You can find it here.
As of this writing, the “Where to Vote” button, that was featured on the front page is still gone, so maybe they’re in testing mode.
Either way, this feature has returned…and now with accurate information.
Its interesting that the County Commission districts still reflect the current scenario. Kind of challenges the assertion that Commission redistricting was the “cause” of the hold-up. With two years left before Commission elections, updating that information would have been confusing to a lot of people.
Maybe they’ve got another version of the database ready to go for the 2014 cycle. We’ll see.
In other news, I’m hearing that people who will be voting in new locations are receiving letters from the Commission notifying them of the change. This is also encouraging.
Don’t forget to bring your ID when you vote. This applies to Early Voting and Election Day voting.
Vote early…vote often! (That means every election FYI)
What an eye opener. Not because so many questions were answered, but because I got to really see the problem…which is multi-fasceted.
A Little ResolutionThe actual business of the Election Commission was fairly dry, except for one issue that may be of interest to about 77,500 voters.
A resolution, which saw no disclosure prior to the meeting, and was not publicly available for comment, was passed that consolidates precincts, and portions of precincts for the August election. A rough map of the impacted precincts is included to the right. I’ve scanned the resolution and made it available here (PDF).
The rationale for these consolidations and voting location changes was to comply with ADA standards and address closed voting locations.
These things happen, and I’m sympathetic with the Commission’s efforts to ensure people have access to the voting location. However, it was mentioned that the resolution was drafted just hours before the committee meetings began, which leaves effectively zero time for the Commissioners themselves, much less the public, to inspect the proposed changes.
With just 51 days to election day, and no prior public disclosure, as many as 77,500 voters will have a new voting location in August. Based on the number of active voters the Election Commission reports, that means about 18% of all voters in the County will have to be notified of changes (numbers based on those reported in the resolution).
That’s an awful lot of people impacted even though the total number or precincts only changed from 236 to 219.
Ed. Note: I am told that the Election Commission is required to give prior notice of resolutions that impact precincts and/or voting locations. Failing to do so may be a violation of open meetings/open records laws. I’ll be checking into this over the coming days and report my findings in a future post.
There was a discussion at the meeting about public access to information and the business of the Commission. Below are some of the issues discussed. Nothing, by the way was resolved.
1. The public disclosure of what is to be discussed at the actual meeting has been lackluster for some time. Before the January 27, 2011 meeting, bullet points of discussion were included in the agenda. After that time, those discussion points became fewer and fewer. This is further hampered by the fact that the committees meet earlier in the day, on the same day as the Commission, and that the Commission only meets once a month. So items for discussion that come up in committee either have to be dealt with on that evening’s agenda, or put off for a month. I want to thank Commissioner Lester for bringing this issue up, and hope that the Commission endeavors to increase advance disclosure of the topics for discussion in their July meeting.
2. The one month lag between the meeting and the publishing of minutes, as I have noted before, is somewhat understandable. Minutes must be approved before they can be published…I get that. But in observing the meeting, I saw that it was being recorded…albiet on a less than ideal device. The presence of that recording makes me wonder why they haven’t been publishing the audio…even in its raw form, until the minutes are approved. When I asked members of the commission (from both sides of the aisle), I was told that they didn’t know enough about it to know what was possible. The solution is not just shrugging your shoulders…its asking if its possible, and if not…why. It would resolve a truism of life: If you don’t tell your story, someone else will, and you might not like the story they tell.
3. There’s a lot of tension in the room. Some of the questions asked got answered with a terseness that I felt was unnecessarily defensive, dismissive, and disrespectful. I observed this on several occasions. The message in the answers and the delivery of those answers is effectively that the questions themselves have no merit. This is compounded by what seemed to be softness in the lingo (names of reports, functions, and job descriptions) that can create unnecessary confusion. I’ve experienced this myself when asking for specific reports from the Commission, often with mixed results.
No Comfort At All
After the meeting, I and a few other interested individuals at the meeting spoke with several of the Commissioners about the problems relating to gaining information about the upcoming election in August…particularly as it relates to the Unified School Board.
Some of this discussion was broached in the meeting…particularly the precinct locator function that Administrator Holden reports is the single most popular feature of the website.
Its wrong, and there’s no ETA for it being right.
So, considering the changes made to nearly every district up for a vote this August, and the addition of a whole new class of districts (the Unified School Board), the Election Commission has no way of informing voters about what districts they will be voting in this August.
Even the most recent Ward and Precinct Stat File is incorrect. It not only doesn’t list the new Congressional, State House and Senate seats…it doesn’t even have a field for Unified School Board.
I was told there is no way to find this information out, even though the new districts we will be voting on in 51 days have been known since January 23.
The rationale for the delay is still the lack of a County Commission district plan. Considering the County Commission isn’t up for election for another two years, this excuse is bunk.
That there is no way to gain this information is simply negligent. While I understand that the workers at the Election Commission are working as hard as they can, it seems evident that they have been directed to wait for the elusive decision by the County Commission.
That’s just a poor administrative decision that will negatively impact the outcome of the August election.
I guess what surprised me most was that there was no outrage or even surprise at this revelation, which, more than anything else describes the problem.
The paternalistic nature of the entire meeting, the tension, the willingness to shrug and move on, all point to a culture of acquiescence from the Commissioners themselves. I understand that serving on the Commission is a huge time commitment, and that everyone has busy lives, but the issue at hand here is the security (both real and perceived) of the voting franchise.
Some of the muted, but present defensiveness from staff members and Commissioners leads one to believe there is more interest in protecting the honor of the Election Commission itself rather than performing the necessary due diligence to inform the public, and thereby, protect both the voting franchise and the Commission. This is the kind of perspective that results from a bunker mentality that is all too pervasive in Boards and Commissions throughout Shelby County.
