Friday, May 26, 2017

A Punker Looks At 40: The Legacy of "God Save The Queen"

Lèse-majesté: the crime of violating majesty, an offence against the dignity of a reigning sovereign or against a state.

Next week will be clogged with tributes to the 50th anniversary to "rock's greatest record," the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper.

But an equally important milestone passes tomorrow: the 40th anniversary of the most controversial, dangerous and gloriously offensive record ever made.



Just a year earlier, Queen - the Freddie Mercury band, not Elizabeth Mountbatten-Windsor - had concluded their masterpiece album, A Night At The Opera, with an electric but sincere version of "God Save The Queen," just after the final gong of "Bohemian Rhapsody" faded. They closed the show with it for years. Rock royalty, indeed.

The Sex Pistols were rebelling as much against bands like Queen as they were against royalty. But the specific approach, the lese majeste of "God Save The Queen," was the most singular moment of the rebellion.

There's no way a mere American, receiving Queen the band, Queen the monarch, and the Sex Pistols all as transatlantic translation, can truly understand how obscene this perversion of the national anthem sounded in 1977 Britain. There's no way to explain the patriotic frenzy of the Royal Jubilee,  (Elizabeth II's 25th anniversary on the throne, and who would have thought SHE would still be around 40 years later). The Bicentennial kind of gets at it - but it would be like the Bicentennial with a living George Washington, or a descendant receiving Kennedy-style adulation, who was seen as the embodiment of the nation itself.

Even before you played the record - because it was most certainly NOT on the radio, so you had to buy it on reputation only, and that's IF you were lucky enough to find a store that would sell it - the obscenity began, with Her Majesty's face defaced by lettering that was then associated with ransom notes but now, precisely because of this record, is seen as "punk rock."

And as the record plays the nation that Hitler had bombed barely 30 years earlier, still full of millions of war veterans, was called "fascist." Elizabeth is lyrically, literally, stripped of her humanity - "she ain't no human being." The very notion of morality itself is rejected - "when there's no future, how can there be sin?"

The only American analogy I can come up with - and this is after decades of consideration - is Henrdix's  Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, another deconstructed version of a national anthem. And you would have to package it with a burning flag on the cover.

But there were a lot more hippies and Vietnam War opponents in August 1969 than there were first generation punk rockers in May 1977. And while the 1960s preached peace and love, "God Save the Queen" was pure apocalyptic nihilism, ending with "no future for you."


"You don't write 'God Save The Queen' because you hate the English race. You write a song like that because you love them, and you're fed up with them being mistreated"- Johnny Rotten


The Pistols' recorded legacy is incredibly brief: less than 20 completed tracks with the core lineup of Johnny Rotten, guitarist Steve Jones, and drummer Paul Cook, most of which are on the one true album. Sid Vicious, of course, never really played; the bass parts are either by Jones or by original bassist Glen Matlock.

The legend is that simplicity and Do It Yourself were the punk ethos - but that was the bands the Pistols inspired. Their own record is dense and layered and highly produced. Because it was nearly impossible for the band to play live without violence, Jones kept overdubbing and overdubbing layers of guitar, which is why no other guitars sound like the guitars on Never Mind The Bollocks. Those guitars, and Rotten's snarl and sneer, are the defining sounds of the band.

On the surface, taken just as lyrics, other individual songs are more offensive than "God Save The Queen," especially the abortion rant "Bodies" ("fuck this and fuck that/fuck it all you fucked up, fucking brat"), as is the never properly recorded "Belsen Was A Gas," which comes off more as a failed shock joke.

But it's the four singles, all included on Never Mind The Bollocks, that are the core of the legend.

"Pretty Vacant" is a great rocker, but the lyric is less shocking, other than Rotten's deliberate pronunciation of "vacant" as "va-CUNT." And "Holidays in the Sun" is a desperate goodbye, and thus has a greater humanity to it. The critics tend to look back on the first single, "Anarchy In The UK," as the masterpiece, and as it was first it may have broken more barriers. "I wanna destroy," indeed, though later punks like my hero Joe Strummer of the Clash had plans on how the rubble should be rebuilt.

But bile as bitter as "God Save The Queen" could never be duplicated, and rage this intense was unsustainable. The band self-destructed only months later. The one song more than any other, the one track that was not just part of rock history but of history itself, is "God Save The Queen."

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Reclaiming "Progressive"

I've been discussing and/or feuding in various online groups that call themselves "progressive." In the ongoing circular firing squad that the Democratic Party always becomes when we are out of power, one of the key bridgeheads up for capture is the word "progressive."

To be honest, I'm not happy that the Iowa Democratic Party created a "Progressive Caucus." The implication is that somehow everyone else is not "progressive," and that there's no other place in the party for "progressives." It's also an impossible term to define - "progressive" is whoever calls themselves that, and everyone is going to define it differently.

For some people it's about insurance.

In the context of internal Democratic discussion in mid-2017, "Progressive" is de facto defined as "Bernie." So I'm viewed with suspicion because in the end I decided for Hillary, as if I and all of the millions more people who voted for her than voted for Bernie somehow made that decision because we love stock brokers and investment bankers. She called herself "a progressive who gets things done," but that seems to have little resonance any more.
Rather than opting out, I'm hanging in there - trying to listen but correcting misconceptions, and claiming my share of that valuable word progressive.

At the risk of "unity," which the left-left is calling a false value anyway, I'm going to for the first time in a long time explain why I chose Hillary over Bernie. 

It may be blasphemy to say so, but politics is about more than positions and platforms. It's about style and skill sets as well as substance.  My problem is not with trying to move the Democrats leftward - I've been in that fight for 25 years. I made my choice for Hillary because I believed she could do the job and he couldn't. 

Not that inability to do the job matters.
Specifically: Sanders was visibly uncomfortable with any subject other than macroeconomics, especially foreign policy.  He had little to say about foreign policy because he knew that his actual foreign policy, pacifist isolationism, was not going to sell.  
Sanders also had no political plan for getting his ideas through a hostile Congress, other than, to paraphrase, the ЯevolutioN will sweep all opposition away in its wake - and even the biggest tidal wave can't overcome bad district maps.
And this wasn't a deciding factor, but it didn't help: the "revolution" rhetoric was nails on a chalkboard to me. Maybe that's because it sounded like me when I was a 25 years old "socialist" in grad school, before I dropped out and made my commitment to electoral politics.

The rhetorical irony of the Sanders campaign is that "progressives" and "socialists" weren't historically allies. "Progressive" is of course a term with century old roots. We had a whole Progressive Era led by Teddy Roosevelt - and the mis-labeled, white supremacist, anti-leftist Woodrow Wilson. Progressives were reformers, not revolutionaries, and in the 1910s, before World War One and the Bolshevik Revolution, progressives were usually against, not with, the Socialists.


And their three Milwaukee mayors.

The New Deal era was also reformist rather than revolutionary, amid real fear that the Great Depression would spark revolution.  

Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moosers were the first of three Progressive Parties. There was also Fighting Bob LaFollette's 1924 party, which was a Wisconsin institution for a couple decades (in that era, progressives were Republicans, not Democrats).

Finally there was Iowa's own Henry Wallace and his short-lived 1948 party. It suffered from hostile takeover by actual Communists,which finally gets my circling around to my point.

For a whole bunch of historic reasons, Marxist class-struggle rhetoric never truly took root in America. It's understood in academic islands, like the one I live in, but it's not part of our political vernacular.

To choose a deliberatively provocative term, the rhetoric of revolution is un-"American." Or since I'm sure to be called a red-baiter for that, non-American. Not anti-American in the McCarthyism sense, but alien to the American political culture, and thus limited in ability to persuade. If you can't persuade, you can't win. I'm not saying that's fair, I'm saying that's a reality. "Revolution" is not going to take back West Virginia.

That's the barrier Bernie Sanders faced as he tried to take over the Democratic Party from outside with a class-based rhetoric explicitly labeled as "socialist." It had a high hipster factor, but the appeal to the actual proletariat was limited. (I attribute Sanders' primary wins in Appalachia less to class struggle and more to I Hate That Bitch. Those four words sum up the whole election - and sadly, certain parts of the left are just as bad as the right.)

