Friday, November 6, 2015 3 comments

The Future

Oh, what to do, what to do....

I have plenty to do, preparing to assume the responsibilities of the Executive Director of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and wrapping up my responsibilities at the election office.

More, that's the question with this blog.

This blog has been an unofficial voice--an administrator's personal voice, not associated with any official site.

It can't really continue in its current form.  The EAC website contains a blog with posts from the Commissioners.

Yet, this site has a brand, with nearly 100,000 unique visits since its inception.

And, it serves a purpose, especially in a presidential election year when overall interest in elections is at its highest.  Election administration issues will see their most widespread attention then.

I've given thought to curating the site, making it a place where several election administrators post regularly.  That would make it have more frequent content, and it truly would have the diary aspect.

Readership may increase.  The profession, and our common issues, may gain more visibility.

If you are an election administrator and this interests you, please let me know.  If a panel of, say, 10 administrators regularly updated, we'd have a daily update, probably, and that would be very diary-esque.

It might even elevate the site to place where it becomes The Huffington Post of Elections or, at least, a link on such a site.

I have loved doing Election Diary.  It started leading into the 2012 Presidential Election.  Maybe, as we head into 2016, it becomes a "if you love somebody, set them free" kind of thing.

I'm envisioning a little gallery of photos-but-not-photos, in that Wall Street Journal sketchy kind of way, of administrators across the country who contribute when they want to, and the collection becomes our own version of the CNN across-the-country view of what's going on.

Thus....what to do, what to do.

In the meantime, dear reader, if you return here only to see this post for a while know that the pause is intentional.


Monday, November 2, 2015 2 comments

Voters on Parade

We have a couple of elections in the works, but we don't have one tomorrow.

If this were 2017, the first year spring elections move to the fall, we would have an election tomorrow.  Many in the country will vote tomorrow and we actually have received several advance ballot applications for the election that isn't.

That's a bit of an awkward call, or at least it may feel awkward on the receiving end, but they present a terrific election worker recruitment opportunity--"You are so engaged!  We need you!"

Kansas City, Missouri, is one such area that has an election tomorrow.  As suburban neighbors, we often get potential voters who assume that we have an election at the same time.

Kansas City, though, has been through a huge, well, curveball for tomorrow.

With the Royals winning the World Series, the victory parade has been scheduled for noon-2 tomorrow.

Just when you think the world knows there is an election.....

In Kansas, there is a law prohibiting someone from impeding a voter on the way to vote.

"No officer, this is a parade...."

Hmm.  I can see the wheels turning with disruptors.

I can't imagine a parade going through Johnson County on election day.  I've had voters call to complain when a traffic accident temporarily closed a lane of traffic--that we should have had a contingency plan for any voter in those situations.

(We do, by the way, in that they could cast a provisional ballot anywhere, although we'd prefer they vote at their location).

Schools likely will be more empty tomorrow, throughout the metropolitan area.

Again, if this were 2017, and the schools had been closed for voting as we are advocating, everybody would be winning.

Maybe, in fact, that's what we should do--explain that it is likely there will be an annual World Series event on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.  History has shown that.

I, for one, am choosing to believe this Royals victory parade will be an annual event.

From now in Kansas, so will November elections.

For now, please share some warm vibes to the Kansas City Election Board as you add "World Series Parade" to the new Sporting News classic "Knotty Problems in Elections (Caused by Baseball)."
Thursday, October 22, 2015 0 comments

On the Stick!

My age was showing a couple of weeks ago in the park while running.

As I came around a turn in a pathway, I saw a young couple holding a long pole with something at the end of it.

Oh, a metal detector, I thought.  A throwback.  I haven't seen someone at the park with one of those in years.

But, no.

As I got closer, I saw the thing was being held out from their shoulders.  They're going to put someone's eye out, I thought further.

And, no, that comment wasn't (just) what showed my age.

I realized they were holding a selfie stick, one of these new inexpensive Bluetooth-enabled photo-taking devices that hold a smartphone.

Selfie sticks, and selfies for that matter, are sizing up to be the hottest election administration issue of 2016.


There's even the first political book of the season on the millenials, calling them the Selfie Voters.

But selfie votes mean a little more in elections, and, especially in a presidential election.

First, the more exciting way--first time voters or just excited voters who want to take a photo of themselves voting to put on social media.

We saw that in 2012 but we know that will be rampant in 2016.  We've talked with other election administrators about running with that in a fun way, perhaps having selfie stations for voters while they wait to vote during advance voting.

I've heard some creative ideas along this line and we plan to, um, borrow, yeah, borrow, but I won't spell them out here because they truly weren't my ideas.  We'll show you as the election gets closer, though.

Another type of selfie isn't really a selfie of the voter, but rather the machine.  I voted for "Candidate," See!

Minor problem--it is illegal to leave the polling place in Kansas with a representation of who you voted for.

Major clarification--these photos aren't illegal because they are taken at the review screen before "cast ballot" is pressed.  When that selection is pressed, the selections vanish.  There is no "proof" of how someone voted.  Voters could take 50 shots of the review screen, each portending to be who they voted for.

A couple of things are clear, though.

First, the whole selfie stick thing will be new to our election workers and we're planning to demonstrate how they work during training.  We don't want the sticks misread as something else, say...a weapon or a metal detector.

Second, we're going to need a point of view on selfies and selfie sticks at polling places.  Already, selfie sticks have been both outlawed at a polling place and endorsed at a polling place, both in locations outside of Kansas.  Expect selfie legislation to be a topic in many statehouses this winter.

As election commissioner, I have to ensure that nothing disrupts the voting process, but I doubt selfie sticks will.  Regardless, I will have to have completely thought through both sides of the lens on this issue before we begin communicating with voters.

First things first, though.  In the "it's never dull" news of the day, we now have a new mail-ballot election scheduled, for February 2.  Another is on the way, any day, likely for April.

If you are counting, we've had 16 elections in the last 20 months as it is, the most we've ever had in a 2-year period.  We've had 22 in a three-year period and already have 6 scheduled, now, for 2016.

We did have 2 weeks without an active election.  Maybe we should have taken a picture with the hope it would have lasted longer.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015 1 comments

Hay! Is That a Pumpkin?

Fall is the time for pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin carving, pumpkin pies, and hayrides on trailers accessorized by, well, pumpkins.

And, it's time we make hay for 2016 before 2015 turns into a pumpkin and the presidential election is completely, "Game on!"

We have spring elections in 2016 (we think....) and at least two mail-ballot elections considered in early 2016.  There is even talk of a countywide mail-ballot election in May, just before the June filing deadline for August and November elections.

When January rolls around, we can get busy negotiating advance voting locations.  There are a couple of large, vacant storefronts that look like attractive sites, but landlords aren't willing to accept in October 2015 that the sites will be vacant in October 2016.

They won't magically believe us in January, but we can start the dance, with the hope of buttoning everything down by April.

We also will be sending our letters to the six school superintendents of our intent to use all schools as polling places in 2016.  The new legislation that moved spring elections to the fall also requires school districts to make any schools we request by January 1 of each year available for that year's elections. 

Winter is coming, and that's when numbers will get more serious, but here in the fall of 2015 we can spitball our expectation that we will have about 400,000 registered voters for the presidential elections, 80 percent of those voters will cast ballots, about half in advance at what we expect/hope to be four sites or by mail, and the rest will vote at one of approximately 250 polling locations.

We will need to button down those polling places.  We need a plan for that.

We will need to recruit about 1,000 new election workers.  We need a plan for that.

We will need to train about 2,500 workers.  We need a plan for that.

We will need new computers at our advance sites.  We need a plan for that.

We likely will undertake an intiative to utilize electronic poll books and, probably, new voting equipment at our advance sites.  Again, we need a plan for that.

Oh, we have a plan for that.  The four largest counties have issued a request for proposal for next-generation voting equipment.  Purchasing the equipment requires further planning, but the selection process is underway.

Likewise, we will be issuing a request for proposal for electronic poll books.  Our experience in the August 18 election, when trialing them, was satisfactory and we will be looking to scale them.

