Auditor Roxanna Moritz and Official Records Clerk Cathy Voelkers recently attended a 15 hour “hands on” class in legal descriptions.  This class was for the beginning to the moderately experienced user and covered many aspects of legal descriptions.  Participants used protractors and other instruments as part of the “hands on” experience.  Cathy has been cross training to assist in the Plat Room with property transfers and this class was very helpful to her. 

The class began with a brief look at surveying methods, both past and present, followed by an overview of the Public Land Survey System and how it ties into working with legal descriptions. The class covered many of the different types of legal descriptions, from dividing a section of land all the way through working with curves and angular measurements. The class also went into resolving conflicts from ambiguous descriptions to how water can affect a boundary in a legal description.  At the end of the class both Roxanna and Cathy passed the exam approved by the Iowa Department of Revenue.

This week the Scott County Board of Supervisors will recognize 72 precinct election chairs for their contributions to making democracy work and for their years of service to Scott County.  The Board resolution states, “The Board recognizes that precinct election chair people are the unsung heroes of our county’s election process, and expresses its gratitude and recognition for the part these Scott County citizens play in assuring that all voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots on Election Day.”

As a group, our precinct election chairs have 940 years of experience in working the polls on election day.  Six chairs have 20 or more years of service as poll workers, and eight have 30 or more years of service.  Four chairs bear special recognition for more than 40 years of service; Linda Holder with 44 years, Audrey Linville with 46 years, Fae Harvey with 48 years, and Myra Halsey with an amazing 51 years of service.

On Monday, August 19th Auditor Moritz and Board Chair Larry Minard will present certificates for years of service to each of the 72 precinct chairs.  Those with twenty or more years of service will also receive a leatherette holder, while those with thirty or more years of service will receive a wall mount plaque.

The most recent version of the Photo ID bill under consideration in the Iowa legislature contains a provision which would require delivery of absentee ballots to residents of assisted living facilities by two person, bipartisan special precinct teams.  This provision is unrelated to the issues involved with photo ID requirements.  It would not increase voting privacy or ballot security for these voters.  However, it would increase the cost of elections.

Current law requires this kind of absentee ballot delivery for nursing home residents and hospital patients.  In the 2012 General Election 290 residents of nursing homes voted.  Our office employed six teams to deliver absentee ballots to 271 of these residents, or 95 percent of the total voting.  An additional nineteen residents voted at the polls. 

This law was first enacted in the 1970s to ensure that residents of nursing facilities were allowed to vote in private, without undue influence or interference by third parties.  Due to their infirmities, nursing home residents are very dependent on facility staff, and so could be subject to such interference, either real or perceived.  

But can the same be said for residents of assisted living centers?  In Scott County 356 residents of assisted living centers voted in the 2012 Presidential Election; 316 voted by absentee ballot, 40 voted at the polls. The Auditor’s Office did not receive any complaints about staff from these centers attempting to influence residents on how to cast their ballots. 

Also, the forty residents who voted at the polls amounted to 11 percent of the total number of residents who voted.   Generally, residents of assisted living centers are significantly healthier and better functioning than nursing home residents.  They are not dependent on the help of others to nearly the extent of nursing home residents. 

Because assisted living residents have better health, greater mobility, and lesser dependence on others than nursing home residents there is not the need to have special bipartisan teams help these residents with voting. 

Further, requiring 316 people to vote an absentee ballot only through these special circumstances will more than double the cost of these teams.  During the 2012 General Election the approximate wage and administrative costs for the seven teams used in that election were $2,510.00 and $1,250.00, respectively.  We estimate the wage cost for an expanded program of 13 teams would be $5,670.00 plus administrative costs of $2,810.00.  This change would increase election costs by an estimated $4,720.00; more than double the cost to Scott County for providing absentee ballots to these voters. 

Finally, there is another cost to this proposal; the freedom and self-respect of the residents in assisted living.  Our office already receives complaints from nursing home residents about being forced to receive their ballots from the special teams.  These complaints will increase in number and volume from people who will see this as an affront to their dignity and independence.

Presidential Elections are a big deal.  Many more people vote in a Presidential Election than any other election. The 2012 Presidential Election was no exception, and in fact it was the biggest in Scott County history.  We set records in total number of voters (90,503), absentee voters (43,882) and total number of registered voters (127,843).  We had the second greatest number of voters at the polls (46,621) and the second highest turnout percent (70.8%).  That percentage number was held down by an exceedingly large number of inactive voters due to redistricting.  Our success in processing all of those people and recording their votes rests on the efforts of Scott County’s 364 precinct election officials.  Here are some details about those efforts. 

