High Costs, Low Turnout
How available is public information? I have been putting this to the test by requesting voting records from Missouri’s 114 counties and the city of St. Louis. Under Missouri’s Sunshine Law, this information should be available to anyone who asks.
Specifically, I’m asking for school district election results from the past nine years school board elections, special school elections, bond issues, and tax levies in the hope of creating a publicly available database detailing turnout in those elections. While some county clerks have been forthcoming, others have come up with creative ways to avoid giving me the information.
A Jasper County employee, after covering the receiver, said something along the lines of "they’ll just use it for political reasons," before refusing my request for any and all election results.
Some counties have promptly sent their records, all fees waived.
Others have asked for modest amounts of reimbursement for research
efforts, copying costs or postage. And a handful have asked for exorbitant amounts, such as Wright County‘s clerk, who asked for a $100 deposit to even begin working on my request, or Harrison County‘s clerk, who responded with a fee of $41.37 per hour and estimated several hours of work. After flatly refusing to comply with my request, the Jasper County official said they only
provided such information to potential candidates (who would be using
it for political reasons). When reminded that the information I was
requesting was public record, the woman I spoke with obstinately
repeated her original refusal.
So, here’s the breakdown: Out of the 81 counties from which I have
received records, 60 provided them at no cost, 20 charged less than $50,
and only one charged more than $50.
Because of the high fees charged, I had to cancel 11 other requests.
All in all, the tab of collecting these results comes to about $1,000.
Even without all the data, it is possible to see some trends
developing. Costs of gathering the data may have been high, but the
most obvious trend is that voter turnout is low, on the order of 20
percent lower in many instances, but higher when bonds and levies are
on the ballot. Although this information is neither shocking nor new,
I hope to be able to use the database to draw some fresher, more
insightful conclusions about education-related voting behavior in
Missouri. As I continue to work with the data, I’ll post some more
concrete figures and observations.
For now, suffice it to say that it seems Missouri voters have other
plans in April; turnout appears to be hovering around the low end of
the spectrum for school elections.
If you have any comments or questions about school elections, or how to file your own Sunshine Law request, please email me.