We're in the process of revamping our election worker training plans and, further, have an ambitious effort to provide more education for poll agents.  We'd also like to expand the capabilities of our website to allow for automated advance ballot applications, as well as more open data on the site to reduce the time we spend on candidate orders for information.

The theme in our office for the last few months, from me, has been, "Show me the plan."

Well, in fairness, the theme has been that I'll be saying that.  Now, with about 10 weeks before year-end, we'll be getting busy with those plans.

After that, it will be all about executing. 

We can't bail hay, but we do need to make it in these 10 weeks, or else we'll be bailing in 2016 in a different way from the oncoming election wave.

Thus, the blog theme for the next few weeks will be presidential election preparation.  Whatever activity and intensity level we are at for any given day, it will double the next. 

That means that whatever intensity we are at today, by January 1 it will be, um, a lot more. 

We're going to need a bigger boat.  We better double down on Pumpkin Spice Lattes.

(This cliché ridden post was partially brought to you by caffeine.  Imagine the clichés by January).

Sunday, October 4, 2015 0 comments

And PEW Begot MEOC....

Early into the very successful Midwest Election Official Conference (MEOC) we conducted this week, I came to an obvious realization.

It started as I looked at our manager of election workers, Matt Woehrle, at the sound board, pulling temporary duty as an engineer.

Matt has been with our office for a few months now, but first worked for us in 2007 on a part-time basis before landing a full-time job with the Wyandotte County Election Office.  He represents, actually, what those of us longer-term administrators have envisioned--rising talent intent on building a career in election administration.

In fact, our office is morphing into one with many such employees, and that should be very comforting to Johnson County voters.

But that's the entry into the thought, not the point of the post.

Matt came in 2007 to work on what I called an election roadmap, a document that began looking at the future of elections (not equipment, but societal trends that might impact election administration) and how Johnson County should respond.

It was an ambitious project, and we made some progress before Matt went to do real work in the Here and Now.

When I began seeing the need for this work, I met with then Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, pulled out a book called "Seeing What's Next" and explained my concerns.  I thought we should hire a consultant to help us, but we didn't have any money for such a thing.

"Do you?," I asked Ron.

"Maybe," he said.  "And there might be other sources, such as 'Pugh'."

Pugh?  What?

I later dug around and began learning about PEW Center for the States and while I saw the good work PEW did, I didn't see an immediate connection.  At least I knew what PEW was.  (I lead a sheltered little life in Kansas).

Through fate, or through Ron maybe, I became connected some with PEW in 2008 and over the years have worked with the Elections Initiatives practice considerably.

So it was, as I looked at Matt last Wednesday, I realized that this MEOC conference was an output of my involvement with PEW.

Many of the terrific speakers were with organizations that were funded in some way, at least partially, by PEW.  David Becker from PEW spoke.  And those speakers who were not associated with PEW came because of relationships I had developed by working with PEW.

I've always been skeptical of the benefits from some of the "Leadership XYZ" community programs, but have heard from graduates that they built relationships and contacts that have helped them tremendously.

I'm still not sure, but I can say that this feeling I have with PEW has to be similar.  Or, better.

The conference had more than 200 attendees from Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa, as well as election vendors.  The information came at everyone through a fire hose, one terrific speaker after another.

My mission, selfishly, was to provide my staff with a first-class election administration education opportunity.  To attract the speakers, we needed a wider net of attendees, so the speakers could see their reach was wide.

The room represented administrators for more than two million voters, and election administration for those two million voters will be better in 2016 than in 2012, to some degree, because of the conference.  I'm convinced of that.

I'm also convinced that I am lucky to have a peer group of election administration leaders I'm proud to call friends,  I'm so thankful they came to speak.

Regular readers of this blog know that I typically don't like to name people in posts and by listing Matt early on, that was really the precursor to me listing below the speakers and panel leaders, and friends, whom I'm so grateful:

Tammy Patrick, Christy McCormick, Matt Masterson, Tom Hicks, Monica Crane Childers, Stephanie Sharp, Micheal Mahoney, Kyle Dubbert, Andrew Howell, Don Pyle, Martin White, Susan Greenhalgh, Paul Pate, Kris Kobach, Jason Kander, Tabitha Lehman, Shelley McThomas, Grant Veeder, Whitney May, Tianna Epps-Johnson, Kurt Sampsel, Susan Greenhalgh, David Becker, Wendy Underhill, Will Kraus, Mitch Holmes, Keith Esau, Julia Lynn, John Muante, Christopher Famighetti, and Amber McReynolds.

They made the conference more successful than I could have ever imagined.  Now, on to 2016!  Many photos from the conference can be found through #MEOC2015 on Twitter.  Below shows the room layout and audience, as well as a couple from the Wednesday entertainment of The Capitol Steps.







Tuesday, September 29, 2015 0 comments

MEOC Ahead!

It's Tuesday at the election office and while we don't have an election today, we're frantically moving around at election speed.

Our little regional election administrator conference begins tomorrow and has blossomed beyond the 90 attendees we thought would be a stretch to nearly 200. 

Putting the conference on with a relative shoestring has redefined shoestring.

To paraphrase a movie that I'm way too frantic to remember--"It's a darn good thing we have a presidential election next year."

Which, on one hand, is why we're having the conference.

We planned to upgrade our election worker training equipment for 2016--new computer, new monitors, new sound system, and maybe a stage for our perfect polling place skit.

Buying some of those items now and trekking them to the hotel saves us some rental fees, although trekking will be less fun than even typing the word trekking, which already feels awkward because of the double kk's (really, how many words have consecutive K's?  Is trekking the only one, and is trekking really even a word?). 

Still, two k's are better than KO, although the conference is coming close to knocking us out.

You'd think we'd have learned that elections are stressful and this would bring about similar crazy.  Yet, we always seem surprised that the election period makes us cranky from stress, too.

I've said before that having an election is like having a baby.

The long nights and pains of having a newborn are forgotten fairly quickly, leaving the parents with all the great memories of their child--so much so that having another baby seems like a great idea until the outcome is more sleepless nights.


Where's the instruction manual
for the stage...?
So it is with elections, and this conference.

The outcome of the conference will be rewarding.  The conference features an A list of election administrator speakers, never assembled on the same stage before!

(No one has ever been assembled on our stage before, because, as a matter of fact, we are still assembling the stage).

I coordinated many trade shows and events in my Sprint days, so we're at the part where I feel like things are coming together just enough to introduce new things, apparently to simply terrorize my staff as they were finally thinking about exhaling. 

"What if we streamed the event?"

"We have transition music, right?"

"Can we have lasers?"


Don't call them Swag
Bags (or satchels for
Skittles)--these are
Vote Totes
Ok, I didn't ask about lasers.  (At this event, anyway.  We also don't have the money to hire Michael Buffer, the guy to customize a "Let's Get Ready to Rummmmmmmmblllllle!" intro.  I did that in the past.  He charged $3,000 for that, 20 years ago).

We'll update here and elsewhere (www.meoc2015.org).  We'll use the twitter hashtag MEOC2015. 

The conference starts Wednesday at noon, central time.



Wednesday, September 16, 2015 3 comments

Election Day, Zero Ballots

(revised, new data at the bottom, 4:30 p.m. on 9/16/2015)

Gardner's mail-ballot election closed yesterday at noon with remarkable efficiency.

That efficiency isn't from us, but rather the United States Postal Service.

Okay, as regular readers can guess by now, that previous sentence was in sarcasm font.

You see, Monday's mail brought us 169 ballots.

Today's mail brought us 79, too late to be counted.

Yesterday's mail brought us 0.

By the way, 17 people dropped off their ballots yesterday.  But somehow, with remarkable success, every voter who wanted their ballot here by mail did so--included in Monday's mail.

If you are scoring at home, Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, that's 169-0-79.

Really?

We called the post office yesterday morning at 11.  On the previous two Tuesdays, we received only 1 ballot each time (about 2,600 voted and 10,000 ballots were issued).

