Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jumping the Shark, Election Style

On the surface, you probably don't want election administrators taking risks.

Fonzie's famous 'Jumping the Shark'
moment on 'Happy Days.'

As an election official, playing it safe is Value Number One.  We think through Plans B, C, and D.

As a manager, playing it safe is a path that can lead to long-term failure, missing what seem like obvious moments, in hindsight, to change.

So, in the case of the coincidentally named SAFE Act (Secure and Fair Elections Act, passed by the Kansas legislature and in effective January 1), I have very limited resources to get the word out to voters about the role of Voter ID in upcoming elections.

Even though the majority of voters in Johnson County, in my opinion, support Voter ID, the nuts and bolts of it will lead to an uptick in provisional ballots in 2012.  We knew this.  We saw the same thing happen in 2004, after the Help America Vote Act led to a Kansas requirement for first-time voters to show ID.

Provisional ballots are issued when there is a question about a voter's eligibility.  The voter casts the vote and we sort out the eligibility between election day and the day the election is certified at a canvass meeting the following Monday. 

"Provisional ballots" is one of those phrases that can elicit different emotions based on the context of the conversation.  Provisional ballots can sound like a fail-safe voter-rights kind of thing, which they are.  Or, because provisional ballots that can be counted come in after the election night results, close races can flip, causing reactions that these ballots are somehow shady.

With no outreach budget and the same staff size we've had for 20 years (despite a myriad of legal and technology changes and more than a doubling of voters), I can't take a carpet-bomb outreach approach.  I'll take a rifle rather than shotgun approach to outreach, depending a lot on social media (yes, by reading this, you are now in an art-imitating-life moment related to my outreach efforts).

I do have a more intense commitment, in terms of time, with our audience of election workers.  I conduct all training and we will have about 2,000 workers in 2012.  We have great workers in Johnson County.  Many communities think they may have the best workers, but they are wrong.  We do.

These election workers are influentials often in their circles.  They represent an outreach channel.  Likewise, candidates and campaign managers are akin to distribution agents of outreach. 

So, our rifle-focus will be in these areas.  This will be much more effective than speaking to 20 people at a time at Rotary and Optimist Clubs, although I will do that as much as possible, too.

My theory with election workers is that the more they are comfortable with the new law, the better prepared they will be for objections and issues at the polls (such as, "I left my ID in the car").  Hopefully, we can reduce the number of provisional ballots through operational preparedness at the polls.

To that end, and to my post headline, we're putting more production into our training.  We've enlisted a comedian who will be creating a video of various potential situations at the polls--portrayed over the top--to lighten the mood during training.  Then, we'll go through each scenario and cover the training.

The video will either be a home run or strikeout.  Comedy is fickle.  I've worked with this guy before, when I was at Sprint, more than 10 years ago, and I had the same feeling then.  The result was a home run, no question. 

We had a call with him yesterday to work on the script and he's coming to our office next week to shoot the video.  I'll plan to post some photos from the shoot.