Friday, June 10, 2016

I Observed the Vote Count for Assessment Fee Hikes

An Assessment Fee Election

There was more than one election on June 7. It was also the final day for Paso Robles neighborhood residents in District 1 to vote on whether their assessment fees would go up. Landscape and Lighting Maintenance District 1 is divided into many zones and sub areas. All residents had to have their votes in to the city clerk by the end of the hearing at the June 7 City Council meeting.

I Observed the Vote Count for Assessment Fee Hikes
Bird on Street Light Maintained with Assessment Fees , © B. Radisavljevic

By law, a neighborhood's assessment can't be raised more than the maximum assessment rate already in place without a vote. The assessment fee covers the expenses of maintaining the public landscaping and lighting for the neighborhood. If neighborhoods don't vote to raise their assessment fee, there will be no improvements in the street lighting, parkways, islands, slopes, and open space for these neighborhoods. 

I Observed the Vote Count for Assessment Fee Hikes
Landscaping Slated for Improvement with Assessment Fees, © B. Radisavljevic

The Public Hearing

Even though most people mail in their ballots to the city clerk before the scheduled hearing, citizens still can still present written or oral testimony during the public hearing before the votes are counted. Then anyone who hasn't turned in their ballot is told it's time to get them in if they want their votes counted.

As it turned out, no one from my neighborhood took the opportunity to speak. When the votes were about to be counted, those at the council meeting were invited to go outside the room and observe the vote count. I was the only one who did.

Watching the Vote Count

I Observed the Vote Count for Assessment Fee Hikes
Counting Election Results at City Hall after Hearing, © B. Radisavljevic

When I left the city council meeting to watch the vote count, I wasn't sure what to expect. The two women in charge walked out with a box of about 500 ballots in sealed #10 envelopes. (You can see it on the far end of the table.) The most time consuming part of the process was opening all those  envelopes -- especially since no one had thought to bring a letter opener. They did manage to borrow one from the library.

As ballots were opened, they were separated into stacks. There was a stack for those with yes votes, one for no votes, one for ballots signed with no vote marked, and another for defaced ballots. Defaced ballots were those that had writing on them apart from the signatures and the mark for yes or no. The ladies were very reasonable in deciding what was defaced. A couple of ballots where the person had circled the choice before marking it were counted, since intent was clear. Ballots with notes written on them were declared defaced according to the rules, but ballots with attached sticky notes weren't. Never write on a ballot if you want your vote to be counted.

After enough ballots were open and stacked, the person at the near end of the table with the computer started counting them. You can see each ballot has two bar codes. That bar code identifies the parcel number and whether the vote is a yes or no. To avoid someone voting more than once, the computer will not record a second vote for the same parcel number. The stacks are scanned separately to make it easier not to scan the wrong code, but the woman was very careful and did double-check. Here's how that worked. The computer makes a sound when the vote is recorded. You might want to play this full size on YouTube when you finish reading here.

At the end of the scanning, the computer had neatly tabulated the results by zone and sub area. The fee assessment passed in my Zone 4 Sub Area 5.

Have you ever witnessed an official vote count? If so, how was it different than this one?

If you learned something from this post, why not share it? Sharing buttons are below just above the comment box. This last photo was  designed to share on Pinterest.

I Observed the Vote Count for Assessment Fee Hikes

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