Sunday, October 19, 2014 0 comments

Advance Voting is Underway!

Advance voting in person begins tomorrow and if that has come up on you, dear reader, fast, it has on us, too.

We literally have been too busy to type, mostly because we've been having election worker training each day while pumping through thousands of advance voting applications and ballots.

This time is also the period for the latest installment of "People Move."

Our ballots went out Wednesday, with a couple thousand going out each day since.  Before that, however, we sent a teaser postcard to all voters to remind them of the upcoming election and their advance voting options.

This mailing list for the postcard was created in September, about a month after all changes from the August election were finalized.  Any postcard that came back undeliverable in July resulted in an updated voter record.  Provisional ballots that required address changes were updated.  New registrations were processed.

Yet, in that time, we have this, in terms of undelivered postcards:


The pictures show the same number, with the second picture just now sorted so we can begin working these.  Funny, those outside of elections have no sense of the number of transactions we process and what list maintenance means.

Further, the linkage to election offices and the mail service is incredible.  Postage is such a huge expense.  Mailing the postcard, which allows us to be compliant with the National Voter Registration Act, costs about $130,000.

Yes, that flimsy little drab postcard costs that much just to mail.  It makes you wonder how much all of the candidate campaign and Johnson County government mailings to households cost (well, it makes me wonder, but it also makes me wonder--how again is it that the post office is struggling)?

Our first day ballots are photographed in little cages.  They look tidy.

Ballots mailed Wednesday night, some
voted and returned by mail Saturday.
And, on Saturday, we already had some back in the mail!  Note, however, the small number of white envelopes.  We'll get more.  Those are ballots that were undeliverable.  We'll likely mail out about 40,000 ballots in this election and somewhere between 500 and 1,000 will come back undeliverable, which usually means that people moved between the time they requested the ballots in the last couple of weeks and the time we mailed them.

In-person advance voting will be at our office, 9800 Metcalf, the Great Mall of the Great Plains, and the Johnson County Northeast offices starting tomorrow morning.

Below are a couple of photos from this summer that I thought were worth a giggle from the Great Mall.

The first just looks funny to me because of the "Quite Please" that displays so prominently with no voters yet, as though it's an election museum.

The other is from advertisement inside the mall.  Apparently, mall management anticipates a stressful election season.

We have much going on with more updates soon.  Tomorrow night, we have election worker training for high-school students.  Tuesday and Wednesday, we have the all-important opening games of the World Series.

The last time a World Series came into play during a November election cycle in Kansas City, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter were running.  There was no advance voting.

I do wonder how the Series could impact voting patterns.  Maybe there will not be an impact, but that seems unlikely.

My early thought is that advance voting may trend slower than it did in, comparably, 2010, with a possible pick-up late next week.  However, Halloween is on a Friday (a great late-afternoon, early evening to vote, by the way--NO lines at our office), so that will get in the way of voting.

Intuitively, I think some advancers will just wait until election day, but election day is unpredictable (and what if it's the day of the victory parade?).

Of course, our election planning is pretty baked at this point.  Polling places were secured a year ago, advance sites buttoned down in January, and all new election worker training will be over tomorrow.  We have to finish new training before the onslaught of voters to our parking lot--we don't have enough parking for new worker training AND voters.

We conduct refresher training now offsite, in classes of 250+ at a time, at the University of Kansas Edwards campus.  Moving new worker training is much more problematic because we have smaller classes and an entire "Perfect Polling Place" for skits to help the workers connect the dots.

Something's got to give on that, though, space-wise.  That's a problem to ponder in late 2015, our next chance for a breather, maybe.

Live voting engines start tomorrow.

Photos above and below from the Great Mall.







Saturday, October 18, 2014 0 comments

Game Seven!


I'll have a new post this weekend, but with the Royals going to the World Series, I have some special memories related to Game 7, and the All Star Game, and is the backdrop to similar memories I have with these types of games with my daughter. 

So, reposting.  Back to elections tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

David Newby, 1930-2012

I've tried to have a post each Tuesday in recognition that there is always an election going on somewhere on a Tuesday.

Plus, as those in the election world can attest, the Tuesday election day is often the slowest day in the cycle.  The work is done and we leave the day open for mayhem, and thankfully there usually isn't any.