Yesterday a bunch of potential 2020ers spoke at the Center for American Progress Ideas Conference, and a few half-noticed tweets from Elizabeth Warren's speech encapsulated why I always found her persona and rhetorical style far more appealing than Sanders.

Notice how Warren's rhetoric has deeper roots in the American tradition. Teddy Roosevelt examples are much more relevant to real word American voters, as opposed to artificially grafting "ЯevolutioN" and "socialism" onto a political culture where those concepts are alien.

25 year old me - I actually wrote a paper on Sanders in grad school in 1990 - can't believe I'm saying this.
"Nevertheless she persisted" has become such a meme that it's not even always associated with Warren anymore, and the origin story is almost lost: it was when she was reprimanded for reading the Coretta Scott King's letter about Jeff Session on the Senate floor.  The civil rights era in general and MLK and Coretta specifically are authentically and iconically American, at least to half the country, in a way that "revolution" is not. It also acknowledges that African Americans and women, not the white working class, are the true base of the post-1960s Democratic Party.

And while Sanders attempts to invoke the civil rights era, it's invariably just a stepping stone to what he really wants to talk about, macroeconomics. 

Warren and Sanders, and to a 95% extent Hillary Clinton, have the same ideas, and we're all (except for my Republican friends) on the same team here. And I absolutely welcome the new people Sanders has brought to activism in general, especially the ones who want to tough it out in the party trenches.
(Pro tip: Activism in a political party is not the best kind of activism for everyone. If you can't in the end come together and back the winner, another kind of activism may be a better fit and I respect that. What I don't respect is having it both ways and waving Jill Stein signs at the Democratic convention.)
But the rhetorical style that thrills some is a turnoff for others. For every X number of 20somethings attracted by "revolution" and "socialism," there are Y voters turned off by the explicit old left rhetorical style. I understand X - because that was 25 year old me. But aren't we all embarrassed by our younger selves? So I'm part of Y.
And I contend that Y > X.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Election Law Changes Part 4: Stuff That Didn’t Happen


So as you’ve seen the past three days, the election law news from the Iowa legislative session is mostly bad. However, there were a few negative items that got some publicity yet didn’t pass.

The biggest surprise to me was that there was no attempt to ban satellite voting, which I was absolutely certain would happen. Satellite sites are mostly popular in urban Democratic counties, and they only really work in locations that have high population density and foot traffic, so they seemed like a prime target. But the only bill affecting satellites was a brief attempt at a minor restriction on sites in the very smallest city elections.

There was also no serious attempt to end election day registration. A bill was introduced by a few of the farthest right House Republicans but it was never taken up. Fact is, as in every state that allows it, election day registration became very popular immediately. The Krazy Kaucus also introduced a few other far-right fantasies: term limits, a US constitutional convention, and electing the members of the committee that nominates judicial finalists.

In the back and forth between the House and Senate over HF516, an amendment to close the polls at 8 PM, rather than 9 PM, for primary and general elections was dropped – a fact Terry Branstad bemoaned after the bill’s passage.

Cutting the early voting window to 29 days is bad enough. But at one point Senator Rick Bertrand introduced a bill that would have set the first day to vote early at just 15 days before the election.

Brad Zaun’s sore loser bill to abolish party conventions for primaries where no one tops 35 percent, and instead hold an August runoff, passed the Senate unanimously, but the House never took it up. That’s more consideration than Rep. Andy McKean got with a plan to move the primary to September, which would have caused federal problems. Overseas ballots have to be ready 45 days out, and other states that traditionally had September primaries (including New York and Wisconsin) have had to move them early to comply with that federal law.


One bill, aimed straight at Johnson County, would have required the state’s biggest counties to elect supervisors by district. I’ve elaborated much on that in the past. There was also a proposal to let rural townships secede from the largest counties (with the bar once again set right at Johnson County’s 130,000 census total) and join a neighboring county, and a truly bizarre Jarad Klein bill that would have let rural voters cast ballots in city elections. There were a couple of proposals to elect county officials on a non-partisan basis, which died quietly.

A perennial auditor item never came up: setting a hard and fast date deadline for returning absentee ballots. Current law requires a postmark the day before an election, but most local mail is no longer postmarked. Also getting no traction: efforts to allow mail-only elections in the smallest cities. This would save a lot of work for auditors and significant tax money for the small cities, but the concern seems to be setting a precedent for all-vote-by-mail. That would be too popular and make voting too easy, wouldn’t it?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Election Law Changes Part 3: Changes for Auditors and Campaign Staffers

In part one and two we looked first at the ID provisions, then at cuts in early voting, and other election law changes that will affect average voters. Today we’ll look at items that, while certainly of public interest, mostly affect auditor’s offices and campaign staffers.

The big item for auditors will be the post-election audits. Random precincts in random counties will have to do a hand count of president or governor.

I understand that a lot of people find voting equipment very interesting. I’m not one of them. I don’t have a problem on principle with post-election audits, though I find equipment paranoia in general very silly. But there are a couple problems with the bill as passed.

The original bill had a reasonable audit timeline in February. That wasn’t good enough for the equipment geeks, whose real agenda is hand counting all ballots. After the incident in Dallas County, which broke right when the bill was progressing, there was probably no hope for an auditor-friendly deadline. The thing is, Dallas County was NOT a problem of equipment; it was a problem of people failing to report totals to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State failing to catch it. (It was also a failure of the campaign staffs, political activists, and press for failing to catch it.)

So instead the audit deadline is a VERY tight 21 days. One of which is Veteran’s Day so you either lose a day of work or you lose a holiday. There is still a LOT of post-election data and maintenance and physical cleanup going on three weeks post-election. And I know my rest and physical comfort is a low priority – and I didn’t choose this career without looking on it as service to the public. But three weeks post-election us grunts are still catching up on sleep and laundry and maybe hoping to take a long delayed day off to stretch the Thanksgiving break.

And I’m sorry not sorry, but machines count better than people. They don’t get distracted. They don’t get tired – and poll workers less than three weeks after a general election are tired. Inevitably there will be discrepancies, and those discrepancies will be because the people, not the machines, made mistakes. And just as inevitably people will get their facts wrong and scream “fraud!”

I also don’t quite trust the “random” selection of counties and precincts, and will bet a beret that the first precinct audited will be the Johnson County absentee board. Yes, the whole absentee vote of a county is considered a “precinct” under this section, so we could be hand-counting tens of thousands of ballots.

Also interesting: the bill specifies that audit observers are representatives of the “two largest” parties – one more way that the Libertarians, despite finally succeeding after decades of effort in getting “full” party status last year, are still somehow less than fully equal.

At a Friday training for auditors and staffers, there was a lot of concern and confusion from auditors about audits and the tight timeline. "Have you thought about how to explain this to the public?" asked Linn County Auditor Joel Miller. "The public has been screaming for audits," deputy Secretary of State Carol Olson asserted. "Not in my experience," Miller replied.

As a minor benefit to auditors, the law adds a fourth week to the previous three weeks either side of a general election in which other special elections are not allowed.  But those kinds of votes were rare and usually small anyway. The nightmare scenario of a major school bond a month after a presidential election is barred anyway under HF566 which combines city and school elections and also limits the days those governments can have special elections. (Technically, this bill is not yet signed, but there's no reason to expect a veto.)

There are also various paperwork and certification requirements which seem relatively minor:
49.128 Commissioner filings and notifications.
1. No later than twenty days following a general election, the commissioner shall place on file in the commissioner’s office a certification that the county met the following requirements at the general election:
a. The testing of voting equipment was performed, as required under section 52.35.
b. The election personnel training course was conducted, as required under section 49.124.
c. Polling places met accessibility standards, as required under section 49.21.
d. The schedule of required publications was adhered to, as required under section 49.53.
e. The commissioner has complied with administrative rules adopted by the state commissioner under chapter 52, including having a written voting system security plan.
Most of this is documenting stuff we do anyway.

But the bill includes other demands on counties and infringements on local authority that seem designed to boost the “fraud” numbers and thus provide fuel for the next, even tougher version of vote suppression.

For starters, Paul Pate can go on a fishing expedition through local files:
“The state commissioner may, at the state commissioner’s discretion, examine the records of a commissioner to evaluate complaints and to ensure compliance with the provisions of chapters 39 through 53. The state commissioner shall adopt rules pursuant to chapter 17A to require a commissioner to provide written explanations related…”


Gee, what counties will he look at first?

