Sunday, April 07, 2019

Settling for 10%

Disappointed that Iowa Democratic Party state central committee did not increase the delegate allocation of virtual caucus participants from the pre-set 10%. That said, Virtual Caucus is much more a Good Thing than a Bad Thing.

I have no doubt that far more than 10% of caucus participants will choose the virtual option – meaning those votes will be under-represented in the delegate count. Bu how much does the delegate count matter?

The importance of Iowa and First is not the relatively small national delegate count. It’s the year before caucus night when we get to see everyone, and it’s the news bounce that happens on caucus night.

This cycle for the first time IDP will give the national media what it has always wanted: a raw vote count. The complicated state delegate equivalents, while technically more important to the nomination, will be ignored.

If all you care about is “my vote getting counted,” Virtual Caucus is going to do you just as well as attending. Virtual caucusers can also sign up to be county alternates and can do platform stuff.

If we are going to make this process work in the large urban counties with overcrowding problems, we need to encourage people to choose the virtual caucus process and encourage emphasizing the raw vote in order to sell people on virtual caucus.

Johnson County’s votes are under-counted anyway – we had 11% of statewide turnout in 2016 but only got 6% of state delegates. And we are already organized within an inch of our lives so “party building” is less critical. You’ll be doing us a favor if you call your vote in.

I may choose virtual caucus myself. In 2016 I needed to chair my own caucus in a student precinct with no experienced chairs. The precinct we moved into in 2017 has other experienced people, so I can phone it in and then be on standby to help fix any problems that come up in other precincts.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Review of Roby Smith's Amendments: ½ ☆ out of ★★★★★

Reviewing the Roby Smith amendments to election bill and pointing out what I see as significant. This was originally meant to be a tweet storm, but when it grew to over 60 tweets I decided it should be in good old fashioned blog format instead. Welcome back to 2007, excuse me while I adjust the beret.

Organizing this in the order the bill is printed may not be the Classic Inverted Pyramid way to write this, but it's good as a reader's guide. The full text is here (thanks to Laura Belin for making it more linkable and legible than the legislature's site).

Page 1-2 is covering Paul Pate's ass on the legal publication of constitutional amendments . A failure to publish is keeping the NRA amendment off the 2020 ballot. (Chet Culver made the same mistake in 2006 with the famous "idiot amendment," so we waited two more years to remove offensive archaic language from the Constitution.)

My overall opinion on legal publication is that it's archaic in the Internet era and is a subsidy to the dying print newspaper industry. Is anyone really going to first learn about a constitutional amendment by reading the classifieds? This isn't something that's going to substantively hurt anyone or make it harder to vote - but anything that's basically designed to legitimize and excuse a prior mistake is kind of petty.

Page 2-3: Requires bond issue ballots to include a bunch of language about current and proposed tax rates and taxpayer impact - but does not require language about any benefits of the proposal. Basically this is designed to encourage No votes.

Our ballots are already crowded and confusing, especially with more items on combined city-school election ballots and with fewer special election dates allowed. We don't need more language on ballots. In some elections, physically making everything fit is a challenge.

Page 3: "Self-promotion with taxpayer funds." Basically this is a slap at Mike Fitzgerald's Great Iowa Treasure Hunt and at Rob Sand.

Pages 3-5 deal with hospital trustee elections. Doesn't seem like a big deal, but my county does not have this office. Maybe someone from Polk County has more thoughts.

Pages 5-13 are mostly drawn from the original Secretary of State technical bill that was filed pre-session. Some of these items address past issues that have come up.

The requirement that nomination papers include contact info for the petitioner is about the Theresa Greenfield situation where her campaign manager filed false signatures.

The requirement that petition signatures include street address, rather than PO Box, is about Joe Seng's sloppy papers from his 2012 primary challenge to Dave Loebsack. He was allowed on ballot despite the PO Box signatures he collected at the Fibbin' Fisherman. In a contradictory decision, the review board ruled that Seng should be allowed on the ballot (he eventually lost 80-20%) but that in the future such signatures should not count and that a ruling to that effect should be issued. So this is an item seven years overdue.

Language about crossed-out signatures is about Ron Corbett's paperwork from the 2018 governor primary. Corbett was thrown off the ballot after a challenge. In a last-ditch effort to get enough signatures to qualify, Corbett argued that crossed-out signatures should count.


Another practice that's codified: If the first day to mail ballots 29 days before an election falls on a Monday postal holiday, the ballots can't get mailed till Tuesday. This happens with Columbus Day 3 out of 7 November election years.


