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.