Auditors and county attorneys already look at individual cases and determine what’s a legitimate problem. But this allows a Secretary of State to come in, fling poo all over the place, and leave the locals behind to clean up. As Nixon noted, the retraction never gets as much attention as the original charge.

County attorneys are also now required to report back to the secretary of state on Election Day registrations whose follow-up mail is returned as undeliverable. This is to boost the “fraud” numbers,  and seems to be aimed straight at Johnson County.

At present, auditors simply send a letter and make the voters inactive. These so called “bounce-backs” (we call them something else) caused controversy when Pate’s own staff recommended against using his puffed-up statistics. The problems are almost always primarily postal. The issue isn’t “fraud,” it’s merely missing apartment numbers and post office boxes.



There’s also an earlier deadline for mailing out confirmation notices to EDR voters. The old deadline was 45 days, now it’s 21. In Johnson County, we had more than 5000 EDRs in 2016, probably more than any other county, and had all those cards mailed within two weeks. So it should be do-able, though it might be hard if we also got hit with an audit of our absentee board - one of the concerns auditors expressed Friday

There’s a few requirements on timelines and deadlines for campaign staffers. None of them are as draconian “courier” law that was in effect through the 2004 and 2006 cycles, but they seem designed to produce minor insignificant slip-ups that can be blown out of all proportion. I don’t even see the point of making an absentee request received AFTER the request deadline a Rush To The Auditor thing.

More substantively, registration forms must now get turned in within a week, or within 24 hours if it’s within three days of the pre-registration deadline. For absentee requests, the law stays the same, 72 hours. The holiday weekend problem didn’t get fixed: If a staffer gets a request Friday night of a three day weekend, it’s more than 72 hours before the auditor’s office will be open to accept it.

That’s pretty much everything that happened with election law this session. In tomorrow’s conclusion, which is unfortunately the shortest part, we’ll see what thank God did NOT happen.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Election Law Changes Part 2: Cuts to Early Voting and More Changes


Yesterday I reviewed the most publicized part of HF516, the voter ID provisions. But there was a lot more to the bill, and there were other election bills.

Other than ID, the items that most directly affect voters are changes to the absentee request and early voting period.

Any Iowa ballot cast other than at a polling place on election day is technically considered an “absentee” ballot. That includes mailed ballots, votes at the office, satellite voting, and teams that visit nursing homes and hospitals. I’ll be using the terms “mailed ballot” and “in person early ballot” for clarity.

Military and overseas voters are covered by the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), so these restrictions don’t apply to them.

For many years, the first day to legally request a mailed ballot was 70 days before an election – late August in general elections. Beginning in 2004, the first day deadline was completely eliminated. I’ve been sitting on two requests for this fall’s school election for over a year, and we also have some for next June's primary.

We started to have problems because of this change right away in 2004. Campaigns were passing out requests at the January caucuses and knocking doors way too early. Many voters moved before the ballots were mailed in late September, which led to a lot of undeliverable mail and a lot of challenged ballots.

So, as the guy who personally removed all the absentee request forms from the Johnson County caucus packets, I’m not shedding any tears that as of January 1, 2018, the first day to request a ballot is 120 days before an election (early July in general elections). In fact, I would have liked August 1, the day every Iowa City lease turns over.


Also the best time for curb shopping.

This will delay door knocking for requests, and eliminate passing forms out at the caucuses, but it also eliminates the accompanying problems. The only extra work is, I have to mail the too-early form back to the voter.

True, 120 days is a restriction. But it’s not a major restriction on the average voter, as most of those early-early requests are campaign generated. Very few regular people who can hand in a request ten months ahead will be unable to hand one in five months ahead. And the people who are the farthest away, the UOCAVA voters, can make their requests at the first of the year.

On the back end, however, the new deadline is significantly more restrictive. Before each big election I say "I can fix almost any problem with enough time." Now voters have less time, and so do I.

Prior to 2004 there was NO final request deadline. You could bring in a request for someone the day before an election and we had to mail a ballot anywhere in the world. I actually saw it WORK once in 1998; the husband of a shut-in spouse did all the legwork except getting the ballot to the voter which had to be done by the post office. Given changes in mail delivery it probably wouldn’t work now… but it’s no longer allowed.

Starting in 2004 the deadline was the Friday before an election. Difficult to get returned in time, but not impossible.

Under the new law the deadline pushes back a week to coincide with the pre-registration deadline: 10 days before a general election, 11 days before all others. Again, this takes effect January 1. 2018.


Last fall in Johnson County we had about 660 requests in the final week before the election. 480 of those were returned on time and counted. So at least that many people would have to at least act earlier. These people fell into all sorts of categories: people who were suddenly out of town, shut-ins who had been too optimistic about their health recovering, and yes, some procrastinators.

That's the recurring theme in the mindset of those who passed these laws: well, then, you should have just been more responsible.



As if a citizen trying to exercise a fundamental right that people have literally died for in my lifetime is being anything but "responsible."

There’s also going to be less time to get the ballots back. Under the old law ballots for primary general elections had to be mailed out at least 40 days before the election, in late September. Auditors were allowed to mail ballots out earlier if they were ready, which sometimes meant day 42 or 43.

But with the new law, also effective the first of next year, ballots may not be sent out until 29 days out. Why 29? I think it’s because Day 29 is a Monday which gives Democrats two fewer weekends to call those voters and in staffer-speak "chase" their ballots.

The new 29 day law also applies to in-person early voting, which used to start 40 days out. That means seven fewer business days for voting. The excuse for that was that voters shouldn’t vote till after debates, but I’ve never been convinced that undecided voters actually watch debates. And the earliest early voters tend to be the partisans on both sides who won’t change their minds no matter what.

Now those people are forced to vote later, which puts them in the line with other voters who waited by choice. In Johnson County last year that was 3310 people in seven days of office voting and at one satellite site, about 12% of our whole in person early voting. Put another way: the early voting line just got 12% longer.

29 days will mean 28 days some years. If Election Day is November 6, 7, or as it was last year the 8th, Day 29 is the Columbus Day postal holiday and ballot's won't go out till Tuesday. (I prefer Aimee Mann's solo work myself.) Columbus Day is easy to forget because it’s the one cheesy government holiday I don’t get in my contract, yet somehow I always remember Columbus Day.


You gotta problem wit' Columbus Day?


The legislature used the later early voting start date as an excuse to push back some candidate filing deadlines.
81 days – federal/state dropout deadline for primary winners (was 89)
74 days – county dropout deadline (same)
73 days – federal/state filing deadline, nominate by convention deadline (was 81)
64 days – certification to auditors (was 69)
The argument was: since auditors have more time to get ballots ready, we should let candidates file later! And we can call it an expansion of voting rights!

But auditors don't have more time to get ballots ready. Under federal law, UOCAVA ballots have to be ready to mail 45 days before an election. The feds are very strict about this; many states that used to have September primaries like New York and Wisconsin had to move them because they were unable to get their November ballots prepped in time to meet the 45 day deadline.

Most overseas voters choose email delivery (almost all of them have to print it out and mail it back), but they do have the right to a printed ballot, and even to send the electronic document you still have to have the programming and testing done. So auditors have now been given less time, not more. The ballots will still be have to be programmed and ready 45 days out…

...and then they’ll sit for 16 days until we’re legally allowed to hand and mail them to voters. At which time the in-person early voters will get IDd just like the Election Day voters.

One of the most common questions I get about the ID law is, almost always worded exactly like this: “what about absentee ballots?” (In context, meaning “mailed.”) The answer is: Mailed ballots are a huge hole in any voter ID law. No one knows what happens outside the office.

Legislators tried to put a fig leaf on the issue. If you assume there’s a problem (which there isn’t) the obvious solution is to require a photocopy. That was a non-starter because, while young urban (read: Democratic) voters generally have access to printer-copiers at home, older rural (Republican) voters are less likely to, and the GOP early vote program relies almost entirely on mail.

There was a lot of debate about a Super Secret PIN number for absentee voters. In the end that was limited only to those people who got the Magic Cards. Other voters are expected to list their license number. (Nursing home voters are exempt.)

