April election reminders

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

jbrann.ndm@gmail.com

The spring election is coming up on Tuesday, April 4.

"The first day for absentee voting is Tuesday, Feb. 21," said Vernon County Clerk, Mike Buehler. "The last day to register for this election is March 8. You can do either of these at our office in the court house."

In Missouri, absentee or early voting begins six weeks prior to the date of election.

If you will be out of town or unable to go to your polling place on election day, absentee balloting is meant to provide voters with the ability to utilize this right and privilege of democracy.

And if there is an election where an individual vote has the greatest impact, it is not in a November presidential election but in an April election.

Said Buehler, "We've had plenty of elections decided by a single voter."

It seems as if every year there are contests where there are an insufficient number of people running for office and so all write-in names are counted and a number of them are elected.

"As an office holder myself, it does kind of bother me that so few folks run for office, let alone come out and vote," said Buehler.

The county clerk spoke as if mindful of Lincoln's words about government not just being for the peoplebut of and by them as well.

He said people want problems to be solved and things to get changed but this requires citizens who take an active part in their government and not just expect others to do everything for them.

Speaking in his office, Tuesday morning, Buehler recalled how, unlike many of his friends, as a teenager, he had a job. He spoke of how it kept him out of trouble and taught him the value of hard work and of a dollar.

"As a teenager I remember friends telling me how bored they were but I was too busy to be bored," said Buehler. "I get it that everyone's got too much to do and wants some time for themselves but we need more folks to help make a difference, whether it's for a water district, township or school board."

One mark of just how many opportunities there are to serve is seen by the fact that for the April election, the clerk had to order the printing of 58 different styles of ballots to cover the county.

The boundaries for school districts, cities, townships, water districts and polling precincts cross one another, producing multiple ballot styles.

"The Deerfield precinct usually has between 13 and 15 different ballot styles," said Buehler.

The clerk's office makes sure each precinct's list of voters -- both on the computer tablet and printed book -- state which ballot style a particular voter is to receive based on his or her address.

Asked for a prediction about turnout, the county clerk said, "Between 15 and 20 percent, which would put it about average for a spring election."

Asked why the poll workers no longer have use of the PalmPilots Buehler explained.

"What folks call the PalmPilot, first began in 1996 and became the smartphones of today," said Buehler. "The devices still work but the company no longer supports the operating system and so they're now paperweights."

In the year 2000, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which mandated, in federal elections, the use of voting machines which the handicapped could use. HAVA not only created a mandate but also appropriated funds for states to distribute as grants.

Vernon County was able to purchase its direct-recording electronic voting machines, which record votes via a touch screen or use of a keypad and audio directions. This allows handicapped voting without forfeiting the anonymity of their vote.

Like all voting machines, direct recording systems increase the speed of vote counting. These systems also provide a more robust form of immediate feedback to the voter, thus detecting such possible problems as under or over voting, which may result in a spoiled ballot. And as made famous in determining what hanging chads meant in the 2000 election on certain Florida ballots, the immediate feedback of a DRE machine can provide voter intent.

Alongside what is recorded electronically, such machines produce a paper copy of each voted ballot. Since these do not use the Internet and do possess a paper backup, they are far less vulnerable to being hacked.

"The operating system for the tablets we presently use for voter check-in are also about to be no longer supported," said Buehler. "When that happens, the county will need to purchase about 21 or 22 tablets."

State and federal grants for such purchases no longer exist. At a unit cost of about $1,000 each, this is a cost, which will require careful budgeting.

And replacement of the DRE machines?

"Right now, each precinct uses an optical scan paper ballot machine and if any federal candidates are on the ballot, we also use the DRE machines," explained Buehler.

The cost to purchase 18 new machines -- one for each of the 16 precincts plus the absentee ballot team and one backup -- would cost about $100,000. These new units would replace both the DRE and optical scanner machines.

Buehler compared the aging technology of the county's voting machines with his cell phone.

"My old flip phone got great reception out where we live so I tried to get it reactivated," said Buehler.

The salesperson looked at the age of the phone and started to laugh.

"With cell phones and voting machines, there comes a time when you have to upgrade, not by choice but by necessity, and I think I'm at that point in more ways than one."

The county clerk also noted how some have forgotten about the disadvantages of having no counting machines.

"In last November's election, because of some questions raised over ballots at one precinct, we did a hand count," said Buehler. "The team doing it was experienced and yet, to do the job properly, they did not get a result until midnight. We don't want to go back to those days."

To register for voting in the April election or to cast an absentee ballot, the Vernon County Clerk's office is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

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