advance ballot to anyone who requests a ballot by 5 p.m. on the Friday before a Tuesday election.  We get them out Friday, usually, or Saturday, worst case, so they are delivered by Monday.  Now, voters may not get the ballot in time and they certainly won't have time to mail the ballot back (those not delivered by 7 p.m. can't be counted).  This is going to be a huge issue later in the year nationwide.
The NCSL presentation was interesting because it showed the quick adoption of photo ID legislation throughout the country.  I’ve obtained the presentation to show some maps during election worker training (our first in 2012 is just in a couple of weeks and our first 2012 election at the polls is Valentine’s Day).  If I get permission, I’ll post it.