Dan Hensley, an outside attorney hired to investigate Anchorage’s troubled April election delivered hisreport to the Anchorage City Assembly last week. The report highlights management issues in the municipal clerk’s office – including the clerk’s “hands off” style that led to inattention to election preparations by the deputy clerk – but Hensley found that the biggest problem contributing to the widespread ballot shortages on April 3 was the deputy clerk’s failure to anticipate voter turnout. In particular, he found that the combination of a mayoral election year and a controversial gay rights initiative should have alerted the deputy to the strong likelihood of a turnout above the levels experienced in 2010 and 2011. Moreover, he learned that other members of the staff had alerted the deputy to higher rates of absentee ballot requests – a key indicator of turnout – which she failed to take into account.
Now, I know I have already gone on record on this blog warning against the use of turnout to evaluate election laws – and nothing here changes my opinion on that subject. In this case, however, turnout is not being used to evaluate election administration after Election Day but rather to inform it beforeElection Day. Specifically, anticipating turnout is important because it helps election offices do what apparently didn’t happen in Anchorage: determine the supply of ballots necessary to meet the likely demand.