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 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)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015 0 comments

Warm Fuzzies and Furry Thoughts

We're in election mode again, with a mail-ballot for the city of Gardner.

It's the ninth election of 2015, the most since we had nine in 2005.  If this were an ACT test question, expect nine elections in 2025....

We also got word that we likely will have a school district mail-ballot election in early 2016, so the beat goes on.

It's hard to complain, really.  After all, we exist to administer elections.

Lamenting elections would be like Tom Brady belly-aching about his next game at quarterback, or Al Roker complaining about doing a weather forecast.

In fact, I think it's worth giving it up to election administrators who have processed hundreds of elections and millions of ballots.  We strive to be the voter concierge, and being a concierge implies answering the same question over and over as though we've heard the question for the first time.

(Side note, on election day, we want our workers to be prepared for any type of voter to be their first voter--a perfect voter, an audio ballot, a provisional voter, lost voter, etc.  This preparation paid great dividends in our last election.  More on that in a future post).

This past week, our office had an outing at a minor league baseball at a stadium near the Kansas Speedway.  Hopping on the highway after the game, I saw the Comfort Inn and Suites Kansas Speedway, and I thought about how it must get very old answering the phone, "Thank you for calling the Comfort Inn and Suites Kansas Speedway...."

(Of course, it may be answered, "Thank you for calling.  Your call if very important to us...")

In any event, further praise to those who approach things with the same gusto over and over.

Another night, recently, I happily saw The Psychedelic Furs in concert at the Crossroads.  I've seen the Furs six times, dating back 30 years.  I've seen them play "Pretty in Pink," for instance, in each of those shows.

Yet, the lead singer, Richard Butler, was the same animated self he was at that first concert--the same gestures at the same points in the song, in fact.

It's not as though it was his sixth time in Kansas City (eighth--I missed two), but likely his six thousandth time he's sang that song.

Richard Butler sings Pretty in Pink in KC
So where is this going?  Well, first, I really wanted to post a photo I took at the concert :-)

But, second, I've administered more than 60 elections in 10 1/2 years.  But there are people at our office who passed the 100 mark.  There are people in this country who have administered hundreds of elections.

September is National Voter Registration month.  For those of us in the industry, it's worth pausing this month to reflect on the administrators, too--our peers and colleagues, and congratulate them on bringing energy to their jobs and to voters.

Voters have much more energy for the outcomes of elections--parks, roads, taxes, libraries--than for the election process.  Without elections, there would be no government, at least a government we'd all want to have.

You, dear reader, are likely one of these cogs of the election infrastructure.  Pat yourself on the back and whet your whistle with another cup of coffee at the rinky-dink election office break room.

One of my favorite things at LA County's Election
Warehouse--the lunch room is closed at, well,
lunch time.
Then, get back to work!  You have an election to administer!

Saturday, September 5, 2015 0 comments

MEOC Agenda

This is out there elsewhere, and by placing here for those who come here regularly, I'm hoping to provide a quick update and maybe not allow you to see I haven't posted in a while.

(Oh, blew my cover on that.  I will have a post for reals this weekend).

The agenda is tentative in that we are still finalizing speakers and may be shifting topics around to accommodate speakers and have one topic best flow to another.

This is setting to be a rockin' conference.  Hotels are getting full--yes, hotels; the primary hotel is close to full if not already full.   The website has nearby hotels and registration info.  If you've been waiting to register, now is the time to do it, this weekend.  You have a whole extra day at home! 

I'm very proud of our employees who are pulling this together, in the midst of elections no less.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015 1 comments

An Election Like No Other

Today is an election day.

And, not just any election day.

(Interlude--is there any such thing as "just any election day"?)

It's a recall election in the De Soto School District, approximately 20,000 registered voters, and a great opportunity to test new technology at the polls in advance of our big year in 2016.

We're trialing electronic poll books. 

If you're not close to elections, the idea of trialing an electronic listing of participants, signing up on an iPad likely seems so 2010 to you. (That's when iPads rolled out, by the way).

Even if you are in elections, you might be doing the cartoon double-take swag of your head right now, surprised Johnson County hasn't already rolled out electronic poll books.

There are a few reasons for that--one is the cost, at least a half-million dollars to roll out next year, and probably closer to a million.

Another is the operational impact.  While fairly straightforward, using iPads as poll books presents operational, training, and logistical issues. 

(Interlude 2:  "issues" was intentionally used instead of "challenges"--I'm not a fan of "challenges."  I also call "problems" problems and not "opportunities."  I get the self-help thinking, but life moves fast, says Ferris Bueller, too fast to not call a problem a problem).

(Interlude 3:  I just realized that I may be the only person who has heard of the directness at in the New York Times and said, "That sounds like a great place to work...."  That's probably extreme, but election administration requires confronting operational impacts directly).

So, 14 polling places, 28 electronic pollbooks, 28 printers, 14 wireless hot-spots, and a support to polling place ratio of about 3:1.

As of 9:11, as I'm typing, no emergencies.  No problems.  In fact, it's been a quiet election morning.

That support focus is a big reason.  Many from the Shawnee County Election Office have spent the night to help us.  One of the snazziest election whiz-kids in Kansas, from the Wyandotte County Election Office, has come to help us for a couple of days.  Vendor representatives, including the former Kansas State Election Director, have been here to help us.

