QUESTION: The COVID-19 data for East Texas shows Gregg County has twice as many cases as Harrison county, but Harrison County has about three times more deaths than Gregg County. Has there been an explanation from either county for this?
ANSWER: I believe the answer can be found in a report on the Texas Department of Health and Human Services website. (You can find it here: hhs.texas.gov/services/health/coronavirus-covid-19 .) There you can find information about COVID-19 cases in nursing homes and assisted living facilities by county, and that data show Harrison County has had more cases and more deaths in those facilities than Gregg County. The people living in those facilities are at high risk from COVID-19.
That report — the website says the report is updated daily but the date at the top says July 15 — showed that Harrison County’s three nursing homes had reported a combined 152 cases of COVID-19 in residents, including active cases and recovered residents. Out of that number, there have been 19 deaths. One of the three assisted living facilities in Marshall has reported COVID-19 cases in residents, with a total of 14 cases and four deaths. As of Wednesday, Harrison County had reported a cumulative 600 COVID-19 cases and 34 deaths. Based on the Health and Human services report, 23 of those deaths have been residents in nursing home and assisted living facilities in Harrison County.
In contrast, five of Gregg County’s 10 nursing homes have reported a total of 81 COVID-19 cases in residents, with 10 deaths. Two of the 10 assisted living facilities in Gregg County have reported a total of two cases of COVID-19 cases in residents, with zero deaths. As of Tuesday, Gregg County had reported 1,325 cases of COVID-19 in the county, with 20 total deaths
You can see that in both counties, deaths in nursing homes or assisted living facilities factor heavily into the total number of people who have died in each county, but Harrison County certainly was hit harder in that aspect than Gregg County.
Q: Just wondering in general terms between a general election where we go to the polls and one with total mail in ballots — which one costs taxpayers the most money?
A: I’ll admit I struggled to find a definitive answer for this.
I’ll start with an example, though. Less than a year ago, Gregg County purchased new voting machines at a cost of $1.12 million. As Gregg County Elections Administrator Kathryn Nealy explained, doing away with in-person voting at this point, after that purchase, would be a “huge waste.”
“If we had started this way in the beginning,” it would probably be cheaper to conduct voting by mail, she said. At any point there’s a switch made, though, that would mean there’s a loss of the value of equipment and materials already in use for in-person voting.
This question also depends on how many people vote, since workers have to be hired to work at the polls during early voting and on Election Day. The cost of the election could be measured against the number of people who vote, right?
The National Conference of State Legislatures discusses pros and cons to conducting elections entirely by mail on its website: “Some states and jurisdictions that have moved to all-mail elections have noted significant savings because they no longer need to spend money for recruitment, training and pay for polling place workers. When Montana considered an expansion of vote-by-mail to administer all elections in 2011, the state’s association of clerks and recorders estimated the move would save taxpayers $2 million each election cycle.
In Colorado, a county survey estimated that costs in 2010 would have amounted to $1.05 less per registered voter, a savings of about 19 percent.
“However, some of the savings from administering an election entirely by mail are offset by an increase in postage costs for each registered voter to be mailed a ballot. Since Americans are highly mobile, the task of ensuring voter registration rolls are updated becomes even more essential in an all-mail election.”
I also found the Brennan Center for Justice has estimated the cost of conducting November’s election entirely by mail. The organization’s website says the total cost would be between $982 million and $1.4 billion, including costs for printing ballots and ballot envelopes, postage costs, “drop boxes for absentee ballots and appropriate security,” “secure electronic absentee ballot request technology,” “ballot tracking” improved absentee ballot processing and additional staff to process ballots.