Sunday, March 22, 2015 0 comments

Spring Forward

Yesterday may have been the first day of Spring, but we've been in spring mode for a few months and, technically, springboard mode much longer.

My buddy Mindy Moretti at just wrote an article about the number of special elections across the country, and we're a poster child for such a thing.

Here, we're charter members of the Election of the Month Club, working on our 13th election in the last 12 months.  I said the same in February, so it's really been about a 14-month string.

Rumor has it that there might be a recall effort afoot in a school district and there's one more district has to decide if there is value in having a special election by July (the others did in January).  That's  just what we know of.

The day after the April 2013 election, for instance, we received a phone call from the city of Overland Park regarding a mail-ballot election.  It was a renewal of a tax.  Special elections often are for taxes that require another vote for renewal, so some of that may come up this year.

In addition, the Kansas legislature is getting closer to making substantive changes to the election cycles.

We've already seen the city of Los Angeles move city elections to the fall of even years, starting in 2020, but Kansas had such an initiative top of mind for a few years now.  If something passes this spring in Kansas, it likely will have more of an appearance of "me too" nationally, but it was unrelated.

Regardless, the big question for us, it seems, isn't if changes will pass, but whether they will be for even or odd years.  I prefer odd, elections every August and November. 

We'll see how this plays out in the next month.

Such a change may buy us a bit of time in our plans to identify a new voting system.  Our initial plan (hope) was to make the spring 2017 elections the last with our current system.  We haven't made the progress we'd like in this area (see "13 elections in the last 12 months") so seeing the last use of the system move to the fall of 2017 artificially makes it seem like we have more time.

We're still hoping to implement in 2018.  If nothing else, we might be able to try something in parallel if the elections are in the fall.

For now, same ol' drill--election worker assignments, election worker training beginning Tuesday, scheduling headaches because the election is right after Easter weekend and, of course, the Kansas Jayhawks, should they advance to the NCAA championship game, would play that game the night before the Spring election.

My experience has been that when the Jayhawks are assumed to be advancing, they've never been a worry come election day.  This year, with no expectations and all eyes on Kentucky, and as busy as we've been, Murphy's Law may come into play.

No complaints, if so.  After all, the Royals made a run to the World Series during the fall election and cities tend to land these "all or nothing" sports scenarios.  Kansas City deserves it all.  If that adds more stress to us on election day because polling places may not be open or workers may have overslept--keeping in mind we're numb anyway--that's stress we'll be happy to take on.

Mostly, we'll just be happy for the chance at a break in the Election of the Month streak..  I remember the good ol' days when we averaged an election every other month.

Of course, there will be more time for updating. 

I'm sorry, Dear Reader, if you think I've lost my zest for typing.  It's been hard to find time.  There is no shortage of material, and I hope to get back to that soon.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 0 comments

Elections at the Speed of Life

Aside from the incredible busyness of elections, I've been leading a couple of graduate courses at Baker University.

I'm teaching two on-ground and one online.

Last night, a student in Topeka asked a very understandable question:

"Why can't we vote electronically?"

Electronically, in this context, meant from a computer, on the Internet.

I ran by the whole Election Assistance Commission, certification, Help America Vote Act, and all kinds of other data points from the last decade.

And then I said the obvious:

"The election industry doesn't travel at the speed of life."

That's not a bad thing.  But, for instance, we have oversized palm pilots for voting machines.

The industry does its part to ensure that the postal service has plenty of mail to deliver 6 days a week.

And yet, it's getting harder to say, with a straight face, why Internet voting isn't even a gleam in the eye.

I asked all of the students about voting online.

"Why not, we pay bills on line?" they said.

People take their voting rights seriously, but in my informal surveys over the year, they are more protective of their money than they are their city council vote.

The students quickly brought up all kinds of data breaches--Target and Home Depot, for instance (this is an MBA class, after all, and they were all business).

But in my own business days, I encountered a guy who worked with me on a particular sales account at Sprint.  He used a phrase all of the time, "the red-faced test," which, best I could tell, meant an answer he wasn't embarrassed to tell.

Pricing or delivery times for new products had to pass the red-faced test, for instance.

In the election world, I think we need to take the same red-faced-test approach with online voting, or at least online ballot marking, where the ballot is prepared and stored to be taken to a polling place.

