Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Our Board Is Special

Ballots mailed out for two school district elections hit voter mailboxes last Thursday.

We mailed out about 87,000 ballots.  After the long holiday weekend, we got our first batch returned by voters, about 30 trays.

For each election, by law, I appoint a special board to process the ballots returned.  What this means is that regular staff members are not part of the canvassing process.

The Special Board meets in a Secure Room, which requires two staff
members (one with a key and another with a code) to allow entry.  
One of the rules--no black or blue pens allowed in the room.

There really isn't a long list of qualifications for the special board, except that we should have a mix of registered voters who have affiliated with each major party.  In Kansas, that registration simply means which state primary you would be eligible for every other August.

We pull from past election workers.  The most important role on this board is that of the supervising judge of the board and we use her input when identifying members of the board.  We look for reliable persons, neutral and pretty much void of opinions, and persons who are available the entire time, including the week or more after the election as we prepare for the final canvass and approval of results, as well as any potential recount.

We've had three different persons leading this room since I've been here.  The first two, eventually, were hired as full-time staff members, so we had a good transition.  In November, we'll need a special board of about 20.

A voter asked me last year to describe members of the special board and I asked the supervising judge once what she would say. 

Her answer came in less than two seconds.

"We're all grandmothers," she said.

For these elections, we have a special board of 7 and the two school districts will save a little money by sharing the cost of the board.  They will be here all day for a couple of days, then schedule their time to be here half days, coming after the mail arrives.

For each envelope, before it can ever be opened, the board verifies the signature on the envelope against the voter's registration card.  Some communities have an automated system.  Here, they eye-ball it, with deference to the voter.  If it looks different, they pull all of the registrations in that household and compare.  Non-matches are made provisional and taken to the Board of County Canvassers for determination if they can be opened and counted.

30 trays of voted ballots came today, ready
for signature verification.
It's usually pretty obvious if mom or dad, for instance, signed for a child.  Sometimes, they have to dig deeper and look at the digits and writing on the registration cards to compare letters beyond the signature--the voter also has to rewrite his or her address.

With the volume we process, there isn't time to go back to voters and say, essentially, "Denied."  If the signature is off and it's not obvious that it was signed by someone else, we send a letter to the voter that basically says, "We think we need an updated signature.  Please sign and return this."  Then, we scan that new signature to the voter record.

We also don't have any systematic way, election to election, to track if a voter's signature didn't match.  The outcome of the ballot is stored on the voter's record, though.  So, it's possible that there could be someone who has signed for another family member for years, each time the ballot not counting, with the person who signed wrongly thinking he or she has outsmarted the system.

About 10 percent of ballots
mailed come back undeliverable.
They can't be forwarded.
Beyond the ones voted and returned, in each election, we get a significant amount returned as undeliverable.  In mail-ballot elections, we mail to each active voter, so the amount returned is at least 10 percent.  But we get many returned in every election, even for cases where people applied for a ballot just a month before we mailed it.

It just shows how frequently people move.  When working for the local telephone side at Sprint, I learned that that one-third of our directory turned over each year in terms of adds, moves, and changes.

If you have children on sports teams, take a look at the team pictures over a five-year period, and you'll see the turnover.

The undeliverable ballots start a whole process that begins the clock, by law, for removable from the voting rolls.  We run that process pretty tightly and you can still see that a good 10 percent of our voters, at a minimum, are no longer living where they registered.  Look for a future post on this whole process.