Absentee & Special Voters
 
In the absentee precinct 21 election officials processed 43,882 ballots.  That is an average of 2,090 ballots per worker.  Those who served in this capacity know it is painstaking work.  Each envelope must be analyzed to make sure the voter signed the affidavit and that there was no tampering with the envelope.  All ballots had to be in secrecy sleeves and then mixed together to ensure the secrecy of individual ballots. The election officials worked from 6:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on the day before the election and from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on election day.  Several members worked after Election Day to process provisional and late arriving absentee ballots.  Also, seven, two person special voter teams assisted residents of care facilities and hospital patients to vote.  Finally, a total of 33 election officials processed 18,261 voters at our six petitioned satellite voting locations and our four permanent satellite locations at the public libraries.

Election Day Voting

On Election Day 347 precinct election officials worked at our 63 precincts.  They processed a total of 46,621 voters that day.  The average precinct processed 740 voters.  Of course some precincts are larger than others, with nine precincts processing more than 1,000 registered voters each.  Davenport Precinct 6-4 was the busiest precinct, processing 1,246 voters on Election Day.  (Just think how busy that precinct would have been if the 1,167 people who voted early had waited until Election Day).  Donahue, with 150 voters, was the precinct with the fewest number of voters. 

Election Department
 
Election staff thought this election went very well.  We mailed 29,025 absentee ballots and received 25,621 returned ballots. On Election Day we processed more than 800 absentee voters who surrendered or lost their ballots and we fielded several hundred phone calls. At the end of the day there were no memory card failures.

Further, the Presidential Election was the first major election that our office faced after statewide redistricting. Redistricting had caused more than 40 percent of the voters to have new voting locations. This kind of massive change could have led to massive chaos on Election Day with thousands of angry voters wanting to know where they vote and why we changed their voting places. (For the record, the cities of Davenport, Bettendorf, Eldridge and LeClaire drew the precinct lines for those cities).  We were determined to avoid that result.

To help voters find their new polling places we produced three multi-page precinct map inserts for the Quad City Times and one for the North Scott Press. We posted notices at various public buildings and businesses such as grocery stores.  We redesigned our voter look up webpage to make it easier to use.  We produced a month of radio ads encouraging the public to visit the website for information on the election. This in turn resulted in heavy use of our website.  During the four weeks prior to Election Day our website had 81,906 page views.  This was a 152 percent increase from usage in the 2010 General Election.  Usage peaked on Election Day with an additional 40,906 page views.  The “Are You Registered” webpage had 16,959 visits and the “Early Voting” webpage had 11,464 visits.

We had some challenges on election day.  We did not have enough e-poll books at Davenport Precinct 4-4, located at St. Ambrose University, to handle the number of election day registrations.  We had to reassign a rover to assist in that location, leaving us short one rover.  We also ran low on ballots in two precincts, but all precincts had sufficient ballots to meet voter demand.  To everyone who worked in this important, record-setting election, THANK YOU.

Check your mail box (U. S. Mail that is) for your new voter registration card.  All 114,373 active voters in Scott County as of February 23, 2012 will receive new voter cards this week.  This mailing will all but complete the redistricting process which began with the 2010 U. S. Census.  Iowa legislative districts were approve last March, and city and county precincts were approved last fall. 

Once the final precincts were approved the Auditor’s Office reassigned voters into their new precincts.  This process took several weeks to complete and could not be started until updating voter history from the 2011 city elections was completed.  The reassignment process was completed in early January.  Identification and verification of polling places, including 24 new polling places was completed in mid February.  The Office of Secretary of State created a file of all active voters at the end of the business day on Thursday, February 23rd.  We provided that file to our printing company which began the process of printing the 114,373 individual voter cards and preparing the mailing.  That mailing was delivered to the U. S. Postal Service today.

There were several changes to the voter reassignment process this time as compared to the 2002 process.   First, the Secretary of State has determined that everyone will have their party affiliation (if any) identified on their card.  Previously that decision was made by individual county auditors, and Scott County had opted to not include that information.