At some point, giving answers like I gave last night, to smart MBA students, will discredit me as an instructor.  

Imagine if that happens in an online course.

At least it wouldn't be a fail of a red-faced-test because they wouldn't see me. In such a case, maybe it would be a white-knuckle test.

Either way, it's becoming more of an odd question to answer outside of the election industry.  Life moves electronically, over the Internet specifically.

Explaining why voting electronically is scary is a bit like denouncing that gravity is real or that puppies are cute.

At the very least, as we look at new voting systems, whether they be part of a device a person owns or use a device at a polling place, there seems to be growing acceptance of ballot-marking systems.  In some cases, users can beam their pre-populated ballot to a terminal that calls it up on screen for review before being cast.

This is true innovation in the election world, but a yawner in the real world.  Still, it's movement, maybe not at the speed of life but certainly movement that may give life to voting electronically.

Sunday, March 1, 2015 0 comments

Pinkie Collier

There's much to blog about, I'm behind, we have an election Tuesday, and it does seem like I've done way too many memorial posts here.

But this past week, our office lost a dear friend, Clinton "Pinkie " Collier, who worked as a field supervisor during my 10 years at the office and well before, to the point no one actually remembers when he started.

Pinkie was a former mayor of Shawnee, so as a former city council member there, I traded many anecdotes with him.

He also mentored my son, when he was in college, as a field supervisor.  Whenever I saw Pinkie, he asked how my son was.

Most touching, he was buried in an election office shirt--complete the with "VOTE" logo we have on our apparel.

It's further recognition of  a city of Shawnee connection, definitely, to our office.

The county's second election commissioner, 1958-1962, was Marvin Rainey, later Overland Park mayor and Shawnee city attorney.

There's Pinkie, and yours truly.

My predecessor, Connie Schmidt, was city clerk at neighboring city Merriam.  I lived in Merriam before Shawnee.

Tuesday's election day will bring back some memories of Pinkie.  Here's to a perfect election in his honor.

Here's the link from the city:

Thursday, February 19, 2015 0 comments

Amidst the Chaos

It may be 2015, but our advance voting options for 2016 are front and center with the news that the Great Mall in Olathe will be closing this year.

Far from a perfect location, the facility was good for us and helped offload traffic from our office.

Combined with the fact that we have no central county solution (maybe, the King Louie site will be ready for July 2016, but I think that's fairly iffy) and that our building is stressed, advance voting has become a big-time issue.

That's also because we will need at least 100 more polling places in 2016 than we had in 2014.  We wont find them, which makes advance voting sites all the more important.

With the economy improving, advance locations are more scarce.  Plus, we can't negotiate for these until January, at the earliest, of next year.  No landlord of vacant space now wants to admit the space will be vacant, still, a year from now.

This likely will increase voting costs dramatically.

I've already tried to brace anyone who will listen that election costs in 2016 will be at least $1.5 million more than they were in 2014.

This isn't negotiable.  In what likely will be another jump from reality, it's already been proposed by the county manager's budget office to us that people will just have to wait in line longer in 2016.

So much for those presidential commission on election administration recommendations making it through the National Association of Counties....

That's the wrong answer, of course.

Something will have to give when the budget is developed, but it won't be our voters.

We're looking at the potential for an 80 percent turnout in 2016, with more registered voters than 2012.  We have lost two advance sites since 2012 and nearly 100 polling places.

First things first, we're in a stretch of 7 election days in 11 weeks.  Training for the spring primary begins Saturday.

Currently, I'm out of town for an ES&S National Advisory Board, and that always leads to voting systems for the future, a theme that circles back to our budget.

In the backdrop, we've had some legislative action related to moving spring elections to the fall, as well as the hope that schools will be required by law to be used as a polling places.  Like all of this, these are more moving pieces that we will be balancing and syncing this year.

Amidst the chaos--our new normal.  My goal is to clear the chaos by January 1, as a glidepath to 2016.

That's goal in itself will lead to 10 months of chaos.  The good news is we're about a year into the chaos plan, so 10 months seems like the last mile.

Here's hoping.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015 0 comments

Musings on a Tuesday

It's Tuesday, and a good time for election-day related post.

The theme, though, is fairly tired, but heating up nonetheless.

Tomorrow, there will be a bill heard in the Kansas Senate regarding the movement of spring elections to the fall of even years.

