Monday, May 20, 2013

Advance Prep for Advance Voting

This week, I received a call from someone who was interested in helping our office secure advance voting sites.

Maybe he can help.  We'd like to go from four to six sites in 2014 but our ability to do that is dependent upon several things falling our way.

He asked about some of that.

The number one thing is that our office has to identify and negotiate property leases.  We don't have an advance voting procurement division so this is a linear effort (we chase one lead down until it dries and go after another) on the part of an assistant election commissioner and me.

That empty storefront that's been vacant for three years?  Don't even suggest to the leasing agent that it might be vacant a year from now, let alone July through November of 2014.

We can't begin to pursue sites until January and, historically, we're scrambling in April to close the deals, even as we conduct our April election.  So, we have may have grand plans to have advance locations strategically located throughout the county, but by March we'll be on a site land grab.

I equate this effort to that of a college basketball coach.  We're always recruiting.  In our case, we're always recruiting workers and locations.

If we have a chance to snag a blue chipper, even if we were after a center but get a strong shooting guard to commit, we'll pounce and recast our team and our needs going forward.  If we want a site at 135th and State Line but we get the Great Mall in Olathe, we'll build a new plan around that.

Expectations for advance voting locations have escalated--voters want the sites close and they don't want to wait to vote.  Hence, our desire to increase to six sites.

If we had bigger sites, though, we could put more machines at the locations.  Metcalf South, our signature site, can hold about 25 machines.  We tried for a bigger store at the mall in 2012 but were unable to get it, and it's always iffy if we'll ever be able to return at the location, anyway.  Someday, the mall will be demolished.

It's a landmark location, so we'd love to have it forever.  The rent we've paid there is "nearly free," compared to the $25,000 we've had to pay in Shawnee.

Again, the Shawnee location is a good site, but it could be bigger and it also demonstrates that each site brings at least this much in rent expense.  That storefront has been vacant now for six years, so depending on your perspective, we're working on borrowed time there, too, or we shouldn't be worried at all for 2014.

(As we discuss locations, this is about the time someone at the county asks, "Have you ever thought about ......?"  Thank you--yes, whatever comes in place of the ellipses, yes, we have looked into that.)
Some of our advance voting election workers, at our office
just before we opened during the presidential election
cycle last year.  They were still zippy at the end.

We need several carts of paper ballots at each location, resulting not only in increased printing costs, but storage space at our warehouse.  In August, we have more than 1,500 unique ballots.

(Yes, thank you, we HAVE looked into ballot on demand printing, but it's not practical in these cases.  It might be, with about a $60,000 investment per site and we will have to try that if we move to six sites.  We don't have the physical space to bring in 30 more file cabinets into our warehouse).

We have learned that we need to retain the sites for the period from mid-July to mid-November. This reduces short-term moving of some items (like tables, chairs, and break supplies), but increases the cost of the facility. 

(Why, yes, imaginary question-asker, we have considered the county facility on ABC Boulevard....and every library in the county).

Our extended-period needs knock out any potential for a county facility but, actually, just the fact that we need the location for more than one day already dealt that blow.  Any facility being used is, well, to type the obvious, being used.

Finally, the big issue is that we need more staff members to pull it off.  During advance voting, most of our staff works 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday.  Two additional staff members would help keep them, literally, alive, and allow for some rotation of a light day where one or two employees work just 12-hour days.

There is thought that advance voting as percentage of total vote has peaked, between 40 and 50 percent of the total.  Perhaps, but as we face fewer options for election day, the drive for 6 sites is more vital.  Complaints of lines are never good, but they are much better if they are related to advance locations than election-day locations.

And right now, speaking of lines, neither type of facility is lining up to be amply available in 2014 and 2016.


Anonymous said...

After reading your blog post, I'm 98.7% sure you have looked into this, but the H&R Block storefront on Johnson Drive in Mission is only open January 2 - April 15. The rest of the year it sits fully furnished and unused. I wonder how many of these locations they have in Johnson County?

Election Diary said...

Thank you. We have looked at this a couple of times, and one issue we ran into was available parking. However, looking at these sites as polling places (rather than advance sites) may make sense and we have a potential new "in" with H&R Block so we'll take another pass at this.