I. In Focus This Week
Plenty to watch during ‘off-year’ election
U.S. Postal Service may play biggest role in 2015
By M. Mindy Moretti
While the focus of many Americans — well, at least the American media — seems to be on the election that is still more than year away, elections officials across the country are gearing up for state and local elections next week on November 3.
Just because this isn’t the big show 2016 will be doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty to keep an eye on as voters in more than half of the states will head to the polls in some capacity on Tuesday.
We’ve been watching the news in the months leading up to November 3 and these are some of the stories we think are worth watching.
Vote By Mail
By far, we think the biggest story for the 2015 elections will be voting by mail—whether it’s casting an absentee ballot or a vote-by-mail ballot.
In the days leading up to the election, the U.S. Postal Service and elections officials in numerous states have urged voters to get their mail ballots posted even before this newsletter hits your inbox.
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and some county clerks told voters that if their ballots were not in the mail by October 27 that they should not rely on the Postal Service and should instead drop their ballots off at an available dropbox.
For their part, the U.S. Postal Service and some county clerks disputed Williams’ assertion of the October 27 deadline. The Postal Service said that ballots in the mail by Friday, the 30th should be delivered in time.
“All of our processes are running fine,” David Rupert, Unites States Postal Service spokesman for Colorado told the Aurora Sentinel. “You can continue to mail your ballots this week and the Postal Service will deliver them in time for Election Day.”
Clerks in Adams and Arapahoe counties said that while they were encouraging voters to use the ballot dropboxes, it had nothing to do with concerns about mail delivery and everything to do with getting a jump on ballot counting.
Lansing, Michigan City Clerk Chris Swope has said that changes to the way the Postal Service is processing ballots has added at least a day to the delivery of absentee ballots and has been urging voters to get their ballots in the mail by the weekend. The city received dozens of ballots on the day after the August primary and because they must be in the elections office by the times the polls close on election day, not just postmarked, they were not eligible to be counted.
In Washington, Clark County Elections Supervisor Cathie Garber and her staff are making an end run around tardy mail delivery. According to The Columbian, rather than wait for mail-in ballots to be delivered by the Postal Service, Garber and a staff member will drive to the distribution center in Portland to pick up ballots. “We’re going to try this and see if it alleviates some of the problems we had in the primary,” she told the paper. Three days after the Aug. 7 primary, more than 1,000 ballots were discovered sitting at the postal distribution center in Portland.
After a relatively successful roll out during primary season, residents in numerous Utah cities are casting their first general election ballots by mail. Ballots must be postmarked by November 2 in order to be counted and the U.S. Postal Service and local elections officials have encouraged voters to get those ballots in early.
"We are proud of mail’s widespread usage as an efficient and effective means for citizens to participate in the voting process,” the U.S. Postal Service's district manager Darrell Stoke told The Desert News. “The Postal Service anticipates a large influx of mail-in ballots this election season, and we are ready to ensure every Utah vote is counted.”
At press time, officials in Ada County, Idaho were trying to figure out where all the absentee ballots are. Phil McCrane, chief deputy at the Ada County Clerk’s office said that in a typical election the rate-of-return for absentee ballots would be about 48-to 52 percent at this point in time, however they are currently only at 24 percent. "It was working from our side, where ballots are printed and inserted," McGrane told Boise Weekly. "But it's where those ballots entered the postal service system that we're hearing about extensive delays."
And in California, San Mateo County is conducting its very first all-mail election as part of an Assembly-approved pilot program. The election is being watched by state officials to see if it may be feasible in the future to move the whole state to vote-by-mail.
On the Ballot
In Kentucky, Steve Knipper (R), a former city councilman from Erlanger is challenging incumbent Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes (D). In the latest Bluegrass Poll, Lundergan Grimes leads Knipper by 13 percentage points.
Incumbent Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler (R) can rest easy this Election Day after winning the state’s primary earlier this month with more than enough votes over challenger Chris Tyson (D), a law professor, to avoid a runoff on November 21.
Duluth, Minnesota voters will decide whether or not to move that city to a ranked choice voting system. Advocates gathered more than 3,000 signatures to get the initiative on the November ballot and in August the city council wrangled over the ballot wording before finally coming to consensus. Opinions on the initiative have been mixed with many on the Duluth city council opposed to the new voting system while other statewide politicians and advocates are in support. The state’s major newspaper published an op-ed in opposition to the proposal.
Also, it will be interesting to watch whether or not the pot initiative on the ballot in Ohio will drive turnout. Early indications from some counties are that absentee ballot requests are up and officials suspect it is because of the initiative. “I think it’s all about pot,” Lake County Elections Board Director Jan Clair told the News-Herald. “That’s just my humble opinion.” Lake County is expecting about 11,000 absentee ballots to be turned in by Election Day. In 2013, there were 6,565 submitted.
Voters in numerous counties nationwide will be experiencing new voting equipment—either when they cast their ballot, or check-in to the polling site — for the first time this election.
Of course, with the roll out of any new technology there are bound to be glitches, snafus and even hiccups and we’ll be keep an eye out for all of those.
Also worth watching are the Virginia counties that are rolling out new voting systems for the first general election since the state decertified the WinVote system. Most of those counties have now purchased new voting equipment with the majority moving to a paper ballot system.
In Arizona, elections official in Pima County will be hand-counting ballots in three races in order to make sure that the county’s new ballot tabulation system is functioning properly.
Odds and Ends
Hmmm ... With the support of former Mayor John F. Street and his three-time rival, a Philadelphia foundation is offering $10,000 to one lucky voter who casts their ballot in the upcoming mayoral election. According to those involved, polling locations for all 1,686 voting division will be fed into a computer program that will choose one at random, then on Election Day, organizers will drive to that polling place and wait for the first voter to emerge and provide them with the money.
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