Thursday, November 28, 2013

Party of 380,000 With No Waiting?

In the spirit of "a picture is worth a thousand words," the table below says a lot, but I still will need to add a couple of hundred words of color for the full effect.

"Table" in this Thanksgiving post relates to a text-based table.  But, it's worth comparing our situation to a restaurant maitre d' hoping to accommodate a large party.

The table represents a response from one of our school districts regarding school availability for 2014's elections.  The district has been very responsive to our requests, but the table highlights polling place issues on many levels.

First, know that the April election only encompasses four cities and only some portions of one of those cities spill into this school district.  The February election is a primary, if needed, for any of those four cities.

The August election is a countywide primary and the November election is a countywide general election.

Our objective is to keep voters at the same location throughout an entire cycle.  We often get complaints that polling places move frequently, and if you lived in this school district, the table below gives you a pretty good indication why they move ("X" indicates facility availability):

2/25/14 4/1/14 8/5/14 11/4/14
ABM Gym        X           X          X          X
BVA Gym        X           X          X             X
BVM Gym        X          X
HMS Gym          X
LKM Gym           X           X          X
LMS Gym Foyer        X           X
OTM Gym               X
OMS South Foyer          X
PRM Gym        X
BVH Front Foyer
BVN Aux Gym       X           X         X         X
BVNW Library Foyer         X
BVSW Aux Gym         X
BVW Aux Gym       X            X          X         X

So, of the 15 sites above, only four are available for all four elections and, actually, for the two big ones as well.  Further, only two of the four meet our needs as polling places.  

On the good side, all four are gymnasiums, so they have plenty of space.  However, one, "BVM Gym," was an extremely high-volume location in the presidential election with 10 voting machines and nearly 3,000 registered voters.  Those voters need a new home, at least for August.  If we only send them elsewhere for August, but back home in November, we'll field at least 100 complaints and we don't exactly have enough people to answer the phones on slow days.

(As an aside, we have an extremely clear-cut vision for our website:  to reduce phone calls.  This isn't flippant.  We don't have enough people to answer the phone.  We'll get 8,000 calls on election day, for instance.  Our site is essentially a reference tool where we try to guess/predict the various needs stakeholders have and provide as much self-service information as possible).

Back to the key polling place point--through 2008, our office (and, I think most others) demonstrated election service by the number of polling places utilized.  The number always increased, presidential election to presidential election.

The new paradigm is, "How few polling places can we utilize and still administer the election?"

It's akin to my Sprint days, late 1990s, when our revenue per minute was dropping.  The "Dime Lady" was an icon by then as our customers were pushing for three-cents-per-minute domestic rates.  Someone piped up in a room that soon we will be talking minutes per cent, instead of cents per minute.  

That was a revolutionary thought--and correct.  It drove different behavior.

Where I thought once that we'd be up to 300 polling places in 2016, we've got to consider what would happen if we only had 100.

Of the 300, they'd be evenly split between schools, churches, and "other."  "Other" includes banks, restaurants, senior living centers, and VFW Halls.  

Without schools--and we're headed that way unless we can get spring elections moved to November and a school holiday for voting--we're left with churches and "other," and "other" is a tenuous category, subject to economic and capacity issues.  A senior living center, for instance, may contain 700 registered voters, but few nearby voters can be assigned because there may only be five public parking spaces.

And, of course, our advance voting sites are in peril, too.  Our location in Shawnee is now a toy store, and there are fewer open storefronts than there were in 2007, or 2011 for that matter.

It's a stresser.  We have a party of 380,000 we need to seat.  They're willing to be split up, but they'd like to eat on the same day, if possible.  

We don't exactly need a bigger boat, but we definitely are going to need more boats than it's looking like we'll have.


Don Merriman said...

I can certainly feel your pain. Even though I need to "seat" only 36,000 for election day, we have had to move out of all school buildings for voting. That happened this year. I am actively trying to find suitable replacement polling places. The schools are planning for a complete change in entry and security.
Don Merriman, Saline Co. Clerk/ County Election Officer