Here’s the loophole: If voters leave that number off, the law says, “the commissioner shall, by the best means available, obtain the additional necessary information.” I interpret that to mean I can look on the state voter system and see the number. So that makes it only kinda sorta mandatory… but voters and doorknockers will be told it’s MANDATORY mandatory.  That will produce delays and resistance at the door. “Oh, I don’t have my license, just leave it and I’ll do it later” which never really happens. The Republicans’ vote by mail program, which relies more on direct mail than doorknockers, will be impacted less.

In addition to the absentee cuts and the ID rules, HF516 also has other voting restrictions not directly related to IDs:
“If a person registers to vote under (the Election Day registration law) at a polling place that does not have access to an electronic poll book, the person shall be permitted to cast a provisional ballot.”
These voters were previously voting regular ballots. This doesn’t just punish them, with either an uncounted ballot or a post-election day trip to the auditor’s office with ID and proof of address.  It punishes everyone behind them in line, too, because provisional ballots Take. More. Time. (All of Johnson County's precincts have computers, but we're one of the few. Even other large urban counties have some precincts still using paper poll books.)



At least the rules on ID and the absentee changes are are spelled out. The language on signature verification is much fuzzier:
Upon being presented with a form of identification under this section, the precinct election official shall examine the identification. The precinct election official shall use the information on the identification card, including the  signature, to determine whether the person offering to vote 11 appears to be the person depicted on the identification card.  The voter’s signature shall generally be presumed to be valid.  If the identification provided does not appear to be the person  offering to vote under section 49.77, the precinct election official shall challenge the person offering to vote in the same manner provided for other challenges by sections 49.79 17 and 49.80.
Huh? Signature verification, then, is whatever the poll worker says it is. Most are good but a few might get carried away, and if that happens I suspect the scrutiny on people with the Magic Cards will be stricter. And it'll be stricter yet in some counties if your name is Mario or Abdullah.

At a Friday training for auditors and their staffs, deputy Secretary of State Carol Olson tried to downplay concerns that signature verification would be a major issue, except in cases where multiple requests had the same handwriting (for example, mom signing absentee requests for all the adult kids." 

She then said "Signature verification was something auditors asked for strongly." This was greeted by open laughter and multiple exclamations of "I didn't."

No matter how you’re voting, once you get that ballot something familiar will be missing.

People tend to have very strong feelings, both ways, about the straight ticket, but a third of all voters used that option. I’m not sure how eliminating straight ticket voting increases “integrity,” but it’s gone. Republicans clearly saw some advantage in dropping it, even though statistically straight ticket voters lined up very close to non-straight tickets. (That will be a separate post.) As a non-political, simply practical matter, eliminating the straight ticket will slow things down at the polls, as a third of the voters may be spending more time in the booth.

One other partisan item is a somewhat convoluted way of determining which party is listed first on the ballot. The Senate, spurred by Roby Smith’s obsession with this issue, initially passed a rotation scheme that was not technically possible for some major voting software to program.

Cooler heads prevailed, but in a weird way. In the final bill, ballot order in each county will be determined by the number of voters affiliated with each party who voted. (So if more registered Know Nothings voted than registered Bull Moosers, even if Teddy Roosevelt won the couny, the Know Nothings would be listed first.) Why that particular, obscure statistic was what they settled on, I have no idea. Top of the ballot votes is more straightforward and seems to make more sense. The important thing is that Roby Smith succeeded in taking that choice, one of the very few discretionary powers auditors had, away.

There may be more battles in the absentee board counting room. The old law allowed only one observer per party at a time. This now increases to five, which likely means more ballot challenges from Republicans and beefed up defense efforts from Democrats.

Another change for voters is a rewording, though not necessarily a clarification, of the ballot selfie law. The new wording states:
“Photographic devices and the display of voted ballots is prohibited if such use or display is for purposes prohibited under chapter 39A (the election misconduct code section), interferes with other voters, or interferes with the orderly operation of the polling place.”
This is summarized in materials sent from the Secretary of State to auditors as: "Cameras allowed unless used for misconduct; Also disallowed if interferes with voting." At Friday's training, "ballot selfies are allowed" was emphasized. The argument given was "court rulings have consistenly upheld" this right in other states. Yet I still think "misconduct and interference with voting" gives auditors lots of leeway.

I would have preferred to take on this fight directly and passed a straightforward “voted ballots may not be photographed.” Because if you CAN take a ballot selfie, someone can coerce you into it or pay you for it. (I'm sure glad I wasn't "allowed" to take a ballot selfie in the 2012 auditor primary.) There are many other restrictions on absolute free speech in the polling place.

In a related item, that was likely based on an incident in Linn County, “A voter voting an absentee ballot at the commissioner’s office shall not take or remove any ballot from the commissioner’s office.”  Previously this wording was only applied to satellite sites.

The only expansion of voting rights anywhere in any of the election bills this year is a change that brings the June primary in line with the caucuses: If you’ll be 18 by general Election Day you can vote in the primary. This will make caucus year a bit less confusing. But the voting right itself will be a big big deal to a very very small number of people. It would have helped our own Lisa Green-Douglass, whose triplets turned 18 the day AFTER the June 7 primary last year… but even without those three votes she won.

But a late amendment pushed this change from the 2018 primary back to 2020. And it sets up this  scenario for a person born on Columbus Day of a leap year:
  • February caucus: can “vote” (caucus are not elections!)
  • April special election: can’t vote
  • June primary: can vote
  • September special election: can’t vote
  • November general election: can vote
HF516 was not the only election bill. One big change for voters is that there’s one less election every two years. Under HF566, city and school elections are now combined into one election in November of odd years. The bill was unchanged after I wrote about it at length here. (Technically this isn't signed yet, but there's no reason to expect a veto.)

SF399, the so-called “cleanup” bill, expands nursing home voting provisions into “dementia-specific assisted living programs,” which I see as a good thing, and allows more days for teams to visit care centers. It also allows voters to petition for a special school board election, which brings schools in line with other elected office vacancies. Last year the Iowa City School Board wanted an election to fill a vacancy but under the old law they had to go through a charade of “failing to appoint.”

HF471 allows auditors to consolidate precincts in primary and general elections, a practice that was only allowed previously for city and school elections. This has pros and cons. It could save our county a significant chunk of change to combine some of the campus precincts for the June primary, when the dorms are literally empty. But in the wrong hands in a general election it could cause mass confusion.

With little attention, HF242 eliminated the income tax checkoff for a $1.50 political party donation. My pet theory is that the move was prompted by the Libertarians gaining full party status and thus becoming eligible for the checkoff.

And HF469 addresses a bizarre piece of electoral trivia. You can now elect TWO soil and water commissioners from the same township, rather than just one. This came up in Johnson County in 2006; the top two finishers for two seats were from the same township, so the number two seat went to the person who finished third and last. Two offices where you can get more votes and lose: Soil and Water Commissioner and President of the United States.

Between IDs and shorter voting, that’s most of what will affect civilians. Tomorrow, we’ll see some other items that auditors and campaigns will be dealing with.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Election Law Changes Part 1: The ID Rules

Note: Auditors and staffers attended ongoing election trainings this week; I was at one Friday May 12. Some small updates to original post.


“To ensure the integrity of, and to instill public confidence in, all elections in this state the general assembly finds that the verification of a voter’s identity is necessary before a voter is permitted to receive and cast a ballot.”

Well, there ya have it. Paul Pate’s "Election Integrity" (sic) bill is signed and now the law of the land.

For weeks now I’ve been bombarded, at work and at home, with requests for a deep dive into what it all means. I’ve been putting it off because of my professional role in all this as an election staffer. I’ve been 85 to 90% sure on most of this for weeks but I needed to get to 100 before publishing. Thank you all for waiting.

Let’s get the biggest question I’ve been getting out of the way first. It’s going to be more important to GET people registered ahead of time, but the voter registration process itself changes very little. You can still fill out a form or, if you have an Iowa driver’s license, register on line. You can still have a drive and register other people to vote, the registration forms don’t change, the requested and required information does not change. Election Day registration has not been eliminated, and there’s nothing like the proof of citizenship requirements that Kansas and Arizona have.

As for the items that HAVE changed, what I’ve come up with is so long that I’m going to have to break it into four parts. In the next days I will look at:
Today, we’ll start with the ID provisions themselves.

