Sunday, April 7, 2013

It's Not Rocket Science

Election administration may not be rocket science, but it does have one thing in common with the airline industry.

Specifically, that commonality exists with airline security.  In both cases, it seems like we're always focused on the last problem.

We take our shoes off and check our liquids at airports because of incidents that happened.

We train election workers and create processes for election day to address one-offs from the past.

Voters have concerns about voting machines?  Create a streamlined way to allow them to request a paper ballot at the polls.

Voters realize that touch-screen technology in place since the late 1990s can be temperamental?  Create a sign at the registration table to remind them that they aren't voting on modern Android or Apple devices and to review selections before hitting cast ballot.

Election worker fat-fingered the selection of a specific ballot on an encoder?  Send out a finger stylus that likely won't be used but try to create a simple 1-2-3 mental picture of how to check to make sure the proper ballot is encoded.

And so it goes.  A good half of our training time covers things that likely will never happen, but with 200 polling places and 1,000 workers, they will happen to one of them.

Much of the training is, "1 out of every 100 times," "2 out 10," "If you draw the short straw and this happens to you," etc.

April elections are the mostly likely ones where election workers might encounter a locked door when arriving at 6 a.m.  This happens once or twice in an election, and happened once this past week.

That's just a 5 percent of our polling places if you are scoring at home, affecting 0.5 percent of all of our workers.  If we knew where that would happen, training would be more efficient.  Without knowing that, everyone gets the rundown of what to do.

I'm a strong believer than in any industry, the technology is the easiest thing to learn.  Our election workers don't have any problems with voting machine technology or the iPad technology (for our electronic manual, for instance).  It's the procedures, the one-offs, the mental work that is the toughest.

When the mental work intersects with technology, technology looks like it's to blame.  One worker from Tuesday's election suggested that we give out the manual electronically.  We know the iPad was never pulled out of the supply bag at that location.

One of our more alarming pieces of feedback from this election was the suggestion that we separate new election worker training from those who have worked before.  Um, we do that, and even have a bit of a preamble at each training about the type of training they are attending.

In our refresher training, workers will ask questions that often are on others' minds (or should be).  Occasionally, someone goes to an absurd place: "so a dog comes with a photo ID that an owner got as a joke...." (no, not really, that was an absurd example to protect the genuine absurds).

It's common to hear moans when questions are asked.  I have relatively good moaner radar and make mental notes of the moaners.  Generally, the know-it-alls know it less than think they do.

We have lots of things we want to do to modify our training and had hoped to make hay with it and other planning this summer and fall.

Less than 24 hours after Tuesday's election, we found out we will have another special election, a mail-ballot in Overland Park.  Combined with a mail-ballot election in the Olathe School District, the majority of Johnson County voters will be voting again this year.

The special elections and the turnout this year highlight this year's model of "The Last Problem."

With turnout in this election at 8 percent and two summer special elections scheduled, the push to move spring elections to November has legs.

(That's right, by the way--turnout in a full county election on a sunny day in April was in the single digits and not even twice what it was during a February blizzard election that had a 4.5 percent turnout).

I'm not sure if moving these elections to November will increase turnout, but I do think a case can made that it will, just from the predictability factor of November elections.  People are transient, coming from other cities, and most of us just assume that there is an election each November.

Proponents of the move will point no further than to the turnout this year, and we could very well be conducting election worker training in the summer of 2015, explaining the election-day move as the latest "last thing" impacting our training.