Friday, November 6, 2015 2 comments

The Future

Oh, what to do, what to do....

I have plenty to do, preparing to assume the responsibilities of the Executive Director of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and wrapping up my responsibilities at the election office.

More, that's the question with this blog.

This blog has been an unofficial voice--an administrator's personal voice, not associated with any official site.

It can't really continue in its current form.  The EAC website contains a blog with posts from the Commissioners.

Yet, this site has a brand, with nearly 100,000 unique visits since its inception.

And, it serves a purpose, especially in a presidential election year when overall interest in elections is at its highest.  Election administration issues will see their most widespread attention then.

I've given thought to curating the site, making it a place where several election administrators post regularly.  That would make it have more frequent content, and it truly would have the diary aspect.

Readership may increase.  The profession, and our common issues, may gain more visibility.

If you are an election administrator and this interests you, please let me know.  If a panel of, say, 10 administrators regularly updated, we'd have a daily update, probably, and that would be very diary-esque.

It might even elevate the site to place where it becomes The Huffington Post of Elections or, at least, a link on such a site.

I have loved doing Election Diary.  It started leading into the 2012 Presidential Election.  Maybe, as we head into 2016, it becomes a "if you love somebody, set them free" kind of thing.

I'm envisioning a little gallery of photos-but-not-photos, in that Wall Street Journal sketchy kind of way, of administrators across the country who contribute when they want to, and the collection becomes our own version of the CNN across-the-country view of what's going on.

Thus....what to do, what to do.

In the meantime, dear reader, if you return here only to see this post for a while know that the pause is intentional.

Monday, November 2, 2015 0 comments

Voters on Parade

We have a couple of elections in the works, but we don't have one tomorrow.

If this were 2017, the first year spring elections move to the fall, we would have an election tomorrow.  Many in the country will vote tomorrow and we actually have received several advance ballot applications for the election that isn't.

That's a bit of an awkward call, or at least it may feel awkward on the receiving end, but they present a terrific election worker recruitment opportunity--"You are so engaged!  We need you!"

Kansas City, Missouri, is one such area that has an election tomorrow.  As suburban neighbors, we often get potential voters who assume that we have an election at the same time.

Kansas City, though, has been through a huge, well, curveball for tomorrow.

With the Royals winning the World Series, the victory parade has been scheduled for noon-2 tomorrow.

Just when you think the world knows there is an election.....

In Kansas, there is a law prohibiting someone from impeding a voter on the way to vote.

"No officer, this is a parade...."

Hmm.  I can see the wheels turning with disruptors.

I can't imagine a parade going through Johnson County on election day.  I've had voters call to complain when a traffic accident temporarily closed a lane of traffic--that we should have had a contingency plan for any voter in those situations.

(We do, by the way, in that they could cast a provisional ballot anywhere, although we'd prefer they vote at their location).

Schools likely will be more empty tomorrow, throughout the metropolitan area.

Again, if this were 2017, and the schools had been closed for voting as we are advocating, everybody would be winning.

Maybe, in fact, that's what we should do--explain that it is likely there will be an annual World Series event on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.  History has shown that.

I, for one, am choosing to believe this Royals victory parade will be an annual event.

From now in Kansas, so will November elections.

For now, please share some warm vibes to the Kansas City Election Board as you add "World Series Parade" to the new Sporting News classic "Knotty Problems in Elections (Caused by Baseball)."
Thursday, October 22, 2015 0 comments

On the Stick!

My age was showing a couple of weeks ago in the park while running.

As I came around a turn in a pathway, I saw a young couple holding a long pole with something at the end of it.

Oh, a metal detector, I thought.  A throwback.  I haven't seen someone at the park with one of those in years.

But, no.

As I got closer, I saw the thing was being held out from their shoulders.  They're going to put someone's eye out, I thought further.

And, no, that comment wasn't (just) what showed my age.

I realized they were holding a selfie stick, one of these new inexpensive Bluetooth-enabled photo-taking devices that hold a smartphone.

Selfie sticks, and selfies for that matter, are sizing up to be the hottest election administration issue of 2016.

There's even the first political book of the season on the millenials, calling them the Selfie Voters.

But selfie votes mean a little more in elections, and, especially in a presidential election.

First, the more exciting way--first time voters or just excited voters who want to take a photo of themselves voting to put on social media.

We saw that in 2012 but we know that will be rampant in 2016.  We've talked with other election administrators about running with that in a fun way, perhaps having selfie stations for voters while they wait to vote during advance voting.