The acceptable forms of ID are fairly limited. Democrats offered multiple amendments to expand the list, but all failed. We are left with:
a. Before a precinct election official furnishes a ballot to a voter under section 49.77, the voter shall establish the voter’s identity by presenting the official with one of the following forms of identification for verification:
(1) An Iowa driver’s license.
(2) An Iowa nonoperator’s identification card.
(3) A United States passport.
(4) A United States military or veterans identification card.

Hy-Vee Fuel Saver cards are not included.

The intent, frankly, is to as much as possible without crossing the lines of previous court rulings force the use of the Iowa driver’s license. (Note: The non-operator ID issued by the DOT is functionally equivalent to the driver’s license, except for the driving part. From here on out when I refer to “license” I also mean “or non-operator ID”.) Previous cases in other states have held that if there is a mandatory ID, there must be a free version.

Thus, the bill has a provision for a “voter verification card,” which I’m calling the “Magic Card.”

The voter ID requirements will not fully take effect until the Magic Cards are up and running (because to do otherwise would be risky in court). That’s going to take some reprogramming of IVoters, the state voter file software. Not clear how long that will be.

Update: Secretary of State staff said Friday the target date for the "voter verification cards" will be December 1st. The plan is to begin a "slow rollout" of educating voters at the polls during this fall's city and school elections, then start asking for IDs after January 1, 2018.

The only people who will get the Magic Card will be the people with no Iowa license number. Auditors are specifically prohibited from sending these cards cards to anyone else. People who do have a license will instead get an “acknowledgement.” Last week auditors were told this would be a letter rather than a card, but today we were told that it was not yet clear if it would be a letter or a card. If it is a card, it will have a different design than the Magic Card. Personally I'm hoping for a card format, because people love those cards and carry them till they fall apart. But as you'll see below there's some downside to having two kinds of cards.

Many, many people think that the lines on the voter registration asking for a license number or the last four digits of the SSN  are an either/or option, but that's not correct.

Since 2003, the letter of the law says if you have an Iowa license number, you are REQUIRED to give that number. Not "unless you don't have your license with you," not "it's easier to remember my Social Security number." Required.

The  SSN option is only meant to be used by people without an Iowa license. Both these numbers have to be verified through an ID lookup managed by the Iowa DOT.

Now, in the real world, practice has been that  if you gave us only the partial SSN, we simply verified that, and we didn't have to also check to see if you had an Iowa license number.

That'll basically still be OK. The Secretary of State's office tells me: "The SOS is working with our IVoters vendor and with the DOT to provide weekly updates of DLs.  That will enable auditors to match new registrants against the DL database, and thus add the DL to the voter’s record.  We are presently in the process of meeting with both our vendor and the DOT to develop these requirements."
The Secretary of State’s office will do an initial cross match between the state voter file and the Iowa Department of Transportation database, and will import all the driver’s license numbers that are not already on file. They will then send everyone who does not have a DL number a Magic Card to use instead of the license.  Buried in the fine print: this card needs to be signed before the poll worker sees it.

After that first statewide wave, auditors have to mail the Magic Cards on an ongoing basis.

As for that first wave, the statewide number 85,000 got tossed around a lot. That number appears to be based on a preliminary matchup.

As of a month or so ago, 24,813 Johnson County voters (29% of our county registration) did not have a DL number on their voter records. We probably have more than anyone else but I doubt we have close to a third of the statewide total.

Roughly 1/3 of our 92,000 active voters first registered in Johnson County before we started asking for license numbers. 40% of those people do not have a license number on their voter record. We started asking for license numbers when the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) kicked in at the beginning of January 2003.  If you haven’t re-registered in 15 years, you may never have been asked for your license number.

A lot of these people will get their license number filled in during the match-up process. But some won’t because they’ve aged out of the driving population and have had no reason until now to need a non-driver ID. Voters using the nursing home absentee procedure are exempt from the ID requirements, but a lot of non-driving seniors are living at home or with adult children and getting rides, and they’re NOT exempt.

Of the remaining 2/3 of our voters who first registered in 2003 or later, just 20% have no license number listed.  That’s probably the highest rate in the state because of our out of state student population.

Remember, the real intent behind ID laws is to call into question universal suffrage itself. There’s a still vocal contingent that believes only “taxpayers” – read that as property tax payers – should be able to vote, especially on local offices and money issues. Symm v. United States, the 1978 Supreme Court ruling that yes, students DO get to vote in college towns, really sticks in their craw.

In a late amendment, auditors are prohibited from sending a Magic Card to anyone EXCEPT the people without DL numbers. That deliberately de-values the card, and turns it into evidence that the person did not have the preferred form of ID, the Iowa license.

This means anyone pulling out a Magic Card is going to be singled out, and probably get extra scrutiny from the Republican poll watchers. And people still carrying their old cards will wonder why the voter in front of them used “their voter card” while they were asked for a license.


Voters living in care centers are exempt from all this stuff which is good but self-serving, as that’s a conservative leaning demographic. One of the only two good things any of this year’s election legislation does is expands the nursing home team voting process to additional facilities. I wouldn’t exactly call it “fraud,” but let’s just say I’ve seen a few voters over the years who see the cognitive decline of a parent as a way to cast a second vote – oops, I mean “help Mom vote.”

So what happens if you don’t have ID? Well, for the rest of this year and for 2018 you can sign an oath. Two things worry me here. One is, there's a lull you to sleep aspect. People may  think signing the oath will still be OK in 2020, when it won't. The other is, it could serve as a point of protest: "I hate this ID law, I want to do the oath instead."

Please, please, PLEASE people: Don’t take out your frustration with the law on the poor poll workers or on me. We can handle it but we can't do anything about it, and you're making the people behind you in line wait longer. Save your anger for the legislators who passed this; voting is the best revenge.

If you don't have your license or a Magic Card, you can also present the same ID materials you can use now for an Election Day registration:
a)  An out-of-state driver's license or nonoperator's identification card.
b)  A United States passport. (already included in ID law)
c)  A United States military identification or veterans ID card. (already included in ID law); the veterans’ card is a new addition to the EDR materials)
d)  An identification card issued by an employer.
e)  A student identification card issued by an Iowa high school or an Iowa postsecondary educational institution.
The catch is: the student IDs have to include an expiration date… which the Regent’s universities rather conveniently don't have. Neither does my county employee ID.

There is also an “attester” provision where another voter living in the same precinct can vouch for you. This covers the couple, or couple with their young adult, where someone forgot their license. But you can only attest for two people and you have to live in the precinct… meaning Democrats will have to rotate their poll watchers and vote protection volunteers in and out. All attesters will also have to show ID, as will everyone attesting for an Election Day registration.

Worst case, you can vote a provisional ballot… but the bill is clear that if you don’t show up at the auditor’s office with ID materials, the ballot is to be rejected. Update: In one small positive change, provisional voters will be able to present evidence to auditors through the deadline for receiving absentee ballots - generally noon the Monday after the election. Previously, that deadline was noon Thursday. Good thing we have more time, because we'll have more provisional ballots.

Voters making Election Day moves within a county will now have to provide both ID and proof of address. This section of the law takes effect right away this July 1st. Previously, they were among the few voters who had to show ID, but the ID was accepted even with an old address. This could be a barrier to people who have just  moved and haven’t gotten bills or items showing the new address yet. It may, ironically, increase improper voting as people may find it easier just to go back to their old polling place.

And voters who first register by mail, even those who get a Magic Card, will still have to show their ID materials (such as out of state license and proof of address) before voting in their first federal election. That’s not just an extra burden – it’s confusing for voters AND auditors, who will now have to track additional data points: Did they first register by mail? Federal or non-federal election? Did they show their items yet?

So that covers the ID requirements. But stay tuned; I still have two more days of bad news.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Let's Everybody Run for Something: The North Liberty Election

Yes, I know everybody wants me to write The Definitive Detailed Deeth Post On What Exactly The Voter ID Law Means. Truth is, I have a pretty good idea, but that one's gonna get bookmarked and referenced for years so it needs to be Perfect, and I'm going to get paid at work for most of the research on it anyway. All I have to do when I get home is add the Partisan Blogger snark for Paul Pate.  Thanks for reading, Paul!

So instead today I'm going to write about the North Liberty election, Johnson County's first in the Era of Trump, and what exactly it means.

