At a scheduled meeting held Monday by the Board of Elections, officials approved a measure that would require the head of the Election System to get prior approval for any purchases or payments totaling $5,000 or more. They also considered a bill that would return the option to voters of choosing a party symbol when casting a ballot.
Neither of the measures moved without controversy. Newly reappointed Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes waited for the debate on spending oversight to play out and the vote to take place before voicing her concerns.
Fawkes pointed out that major expenditures, like purchases of voting machines, already need and get prior approval. As a result, the pace of operations at the election system moves faster than the board meets, and spending decisions involving $5,000 or more happen frequently. “Five-thousand dollars is not a good threshold,” Fawkes said. “If the board has to meet to approve purchases of $5,000, the board would have to meet every other day.
But Elections Board Chairman Raymond Williams assured the supervisor his members simply wanted more accountability. If the process turned too cumbersome, he said, the board could always revisit the matter.
Discussion over whether to reinstate the practice of voting by the political party symbol came at the supervisor’s request. If approved by lawmakers, Bill No. 34-0143 would reinstate a discontinued practice during a previous election when the company that programs local voting machines ran into a technical problem.
Technicians with the firm, Election Systems & Software, said they could not fix the program to allow symbol voting in time for balloting in 2014. Lawmakers voted to eliminate the practice in 2016.
Under the old system, voters casting ballots by pressing the party symbol of their choice automatically picked all members of the party running for office with a single stroke. Board members meeting by way of teleconference on Monday reminisced about one of the pain points that became apparent during the election cycle that year.
Chairman Williams and board member Epiphanie Joseph recalled the number of spoiled ballots turning up during the 2014 election. At the time, Joseph said, he was there as an observer, and he recalled Williams saying how embarrassed he was by the number of voters who spoiled their ballots by voting the symbol and then choosing a non-party candidate as well.
“I clearly remember the spoiled ballots,” said board member Lydia Hendricks. “I am tired of us going backwards.”
But board member Barbara McIntosh said she favored the reinstatement. “This was a problem the board created. We didn’t check to see if the machines worked properly. I am for symbol voting as a Democrat, and I am in favor of seeing the symbols go back into the machine.”
Fawkes said she wanted to hear the sentiment of the board to represent their position before an upcoming Senate committee hearing.
Also up for discussion before the Legislature is Bill No. 34-0149. The measure calls on the election system to make all of its records available electronically, but Williams said he did not like what the bill was suggesting.
“The way the bill is written, that would include having the names, addresses, phone numbers, and political affiliations of newly registered voters,” he said.
Board member Harriet Mercer said she remembered an incident from a recent election cycle where a voter received a call from a candidate, asking if she had voted for them. The voter was upset, and Mercer said because the phone number was not supposed to be publicly available.
“Someone’s going to take us to court,” member Joseph said. Attorney Lisa Harris-Moorehead warned her fellow elections board members that Bill No. 34-0149 if passed with the current language in place, could bring legal ramifications.