This week we continue our "Maintenance Monday" series with Jennifer Morrell, Deputy of Elections & Records in the Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder’s office in Colorado.
Arapahoe County has slightly more than 400,000 registered voters (including active and inactive voters) and is one of the most populous counties in the state. Below Jennifer shares her and her office’s insights on the voter list maintenance process and how new technology and systems are helping that process in Arapahoe County.
EAC: Why is voter list maintenance important and what do you think is crucial for voters and policymakers to know about the process?
Morrell: Having an accurate voter list is the foundation of a successful election. Colorado is one of a growing number of states that mails ballots to all active registered voters and also provides in-person voting options. Voter list maintenance ensures that the voters on our rolls are qualified to vote and successfully receive the correct ballot delivered to their place of residence. It also decreases the transaction time for voters who choose to vote in person.
The term "voter list" is really a misnomer. It implies something as simple as my annual Christmas card list. The process for creating and maintaining a voter registration record is quite complex. I think an understanding of the checks and balances in the process is crucial for voters and policy makers to understand. Every time a new name is added a research effort is undertaken. We ensure the voter does not already have a voter record under a different name or address, that the address is valid, and the validity of the driver’s license and/or Social Security number are verified. The maintenance of that database requires constant comparison and research with multiple state and federal agencies and programs to ensure its accuracy.
The integrity of our voter database is critical to maintaining citizen’s trust in the overall election process. If we can help policy makers and voters understand the lengths that are taken to maintain the integrity of these "lists" we have an opportunity for them to become advocates for what we do and stifle the rhetoric of widespread voter fraud.
EAC: Describe how you conduct voter list maintenance. How do your state and county officials work together?
Morrell: All of our voter list maintenance is done in conjunction with the state. The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office provides each county with monthly reports to research and process. These include the National Change of Address lists from the US Postal Service, the multi-state ERIC (Electronic Registration Information Center) lists which compare voter registration and motor vehicle data, and the Social Security death index. In addition we receive monthly updates from the Colorado Department of Corrections to identify and remove felons and the Colorado Department of Health to identify and remove voters who have died in Colorado. We also work closely with the state to run duplicate voter checks and identify voters whose US citizenship is in question.
An exciting new project that showcases the benefits of county and state officials working together is Colorado DRIVES which replaces the outdated driver license system in Colorado with a system that allows voters to seamlessly update their voter registration record or register for the first time when they make a change to their driver’s license record. This information is transmitted electronically through the state voter registration database for counties to process. It eliminates the need to transmit a paper form which improves the speed and accuracy of updating a voter record.
EAC: What do you do to ensure that voters are not incorrectly removed from the voter rolls?
Morrell: We follow the same protocol outlined in last week’s Maintenance Monday by Neal Kelley
of having three status levels for voters: active, inactive and cancelled. These go hand-in-hand with the NVRA guideline for mailing voters a forwardable confirmation notice. In addition, Colorado statute outlines minimum-matching criteria that is necessary to identify before a voter record can be merged or cancelled. At a minimum the name and date of birth must match along with one other variable such as a driver’s license number or Social Security number.
EAC: How does voter list maintenance help you administer and plan for elections?
Morrell: The voter database drives everything we do in administering an election. It drives the decisions for where we locate our Voter Service and Polling Centers and ballot drop boxes. It provides the data for determining the amount of staffing, equipment, and supplies that we provide at each voting location and in our central mail ballot processing facility. Voter behavior is fairly predictable. Roughly 10 percent of our turnout is from in-person voting and 30 percent of those voting in person also change or update their address. Having accurate addresses for voters ensures they get their mail ballot and increases the likelihood that they will vote their mail ballot and skip voting in person – allowing us to better utilize the funds budgeted for elections.
EAC: How does your office define success in the voter list maintenance process?
Morrell: The number of ballots returned as undeliverable by the US Postal Service is the biggest indicator of how well we are doing with list maintenance. For the 2016 General Election we mailed out 370,590 mail ballots with 3.4 percent of those being returned as undeliverable. If you compare this to prior elections in Arapahoe County, and even to other jurisdictions, we are making great progress. However, this equates to 12,600 ballots. Our voters have the opportunity to contact our office and request a replacement ballot if they did not receive a ballot in the mail. This means we are paying for the print and mail cost of the original ballot, the cost for the post office to return the ballot, and in some cases the cost to process a replacement ballot or service that voter at one of our vote centers. We keep our eye on the number of undelivered ballots because it represents a significant cost directly correlated to list maintenance.
EAC: What additional resources would help you enhance your current voter list maintenance procedures and make improvements to your voter rolls?
Morrell: Broader access to other state and local databases. Imagine if we could crosscheck our voter list against the information gathered by other state and local agencies. As citizens, we interact with government on an ongoing basis. We pay taxes, get licenses and permits of all sorts, and seek out government services. Think how easy it would be to keep your voter database clean if all government databases could talk.
EAC: What is one tip or best practice you would share related to voter list maintenance?
Morrell: Be consistent! Processing new voter registration records and voter registration updates correctly is just as vital as all of the elements related to list maintenance. In a big election, our voter registration staff is augmented by temporary election workers. That means good training and adherence to a consistent process is essential. The best way to accomplish this is to use checklists!
A big thank you to Jennifer for sharing the great work of Arapahoe County. And keep coming back to our blog this month to hear more from election officials about how they maintain accurate voter lists.