Monday, August 29, 2011
Comment Now on BernCo Clerk's Voting Convenience Center Proposal
Bernalillo County Clerk is rolling out her proposal that the Bernalillo County Commission implement Voting Convenience Centers (VCC) in lieu of precinct-specific locations for the Primary and General Elections in 2012. VCC's are similar to Early Voting Centers in that any voter can obtain his or her appropriate ballot and vote at any VCC he or she finds to be convenient. Each VCC will have the ability to print out a ballot that contains the proper listing of candidates, ballot questions, etc., for any precinct in the county where a voter resides.
“Legislation was passed last year to allow all Clerks in New Mexico the option of implementing Voting Convenience Centers,” said Clerk Toulouse Oliver in a statement released today. “My staff and I have prepared a detailed proposal and we are seeking input from the public in an effort to make certain that we have incorporated all essential elements.”
“Our analysis shows that VCCs will be more convenient while cutting costs for county taxpayers and voters. The 65 locations will be strategically located throughout the City and County and will be easily accessible. Having 65 locations instead of the traditional 172 on election day will cut down significantly on manpower and supplies, resulting in a potential savings of upward of $1 million dollars,” she continued. “More and more voters are taking advantage of Early Voting and VCCs are a logical extension.”
Members of the public can view or print the proposal on the front page of the website at www.bernco.gov or click here for a direct link. Comments, questions or concerns can be sent via e-mail to email@example.com or you can call 468-1291.
The Clerk will also be hosting a public forum to present the proposal on Thursday, September 22, 2011 beginning at 6:00 PM in the Chambers at One Civic Plaza, NW.
The proposal will be presented to the Board of County Commissioners for final approval in October.
My experience in working precinct election polling places over the years is that there have to be enough personnel per voter to make sure that all the details of administering the election are adequately covered.
On an intense election day, it can be overwhelming. One needs to be able to pay attention at all times to making sure that every voter gets everything they need.
There is nothing quite like have a couple of voters waiting for you to call in to the election central to verity their correct precinct, while someone comes up with a spoiled ballot, and then some other problem comes up. Moving quickly and doing one's best to assure people that the wait will not be long has always been a challenge at peak times.
However, if there is to be much more consolidation, there could be ways that error could be introduced just because of the stack up, the increased stress, and the proliferation of details to handle during the day and in the rush to get the paperwork done after the polls close.
I still want to vote on Election Day, and hand my ballot into a ballot box which has human beings associated with it who will be responsible for getting it to a certified counting station. I do not really feel like systems that are beyond observation are a good thing beyond a certain point.
I would caution that greatly consolidating voting stations brings a greater need for really skillful administration and a greater reliance on systems. We should be concerned about going too quickly into such an overhaul.
There are few things that government does at any level that are more crucial to the survival of our society than the proper administration of voting.
It is worth a little extra if that is what it comes down to. Saving money and getting into administrative snafus that could be prevented is not saving money.
I would urge caution.
Posted by: Stuart Heady | Aug 30, 2011 11:12:21 AM
Your concerns are legitimate and I thank you for sharing them. If it's okay, I'd like to address them here.
I would urge you to read through the proposal in detail because I think you will see that many - if not all - of them are addressed. If we did not think we could adequately address the number of voters with greater efficiency than in the current model, then we would not attempt this way of doing things.
Not only will we be able to adequately staff the sites, we will be able to be pickier about who we hire, spend more time and resources to train them, and we will be able to ensure that staff are also on-site to address issues as they arise.
Using the real-time ePollbook will allow us to ramp up or down in terms of service points if certain sites are getting hit. We could even employ webcams into the sites to see if voter traffic is becoming heavier than the data is telling us.
We will be able to utilize trained specialists to deal with issues that come up for voters - i.e. not found in the database, want to update voter registration, etc.
This model actually gives us greater tools and flexibility than having 172 separate locations on Election Day will allow us. This is not purely for the sake of saving money, though that is an added benefit.
We have no intention of jumping into anything or moving too quickly. We have spent several months putting this initial proposal together and are now seeking the critical feedback that you and others can provide to make sure this is the best way to move forward.
The Commission will consider this in October, at which point we will have until June of next year to implement the plan. We feel confident that we have the resources, ability and commitment to do the best possible job.
Posted by: Maggie Oliver | Aug 30, 2011 11:54:33 AM
I should also mention that nothing will change in terms of the tools of voting - voters will receive an auditable and verifiable paper ballot, mark it and place it in the same tabulators we currently use in Early and Election Day voting. The ability for third parties to observe will be equal to the current model, only enhanced because they will not have to staff 441 individual polling stations across the county, only 65.
Posted by: Maggie Oliver | Aug 30, 2011 11:57:16 AM
Good questions and good answers!
Posted by: Pct Chair | Aug 30, 2011 12:32:11 PM
Maggie: The only thing I'm concerned about is that many elderly voters might not be able to access the polls on election day, particularly those who have been voting in the same nearby location for years and have no vehicle.
Once an elderly voter has walked a couple of blocks only to find their polling place moved, s/he will be far less likely to continue to attempt to vote. I saw this phenomenon a couple of years ago in a city election in the south valley. The city doesn't use provisional ballots, so those legitimate voters were unable to vote at all. I'm concerned that less affluent elderly voters will also be disproportionately affected.
At minimum we'll need a massive voter education project and notices on all the former polling places directing voters to the nearest vote center(s). The parties will also have an important role in directing and transporting voters to nearby vote centers on election day.
I like the vote center concept; I just want to make certain we don't decrease voter turnout in vulnerable populations as an unintended consequence of improving voting efficiency.
Posted by: Proud Democrat | Aug 30, 2011 1:55:24 PM
Yes, at a minimum we'll need a massive voter education project. That is in the works! A plus of the savings we will generate is that we can use a lot of those funds to do a great public education campaign, which we are planning to do. This will be a multimedia effort combined with an on-the-ground organizational effort.
Seniors are a group we are definitely concerned with, we have a lot of plans to work with Seniors in nursing homes, at senior centers and also to conduct "absentee workshops" to assist those with limited mobility.
We have lots of plans to assist those with mobility issues in general, including working with transportation at private nursing homes and also with ABQ Ride. All of our locations are within 1/4 mile walking distance of a bus stop and we are looking into negotiating day passes for Election Day with ABQ Ride.
These are just a few of the ideas we have but you get the gist. I want to reassure you we are very concerned about making sure all voters - especially those who could potentially be disenfranchised - are reached out to.
Posted by: Maggie Oliver | Aug 30, 2011 2:12:26 PM
Proud - you might also be interested in the data collected from Indiana when they shifted to Vote Centers - the turnout actually increased in the Senior and Rural populations. Of course you cannot always compare other states to NM but at least the data were encouraging. We cite the research in the proposal.
Posted by: Maggie Oliver | Aug 30, 2011 2:14:32 PM