Friday, January 25, 2013

We're Not So Different, You and I

I'm a big believer in the concept that everything happens for a reason.

Of course it does.  I also believe, though, that the phrase is often the cry of the desperate. When we can't make sense of something, the belief that there MUST be a reason that will unfold provides some comfort.

Truly enlightened people know the reason as it happens.

I'd love to say I'm truly enlightened, but I try, I try.  My "Happens for a Reason Awareness" grade would probably be "marginally enlightened."

My enlightenment limitations were evident earlier this month.  Closing out takeaways from the Election Center conference, I listened to many of my peers talk about the Great Line Issue of 2012, which actually was no different than the Great Line Issue of 2008, as was pointed out in the conference.

It's common to go to an industry event and realize, in retrospect, that others had the same experiences.  But, if I was truly enlightened, I would have realized that as it was happening.  It would have, at the very least, reduced some stress.

For context, first realize that tone can make the same situation positive or negative.

Years ago, my daughter's fifth-grade classmate, as an example, had a birthday party for the boys in his class.  It was a small class with fewer than 10 boys.  The mother had the boys picked up after school for their raucous evening of video games and pizza in a limousine.

That resulted in parents asking the same question in their own circles.

"Can you believe they picked the boys up in a limousine?"

Said with excitement, the $10 splurge per boy sounded pretty fun.  Said with disdain, the $10 splurge became an example of everything wrong with society.

I reported lines in advance voting causing great concern among voters in 2012.  The same lines in 2008 oozed excitement in our electoral process.  Similar to the limousine quote, same story, different tone.

Even during advance voting, my peers were seeing the same thing.  That doesn't change what we should do next, but I wish I would have realized that at the time.  I would have had at least a better perspective of what was happening.

"Is it me, diary?" wouldn't have been asked as often.

The Great Line Issue of 2012 is now, in my view, simply a distraction.  It was mentioned again in the presidential inauguration speech and even if we could agree on what a line is, or what an acceptable line is, there is no way to build one ramp on one highway big enough to prevent a line at some point.  To quote the president at a different time, "It's math."

But the issue does arise at a time when, as administrators, we're ready to do more.  That may not be by choice--as we prepare for our spring primary, everything we count on is tenuous.  Schools, post offices, and printers lead the list.

In Johnson County, we saw the second half of 2013 as a chance to organize, dust ourselves off, and shine up for 2014.  Now, the second half of 2013 is possibly going to be the most important six months of time I've spent in this job.  Everything we do operationally has to be on the table.

Because of the line issue, election administrators across the country will be going through the same thing.  We've spent the last few years absorbing the impacts of the Help America Vote Act and wanting to stabilize any election changes, not from fear of change but in recognition that the speed of change could hurt the voter experience.

I've often said that elections are a bit like having a newborn baby.  You give up your friends, never sleep, love the opportunity but curse adulthood, and then, after about a year of seeing the outcome, you forget many of the sacrifices.  "Let's have another!," and the cycle begins again.

We'll close out our spring elections in need of that time to forget the sacrifices of 2012.  But our uncertainty gives us a chance to make the second half of 2013 more meaningful.  It will let us nest with confidence in preparation of our 2014 baby.

And, if nothing else, there is comfort now in realizing that others throughout the country are going through the exact same thing at the exact same time.  We have a chance, in this case anyway, to be among the truly enlightened.

We're entering a new era in election administration.  If not new, it's different.  We're on the cusp of profound change driven from within.  Collectively, there is an innovation movement.  The efforts are different point-to-point, but they are efforts that won't be pushed by legislation.

There is some chest puffery, some goodwill bills, but in the end, nothing is going to happen because someone outside the industry said so.  Positive change is coming from those on the ground.

The reason, maybe, is the Great Line Issue of 2012--not because it highlighted a problem but instead raised awareness of solutions already underway.

For us, though, it's on:  a spring primary in a few cities, ballot preparation, and election worker scheduling.  The focus of the spring elections will be the focus of the next few posts.