Nope, no ballots.

Really?

We had someone else call.

Nope.

Really?

As election administrators, what more can we do?  Demand a right to storm the post office and search for yellow envelopes?

For sake of argument, what if nothing was there and instead they were held too long at the Kansas City post office and were in a truck headed to Olathe?

We call the post office, but should we consider anything in the pipeline at the post office?  Even if it's a postal facility in a different state?

At the very least, with postal service levels changing, jurisdictions will need to consider the use of mail-ballot elections.  Or, maybe Kansas laws should be changed to base returns based on postmarks--that would require significant change, though, because Kansas mail-ballot elections pay the postage for the voter--business reply mail.

As a starting point, I can raise the problem.

You, dear reader, in a life-imitating-life moment (there is no art to a voter not able to cast a ballot, so no art-imitating-life moment here), you are part of said awareness effort.

That's all--fairly short for a blog post, but a powerful issue to begin considering.

Unless, of course, it seems perfectly reasonable for a three-day mail pattern to be 169, 0, 79.  Maybe ending Tuesday delivery was suggested by the postal service because there isn't any actual mail on Tuesday. 

Somehow, I doubt it.

79 others in Gardner may wonder, too.


One of our snappy staffers pulled the numbers from our August recall election--it was at the polls, so the numbers weren't as compelling, but the pattern remains:


AUGUST ELECTION

Monday 3 August – 22 ballots
Tuesday 4 August – 4 ballots
Wednesday 5 August – 41 ballots

Monday 10 August – 75 ballots
Tuesday 11 August – 0 ballots
Wednesday 12 August – 43 ballots

Monday 17 August – 51 ballots
Tuesday 18 August – 1 ballot (election day)
Wednesday 19 August –27 ballots (too late)



Tuesday, September 8, 2015 0 comments

Warm Fuzzies and Furry Thoughts

We're in election mode again, with a mail-ballot for the city of Gardner.

It's the ninth election of 2015, the most since we had nine in 2005.  If this were an ACT test question, expect nine elections in 2025....

We also got word that we likely will have a school district mail-ballot election in early 2016, so the beat goes on.

It's hard to complain, really.  After all, we exist to administer elections.

Lamenting elections would be like Tom Brady belly-aching about his next game at quarterback, or Al Roker complaining about doing a weather forecast.

In fact, I think it's worth giving it up to election administrators who have processed hundreds of elections and millions of ballots.  We strive to be the voter concierge, and being a concierge implies answering the same question over and over as though we've heard the question for the first time.

(Side note, on election day, we want our workers to be prepared for any type of voter to be their first voter--a perfect voter, an audio ballot, a provisional voter, lost voter, etc.  This preparation paid great dividends in our last election.  More on that in a future post).

This past week, our office had an outing at a minor league baseball at a stadium near the Kansas Speedway.  Hopping on the highway after the game, I saw the Comfort Inn and Suites Kansas Speedway, and I thought about how it must get very old answering the phone, "Thank you for calling the Comfort Inn and Suites Kansas Speedway...."

(Of course, it may be answered, "Thank you for calling.  Your call if very important to us...")

In any event, further praise to those who approach things with the same gusto over and over.

Another night, recently, I happily saw The Psychedelic Furs in concert at the Crossroads.  I've seen the Furs six times, dating back 30 years.  I've seen them play "Pretty in Pink," for instance, in each of those shows.

Yet, the lead singer, Richard Butler, was the same animated self he was at that first concert--the same gestures at the same points in the song, in fact.

It's not as though it was his sixth time in Kansas City (eighth--I missed two), but likely his six thousandth time he's sang that song.

Richard Butler sings Pretty in Pink in KC
So where is this going?  Well, first, I really wanted to post a photo I took at the concert :-)

But, second, I've administered more than 60 elections in 10 1/2 years.  But there are people at our office who passed the 100 mark.  There are people in this country who have administered hundreds of elections.

September is National Voter Registration month.  For those of us in the industry, it's worth pausing this month to reflect on the administrators, too--our peers and colleagues, and congratulate them on bringing energy to their jobs and to voters.

Voters have much more energy for the outcomes of elections--parks, roads, taxes, libraries--than for the election process.  Without elections, there would be no government, at least a government we'd all want to have.

You, dear reader, are likely one of these cogs of the election infrastructure.  Pat yourself on the back and whet your whistle with another cup of coffee at the rinky-dink election office break room.


One of my favorite things at LA County's Election
Warehouse--the lunch room is closed at, well,
lunch time.
Then, get back to work!  You have an election to administer!


Saturday, September 5, 2015 0 comments

MEOC Agenda

This is out there elsewhere, and by placing here for those who come here regularly, I'm hoping to provide a quick update and maybe not allow you to see I haven't posted in a while.

(Oh, blew my cover on that.  I will have a post for reals this weekend).

The agenda is tentative in that we are still finalizing speakers and may be shifting topics around to accommodate speakers and have one topic best flow to another.

This is setting to be a rockin' conference.  Hotels are getting full--yes, hotels; the primary hotel is close to full if not already full.   The website www.meoc2015.org has nearby hotels and registration info.  If you've been waiting to register, now is the time to do it, this weekend.  You have a whole extra day at home! 

I'm very proud of our employees who are pulling this together, in the midst of elections no less.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015 1 comments

An Election Like No Other

Today is an election day.

And, not just any election day.

(Interlude--is there any such thing as "just any election day"?)

It's a recall election in the De Soto School District, approximately 20,000 registered voters, and a great opportunity to test new technology at the polls in advance of our big year in 2016.

We're trialing electronic poll books. 

If you're not close to elections, the idea of trialing an electronic listing of participants, signing up on an iPad likely seems so 2010 to you. (That's when iPads rolled out, by the way).

Even if you are in elections, you might be doing the cartoon double-take swag of your head right now, surprised Johnson County hasn't already rolled out electronic poll books.

There are a few reasons for that--one is the cost, at least a half-million dollars to roll out next year, and probably closer to a million.

Another is the operational impact.  While fairly straightforward, using iPads as poll books presents operational, training, and logistical issues. 

(Interlude 2:  "issues" was intentionally used instead of "challenges"--I'm not a fan of "challenges."  I also call "problems" problems and not "opportunities."  I get the self-help thinking, but life moves fast, says Ferris Bueller, too fast to not call a problem a problem).

(Interlude 3:  I just realized that I may be the only person who has heard of the directness at Amazon.com in the New York Times and said, "That sounds like a great place to work...."  That's probably extreme, but election administration requires confronting operational impacts directly).

So, 14 polling places, 28 electronic pollbooks, 28 printers, 14 wireless hot-spots, and a support to polling place ratio of about 3:1.

As of 9:11, as I'm typing, no emergencies.  No problems.  In fact, it's been a quiet election morning.

That support focus is a big reason.  Many from the Shawnee County Election Office have spent the night to help us.  One of the snazziest election whiz-kids in Kansas, from the Wyandotte County Election Office, has come to help us for a couple of days.  Vendor representatives, including the former Kansas State Election Director, have been here to help us.

All of that is huge.  In fact, more and more, the largest counties--the ones with Election Commissioners--are uniting on issues, sharing learnings and resources, seeking equipment solutions together, and overall just working hand-in-hand in a very powerful way.  This is to the credit of my peers more than me, honestly, but a couple of my key staff members here have elbowed into the party when I can't be there. 

This cooperation, a side point to this post, can't be understated as all of us look to 2016.  If you are a voter in Kansas, this is good news.  You will hear more about this in the months ahead.

Back to the immediate news--we're learning how to train the use of equipment. 

We've ran into that some with iPads and smartphones already, but these relatively simple devices show us the training issues ahead when we roll out a new voting system.  Our county has gone through this before, but it's been 12 years, and most of our staff has turned over since then.

Beyond the training, we're seeing some of the operational benefits.

One of the advantages is simply not having to have a crew work several hours the Saturday night before the election printing, proofing, and preparing poll books.  (For this election, though, we printed the poll books, sealed them in an envelope, and hid them in the supplies in case there was an emergency and we needed to go retro).


