Common Cause Conference

Common Cause of Colorado is hosting the Southwest Election Reform Conference Thursday and Friday. I am presenting on Friday, but today, they had several incredibly interesting panels. The best panel examined vote centers, with Scott Doyle of Larimer County presenting about vote centers there.

Based on the presentation, it is pretty clear that the term “vote center” is a complete misnomer. Although one aspect of the reforms that went on in Larimer County was the creation of these vote centers, it was just a single facet of a multi-faceted effort. The key to the vote center model is public education. Scott sends multiple notices to voters before an election, in large measure to provide them with information on how to vote through some other means than the vote center.

  • The voters receive an introductory communication about the election that includes an absentee ballot request. One-third of Larimer County voters vote by mail.
  • The voters receive a communication with a signature card the voter uses to sign in at the polls. This communication generally spurs voters to vote early at one of five early voting locations. One-third of Larimer County voters vote early.
  • Finally, voters can vote at one of the 31 vote centers. One-third of Larimer County voters vote early.

In short, the vote center is not the driver of turnout in the County, since two-thirds of voters vote by some other means. Very likely, it is communication between the election official and voter that is critical to turning out voters.

Scott was also very clear that vote centers will not translate well everywhere. Larimer County–where I am right now–is partly urban but largely rural, with ranches, mountains, and a highly mobile commuter population. His voters like to vote absentee and like early voting, so the move to vote centers fit the demographics and culture of the community. This model may not work in other places; election officials need to think hard before adopting this reform without carefully pilot testing it and talking with community members about how various demographic groups within the community will fare after the change.