I've heard some creative ideas along this line and we plan to, um, borrow, yeah, borrow, but I won't spell them out here because they truly weren't my ideas.  We'll show you as the election gets closer, though.

Another type of selfie isn't really a selfie of the voter, but rather the machine.  I voted for "Candidate," See!

Minor problem--it is illegal to leave the polling place in Kansas with a representation of who you voted for.

Major clarification--these photos aren't illegal because they are taken at the review screen before "cast ballot" is pressed.  When that selection is pressed, the selections vanish.  There is no "proof" of how someone voted.  Voters could take 50 shots of the review screen, each portending to be who they voted for.

A couple of things are clear, though.

First, the whole selfie stick thing will be new to our election workers and we're planning to demonstrate how they work during training.  We don't want the sticks misread as something else, say...a weapon or a metal detector.

Second, we're going to need a point of view on selfies and selfie sticks at polling places.  Already, selfie sticks have been both outlawed at a polling place and endorsed at a polling place, both in locations outside of Kansas.  Expect selfie legislation to be a topic in many statehouses this winter.

As election commissioner, I have to ensure that nothing disrupts the voting process, but I doubt selfie sticks will.  Regardless, I will have to have completely thought through both sides of the lens on this issue before we begin communicating with voters.

First things first, though.  In the "it's never dull" news of the day, we now have a new mail-ballot election scheduled, for February 2.  Another is on the way, any day, likely for April.

If you are counting, we've had 16 elections in the last 20 months as it is, the most we've ever had in a 2-year period.  We've had 22 in a three-year period and already have 6 scheduled, now, for 2016.

We did have 2 weeks without an active election.  Maybe we should have taken a picture with the hope it would have lasted longer.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015 1 comments

Hay! Is That a Pumpkin?

Fall is the time for pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin carving, pumpkin pies, and hayrides on trailers accessorized by, well, pumpkins.

And, it's time we make hay for 2016 before 2015 turns into a pumpkin and the presidential election is completely, "Game on!"

We have spring elections in 2016 (we think....) and at least two mail-ballot elections considered in early 2016.  There is even talk of a countywide mail-ballot election in May, just before the June filing deadline for August and November elections.

When January rolls around, we can get busy negotiating advance voting locations.  There are a couple of large, vacant storefronts that look like attractive sites, but landlords aren't willing to accept in October 2015 that the sites will be vacant in October 2016.

They won't magically believe us in January, but we can start the dance, with the hope of buttoning everything down by April.

We also will be sending our letters to the six school superintendents of our intent to use all schools as polling places in 2016.  The new legislation that moved spring elections to the fall also requires school districts to make any schools we request by January 1 of each year available for that year's elections. 

Winter is coming, and that's when numbers will get more serious, but here in the fall of 2015 we can spitball our expectation that we will have about 400,000 registered voters for the presidential elections, 80 percent of those voters will cast ballots, about half in advance at what we expect/hope to be four sites or by mail, and the rest will vote at one of approximately 250 polling locations.

We will need to button down those polling places.  We need a plan for that.

We will need to recruit about 1,000 new election workers.  We need a plan for that.

We will need to train about 2,500 workers.  We need a plan for that.

We will need new computers at our advance sites.  We need a plan for that.

We likely will undertake an intiative to utilize electronic poll books and, probably, new voting equipment at our advance sites.  Again, we need a plan for that.

Oh, we have a plan for that.  The four largest counties have issued a request for proposal for next-generation voting equipment.  Purchasing the equipment requires further planning, but the selection process is underway.

Likewise, we will be issuing a request for proposal for electronic poll books.  Our experience in the August 18 election, when trialing them, was satisfactory and we will be looking to scale them.

We're in the process of revamping our election worker training plans and, further, have an ambitious effort to provide more education for poll agents.  We'd also like to expand the capabilities of our website to allow for automated advance ballot applications, as well as more open data on the site to reduce the time we spend on candidate orders for information.

The theme in our office for the last few months, from me, has been, "Show me the plan."

Well, in fairness, the theme has been that I'll be saying that.  Now, with about 10 weeks before year-end, we'll be getting busy with those plans.

After that, it will be all about executing. 

We can't bail hay, but we do need to make it in these 10 weeks, or else we'll be bailing in 2016 in a different way from the oncoming election wave.

Thus, the blog theme for the next few weeks will be presidential election preparation.  Whatever activity and intensity level we are at for any given day, it will double the next. 