There's a dynamic in American politics today that everybody needs to run for something. In 96 of 99 Iowa counties that probably helps, but in the People's Republic there's a line around the block for any and all vacancies, hints of vacancies, or rumours.



Long time readers know I consider "Tusk" the real masterpiece.

So when North Liberty found itself with not one but two vacant offices, ten total candidates showed up: seven newcomers, two current office holders, and a blast from the past. The result: a mayor with less than a majority and a council member winning with just 29% of the vote.

I can't choose the appropriate cinematic metaphor for the whole North Liberty process. In turns it has reminded me of:
  • Andy Warhol's 24 hour film of the outside of the Empire State Building,
  • The worst movie I ever saw, Saturday the 14th, an unfunny parody of horror films, and
  • People who think they are acting in Game Of Thrones but are in fact in a junior high production of Game Of Thrones. 
This whole thing is Tom Salm's fault. After a couple of controversial cycles, Salm was a unifier as mayor, a steady hand on the wheel... until he unexpectedly dropped dead just months after getting re-elected in 2013.

The city council appointed one of their own, Gerry Kuhl, as mayor, then took applications for that vacant council seat. A smart young mom with some school board campaign experience put her name in, and was rewarded with a patronizing pat on the head.

So Amy Nielsen said enough of that crap and put her name in for mayor, as the seat was on the 2014 general election ballot (which will no longer be legal under the new law that combines school and city elections.). She knocked off  Kuhl, and her star rose so fast that she shot right out of mayor and into the Legislature before the term was up.

And it took so long to choose Nielsen's replacement that her first legislative session was over before it was done. The most important thing about today's election is that it should have happened at least two months ago.

It was clear from November 8 - and with all due respect to my Republican friend Royce Phillips, who lost to Nielsen in the legislative race last fall, it was reasonably expected in June 2016 - that the mayor's slot would be open again. The city was looking at a fourth mayor in the same term and the powers that be desperately wanted to avoid paying for a special election with less than a year on the term.

There were two problems with that. Petitions for city elections are based on turnout the last time the office was on the ballot.  Salm was so non-controversial that his 2013 re-election was uncontested. It would take just 26 signatures, in a city pushing 18,000 population, to force an election. There was no way out of it and everyone was in denial.

So they decided to take their time.


Actual photo from North Liberty council deliberations on mayor vacancy

The council stalled until literally the last day allowed under law - February 28, 60 days after Nielsen's resignation and nearly four months after her election to the legislature, before making a decision.
 
Two sitting council members, Terry Donahue and Chris Hoffman, both coveted the office of mayor. Two other council members, Annie Pollock and Jim Sayre, refused to pick sides and favored an election. That left it to Brian Wayson. It was a standoff...

...until Hoffman got smart. In a jiu-jitsu move, he took his name out and backed Donahue for mayor. That "win" forced Donahue to resign his council seat, while Hoffman could go ahead and run against Donahue in a likely special election without having to resign. And sure enough, the next day Matt Pollock filed the petition - and soon after filed for mayor.

Then it seemed like pretty much everyone in North Liberty decided it was time to run for something. Kuhl attempted a comeback for council, and was joined in the race by no less than six newcomers.

The council seat won by Sarah Madsen by 33 votes over Kuhl is in fact the greater prize - mayors don't vote and Donahue has to run again in November. Madsen, in contrast, gets to vote and inherits the last 2 1/2 years of Donahue's council term. And Hoffman, who now has two losses in a row following has January 2016 defeat by Lisa Green-Douglass in the county supervisor special election, can challenge Donahue again in November, without giving up his council seat which has two years left.

But Madsen wasn't a big winner - in the splintered seven candidate field, she won just 29%. In fact, no candidate for council topped 40% in any precinct, so geographic patterns are hard to spot. This would have been a great test case for second and third choice voting. It would also be interesting to see a runoff between Hoffman and Donahue (who was also a sub-50% winner, with Hoffman second and Pollock a distant third), and between Madsen and runner-up Kuhl.

Kuhl ranks as the night's biggest loser. Like Hoffman, he has now lost two in a row. But Hoffman's timing meant he kept his seat, while Kuhl resigned his council seat, was tossed out as mayor in just months, and now has failed at a comeback.

One good thing about a big field of candidates, though, is it boosts turnout to have ten sets of families and friends out voting. Turnout stands at 1016, agonizingly close to the 1031 record set in the controversial 2005 North Liberty election that Dave Franker won as a last-second write-in candidate.  Theoretically, that record could still fall if 16 of our 28 un-returned absentees come back. But that's unlikely (they had to be postmarked Monday, all were mailed to local addresses, and most local mail isn't postmarked anymore) and to my trained eye, those look like the kind where people sign the request form to make the doorknocker go away.

I'm saddened by one thing, though: A Donahue loss would have made for great trivia, as Hoffman or Pollock would have been North Liberty's FIFTH mayor in the term Tom Salm originally won in November 2013. Four is remarkable enough, but five would have been epic.

And if this wasn't enough fun, we get to do it all over again in Solon next month for a city council term of just five months.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Voter Statistics vs. Irrational numbers

You know, I have had a bad enough week of people with an agenda,  who don't understand my job, telling me how to do my job and accusing me of doing a bad job. Especially when it's a part of my job I'm especially proud of and good at.

And this time, it's not even the Iowa Legislature or Paul Pate that's on my case.

Right wing think tank Judicial Watch drops some version of this stink bomb every couple of years:
Judicial Watch today announced it has sent notice-of-violation letters threatening to sue 11 states having counties in which the number of registered voters exceeds the number of voting-age citizens, as calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011-2015 American Community Survey. According to the letters, this is “strong circumstantial evidence that these … counties are not conducting reasonable voter registration record maintenance as mandated under the [National Voter Registration Act] NVRA.”  Both the NVRA and the federal Help America Vote Act require states to take reasonable steps to maintain accurate voting rolls...

Based on its review of Election Assistance Commission (EAC) data, and more recent U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey and the states’ voter registration records, Judicial Watch found the following counties have more total registered voters than the citizen voting age (18) population...
Iowa: Scott, Johnson
In its notice-of-violation letters, Judicial Watch warns that the failure to maintain accurate, up-to-date voter registration lists “required by federal law and by the expectations of [state] citizens” will “undermine public confidence in the electoral process.”
Umm... as I'll demonstrate, the people undermining public confidence in elections would be Judicial Watch, not the Scott and Johnson County auditors.

Funny how the two counties they target Just So Happen to have two Democratic auditors, Scott's Roxana Moritz and my own boss Travis Weipert, who are looking at challenging Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate.

UPDATE: As much as I hate to give Pate credit for anything, especially this week, his office called Travis this afternoon and offered their support. A press release was reportedly in the works. THAT'S how wrong these Judicial Watch clowns are.
“Dirty election rolls can mean dirty elections,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.  “These 11 states face possible Judicial Watch lawsuits unless they follow the law and take reasonable steps to clean up their voting rolls of dead, moved, and non-citizen voters.”
Judicial Watch asked the states to “conduct or implement a systematic, uniform, nondiscriminatory program to remove from the list of eligible voters the names of persons who have become ineligible to vote by reason of a change of residence, death or a disqualifying criminal conviction.”  The states are also asked to remove from voter registration lists “noncitizens who have registered to vote unlawfully.”
Once again, I'm going to have to re-write the post that patiently explains just exactly how I do that.

The way Judicial Watch is coming up with their dodgy numbers is by counting total registration, a mistake often repeated by campaign staffers and the press. A more accurate total is the number of Active status voters. And to understand Active status I need to explain Inactive status.

Everybody, everybody, everybody misunderstands what an Inactive status voter is. Campaign staffers and press assume that it's what's called in staffer speak a "weak voting D" or a presidential election only voter.

Inactive status really means "preliminary step to cancellation." It means that we've had mail returned to our office as undeliverable. Hit it, Elvis:



Voter registration is not like a driver's license that you have to renew or else it expires. It's considered permanent, until and unless you move.

Since Motor Voter took effect in 1995, no one gets canceled just for not voting. It all depends on the mail. The intent is to make it really, really, REALLY hard to cancel your registration without you knowing about it - an intent Judicial Watch does not seem to support.