And dese here guys is not happy about it. Youse gotta problem wid dat?

I would rather have gone the opposite direction and mailed out the previous Friday. Actually, I would rather go back to the 40 days. A shorter time window for dealing with mail means more problems for voters.

The pre-registration deadline for on-line voter registrations is extended from 5 PM on deadline day to 11:59 PM. This has been practice anyway, since the data auditors get daily through the state voter system only includes a date, not a time.

Not sure why abbreviating party names is a thing, but it's a thing, and I don't think it's an important thing.

Now back to substantive changes: Pages 14-17 raise signature requirements to get on the ballot. I don't see much reason for this - Iowa ballots have not been overly cluttered (other than the current Democratic presidential race which is a caucus not an election anyway).

Never trust a dude in a funny hat.
I suspect the push to make getting on the ballot harder is because Cindy Axne beat David Young with under 50% in a 6 way contest. But I don't think any force in the universe will be enough to keep Libertarian Bryan Jack Holder off a ballot.

There seems to be an inverse relationship between goofyness of candidate and ability to get signatures on nomination papers. People sign just to get away.

Page 17 adjusts the allowed special election dates, to account for the combination of city and school elections.

Page 18 addresses the issue of people holding more than one office at once. However, checking the cross reference, it only deals with holding more than one office at the same level of government.

If you were, for example, a sheriff, and later got elected supervisor, that's the same level of government. The proposal specifies that you would vacate the FIRST office you were elected to, rather than both.

This would NOT address what we had in Johnson County where school board member Phil Hemingway ran for supervisor and said he would also stay on the school board. Lost supervisor elections so issue did not come up. School and county are considered different levels of government.

Page 18 moves some county filing deadlines back a couple days, which helps auditors a little with ballot prep and printing.  The Legislature made filing deadlines later in 2017, with the reasoning that absentee ballots were being sent later so auditors had more time. During the debate, they did not seem to understand that federal law requires ballots to be ready for overseas voters by 45 days out.

Pages 19 and 25 prohibit auditors from mass-mailing sample ballots - which Linn County did in 2018. The concern was that voters might think the sample ballot was their real ballot.

Pages 19 and later references take the auditor's signature off ballots and replaces it with a county seal. Petty, but not something that'll really hurt anyone.

Page 19-20 raises signature requirements for third party candidates, & page 20-21 moves their filing deadline (other than president) from August to the date of the June primary. If I read right, full status parties would still be able to nominate candidates at a convention till August.

Page 23 "The (auditor) shall not participate in an absentee ballot drive or collection effort in cooperation with a candidate, candidate’s committee, or (party)." This is vague and leaves a lot of room for unfair interpretation. An auditor is an elected official and has the right to have their own campaign. Could a challenger collect requests but not an incumbent? And how do we define "participate"?  State law already prohibits candidates from handling voted ballots so an auditor can't ballot chase in a presidential year anyway.

Pg 23-24 moves the general election voter pre-registration deadline from 10 days before an election (Saturday) to 11 (Friday). One less day is not good, but could be a lot worse - some states have 30 day deadlines and no election day registration. (Amazed that there has been no effort to repeal election day registration - it must be popular with GOP voters as well, and it required ID even before the voter ID law.) The proposed change makes the deadline consistent for all Iowa elections.

Page 24 requires the presidential ballot to explain that votes are for electors rather than candidates. More unnecessary words and more space taken up on an already crowded ballot. (If you want to do something with the electoral college - get rid of it. Trivia: Until 1920, Iowans voted for individual electors, leading to minor variations in vote totals. Also until 1920, only men voted for those electors.)
We could all use a drink after the polls close.

Page 26 is a big one: it changes the close of primary and general election polls from 9 PM to 8. One less hour to vote, makes all Iowa elections the same. Don't like this, but I think this is a done deal.

My experience is that the 8 to 9 PM hour is a little slower than average but not dead. Busier in town than in rural areas.  Not good but the loss of 11 days of early voting (in the 2017 ID law) is a bigger deal than losing one hour of Election Day

Page 28 would require a runoff for a tied election for partisan office (county, state, or federal). Possible, but rare. Ties for city, school and township would still be name out of a hat. (I have offered my beret for this purpose but my boss has never taken me up on it.) We have ties nearly every general election for township offices - this happens when no one runs and multiple people get one or two write-in votes.

