Tuesday, April 14, 2015 0 comments

Paging Michael Mouse

We just wrapped up our spring election and one of the aspects featured a winner by write-in in Westwood Hills.

That's not unusual, but it was unusual in that the write-in winner received one vote.

One vote truly makes a difference when it is the only one cast.

We've all heard of votes for Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and the like, but this write-in made us remember a very important fact.

If the write in was for, say, Mickey Mouse, we first would have to see if there was anyone with the last name of Mouse registered: Michael Mouse, for instance, known as Mickey.

We're all exhausted after the election, so I thought it would be cruel to ask our staff to run special reports by city for unusual names that could be confused with fake names.

Thankfully, I guess, we were pondering this in Johnson County and not Topeka (Shawnee County, where I traveled Monday).

On my way to teach a class last night, I passed this bench advertisement for a State Farm agent: Chip Munk.

There are no words.

Even when writing a blog, there are no words.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015 0 comments

The Last Mile

It's election day, and not just an election day but the last mile in a half-marathon election cycle.

We've hit the 13th election in the last 12 months (technically the 14th election in the last 13 months but half marathons are 13.1 miles--maybe there was 9/10ths of an election as a warm up).

So far this morning, we've been scrambling to make sure each polling place is staffed adequately following last minute cancellations and sicknesses.  Every polling place was open for our workers--never a sure thing in a spring election--and no angry voter calls an hour into the election.

That means are workers were focused and ready to go when the bell rang.  We've spent considerable time discussing the need to be ready for any type of voter as the first voter, and to expect a line.

Even if the line is just one person, places usually have a line, with persons going to vote on their way to work.  Polls open in Missouri at 6, so sometimes, voters have been waiting for an hour thinking we open at 6, too.

So, these voters are most likely on the clock, needing to be somewhere soon.  They are less patient if something isn't clicking at the polling place.

This is compounded if the first voter is a provisional voter or a voter at the wrong polling place who needs to be redirected or a voter requesting an audio ballot. 

I know it's a bit of an assumption, but the lack of issues thus far is an indicator that our workers nailed the opening.

It's probably worth a pause to stress how hard it is to be an election worker.  We will be working with some academics to identify a predictive model to target persons as election workers, in fact, as we look to grow our worker inventory.

If you are on the outside of elections, you might think we should just target 70-year-olds.  We want workers who will be seasoned and become good supervising judges.  That may still mean we hit 70-year-olds, but our primary thinking going forward will be to identify what the triggers were to get our existing workers in the game years ago when the started.

Funny, we are exhausted--a year of exhaustion--and all I could think of as I collapsed last night was how nice it will feel to have this intense stretch over. 

This morning, I'm thinking about all of our next steps in preparation of the next wave.

Hmmmm.  I think this is the sign of being an election junkie, or adrenaline junkie, or some other clever, cute word that makes being a junkie sound okay.

But, back to the here and now--11 hours to go in the final mile.

I wonder if there will be a medal?  I think we'd all accept a blanket and some chocolate milk at this point.
Friday, April 3, 2015 0 comments

The Case of the Disappearing Supervising Judge

With 5 days between us and the spring election, a recurring feeling has been, "Where have all the supervising judges gone?"

The supervising judge is the person in charge of the polling place and we're scrambling to fill 175 slots for Tuesday.  We have about 30 new supervising judges, election workers taking on this expanded responsibility, for this election.

Not too long ago--in 2012--we had 275 working in the November presidential election.

We had 182 in the November 2014 election.

We've lost supervising judges through attrition, but as we consolidated polling places, it wasn't a concern.  Now, it is, and will be one, majorly, heading into 2016.

We'll be taking a new approach, having promoted a new person to the assistant election commissioner role over this area and soon to be filling the election worker manager position with a seasoned veteran who has worked at Wyandotte County and will be coming back to Johnson County where he worked 8 years ago.

The goal will be to create a supervising judge and a deputy supervising judge at each polling place.

That's not to say it's an achievable goal, but is definitely an aspirational one.  That way, should we lose a supervising judge as we come down to the wire (illness, travel, family emergency, etc.), we'll have someone trained and ready to step in.

This will require two major pushes:  1) an exhaustive recruitment of new workers and 2) regular training beginning this summer to prepare this new crop for next year.  We never have trained workers out of cycle, but we will need to as we seek to add about 800 workers in general for 2016.

Part of the shortage is a simple fallout of workers who retire following a November election.  Also, though, the reduction in polling places seemed like a trend that would continue, and it did--but we hit the nub in 2014.  182 is the minimum we can have for a November election.

But that's the gubernatorial election.  We are expecting an 80 percent turnout in 2016 and, right now, with advance voting sites unknown and prospects reduced because the improving economy reduces potential vacant storefronts that can be used as advance sites, we're going to need every polling place (and election worker) we can get.

The situation also illuminates one thing we desperately need out of the potential pending state legislation to move spring elections to the fall.  Whether it passes to move them to the fall of odd or even years (we prefer odd), we're hoping the requirement that schools keeping children out of schools on election day is vital.

If it's a holiday or teacher workday, either way we'd get the use of the school as a polling place.

As a point of reference, of the 175 polling places we are using in this election, only 2 are schools.

Schools represent a major upside potential in our expansion plans for 2016. 

If only there was such low-hanging fruit for supervising judges.

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 Electionline.org 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.