Election Worker Training (above) and
Dashboard Examples (below)
(Interlude 4:  Yes, we sent out so many items to the polls that we can effectively hide a poll book in the supplies).


We're also seeing the dashboard capabilities of the electronic poll books.  We can see, at any moment, how many people have voted, who has voted and when, and our overall real-time turnout.

So, that's cool.

It's probably more than cool.  It will help us know of issues (aka "problems") faster.

There are some operational time-savers on the back-end, too.  We can close out the election in the voter registration system much faster, as opposed to going through all of the poll books, page-by-page, to scan the bar codes of the voters who voted.

For this election, we used equipment provided by KnowInk in St. Louis.  Fun fact, St. Louis is the Silicon Valley of electronic poll books.  Election Administrators, another highly regarded electronic poll book company, also is located there.

From here, our evaluation will lead to us issuing a Request for Proposal for electronic poll books.  We expect those two companies to respond, as well as a couple larger full-system providers, such as ES&S.

I've attached some of the screens shots of the command center for fun.

(Final Interlude:  Yes, if you've read this far, you likely would agree that this is "for fun.")








Sunday, August 9, 2015 0 comments

LA County Needs No Fixin


Much is going on, as always, it seems, so this post will try to capture a chunk of that at once.

Yet, the post is from a sleep-deprived place, so it will be brief, with follow-ups soon on our preparation for the De Soto School District Special Election, a trial of electronic pollbooks, and the follow-up to my observation trip to Albania.

I'm typing this post flying back from an exciting meeting pulled together by the Bipartisan Policy Center and preparing for election worker training in the morning.  I imagine I'll be at a place to post this Saturday night, after the training, so there will be a need to post again soon.

The meeting brought in election administrators from some of the largest jurisdictions in many states.

The point was to learn from those leaders key issues that are being addressed, with the idea that data and programs applied in those jurisdictions would have value cascading down to smaller jurisdictions.

First, if that doesn't sound exciting, then you're no friend of mine.....

Okay, you are my friend, of course--with music on the mind from the long flight, I was channeling some flood of songs to defend the excitement--first, Men Without Hats.

 "If they don't dance, well they're no friends of mine."

Election administration isn't quite like dancing, but it is like the fast skate at Skateworld sometimes.

Or, as Louie Armstrong said when asked to define jazz (or election geekery), "if you gotta ask, you'll never know."

Or, The Dead Milkmen, who sang in Punk Rock Girl, "if you don't got Mojo Nixon, then your store could use some fixin'"

 Okay, I'll stop now.  Yes, the flight is approaching red-eye status.  Is it showing?
It's just that once the election geekness starts, it's rabid.

One proof point was our trip to the Los Angeles County Election Warehouse.  Put together about 30 election geeks and they do, well, geeky things, and we were definitely that way at the warehouse.

 LA County has about 12 times the voters we have in Johnson County.  Our meeting yesterday was on the fifth floor of their building.  They have more than 400 election employees.

That kind of scale promotes learnings that cascade to us tiny tots, like 400,000-voter Johnson County.  (Oh, yes, if you are scoring at home, 400 employees divided by 12 does not equal 16......, so benchmarking only goes so far).

But, that transfer of knowledge, I think, is what the Bipartisan Policy Council is seeking by connecting with many communities of our size, that further learnings will be transferred down to 40,000-voter counties.

Yes, Virginia, the election industry has an 80/20 rule, just like most industries.

Oh, and by Virginia, I literally meant Virginia, which was well-represented in the meeting.   


Now THAT'S a warehouse!
Those compadres from Virginia and many other states hopped out of a van with me at the warehouse, and before I could begin taking photos of the outside of the warehouse, I noticed three others already were. 


You'd have thought we'd hit the lot at Universal Studios, not the biggest election stage in the country.  Heck, I found myself taking photos of my friends taking photos of the election building.

All of us were excited to see the outside of a building that housed election equipment.

The key word in that sentence was "outside."  The outside of a warehouse caused palpatations.

Really.

I've shown a couple photos here of the warehouse--once looks like a court where the Lakers might practice.

Anyway, the meeting provided a quick piece of theory before returning to the practical aspect of election worker training for our 8th election this year.

More on that in the next post.

Sunday, July 26, 2015 0 comments

The Lehman Proposal

Typically, I don't use many names in my blog posts.

Today, I will, just for the context of the post and also to laud the owner of the centerpiece of this post.

First, readers of this blog and election geeks everywhere know that voting systems in the United States are aging, with often no identifiable funding mechanisms to fund the replacements.

I've written about that extensively here regarding Johnson County.

In fact, we've painted ourselves into a corner in Johnson County.  Our office has been promised the funding for a new system when that system is defined.  Alternatively, money was being socked away annually to prepare for the system but that process stopped in 2011.

We're defining the system, planning for a 2017 rollout, promises remain, but the county's financial position to back up that promise is suspect at best.

I've been continuing to advocate that the cost of elections be itemized on residents' property tax bills and be funded through a separate mill levy.

That isn't some nutty idea--it's in Kansas law, a separate mill levy for elections, and Wyandotte County, for instance, does it.  I'm not pushing for a tax increase, although that could be a vehicle county commissioners have to link actual costs against dollars raised.

It's the ultimate in public transparency.  Residents would know exactly how much (how little, in fact) elections are costing them and when callers ask for more advance voting options or newer equipment, for instance, they'd know what the impact would be to their pocketbook.

Personally, I think an itemized tax statement would drive more government accountability, so I can't see how it's a bad thing.

Another reason supporting this change, I believe, is a new law passed this year that soon will require governing bodies to receive public approval through a (costly) election if mill levy rates are increased above the rate of inflation.  Special elections are funded by the jurisdictions calling for them and not the election office.  However, in the board of county commissioner's case, county tax dollars will have to pay for such an election.

Being proactive now by utilizing this elections mill levy and pulling out election costs from the general fund would help them later, I'm convinced.

I'm the only one convinced at this point, though.

I guess I should just pause and the take the win from another legislative item I'd pushed for years--schools being out of session on election day.  Coupled with moving spring elections to the fall, this essentially has happened with the elections law that passed this year.  Schools don't have to out of session, but are required to be available.

That win took 10 years.

I'm into about year four of the elections mill levy advocacy.

But, back to the equipment.

Conventional wisdom says the county will issue long-term debt as the method to find the funding for the voting system.  Problem is, long-term debt has an annual price tag.

Debt retires.  Annual price tags drop as a result.  Smart governing bodies (Shawnee Mission School District, especially) ensure that new debt follows the old and the amount being paid annually doesn't drop off.

A drop off would be good in the short-term for taxpayers, but then the sticker shock for new debt might keep new projects from being started and soon, a school district (for instance, not the one mentioned) would need to make operational spending cuts or request a tax increase to operate the same way it had 10 years ago.

So, in Johnson County, if the amount of annual debt added exceeds the amount retiring, that money is going to have to come from the operating budget--the same one that for 2016 already exceeds the existing mill levy.

The amount of annual debt service payments required for a voting system will exceed the retiring debt service payments.  (There is some fuzzy math that might say otherwise, but if you dig deep enough, you'll find this to be true).

Down the road, our voting equipment will be a tax increase in the making because we haven't planned and now, ironically, it would take a costly election to approve the funding.

This, by the way, is what happened in the late 1960s that led to Johnson County taxpayers voting to approve the purchase of voting machines (and the legislative creation of the mill levy tax for elections that some counties utilize).

Fact is, though, the mill levy in those counties is paying for operating expenses, not debt on capital.

So, while I try to push on that item, funding for voting systems needs a similar press with the legislature.

One Johnson County commissioner, John Toplikar, wondered if there was a way to create a technology fee within the Kansas legislature to pay for new equipment.

I'm not a fan of fees--he isn't either, I think--because they are hidden taxes.  Tipping fees for landfills, for instance, are built back into the cost of service for trash haulers and passed on to residents.