Today's Tuesday post is brief.

My father died this morning at 1 a.m.  He was 82.

He suffered a stroke last year and his energy level dropped over the fall and winter.  In fact, I planned to take him to a Royals game last September and he didn't have the stamina to go.  

1973MLBAllStarGameLogo.pngHe took me to the All-Star game when it was in Kansas City in 1973.  I still have the ticket stubs.

I knew he couldn't go this year, hosted again in Kansas City, and I probably couldn't have gotten tickets, anyway, so I was planning to be with him on July 10 (also a Tuesday) and watch it on television.

In 1985, he obtained two tickets to game seven of the World Series, Royals-Cardinals, and he gave them to me on the condition that I went with my brother.  It was the biggest moment up until then for the Royals--and it remains their biggest moment--and he passed so his two sons could go.

He was a Rotarian and believed in "service above self."  My brother died years ago (it's a very odd feeling to be the only family member still living from my childhood Christmas photos) and my dad also gave me a defining memory of my brother from sharing that World Series celebratory night, one of the greatest nights ever to be living in Kansas City.

I was with him on March 24 and it was clear he was declining.  I visited him yesterday afternoon after coming back in town from training, and I was not surprised to get the call this morning.

Since I've been at the election office, I've never been quite sure he understood exactly what I did.  With him leaving on a Tuesday, I think he did.
Thursday, October 9, 2014 1 comments

We've Got Ballots!

In the world of baby steps, we started printing ballots last night and are preparing to fulfill the 11,000 or so advance ballots by mail we have in the pipeline thus far.

Ballots are first mailed next Wednesday.

In between now and then, registered voters will receive a postcard in the mail that reminds of the upcoming election and advance voting options.

That postcard will generate about 5,000 applications for ballots by mail over the weekend.  By the time Wednesday rolls around, we likely will have around 20,000 ballots ready to mail.

We'll cut it close with envelopes on hand--intentionally, we order a couple of cycles ahead.

However, our cushion of envelopes arrived yesterday in the wrong color--the printer's mistake, but it's just one more thing that we'll be doing twice in this election.  We hope to get new, correct replacements in 12 days.

We have more than 40,000 outgoing envelopes on hand--the number of ballots by mail issued in November 2010, but we will sleep better once we have a backup sock drawer full of warm envelopes.

Envelopes are unusual in that they take an incredibly long time to print.  I'm not sure why, but they are complex.

In fact, we were the first jurisdiction in the country to design a privacy flap that covers the voter's signature in the mail, and that flap adds extra time and cost.

That was the issue in 2005--identity theft.  I guess it's still THE issue in 2014, but covering the voters' signatures in the mail was one of the first decisions I made when coming to the office.

Anyway, that all takes a backseat to the "whoo-hoo" we exclaimed when our ballots were ready for production.  Once the delay occurred with the US Senate candidate, we fell into the competitive queue with many other jurisdictions using our printer.  That printer's schedule, and probably the ballot delivery of other communities in other states, had ripple effects from this delay.

Even printing our mail-ballots here, we had to have things finalized with the printer first, and we couldn't begin creating voter cards for our 1,400 machines that we will use in this election, either.

Once we got the thumbs up, our crew had to re-proof the ballots.  Stack three large phone books on top of each other and you'll have a sense of how many pages we had to proof, fast.

If you are too young to know what a large phone book looks like, use dictionaries for this visualization.

If you are too young to know what a dictionary is, look at your laptop computer right now and imagine the cresting point at the top of the screen as the top of the stack of ballots to proof in order to visualize.

If you are too young to know what a laptop computer is, stand your iPad on its end and that will sort of give you a visualization of the magnitude.

If you are too cool to check the web with anything but a smartphone, I can't help you.  

In such a case, just know it's a lot of paper, bro.

Anyway, now the office is abuzz.  Advance election workers are brushing up on training, machines are being tested, and we're pondering "what ifs" related to the Royals' World Series run.

For instance, next week's game 5 in the championship series is scheduled during election worker training.   We'll probably have a few workers reschedule their training.

World Series week, if the Royals make it, may impact in-person advance voting.  It may lead to more requests by mail (hello, envelope printer McFly?) or it may have people waiting until election day to vote.  

