Friday, September 19, 2014

The Ballot, the Complete Ballot, and Nothing But the Ballot

While the last post spoke of the elephant in the room, the true elephant in the blog, of course, is the issue surrounding the Democratic candidate for US Senate.

Look elsewhere for any political thoughts, but the aspect of what this does as we prepare to administer the election is something I've been asked frequently over the past week.

We have a candidate who requested to be removed from the ballot in early September and discussion that went all the way to the Kansas Supreme Court to determine what would happen.

From dinner, an hour after the Supreme Court announcement.
If only I had the cookie on Tuesday.
The hearing was about an hour long on Tuesday morning and both sides (for removal, anti-removal) espoused that this was a simple issue.  So, selfishly, I wouldn't have minded getting the Supreme Court decision, say, that day.  Maybe Wednesday.  Instead, it came late yesterday just as we were cresting upon the deadline to send out military ballots.

That deadline to send military ballots has been portrayed in the media as the deadline to begin sending ballots.  It's actually the deadline to have sent all military ballots and new requests can be filled on an on-going basis.

The Department of Justice takes the 45-day deadline very seriously, and so do we.  In fact, that 45-day deadline falls on a Saturday so we've assumed the deadline is the Friday before.

So, you may see why a decision at 4:30 on the Thursday before this Friday is kind of an issue.

Now, thankfully (?), we only have have about 75 voters in this bucket right now.  By comparison, we had 1,500 military and overseas voters in 2008.  Some of the reduction can be attributed to less overseas military involvement and the type of election year (2008 was a presidential, and an historic one at that).

Still, that's a pretty big drop.  A federal law a few years ago required military voters to re-up their registration each year instead of it lasting for two years.

I've always questioned the motive for this.  It reduced the number of ballots that were undeliverable, so that's good.  But by reducing the undeliverable ballots, the overall number issued in any election dropped as well.  Assuming the same number of voters returned the ballots, the return percentage against those issued improved and there are people in jobs where their performance is based upon that return percentage.

In a trade-off for a higher return percentage number (same number returning, just a better percentage), military and overseas voters have to register more frequently, and that's a hassle.  My theory from 30,000 feet is that this law's requirement actually has reduced voter participation by military and overseas citizens.

Nonetheless, we have about 75.   Mind you, that's 75 full ballots with more than just the US Senate race.

That's 75 four-page ballots unique to each voter.  In order to have them optically scanned, we typically send the voters actual ballots, but when our actual ballots aren't ready to print, we have to send homemade unique ballots that later will be hand counted.   With about 20 items for voting per ballot, and 75 ballots, that's a lot of hands across the water.

That doesn't begin to address the fact that soon we will have to mail about 30,000 advance ballots, in less than a month, October 15.  We're usually getting our ballots back from the printer by now, not wondering when we'll send them to the printer.  This October 15 date also is a fixed deadline by statute, not a beginning day, but an actually day.  We will be toddling down to the post office that day with 30,000 envelopes that we hope contain the final ballot.

The good news here is that decision we made to print our own ballots for advance by mail.  Operationally, had we not done that, there would be no blog post today.  I couldn't type.  We'd be totally paralyzed.

There are formulas that can be used to consider the payback of ballot-on-demand printer purchases.  We chose to only go down this path if it made sense operationally, and that's an obvious prove-in now.

Economically, though, they have paid for themselves simply because of the cost we would have had to expedite printing of these ballots.  Go figure.  I just did.

Beyond the obvious issues stated, this is just life in elections.  We sent ballots out by email to meet the Department of Justice deadline with the caveat that that there was litigation afoot and to please not vote the ballots and return them until we checked in again on Monday.  We'll now be checking in today, saying corrected new ballots will be on their way once this issue is completely resolved and to disregard the initial mailing.

We're expecting that resolution to be a week from today.  It often feels like we'll be working on a ballot some day AFTER the election.  I'm hoping that continues to be a ridiculous thought.


Jim Severance said...

Brian - great post, as usual. Quick question:

You talk about printing ballots for the military, and you also mention "We sent ballots out by email ..." The Star mentioned email ballots too.

I didn't know email ballots existed, so I'm probably confused. Can you tell us little about email ballots and process the military to cast their votes?.


Election Diary said...

Hi, Jim.

First, of course, I'm touched that you read the blog. For those outside just reading these two comments, Jim Severance is the example of everything I wanted to be when I was on Shawnee City Council (and probably, sadly, never was).

Military and overseas voters can apply annually through a Federal postcard, which isn't a postcard at all but an application. From there, they can receive their ballots automatically by mail, fax, or email. Over the years, email has prevailed and 90 percent are shuttled that way. That's the key word, shuttled. They return them by email (sometimes fax) and while military members have more flexibility, they lose ballot secrecy. We have a specific chain of custody with these ballots, but, particularly when coming by fax, it's nearly impossible to not have the ballots seen by human eyes before we can separate the ballot from the person casting it.

Internet voting (the ability to mark the ballot on the Internet, really) has had some traction with military voters, but the systems still rely upon the legacy tabulation systems all of us installed in the mid 2000s. So, they haven't been much better. I expect that as communities change out the voting systems in the coming years, military by Internet will gain more steam and, eventually, this large group of users will be the push that sees us all vote in this manner.