But if there was a fee that didn't impact taxpayers?

My peer in Sedgwick County, Tabitha Lehman, has suggested a portion of political contributions be funneled back to the state for new voting equipment.

(Quick interlude--Tabitha represents one member of a cadre of election administration superstars in Kansas; I travel and meet with my colleagues across the country, and Kansas election administrators show very well.  They fall behind the shadow of a loudmouth know-it-all with a blog, and are among the country's best-kept election administration secrets).

Back to Tabitha's idea.  It's akin, I guess, to a portion of money raised by college athletics to be put back into the campus infrastructure--parking fees, reduced ticket prices for students, and campus security.

I'm not sure of the dollars--it's worth building a case based on actual contributions from 2012 and 2014.  What if, for instance, candidates who raised more than $2,000 or $5,000 in a race had to contribute, say, five percent back to the state for the administration of an election technology fee?

There are probably ways to exempt loans and contributions from the candidate (it would seem unfair to self-fund a campaign and pay, essentially, a penalty for not taking contributions).  It's possible that 5 percent wouldn't even make a dent, unless, of course this became federal legislation.

In fact, I know there are several immediate reasons why this wouldn't work.  "Dark money," for instance--how would that be captured?

But the fact is we are about to see an outrageous amount of political spending, heading into 2016.  These candidates will expect voting systems of the same sophistication as their campaigns.

Major league players deserve major league stadiums.

One thing is clear to me--communities will get new election systems when these expire.  We're not going to collectively raise our hands to vote and the Internet appears, for now, off limits as an idea (I mean, come on, when the IRS is hacked....)

It's time to drive the discussion and find a funding solution before it's funding out of crisis.  Frankly, I think we're heading into funding out of crisis in Johnson County despite my barking.

But we're on the leading edge of this issue--Johnson County's voting system fleet is among the oldest in the nation.  Many communities implemented new systems about three years after we did, with funding from the Help America Vote Act, and we're just the leading indicator of pain ahead.

So, I proudly will begin pushing the Lehman Proposal.  Or the Tabitha Tabulation Solution.

My experience has been that the best way to push for ideas is come up with one that, worst case, can be criticized and drive debate.  If there are reasons why this won't work, let's discuss them and determine what will work.

Otherwise, many of us in Kansas may eventually be conducting special elections on outdated equipment to determine if taxpayers are willing for a tax increase to pay for a new voting system.

Maybe that's the logical outcome of all of this, but being proactive now may avoid it.
Saturday, July 11, 2015 0 comments

MEOC Update

It's been a while between posts as I get back in the groove in the United States and further in the groove with our two elections.

There's much to report, and the next few days will show me back in the posting groove as well.

For now, it's time for an update on the Midwest Election Officials Conference.

It's scheduled for September 30-October 2, open to any election official, not just those in the Midwest. (See, even if you are not in the Midwest, on those days you would be.....)

We will be contacting potential speakers soon. We have a list and we're checking it twice.

The theme will be Bridging Today with Tomorrow.

Very specifically, the theme will focus on execution of the largest issues facing election officials. Often, there are "future of elections" discussions where we gather and talk about the many pending crises ahead, from funding to lack of polling places to aging equipment.

This conference will be intended to take those topics and lay out a prescriptive path, moving from "the sky is falling," to "here's how you build a roof."

For now, those interested in MEOC can line up a few things:

  • Text MEOC to 74574 to be prepared for updated on the conference.
  • Bookmark http://www.meoc2015.org, where updates to MEOC will occur very soon, including an online registration form
  • Contact the Hilton President Hotel in Kansas City to reserve rooms with our room block, with the rate of $106. As a government office, we committed to a fairly small number of rooms (we'd be responsible for the unused rooms) and we can increase the block if people start booking now. Information regarding the hotel will be on the website, but MEOC2015 is the room block.

As for the blog, I'll be speaking with the Johnson County NAACP today on new election laws and will post related to that. And, an update from Albania awaits.

More soon.

Saturday, June 20, 2015 0 comments

Election Theater, Albanian Style

Greetings from Albania!

I'm here on an election observation mission and I'll blog about the experience, just as I did last time in the Republic of Georgia, when I'm back.

I was out scouting my areas of observation today, in advance of tomorrow's election, and there were a couple of, um, observations that are safe to report early on and give a flavor of my day tomorrow.

Yes, tomorrow--Sunday--is election day.

What a great day for an election tomorrow will be.  It's debatable that Sunday is a good day, but elections over here are on Sunday for much the same reason they are on Tuesdays in the United States. This day fits with with the farming and business lifestyles of residents.

There's been a lot of talk in Kansas about the value of moving municipal elections from the spring to the fall, but these municipal elections are in June and benefit from the same thing I believe we will with elections in November:

The elections will be conducted in empty schools.  That means available polling places and no student safety concerns.

June 22, I believe, also has the longest amount of daylight in the year.  The sun was up before 5 here this morning and I'm typing outside with a bright sky at 8:15 p.m.  The polls will be open totally during daylight hours.  That's voter friendly, especially when polling places don't have lit signs to direct voters.

Of interest to me is the fact that Albania has roughly the same number of voters as we have in Kansas, but there will be more than 5,000 polling places open tomorrow.  Granted, they don't have advance voting, but that's a lot of polling places.  Some might even say that's an "adequate number."

By contrast, there's continued pressure to reduce polling places in Johnson County.

Mind you, that pressure isn't coming from voters or citizens (who just named the convenience of polling places as one of the 5 best things offered by the county in the most recent citizen satisfaction survey).

It's not being pressed by the highest elected official in the country--president Barack Obama formed a commission based on long voting lines in 2012 and declared, after the commission's findings, that no one should wait more than 30 minutes to vote.

It's not being pressed by election administration officials, well-represented, in fact, on the president's commission.

In any event, these opinions exist, in part because of a lack of understanding how polling places are assigned.  Our most common complaint we hear from voters is, "why did my polling place move?" followed by "why do I drive past one polling place to get to mine?"

I have never had a voter, however, in my 10 1/2 years as election commissioner, call, write, or say in a meeting to me that we had too many polling places.

Not one.

Oh--did you hear something?  That was my microphone drop on the issue.

After a two decade trend of increasing polling places in Johnson County we went from 286 polling places in 2004 to 212 in 2012, and we found that we cut too much. Other communities cut as well in this time, and it's no coincidence that line concerns became a national topic.

I don't know how many polling places we will have yet for 2016. We will target 300 but that's so we might net 250, or 225. We can talk about 212 being the minimum, but we work with what's available, and we might find that 212 is aggressive, necessitating either us leasing hotel meeting room space as polling places in some cases or paying more for advance voting sites in order to ensure we have large advance sites.

Either way, we won't be reducing for the sake of reducing, or growing for the sake of growing, for that matter.

We match voters to facilities, just as they did here in Albania.

Today, I visited four polling places not a block apart, not next door to each other, but in the same school campus, technically in the same building!

Each polling place is supporting about 1,000 voters, the number we use as our high-water "expected to vote" amount in Johnson County.

Did you just hear a squeal?

That was speaker feedback as I picked the microphone back up and dropped it again.  It was nice to bump into a community that made such an effort to make voting accessible.

Polling places aside, the most fun thing to share today are photos from how I'll spend by night, from about 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday night after reporting for duty Sunday at 6:00 a.m.

The votes will be tabulated in central counting rooms.  The ones I saw today are small theaters, with the counting on stage and show on large televisions.

High tech and voter transparency, my two favorite things.  The seats look comfy, too.  I didn't see a place to store my fountain drink, though, in the armrest.

So, just sharing for fellow election geeks out there.   More afterwards!




Sunday, June 14, 2015 2 comments

Play Ball!

Here in Kansas City, we are the proud fans of the defending American League champions, the Kansas City Royals.

The last year that could be typed, the Internet wasn't even a gleam in the eye.

Who knows, if we wait another 30 years to say it, we will be communicating, maybe, through gleams in our eyes.