I have spent most of this week processing one of our most valuable mailings, the Four Year No Activity mailing. Before Motor Voter we flat out canceled you after four years. Now we can just send you a friendly reminder card.

If the card from this mailing, or several other mailings that are strictly limited and spelled out by law, comes back as undeliverable, we can inactivate the voter. But we still have to wait through two more general elections before we can completely cancel them. That means the bins of mail I got back this week don't get totally cancelled until 2021.

I'm the person who does most of the dealing with this. As anyone who knows me politically or professionally knows, I'm obsessive about having the best and cleanest lists possible - a real challenge in a college town, and one of the few ways that my being Aspergery (that's not a flip anti-autistic remark, it's an actual diagnosis) about lists is a marketable job skill.

Judicial Watch's accusations don't even make political sense. An inaccurate ("dirty," they called it) voter file is actually a political negative, not a positive, because every bad name and number is a wasted door knocked or disconnected call made. And every address not updated in advance is a person who has to wait longer in line - and so do all the people behind them in line. If you want to help people vote, you want an accurate list.

Before the 4 Year No Activity mailing went out I contact all the major players - the dorms, the interfraternity council, and the post office - to let them all know These Cards Are Really Important and that we needed to get as many as possible Elvised back to us. They're used to me by now and their cooperation was wonderful again this year.

Last year I finally caught the 46 year old woman who was still registered in her college sorority house and last voted in 1992. (Someone always asks; it's not the house mom.) She's Inactive, but I have to wait till 2019 to completely cancel her.

So technically, she is a registered voter here. That means Judicial Watch is counting 46 Year Old Delta Delta Delta against our census totals and accusing my boss, my co-workers, and me of Fraud!, even though I spent close to a decade chasing this particular person down.

Forgive me if I take that a little personally.

I had one voter this morning who registered when she turned 18 in 1999 and NEVER voted here. The post office kept delivering her mail to her parents' home until this year - usually when it's been that long, it  means the parents have moved to a new home too. I was finally able to inactivate her - but I can't cancel her till 2021 - 22 years after she registered.

Again - Judicial Watch calls that "fraud."

Since people think I only work one day every four years, here's what we've been doing since the presidential election, and how our statistics compare to Judicial Watch's irrational numbers:

As of the time I went to lunch Wednesday Johnson County had 92,284 active status voters. That’s well below the 2015 estimated 115,112 census population aged 18 and older.

We also have 13,703 voters on Inactive status, waiting another two or four years to get cancelled. We KNOW most of these voters have moved away but it is literally against the law for us to fully cancel them yet.

Perhaps Judicial Watch thinks we should break the law.

We can only completely cancel voters sooner if we get direct notice from another jurisdiction, documentation signed by the voter themselves (NOT by Mom And Dad, who always seem more concerned that the voter themselves), or notice of a voter’s death. And as I so often note, literally the first thing I do at work every day is check the obituaries.

Another 474 voters are on Pending or Incomplete status, meaning they left required information off their forms or their ID numbers did not verify. That’s a grand total of 106,461 – still well below the Census estimate.

We've canceled 8082 voters since the first of the year. Only by adding that into the 106,461 do we get close to the 115,112 voting age census population - and only if you grab the numbers deliberately at the absolute peak to push your agenda.

Most of those cancellations - 7075 - were in January when we cancelled people who were inactivated in 2013 and 2014. We sent final letters to every one, and every single one came back undeliverable.

We also more moved more than 2700 voters from Active to Inactive status in January based on the annual National Change Of Address (NCOA) update from the post office. These voters cannot be canceled until after the 2020 election. And every person we inactivate gets send Yet Another Card Just To Be Sure; occasionally we hear back from someone who has moved or has postal problems.

I get voters who send back the NCOA card, check the box saying they moved away, and send it back... but forget to sign. I can't cancel them. Fortunately I have drafted a letter they they can just sign and send back in a postage paid envelope. This gets almost a 100% response rate.

Between all our list maintenance activity, our active registration, the number that really matters, is down by 4038 since January. That's almost exactly the number of election day registrations we got on November 8. (We got another 1000 from early voters in the week before election day ,after the pre-registration deadline.)

Only by grabbing our numbers at their absolute peak, and presenting them in a deliberately misleading way, is Judicial Watch able to argue that we have "too many" voters and try to make us look "dirty" and push their agenda of making it harder to vote.

Yeah. I take that personally.

At the Johnson County Auditor's Office, we think our job is to HELP people vote. That's why I've devoted a 20 year career to this. And it's only because we are so good at helping people vote that we're able to have such high active registration numbers that, though misleading counting of our inactive voters, we approach the census estimates.

It's a remarkable achievement in a town full of the youngest and least likely voters. And it's a record Travis and I and my co-workers want to extend into the ugly new voter ID era.  So it's going to be harder to vote? OK, well we'll just work harder then.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Paul Pate Has No Elvis In Him: Why Election Day Registrations REALLY Get Returned

Once again, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is politicizing the routine business of election management to push his agenda. The Huffington Post reports:
In an effort to highlight voter irregularities and push for stricter voting laws, Iowa’s top election official pushed statistics on alleged voter fraud that even a member of his own staff privately suggested were misleading, emails obtained by the Huffington Post reveal...

To substantiate his argument, Pate’s office drafted a statement for a reporter from the Iowa Gazette, noting that in Iowa it appeared 41 felons had cast ballots and that more than 200 election day voter registrations, or EDRs, had bounced back.
I'm assuming here that we mean the Cedar Rapids Gazette. I can't find the article that came out of this (I'll keep looking) but the timing in early January is right around the roll out of Pate's "Election Integrity" (sic) voter ID bill. The bill has passed both the House and Senate in different language; the House is expected to consider the Senate's amendments this week.

HuffPo continues, quoting Pate:
We need to release info and these stats are public already. When an auditor turns them over to the county attorney or sheriff for action that pretty much makes it public. Am I missing something?,” he wrote in an email.
But releasing the statistics drew an objection from Carol Olson, Pate’s deputy secretary of state for elections, who suggested they were misleading...

“I’m also really reluctant to say that 207 EDR’s from 15 counties bounced back. In the context of a discussion on election fraud, it sounds like we are suggesting that “bounce backs” are fraud or likely to be fraud,” she wrote... “The vast majority of these ‘bounce-backs’ are sloppy addresses from voters in too much of a hurry when they register at the polls. That’s a real reason to discourage EDR and a real reason to have pollbooks, but it’s not an indicator of illegal activity.
Along with the timing, the number and the emphasis are interesting here, because the biggest totals of these "bounce-backs" came in Johnson County. (Full disclosure: This was all long before my boss, Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert, started looking at challenging Pate next year. In fact, if I can presume to speak on his behalf, crap like this is WHY Travis is looking at it.)

I may be a partisan blogger - thanks for reading, Paul! - but I'm also pretty good at my job, so it's time for another post about the micro-details of my work.

You know of course that everyone who registers or makes a change gets a new voter card. Johnson County mailed over 8000 cards on November 17 reflecting changes made on or just before election day.

If you're a regular reader you know that when those are returned as undeliverable by the post office, the voter gets put on "Inactive" status. These are what Pate and Olson are calling "bounce-backs."



In Johnson County we call them something else.

There's an added step with EDR voters. Rather than immediately inactivating these voters, we first send them a Mildly Scary Letter with a form. It's not till the letter also gets Elvised back to us that we make them inactive, and then we pass the list along to the county attorney.

I sent 97 of those letters out on December 15. That sounds like a lot compared to the 15-county total of 207 cited by Pate. But it's just 1.86% of the 5212 EDRs we processed in Johnson County. That's a share comparable to, or even better, than the routine registrations we get during the peak of election season - because EDR voters are already required to show proof of address.

The fact that the biggest numbers came from the most Democratic county in the state is a big part of why Pate wants to play this up. It might sound fishy to people who don't live in a college town.

Homeowners who've had the same address 20 years don't have as much trouble getting their mail - remember, the whole subtext of the voter ID debate is about calling universal suffrage itself into question. More than a few locals think the students shouldn't be allowed to vote here anyway, even though the Supreme Court settled that in the `70s. There's also a lot of belief in the myth of "busloads of voters from Chicago," with all the associated ugly racial implications and the association of that city's name with "fraud."

