Friday, May 22, 2015 2 comments

Spring Backward, Fall Forward

Election irony met elections of the future in Kansas yesterday.

The Kansas legislature, by one more vote than necessary, passed a measure to move spring elections to the fall of odd years.

I have been a very vocal advocate of this move, demonstrating how the highest April election turnout in the last five years was still lower than the lowest turnout of special elections conducted in any other month.

Also, we're more likely to have schools available as polling places.  This was a major factor in my support of this move.

But passing by one vote?

That's classic.

(Editor's Note--more irony since I'm my own editor--thanks to the League of Women Voters for pointing out it passed by one MORE vote than needed.  I want to represent that accurately and have inserted this little parenthetical addition).

Does your vote matter?  It did here.

Whether or not you agree now, or will agree or disagree later after implementation, the bill technically passed the House by one vote.  It would have been more ironic if one of the votes for was elected by one vote, but such a realization, if that were the case, would cause even me to skip a heartbeat.

I would imagine, though, that at least one representative started as being appointed by precinct committee members to fill a vacancy and then later was elected.

Precinct committee members frequently are elected by a handful of votes and, in Johnson County, we have averaged 2 coin toss decisions for precinct committee ties for the five August primary elections since I've been election commissioner.

We often hear that elections have consequences, and this blog isn't the place to talk about the politics of any consequence from legislation.

I'll wear this
spiffy outfit
to election
worker training
if 5 people
become new
election workers
based on this post.
But there is real consequential value to administrators.

The value to me, non-political, is the use of schools as polling places.  This legislation should make election administration in Johnson County easier and polling places more stable for voters.

Plus, perhaps even greater, the bill allows us to have more high-school student election workers.  We were limited to one per polling place and turned away hundreds in presidential years. 

Now, 1/3 of our workers at the polls can be high-school students.

(Note to you, dear reader, if you aren't an election worker--that means 30 percent of our workers aren't even old enough to vote and these youngsters, who can't vote, are making sure you do.  Any pangs of guilt, thinking about being an election worker--please?--contact our office).

But, this is a great example of the value of what one vote looks like, and what better example than in an election bill.

The practicality of executing the bill will be discussed here if and after the governor signs the bill into law.  

The bill is more than 80 pages, so there are plenty of details to scour, and even the potential for unintended consequences, so I'll be reading it more thoroughly and reporting back.
Sunday, May 10, 2015 1 comments

I Give You MINI ME (OC)

We  just got back from a well-organized conference of state election officials, part of the annual required training by the Secretary of State.

(A side thought--said before and worth pointing out again--I've served under three Secretaries of State, all men with whom I'm extremely proud to be affiliated.  The current Secretary, Kris Kobach, gets his fingernails dirty in the nuts and bolts of elections operations as though he truly is one of us.  It means a lot to all of us in the trenches that he knows how our voter registration system works as well as the drivers and restrainers we face).

Anyway, back to the point, the conference is terrific for state issues.  We received training required by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), but also updates on systems, issues, and legislation.

When I came into office, in 2005, then Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh had coordinated with his peers in nearby states to host a local, nationally oriented conference.  It was called the Midwest Election Officials Conference (MEOC).  It was the second MEOC, after one in 2001.

The conference concept considered that many local election officials can't get to a national conference and hear from thought leaders or those with emerging best practices.  So, he thought, he'd bring the conference to the Midwest, for election officials in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska.

We had a similar conference in 2009.  Every member of our office was allowed to go, and those who went came back with their eyes wider.  Our voters benefited.

But, for a variety of reasons, that was the last conference.  We didn't have one, as the schedule would have gone, in 2013

I've had an interest in revising the concept, at least for the Kansas City area.  I decided I'd create a Mini-MEOC for the Kansas City metro area, interested counties in Kansas, and any others regionally.

I have plenty of election cool kid friends and have asked some if they'd be willing to speak.  The response has been heart-warming and overwhelming with my initial small sample.

(In fact, if you are a cool kid--and if you are reading this you are--and want to speak, please contact me).

I wanted to pull it off last year but those 14 elections in 13 months got in the way.

So, Thursday, at the Kansas clerks' conference, we planted a stake in the ground and announced a date for the conference.  I figured if we did that, it was official. was until I changed the date.  We found out about a clerks' conflict.

So, the new dates are Sept. 30-October 2, 2015, in the Kansas City area.

We'll probably piggyback some other meetings earlier in the week, particularly related to our potential new voting system.  We'll have vendors.  We'll have a gathering that Wednesday night, a full day of sessions on Thursday, and a half day on Friday to break so those who do travel can get home.

