Thursday, November 8, 2012

We've Got to Fix This

So much has happened in the past week that I have many topics I need to cover here.

One downside to blogging and actually working is that the work gets in the way.  It's been nutty, wall-to-wall, and until Google comes out with telepathy blogging, this old-fashioned method of catch-up will have to do.

Tuesday night, our staff was humming along uploading results to the point I thought I'd be home before the 10 o'clock news was over.  We use several voting machine stations to upload results to our server and sadly in our cross-checks, we determined that about 15 locations didn't upload.

Bummer.  That was about another 125 cards, taking an additional 20 minutes or so.  Still, we posted final results on our website at 10:15.

I then had to complete a reporting sheet to the Secretary of State's office for statewide roll-up of races and as I was faxing that, I heard that news outlets were calling the election.

Bummer, again.  I was hoping to be an Average Joe watching that at home, I thought, with an imaginary clench of the fist, "Oh, Cross Checks!"

Cross-checks are good, of course.  Hence, an imaginary clench of the fist.

So, I didn't watch election coverage when I went home.  I ate my first meal of the day, around 11:30, until I didn't have the strength to raise my fork, and went to sleep.

I missed the acceptance speech and the hub-ub-a-boo line that's got election administrators talking.

Regarding people still in line, President Obama said, "By the way, we have to fix that."

He wasn't talking about lines in Johnson County, but I wasn't happy with the lines we had.  In some locations, we had lines of about 45 minutes, particularly in the early morning.

We had lines in advance voting, too, but our advance voting turnout was lighter than in 2008.  Problem was, more people voted at the polls Tuesday than voted at the polls in 2008.

On Tuesday, more than 154,000 people voted at the polls, compared to about 142,000 in 2008.

Double problem was, we reduced polling locations in response to budget cuts, from 284 in 2008 to 221 this week.

So, nearly 10 percent more voters with 20 percent fewer polling places.  That's a bad combination.

This reduction was encouraged because of the greater acceptance of advance voting.  One county department head, in a budget meeting after the 2010 election, said she thought our voters "got too good of service," in terms of wait time at the polls. 


Early in my Sprint career, I was responsible for telecommunications relay service, which bridges persons who are deaf or hard of hearing with voice users.  An operator sits between the callers, typing what's spoken to one user and relaying what's typed to the other.

This was a call-center environment, so I'm very familiar with the issues of projecting and handling volumes of traffic.  It's akin to building a highway for thousands of cars but realizing that the entrance ramp can only let one car in at a time.

"Fix this," isn't a simple concept.  Addressing a traffic choke-point by creating more entry points (more polling places or advance locations) also implies we have some control over where voters go. 

Half of our voters voted in advance in 2008, but only 43 percent in 2012.  That's a trend that could reverse in 2016.  We heard anecdotes of voters waiting in advance lines in 2008, only to find friends had no wait at the polls.  I think Tuesday was a result of some 2008 advancers thinking they were chumps for waiting and, instead, felt the stress of waiting on election day.

Traffic and Lines During the Last Hours
of Advance Voting Monday
I talked with a reporter at The New Republic about this and have some views on what "Fix this," might mean.     Doug Chapin also had a great post about this.

The president may not even remember saying it at this point, but the election administrator community will make this topic number one, I'm sure, at the annual legislative meeting conducted by the Election Center in January.

Some of my thoughts to "fix this" were raised in The New Republic post.

A couple more "out there" solutions:

1.  Reduce Voting Options.  This is contradictory to conventional wisdom, but election administrators run three elections in Kansas--advance in person, advance by mail, and at the polls.  If Internet voting were ever allowed, we'd have four elections running.  We have the same staff size we had 20 years ago, with half of the voters we have now and before advance voting was an option.  One way to consider managing traffic is to manage the entrance ramps to highway.

2. Appoint Election Assistance Commission Commissioners.  No election administrator has been more in favor of closing the EAC than me.  Contrived through the Help America Vote Act, I think the mission of the EAC has been accomplished.  But, if  "fix this" is a mantra, this is an agency that exists and should be amped up, again.  Currently, the four commissioner seats (two Republican, two Democratic, appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate) are vacant.  It's a Dead Agency Walking right now.  Filling the EAC Commissioner posts and adopting a new strategic intent focused on solutions, not advice, would be a potential way to address the "Fix This" objective.

3. Speaking of solutions, how about e-solutions.  Specifically, I'm talking Internet voting, email voting, Bring Your Own Device voting, electronic pollbooks, online registration, and a myriad of ways to leverage technology.

Said more directly, Internet voting is coming.  There are a lot of scientists and other smart people who refute that Internet voting can happen, often citing very valid security concerns.

But here's the thing--it's not up to them.  The number one question I'm asked by voters is, "Why can't we vote on the Internet?"  One day, the people asking the question will come up with their own answer.

We like to think we're in control of our destiny, but often a big bang occurs that causes us to react.  Internet voting will be such a thing.

Social factors will lead to Internet voting.  A legislature will pass a law that Internet voting must be implemented.  A city will decide to conduct its own elections using Survey Monkey.  A natural disaster may occur during a critical voting period (oh, wait, that did happen).

Once society decides it's time for Internet voting, the scientists will no longer have a voice.

We will go from, "why not," to "how." 

Should you disagree, I give you as People's Exhibit A the buzz related to a simple "Fix This" comment by the President.

We already are all asking ourselves, "How?"


Finn bullers said...

Brian -- dead on, spot-on analysis. No wonky wording here. Written from a corporate sensibility and common-guy perspective. Food for thought. Thanks for being a fine "cook."

Joe said...

I arrived at the Central Church of the Nazarene, 12600 West 87th Street Parkway, polling location right at 0600. I was out about 15 minutes later having cast my vote.


One, potentially dangerous, problem... at that time of the morning it was still dark as night out and the parking lot lights and walkway lights were not on.

Seems like a minor quibble, but many folks commented on it while walking in and standing in line.

Coordinating with the polling location points of contact to ensure lights/timers are adjusted for the dim light would be a prudent safety measure.