That means that whatever intensity we are at today, by January 1 it will be, um, a lot more. 

We're going to need a bigger boat.  We better double down on Pumpkin Spice Lattes.

(This cliché ridden post was partially brought to you by caffeine.  Imagine the clichés by January).

Sunday, October 4, 2015 0 comments

And PEW Begot MEOC....

Early into the very successful Midwest Election Official Conference (MEOC) we conducted this week, I came to an obvious realization.

It started as I looked at our manager of election workers, Matt Woehrle, at the sound board, pulling temporary duty as an engineer.

Matt has been with our office for a few months now, but first worked for us in 2007 on a part-time basis before landing a full-time job with the Wyandotte County Election Office.  He represents, actually, what those of us longer-term administrators have envisioned--rising talent intent on building a career in election administration.

In fact, our office is morphing into one with many such employees, and that should be very comforting to Johnson County voters.

But that's the entry into the thought, not the point of the post.

Matt came in 2007 to work on what I called an election roadmap, a document that began looking at the future of elections (not equipment, but societal trends that might impact election administration) and how Johnson County should respond.

It was an ambitious project, and we made some progress before Matt went to do real work in the Here and Now.

When I began seeing the need for this work, I met with then Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, pulled out a book called "Seeing What's Next" and explained my concerns.  I thought we should hire a consultant to help us, but we didn't have any money for such a thing.

"Do you?," I asked Ron.

"Maybe," he said.  "And there might be other sources, such as 'Pugh'."

Pugh?  What?

I later dug around and began learning about PEW Center for the States and while I saw the good work PEW did, I didn't see an immediate connection.  At least I knew what PEW was.  (I lead a sheltered little life in Kansas).

Through fate, or through Ron maybe, I became connected some with PEW in 2008 and over the years have worked with the Elections Initiatives practice considerably.

So it was, as I looked at Matt last Wednesday, I realized that this MEOC conference was an output of my involvement with PEW.

Many of the terrific speakers were with organizations that were funded in some way, at least partially, by PEW.  David Becker from PEW spoke.  And those speakers who were not associated with PEW came because of relationships I had developed by working with PEW.

I've always been skeptical of the benefits from some of the "Leadership XYZ" community programs, but have heard from graduates that they built relationships and contacts that have helped them tremendously.

I'm still not sure, but I can say that this feeling I have with PEW has to be similar.  Or, better.

The conference had more than 200 attendees from Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa, as well as election vendors.  The information came at everyone through a fire hose, one terrific speaker after another.

My mission, selfishly, was to provide my staff with a first-class election administration education opportunity.  To attract the speakers, we needed a wider net of attendees, so the speakers could see their reach was wide.

The room represented administrators for more than two million voters, and election administration for those two million voters will be better in 2016 than in 2012, to some degree, because of the conference.  I'm convinced of that.

I'm also convinced that I am lucky to have a peer group of election administration leaders I'm proud to call friends,  I'm so thankful they came to speak.

Regular readers of this blog know that I typically don't like to name people in posts and by listing Matt early on, that was really the precursor to me listing below the speakers and panel leaders, and friends, whom I'm so grateful:

Tammy Patrick, Christy McCormick, Matt Masterson, Tom Hicks, Monica Crane Childers, Stephanie Sharp, Micheal Mahoney, Kyle Dubbert, Andrew Howell, Don Pyle, Martin White, Susan Greenhalgh, Paul Pate, Kris Kobach, Jason Kander, Tabitha Lehman, Shelley McThomas, Grant Veeder, Whitney May, Tianna Epps-Johnson, Kurt Sampsel, Susan Greenhalgh, David Becker, Wendy Underhill, Will Kraus, Mitch Holmes, Keith Esau, Julia Lynn, John Muante, Christopher Famighetti, and Amber McReynolds.

They made the conference more successful than I could have ever imagined.  Now, on to 2016!  Many photos from the conference can be found through #MEOC2015 on Twitter.  Below shows the room layout and audience, as well as a couple from the Wednesday entertainment of The Capitol Steps.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015 0 comments

MEOC Ahead!

It's Tuesday at the election office and while we don't have an election today, we're frantically moving around at election speed.

Our little regional election administrator conference begins tomorrow and has blossomed beyond the 90 attendees we thought would be a stretch to nearly 200. 

Putting the conference on with a relative shoestring has redefined shoestring.

To paraphrase a movie that I'm way too frantic to remember--"It's a darn good thing we have a presidential election next year."