In any event, the Royals were 90 feet from tying the game in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 7 and, had they done that, who knows?  They might not have been the best team in baseball, or lost the World Series to the best team in baseball, but in October at least, the Royals and the San Francisco Giants were the two best teams in baseball.

The Royals are playing like defending champions this year, with the best record in the American League one-third of the way into the season.

As the All Star Game approaches, and fan balloting cascades, it would be reasonable to think the Royals would be well-represented in the fan vote.  The Royals are good, and they became America's darlings, to a degree, because, well, most of America didn't know Kansas City had a baseball team until last October.

What's this have to do with elections?

This year, fan balloting is entirely on the Internet.

This year, if voting ended today, we would see a Royals player starting at almost every position.

That's exciting here.  I remember years where the Yankees or Red Sox or Mariners dominated the roster, and those teams were good then.  This doesn't seem surprising to me, and I'm just glad to be a lifelong Royals fan.

But this year, because of the wrinkle of Internet voting, the whole thing is wrong.  Or, at least that's what the national sports media things.  Something must be done, say baseball purists.  Fans are unfairly voting for the Royals players too much!

Internet voting advocates should take note.  This is a tiny piece of what would happen in the real world.

Candidate A wins a city council race.  It must be because the Internet voting was rigged.

I often point out, and no one seems to listen, that we should be thankful for our old, falling apart voting equipment.  We know the objections with what we have.  With new technology, we will face a whole new round of wild claims and voter concerns.  Some will be valid, but most will not.

It will be Black Box Voting all over again.

Black Box Voting times 1,000, Cartman from "South Park" might say.

One thing with the All Star voting--what if they didn't give updates?  I understand that the "who is winning" stories are designed to stir interest in the sport, but would the Royals players have the same lead if all of the results were an election-night surprise?

Academy Award voting is done on the Internet--"And the Oscar goes to...."--no claims of wrongful voting there.  There were gripes of the usability or the age old "did my vote really count?" question, but the All Star voting questions are new.  Maybe the updates are to blame.

Regardless, the All Star game points out that society thinks it's normal to vote over the Internet.  No one is complaining that paper-based balloting is the way to go.  The complaints are more about control of the number of votes someone is allowed to make.

The other elephant in the room with Internet voting is the continued cyber attacks on systems.  When the IRS is attacked, it makes it harder to suggest that a voting system couldn't be hacked.

All of this just points out what we election administrators have always known:  there is security and there is the perception of security, procedures we follow to give voters more confidence that votes are secure.  Without voter confidence, we have nothing.

It is with that thought that I leave soon to observe local elections in Albania.  The mere presence of observers instills voter confidence of a fair election.  Any system, even the the All Star voting online, must be open to scrutiny.  Even, more than anywhere else in fact, the system in Johnson County must face that scrutiny, in my opinion.

Transparency is the key to fair elections, just as it is the key to good government.

I expect to come back with ideas to further increase transparency in our election process and am anxious to begin applying those learnings upon my return, just in time to learn the final results of the fan voting.

I'm taking Royals trinkets as gifts for our interpreter and driver.  If the Internet results are real, these will be the only 2 people in the world who can't rattle off the starting lineup of the Royals.
Sunday, June 7, 2015 0 comments

Things Got Busy

Long time readers of this blog likely know that when the postings become less frequent, it's a sign that we are extremely busy, and such a thing has happened again.

Just a couple of weeks ago, things looked as though we wouldn't have an election until the spring of 2016.

Now, we have a recall election scheduled for August 18 and a Gardner mail-ballot election expected on September 15.  That will give us nine elections so far this year, tied for the most ever in one year with 2005, my first year here.

The 2014 and 2015 total now is at 16 elections, the most in a two-year period ever.  That's more than an election every other month. (Okay, okay, you can do math, too--it's two elections, on average, skip a month, two months, skip a month, and so on).

But as much as that crazy keeps on giving, it's that time of year again to focus on the budget, and we are preparing for our June 11 budget presentation to the Board of County Commissioners. 

Our biggest economic issue is how we'll handle the expected 80 percent voter turnout we'll have in 2016.  That's what we had in 2008, factoring in provisional ballots, and 2016 looks to be a repeat.

The county has bet the farm (or at least used House Money) on renovating a bowling alley and making it a cultural arts center that moonlights as an advance voting site.  It likely won't be ready for 2016's elections, though.  Other sites we had won't be available, either.  Metcalf's location was temporary and the Great Mall of the Great Plains is closing.

Of course, advance voting is required to take place in our office, but our office can't handle the volume of voters it gets.  Our office isn't even compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, particularly in that persons with a wheelchair needs assistance getting in the building and using the men's restroom.

Pointing out things like this year after year doesn't raise my popularity with county officials at the administration building, but we will be raising it this year again, especially given the concerns about polling places as well.

With any luck, the new state bill, just passed and expected to be signed into law soon, that moves municipal elections to the fall and requires schools to be available as polling places will result in more schools available for use in 2016. 

I type "with any luck" because the language in the bill is more of the "strongly recommends" than "strongly requires" variety.

Next year will be the first presidential election following the Presidential Commission on Election Administration's report that recommended voters not wait more than 30 minutes to vote.  I presented to a group of clerks in Wichita on Friday and pulled up some of the survey material from that report.   It's been a while since I've thought about this and, as a result, looked at the data fresh-faced.

I giggled when realizing that the survey brought to light the insight that 56 percent of election administrators felt the reason for lines in 2012 was that a bunch of people came to vote at the same time.

I was reminded of my time on the city council in Shawnee when a fellow council member approved expansion of the landfill only under the condition that a study be undertaken to determine why the landfill emits odors.

Duh, it's a LANDFILL!  I think it emits odors because people dispose of trash there, and trash stinks.

(I interrupt this post so you may insert an obligatory correlation to landfills and politics here--you know, Dear Reader, you want to.  I'll wait...)

Anyway, I'm not sure how the 30-minute thing will play in Peoria, let alone Olathe.  I don't think we'll find the budget relief we'll need related to the 30-minute guideline and, further, I expect the 30-minute guideline will be used unfairly against an election administrator somewhere next November.

For now, we plan to trial electronic poll books in the recall election to determine the feasibility of using them next year.  I'm not sold at all that electronic poll books address line issues, but they may cut down on provisional ballots issued because voters are at the wrong polling place.

I am optimistic that we'll have enough polling places that it will be even possible for voters to go to the wrong one. 

To that point, we also caught up with the owner of Textcaster, the company that we have worked with to create a text messaging lookup tool to get people to the correct polling place.  That's been a successful tool since 2007.  We have some exciting things planned with him that deserve a post all of their own, so that will come soon.

Lastly, because chaos is my friend apparently, I soon will be traveling to Albania for an election observation mission.  That will lead to some more dark moments, but I'll be blogging from there as I can as well.

My international mission to the Republic of Georgia led to ideas and new practices, so I'm sure this will, too.  In particular, I think we can learn a lot from these elections in terms of election worker training and processes poll agents. 

It's been a year.  Well, actually, it's still spring, but 2015 has felt like a whole year.  No summer vacation here--more updates soon.




Friday, May 22, 2015 2 comments

Spring Backward, Fall Forward

Election irony met elections of the future in Kansas yesterday.

The Kansas legislature, by one more vote than necessary, passed a measure to move spring elections to the fall of odd years.

I have been a very vocal advocate of this move, demonstrating how the highest April election turnout in the last five years was still lower than the lowest turnout of special elections conducted in any other month.

Also, we're more likely to have schools available as polling places.  This was a major factor in my support of this move.

But passing by one vote?

That's classic.

(Editor's Note--more irony since I'm my own editor--thanks to the League of Women Voters for pointing out it passed by one MORE vote than needed.  I want to represent that accurately and have inserted this little parenthetical addition).

Does your vote matter?  It did here.

Whether or not you agree now, or will agree or disagree later after implementation, the bill technically passed the House by one vote.  It would have been more ironic if one of the votes for was elected by one vote, but such a realization, if that were the case, would cause even me to skip a heartbeat.

