If elections were financial investments, what would Clay taxpayer ROI be?

By Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 10/17/18

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The 2018 Clay County Primary Election saw only 27 percent of registered voters mark up a ballot and, according to some in the county, that’s a loss in the taxpayer’s …

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If elections were financial investments, what would Clay taxpayer ROI be?

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The 2018 Clay County Primary Election saw only 27 percent of registered voters mark up a ballot and, according to some in the county, that’s a loss in the taxpayer’s investment.

Of over 150,000 registered voters in the county, only roughly 41,000 cast a ballot during the Aug. 28 primary, an election that decided the fate of school board members, selected gubernatorial nominees and an amendment that raised property taxes by one mill, among other things.

It costs the same amount of money – around $250,000 – to successfully run an election whether voter turnout is 27 percent or 73.54 percent like the November 2016 general election. But what if those percentages were viewed as return on investment like voters’ stock accounts? Either way, Clay County Supervisor of Elections Chris Chambless is searching for ways to vastly improve voter turnout.

“It’s time and materials. The process demands 100 percent availability, so we prepare for 100 percent turnout each and every time...County-wide elections can cost as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars and if there is an 80 percent turnout, the very first thing that I think of is not necessarily the 80 percent, but rather, I start thinking about the 20 percent. That’s a 20 percent loss on our investment,” Chambless said.

Chambless likens what he and the staff of his office do to professional Olympians. Just like these Olympians, months and months, even years, of preparation culminates in one event. For the athletes, it’s the Olympics but for Chambless, it’s the voting period.

Chambless and his staff could be seen as the coach for the Clay County voting Olympian. A 27 percent voter turnout would be like an athlete who, despite months and months of preparation, showed up to the Olympics only to give 27 percent of his all on the track, field, the pool or other kind of stage.

It’s not the voters who showed up that are on Chambless’ mind after an election – it’s the ones who didn’t. Every day, he and his team look for the solution to a problem that has plagued American politics for centuries: Why don’t registered voters vote?

In the past, voters could blame the way voting worked, according to Chambless. It used to be that voting happened on one day, during a set period of hours. Perhaps a voter had to work during those hours, or maybe they were out of the county on military deployment on that day. Now, though, Chambless said the voting climate has changed dramatically to appeal to voters.

Those unavailable on voting day with a verifiable reason, such as military deployment, can utilize an absentee ballot. Those who simply don’t want to leave their house can vote with a mail-in ballot. Those scheduled to work for the entirety of voting day can vote on a different day with Early Voting.

“The process is more accessible and available than it has ever been before,” Chambless said. “You see, I believe that the purpose behind all of this [different ways to vote] is trying to combat any and all excuses of apathy. Your taking away the arrow of availability from the quiver and you’re saying, ‘OK, if it’s that, if it is access to a ballot,’ which there have been periods of time in history where people have said that the access to voting was not there, then I would argue now that not only is it there, but it’s probably to the detriment of the process,” Chambless said.

By detriment, Chambless said availability can appear to cheapen the event. Whereas in years past, election day was an event held in high regard, due in part to its one-day exclusivity. Today, with so much opportunity to vote, the event might be seen as more lackadaisical than exciting. Still though, if more voting availability is what voters want, Chambless is happy to provide that.

“I realize that there is a need and we want to meet that need, we being supervisors of elections,” Chambless said. “I don’t think you can find any greater advocate for the voting process than the Supervisor of Elections and we strive every day to meet that need.”

While 69 percent of votes, on average, are cast prior to Election Day, according to Chambless, increased availability has not increased voter turnout, leaving people like Chambless a bit perplexed on solving the greater issue of low voter turnout.

Chambless sees some of the problems that might keep a voter away from a ballot, but he said many of these problems are rooted in pervasive voter myths. For example, across the nation, one reason a registered voter might not vote is voter apathy or the feeling that one vote won’t matter. For that, Chambless looks at a recent Orange Park Town Council election that happened about a decade ago in which a candidate lost by one vote. Had a few voters with voter apathy shown up to the polls that day, they might have turned the tide of that election.

“One vote represents who you select, not necessarily who wins,” Chambless said. “If your vote doesn’t turn an election or go to the winner, it’s not that your vote didn’t matter – it’s that there just wasn’t enough like-minded people voting the same as you.”

Chambless posed a question to those who can vote, but do not.

“What if these people couldn’t vote?” Chambless asked. “I just wonder if they didn’t have that right if it would mean so much more?”

In some countries, such as Australia, there is a no-vote tax imposed on those who do no vote. Chambless said some see this as a solution to the problem, but in America, this system, which was implemented before, didn’t work.

“It was really used as a deterrent to voting more so than a tax if you didn’t vote,” Chambless said.

Chambless said in times past, voter education has been cited as an issue, but in 2018, he questions how anyone can fail to become informed – they simply need to research. Now, more than ever, the knowledge of what voters will be voting on is widely available. Chambless said this information is in newspapers, on TV, in public records and of course, on social media. With smartphones being ubiquitous, any smartphone user can use the internet to learn what they want any time.

“We have almost unlimited access to the knowledge we want to know because of these [smartphones],” Chambless said. “If a voter wants to know what they’re voting on, they likely have the means to do so in their pocket.”

Chambless said some people have a lack of trust in the voting process, but according to him, there is no reason for that. From the simplest level, like the fact that the vote tabulation room is in full view from a window always outside of the building, to the most complex level, like the drastically-deep lengths his office goes to ensure that none of the electronics can be tampered with or hacked, Clay County votes are safe.

With initiatives that allow 67 Florida county elections offices to maintain a constant line of communication to detect election threats, a national Department of Homeland Security council, to logic and accuracy tests that ensure tabulation machines are counting correctly and Canvassing Boards, Chambless said, the voting system in Clay County is secure from top to bottom.

“I guess all of this is to say that voters do not need to worry about losing their vote in our system,” Chambless said. “Their vote is guaranteed and safe.”

“This is like tofu,” Chambless continued. “The more you chew, the bigger it gets. The process is so much bigger than people realize, and I think that if people had some idea of the effort, maybe they’d get involved. If they knew the accuracy, if they knew their vote counted each and every time, if they knew their one vote does matter, if they knew the cost involved, would that motivate them? I don’t know.”

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