Monday, January 31, 2011

VA State Board of Elections “toothless tiger” issues recommendations

Outgoing Virginia State Board of Elections via @VirginiaSBE twitpic

The recommendations are telling in a first ever final report from an outgoing Virginia State Board of Elections.  Governor McDonnell appointed Donald Palmer as the new Secretary replacing James Alcorn.

Charles E. Judd of Chesterfield, Marketing and Communications Consultant and Kimberly T. Bowers of Richmond, Major Gift Officer-Law for the University of Richmond will replace two members of the board. 

The House of Delegates has bills pending that none of which gives the SBE  more enforcement “teeth.” CLICK HERE FOR ELECTION BILLS.

A citizen spoke at today’s board meeting  just before adjournment as the @VirginiaSBE tweeted: “Albert Kohn says he’s sorry bd is ‘toothless tiger’ & says this should change. This was mentioned in final bd’s report.”

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Final Report of the

Virginia State Board of Elections

January 31, 2011

Honorable Jean Cunningham, Chairman

Harold Pyon, Vice-Chairman

Honorable Nancy Rodrigues, Secretary

As a final act by this Board what follows is a list of recommendations to the new Board members, along with our best wishes:

Continue to Increase Transparency

Under our tenure the Board has moved to greater transparency by adopting regulations through the Town Hall process; increased utilization of Twitter for upcoming elections, on Election Day, and even during the SBE meetings; and increased the SBE’s presence on the internet by posting many documents, resources, training materials, and statistical reports on the web site. The work has begun on a revamping of the State Board of Elections website and we hope will be completed soon.

Increase Public Education and Involvement in the Regulatory Development of SBE Polices While many of the State Board’s regulations are exempt from portions of the Public Participation Act, the Board adopted Public Participation Guidelines and used the online Town Hall to record and facilitate public participation. Volunteering to provide information SBE is not required to share has boosted involvement and transparency.

Maintain the State Board’s Independence

The State Board is and should remain an independent policy making board. § 2.2-4002 exempts the Board regulations from the Administrative Process Act when the Board act involves “The conduct of elections or eligibility to vote.” Despite political pressure, the Board must act in the best interest of the voters.

Encourage Participation

It is imperative all parties participate. It has been our practice to invite legal counsel from both major political parties to be present with the Secretary of the State Board and its counsel during elections.

This was a practice in effect prior to our tenure but one we have continued. We found it helpful in handling Election Day issues. Regular meetings were established with the parties prior to and after major elections. Input was provided by both major parties regarding regulations and legislation and SBE would equally share information with both parties. We found this process helpful.

Utilize Data More Effectively

Due to staff shortages, we were not able to create and report performance metrics for the agency, campaign finance, and performance by the general registrars. Currently there is a recruitment effort to strengthen the Information Services Unit at SBE and in the near future this may be possible. Work has begun on the use of data modeling to find errors in election results and campaign finance reports; hopefully, the work will continue.

Refer Complaints to Organizations with Enforcement Authority

The statutory system makes the Board a “toothless tiger”. SBE should still review complaints of fraud and intimidation and investigate problems with local compliance. The Board has referred complaints to the appropriate authority and encouraged discussion on how to prevent them from recurring. However, without increased statutory authority, the Board will remain a “toothless tiger.”

Increase Uniformity in Elections

Elections throughout the state are not uniform. Discussion with the legislature about how to ensure uniformity should occur including the possibility of a constitutional amendment to allow localities to share general registrar/electoral boards as they now share Constitutional Officers. Virginia needs to update its electoral system to match legal realities.

Judiciously Manage the Board’s Budget SBE, as with other agencies, is forced to operate with extremely limited funding for elections. During our tenure, the agency has received a 29% budget reduction. Localities have severely cut funding for the general registrars’ offices. Therefore, other sources of funding should be developed.

Establish Relationships

SBE needs to continue to maintain its independence from political parties, candidates, elected officials and other state entities, but it must be actively engaged in the legislative and budgetary process.

Develop and Utilize Technology to Improve the System

There is no reason why nearly every government and private form can’t be completed online, yet hardly any election related forms are electronic. The Commonwealth processes nearly one millions voter registration and absentee ballot applications a year. The vast majority of these can be done electronically, more secure, and cheaper than their paper counterparts. The effort to keep the General Assembly informed and provide the needed process must be continued.

Reach Out to Other State Entities

We have partnered with other state agencies, in their areas of expertise, to assist with elections. For example, with the help of Virginia State Police, Virginia Department of Transportation, Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Department of Management Services, Commonwealth Preparedness and local enforcement agencies, we were able to help localities keep voters safe on Election Day.

We also appreciated the close working relationship we experienced with Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of General Services, and Department of Human Resource Management. These agencies played a key role in our ability to serve democracy.

Value the Staff

We have been fortunate to work with some true professionals who are passionate about their work and commitment to the voters. Hundreds of hours of training have been given to staff during our tenure and we hope that trend continues.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Election 2011, Elections, Politics, State Politics

Tags: , ,

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