Last week, I testified in the House related to a different bill, one related to an issue I've been advocating--a school holiday for election day so that schools can be used as polling places in an era where parents worry more and more about their children's safety outside of their home.

Hopefully, these two bills will converge, so that, at least, as the merits of moving the elections to the fall, at all, or even or odd years, will have the backdrop of schools as polling places.

A discussion during the testimony in the House also captures my thinking for the Senate bill.

In the House, I was asked if schools required to be polling places was a "nice to have" or a "must have" going forward.

My opinion, I stated, is that there is always a way, always another solution.  I want schools to be polling places, and we need 100 more in 2016 than we had in 2014.  That's not likely to occur, even if we have this bill as law, but it is much more likely than if no action is taken.

Without this, we'll manage.  The election will be conducted, maybe with longer lines, likely with more advance voting sites, higher rent paid for sites, and with more staff expense. 

I'd like to say it was a must have, I testified, but there are other alternatives, just much more costly alternatives.

That's my same view with the move of elections to the fall of even years.

I prefer, for many reasons already stated in this blog, the move of elections to the fall of odd years.  That way, voters will become accustomed to voting every August and November, every year, and turnout likely will increase over time as the predictably of elections

The climate feels like it is favoring a move to even years--the Senate Bill certainly looks that way and the Senate committee chair, Mitch Holmes, is well-respected and has worked hard to be extremely inclusive in the development of the bill.

If it passes, costs will be higher.  We will need more full-time staff, and have provided that information to the committee.

But that's it.  We'll manage, regardless of where this all falls.  Elections will be conducted, again, just at higher cost.

I expect a lot of emotion and energy expended in the coming month on the move of elections.


If the current April election turnout--usually more than 10 percent and less than 20 percent, is acceptable to policymakers, then it makes no sense for any legislative action.

If the turnout is desired to be higher, the next question should be, "how high?"  After all, when the Presidential Commission on Election Administration was formed following long lines at some polling places in the 2012 presidential election, Commission members often asked, "What is an acceptable line?"

So, if turnout isn't high enough in April, what is the acceptable turnout?  No one has really quantified that here.

That quantification should drive the solution.

However, absent that, it's been demonstrated that elections outside of the April cycle--by mail or in the fall--have better turnout, so it's hard to argue that moving elections is bad.  Where to seems the item up for debate.

But that's not the discussion, so it's further difficult to have a constructive talk about the fall of odd years vs. the fall of even years because much of the debate is centering on the move at all or the composition of the elections--specifically if local races should be partisan.

Frankly, my view is that if that's the reason for the bill, then the elections should stay in April until turnout objectives are developed.

I've been a part of many discussions over the years related to moving elections.  The local race partisan aspect does come up occasionally, but almost always by observers rather than those involved in the legislation.  The Senate Bill clearly speaks to partisan, but it's an entire all-but-the-kitchen sink bill and may bury under its own weight.

What may be left is the move of elections, to odd or even years. 

Either is fine.  Odd is better.  Even will cost more. 

We'll handle it either way.

Sunday, February 1, 2015 0 comments

Track and Field

The Super Bowl is just hours away and a few hours from that, 9 a.m. tomorrow, the wrap-up will begin to our Super Bowl of elections--five school district mail-ballot elections on January 27.

That January 27 was a day. 

The election closed at noon, as ballots were being dropped off in person at the rate of 3 a minute.

Also at noon, the candidate filing deadline for the spring election.  With the deadline passed, about one-third of the county's voters have will be eligible for the spring primary on March 3.

We have a mayorial primary in Shawnee, two city council primaries in Roeland Park, and an Olathe School District primary.

We've had 5 mail-ballot elections on the same day (just now, but also 3 on the same day before), we've had different types of elections at the polls on the same day (primary in one city, recall in another), and we've had two different types of elections on the same day (mail-ballot ending at noon on the same day as a polls election ending at 7).

But we've never had the finish line tape crossed in one election at the same time the starter pistol was going for another.  That made Tuesday feel like an election office track meet. 

Some in our office were gathering the last ballots dropped; others were assessing which races might require primaries, polling places, election worker needs, and ballot plans.

It gave new meaning to continuing with an active election.

Ten years ago last month, I came to the Johnson County Election Office, and we have had an active election every moment in those 10 years.

How do I term an active election?  Well, one we are actively working on is the simplest way.

