Rick Hasen blogged on a recent study out of the Pew Center on the States which examined cost savings related to and voter attitudes about electronic delivery of election information. (Click here for the Ventura County Star story.)

My first reaction was “great” but my second reaction was “wait, is there an app for that?” I am a big fan of email delivery of long paper documents which have short term utility, like mutual fund reports, shareholder statements, even some journal articles!  But I am increasingly accessing these materials through an iPad or other mobile device. I wonder if any local jurisdictions or states are thinking ahead of the curve, and contemplating not just electronic delivery via email, but electronic notification of new content that can be accessed via an RSS feed or dedicated “Elections App.” For an increasing number of users, that’s a much more flexible way to get to information, rather than using an email interface.

A colleague sent along this story out of Georgia with the commentary “It appears they (gasp) took your advice.”

I’d like to take credit for influencing this legislation, and I may have done so indirectly through my past work with Georgia election officials and scholars at University of Georgia, but I think the credit lies with Secretary Kemp and other administrators in the Peach State.

I do applaud the changes they’ve implemented.  The early voting period has been shortened to 21 days (I generally recommend 10-14); Secretary Kemp notes that 80% of early voters cast their ballots during that period.   It standardizes the early voting period, an important change in my opinion because it reduces any possibility of inequities in access to the ballot based on a county’s wealth, geographic size, or population. Finally, it allows for weekend early voting, a potential inconvenience for officials to be sure, but one which citizens will find very helpful.

Full story at The Weekly.

Changes to early voting are on the administrative and legislative calendar in many states and jurisdictions. A brief update from the mail bag:

  1. In Colorado, many counties have absentee ballot rates exceeding 70%. This was the threshold, by the way, that encouraged Oregon and Washington to move to full vote by mail. In Arapahoe County, less than 15% of the electorate is showing on up election day, and the county is contemplating a substantial reduction in precinct places, using election day vote centers instead. Officials estimate that they can reduce the number of election judges by 2/3.
  2. County clerk Kathy Neal, in Summit County IN, is proposing that all primaries and elections held in odd number years be conducted completely by mail. Neal expects this to result in a 25-30% cost savings by eliminating the need for election judges. Already , 40% of ballots come in via the mail in Sumit County.
  3. Pierce County, WA may finally have to move to full vote by mail elections, if a bill currently moving through the legislature passes and is signed by the governor. Part of the argument is fiscal: county auditor Julie Anderson estimates that the county spent $16.97 per precinct place vote (10,000 in 2010) vs. $6.88 per vote by mail ballot (135,000).

As co-editor of the Election Law Journal, I am pleased to this press release on media newswire:

Mobile Polling Breaks down Barriers to Voting for Seniors in Long Term Care Facilities, Penn Study Shows

This is one of a number of election reform stories that have hit the wires of late:

I know many are taking this on from a rights perspective, but I wonder if there is an additional task. For those who work on these issues, is there any evidence that shows that five years is a reasonable time to evaluate a felon’s probability of recidivism, or in the words of Attorney General Beal’s: “rehabilitation and commitment to a crime-free life”?

I’m also wondering why the Executive Clemency Board has jurisdiction over this issue?

As I warned on recently, extended litigation of Emanuel’s candidacy could imperil early voting,which is scheduled to begin on January 31st.

The other shoe dropped today. Unless the Supreme Court can rule in a few days, it is difficult for me to see how election officials can get ready by Monday. (Unless I am wrong, Chicago voters have the opion of voting on a DRE or using an opscan.)

By the way, UOCAVA ballots began to be delivered on January 8th. Presumably, Emanuel’s name is on those ballots which are already being voted.

It’s good to have friends who are forgiving of end of the day blogging.

Alysoun McLaughlin of the DC Board politely pointed out that I confused the cost figures deportees in Mike DeBonis’s story. The $200,000 is the estimated savings compared to traditional polling places. VBM is estimated to cost $1,000,000 more. That’s a lot of money for a special election!

The reason the costs are so disparate is that the DC rolls have a lot of deadwood and need to be cleaned up. The Oregon response might be: can you run a VBM contest as a way of cleaning the rolls? Nonetheless, my apologies to Rokey and the DC board for the misposting.


Rokey Suleman provided a menu of options to the DC City Council for the April 26 special election.

The costs varied from a high of $1.6 million for a full VBM, to $824,000 for a full precinct place election to $620,000 for one using two vote centers per ward.  (More after the split)

I presume that the reason the estimated cost of full vote by mail is so high–contrary to some previous estimates–is that they print and send a ballot to every single registered voter, even though turnout is probably quite low in a special city council election (previous specials had turnout of 7-15%).

Estimating costs is complicated business.  While I have not asked him, I am assuming that Suleman projected some level of turnout in a precinct place and vote center election in order to make his calculations.  

Let’s suppose that he assumed 15%.  The problem is that DC may also need to consider the “costs” of lowered turnout as a result of using traditional voting methods.

Past examples show that sending ballots to every registered voter can result in substantial increases in turnout in low profile, low interest contests.  Turnout in the 2010 Colorado Senate primary, conducted fully by mail, was double the previous most comparable election.  When Helena, MT began to conduct local elections by mail in 2007, turnout was 66%, double the 30 year average of 33% for off-year municipal contests.

I wonder what a precinct place or vote center election would cost if, for example, we estimated DC turnout at 30%?  Would it be worth $1,000,000 to increase turnout to 30%?  That may be one of the questions the DC council should ask.

This report from the Ft. Wayne, IN News-Sentinel seems to indicate so.  The story includes a claim of a $40,000 cost savings by using vote centers. 

Commissioners in Collin County, TX heard complaints about long lines and lack of parking for early voting.  

The commissioners suggested that lack of publicity about vote centers was a problem, but some of the ideas they mentioned (vote centers located in centralized, easily accessible locations, managing choke points during voter check in) have actually been addressed, and solved, by many other jurisdictions (Larimer County, CO; Harris County, TX).

One more example where counties need to learn from their counterparts, both locally and nationally.

The Tribune reports that any continued legal challenges to Emanuel’s candidacy could cause problems with early voting, scheduled to start January 31.