Franklin County Clerk Tim Baker says although the experimental mail-in election for the Sylvan Manor-Sunset Acres Sewer District was successful, county residents shouldn’t expect it to become the norm.
Residents in the small sewer district near Catawissa voted on a tax levy increase strictly by mail to address the pressing needs for repairs on the sewer system’s lagoons that can’t be put on hold until next April.
Baker said of the 134 ballots mailed out, 60 were returned and the tax increase passed by a 52 to 8 margin and needed only a simple majority to pass.
“The voter turnout was 44.7 percent,” Baker said. “We were able to do the mail-in election for just under $800 instead of it costing the sewer district almost $3,000.”
Baker said the final ballot was received in the regular mail to the clerk’s office on Tuesday and although they would accept ballots until 7 p.m. staff began counting the ballots at 6 p.m. Tuesday evening.
“We were able to certify the election at 7 p.m., since we had already hand counted the ballots twice,” Baker said. “We had two outside bipartisan judges and one observer there at the office. Even though this was a nonpartisan issue we wanted to make sure all of the i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed just like any regular election.”
Each of the 134 registered voters in the sewer district (Catawissa precinct) received voting packets around Oct. 8 that contained several documents.
The mail-in election affected between 50 and 60 homes in one subdivision.
Overall Baker said he is very pleased with the entire mail-in process and considers it another tool in the county’s election toolbox for the future.
“I can’t say enough good things about this process for a small election,” Baker said. “We were very thorough with the Secretary of State’s office as to what we can and can’t do. I liked this and it worked very well.”
Baker added the mail-in election could be used in the future for small, specific issues affecting only one part of the county, but the cutoff as deemed by the county election authority will be 500 voters.
“Anything above that you get into a gray area, but we can always adjust it,” Baker said. “Anytime you get above 600 voters it would cost the same in postage to send the ballots out and pay for return mail as holding a regular polling place election.”
Baker said after the dismal voter turnout for a similar sewer district issue in August, he began looking for a better alternative.
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, paid by the sewer district.
“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.
The proposition fell just four votes shy. It needed 66.6 percent of the total votes to pass but received only 61.73 percent.
There will not be a mail-in election in 2020 due to the four major elections already scheduled, including county primaries in August and the presidential election in November.
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.
“There is no way we could ever do that for 64,000 registered voters,” he said. “I still believe in the system of going to the polls on Election Day.”