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Chat about the 2007 election with County Clerk Jamie Shew

April 4, 2007

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Jamie Shew

Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew oversaw Tuesday's balloting in Lawrence school and city races. He'll take your questions.

Full coverage of the <a href="http://www2.ljworld.com/news/lawrence/government/city_hall/election/2007/">2007 City Commission</a> and <a href="http://www2.ljworld.com/news/education/school_board/elections/2007/">2007 school board</a> elections.

Moderator:

County Clerk Jamie Shew joins us this afternoon to talk about yesterday's election. I'm Haley Harrison and will moderate today's chat. Welcome Jamie.

Jamie Shew:

Good afternoon. Thank you for having me here today.

meburr:

Now that you have made it through a couple of elections, how do you feel about your position?

Jamie Shew:

I really am enjoying the chance to be your County Clerk. Two years ago, after my first elections, I sat down and set up a plan that redesigned how we handle elections. I said, "we can do better." Through the hard work of our staff, the pollworkers and numerous other individuals, we have come a long way. I am pleased with what we have accomplished and will continue to work towards better efficiency and accessibility in elections.

Moderator:

Tell us a little more about the plan you set up to "do better."

Jamie Shew:

We redesigned every process from how we prepare, train the poll workers, deliver supplies, improve our accessibility, and handle our election night processes. Everything "went under the knife" from the look of our forms to the equipment that we use. The goal was to increase efficiency and accessibility. We basically asked the questions, why do we do this, how can we do this better and what is the best way to get this done.

Boston_Charley:

I viewed yesterday's election as key to the future of this city. Apparently lots of other people didn't agree. What do you think could be done to increase voter turnout?

Jamie Shew:

That is a great question and one that I wrestle with as County Clerk. My soapbox is that local elections impact citizens on a larger scale then national elections, yet turnout for a national is 80% and a local is 20%. We have to do better at getting citizens why it is important to vote. The City of Lecompton had a sales tax question yesterday that was decided by two votes and we have a couple of races that are presently only a few votes apart. This is definately a situation where each voter has an impact on the results of the election. For national elections we concentrate on efforts like Rock the Vote and Kids Voting, yet we seem to not do those projects in local elections. This may communicate something in order of importance. For my part, we have been working on plans on how our office can increase voter turnout. Currently we have increased our web presence and offered voting on Saturdays. But, this is a question that involves a lot of people in how we get people to take the time to get involved, get informed, and vote.

Moderator:

In terms of voter turnout, how does yesterday compare to other elections you've seen? Does yesterday's election indicate any voting trends in the county?

Jamie Shew:

Two years ago, we had the statewide constitutional amendment and a bond election, this led to an almost 40% turnout. Local elections generally trend between 20-30%. We see that a hot issue like a bond election or a local issue that connects to voters will increase turnout. The turnout ranged from precinct to precinct from 5 to 39% which indicates that voters in some areas were compelled to vote. Why, is a question for the pundits.

Moderator:

Because candidates for city commission and school board don't campaign along party lines (i.e. democrat or republican), does that impact turnout?

kat66044:

You corrected yesterday's confusion at Precinct 41 over who was eligible to vote on drainage districts. What steps are you taking to prevent future confusion?

Jamie Shew:

The parties are very good at getting out the vote and targeting voters and that has an impact on the turnout. Plus, those campaigns usually resonate with voters easier than local elections. We do see a difference because of the large get out the vote drives that parties use during those elections. It is harder for a local candidate to have the resources to make those events happen.

Jamie Shew:

Excellent question. The drainage district elections that happen every four years are completely different then regular elections and they are governed by a completely different set of laws. Basically, a person must own land or tangible personal property in a drainage district in order to participate. They do not need to live in the district or be registered to vote. The law states that we use the tax records and only those listed as the legal oweners on a deed or title are entitled to vote, this is where most of the confustion occurs. The is is very confusing for the pollworkers as they have to work with two lists, one that is not very clear. We tried to put something in place that would help with the confusion. As we got into the process, we needed to clear up some further confusion. This was my first drainage district election, so I learned a lot also. Hopefully next time we can have a process that is a little clearer for the poll workers and set up a way for voters to understand why some can vote and others can not vote. I hope that answers your question and I apologize for any confustion that occured yesterday. The poll workers at 41 did a great job at helping to make sure that this was corrected.

Moderator:

Explain to us what happens between now and Friday's canvass. When will the results be final?

Jamie Shew:

Great question! The work does not end on Tuesday, because the results are always UNOFFICIAL until Friday when the Board of Canvassers meets to make the results official. Over the next two days, we will audit all of the precincts and make sure that the number of ballots matches the number of signatures and research any anomolies. When the board meets we go over every precinct and all ballots and signatures must be accounted for before validation. We also process the provisional ballots (120 for this election)and prepare for recommendations for the canvassers. Provisional ballots are governed by strict federal and state laws. We must account for every provisional ballot and follow guidelines on what to count and not count. We are also auditing all of the roster books. Because we have a paper based system, we are able to audit paper ballots to the computer tabulations. This takes a lot of work by our staff, who are very tired from the past few days, and I appreciate everything they do during this time. The Board of Canvassers are the ones that make everything official, so I always repeat on election night that these results are unofficial. Finally, we are picking up all of the supplies from the polling locations and getting things ready for the next election.

Moderator:

Time for one last question before we let you get back to work. Being the County Clerk, you must feel elections are an important part of the democratic process. When turnout is low, what message do you personally take from that?

kat66044:

Thanks for explaining the drainage districts. I wanted to say that having the sample ballots available on the website is great. Thanks.

Jamie Shew:

Kat, thank you for the feedback on sample ballots. Increasing our web presence has been a big goal of mine. Getting the sample ballots on-line was a top priority and I have heard a great response. We will continue to increase our web presence and get citizens more information before the elections. Having voters informed before going to the polling place is important, but also keeps from citizens being tripped up by elections they may not have known about. Thanks

Jamie Shew:

I am extremely passionate about voting. There are countries where citizens risk their lives for the chance to vote, or walk 100's of miles to vote. There are citizens of countries who have never had the chance to have a voice in their government, ever. This is a right that we take for granted and it is disheartening at times. I am always optimistic regarding turnout, this is why I am always over in my estimates in voter turnout. :) Elections are also costly to run, labor intensive and require a large dedicated group of people to occur. This is an investment of time and resources that you hope will result in high turnout and good government. I think that we need to work on how to get people to understand the importance of this right and why they should VOTE. As County Clerk, I hope to work on efforts to educate and inform citizens (and future citizens) regarding why we should vote in all elections.

Moderator:

That is all the time we have this afternoon. Thank you to County Clerk Jamie Shew for joining us and answering all of our election questions.

Jamie Shew:

Thank you. Please visit our website at www.douglascountyelections.com for more information regarding elections in Douglas County. Thank you for everyone's hard work yesterday and contact me if you have any questions.

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