Monday, July 1, 2013

The Answer Is...

I'm flying to Washington to participate in a meeting tomorrow with a bunch of smart people to discuss election capacity planning and election lines, organized by the Democracy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

One outcome of this meeting is potential input for the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.

This is the Commission formed following the President's famous (to election geeks, anyway) comment regarding lines to vote, "We have to fix that."

I've been observing comments, speakers, and stakeholders in the early days of the Commission, and I've postulated some on this before here.

"That" has been the subject of discussion, as in "what is it we are fixing?"  If we're simply fixing lines, or at least slow and long lines, it's taken me 7 months to simplify the approach, but I think it's the right mantra:

To fix "that," we need to expand hours                                         and expand options.

That's it.  Expand hours and expand options.  It's a simple vision.  It's not controversial (yet) and it's not political (yet).

I'm reminded of a time way-back-when, sitting in a long line at a bank's drive-through needing to deposit a paycheck.  It was was 5:45 on a Friday afternoon.  I finally wheeled up, with at least 100 cars behind me, to the window.

"What happens at 6?" I asked.

"Oh, WE ARE closing at 6," the teller responded.

They needed to fix that.  Remember the fight against direct deposit of paychecks?  I do.  I also remember those long lines at banks on Fridays.

Remember the long lines to check in at airports?  Okay, they're still there.

However, they do move faster because of self-service.  (Mostly) gone are the days where the person at the counter taps in some crazed cluster of keyboard strokes, waits, hits it again, waits, does a move from Twister, and then taps some more before saying, "Ok, you're checked in."

Grocery day used to be Saturday.  As a kid, forced to spend 90 minutes a week in a grocery store as my parents hunted and gathered, I joined fellow youths to terrorize adults by running through aisles, playing tag, and generally be living proof that our society had no future.

Now, grocery stores are open 24 hours a day, making anytime Grocery Time, freeing up our Saturdays to spend 10 hours in a lawn chair watching our children's sporting events in some freakish payback for being free years ago.

Thanks, expansion.

Expansion of hours and options in voting likely means an expansion in cost.  There may be some tradeoffs--fewer polling places but more advance voting sites, for instance, could maximize utilization of voting machines and stave off some investment.

With all respect to my industry friends, the answer doesn't have to be electronic pollbooks or Internet voting.  Those aren't bad items for discussion, for sure.  But, definitely, solutions should stem from innovation.

And, I argue, there has to be some element of self-service.  There's an article in USA Today that mentions concierge apps for hotels.  Isn't an election administrator really a concierge for voters?

Look at that--isn't that a more fun thought to consider than the Eeyore, "Not much of a line, but I'm sort of attached to it," contestuous approach to "what exactly is 'that'?"

The answer is......expand hours and expand options.

It's simple.  It rolls off the tongue, or at least the keyboard.

I'm looking forward to discussions on how we do it.