Tuesday, September 25, 2012 0 comments

National Voter Registration Day

42 Days to Election Day

Perhaps to the surprise of no one and as proof that there is a day for everything, today is National Voter Registration Day.

I registered to vote in 1980 and haven't changed my registration for at least 15 years, so I'm not sure how to participate individually.  Professionally, it's a little hard to do too much today, either, other than ring a bell whenever anyone comes into our office.

My license plate on my car says, "VOTE," and I'd argue that voting day is more important than registration day, but it is quite the bummer to go to vote, only to find you aren't registered, so I'm down with the concept. 

Still, "REGISTER TO VOTE" won't fit on a plate and thank goodness I was able to get "VOTE" (our state has moved to one vanity phrase among all counties), because "REG2VOTE" wouldn't feel cool at all.  My family doesn't exactly feel cool with "VOTE," but I believe that actually shows how uncool they are.

But, here at the office, our big excitement recently was a visit yesterday from Elisabeth MacNamara, the national president of the League of Women Voters.  She toured our office and warehouse and given that the League conducts voter registration drives, there was a geeky connection to National Voter Registration Day.

Still, given that about 25 percent of those registered in Johnson County won't vote on November 6, I'm going to hold onto the thought that a National Vote Day could be played up a little more.

We're getting ready.  Our paper ballots for advance voting by mail came yesterday as well, topped with little safety cones to ensure safe handling.  The pallets look like cars heading for maintenance at a dealership's service center.

We have them back earlier than normal.  I can't remember an election where our ballots came under such calm conditions.  We were due for something like that--hopefully it continues!
Thursday, September 20, 2012 0 comments

Set it and Forget It

It may seem like that's what I've done with the Diary lately, but the intensity of our election cycle has picked up with very little to show for it.

A big thing with elections is getting everything in the oven baking.  We've had our own oven scare--the potential of two different parties' presidential candidates not being on the ballot AFTER we'd send our ballot to the printer.

But, all's well that ends.  Ending well is just a bonus, everything with the paper ballots are on track.

Our constitutional amendment question, shoe-horned onto an 8 1/2 by 18 inch ballot but still very readable, has presented us some new issues when rendered on the voting machine, but our solution likely will help avoid another problem and that's worth a detailed post soon.

Mostly, for now, this is just a brief check-in to say, "Still here!"

More soon.
Friday, September 7, 2012 2 comments

Intelligent Design

60 Days From Election Day

A hot topic, and an overall good idea I'd add, is ballot design.

Make the ballot easier to read, more appealing to the eye, maybe have a scratch n' sniff peppermint area, and voters will enjoy voting so much that they cross off the days on their calendars until the next election.

Voter participation will improve and more races will be fully voted with better ballot design.

In our county, we have plenty of under-voted races, especially as you go down the ballot.  Occasionally, we'll get asked about that and we have to deliver the news to candidates that they apparently have never heard--"People just didn't care about your race."

Now, poor ballot design is an issue, and keep in mind that ballots are prepared in three formats:  paper, voting machine, and paper for military/overseas voters. 

The most famous paper ballot design controversy came from Florida during the 2000 presidential election but there was also a Florida congressional race in 2006 that literally hid from voters on the voting machines--eyes were drawn to the center of the screen, missing the race at the top of the screen.

Arguing the benefits of good ballot design is a little like arguing that gravity exists.  It's hard to make a credible argument against it.

But a dose of reality hit us as we began preparing the ballot for November.  Our ballot order was due to the printer yesterday and we began the week chasing down the final candidate list, certified by the state election board Friday, and the constitutional amendment on watercraft taxation that we'd heard about.

The amendment changes one date and adds one word to the statute, but we have to publish the entire notice that first took a full page of an 8 1/2 by 18-inch ballot.  That resulted in a three-page ballot and four for two cities with a second question.  Either way, it moved us to two sheets of paper.

We're ordering about 200,000 paper ballots, so doubling that at roughly 50 cents a page makes the impact $100,000.  Then add in extra postage to mail ballots, questions voters would have about the postage to return the ballot, and the cost we incur when ballots come back with insufficient postage.

