Less Confusion … and Less Information
It confused people too much.
That was what a Franklin County employee told me when I asked why election results reported in the same format were less detailed in 2007 and 2008 than they had been in 2006 (and earlier years). In 2006, the reports had a figure labeled “times counted.” This was simply the number of ballots cast in a particular race, paired with the total number of registered voters eligible to vote in that race. And it allowed turnout to be calculated. In 2007 and 2008, that figure was missing.
At first, because I’ve seen it so often, I assumed the missing data was caused by a computer error. Even though the format hadn’t changed, I figured it must have been omitted accidentally on the hard copies I was given.
I was wrong.
The “times counted” figure was gone, not missing. It simply stopped being reported in more recent years. Because it confused people.
Who exactly it confused wasn’t made clear (the county clerk’s office, perhaps?). It certainly hadn’t confused me. Although, I admit, the “times counted” figure gave me pause the first time I saw it, I was able to figure it out. Anyone with an interest in the results would have figured it out, either on his own or with a quick phone call to the county clerk’s office.
Instead of recording the information with that assumption, Franklin County opted to make its election results “clearer” for laypeople. And less detailed.
Now you can see how many total votes there were in a given race, but that figure is practically meaningless. Because voters can vote for more than one candidate in many school district elections, total votes don’t tell you how many ballots were cast — and the number of registered voters isn’t listed, either. You can see turnout for the entire election, but for individual races, you’re in the dark.
Who wins and who loses is no doubt important information to store, but that is only one part of an election’s outcome. Being able to see how many people voted, how many were eligible to vote, and the percentage turnout for individual races is equally interesting and informative.
Think: A school district can employ hundreds, sometimes thousands. When a proposed tax levy increase for a district is on the ballot, it will affect employee salaries. Does that create an incentive for district employees to vote for the levy? Absolutely. And if turnout for that election is lower than the number of district employees… Well, it’s very suggestive, at least.
As someone trying to create a database that lists school district election turnouts, this lack of information is frustrating. But I am not writing this post because I have an axe to grind. I am writing it because I think Missouri citizens have one — and not just against Franklin County. In other Missouri counties, though not a majority, the trend is toward less information.
When pressed for unincluded numbers, county clerks and staff generally point out to me that they are not required by law to record those details. But reverting to a less-sophisticated system of election reporting seems both counterproductive and unneccesary. If the system is in place already, why downgrade to make it less informative? It just doesn’t make sense. And neither does the excuse given.
Missouri citizens should be angered by the assumption that they are too dim to understand thorough election result reporting. After all, what good is access to public information if that information tells us next to nothing?