We had a small smattering of applause when the conference was announced at the clerks' conference this week.  We'll likely work closely with the Kansas County Clerks and Election Officials (KCCEO) organization on the arrangements.

And, now announced in the blog, MEOC is even more officially launched.

Oh, yes, I dropped the "mini."  I feel like an Internet patent troll claiming the conference name as my own, but there is some brand cache to MEOC, and I'm looking forward to building on it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015 0 comments

A Day Like No Other

I spoke to the Rotary Club of Western Johnson County last night and the presentation was like no other.

Specifically, I often explain how many elections we've had (67 in the approximate 10 1/2 years I've been here).

People ask us what we do when we don't have an election and I usually say, "I don't know.  That hasn't happened yet."

But, now, with no election in 2015 on the horizon, we're in uncharted territory.

The city of Shawnee was considering an election for a vacancy, but the decision was made last night to appoint the person, according to the city's charter ordinance.  A school district has a Board member facing a potential recall, but the committee has several steps to clear before that happens.

So, right now, our next election is the spring of 2016.

That's unless there is a change in the timing of spring elections, still possible with a legislative action this year, and I discussed this last night.

Mostly, then, the presentation last night was a tune-up for the things I'll be discussing as we head into the presidential election next year.

We are scouring the county for polling places and new election workers.  I pitched the Adopt-A-Polling Place program that could be a rather large fundraiser for the Rotary.

I also showed a video prepared by a Princeton graduate student that explained the question I'm asked often, "Why can't we vote on the Internet."

I liked the student's video, and commented as much on his YouTube site.  I didn't care for the ending, where he explained that, for now, he's fine waiting in line to vote until security issues are addressed.

I'm not fine with anyone waiting in line to vote.  I know it happens, but my targeted wait is 0 minutes.

That's a topic for another post (and was the topic for earlier ones, too, Dear Reader, if you are so inclined to scan back in time).

I've attached the presentation from last night--that will seem familiar--and inserted the video below.

Sunday, April 26, 2015 0 comments

Around the County in (1)80 Days

With the April election behind us, it's time to move, guns blazing, into our next election.

Wait a minute....we don't have a next election.

Well, technically, we always have a next election.

It's one of the axioms of life.

There's always room for jello.

You're never really finished with laundry.

There will always be another election.

But in our case, that next scheduled election is April 2016.

We may have one before then.  There is an active recall effort underway in a school district, and there is some talk that Shawnee may fill an open city council seat with an election.

Still, right now, we aren't working on an active election.  That's the first time I've been able to say, or type, that in my 10 years and nearly four months on the job.  Others in the office who have been here longer are disheartened when they hear this, because for them, it's been even longer.

Unless the Shawnee election comes to pass as real this week--we're finalizing all work on April's election--I will declare the streak over and, as far as I can tell, it's about a 20-year streak.

In odd years, there isn't an election more than 5 months apart since 1997, and even then, we don't know now when staffers were aware that election was forthcoming.

So now, when it would appear to be the slowest time we've had in years, it's time to get extremely busy.  We have much work to do in the next six months, roughly 180 days.

Six months from today's date, November 26, will be Thanksgiving Day.  That triggers the holidays where December is often a lost month, time to move the ball through a month that has many personal events.  May is much the same way, with graduations and end of school-year functions.

But we're in crunch mode.  We've undergone some staff retirements, a death of a key staff member, and some much needed staffing changes to bring in the right mindset as we approach 2016.  We have much more to do, with two new vacancies pending, and hope to be fully staffed by this summer.

As part of that, we're focused on a very basic problem.  Where will people vote in 2016?

We have shrunk down to 175 polling places, from 286 in 2004.  If we were on the trajectory of polling place growth under my predecessor (tied with population growth), we'd be at around 350 polling places right now.

We need about 100 more for the expected turnout.  We won't get them, so advance voting will even be more important than ever.

Oh, and we've lost two of our four advance voting sites.

Job one is to review our polling places, a refreshed look at disability accessibility, parking, voting accommodations, and other factors.

We'll be going around the county in 180 days evaluating voting locations.  Jules Verne figured out how to go around the world in 80 days, but we're working--it'll take longer.

In the meantime, we'll be picking up our efforts to recruit election workers, beginning training as soon as possible, well before Thanksgiving perhaps, to be ready for 2016.

2016 is breathing down our neck.  We have six months before the self-induced winds of change shift to the turbulence from the outside world.

How we respond to that turbulence will come down to how well we focus now.

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.