Then again, if they win, election day may be Parade Day.  That may impact turnout or the time of day people vote.

Election administrators embrace worry like a rescued lost puppy.  For a moment, with our ballots, worries were gone.  That was short-lived.

It's nice, at least, to be worried about events in the future, rather than the impact of things in the past.  It was late in arriving, but we're having an election!
Wednesday, October 1, 2014 0 comments

T Minus 35 Days

Successful companies often talk about compressing the product delivery cycle, shaving off days from concept to market.

Here, on October 1, 35 days from the election and just 14 days from the time our advance ballots by mail go out, we're living the reduced go-to-market life.

It's some sort of crazy complete circle to the info you see on the sidebar here--"Many people think election officials only work a couple days a year—I guess that’s sort of the point of this blog, to explain what we do on the other days." 

This year may make the "what do you do the other 364 days?" a relevant question.

At the very least, I think we should get some sort of Six Sigma award for taking weeks out of the election preparation cycle.

How'd we do it?  We've spend almost a month awaiting a final candidate list following the last-second withdrawal of a candidate, a Kansas Supreme Court case, and district court case that may be resolved today.

It brings up, though, a question we've been asked frequently--how much time do you need to print ballots?

Now, I'm not sure that anyone has actually made decisions that sync with our answer, but it brings up more a need for a brief primer on what "print ballots" means.

First, ballots are customized to a voter's specific candidates and those candidate lists in various races are rotated.  We have nearly 500 precincts in Johnson County and about twice as many ballot styles in this election.

There isn't one ballot for all voters.

That seems like common sense, but with questions last week about why we sent overseas ballots when we did, the answer begins and ends with "time to prepare the ballot," not time to print.

Those ballots, by the way, look like ballots.  They have hashtags on the sides and all, but they can't be scanned.  They will have to be hand-counted.  On the overseas and military side (by the way, military gets the attention but about 90 percent of our overseas ballots are non-military), it's as though we created an entirely separate election, with unique ballots, that coincidentally have the same races as our real election.

Those overseas ballots were four pages long.  Our "real" ballots will be 8 1/2 by 18 inches, front and back.  We broke up the overseas ballots in case they were faxed back.  Our fax machine could handle the longer paper, but we don't know for sure that the overseas voters' can.

Plus, fax machines don't send back ballots in a duplex manner.  If we only got a partial ballot back, it's possible that we'd never be able to contact the voter to let him or her know.

Those ballots, often emailed, included other attachments customized to the voter.  Emailing our ballots was literally a full-day effort and we like to leave ourselves some cushion (at least a day) to ensure we met deadlines in case there were any technical issues.  Murphy's Law has come into play several times on election day, knocking out Internet service, for instance.

Anyway, back to the "real" ballots.

Printing ballots implies that an election has been set up and a ballot is created.  I've explained what it will look like on paper, but it has to have the same programming on our touch-screen voting machines.

We will have 1,400 of those in this election and can't begin to create the cards for each machine until the ballot is finalized.  Then, we have to manually test each machine's logic and accuracy by going through a laborious voting routine and comparing the results against an expected outcome.

The downloading process usually takes at least two days and the testing--with 20 people--about 3 weeks.

This is a bigger deal than printing ballots, although that's no gimmee.  But we begin delivering voting machines and equipment to our advance voting sites next week.

On the paper side, we are frantically entering advance-by-mail applications and likely will be sending out about 20,000 ballots on Oct. 15.

Our ballots are so complex that after a competitive bid process, the only local printer that could meet our requirements (the largest in Kansas City) pulled out after one attempt.  I've never seen a company of that size, in any industry, say business was too hard, but I do respect that they told us before they let us down later.

So, all of our ballots are actually printed out-of-state, and our ballot orders usually are placed in early September.   Earlier this year, we made the decision to print our own advance-by-mail ballots and provisional ballots at our advance voting sites with ballot-on-demand printers.  So, we're only ordering our provisional ballots for the polls out-of-state.

Of course, those haven't been ordered yet and we're competing with many other offices for runtime in a November cycle, so we likely won't get the ballots back until the week before the election.  That leaves no margin for error in proofing or delivery.

