Saturday, November 17, 2012

Playoffs? Don't Talk To Me About Playoffs!

When George Brett heaved a wild throw in the first game of the 1976 American League Championship series, I first heard a phrase, often repeated, that has stuck with me.

"Everything is magnified in the playoffs," the announcer said.

Make no mistake, presidential elections are administrators' playoffs.

Playoffs in sports are the time the success paradigm changes.  Instead of, "we can win if have this, this, and this," it becomes, "we would have won if only this."

Likewise, I often say that presidential elections expose the stress points in election administration.  We prepare with contingency plans, but there's always a, "I think this would have gone better if we did this" discussion.

Good election administrators were the kids in school who got a 99 on a test and immediately obsessed with the one mistake.

Our stress points in 2008, for instance, were facility-related, leading us to taking steps to address major facility issues.

In one case, we saw our little mail slot at our door couldn't handle the onslaught of ballots being dropped off.  The envelopes fell into a foyer and could have been soiled if the floor was wet.  So, we've since converted a window into a drop box a bank would be proud of, dropping the envelopes into a secure, locked room.

This election exposed some process issues--nothing serious, but when scaled became unnecessary time-eaters, from some changes we need to make to our website to poll agent forms to training.  There's never enough time to improve our training the way we want or to conduct the training the way we'd like, but we have some changes we will be making in this cycle.

"In this cycle" is an important phrase because this election isn't quite finished and we're already gearing up for the next.  We have an April countywide election and a primary for that election in February.

In fact, we have less time to prepare for the February election, after November, than we did to prepare for November after August.  The crunch mode continues through April.

All of us are asked frequently right now about how things must be slowing down and it's totally the opposite.  We have payroll to complete, voter history to finalize, election worker training ahead, and polling places to secure for the spring, for instance.  April's election brings new issues because election day is the Tuesday after Easter.  Some polling places won't be available, so we'll have to move voters, and our training will be impacted because we typically conduct supervising judge training the Saturday and Sunday before the election.

Spring elections are the most complicated, also, because of candidate rotation schedules.  Add to all of this the holidays, filing deadline in January, a new legislative session, and the fact that none of us have had a day off in months, or even have laundry caught up, and it is anything but slow.

Our staff will conduct a post-mortem of the election in early December to document all of the areas we want to address short-term or highlight as part of our strategic approach in 2013 and beyond.  We'll prepare a presentation in the spring related to all of those issues and I'll post it here.  This was the summary after 2008 (with a nod to Tammy Patrick of Maricopa County for a couple of stock photos):

One obvious area that must be addressed is our budget, particularly in staffing.  We are seriously understaffed, have been pointing this out for a few years now, and we're near a breaking point.  I'll have a post on that in a few days.

Another post soon will be related to the hot issue of the day--lines at polling places.  I've got some interesting math on what occurred to us in 2012, but, short story, we expected an average of about 140 more voters at each polling place, compared to 2008, because of our reductions.  We had 215.

The argument to reduce polling places was that advance voting has been so successful, yet even though  overall turnout was 7 points lower in 2012 compared to 2008, we had the most persons ever vote at the polls in Johnson County history.  This, after reducing polling places.

One thing to consider, that I'll get into with that post, is that all of this goes beyond simple capacity planning.

For now, this post is long enough--more soon.