Residents living in one neighborhood near Catawissa will be able to participate in Franklin County history and never leave their homes.
On Thursday, County Clerk Tim Baker announced the 134 residents of the Sylvan Manor-Sunset Acres Sewer District will be able to vote on a tax levy increase strictly by mail.
No other election items are scheduled for November in Franklin County and the special election is necessary due to the pressing needs for repairs on the sewer systems lagoons that can’t be put on hold until next April.
If a special election is needed the government entities calling for the election are responsible to pay for it.
By holding the first ever mail-in election in the county, the clerk estimates it will save the sewer district and the county about $2,400, bring the election costs down to only $600.
Baker, who is the chief election authority for the county, said this is the first time Franklin County has ever conducted a mail-only election and was adamant that it will not become common practice.
“The only reason we’ve never done this before is because we didn’t know about it,” Baker said. “It is allowed by Missouri state statute, but there are strict rules. The ballot can only contain a yes or no question, no candidates can be elected and it has to be nonpartisan.”
Baker added as clerk he has the authority to limit the number of people who can be included in a mail only election and he has set a ceiling of 500 voters for anything in the future.
Each of the 134 registered voters in the sewer district (Catawissa precinct) will receive a voting packet sometime near Oct. 8 that will contain several documents.
The clerk’s office provided a sample packet to The Missourian to inform the public on what to expect in this trial run.
“This will only affect between 50 and 60 homes in that subdivision,” Baker said. “There will be no cost to voters except for the ink it takes to mark the ballot.”
The actual ballot has the yes or no question on it and an official county seal that can’t be duplicated. It has a box for each response and will include instructions on how to properly mark the ballot with any type of pen or pencil.
The packet also will contain a self-addressed stamped envelope for each voter to return to the clerk’s office through the mail.
All ballots must be in the clerk’s possession by the normal poll closing time of 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.
On the back of each envelope is a self-administered affidavit voters must fill out and sign to verify their identity.
“Our staff has to verify all of the signatures with the voter’s original registration signatures,” Baker said. “Then all of the ballots will be hand counted and the election will be certified the same evening.”
Baker added the entire election process will be handled in-house by the clerk’s office staff.
“If this works it will give us another tool in our toolbox,” Baker said. “If it’s a mess then we’ll scrap it.”
The increased tax levy needs only a simple majority to pass. If there is a tie, Baker is doubtful it will be decided by a coin toss and will most likely result in a runoff.
The packets also will include a detailed frequently asked questions sheet to guide voters through the new process.
Baker said even if the mail-in election is a success, residents should not expect it to become the new normal for future elections.
“I still believe in the system of going to the polls on Election Day,” Baker said.
He added the mail-only election is ideal in this situation due to the extremely low number of voters involved and the painfully low turnout at the last election held in August that also revolved around a sewer district.
Only 6.3 percent of the total 1,272 registered voters in that particular area cast ballots during the special election Aug. 6, which cost between $7,000 and $8,000.
“If we only had a 6 percent turnout in this special election, it would be like seven votes,” Baker said. “I can’t justify a 16-hour day of the polls being open for that.
In that election a two-thirds majority of less than 1,300 county voters were asked to allow Calvey Creek and Crestview Sewer districts to combine into one.
When all was said and done, only 81 overall votes were cast, with 50 voters in favor of the sewer district merger and 31 against it.
Baker explained the proposition fell just four votes shy. It needed 66.6 percent of the total votes to pass but received only 61.73 percent.
Both Jackson and Johnson counties in Missouri have executed mail-in elections successfully and were consulted by Franklin County.
Baker added there are seven states nationwide which hold mail-in elections regularly.