Monday, January 9, 2012

Downside of Paper Ballots, Chapter One

Election integrity activists have a romance with paper ballots.  Their point of view likely would be different if they worked with paper ballots. 

Paper ballots are a stressmaker.  If the ballots represented a romantic character, he'd be the mysterious one with an eye patch.

Pallets of more than 100,000 ballots, in
addressed envelopes, ready for our two
mail-ballot elections on January 31.
We have two mail-ballot elections on January 31 and the ballots will be mailed out Wednesday.  We're a mid-sized county (365,000 registered voters) but there is no one locally in Kansas City that can handle our ballot printing needs.  We put out a Request for Proposal a few years ago and had really only one local option, the largest printer in Kansas City.

That printer is well-regarded and we selected them on a trial basis.  After the first election, they politely said, "Uncle."  You see, in a large election, we wouldn't print 365,000 of one ballot style.  Instead, we have as many as 1,500 variations.  So, we print 30 of one style, 100 of another, 75 of a third, etc.  In a polls election, it takes a staff member about a week to prepare the ballot order and a full weekend when ballots arrive for a crew to unpack all the ballots and sort them in a secure room to prepare for mailing.  More to come throughout the year on this.

So, all of our ballots are printed in Seattle by ES&S, which is the best ballot printshop in my opinion and handles a lot of jurisdictions.  Those shipments of ballots always lead to adventure, though.  Elections are often conducted over the winter where weather has diverted our shipments to Kentucky or Ohio, for instance.  And when we take the ballots to the post office (open for "business" business noon to 4 p.m. only each day, until the local office closes later this year--remember the optimism I heard just last week from the Post Office's Chief Marketing Officer), we have to have postage checks cut, per zip code, to the penny.

This is an example of how the pallets came on Friday, so we'll be spending Monday re-palleting, re-wrapping the pallets, and scrambling to guess how much each pallet weighs with fingers crossed that the postage checks we've planned align.  It sets up a crazy and stressful 48 hours for our staff.  We're actually a day ahead of where we might be normally because we had them printed over the holidays, so getting them on Friday was a bonus.