‘If Seward County has had a mail ballot, it was before my time,’ clerk says
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
With Christmas less than a week away, mail trucks and delivery services scramble to deliver holiday purchases. But Seward County Clerk Stacia Long is contemplating a different kind of shopping: how many envelopes her office might need early next year, and how soon to order them.
If the USD 480 school board opts to present its upcoming bond issue to the public as a mail ballot, Long’s office will take on the task of sending a printed ballot to every active registered voter in the county — a number that could reach around 8,000 people. It is a project unlike any she’s supervised before.
“Here’s the deal,” she said. “It’s a little tricky to make sure we have the supplies necessary; we don’t want to order them today until the school board has taken final action. But we don’t want to wait too long, either.”
There’s also the challenge of sorting out the active registered voters from the inactive ones. Factors that affect a voter’s status revolve around recent participation in elections, address changes and another mail-related issue, like returned notices the clerk’s office was unable to deliver.
It’s unfamiliar territory for Long, who has been in office for 15 years.
“If Seward County has had a mail ballot, it was before my time,” she said. Although the project will entail considerable planning, she said, “we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Other counties have done this successfully.”
At the school board’s last meeting Dec. 12, DLR Group’s Kevin Greischar urged the board to consider a mail ballot. It would increase the possibility of success, he said.
“I’m hearing you have about 2,000 voters who are most active,” and show up at the polls to vote, he said, adding that a mail ballot is likely to boost that number.
“A phenomenal amount of people take part,” in mail-in elections, he said. “We’ve seen it in other communities. You typically get 40 percent of registered voters.”
During the series of community meetings, Greischar repeatedly warned supporters of a bond issue to think seriously about the importance of increasing voter participation.
“Voters who are against a project don’t need to be organized; they show up on their own to say, ‘no,’” he said. A mail ballot can counterbalance the problem of apathetic or overconfident voters who assume a school bond issue is a “sure thing,” don’t bother to show up on election day, and then see a district’s plans fail.
Long and her team met Tuesday to think through the steps a mail ballot would require.
“Initially, our duty is to get a plan in place so that we’ll be able to file it with the Secretary of State,” she said. With the USD 480 board scheduled to meet later this week, Long hopes to hear more definite instructions soon.
When the state required the introduction of dual-language ballots several years ago, Long recalled, “we had less time to make that happen — within a month, I want to say— and it was successful.” In fact, Long’s office won a state award for its implementation of the Spanish-English ballot. A mail ballot that’s still four a half months away? It should be no problem, Long said.
“I have some great people working with me,” said Long, listing Crystal Clemens (who also sits on the USD 480 board), Vanessa Reever and Marcala Skinner, all longtime county employees.
“I have experts in my office,” Long said. “Our meeting this week was to look ahead. Chances are there will be a mail ballot. We wanted to ask, ‘What if there is? How do we do that?’”
Long’s experience with advance-voting ballots, which are often mailed to the clerk’s office, has given her a sense of how the mail ballot process will unfold. Within the past year, Liberal’s post office was converted from a full-fledged mail processing site to a collection point. Ballots posted in Liberal travel to Amarillo for processing before they are returned to Long’s office.
During the last general election, she recalled, “I was concerned about how the changes at the post office might affect us. As far as I know, it didn’t create a problem.”
The clerk’s office will consult with the local postmaster to ensure things work smoothly. For now, however, Long’s focus is on getting the pieces in place as soon as possible, if the school board chooses the mail ballot for a special election in April.
“I’m excited,” she said. “It will be a lot of fun to research it and figure out how to make this happen. I think it’s a good thing.”
Until she hears from USD 480, though, she’s not placing any orders for the office supplies a mail ballot requires. Unless they are used for voting purposes, she said,
“I would never need that many envelopes again.”