I would imagine, though, that at least one representative started as being appointed by precinct committee members to fill a vacancy and then later was elected.

Precinct committee members frequently are elected by a handful of votes and, in Johnson County, we have averaged 2 coin toss decisions for precinct committee ties for the five August primary elections since I've been election commissioner.

We often hear that elections have consequences, and this blog isn't the place to talk about the politics of any consequence from legislation.


I'll wear this
spiffy outfit
to election
worker training
if 5 people
become new
election workers
based on this post.
But there is real consequential value to administrators.

The value to me, non-political, is the use of schools as polling places.  This legislation should make election administration in Johnson County easier and polling places more stable for voters.

Plus, perhaps even greater, the bill allows us to have more high-school student election workers.  We were limited to one per polling place and turned away hundreds in presidential years. 

Now, 1/3 of our workers at the polls can be high-school students.

(Note to you, dear reader, if you aren't an election worker--that means 30 percent of our workers aren't even old enough to vote and these youngsters, who can't vote, are making sure you do.  Any pangs of guilt, thinking about being an election worker--please?--contact our office).

But, this is a great example of the value of what one vote looks like, and what better example than in an election bill.

The practicality of executing the bill will be discussed here if and after the governor signs the bill into law.  

The bill is more than 80 pages, so there are plenty of details to scour, and even the potential for unintended consequences, so I'll be reading it more thoroughly and reporting back.
Sunday, May 10, 2015 2 comments

I Give You MINI ME (OC)

We  just got back from a well-organized conference of state election officials, part of the annual required training by the Secretary of State.

(A side thought--said before and worth pointing out again--I've served under three Secretaries of State, all men with whom I'm extremely proud to be affiliated.  The current Secretary, Kris Kobach, gets his fingernails dirty in the nuts and bolts of elections operations as though he truly is one of us.  It means a lot to all of us in the trenches that he knows how our voter registration system works as well as the drivers and restrainers we face).

Anyway, back to the point, the conference is terrific for state issues.  We received training required by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), but also updates on systems, issues, and legislation.

When I came into office, in 2005, then Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh had coordinated with his peers in nearby states to host a local, nationally oriented conference.  It was called the Midwest Election Officials Conference (MEOC).  It was the second MEOC, after one in 2001.

The conference concept considered that many local election officials can't get to a national conference and hear from thought leaders or those with emerging best practices.  So, he thought, he'd bring the conference to the Midwest, for election officials in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska.

We had a similar conference in 2009.  Every member of our office was allowed to go, and those who went came back with their eyes wider.  Our voters benefited.

But, for a variety of reasons, that was the last conference.  We didn't have one, as the schedule would have gone, in 2013

I've had an interest in revising the concept, at least for the Kansas City area.  I decided I'd create a Mini-MEOC for the Kansas City metro area, interested counties in Kansas, and any others regionally.

I have plenty of election cool kid friends and have asked some if they'd be willing to speak.  The response has been heart-warming and overwhelming with my initial small sample.

(In fact, if you are a cool kid--and if you are reading this you are--and want to speak, please contact me).

I wanted to pull it off last year but those 14 elections in 13 months got in the way.

So, Thursday, at the Kansas clerks' conference, we planted a stake in the ground and announced a date for the conference.  I figured if we did that, it was official.

Well......it was until I changed the date.  We found out about a clerks' conflict.

So, the new dates are Sept. 30-October 2, 2015, in the Kansas City area.

We'll probably piggyback some other meetings earlier in the week, particularly related to our potential new voting system.  We'll have vendors.  We'll have a gathering that Wednesday night, a full day of sessions on Thursday, and a half day on Friday to break so those who do travel can get home.

We had a small smattering of applause when the conference was announced at the clerks' conference this week.  We'll likely work closely with the Kansas County Clerks and Election Officials (KCCEO) organization on the arrangements.

And, now announced in the blog, MEOC is even more officially launched.

Oh, yes, I dropped the "mini."  I feel like an Internet patent troll claiming the conference name as my own, but there is some brand cache to MEOC, and I'm looking forward to building on it.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015 0 comments

A Day Like No Other

I spoke to the Rotary Club of Western Johnson County last night and the presentation was like no other.

Specifically, I often explain how many elections we've had (67 in the approximate 10 1/2 years I've been here).

People ask us what we do when we don't have an election and I usually say, "I don't know.  That hasn't happened yet."

But, now, with no election in 2015 on the horizon, we're in uncharted territory.

The city of Shawnee was considering an election for a vacancy, but the decision was made last night to appoint the person, according to the city's charter ordinance.  A school district has a Board member facing a potential recall, but the committee has several steps to clear before that happens.

So, right now, our next election is the spring of 2016.

That's unless there is a change in the timing of spring elections, still possible with a legislative action this year, and I discussed this last night.

Mostly, then, the presentation last night was a tune-up for the things I'll be discussing as we head into the presidential election next year.

We are scouring the county for polling places and new election workers.  I pitched the Adopt-A-Polling Place program that could be a rather large fundraiser for the Rotary.

I also showed a video prepared by a Princeton graduate student that explained the question I'm asked often, "Why can't we vote on the Internet."

I liked the student's video, and commented as much on his YouTube site.  I didn't care for the ending, where he explained that, for now, he's fine waiting in line to vote until security issues are addressed.

I'm not fine with anyone waiting in line to vote.  I know it happens, but my targeted wait is 0 minutes.

That's a topic for another post (and was the topic for earlier ones, too, Dear Reader, if you are so inclined to scan back in time).

I've attached the presentation from last night--that will seem familiar--and inserted the video below.





Sunday, April 26, 2015 0 comments

Around the County in (1)80 Days

With the April election behind us, it's time to move, guns blazing, into our next election.

Wait a minute....we don't have a next election.

Well, technically, we always have a next election.

It's one of the axioms of life.

There's always room for jello.

You're never really finished with laundry.

There will always be another election.

But in our case, that next scheduled election is April 2016.

We may have one before then.  There is an active recall effort underway in a school district, and there is some talk that Shawnee may fill an open city council seat with an election.

Still, right now, we aren't working on an active election.  That's the first time I've been able to say, or type, that in my 10 years and nearly four months on the job.  Others in the office who have been here longer are disheartened when they hear this, because for them, it's been even longer.

Unless the Shawnee election comes to pass as real this week--we're finalizing all work on April's election--I will declare the streak over and, as far as I can tell, it's about a 20-year streak.

In odd years, there isn't an election more than 5 months apart since 1997, and even then, we don't know now when staffers were aware that election was forthcoming.

So now, when it would appear to be the slowest time we've had in years, it's time to get extremely busy.  We have much work to do in the next six months, roughly 180 days.

Six months from today's date, November 26, will be Thanksgiving Day.  That triggers the holidays where December is often a lost month, time to move the ball through a month that has many personal events.  May is much the same way, with graduations and end of school-year functions.

But we're in crunch mode.  We've undergone some staff retirements, a death of a key staff member, and some much needed staffing changes to bring in the right mindset as we approach 2016.  We have much more to do, with two new vacancies pending, and hope to be fully staffed by this summer.

As part of that, we're focused on a very basic problem.  Where will people vote in 2016?

We have shrunk down to 175 polling places, from 286 in 2004.  If we were on the trajectory of polling place growth under my predecessor (tied with population growth), we'd be at around 350 polling places right now.

We need about 100 more for the expected turnout.  We won't get them, so advance voting will even be more important than ever.

Oh, and we've lost two of our four advance voting sites.

Job one is to review our polling places, a refreshed look at disability accessibility, parking, voting accommodations, and other factors.

We'll be going around the county in 180 days evaluating voting locations.  Jules Verne figured out how to go around the world in 80 days, but we're working--it'll take longer.

In the meantime, we'll be picking up our efforts to recruit election workers, beginning training as soon as possible, well before Thanksgiving perhaps, to be ready for 2016.

2016 is breathing down our neck.  We have six months before the self-induced winds of change shift to the turbulence from the outside world.

