Friday, June 13, 2014

Boring Is What We're After

A significant paradox of this site comes as we near a busy election time.

This blog was created to provide you, dear reader, with some of the geeky and boring aspects of administering elections.

The more boring the better, I say! (To which, you likely would say, "no kidding.")

There is comfort in boring.  Boring is the opposite of not boring, or any other word or phrase you can identify that effectively means crazy, haywire, or nutty.

Boring's true nemesis is darkness.  That's the point of the blog, to be transparent, so when a week goes by without a post, I have itchy typing fingers.

Darkness here, though, always means we're swamped--not bad swamped, just swamped.

Then, in the rush to create a meaningful post, so many things are happening it's hard to hit them all.

Geese were lining up outside this week while we
were getting our ducks in a row inside.
So, here's what's happening right now--we are setting up the election, and that means trial and error in many ways and a lot of reading and proofing.

We have an election management system that was built in the mid-1990s.  We call it ESM, which I never understood, other than that as a county government, we already have an EMS.

Anyway, this system is where we set up our election--candidates, races, jurisdictions, supplies, election workers, and polling places, for starters.

This isn't Microsoft Project with many tabs.  In fact, we use an extract of the election to feed into our tabulation system to set up the ballots and candidate rotation on the ballots.

We have about 1,500 different ballot types for this election and hundreds of races.  This setup takes days to manually enter.

I've pasted at the bottom of this post some examples of the output we get from this system.  The samples here are about 10 pages from 50 pages of reports that, literally, took four hours to print.

I wanted the forms as examples when we went into our county's capital budget process to again ask for funding to replace this 20-year-old system that isn't supported and, if it crashed today, we'd have no sure way of rebuilding.  In Johnson County, not investing in elections for years and years will eventually come to roost, and we stress each election as we set this up.

There was a hot minute where the statewide voter registration system, known as ELVIS after a semi-forced acronym to make it sound cool, was going to be an evolution of our ESM.  At the time, it was provided by Accenture and the state of Kansas selected Accenture for ELVIS.

My second day on the Election Commissioner job, I was greeted with the news that things were back to the drawing board for the statewide voter registration system.  I don't know what occurred, other than that the state and Accenture came to an "understanding."

But, this meant, in order to have a system up and going and in compliance with the Help America Vote Act, this new procurement had great urgency.  As such, when implemented, some of the initially envisioned features (those in our ESM) were not part of the project.  Some have come since, but this is why we run with two systems--ELVIS and our, um, ELVIS impersonator.

Our Deputy Election Commissioner and a very weary employee have been proofing printouts from an equally weary employee who set up the election and comparing that output with two other employees--rapidly approach weary--in the tabulation room.

From there, we create an audio ballot for each of the 1,500 we have (for those who are blind and cast a ballot on their own) and we will have a group of part-time employees listen to each of the ballot to proof the accuracy.

We have to get this proofing done so we can send our ballot order for the paper ballots to be printed.  We can print military and overseas ballots at our office to get them out on time, but the big load of ballots are printed out of state.

Machines in a row here, no ducks.
We're also gearing up to try printing all advance-by-mail ballots at our office.  That will be about 10,000 ballots and require that we purchase a solution we've been eyeballing for quite a while and many others--particularly those in Florida--have utilized successfully.  The benefit is that we print only the ballots we use (rather than large overages as we estimate demand) and the net cost, because we don't pay for unused ballots we destroy, should be less.

Meanwhile, another group of part-timers have invaded the warehouse, beginning manual diagnostics on each voting machine.  The typical  automated machine diagnostics are comparable to what your computer goes through when it boots up.  We don't think that's good enough.

Doing the diagnostics manually, instead, is laborious, but it ensures that nothing nefarious has sneaked into our machines.  It's a best practice created by Johnson County and emulated nationwide, in fact.

There you go--boring.  Boring, Busy, Ballot work--the Three B's.

We're entering that "no time for laundry" period, in fact, and soon will be ready for Bleach, Borax, and Brightener, and not just for our clothes.