Thursday, March 31, 2016

New Voter Cards, Old Sorority Members

People Who Left Johnson County Decades Ago May Still Be Registered Voters

Thanks Mark Carlson and KCRG for the really scary headline. I seriously mean that. It's an attention grabber, and we need the attention.

Time for another long work related voter file maintenance mailing post. Let's just get the Elvis clip out of the way right away.

I repeat the jokes, like I repeat variations of this same post, and like I repeat the reminder to the new readers that I work at the auditor's office, because it can't be repeated enough. It all comes down to what the kid sorting the mail at the Alpha Xi Delta house does Saturday or Monday Friday. And because for some reason people seem to really like it when I write about the deep in the weeds details of my job.

That's roughly the day that Johnson County's county wide voter card mailing will reach your mailbox. (It was shipped out of Des Moines Thursday - I got mine today.) What you do - and what the Alpha Xi Delta house does - will have a big impact on how clean a voter roll we have this fall.

The most important thing to remember is: No one gets their registration cancelled just for not voting. Everything depends on the mail.  Iowa's system used to be simple: Four years without voting (or updating your registration), you were out.

That all changed with Motor Voter, which passed in 1993 and kicked in at the beginning of 1995. In addition to its better known component of registration at drivers license station, Motor Voter also made it very, very hard to cancel a voter registration. That was its intent - to keep people from being cancelled without their knowledge.

And there are restrictions on how often and under what circumstances we can mail you. Singling people out for different treatment, a practice called "caging," is controversial and sometimes illegal.  So we need to make the most of this county wide mailing, our first since 2012 because it's the best chance we have to clean things up. But a lot of it, we can't do without public help.

This is the worst one.

Suzy Sorority here registered to vote at the Alpha Xi Delta House in 1988. She graduated in 1991. Because people ask every time, no, she is not the house mom. She is still registered, on active status (more on that below), at the Alpha Xi Delta house. She is 46 years old.

I found her on Linked In. She's out of state, married with a different name. But we can't DO anything with that. Singling her out for different treatment, just because common sense indicates that she moved away, would be caging.

This one is the worst, but are many others and they start in the early 1990s. That's because the people who last voted in the 1990 governor election got cancelled in December 1994, right before Motor Voter kicked in.

The Greek houses are where the biggest problems are because the post office delivers their mail bundled and the residents sort it themselves. I did a pre-emptive strike memo to the Greek Council, and they've told the houses what they're supposed to do. (The dorms also sort their own mail, but they're excellent. The postal service itself handles the off campus apartments.)

We just have to hope that, Saturday or Monday, when the mail gets to the house, the person in charge of the mail got the memo, sorts the cards, checks the boxes that say “The person to whom this card is addressed does not live at this address,” SIGNS THE CARDS, and returns them.

That didn't happen four years ago when we did this mailing.

As long as the mail gets delivered, an election office has to assume that a person still lives at an address, and simply hasn't been interested in voting the last few elections. Same thing happens if your letter carrier is still delivering mail with your name on it to Mom and Dad's. We have to assume you're still in the basement.

And if Mom and Dad call, upset about it? We can do a little, but not a lot. We need YOU to respond, in writing, to completely cancel you. The most we can do with a response from someone else is put a voter on "inactive" status.

I've been trying to explain "Inactive" to every campaign staffer for 15 years, and they never get it. They assume it means the same thing as what staffers call a "weak voting D." So they invest a lot of time and effort because they think these are exactly the voters who need a push.

Wrong. These are voters where the election office has evidence indicating they moved away! I call it "preliminary cancellation." Because remember, the intent of Motor Voter is to make cancellation very, very hard. You have to sit on inactive status through two general elections. Meaning even if Alpha Xi Delta or Mom and Dad sends the card back, the person doesn't completely get cancelled till 2018. But at least it starts the clock ticking. If we don't get the card back, we can't send another one till 2020. (Also if Mom and Dad send us your address, I can follow up with a letter to you and a form to sign.)

We also inactivate people if the post office itself returns mail as undeliverable. That's why the law says your card has to be mailed, with return service requested - it's our double check that you live there.

But that also means if your mail ISN'T delivered for some minor and legit reason, such as you left your apartment number off when you registered, or you have a post office box (Tiffin is EXTREMELY picky) and it gets Returned To Sender (yes, we call this "Elvised") back to the auditor's office, we have to assume you DON'T live there. We inactivate your registration, and have to send you more mail. (The second mailing is sent forwardable and gives you a chance to fix stuff.)

So, repeating the steps. If you get a card for someone who doesn't live there:

1. Check the box: "The person to whom this card is addressed does not live at this address.” 
2. SIGN THE CARD. The signature is a big deal. My weird brain has never understood why a signature proves anything, but it doesn't matter because that's what the law says. Without it, we can't do a thing. 
3. Send it back. 

We recommend conventional mail, rather than owl. Owls are messy, and the cards are prepaid postage. 

There are a few other ways we cancel people - if we get a notice from another state, for example (all Iowa counties are on a statewide system). But if you re-register in another state and forget that you voted in Iowa City that one time in that one bar election, we don't find out. There is some cross state matching, but that's also iffy - especially if you changed your name, which is why our most extreme cases are mainly women.

And we've heard all the jokes before and we cancel people from the obituaries every morning.

So what happens when you get your own card?

If everything is correct, just keep it. You don't have to show it to vote, but it tells you where to go. We've had a lot of polling place moves since 2012.

If you want to change anything, put it down on the correction card, SIGN IT, and send it back. This mailing also includes all the new registrations and changes from the caucuses. I could insert my rant about people who change parties for a primary or caucus while asking "how soon can I change back?" but since I'm in public service mode I will note you have the right to change stuff.

If, for example, your godfather is murdered by Death Eaters and you inherit his house and elf.

The hardest problem, and the saddest unintended consequence of the law, is people in late life with cognitive problems. As long as the mail gets through, we can't inactivate the registration. You can't sign anything election related in Iowa as "power of attorney," so if you're caring for someone who can't understand enough to sign their own name anymore, we can't do anything till the end.

The data for the county wide mailing was processed by the Secretary of State on March 15. We've kept processing routine changes since then, so if you made a change in your registration after that date, you may get two cards and they may contain different information. Check the issue date, or ask.   

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