How we respond to that turbulence will come down to how well we focus now.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015 0 comments

Paging Michael Mouse

We just wrapped up our spring election and one of the aspects featured a winner by write-in in Westwood Hills.

That's not unusual, but it was unusual in that the write-in winner received one vote.

One vote truly makes a difference when it is the only one cast.

We've all heard of votes for Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and the like, but this write-in made us remember a very important fact.

If the write in was for, say, Mickey Mouse, we first would have to see if there was anyone with the last name of Mouse registered: Michael Mouse, for instance, known as Mickey.

We're all exhausted after the election, so I thought it would be cruel to ask our staff to run special reports by city for unusual names that could be confused with fake names.

Thankfully, I guess, we were pondering this in Johnson County and not Topeka (Shawnee County, where I traveled Monday).

On my way to teach a class last night, I passed this bench advertisement for a State Farm agent: Chip Munk.

There are no words.

Even when writing a blog, there are no words.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015 0 comments

The Last Mile

It's election day, and not just an election day but the last mile in a half-marathon election cycle.

We've hit the 13th election in the last 12 months (technically the 14th election in the last 13 months but half marathons are 13.1 miles--maybe there was 9/10ths of an election as a warm up).

So far this morning, we've been scrambling to make sure each polling place is staffed adequately following last minute cancellations and sicknesses.  Every polling place was open for our workers--never a sure thing in a spring election--and no angry voter calls an hour into the election.

That means are workers were focused and ready to go when the bell rang.  We've spent considerable time discussing the need to be ready for any type of voter as the first voter, and to expect a line.

Even if the line is just one person, places usually have a line, with persons going to vote on their way to work.  Polls open in Missouri at 6, so sometimes, voters have been waiting for an hour thinking we open at 6, too.

So, these voters are most likely on the clock, needing to be somewhere soon.  They are less patient if something isn't clicking at the polling place.

This is compounded if the first voter is a provisional voter or a voter at the wrong polling place who needs to be redirected or a voter requesting an audio ballot. 

I know it's a bit of an assumption, but the lack of issues thus far is an indicator that our workers nailed the opening.

It's probably worth a pause to stress how hard it is to be an election worker.  We will be working with some academics to identify a predictive model to target persons as election workers, in fact, as we look to grow our worker inventory.

If you are on the outside of elections, you might think we should just target 70-year-olds.  We want workers who will be seasoned and become good supervising judges.  That may still mean we hit 70-year-olds, but our primary thinking going forward will be to identify what the triggers were to get our existing workers in the game years ago when the started.

Funny, we are exhausted--a year of exhaustion--and all I could think of as I collapsed last night was how nice it will feel to have this intense stretch over. 

This morning, I'm thinking about all of our next steps in preparation of the next wave.

Hmmmm.  I think this is the sign of being an election junkie, or adrenaline junkie, or some other clever, cute word that makes being a junkie sound okay.

But, back to the here and now--11 hours to go in the final mile.

I wonder if there will be a medal?  I think we'd all accept a blanket and some chocolate milk at this point.
Friday, April 3, 2015 0 comments

The Case of the Disappearing Supervising Judge

With 5 days between us and the spring election, a recurring feeling has been, "Where have all the supervising judges gone?"

The supervising judge is the person in charge of the polling place and we're scrambling to fill 175 slots for Tuesday.  We have about 30 new supervising judges, election workers taking on this expanded responsibility, for this election.

Not too long ago--in 2012--we had 275 working in the November presidential election.

We had 182 in the November 2014 election.

We've lost supervising judges through attrition, but as we consolidated polling places, it wasn't a concern.  Now, it is, and will be one, majorly, heading into 2016.

We'll be taking a new approach, having promoted a new person to the assistant election commissioner role over this area and soon to be filling the election worker manager position with a seasoned veteran who has worked at Wyandotte County and will be coming back to Johnson County where he worked 8 years ago.

The goal will be to create a supervising judge and a deputy supervising judge at each polling place.

That's not to say it's an achievable goal, but is definitely an aspirational one.  That way, should we lose a supervising judge as we come down to the wire (illness, travel, family emergency, etc.), we'll have someone trained and ready to step in.

This will require two major pushes:  1) an exhaustive recruitment of new workers and 2) regular training beginning this summer to prepare this new crop for next year.  We never have trained workers out of cycle, but we will need to as we seek to add about 800 workers in general for 2016.

Part of the shortage is a simple fallout of workers who retire following a November election.  Also, though, the reduction in polling places seemed like a trend that would continue, and it did--but we hit the nub in 2014.  182 is the minimum we can have for a November election.

But that's the gubernatorial election.  We are expecting an 80 percent turnout in 2016 and, right now, with advance voting sites unknown and prospects reduced because the improving economy reduces potential vacant storefronts that can be used as advance sites, we're going to need every polling place (and election worker) we can get.

The situation also illuminates one thing we desperately need out of the potential pending state legislation to move spring elections to the fall.  Whether it passes to move them to the fall of odd or even years (we prefer odd), we're hoping the requirement that schools keeping children out of schools on election day is vital.

If it's a holiday or teacher workday, either way we'd get the use of the school as a polling place.

As a point of reference, of the 175 polling places we are using in this election, only 2 are schools.

Schools represent a major upside potential in our expansion plans for 2016. 

If only there was such low-hanging fruit for supervising judges.

Sunday, March 22, 2015 0 comments

Spring Forward

Yesterday may have been the first day of Spring, but we've been in spring mode for a few months and, technically, springboard mode much longer.

My buddy Mindy Moretti at Electionline.org just wrote an article about the number of special elections across the country, and we're a poster child for such a thing.

Here, we're charter members of the Election of the Month Club, working on our 13th election in the last 12 months.  I said the same in February, so it's really been about a 14-month string.

Rumor has it that there might be a recall effort afoot in a school district and there's one more district has to decide if there is value in having a special election by July (the others did in January).  That's  just what we know of.

The day after the April 2013 election, for instance, we received a phone call from the city of Overland Park regarding a mail-ballot election.  It was a renewal of a tax.  Special elections often are for taxes that require another vote for renewal, so some of that may come up this year.

In addition, the Kansas legislature is getting closer to making substantive changes to the election cycles.

We've already seen the city of Los Angeles move city elections to the fall of even years, starting in 2020, but Kansas had such an initiative top of mind for a few years now.  If something passes this spring in Kansas, it likely will have more of an appearance of "me too" nationally, but it was unrelated.

Regardless, the big question for us, it seems, isn't if changes will pass, but whether they will be for even or odd years.  I prefer odd, elections every August and November. 

We'll see how this plays out in the next month.

Such a change may buy us a bit of time in our plans to identify a new voting system.  Our initial plan (hope) was to make the spring 2017 elections the last with our current system.  We haven't made the progress we'd like in this area (see "13 elections in the last 12 months") so seeing the last use of the system move to the fall of 2017 artificially makes it seem like we have more time.

We're still hoping to implement in 2018.  If nothing else, we might be able to try something in parallel if the elections are in the fall.

For now, same ol' drill--election worker assignments, election worker training beginning Tuesday, scheduling headaches because the election is right after Easter weekend and, of course, the Kansas Jayhawks, should they advance to the NCAA championship game, would play that game the night before the Spring election.

My experience has been that when the Jayhawks are assumed to be advancing, they've never been a worry come election day.  This year, with no expectations and all eyes on Kentucky, and as busy as we've been, Murphy's Law may come into play.

No complaints, if so.  After all, the Royals made a run to the World Series during the fall election and cities tend to land these "all or nothing" sports scenarios.  Kansas City deserves it all.  If that adds more stress to us on election day because polling places may not be open or workers may have overslept--keeping in mind we're numb anyway--that's stress we'll be happy to take on.

Mostly, we'll just be happy for the chance at a break in the Election of the Month streak..  I remember the good ol' days when we averaged an election every other month.

Of course, there will be more time for updating. 

I'm sorry, Dear Reader, if you think I've lost my zest for typing.  It's been hard to find time.  There is no shortage of material, and I hope to get back to that soon.


 
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