March 2013

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.