In fact, the whole process leaves no margin for error.  Strike that--it invites errors, going over the margins.  The fact that election administrators here are moving along with Plan S at this point is a testament to resolve.

Speaking of errors, we have to proof all of these various ballots and the audio that goes for each with ballots for those who are blind.  We're busily proofing everything, waiting for the final word.

When we do print advance ballots, we'll print the envelopes at the same time, with a different printer.  We'll apply postage at that time--or hopefully, anyway.

Our biggest obstacle right now--as it often is--isn't these formidable outside forces, but the internal processes at our county.  We weren't adequately funded for this election, as evidenced by the fact that our postage needs at the front-end here have already "failed funds," which is our county's way of saying "out of budget."

Maybe someone knew we wouldn't be spending in September. 

In any event, we hope today to get some word on "printing" ballots (as in, starting the entire work of the election), and our attention will quickly turn to mailing them.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 0 comments

Happy Voter Registration Day!

It's National Voter Registration Day.

The Board of County Commissioners issued a proclamation last Thursday and we had a nice time showcasing the efforts of the League of Women Voters (who pushed for the proclamation).

Beyond that, as an administrator, I'm not sure what the "day" really does except gives us a topic.  Like a sales person with a new product, National Voter Registration Day gives us a new reason to promote voter participation. 

Last night, the Lenexa Masonic Lodge hosted me and 5 of our staff members for dinner.  I spoke briefly about National Voter Registration Day but also used that moment to recruit election workers. 

The Lodge actually is part of our Adopt a Polling Place program, where members work and give their earnings as a fund-raiser to their organization.  They are building college scholarship programs with the earnings.

The program is such a win-win.  We need election workers, and this is a very efficient fund-raising concept.  The Good Shepherd Knights of Columbus has pretty much adopted two places with about a dozen members working.

I'm biased, but I think it sure beats working a concession stand at the Chiefs game, in dollars, patriotism, and workload (I said workload, not stressload).   Plus, there's never Tuesday Night Football, which means election workers don't miss a key game by working.

One of the Best Practice Awards at the recent Election Center conference was a program with the this same theme, focused on getting companies to participate.  The clever twist from that program was that the election office helped companies with an election of some sort (like the mock elections we do for kids, but with adults, asking them, for instance, their preference for a company promotion or advertisement).  This got the adults engaged as potential workers.  It's a concept we plan to---wait for it---adopt ourselves.

It was in Franklin County, Ohio.  Here was their booth that presented the award:






Friday, September 19, 2014 2 comments

The Ballot, the Complete Ballot, and Nothing But the Ballot

While the last post spoke of the elephant in the room, the true elephant in the blog, of course, is the issue surrounding the Democratic candidate for US Senate.

Look elsewhere for any political thoughts, but the aspect of what this does as we prepare to administer the election is something I've been asked frequently over the past week.

We have a candidate who requested to be removed from the ballot in early September and discussion that went all the way to the Kansas Supreme Court to determine what would happen.

From dinner, an hour after the Supreme Court announcement.
If only I had the cookie on Tuesday.
The hearing was about an hour long on Tuesday morning and both sides (for removal, anti-removal) espoused that this was a simple issue.  So, selfishly, I wouldn't have minded getting the Supreme Court decision, say, that day.  Maybe Wednesday.  Instead, it came late yesterday just as we were cresting upon the deadline to send out military ballots.

That deadline to send military ballots has been portrayed in the media as the deadline to begin sending ballots.  It's actually the deadline to have sent all military ballots and new requests can be filled on an on-going basis.

The Department of Justice takes the 45-day deadline very seriously, and so do we.  In fact, that 45-day deadline falls on a Saturday so we've assumed the deadline is the Friday before.

So, you may see why a decision at 4:30 on the Thursday before this Friday is kind of an issue.

Now, thankfully (?), we only have have about 75 voters in this bucket right now.  By comparison, we had 1,500 military and overseas voters in 2008.  Some of the reduction can be attributed to less overseas military involvement and the type of election year (2008 was a presidential, and an historic one at that).

Still, that's a pretty big drop.  A federal law a few years ago required military voters to re-up their registration each year instead of it lasting for two years.

