A recent local election in Red Willow County, NE is “credited for high turnout,” according to the lede (and attributed to claims by local elections officials).
Officials also praise the all-mail system that allows them to “keep the voter registration system updated, given the number of ballots returned undeliverable.”
Results were as follows:
Ballots Sent: 4735
Ballots Returned: 1821
Official Turnout: 38%
Turnout after undeliverable: 45%
2007 Special Turnout 31%
On the face of it, this seems impressive. But the devil is in the details.
It’s plausible that the voting by mail system increased turnout by 50% (from 31% to 45%) but making that calculation (presuming “the vast majority” of undeliverable ballots are voters who moved out of the county) raises issues about how the voter registration system is maintained and what election officials will do with these results.
The obvious first question is: why were 713 ballots undeliverable?
Election officials are quoted as saying that “the vast majority of the returned ballots stem from voters who relocated out of the area without updating their information with the clerk’s office.”
The implication is that 15% of the voter registration rolls in this county (or the state?) consists of deadwood–individuals who are registered in two NE counties or have moved out of state or who are deceased. 15% is a pretty high number for a rural county without a lot of in- or out-migration. Do we know if these individuals have simply moved within the county (for instance)? Do we know if these individuals have active registration records in two counties in NE?
Post election, local officials in this county may consider first, what they’ll do with this information. In fully vote-by-mail states, an undeliverable ballot prompts a forwardable postcard notifying the voter that their registration record is out of date. This follow-up step is critical.
(Officials imply that they are using the results to clean the rolls, but don’t say how.)
Second, officials should run the undeliverable records through the statewide registration system to assure themselves that voters aren’t registered in two counties.