Thursday, February 2, 2012

Perfect Elections

Yesterday, three weeks before Ash Wednesday, I was thinking of Lent.

I testified yesterday regarding moving the timing up for the proof-of-citizenship portion of the Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act passed in Kansas last year.  The initial bill had the timing of that portion effective January 2012 and the final bill, as signed, moved it to January 2013.

The Kansas House of Representatives is considering a bill to move it to June 2012 and I support that.

The initial bill's message--"Citizenship when registering, Photo ID when voting"--was a straightforward directive.  Add in the subtle element of the staggered timeframe, and it becomes more confusing than it should be to voters when calling our office.

Further, they are calling our office and are coming to our website.  We have a captive audience.  This is the time to communicate the change, not in some phantom way in December and January without any outreach dollars before the February local primary election in 2013.

So, to me, this discussion isn't, "Is proof of citizenship the right thing?"  The legislature decided it was, for Kansas, last year.  At the election office, we are implementers, rule followers, and that rule has been set.

The current discussion should be about timing, as I said in my testimony.  (I'll upload my testimony and place a link to that testimony in a post within the next couple of days).

But I sat in the hearing room listening to others debate voter fraud, disagreeing how much fraud tips the meter to be of sufficient concern.

I often think that the issue of voter fraud either simply speaks to you or it doesn't.  One case of fraud is no big deal or it's unacceptable, and whichever side of that spectrum you fall, it's almost impossible to pull someone from the other side to your way of thinking.

As an election administrator, I often say we're in the zero defects business, much like banking, and anything less than perfection is unacceptable.  One defect is unacceptable.

In fact, one of my least favorite phrases I hear in the industry is, "There's no such thing as a perfect election."

That statement actually is generally true.  I just don't like it.

Elections are dependent on many factors, especially human factors.  We rely on many persons who are paid just enough to feel guilty for not showing up and we wear them down.  Heck, we wear ourselves down.

But just because a human error is possible, it doesn't mean we shouldn't strive for perfection.

So that's where my thoughts drifted to Lent.  When I was 18, our priest that spring spoke about giving something up for Lent and then buckling--giving up chocolate and eating a candy bar.

"That doesn't mean you tried and failed, and now you can go back to eating chocolate," he said.  "You start the next day on your commitment again."

What?!  People did that?  They'd buckle on day two and call it over for Lent?

I never buckled during Lent, perhaps because of my mother's loophole that Sundays weren't really part of Lent, but the idea that if I did I wouldn't keep going on for the rest of the 40 days never crossed my mind.

A defect doesn't mean the commitment ends.

We do have perfect elections.  We accept and cope with elections that aren't perfect.  But we never stop striving for a long-winning streak, an endless stretch of perfect elections.

Circling back to the discussion in the room, I was then thinking of a real-life immediate example this week where imperfection bumped against potential fraud.

In the Blue Valley mail-ballot election that ended Tuesday, we have a case of a woman who was issued two ballots and voted them both.  She was registered twice.  A clerical error had her birthdate wrong from her initial registration years ago but she registered again at the Driver's License bureau.  In our system, she looks like two people.

There's the imperfect part.  She was issued two ballots.

But she voted them both, signed the envelopes, and mailed them at the same time.  The envelopes include an affirmation that she has not voted in the election and will not otherwise cast another ballot.  She signed them both, and we matched her signature against her records.

Is that voter fraud or simply the result of an imperfect election?  That's something our district attorney will have to determine, but I will be sending him the information on the ballots after Monday's canvass.  I sent him an email about it today.