Transparency isn’t difficult. It just has to be intentional. It doesn’t happen by accident or happenstance. It has to be in the forefront of the minds of those who are making the and enacting decisions. While there were assurances that the upcoming precinct consolidations (which will likely be taken up later this year) will be transparent, based on what I observed, this would constitute a massive change in philosophy that is little more than an afterthought in the grand scheme of things.
I’ve heard, and been told directly in other public meetings that “the process will be transparent” before. In almost every instance these assurances have been fool’s gold. You’ll excuse me if I’m more than a little skeptical about his one.
I said earlier, and it bears repeating: If you don’t tell your story, someone else will and you may not like the story they tell.
I’m pretty sure that none of the Commissioners (on either side of the aisle) will like what I’ve said. They probably think I’m being too hard on them or inflexible.
This isn’t personal.
If the Commissioners/Commission want less grief, they have the power to reduce it by looking for solutions and working to be more open. Back in 2009 I wrote a very positive post about changes and greater openness at the Commission. I would prefer to be able to do so again rather than point out the failings of the body.
Commissioners, the power is in your hands, but you have to make it a priority rather than an afterthought. You don’t have to have the know how yourselves…that’s what staff is for. You do have to have the will to start and continue the discussion.
Further, I and other interested individuals are always available for suggestions. But at the end of the day, its on the Commissioners and administrative staff to enact the changes.
No one else can do it but you. I hope you will resolve to restore the trust of the people rather than hunker down and ultimately, make the problem worse.
With 52 days until the election, there are…or at least should be, concerns about voters ability to navigate these new districts since the Election Commission has not yet updated its voter database, nor mailed out new voter cards reflecting the new information.
As I noted yesterday, the Election Commission blames the County Commission…and they have a point…to a point.
But as I also noted, the Election Commission is considering a plan that would consolidate precincts…which would change voting locations for people residing in those consolidated precincts.
The plan, which is loosely detailed in this document found on the Shelby county Website (pdf), seeks to consolidate between 56 and 86 precincts a reduction of 24% to 36%.
As of this writing, no public disclosure of any kind regarding proposals to consolidate precincts has come from the Election Commission.
An Emergency Without Urgency
Yesterday’s emergency alert hasn’t come with any emergency response in the wake of the County Commission’s deferral of its redistricting ordinance. In fact, as of this writing the Election Commission has issued no statement whatsoever regarding anything.
Now, with a minimum of two weeks before the County Commission takes the issue up again, its starting to look like the Election Commission is more interested in having someone else to blame than informing the public about an election that will be just 38 days away when the County Commission takes the issue back up. Apparently, the Election Commission is banking on the 9 votes required by County Charter. We’ve seen just how certain those 9 votes can be (two weeks ago it received only 8).
What’s most ridiculous about the Election Commission’s claim is that County Commission elections aren’t until 2014. The election this year for County Commission is to fill out the term of Mike Carpenter…meaning the old lines still apply. They don’t need these new districts for this election…they just want them.
Its time for the Election Commission to stop redirecting blame and either start acting, or be willing to take the heat for their inaction. It is patently irresponsible for a body tasked with administering elections to not have basic information available to the public less than 60 days out from an election.
The public’s right to know about the races before them right now trumps any work efficiencies that they would like to take advantage of.
They could fix this right now if they wanted to. Apparently, they don’t want to.
In my last post, I detailed some of the problems the Shelby County Election Commission is experiencing regarding new US House, State Senate and House, and Unified School Board districts. This morning they released an advisory about the issue.
Now that the County Commission, which the Election Commission blames for the delay, has decided to delay a vote, one has to wonder what will happen and how the voting public will navigate the mangled mess the State House and Senate left in their wake when they decided to redistrict based on Census blocks rather than existing precincts.
With just 53 days to the August election, there are several important issues on the ballot, including the candidates for the new Unified School Board. Time is short to get this information out to the public.
But there are other things on the Election Commission’s agenda that are likely to also play a role in voter confusion…precinct consolidation.
Currently, there are 236 precincts in Shelby County. That’s down from a high of 272 in 2006. There is a draft plan before the Commission to combine as many as 56 precincts, leaving just 180 precincts in the County. Under the plan, the average area covered by a precinct would go from 3.3 sq/mi to 4.4 sq/mi.
However, the plan has not been publicly released. I only know about it because I happened to see a map generated by the Election Commission.
As I noted in my last post, the minutes of the April meeting have still not been released (apparently they weren’t approved in May). What’s more, the agenda of the meeting to take place on Wednesday mentions nothing about precinct changes or any other alterations that would impact the August election.
Because of the lack of information, rumors have started to spread that the Election Commission intends to make these changes before the August election. That means 56 precincts of people could be voting in a new location, with little time for notification before election day.
Stop the Blame Storming
I’ll give the Election Commission one thing: Yes, the County Commission should have approved new districts for itself before now.
That fact is not and never has been in question.
However, the silence from the body regarding informing the public about the problems, and their lack of overall willingness to really talk about anything has shifted the focus from the failings of the County Commission, to the the Election Commission.
Add to that, the lack of disclosure, or even recent minutes of meetings, and you’ve got the recipe for rumblings about the bumblings of an appointed body that, for whatever reason, just can’t seem to get it together for the public good.
That doesn’t bode well for an institution charged with protecting the most important trust of our Republic…the voting franchise.
The Election Commission meets Wednesday. A quick search of local media outlets nets nothing of substance regarding the lack of minutes, or the bulk of the business of the Commission since April with the exception of the coverage of the ongoing voter purge and the reports of the lost history fiasco.
Wednesday could be a critical day for voting in Shelby Co. It’ll be interesting if anyone pays it any notice.