Elections administrator requests ordinance requiring property owners to vote absentee

The Oakland Board of Mayor and Aldermen has been asked to pass an ordinance that would require non-resident property owners to vote absentee in elections.
The request was made by Jamie Jenkins, Fayette County administrator of elections, during the board’s July 18 regular monthly meeting.
Noting that Oakland’s Charter allows “property rights voting,” Jenkins said 52 non-resident property owners are currently registered as voters. Of the 33 who voted in the 2012 election, he said 29 cast ballots in person during the Early Voting Period and three on Election Day, but only one voted by absentee.
Because of a lawsuit filed in the state last year, Jenkins said the county Election Commission had to remove all the property rights voters from its data base.
“We have to take them completely separate,” he noted. “And now, we’re keeping them on a spread sheet, as we’re directed by the state to do. We’re having to re-check all the eligible property rights voters.”
Jenkins recalled that, in 2012, the state legislature passed Tennessee Code Annotated Section 2-6-205, which gives Oakland the right to require that non-resident property owners vote only by absentee ballot. He said the Election Commission has requested that the board establish that requirement by passing an ordinance that another city in Tennessee has used.
“Why would you do this?” he asked rhetorically. “It’s not required. It doesn’t mean anything to you, and it’s going to create additional work on us.”
But Jenkins said the commission believes it would “improve the integrity” of Oakland’s city elections, partly by ensuring that one person gets to vote one time.
“That may seem very simple,” he noted. “But if you think about it, we have at least three ballots on your machine. You only see one.”
Jenkins said there is one ballot for the Oakland residents, another for the residents outside the town who live within the voting precinct, and a third one for the non-resident property owners.
Because the property rights person can vote in Oakland’s municipal elections as well as those outside the town, he said it is often “pretty confusing” for the poll workers.
“We have great poll workers,” he noted, “but they’re not professional poll workers. So, anything that we can do to eliminate any confusion, then it’s a great help.”
Currently, Jenkins said, the Election Commission has three poll books. So, when a person comes in to vote, the poll workers must find his name in one of them.
He acknowledged that, when a person is carrying two pieces of paper to one voting machine and attempting to vote on two different ballots, there is “room for error” that can possibly cause problems with registrars and voting machine operators.
If the commission can eliminate one of its poll books and one of the ballots from the machines, Jenkins said, the individuals who vote absentee “kind of dissolve” at least part of that confusion.
He noted that, at least 45 days before an election, the commission is required to send each property rights voter a letter notifying him that the only way he can vote is by absentee. Included with the letter is an application that the voter must file with the commission in order to obtain an absentee ballot.
Then, Jenkins said the commission is required to “handle” the ballot.
“And I can assure you that it’s probably 10 times more work for us to handle an absentee ballot than it is for you to come in, push a button and leave,” he concluded. “But doing that, we think it will help protect the integrity of your city elections.”