Which, on one hand, is why we're having the conference.

We planned to upgrade our election worker training equipment for 2016--new computer, new monitors, new sound system, and maybe a stage for our perfect polling place skit.

Buying some of those items now and trekking them to the hotel saves us some rental fees, although trekking will be less fun than even typing the word trekking, which already feels awkward because of the double kk's (really, how many words have consecutive K's?  Is trekking the only one, and is trekking really even a word?). 

Still, two k's are better than KO, although the conference is coming close to knocking us out.

You'd think we'd have learned that elections are stressful and this would bring about similar crazy.  Yet, we always seem surprised that the election period makes us cranky from stress, too.

I've said before that having an election is like having a baby.

The long nights and pains of having a newborn are forgotten fairly quickly, leaving the parents with all the great memories of their child--so much so that having another baby seems like a great idea until the outcome is more sleepless nights.

Where's the instruction manual
for the stage...?
So it is with elections, and this conference.

The outcome of the conference will be rewarding.  The conference features an A list of election administrator speakers, never assembled on the same stage before!

(No one has ever been assembled on our stage before, because, as a matter of fact, we are still assembling the stage).

I coordinated many trade shows and events in my Sprint days, so we're at the part where I feel like things are coming together just enough to introduce new things, apparently to simply terrorize my staff as they were finally thinking about exhaling. 

"What if we streamed the event?"

"We have transition music, right?"

"Can we have lasers?"

Don't call them Swag
Bags (or satchels for
Skittles)--these are
Vote Totes
Ok, I didn't ask about lasers.  (At this event, anyway.  We also don't have the money to hire Michael Buffer, the guy to customize a "Let's Get Ready to Rummmmmmmmblllllle!" intro.  I did that in the past.  He charged $3,000 for that, 20 years ago).

We'll update here and elsewhere (  We'll use the twitter hashtag MEOC2015. 

The conference starts Wednesday at noon, central time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015 3 comments

Election Day, Zero Ballots

(revised, new data at the bottom, 4:30 p.m. on 9/16/2015)

Gardner's mail-ballot election closed yesterday at noon with remarkable efficiency.

That efficiency isn't from us, but rather the United States Postal Service.

Okay, as regular readers can guess by now, that previous sentence was in sarcasm font.

You see, Monday's mail brought us 169 ballots.

Today's mail brought us 79, too late to be counted.

Yesterday's mail brought us 0.

By the way, 17 people dropped off their ballots yesterday.  But somehow, with remarkable success, every voter who wanted their ballot here by mail did so--included in Monday's mail.

If you are scoring at home, Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, that's 169-0-79.


We called the post office yesterday morning at 11.  On the previous two Tuesdays, we received only 1 ballot each time (about 2,600 voted and 10,000 ballots were issued).

Nope, no ballots.


We had someone else call.



As election administrators, what more can we do?  Demand a right to storm the post office and search for yellow envelopes?

For sake of argument, what if nothing was there and instead they were held too long at the Kansas City post office and were in a truck headed to Olathe?

We call the post office, but should we consider anything in the pipeline at the post office?  Even if it's a postal facility in a different state?

At the very least, with postal service levels changing, jurisdictions will need to consider the use of mail-ballot elections.  Or, maybe Kansas laws should be changed to base returns based on postmarks--that would require significant change, though, because Kansas mail-ballot elections pay the postage for the voter--business reply mail.

As a starting point, I can raise the problem.

You, dear reader, in a life-imitating-life moment (there is no art to a voter not able to cast a ballot, so no art-imitating-life moment here), you are part of said awareness effort.

That's all--fairly short for a blog post, but a powerful issue to begin considering.

Unless, of course, it seems perfectly reasonable for a three-day mail pattern to be 169, 0, 79.  Maybe ending Tuesday delivery was suggested by the postal service because there isn't any actual mail on Tuesday. 

Somehow, I doubt it.

79 others in Gardner may wonder, too.

One of our snappy staffers pulled the numbers from our August recall election--it was at the polls, so the numbers weren't as compelling, but the pattern remains:


Monday 3 August – 22 ballots
Tuesday 4 August – 4 ballots
Wednesday 5 August – 41 ballots

Monday 10 August – 75 ballots
Tuesday 11 August – 0 ballots
Wednesday 12 August – 43 ballots

Monday 17 August – 51 ballots
Tuesday 18 August – 1 ballot (election day)
Wednesday 19 August –27 ballots (too late)