HJR 681/SJR 363

Joint Subcommittee to Study Virginia's Election Process and Voting Technologies

July 31, 2001, Richmond

The joint subcommittee conducted several meetings at an all-day session held at the Sheraton Richmond West the day before the State Board of Elections' training session for registrars and electoral board members.

Task Force #1—Technology and Voting Equipment

The task force received an update from the State Board's deputy director on recent pilot projects to test and evaluate a merged pollbook for checking in voters on election day. The State Board is authorized to conduct such tests through July 1, 2003, in participating localities. The current process for recording who voted on election day requires two separate voter registration lists to be used at each precinct. After the election, offi-cers of election forward one list to the locality's circuit court under seal for retention until the deadlines for recounts and contests have passed. The other list is returned to the State Board for voting credit purposes and remains open for public inspection. The merged pollbook offers several advantages over the current system, including speeding up the check-in process and reducing the cost incurred by the State Board in reimbursing the Department of Information Technology (DIT) for printing the multiple voter lists. DIT must run their high-speed printers continuously for four straight days to produce the registered voter lists.

The State Board described its experience in testing several alternative forms of the merged pollbook. An electronic version of the merged pollbook was tested during a Vienna town election and during the June 19 special election for the vacant 4th congressional seat. The board received positive feedback from pollworkers, who said that the electronic pollbook decreased the check-in time considerably. However, the total cost to equip each precinct with new hardware could carry a price tag of $1 million. The State Board stated that it would continue to look for ways to reduce the costs of the electronic pollbook, including leasing options, purchasing smaller hand-held devices and entering into revenue sharing agreements with vendors to divide savings resulting from lower printing costs.

The State Board also tested a printed version of the merged pollbook during several recent elections. The printed merged pollbook received similar praise from election officials, who reported increased efficiency in the check-in process. The printed merged pollbook will be tested on a larger scale during the August 21 primary and November 6 statewide election to evaluate the vendor's capabilities and determine cost-savings potential.

Task Force #2—Voter Registration and Election Day Processes

A panel of general registrars and electoral board members led a discussion on issues pertaining to officers of election. The panel represented large and small counties and cities and brought out a number of issues and ideas for consideration by the task force.

Recruitment. Recruiting presents problems for many localities. Recruitment in smaller localities may depend on personal recruitment by election officials and in larger localities on public service announcements. The use of split shifts is favored in some localities but not others. Ideas for recruitment included contacts with civic associations for an "adopt a precinct" program, use of high school students to assist officers of election, and an election day holiday generally or as a program for a business to encourage employees to serve as officers of election. Panelists discussed how to encourage officers to retire when appropriate and the possibility of a recognition ceremony as a way to make retirement acceptable. Panelists favored increased pay for officers of election and noted that the state law $30 minimum pay for election day service is unrealistic.

Training. Officer training is vital but can present problems, including difficulty in assuring attendance, finding ways to train new officers and experienced officers without confusing the former or boring the latter, and using appropriate materials for training. Ideas discussed included a special manual keyed to the locality's equipment and process, video training sessions, split sessions for experienced and new officers, and interactive training sessions. One panelist suggested a Virginia certification program for chief election officers who carry the main responsibility for operations at the polling place on election day.

Joint Subcommittee Sessions

During the remainder of the day, the joint subcommittee met as a whole in four sessions.

Voter Accessibility Issues. A panel representing multiple viewpoints and interests stressed the need for accessibility to the polling place and to voting equipment so that all voters can participate at the polls and cast a secret ballot. Advances in technology were discussed, ranging from special audio ballot devices for visually impaired voters to access to translators via telephone. Panelists placed much emphasis on proper training of officers of election to understand accessibility issues from the viewpoint of the voter. Practical suggestions were given for equipping polling places with inexpensive but useful devices such as magnifying glasses. The discussion covered issues such as an election day holiday, voter education needs, easier access for felons who have completed their sentences, and the need to assure voters a second chance when they erroneously mark a ballot.

Virginia Overseas Voting Test Project. The State Board is exploring with VoteHere a pilot project to test an electronic and online voting system for Virginia National Guard members who will be deployed to Bosnia during the November 2001 election.

Public Comments. The subcommittee held an open comment session and heard a variety of suggestions:

  • the need to provide adequate state funding for mandated improvements and state funding for an assistant registrar,
  • the dilemma presented by FOIA for the three-member local electoral boards,
  • the importance of voter education and new ideas such as use of voting equipment for high school elections and for other civic events,
  • the need for a complete and up-to-date state manual for voter registrars,
  • the need for a liaison between the State Board and local registrars and for continuity and experience in top-level State Board staff positions.

