Sunday, September 22, 2013

There Are Returned Ballots, and Then There Are "Returned" Ballots

Our Overland Park mail-ballot election--the biggest mail-ballot election in the county's history--is underway!

The process, utilizing Pitney Bowes in Kansas City and bypassing the Olathe Post Office to send the ballots, has been incredibly better than our experience the last time (2008) we had an Overland Park mail-ballot election.

I couldn't take photos at Pitney Bowes on Monday because of their own security, but here are some of the pallets awaiting shipment from Washington state, where we have them printed by ES&S.  Once arrived at Kansas City, they were sorted by zip code and prepared to be taken to the Kansas City Post Office Tuesday night, and voters began receiving their ballots Wednesday morning.

By law, the ballots couldn't begin being received by voters until Wednesday.

We have another large mail-ballot election, in Olathe, on the heels of this one, and beginning with that election, we'll have a tracking system in place so that we will know when ballots are at the Olathe Post Office, awaiting delivery to us.  That has been an issue, where we have been told by the Post Office that they had no ballots on a Tuesday morning, only to find that they actually had a few hundred but simply hadn't counted them yet.

Ballots were mailed Tuesday night, began being received Wednesday, and by Friday, we had 10,151 ballots returned.

However, of the those, 5,994 were returned by the voter as voted ballots.  4,157 were returned as undeliverable.

"Returned" ballots.  Green envelopes are
returned, voted ballots.  White envelopes
are returned as undeliverable.  Ballots
cannot be forwarded.
This means that of the 111,069 ballots issued, 3.7 percent represented voters who have moved just since March.

That's when we mailed postcards to each voter and began working those that came back undeliverable.  Those voters became "inactive," where they sit unless we get a good address and updated registration or until they haven't voted in both the 2014 or 2016 federal election.  At that point, if they are still inactive in December 2016, they can be removed.

Mail-ballot elections only send ballots to active voters in Kansas, so none of those returned were already in inactive status.

Using the 3.7 percent as a swag and recognizing that it's been only six month since the postcard, it's fair to think that at least 7 percent of voters move without updating their registration annually.  With 370,000 registered voters, beyond those we know are inactive, that's about another 26,000 who, theoretically, will have moved and not updated their registration in a 12-month period.

This is especially complicated for a county like Johnson County, which sits on a state line.  Many of these voters likely will have moved to Missouri.  In fact, that also complicates the issue of the voters in suspense status who have registered but not yet provided proof of citizenship.  Some of those voters, nine months into the implementation of the law, have likely by now moved out of state and will remain in that suspense status indefinitely.

There has to be a better way of managing the voter rolls.  In fact, there are better ways.

That sentence was intended to say that there HAS to be a better way, meaning implementing the better way may be one way out of that continuing War on the Voter that we fight as polling places are eliminated, advance voting sites are difficult to find, and the mail service--without the crafty end run we just did for Overland Park--continues to be a worry.

Both the PEW Center for the States and the Kansas Secretary of State testified on this issue Friday to the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.

What was done after the Help America Vote Act, to create statewide voter registration systems, should be amped up, in my opinion.  I sat next to one of the co-chairs of the Commission during a meeting in early July and he had a keen interest in the solutions implemented by PEW and the state of Kansas.

PEW's solution is a comprehensive voter registration system that incorporates several databases.  Kansas has agreements with nearly half of the states in the country to compare voter registration lists and remove duplicates.

I'm hoping that because this issue seemed to be burning since at least early July with the Commission, some tangible change may result, perhaps in the year or two after the recommendations are made (by December).

One nationwide voter registration system may be too much to undertake politically, but it would go a long way to keeping us from putting an asterisk after the definition of "returned ballots."  It may also be a gateway to more innovative voting methods, such as allowing voters to call up and cast their unique ballots anywhere in a state or even anywhere in the country.

For now, we'll take the short-term win.  For Overland Park, thanks to sweat on the backs of many at ES&S, Pitney Bowes, the U.S. Post Office (our guy on the case in Kansas City), and our own employees at the Election Office, this election has started off very smoothly.