Second, the Auditor’s Office used the county geographic information system (GIS) to help in the reassignment process and ensure better accuracy.  Previously several hundred voters had not been assigned into the correct precinct.  Auditor Moritz required a GIS review of the voter file which revealed the problem.  Now our office conducts a GIS review before every election to ensure the correct assignment of individual voters.

Finally, our office is mailing out voter registration cards at a non-profit rate pursuant to The National Voter Registration Act of 1993.  The cost of the mailing was just a little under $15,000.  If we had mailed at first class rates it would have cost just over $40,000.

As noted in previous posts, the new precincts required by state redistricting take legal effect today, January 17, 2012.  Redistricting takes place every ten years following the U.S. Census.  Most rural precincts in Iowa remain the same from one redistricting to the next.  Usually bigger cities with wards have to redraw wards and the precincts within those wards.  This year, due to population growth and redistribution, and the effects of state redistricting, four Scott County cities (Bettendorf, Davenport, Eldridge and LeClaire) had to redraw precinct or ward lines.  In addition, Scott County had to redraw precinct lines due to growth in Park View and Buffalo Township, as well as state redistricting which isolated some small towns from their surrounding townships.

Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution requires reapportionment of Congress every ten years based on the population of the states.  Iowa will lose one representative  in congress, dropping from five down to four members, because Iowa has not gained population at the same rate as some other states.

Besides reapportionment of the U.S. Congress, the Iowa General Assembly has been reapportioned as well.  Iowa Constitution Article III, Sections 35 and 36, which deal with apportionment of the General Assembly, were amended in 1968 to bring Iowa in line with the one person, one vote rule set forth by the U.S. Supreme court in a line cases from the early 1960s. 

In Reynolds v. Sims (1964) the Court found a disparity of 14 to 1 in the number of residents in the most populous representative district versus the least populous one in the State of Alabama.  This disparity created what the court found to be an unconstitutional difference in voting power.  Other states had even more egregious differences.  In Connecticut the ratio was 424 to 1; New Hampshire 1,081 to 1; Utah 196 to 1; Vermont 1,000 to 1; California 428 to 1; and the list went on. 

Iowa has a recent history of noncontroversial reapportionments, and our law on reapportionment is cited as the best in the nation.  Iowa Code Chapter 42 sets forth the requirements for reapportionment.  In essence the nonpartisan legislative services agency uses the criteria of state law to objectively draw congressional and legislative lines.  The criteria are based on contiguous area and reduction of population variance (no more than one percent variance between congressional districts and no more than five percent variance between state house districts and state senate districts, respectively). 

In drafting the plan the agency cannot use any demographic information (except for population head counts), previous election results, political affiliation of registered voters, or the addresses of incumbent elected officials.  Each house of the General Assembly votes on the plan as prepared by the legislative services agency without amendment.  If the plan fails to pass one house then the agency drafts another plan using the same criteria, each house can vote on that plan without amendment, and if it fails then a third plan is prepared.  This plan can be amended.

Article III, Section 36 of the Iowa Constitution gives the right of any voter to appeal a redistricting plan to the Iowa Supreme Court.  In 1968 when the law first went into effect some voters appealed to the Supreme Court regarding the plan adopted that year.  The Court found the plan adopted that year did not meet legal requirements and the Supreme Court drafted its own plan.  Since then no plan has been appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court. 

Maps of the new precincts can be found on the Auditor’s page of the Scott County website under the Voting category.

   On December 8, 2011 Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz made a presentation to the Association of Election Commission Officials of Illinois on the topic of election day registration.  Election day registration allows an eligible citizen to register and vote a regular ballot on election day.  Various forms of election day registration are allowed in nine states and the District of Columbia. 

Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz addresses the Association of Illinois Election Officials during their meeting in Galesburg, IL.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
   Moritz explained the identification requirements of election day registration, including provision of a current and valid photo ID, such as a driver’s license, and proof of residency if the photo ID does not include a current residence address.  In the 2008 general election 45,929 Iowans registered and voted on election day.  Of that number 24,376 (53%) were previously registered to vote in Iowa, just not in the county of their current residence.  Most of the remaining 47% of election day registrants were either 18-year-old high school students or college students.
   Auditor Moritz also explained the fraud detection and prosecution provisions of the election day registration law.  Since the law’s inception in 2008 hundreds of investigations have occurred but very few fraud cases have been prosecuted.  Almost all of those cases involved a registrant with a criminal past and whose right to vote had not been legally restored.
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