Voting Equipment Demonstrations. After the hearing concluded, the subcommittee and election officials had the opportunity to view and test a broad range of voting and election equipment devices provided by vendors at the meeting, including both approved types of equipment already in use in Virginia and new technologies that may be approved in the future.

The joint subcommittee will meet October 12 in Richmond to receive task force reports.

Subsequent Task Force Meetings

Task Force #1—Technology and Voting Equipment

September 10, 2001, Richmond

A panel of experts from Virginia Tech described the potential use of a variety of biometric technologies for voter identification and the costs and reliability of the various methods. Biometrics measure unique individual characteristics—both physical and behavioral. Fingerprints, retina or iris scans, facial recognition, speech recognition, and signatures can be measured and compared with a database by biometrics. While many states have voters sign a roster or statement or show an identification card, none now employs biometrics to identify voters. The costs of a biometric program increase as the degree of desired convenience and security increases.

Staff presented a summary report on Internet voting developments, including the June 2001 report on the Federal Voter Assistance Program's pilot project, the March 2001 National Science Foundation Report, and the January 2000 report of the California Internet Voting Task Force. These studies emphasize the need for further study, innovation, and testing of Internet voting with limited use at the polling places as a first step before relying on off-site Internet voting.

State Board of Elections staff reported on the process to certify new voting equipment. First, the equipment is tested by an independent testing authority to meet the Federal Election Commission standards; second, equipment is tested in Virginia by an independent electronics or engineering consultant to meet additional Virginia standards; third, the equipment is tested in an election; and finally the State Board approves the equipment. After a moratorium on certification, the certification process is now in progress. Five types of equipment were tested in August: four were cleared for testing in an election and three of the four will be tested in the November election in precincts in Arlington, Prince William, Norfolk, and Henrico. These are touch-screen systems with a prompt to the voter to verify how he voted. The board has a partnership with the Biomedical Engineering Department at VCU to send students to test areas to interview voters on their use of the new equipment.

The task force reviewed a proposed outline of issues for its report to the joint subcommittee and agreed on the following recommendations:

  • Continue the present local option system for selecting voting equipment and do not mandate the use of one system statewide.
  • Support federal grants for upgrading voting equipment.
  • Support state funding for upgrading voting equipment to provide more accessible equipment at the polling places with funding on a composite index basis that takes local funding ability into account.
  • Support additional personnel and funding for expanded State Board oversight of the certification process and ongoing monitoring of voting equipment.
  • Monitor developments in Internet voting and the use of biometrics without any commitment at this time.
  • Support local efforts to educate officers of election, retain the current requirement that chief officers and an assistant be trained within 30 days of the election, and allow training of other officers at any time.
  • As a follow-up to the State Board pilot project on the merged registered voter list and pollbook, authorize the use of a merged list and allow the use of an electronic list.

The task force directed staff to prepare a draft report for task force comment.

The Honorable Kevin G. Miller, Task Force Chairman

Task Force #2—Voter Registration and Election Day Processes

August 28, 2001, Richmond

DMV on-line voter registration process. The Division of Motor Vehicles demonstrated the on-line driver's license renewal process and its links to the voter registration system. An applicant can request a voter registration application, initiate a change of address on his voter registration, check his voter status, districts, and polling place, and link to information on his representatives. Access to the system requires a pin number for security. Approximately 15 percent of license renewals are now done on line.

Specific proposals. Joint subcommittee member Ed O'Neal presented a list of seven items for consideration: (1) an expanded prohibited area at the polls, (2) use of electoral board members to administer oaths and accept absentee ballots, (3) enforcement of the prohibited area by electoral board members, (4) prohibition against split precincts in redistricting, (5) mandated minimum pay for first assistant registrar, (6) definition of electoral board responsibilities and pay, and (7) development of a list of voter responsibilities. The task force directed staff to prepare legislative drafts on items 2, 3, and 7 and on a clarification of the meaning of "entrance to the polling place" in connection with item 1. It also asked for options to the judicial appointment of electoral board members.

VVRS list maintenance issues. The State Board reported that it is now switching to the new VVRS II system and that there is a total match monthly of the list against deceased and felony conviction reports. The board is working with the National Postal Change of Address program and examining the costs and values of matching the Social Security deceased lists and adjacent states' registration lists. The task force asked for information for a budget amendment to fund the list matching options.

