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"People Move, Plain and Simple": A Look at the Impact of Mobility on Elections

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[Image courtesy of ElectionDiary]

Last November, I looked at Census data on mobility and observed that anytime a voter moved it creates challenges for election officials.

Brian Newby's weekend(!) post at ElectionDiary entitled "People Move, Plain and Simple" demonstrates what this looks like in his community of Johnson County, KS. I've reprinted it in its entirety below, adding emphasis in those areas that deserve the most attention:

Since starting this blog, occasionally I've come across an image that screamed, "That's a blog post."

Friday's returned mail was such an image.

We mail postcards to each active voter before an election. These postcards provide information related to the election, but they serve a dual purpose--they aren't forwardable and those that are returned as undeliverable allow us to the start the process to determine if a voter has moved, mark the voter as inactive and, if the voter doesn't vote in the next two federal elections, remove the voter from the registration list according to federal law.

Vigorous management of this list is important because inactive voters bloat our registration numbers, artificially show lower voter turnout than we actually experience, and create a chance that someone can be registered in two locations.

Once we determine a voter is inactive (and, to stress, inactive means that we think the voter has moved, not that the voter just hasn't voted in a while), we don't include that voter in our mailings.

So, with 370,000 registered voters, we mailed our postcard to around 340,000 voters. More than two-thirds of these voters have had an election mailing already this year, so we've confirmed in 2012 that they still reside where they are registered.

That's why this cart of returned cards, from the first day they could have come back, is so dramatic. I'd type "surprising," but I've seen this for 7 years. In fact, of the 10,000 advance [early] ballots we've mailed, we'll get about 500 of them returned this week as well--that's more surprising to me, that persons will have moved since requesting an advance ballot just a few months ago.

Keep this visual [above] in mind. When we send our postcard in October, I expect we'll have a similar number returned. This demonstrates the amount of registration transactions we process annually--a rise of 10,000 voters in a year doesn't mean we entered 10,000 applications.

We likely processed about 60,000 documents to net that 10,000. That doesn't include the processing of advance applications and the actual ballots.

People move. It leads to provisional ballots, particularly because their polling places change as a result.

That will be amplified for us because we are actually cutting polling places by 20 percent, from 284 in 2008 to 221 this year, in recognition of what we believe was a watershed advance voting participation number (50 percent) in 2008.

Advance voting softens the sting of these changes because if someone votes in advance, the likelihood of it being a provisional ballot is dramatically lowered. The number one reason for a provisional ballot? Incorrect polling place.

Number two? Requested an advance ballot but voted at the polls.

Number three? Address change--full circle to the topic of this post. Stay tuned for the "cart comparison photo" in October.

Mind you, Brian Newby is exceptional in that he blogs about these issues but his experience is absolutely in line with what's happening right now across the country. Kudos to him yet again for sharing the on-the-ground experience of mobility in the world of elections.

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