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If poll voting dies, RCV could be partly responsible

Post by Kim Bradford on Sep. 4, 2009 at 9:51 am with 6 Comments »
December 22, 2009 2:12 pm

Today’s story about Pat McCarthy wanting to do away with poll voting because of a pinched county budget sparked my memory of an exchange I had with Auditor Jan Shabro earlier this year.

I wrote to Shabro at the time she was arguing for the County Council to do away with poll voting to help ease budget cuts in her office. I was inquiring about her assertion that poll voting costs an extra $150,000 a year. We had long heard from her predecessor – McCarthy – that conducting elections entirely by mail would actually cost the county more than staying with the current hybrid system.

One explanation is that there are fewer poll voters these days (3,000 in this primary compared to 5,500 in the 2007 primary and 9,300 in the 2005 primary), so keeping poll places open has become less efficient. But Shabro said that’s not the primary reason costs are higher now:

Last year when we implemented “Ranked Choice Voting,” we lost certification of our optical scan tabulators at the polls. As a result, it forced us to begin conducting polling place elections differently. No longer could votes be counted electronically at the polling site. Rather, the ballots had to be transported to our Elections Center for tabulation after 8:00 p.m. election eve. This we refer to as a “Central Count” environment.

Consequently, we were forced to recruit, hire and train 114 extra workers to support each polling site. These workers are responsible for assisting with polling place closing duties which consists of: sorting, counting and sealing all ballots at the polling location, and then transporting them to the Election Center in one vehicle.

Once they arrive at our Election Center, ballots are checked in and counts verified. At that point, these same workers are required by law to perform a visual scan of each ballot before it can be tabulated on our “Central Count Tabulators.” After visual scanning, tabulation must continue – 24 hours per day – until all polling place ballots have been tabulated. And, this requires my staff to work through the night to continue the tabulation of these ballots and that results in significant overtime costs.

RCV might not be such a complicating factor after November, when voters get to decide for the third time whether they want to conduct county elections in the runoff fashion.

Leave a comment Comments → 6
  1. khaughton says:

    The problem with the poll voting equipment is that McCarthy/Shabro have never taken the time to update the existing 64K memory chips. 64K memory chips have gone the way of dinosaurs everywhere but in our elections department. Shabro would rather hire additional workers than update hardware.

    The higher expense in 2009 is on Shabro’s shoulders. Where implemented competently, RCV saves money.

    The best cost savings measure would be to elect a new Auditor in November.

  2. Kelly, How much would it cost to update the 64k memory chips?

  3. raconnolly says:

    It’s unfortunate that Shabro is following the tradition established by McCarthy of blaming RCV for problems created by the auditor’s office. McCarthy didn’t test her computers before election night and then had to scramble to install more memory. McCarthy and Shabro have not brought in outside experts to help implement RCV. The auditor’s office had no background in RCV and no interest in making it a success.

    If Amendment 3 passes it will be due to a remarkable deception by McCarthy. She botched voter education and the technical implementation of RCV yet was able to get the media and others to accept her explanation that it was all the fault of RCV. With a few competent individuals committed to making RCV work, we could start saving money and have a better, more democratic voting system.

    Rich Anderson-Connolly

  4. ldozy1234 says:

    Kim: Why did Dave’s story ( linked above) disappear so rapidly off the web main page? Could you all please return it?

  5. ldozy1234: The goal is to keep the home page fresh, so things are rotating off there faster than in the past. I’ll pass along your comment to our news operation.

  6. khaughton says:

    Kim – McCarthy and the Elections Department found out about the problems with the poll vote counting machines in the spring of 2008. Since then, neither McCarthy nor Shabro has done anything to get the vendor to repair the problem. The responsibility for paying for the fix of the problem should lie with the vendor. Pressuring the vendor to do their job is the responsibility of the Auditor.

    McCarthy/Shabro have spent more time bashing RCV than working to solve problems and save money for the county. Rather than implementing RCV more cost effectively, they have been working to get it repealed. The poll counting machines problem is one example of this. The lack of effort to get all of the races onto to one ballot card is another example.

    Other jurisdictions have been able to solve the multiple ballot card issue, and thus save money with RCV. Shabro is going to use two ballot cards in November (one for the Auditor’s race and one for everything else). This will incur additional expense. That additional expense is due to lack of effort on the part of the Elections Department. Shabro is already blaming this on RCV, while other elections departments are working to solve problems and save money.

    The best way to save money in the Elections Department is to elect a new Auditor in November.

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