It adds up to about a $150,000 impact.  Then, of course, there's the double scanning time, issues that arise when voters only return one page or when husband sends one page and wife sends three pages, or a myriad of other one-offs we began coming up with.

I'm reminded of an episode of The Simpsons where Homer is confronted with a high price and a salesman says, "Surely you can't put a price on your family's lives?"

"I wouldn't have thought so, either," Homer said.  "But, here we are."

And so, we are left to contemplate a cost for ballot design.  It would have helped if we only had to print the items that changed.  But, here we are.

With much tinkering, font-size changing, and column spacing adjustments, we got the ballot down to one page, front and back.

We won't need to issue a magnifying glass with each ballot, either.  It looks fine, actually, but, regrettably, no peppermint scratch and sniff.

But tears of joy are in order for taxpayers, in my opinion.  That's $150,000 saved!

Those are real dollars, saved by the ingenuity and persistence of some members of our staff. 

Oh, and our relief of not having to deal with the operational issues, that's priceless.

The back side of the ballot, with room still
for a city question in Mission and Roeland Park.
The ballot is 8 1/2 by 18 inches, which is
a special size requiring a unique paper tray in
a printer that prints edge-to-edge.  We can print ballots
at our office if we run out of a style, but most
of our ballots are printed in Washington (state).

Saturday, September 1, 2012 2 comments

Yarns and a String of Elections

Labor Day weekend is recognized as the official close of summer.

It's also that tiny little breather marking the beginning of the stretch run into the presidential election.

We're less than 10 weeks away.

Also, 10 weeks from today, I plan to run in a half-marathon race.  That would be on Nov. 10, the Saturday after the election.

Now, I'm a running wuss and I don't run outside if the temperature is below 35 degrees, so I won't be signing up for that specific half-marathon until around election day.  I ran in this half-marathon last November and I'm hoping it will be an, "In Your Face," to my broken ankle and some sort of glorious comeback I will celebrate.  It it's too cold, I'll run one in April.

Most running magazines have their own "10-week plan" to prepare for half-marathons and while I'm not sure there are parallels to running and elections, I'm going to force one here.

(Side note, when I worked at Sprint we often talked of the last mile, the phrase for the telecom facilities that came from the local switch to the home.  At a trade show, I was impressed with the creativity of a vendor to have a "Run the Last Mile" race.

I was so impressed that I considered, when running for Shawnee City Council in 2002, that on election day I would "Run for Office," running from one polling place to another and, I guess, wave to voters as I went by.  That fear of it being too cold, or icy, stopped me.)

(Further side note, what you just read was an anecdote but what we refer to in the office as a yarn.  Yarns are sometimes interesting but they take away time from the task at hand.  In election crunch mode, we declare that time as a No-Yarn Zone and Labor Day begins such a zone.)

Back to the running comparison.  This weekend is like the day before the big race, really.  We run a lighter course to rest up.  This is our last chance for a while to take care of personal errands.  It will be the last weekend we're caught up on laundry.

(One last yarn:  you're never caught up on laundry, really, and working voter registrations is the same way.  We may knock everything out that we have, but another load is ready the next day.)

Like the preparation for a big race, I'll begin my next series of posts with a timeline comparison to election day, although that's misleading.  "Election Day" is really a season of its own.

For instance, the election is Nov. 6, but voting begins this month for military voters.  Advance ballots by mail will be mailed Oct. 17 and in-person advance voting begins Oct. 22.

Unofficial results are posted Nov. 6, but counting of ballots continues for a couple more weeks.  We will prepare our recommendations related to provisional ballots from Nov. 7 up until the canvass of Nov. 12, when the Board of Canvassers will authorize to count specific ballots.

We expect to have so many that the Board will recess until the end of the day Nov. 13, or longer, before certifying the final results.  At that point, we may have situations for recounts, but we all hope to be wrapped up by Thanksgiving.

There's a general belief among outsiders that our lives will slow down Nov. 7.  While that isn't the case, it's more intense than I've painted this because we have a primary election in February and a countywide election in April.  These come at the same rapid-fire pace as the November election comes after August.  

May Day--that's our end game, we hope.  I don't know if we can hold back yarns that long.