Sunday, March 2, 2014

I Have Seen the Enemy, and His Name Is Snow

If you've been reading this blog lately, you're probably tiring of me advocating for the move of spring elections to the fall of odd years, but this weekend is one big reason why.

Well, it's 5 reasons, anyway.

That's the high temperature.  We're experiencing the coldest March day in Kansas City history amidst a winter storm.

That's following the once-every-20-year storm we had last year during the spring primary election.  That was the argument, in fact, for downplaying last year's snow event as a reason to move the elections.

That month knock-out last year is still fresh on our minds at the election office.  It will probably be fresh on my mind for 20 years.

This storm created flashbacks but a whole new set of issues and further reasons to consider the move.

Another reason is being touted, I think, today by a member of Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) at the National Association of Counties conference.  I just saw a photo of Tammy Patrick on Facebook, speaking to a legislative committee, about the readout of the report.

The report advocates a school holiday or in-service day for elections.  If we move spring elections to the fall of odd years, we'd have August and November elections every year, with school out on both days (if the school holiday was also part of the law), voters would have predictable polling locations, and military and advance voters would have the convenience of voting that laws intend.

Ooops--that last item is a new reason on this blog, brought to light by this weekend's weather event.

And, while I'm piling on new reasons, we're rumbling into Ash Wednesday this week, here simply an indicator that we have a later Easter than normal.  Spring election polling place selections also meet uncertainty when we crest against Easter and Passover.

I'd much rather not have a storm, but we've had had two in two years.  That, combined with the recommendations of the PCEA (which cited this blog--at least a blog citing this blog, actually--in making this point) create the cliched perfect storm for improving scheduling of elections for our voters.

Back to this weekend:

Our election was this past Tuesday and the canvass can either, by law, follow on Monday (tomorrow) or the following Thursday.

Our canvass is scheduled for 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.  At a canvass, the Board of County Commissioners acts as the Board of Canvassers and reviews any provisional ballots or challenged ballots.  They allow those envelopes to be opened in accordance with laws and election standards, those additional votes are added in, and the election results are certified.

This is their meeting, by the way.  The Board of Canvassers has a statutory obligation to have this meeting.  I'm the emcee, but the Board of Canvassers is the entity that certifies the results and validates the election.

In Johnson County, we have seven commissioners but most counties in Kansas have three.  In those counties, the canvass can get pretty purposeful, with each canvass member reviewing each envelope, maybe even during the tabulation process on election night.

Here, though, mostly because of the volume of ballots we usually have, the canvassers review categories and occasionally ask specific questions.  Also, unique to Johnson County, the canvassers have created procedures that allow for alternates to attend in their place.

This was a very small election and the number of provisional ballots is low.  The canvass shouldn't last that long.
I'm So Tired of Photographing
Snow--This is an Artist's
Rendition of the Look Outside
My Window

Five of the seven commissioners are at the NACO conference, and that's where the introduction of
the blizzard I'm watching out my home office window right now comes into the discussion.

We have alternates lined up--department heads from the county.  We have alternates for the alternates lined up.

We also know from last year's election storm that best intentions doesn't trump the inability to get out of a driveway.  We don't really know that we'll have the required 7 canvassers tomorrow morning at 9, or even our three special board members to open the ballot envelopes (I can't do that, by law).  If the special board members can't make it in, we'll have to figure out how to go get them.

Take a look at the results from Tuesday's one-race primary and you'll see that the winner picked up 324 of the 420 votes cast.  Number two has 36, three has 31, and four has 28.

We're recommending, based on law, to open 8 more envelopes.  Presumably, there will be ballots in those envelopes.  The ballots most likely will be voted and when tabulated they probably will trend the same way as the final results, with the majority going to the leading candidate.

But that's why they play the game, sports fans.  The distribution could be such that we might have a different number two.

And, with number two not decided, we can't send off our ballot order for the April 1 election.

That would be the April 1 election where military ballots should be delivered no later than February 15, ten days before this primary.  Of course, we couldn't have met that date based on the spring election schedule, but we could have sent ballots, say, on February 26 if the outcome was certain.

Advance ballots by mail for non military and overseas voters can be received beginning March 12.  Assuming the canvass is tomorrow, we'll be lucky to have our printed ballots back by Monday, the 10th.  That gives us about 24 hours to get out a couple of thousand ballots.

If we had the primary in August with the general election in November, this math crisis wouldn't exist.  "One less thing," as Forrest Gump would say.

We saw this storm coming in forecasts on Friday.  Schools very likely will be closed tomorrow, with overnight temperatures forecasted at -8.  That also plays a factor in who will arrive for the canvass.  Some alternates may have parenting priorities.

We had discussions of moving the canvass.  But, to when?  Thursday?  Advance ballots surely would go out late.

Later on Monday?  What if the storm came slower and 9 a.m. tomorrow turned out to be passable but 2 p.m., not so much?

I just returned from a trial drive to the office after a night of sleet and three inches of snow (we were forecast to have more but it came as sleet).  I returned, though, in a full-on blizzard and my driveway doesn't look like I'd taken a shovel to it, although I had it nearly cleared this morning.

So, you never know.

And, of course, "never know" is what eats at election administrators.  Plans B, C, and D in effect, it would be nice to stress the value of, um, Plan E:

Election day in-service day for November elections so that schools are available in August and November, and snowstorms aren't a factor.  The cost-neutral, less-havoc solution, would be to move spring elections to fall years, leaving voters with a predictable election day every November, usually at the same polling place.

By now, someone reading has probably thought that snow could be a factor in November.

It could.  History has shown it hasn't been, though.  Heck, I was the kid who went home and changed costumes for trick or treating round two and as a parent I paraded my kids door-to-door candidate style as though Halloween was a conquest (isn't it?).

I could chart for you the weather conditions from those years, although with grown kids I'm now retired from Halloween activities.

But I have put this same snowstorm costume on two years in a row, and that's two years too many.