Pg 29-30: "A commissioner shall not use the voter registration system to obtain" missing ID info on absentee requests. Instead I need to call or, worse, snail mail people to get ID numbers that we are already looking at. That's how the voter ID law was worded in 2017 - and that section of the law was and for now still is blocked by court injunction.

There was lots of voter confusion about this while it was in force during the 2018 primary. People calling about "where on my voter card is my PIN number?" (If you have an Iowa license, you don't have a PIN). People putting down Social Security numbers, or non-PIN voter system ID numbers, or even ancient ID numbers from 15 year old voter cards from our old in-county voter registration system that we shut down in 2006 when we went to the statewide system. (If you are going to require an ID number, make it the one that the most people remember: the Social Security number. Even so, I ran into many young voters who don't remember their SSN.)

With the vote by mail window already shortened from 40 days to 29, anything that slows down the mailing process makes it more likely the vote won't count.

Page 31 is aimed right at the People's Republic - it prohibits auditors from establishing satellite sites without petitions, except in special elections. We have a long and popular tradition of several regular sites, especially the public libraries and University Hospitals. Less places to vote means more people pushed down to the auditor's office or to Election Day, longer lines, less parking.

Page 32 is actually a small improvement: It gives voters who failed to sign their absentee affidavit envelopes a few days post-election to come in and sign. Still an issue, though: Auditors can't notify voters of these mistakes after 5 PM the Saturday before a general election (Friday for all others). So a voter who makes a mistake Sunday or Monday is SOL. (This isn't a change, just an un-fixed problem.)

Pages 32-34 appear to deal with signature verification - which I expect a court to shoot down.
Signature verification is a Big Deal for Pate. At a training a couple years back, a staffer let slip: the mythology is that staff at group homes are mass-voting the clients. Not something I've seen any sign of happening.

Page 37 is a gem: The earlier proposal to outright ban satellite voting in state buildings is dropped - but is replaced by some draconian reporting requirements that will be a burden to both auditors and state staff. Auditors would have to report on "each state-owned building in the county that may be petitioned for a satellite absentee voting location." I don't know exactly how many buildings are on the UI campus, but it's into triple digits.

Here's the poison pill. Report would need to include "The impact of electioneering laws on first amendment rights of the Constitution of the United States in state-owned buildings." (This same "logic" is not applied to Election Day voting. Why should satellites be treated differently?)

I have many many times had to get campaigns of all parties and types to get out of range of campus satellite sites. I guess to Roby Smith, the right to campaign is more important than the right to actually vote.

Page 38 remains from the earlier version: it singles out graduating college students for a special letter encouraging/telling them to cancel their voter registration. Can't imagine this surviving in court. (Targeting graduates for cancellation also treats them differently from grad-school dropouts like me.)

Page 39: adding polling place hours to a voter card isn't a bad thing (though losing that 8 to 9 PM hour in primary and general elections is a bad thing)

Page 40 requires counties to participate in the annual NCOA update. Almost all do, and I believe all 99 did this year. Current law allows the option of a county wide mailing to all voters instead, which we did in 2016 with great success in cleaning up the rolls.

Things start to get worse on page 41. Voters would be placed on inactive status for not voting in a presidential election OR for not returning a mailing. Current procedure is you only get inactivated if the post office returns mailing as undeliverable.

This inactivation (and eventual cancellation) simply for not sending a card back had been a major voter suppression problem/tool in some other states.

Our county has a very small population that skips presidential elections but does vote in local school funding elections.  Without digging deeper, I suspect they are from non-mainstream religious communities that discourage voting.

Pages 44-47 deal with ballot rotation. We get that Roby Smith is petty and doesn't want to let auditors decide who goes first, and that's not a hill worth dying on, but this could have been done much more concisely. Put 50 Ds and 50 Rs in one hat, 99 county names in the other, and draw.

Pages 47 to 52 are some minor cleanup items dealing with the combination of city and school elections that will mostly affect auditors, minimally affect school boards and city councils, and will barely effect voters at all.
The postal bar code provisions start on page 53. Again - this is an issue of some significance, but it is a much much smaller issue than most of the other items above. It's only getting attention because of one close race.

And to add more confusion: The postal bar code goes away in 2023. After that, mailed absentees must arrive by a drop dead deadline of when the polls close. (This is called, in Orwellian fashion, "Sure Count.")  I can at least understand the reasons for some of the other provisions, even if those reasons are partisan and petty. But I don't get this. Make auditors buy equipment and implement a system for two cycles, only to take it away? Either go with the bar codes or go with the deadline, but do one thing and stay with it.

On that low note, after 57 pages, the amendment ends.