County Clerk Bob Ohlsen: Why all-RTA vote nearly impossible this fall

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

From a column by Dane Co. Clerk Bob Ohlsen in The Capital Times:

There has been a great deal of talk, including in The Capital Times, about why the RTA referendum question will more than likely not be on the November ballot, mostly pointing at me, the county clerk, for saying it was nearly impossible to do so. Here is my response:

Only the RTA board has the authority to call for a binding referendum at a regularly scheduled election. Two conversations with the chair of the RTA board, one in February and one in July, indicated that the question would probably not be ready for the November election. With the difficulty in making sure only the people within the RTA boundaries could vote, work had been started to set up the voting boundaries. For the cities, towns and villages entirely within the RTA district, that wasn’t a problem -- everyone could vote on the issue. The concern lay in the municipalities that are only partially within the district.

Meetings were held with each of the local clerks, going over maps to identify those addresses that are in the district. Because the RTA boundaries do not follow political boundaries, the district combos for the voters (combinations of the political districts: Senate/Assembly, county supervisory, school, utility districts, wards) would be affected, along with the address ranges (addresses on each street within the district combos) set up in the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS). Many of the current address ranges would have to be changed, taking voters out of one range and putting them in another.

When the SVRS system was created, RTA districts were not included, so there were changes to the system that would be necessary. Because it is essential for election inspectors to correctly identify the voters who are allowed to vote on the referendum, it was felt that a different set of numbers should appear on the poll list. By adding a dash and an extra number, the voter’s district combo would appear differently, and at first glance, the inspector would be absolutely sure the voter was getting the correct ballot. The SVRS staff was skeptical whether this change would work in the system. After some preliminary testing, however, it was determined that it was possible and they began to write scripts for the system and do the extensive testing that was necessary. The hope was to get it done by July 1, giving the clerk’s staff time to verify the information and make all the necessary changes (a time-consuming, complex process) in the system, along with the SVRS staff, to be ready just in case a November referendum was called.

Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. The go-ahead has yet to be received. The July 1 date would have made it difficult to get the necessary work done, but at this late date, it is truly nearly impossible.