I've always questioned the motive for this.  It reduced the number of ballots that were undeliverable, so that's good.  But by reducing the undeliverable ballots, the overall number issued in any election dropped as well.  Assuming the same number of voters returned the ballots, the return percentage against those issued improved and there are people in jobs where their performance is based upon that return percentage.

In a trade-off for a higher return percentage number (same number returning, just a better percentage), military and overseas voters have to register more frequently, and that's a hassle.  My theory from 30,000 feet is that this law's requirement actually has reduced voter participation by military and overseas citizens.

Nonetheless, we have about 75.   Mind you, that's 75 full ballots with more than just the US Senate race.

That's 75 four-page ballots unique to each voter.  In order to have them optically scanned, we typically send the voters actual ballots, but when our actual ballots aren't ready to print, we have to send homemade unique ballots that later will be hand counted.   With about 20 items for voting per ballot, and 75 ballots, that's a lot of hands across the water.

That doesn't begin to address the fact that soon we will have to mail about 30,000 advance ballots, in less than a month, October 15.  We're usually getting our ballots back from the printer by now, not wondering when we'll send them to the printer.  This October 15 date also is a fixed deadline by statute, not a beginning day, but an actually day.  We will be toddling down to the post office that day with 30,000 envelopes that we hope contain the final ballot.

The good news here is that decision we made to print our own ballots for advance by mail.  Operationally, had we not done that, there would be no blog post today.  I couldn't type.  We'd be totally paralyzed.

There are formulas that can be used to consider the payback of ballot-on-demand printer purchases.  We chose to only go down this path if it made sense operationally, and that's an obvious prove-in now.

Economically, though, they have paid for themselves simply because of the cost we would have had to expedite printing of these ballots.  Go figure.  I just did.

Beyond the obvious issues stated, this is just life in elections.  We sent ballots out by email to meet the Department of Justice deadline with the caveat that that there was litigation afoot and to please not vote the ballots and return them until we checked in again on Monday.  We'll now be checking in today, saying corrected new ballots will be on their way once this issue is completely resolved and to disregard the initial mailing.

We're expecting that resolution to be a week from today.  It often feels like we'll be working on a ballot some day AFTER the election.  I'm hoping that continues to be a ridiculous thought.



Wednesday, September 17, 2014 0 comments

You Get a Car! You Get a Car!

It's been quite a while between posts and that is a fallout from many, many moving pieces we're chasing right now.

The moving pieces bring up a political thought, not in the purest political sense but closer than others this blog has addressed.  I'll explain.

First, it may seem all non-Election Commissionery and all, but I like to watch Family Guy.  Maybe it's because the dog is named Brian. 

In any event, there is an episode where the characters play out the movie Star Wars.

Stewie, as Darth Vader, gets a briefing on security and learns of a tiny vulnerability in the Death Star, where if a missile entered this area at just the right trajectory (a 0.01 chance of happening, he's told), the entire planet-sized ship would explode.

"I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't ask," Stewie says, "but what's the 0.01?  That sounds like a pretty big design flaw.  Can't we board it up or, you know, put some plywood there?"

I don't observe anything as dramatic as destruction of an entire ecosystem, but I do think we are going through something that I feel like I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't raise.

It's not really a problem.  I wouldn't even call it an issue.  For us, it's life, but it is a dynamic that deserves awareness.

The trigger for this is the simple fact that we have seven elections in the next four months.  Six were unscheduled.

We have the big one that everyone knows about on November 4.  Then, five school districts will each have mail-ballot question elections on the same day in January.  This, essentially, will be a full-county election, in five pieces, and is the source of many moving pieces, mostly in my mind.  The elections carry equal parts excitement and panic, but I expect excitement will prevail.

Those elections were prompted by state legislation that allowed the schools to modify their budget formulas, but the elections were required to be mail-ballot elections.  Mail-ballots may have been the best method for the schools, but making them special elections shifts the cost from a pile-on to an existing county election, where there would be no cost, to an expense of nearly a million dollars.

This is the rub (and not yet the "political" part of this post).  Elections cost a lot of money because we have a lot of people in the county.

If Oprah Winfrey drew a winner from her audience and that winner got a new car, that would be expensive--a $25,000 prize.