All of that is huge.  In fact, more and more, the largest counties--the ones with Election Commissioners--are uniting on issues, sharing learnings and resources, seeking equipment solutions together, and overall just working hand-in-hand in a very powerful way.  This is to the credit of my peers more than me, honestly, but a couple of my key staff members here have elbowed into the party when I can't be there. 

This cooperation, a side point to this post, can't be understated as all of us look to 2016.  If you are a voter in Kansas, this is good news.  You will hear more about this in the months ahead.

Back to the immediate news--we're learning how to train the use of equipment. 

We've ran into that some with iPads and smartphones already, but these relatively simple devices show us the training issues ahead when we roll out a new voting system.  Our county has gone through this before, but it's been 12 years, and most of our staff has turned over since then.

Beyond the training, we're seeing some of the operational benefits.

One of the advantages is simply not having to have a crew work several hours the Saturday night before the election printing, proofing, and preparing poll books.  (For this election, though, we printed the poll books, sealed them in an envelope, and hid them in the supplies in case there was an emergency and we needed to go retro).

Election Worker Training (above) and
Dashboard Examples (below)
(Interlude 4:  Yes, we sent out so many items to the polls that we can effectively hide a poll book in the supplies).

We're also seeing the dashboard capabilities of the electronic poll books.  We can see, at any moment, how many people have voted, who has voted and when, and our overall real-time turnout.

So, that's cool.

It's probably more than cool.  It will help us know of issues (aka "problems") faster.

There are some operational time-savers on the back-end, too.  We can close out the election in the voter registration system much faster, as opposed to going through all of the poll books, page-by-page, to scan the bar codes of the voters who voted.

For this election, we used equipment provided by KnowInk in St. Louis.  Fun fact, St. Louis is the Silicon Valley of electronic poll books.  Election Administrators, another highly regarded electronic poll book company, also is located there.

From here, our evaluation will lead to us issuing a Request for Proposal for electronic poll books.  We expect those two companies to respond, as well as a couple larger full-system providers, such as ES&S.

I've attached some of the screens shots of the command center for fun.

(Final Interlude:  Yes, if you've read this far, you likely would agree that this is "for fun.")

Sunday, August 9, 2015 0 comments

LA County Needs No Fixin

Much is going on, as always, it seems, so this post will try to capture a chunk of that at once.

Yet, the post is from a sleep-deprived place, so it will be brief, with follow-ups soon on our preparation for the De Soto School District Special Election, a trial of electronic pollbooks, and the follow-up to my observation trip to Albania.

I'm typing this post flying back from an exciting meeting pulled together by the Bipartisan Policy Center and preparing for election worker training in the morning.  I imagine I'll be at a place to post this Saturday night, after the training, so there will be a need to post again soon.

The meeting brought in election administrators from some of the largest jurisdictions in many states.

The point was to learn from those leaders key issues that are being addressed, with the idea that data and programs applied in those jurisdictions would have value cascading down to smaller jurisdictions.

First, if that doesn't sound exciting, then you're no friend of mine.....

Okay, you are my friend, of course--with music on the mind from the long flight, I was channeling some flood of songs to defend the excitement--first, Men Without Hats.

 "If they don't dance, well they're no friends of mine."

Election administration isn't quite like dancing, but it is like the fast skate at Skateworld sometimes.

Or, as Louie Armstrong said when asked to define jazz (or election geekery), "if you gotta ask, you'll never know."

Or, The Dead Milkmen, who sang in Punk Rock Girl, "if you don't got Mojo Nixon, then your store could use some fixin'"

 Okay, I'll stop now.  Yes, the flight is approaching red-eye status.  Is it showing?
It's just that once the election geekness starts, it's rabid.

One proof point was our trip to the Los Angeles County Election Warehouse.  Put together about 30 election geeks and they do, well, geeky things, and we were definitely that way at the warehouse.

 LA County has about 12 times the voters we have in Johnson County.  Our meeting yesterday was on the fifth floor of their building.  They have more than 400 election employees.

That kind of scale promotes learnings that cascade to us tiny tots, like 400,000-voter Johnson County.  (Oh, yes, if you are scoring at home, 400 employees divided by 12 does not equal 16......, so benchmarking only goes so far).

But, that transfer of knowledge, I think, is what the Bipartisan Policy Council is seeking by connecting with many communities of our size, that further learnings will be transferred down to 40,000-voter counties.

Yes, Virginia, the election industry has an 80/20 rule, just like most industries.

Oh, and by Virginia, I literally meant Virginia, which was well-represented in the meeting.   

Now THAT'S a warehouse!
Those compadres from Virginia and many other states hopped out of a van with me at the warehouse, and before I could begin taking photos of the outside of the warehouse, I noticed three others already were. 

You'd have thought we'd hit the lot at Universal Studios, not the biggest election stage in the country.  Heck, I found myself taking photos of my friends taking photos of the election building.

All of us were excited to see the outside of a building that housed election equipment.

The key word in that sentence was "outside."  The outside of a warehouse caused palpatations.


I've shown a couple photos here of the warehouse--once looks like a court where the Lakers might practice.

Anyway, the meeting provided a quick piece of theory before returning to the practical aspect of election worker training for our 8th election this year.

More on that in the next post.