Election day processes. A panel of electoral board members and registrars provided a detailed description and materials outlining the multiple steps followed by election officials and officers to carry out election day responsibilities. The task force asked for draft legislation to provide for a record of election day phone calls to registrars showing the nature of the inquiries and problems.

Conditional ballots. Many current election reform reports call for a conditional ballot so that voters not listed on pollbooks can cast a ballot that will be counted if it is found that they are registered. The task force and persons present emphasized that a voter in the wrong precinct should be sent to the correct precinct to have his vote counted and not be offered a conditional ballot that will not be counted if he is in the wrong precinct. Officers of election should be educated to handle conditional ballots properly.

Recount procedures. The State Board reviewed the standards adopted by the board on August 20 in response to Chapters 639 and 641 of the 2001 Acts of Assembly amending § 24.2-802, including detailed standards for interpreting the voter's intent. The task force will consider further the issue of how much flexibility the recount court should have to order hand recounts.

September 11, 2001, Richmond

The task force received reports from the State Registrar and Division of Vital Statistics, the State Board of Elections, and staff. It reviewed several matters carried forward from earlier meetings and reached the following decisions:

Lag time on reports of deaths. Times vary from date of death to date of update in the voter registration system and may involve three or more months. Times vary in the initial report by funeral directors to local health departments and local reports to the state. While the change to an electronic transfer of data at the state level has sped the process, lag times still exist. The Division of Vital Statistics and State Board will develop additional information on the average time to communicate deaths to voter registrars. More information will better enable the task force to decide if legislation is appropriate.

Voter registration drives. State Board staff distributed lists of public bodies (127) and other individuals and groups (276) requesting 50 or more voter registration applications during the past six months. Of course, many groups may request applications from the local registrar or print forms from the State Board's web site. The State Board now provides Guidelines for Voter Registration Drives on the Internet [http://www.sbe.state.va.us/VotRegServ/nvra/regdrive.htm]. The board will provide guidelines to groups requesting forms from the board and communicate with local registrars to encourage them to use the standardized materials provided by the board. No legislation is warranted at this time.

More education for college students on voter registration issues. The concerns are to assure that college students understand their opportunity to register and eligibility requirements. Staff will prepare draft legislation requiring all colleges and universities in Virginia to include information regarding voter registration procedures and eligibility requirements in their orientation packets for new students. The task force will review this legislation with representatives of Virginia's colleges and universities to obtain their input.

Incompetence and incapacity. The term "incompetent" is used in the Constitution and "incapacitated" is used in statutes. The task force reviewed a draft request for advice from the Attorney General whether the statutes are consistent with the Constitution and authorized the Chairman to send the request.

Absentee voting deadlines. After a review of the various deadlines contained in the absentee voting laws, the task force concluded that no changes in the deadlines were desirable. It directed staff to review the laws for any obsolete provisions.

Federal Voting Assistance Program recommendations. State Board staff reviewed three proposals involving (i) voting in federal elections by citizens who have never lived in the U.S. (i.e., children of overseas workers); (ii) voting absentee by fax; and (iii) expanded use of federal write-in absentee ballot. The task force approved items (i) and (iii) and asked for draft legislation.

Jury lists and registered voter lists. Staff reported on how the Secretary of the Supreme Court now provides lists to the courts with the option to use registered voter lists only or voter registration lists merged with DMV licensed drivers lists. Of courts using the Supreme Court service, 45 use the voter lists only and 64 use the merged lists. Some courts prefer the voter lists alone because they find a higher proportion of eligible jurors on such lists. The task force agreed that the present system and its flexibility for circuit courts should be retained without legislative change.

Voter eligibility in special cases such as "snowbirds" and the homeless. Staff presented information. The task force took no action.

Emergency situations and absentee voting. Staff presented several options dealing with absentee voting by emergency personnel and powers to deal with emergency situations, including the postponement of an election. SBE staff will present a legislative proposal dealing with disaster situations. Staff will prepare legislation modeled after the Maryland law authorizing the State Board of Elections to act in emergency situations not constituting a declared state of emergency.

Officers of elections issues. Staff presented information. The task force took no action.

State and local roles in voter education. The task force discussed the importance of the issue and the possibility of a voter education grant program to provide some state support. The task force will consider the matter further.

Language accessibility issues. The State Board alerted the task force to the possibility that second language ballot and elections materials requirements may become applicable in some Virginia localities as a result of the 2000 Census and Voting Rights Act. The task force took no action.

The Honorable William T. Bolling, Task Force Chairman

The Honorable James K. O'Brien, Jr., Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Mary Spain


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