Four months later here's where we stand with those 97 voters:

34 are on Active status. This means the Mildly Scary Letter got through. Either they responded to the letter and made any needed corrections, or they simply were having mail delivery problems when the cards went out. We routinely see people who can't get a card delivered to save their lives, but letters get through. Go figure.

Five are no longer registered in the county. This could mean they moved or re-registered immediately post-election. Students often, intentionally or not, re-register immediately back in their parents' counties. "Where do I live" is a permanent issue of confusion for students. They're used to putting both addresses on everything, but election law generally assumes you live in one place.

58, just 1.1% of the 5212 Johnson County EDRs, are on Inactive status. This likely means the letter also got Elvised at which point I inactivated them.

So these are the fraudsters, right? Not exactly. These problems came almost entirely from two kinds of places.

Most were from the large downtown student apartment complexes, and they came back for one overwhelming reason: Missing apartment numbers.

If you're a letter carrier with a giant complex like the Cornerstone Apartments or Hawks Ridge on your route, where almost every tenant moves every August, where names on mailboxes are iffy at best, you're not going to spend way more time than you have trying to figure out which apartment this card goes to. You're gonna Elvis it back. (The post office calls them "Nixies.") And then all we can do is send another piece of mail to the same bad address. (EDR voters tend to be in a hurry, so we don't get a lot of phone numbers or email addresses from them for follow-up.)

The next biggest chunk comes from the complete opposite kind of place: the small towns of Johnson County. They come back because people leave off their post office boxes.

Some towns are very friendly about delivering mail. I used to get mail addressed just to "John Deeth, Lone Tree IA." Lone Tree has since changes postmasters, and they are now picky about PO boxes.

The worst by far is Tiffin. There seems to be no clear pattern to which parts of the fast growing town have street delivery and which have boxes. and the post office is absolutely uncooperative.

I'm not saying this isn't a problem. We can always do a better job. But the solutions to that problem don't require changes in the law. In the post-Florida era, legal changes have dramatically increased the workload on poll workers. Tasks are more numerous and more complicated, and all important. These issues with apartments and mailing addresses are just one more detail in an incredibly busy day.

But that's a training issue. it's not a problem best solved by implying that postal problems are fraud, and using that as an excuse to make voting more difficult.

When Paul Pate returned to office, with less than 50% of the vote in a three way race, I was disappointed because I had supported Brad Anderson. But I was relieved that with his past experience he would at least be better than Matt Schultz, who spent his whole term looking for nonexistent fraud and running a failed campaign for Congress.



At least with Schultz you knew what you were getting. But Pate has been a different story the second time around, pretending to be "responsive" to the needs of auditors, but toeing the party line in the end and twisting the job to a partisan agenda. Here, Pate has taken a very minor technical detail and over his staff's objection used it as "evidence" of "fraud,"

All this after bragging in October that Iowa had the best run elections anywhere. If there was any doubt before, this proves that Paul Pate has no Elvis in him.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Election Law In Need Of Grownup Supervision

What happens when you pass a law that's literally impossible to follow? Paul Pate is about to find out... but should have known better in the first place. Settle in for another long technical post.

Pate has been bragging about "listening" to auditors of both parties as tweaks are made to House File 516, the voter ID - oops, "integrity" (sic) - bill that's he's been the point man for all session. Of course, if he had really been listening to the auditors, he would have dropped the whole thing when they came out in opposition. But we're all grownups here so we know how this ball game is played.

Or do we? The grownups don't seem to be in charge at all, given some of the childish mistakes in the Senate bill.

Last Thursday morning, shortly before Senate debate began, Roby Smith dropped a long amendment to HF516 that changed several provisions. I outlined those amendments, which the Senate passed later Thursday, here.

Leaving aside the ideology behind the bill, two items are problematic and illustrate a serious lack of understanding of election administration. Even if Pate was not the driving force behind these amendments, he and his staff should have spotted the problems and gotten the items changed before Senate passage. One is just a nuisance but the other is impossible.

Smith's amendments change the way names are rotated on the ballot in general election partisan races. Under current law, auditors set one order for the parties which have candidates and stick with it across all precincts. The only contest in which names have to be rotated by precincts if you are electing and voting for more than one person - that is, at large supervisor races. In those you keep the order of parties but you rotate within the party like so:

Precinct 1
Friese
Green-Douglass
Sullivan


Precinct2
Green-Douglass
Sullivan

Friese


Precinct3
Sullivan
Friese

Green-Douglass

Repeat

The funny thing about the order of parties on the ballot is that it's one of the very, very few things done at the auditor's discretion. Which almost always means that the auditor's own party goes first - except in Johnson County in 2012 when out of spite lame duck auditor Tom Slockett listed the Republicans first after he lost the Democratic primary.

The Senate-passed version of the bill takes away that discretion. Instead it requires that the two largest parties rotate by precinct: If Republicans are first in precinct 1, Democrats are first in precinct 2. This leaves the Libertarians, who worked hard for decades for the full major party status they finally earned in 2016, still lumped in with the small fry.

The small fry are also required to rotate by precinct. So if the Anti-Masonic Party is first in precinct 1, they drop to the bottom in precinct 2, and the Bull Moose, Federalists, Know Nothings and Whigs each move up a notch.

Maybe you think that's more fair (I'm sure the Libertarians don't); like I keep saying, I've never been convinced ballot order makes a difference. Personally I think it's spite-motivated because the largest counties all have Democratic auditors. But that's not the point. Here's the point:

It's technically impossible.

At least two of the state's four election software systems cannot program a ballot with the kind of two-layered rotation that the Senate bill requires. And no one in the Senate Republican caucus bothered to check before passing the bill, and no one in Paul Pate's office stepped in on Thursday to say Ix-Nay on the Otation-Ray, Oby-Ray.

This morning Amendment H1238 appeared, with no sponsor listed. The amendment eliminates the minor party - oops, I mean the major Libertarian Party and minor party - layer of rotation, and instead requires only that Democrats and Republicans rotate by precinct.

The screw-up means that the bill now has to make another trip back to the Senate. Which may not be a bad thing... because maybe we can fix another problem.

As noted, the Senate added back in a provision (first proposed then dropped in the House) that would cut the in person early voting period from 40 days down to 29, and would also make auditors wait until 29 days out before sending out the mailed ballots. (Why 29? Because that's a Monday and it gives Democrats two fewer weekends to chase down those mailed ballots.)

Because of the later mail out date, Smith's Senate amendments pushed several general election filing deadlines back five to eight days. Smith bragged during debate, with a straight face, that this was one of the ways the bill expanded voting rights (can't make this shit up) because it gave candidates more time to file.

The assumption seemed to be: if ballots are going out later, auditors have more prep time, so we can move these deadlines back.

But auditors don't have more prep time at all. We have less - because we still have to have the ballots ready on the same date we did before.

Under the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act ("UOCAVA" in election speak) ballots have to be ready to mail to overseas voters 45 days before the election. The deadline is so early and so strict that states which traditionally had September primaries, like New York and Wisconsin, have had to move those election dates back so that UOCAVA ballots could be ready in time.

Several legislators, of both parties, seemed to be unaware of UOCAVA's 45 day requirement. Smith had to be coached by someone while some Democratic senators were expressing fears that their troops, Peace Corps kids and overseas students would be hurt by the 29 day law. All those people are UOCAVA-eligible.

Most overseas voters prefer to get their election materials by email (so would many domestic voters if given the choice). They still have to print it out and mail it back, with only a few exceptions. But some still want the printed paper ballot physically mailed to them, and they have that right. And to even have the file to send to the voter, the programming needs to be complete.

So under the Senate passed version of the bill, auditors will have to rush to get their ballots programmed and printed in time for the overseas voters, then sit on the ever-growing pile of requests for 11 extra days until the new law allows us to finally mail the domestic ballots.

The message doesn't seem to have gotten across the rotunda, as House majority leader Chris Hagenow sent out a constituent newsletter in which he bragged that the current 40 day early voting window would remain in place.

Since the bill has to go back to the Senate anyway to fix the rotation screw-up, and since the arguments for sending ballots out later are full of holes, this is something the House could do to make this bill stink a little less. Put the 40 days back in. Let the voters who have their minds made up, who aren't going to be swayed by anything in a debate, get their business done and get them out of the way, so the line is shorter for the people who want to vote later.