Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Forget Christmas--We're Thinking Easter

Outsiders to our office frequently comment how our lives must be slowing down after the November election, but the reality is that we have another election coming up in February and the election-to-election window is similar, November to February, to what it was from August to November.

Filing deadline for the spring elections is barely a month away.  The primary is at the end of February and the election is April 2.

That's April 2, as in the Tuesday after Easter.  We've had spring elections that crossed over Passover or Easter before, but they were the smaller even-year elections.  This is a countywide election and Easter is having a huge impact on our election.

I've said it before and I'll say it again (he typed in a Ferris Bueller voice), getting polling places is 10 times harder than getting election workers.  It's always a push to secure workers willing to take on a very hard job with long hours, but as I've posted before, securing polling places is even harder.

With about one-third of our polling places being churches, that fact will be on full display this spring.  We've already lost about 15 locations because of Easter, when the churches are at full capacity, unable to accept voting machines and equipment either the week before or even the Monday before the election.

Then, there is the anxious-school factor.  Schools locally, and nationally, are re-evaluating their security procedures already in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy and the stark reality is that this review will include using schools as polling places.

In 2005, I met with each school superintendent in Johnson County, introducing myself, thanking them for their support, and asking them about issues they were facing.  During my meeting with Shawnee Mission's Marjorie Kaplan, she very directly, and prophetically as it has turned out, said, "We want to work with you, but the day someone comes into a school and uses a gun is the day we stop using our schools as polling places."

She was addressing calls we get from time to time from parents concerned about the flow of persons who come into the schools on election day.  Neither of us that day considered her comments anything but a remote possibility.  Still, I've thought a lot about that conversation over the last few days.

We had the bad timing of sending out our polling place confirmation forms early Friday morning and we have since received confirmation from Shawnee Mission.  Shawnee Mission, by the way, has a long-standing policy of only placing questions on ballots during polls elections, not mail-ballot elections, so the District's interests in polling places goes a little deeper than it otherwise might.

However, the Olathe School District (the largest in the Kansas City area), is having a further review of our request and the overall use of schools as polling places.  The Connecticut shootings aren't the reason for the review; we're told the review has been underway for a while.  Still, the timing isn't good.

After my meeting with Superintendent Kaplan, we began looking at all options for polling places other than schools.  But after consolidating polling places this year from 284 to 221, we're left with about 100 schools and many of them are in Olathe.

At a minimum, because of Easter, we're facing the need to move thousands of voters to new locations in the same hurry-up mode we were in last June after the 11th-hour redistricting.  We could be looking at moving more than 100,000 voters if we don't get all of our school locations.

Beyond polling places, Holy Week wipes out some training dates.  We usually have two classes of supervising judge training on Saturday and again on the Sunday before the election.  With Sunday out, we need to find a time to train those 130 or so supervising judges.

The weekend before isn't much better because of Palm Sunday and the Saturday is already full with regular election worker training.  Holding daytime classes on Friday might work, but, of course, that's Good Friday.

Even our typical election worker training schedules are impacted because we utilize a church for that training.  We don't have an auditorium-like training environment for 200 or more workers at a time.  The church we use is packed with events and other locations are either not available or not returning our calls at this point.

The dynamics we're facing come at a time when many are weighing the value of moving spring elections to the fall.  I'm for this if we can move them to the fall of the odd years, meaning we have elections in our county every November.  Combining the spring elections with the presidential or gubernatorial elections would be costly and would greatly complicate the administration of the election. That's not to say it's a bad idea, but it's something that needs to be hashed out, I think, in a conference room before trying to debate it in a legislative hearing.

This concept, though, may have traction, too, when considering that if the elections are in November, schools, maybe, could be closed on election day, allowing for more security.  Often, we've talked with the schools about either making election day a teacher in-service day (there's usually one scheduled within a couple of weeks of an election) or actually making the November Election Day a school holiday.

There are other things that could be considered as well, many often pondered by election administrators but seldom considered by other stakeholders.  We live and breathe these issues, but legislators, for instance, have many priorities.  Burning issues to us, while important, are among many burning issues they have, and some have burned brighter.

Perhaps, the light will shine a little more on some of our issues in the coming months.   I'm hopeful we might be coming to a time where we can modernize some of our election statutes, to align them with the realities of the timing of advance voting and military/overseas voting, for instance.

We might be on the cusp of some meaningful election administration reform that might improve overall effectiveness and, possibly, voter turnout as well.  For now, we're still head-down, charging towards Easter.