Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Blue Bear Faces the Devil

In-person advance voting for Tuesday's primary began this morning and our fourth voter has just entered the building.

In the Blue Bear world, I'm predicting a turnout of about 8.5 percent and, of course, I hope I'm outrageously under-projecting the turnout.  A similar election in 2009, though, had turnout of less than 10 percent.

Such talk is one of the drivers of a myriad of bills introduced in the Kansas legislature to move spring elections to November.  One is being reviewed by the Kansas House tomorrow.

At this point, I'm not planning on presenting testimony on the bill but conceptually I'm fine with it.  If it continues to move, I hope to testify as the bill is worked.  If the devil is in the details, I'd like to have input into the details so we can, um, exercise the bill efficiently.

There are aspects related to the move that aren't in my wheelhouse--particularly, any move to make elections partisan.  As an administrator, I can only say that such a move won't necessarily add complexities to the elections.  The political side is a debate for others.

The move to November will increase ballot styles and the overall effort to conduct fall elections.  Of course, there is the offsetting elimination of spring elections.

"Or is there?" asked the Detail Devil.

You see, the only scenario I oppose in this move is one where we now would have November city elections AND April city elections.  If cities are allowed to "charter out" of the November provisions, this would be a mess.

Right now, cities have charters that decide when their elections are, what constitutes the need for a primary, and how many candidates advance to the general election.  We have no uniformity, not even close, and the spring elections have become a carnival, with nearly each city and school district having a booth that offers something different.

Take that complexity and combine it with the election with the highest turnout, and we've got Devil's Food. 

Really, though, I'm sure we'll make it work.  We'll need some more full-time staff for proofing, printing, and overall management of things, but the offset of savings from spring elections will result in less costs in the odd years, so the blended increase (net increase divided over a two-year cycle) will be an increase, but less than $100,000. 

The trade-off would be turnout that is triple that of a spring election.

Plus, I like the idea more given the recent school safety concerns.  If our primary was in August and the schools had an off-day, or even a teacher in-service day, in November, we'd have access to the schools as polling places.  Parents wouldn't worry about a large volume of visitors in their school because of the election.

But if cities can excuse themselves from this November cycle, we will have added complexity and costs virtually for no reason.  Just enough cities would stay in November that our ballot would be pushed to two pieces of paper and this extra printing and postage is the biggest cost increase from moving elections.

Cities pay incremental expenses if the election isn't countywide, while countywide elections are free to cities.  So, this incremental expense of about $3 per registered voter becomes an unnecessary expense to their citizens if the cities are allowed to charter out.  Plus, there are plenty of sunk costs that impact county taxpayers that can't be passed on to the cities.

For instance, we send out supplies in suitcases--nice, durable suitcases.  The county paid for those about 10 years ago and one day soon, they'll need to be replaced.  At $500 each, 300 suitcases would cost $150,000, all borne by the county yet receiving wear and tear on each non-countywide election. 

We have many of those kinds of examples, and I have some cost-recovery ideas we've reviewed with a consultant hired by the county--the subject of another post on a slow news day.

Instead, today is simply a slow voting day.  And, slow-voting days make the discussion of moving to November elections relevant.

But, the move to November conjures one of the administrative concerns related to Internet voting.

If we had Internet voting, we likely still would have advance voting by mail, advance voting in person, and voting at the polls.  Rather than replace these methods, it would be added to the menu, at least in the short-term.

That might help ease the world into Internet voting, but it wouldn't make administering elections any easier.  It would be more complex, in fact.

We already have four cities that have charted out of the countywide spring elections, moving their elections to even years.  (And cheers to my city of Shawnee that just "un-chartered" out of that to get back with the herd).

It's hard to imagine the cities not taking varied paths unless the law specifically prevents that.  If the law doesn't prevent that, the move will simply result in more complexity and more cost. 

From my persepctive, it's the key detail to address if this bill moves forward.