But when Oprah gives one to everyone--"You get a car, and you get a car, and you get a car," the overall cost balloons.  It's just math.

So, an election that costs about $3 per voter reflects 21st century costs of paper, envelopes, postage, and persons to scan the ballots.  But, if you turn to 375,000 people and say, "You get a ballot, and you get a ballot, and you get a ballot..." the overall cost balloons.

Math, it turns out, works the same in elections as it does with Oprah.

There can be debate whether an election should be a stand-alone, or added to an existing one, and that's really the area of awareness that should be raised.

But the idea that elections are expensive?  Of course they are, because there are a lot of people involved.

(We've been looking at some old budgets and realized that our 2014 county expenses for elections will be the same as 1999's.  Office expenses aren't the driver in election costs--the number of participants are).

It links to my ongoing belief that the cost of elections in Johnson County should be itemized on the property tax bill, as allowed by Kansas law and done in other large counties in the state.  Such itemizing would cause some to be concerned about how little is spent on elections, some will be concerned with how much is spent, and this overall transparency and discussion, in my view, is government goodness.

As we go to the Board of County Commissioners for money related to these elections (with much of the cost later reimbursed by the jurisdictions), I'm sure the overall cost of the elections will surprise some.

Back off the overall cost--a function of the number of voters--and question, more, this:  should something be done to limit special elections?

This isn't a question related to the school districts, except that it might drive more discussion on moving spring elections in odd years to the fall of odd years, obtaining a school holiday to use the schools as polling places, and, perhaps, having a more timely way for jurisdictions to utilize scheduled elections in the future rather than conduct special elections.

But we just found out that we needed to add into the mix of our November, then January (and the March and April) elections a special election in Roeland Park.

Roeland Park has a city council vacancy and is the only city in the county that fills these vacancies with special elections.  This will be the second election of this type in Roeland Park this year and the fifth special election in my 10 years because someone has not fulfilled the full term in office.

We have that election in December now, completing the Election of the Month trajectory.  It gets in the way, operationally, as we prepare for the school district mail-ballots and will cost the city about $5,000.

The alternative--and this finally leads to the political thought--would be the city council or the mayor appointing a replacement until the next election.  Many cities do this.

Personally, I'm not a fan of that, and not because I'm on some business development bender at the election office.  I just think that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people should be selected by, well, the people.

I also left my position early while on Shawnee's City Council when I was appointed election commissioner.  I didn't have to, but I thought it would eliminate any potential conflict of interest.

Point is, I'm not judging anyone for not fulfilling their term.  And, there's a large part of me that thinks that Roeland Park has it right, so there's no judgment there, either.

But, like Stewie, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't point this out.  When people wonder what election administrators do on the other 364 days when there isn't an election, they are usually surprised to find that we average an election about every two months and that more than half of our elections are unscheduled, special elections.

But the conversation stops there.  The cost of the elections is the elephant in the room.

Better yet, the cost of the elections is the flea in the room, hardly noticeable when there is one but difficult to ignore when there are nearly 400,000 in the room.

The issue here is that there are nearly 400,000 voters in our county, several jurisdictions, and probably a better and more economical way to make the government for the people more affordable to the people.


Not the same elephant/flea
concept in elections that is
discussed in this book, but
you try and find a royalty-free
Star Wars or Family Guy image!
(Besides, this book is a good read).
Maybe we should have quarterly, countywide scheduled elections and if something misses, it must wait.  Or, maybe two of those would be mail-only and the parameters of the state's mail-ballot elections would change (currently, mail-ballots can only be for issues, not people).

It's time for a broad and thoughtful discussion of this, with the overall community, not just among election administrators.

Part of election geekery, in fact, is the discussion of, "Is there a better way?"

Is there a better way, for instance, to present items on the ballot?  Is there a better way to get the word out?  Is there a better way to streamline the voter experience?

These are questions we consider for fun.

This one requires a larger net, partnering with legislators, and engaging cities and voters.

The county clerks in Kansas have created a mail-ballot election task force and I'm co-chairing it, although you wouldn't know it because we haven't met yet.  Why?  Because we have so many elections; we're all too busy.

When we do meet, I plan to expand the scope of our thinking to cover these aspects.

In the meantime, the Election of the Month Club awaits!

 
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