But the definition is more narrow. 

For instance, we're thinking about the 2016 presidential election, but that's not an active election. 

We're working on the spring primary--that's active.

It will be followed by the spring general--that's active.

The next election isn't scheduled until the winter of 2016.  The election isn't set, with candidates and questions, so that election isn't active.

And what that means is that fate is teasing us--the streak may come to an end in mid-April as we wrap up the spring canvass.

It's a bit of way to have an answer to the "what do you do the other 363 days of the year?" or "is that a full-time job?"

Back to the Super Bowl--I'm pretty sure the NFL event personnel work full-time for this once-a-year game. 

Elections are no different. 

We're event planners, after all.  That, and logistics managers. 

So, when I mention this active election streak, it means one thing to me and it means something else to those who were working at our office before I came.  As far as I can tell, the actual active election streak is about 14 years.

Tomorrow's canvass day--Groundhog Day, ironically--for the mail-ballot elections will mean closure to those five elections.  We're already working on election number six and seven.

It's unlikely that we will go the rest of 2015 without a special election. 

For instance, in 2013, the day after the spring election, I received a call from a city to schedule a mail-ballot election.

Nobody here is hoping for such a call this April.  We'd be fine with that streak ending.  We have more than enough pent-up work.

After all, advance voting for our real Super Bowl begins in just 21 months. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015 0 comments

School Elections Near the Finish Line

We're 48 hours from the close of the five school mail-ballot elections, collectively the largest mail-ballot effort we've ever had and the largest number of paper ballots ever processed in Johnson County.

And yet, I'm in the office and it's empty, calm. 

I did not see this coming.  I thought today we'd have a full crew in, buried, wondering what kind of reinforcements we needed.

Our crew left yesterday fully caught up, although we expect an onslaught in the mail tomorrow and many drop-offs Tuesday morning.

So, we don't know when we will have unofficial final results, but it's feeling more like it will be Tuesday, at some point, rather than Wednesday or later.

I could say the reason is our preparation.  That's definitely fair--we thought we were ready, but we weren't sure.  We had about 50 part-time workers, in different stages, different roles, different rooms.

I could say the reason was the decision to utilize a new high-speed scanner, the first ever of its type used in Kansas and one of the first times this model has been used in the country.  It was a big risk--going straight to a live election without staff training through a smaller or test election--but it has gone very smoothly.

I could say the reason is the dedicated hard work from all of our part-time employees.  That's definitely true.  It's very gratifying to see so many people here, working hard and getting paid very little, but caring so much for our voters.

Another factor, though, is that voters aren't voting.

We're at 95,267 ballots returned right now, about 29 percent of the 332,237 ballots issued.

I expected closer to 50 percent returned.  Likely, the final number will be less than 40 percent.

Mail for Santa in Miracle on 34th Street.  We expect
a similar picture, in living color, Tuesday.
As I like to say, there's a lot of baseball left to be played.  We might experience, for instance, a Miracle on 34th Street experience where the post office brings in tray after tray after tray of ballots on Tuesday.

As I type, cars are coming in at the rate of one per minute to drop off ballots.  That will become intense tomorrow and Tuesday.

Still, 40 percent turnout.  That's like, to paraphrase Nuke LaLoosh, lower than 50 percent. 

That's probably all that means.

I don't know that the turnout leads to any conclusions.  We did have a lot of undeliverable ballots (people move, you know) and the turnout is pretty consistent among all 5 districts.

Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission are both at 30 percent, De Soto is at 33 percent, and Olathe and Gardner-Edgerton are both at 26 percent.  Perhaps there is a difference in the communications efforts within the districts, but the number of voters and even the type of voter (apartment vs. home owner, school family vs. non-school) are probably the main factors.

An interesting Big Data project would be to compare all of those factors after the election is over.  While interesting, it simply may be just that.  I'm not sure how actionable the data would be.  There may be learnings political campaigns in these areas can gather for future races.

Our actionable list was very specific--job one was to get the job done.  We're well on our way.

Expect photos and an update on Election Day.

Or is that spring election filing deadline day?

Why, yes, it's the same day, the same time.

These elections close at noon on Tuesday, precisely the same time and date we will know the extent of our March primary election.

We already know we have a primary for Shawnee mayor.  That whole update, likely, will be Wednesday.