Thursday, February 19, 2015 0 comments

Amidst the Chaos

It may be 2015, but our advance voting options for 2016 are front and center with the news that the Great Mall in Olathe will be closing this year.

Far from a perfect location, the facility was good for us and helped offload traffic from our office.

Combined with the fact that we have no central county solution (maybe, the King Louie site will be ready for July 2016, but I think that's fairly iffy) and that our building is stressed, advance voting has become a big-time issue.

That's also because we will need at least 100 more polling places in 2016 than we had in 2014.  We wont find them, which makes advance voting sites all the more important.

With the economy improving, advance locations are more scarce.  Plus, we can't negotiate for these until January, at the earliest, of next year.  No landlord of vacant space now wants to admit the space will be vacant, still, a year from now.

This likely will increase voting costs dramatically.

I've already tried to brace anyone who will listen that election costs in 2016 will be at least $1.5 million more than they were in 2014.

This isn't negotiable.  In what likely will be another jump from reality, it's already been proposed by the county manager's budget office to us that people will just have to wait in line longer in 2016.

So much for those presidential commission on election administration recommendations making it through the National Association of Counties....

That's the wrong answer, of course.

Something will have to give when the budget is developed, but it won't be our voters.

We're looking at the potential for an 80 percent turnout in 2016, with more registered voters than 2012.  We have lost two advance sites since 2012 and nearly 100 polling places.

First things first, we're in a stretch of 7 election days in 11 weeks.  Training for the spring primary begins Saturday.

Currently, I'm out of town for an ES&S National Advisory Board, and that always leads to voting systems for the future, a theme that circles back to our budget.

In the backdrop, we've had some legislative action related to moving spring elections to the fall, as well as the hope that schools will be required by law to be used as a polling places.  Like all of this, these are more moving pieces that we will be balancing and syncing this year.

Amidst the chaos--our new normal.  My goal is to clear the chaos by January 1, as a glidepath to 2016.

That's goal in itself will lead to 10 months of chaos.  The good news is we're about a year into the chaos plan, so 10 months seems like the last mile.

Here's hoping.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015 0 comments

Musings on a Tuesday

It's Tuesday, and a good time for election-day related post.

The theme, though, is fairly tired, but heating up nonetheless.

Tomorrow, there will be a bill heard in the Kansas Senate regarding the movement of spring elections to the fall of even years.

Last week, I testified in the House related to a different bill, one related to an issue I've been advocating--a school holiday for election day so that schools can be used as polling places in an era where parents worry more and more about their children's safety outside of their home.

Hopefully, these two bills will converge, so that, at least, as the merits of moving the elections to the fall, at all, or even or odd years, will have the backdrop of schools as polling places.

A discussion during the testimony in the House also captures my thinking for the Senate bill.

In the House, I was asked if schools required to be polling places was a "nice to have" or a "must have" going forward.

My opinion, I stated, is that there is always a way, always another solution.  I want schools to be polling places, and we need 100 more in 2016 than we had in 2014.  That's not likely to occur, even if we have this bill as law, but it is much more likely than if no action is taken.

Without this, we'll manage.  The election will be conducted, maybe with longer lines, likely with more advance voting sites, higher rent paid for sites, and with more staff expense. 

I'd like to say it was a must have, I testified, but there are other alternatives, just much more costly alternatives.

That's my same view with the move of elections to the fall of even years.

I prefer, for many reasons already stated in this blog, the move of elections to the fall of odd years.  That way, voters will become accustomed to voting every August and November, every year, and turnout likely will increase over time as the predictably of elections

The climate feels like it is favoring a move to even years--the Senate Bill certainly looks that way and the Senate committee chair, Mitch Holmes, is well-respected and has worked hard to be extremely inclusive in the development of the bill.

If it passes, costs will be higher.  We will need more full-time staff, and have provided that information to the committee.

But that's it.  We'll manage, regardless of where this all falls.  Elections will be conducted, again, just at higher cost.

I expect a lot of emotion and energy expended in the coming month on the move of elections.


If the current April election turnout--usually more than 10 percent and less than 20 percent, is acceptable to policymakers, then it makes no sense for any legislative action.

If the turnout is desired to be higher, the next question should be, "how high?"  After all, when the Presidential Commission on Election Administration was formed following long lines at some polling places in the 2012 presidential election, Commission members often asked, "What is an acceptable line?"

So, if turnout isn't high enough in April, what is the acceptable turnout?  No one has really quantified that here.

That quantification should drive the solution.

However, absent that, it's been demonstrated that elections outside of the April cycle--by mail or in the fall--have better turnout, so it's hard to argue that moving elections is bad.  Where to seems the item up for debate.

But that's not the discussion, so it's further difficult to have a constructive talk about the fall of odd years vs. the fall of even years because much of the debate is centering on the move at all or the composition of the elections--specifically if local races should be partisan.

Frankly, my view is that if that's the reason for the bill, then the elections should stay in April until turnout objectives are developed.

I've been a part of many discussions over the years related to moving elections.  The local race partisan aspect does come up occasionally, but almost always by observers rather than those involved in the legislation.  The Senate Bill clearly speaks to partisan, but it's an entire all-but-the-kitchen sink bill and may bury under its own weight.

What may be left is the move of elections, to odd or even years. 

Either is fine.  Odd is better.  Even will cost more. 

We'll handle it either way.

Sunday, February 1, 2015 0 comments

Track and Field

The Super Bowl is just hours away and a few hours from that, 9 a.m. tomorrow, the wrap-up will begin to our Super Bowl of elections--five school district mail-ballot elections on January 27.

That January 27 was a day. 

The election closed at noon, as ballots were being dropped off in person at the rate of 3 a minute.

Also at noon, the candidate filing deadline for the spring election.  With the deadline passed, about one-third of the county's voters have will be eligible for the spring primary on March 3.

We have a mayorial primary in Shawnee, two city council primaries in Roeland Park, and an Olathe School District primary.

We've had 5 mail-ballot elections on the same day (just now, but also 3 on the same day before), we've had different types of elections at the polls on the same day (primary in one city, recall in another), and we've had two different types of elections on the same day (mail-ballot ending at noon on the same day as a polls election ending at 7).

But we've never had the finish line tape crossed in one election at the same time the starter pistol was going for another.  That made Tuesday feel like an election office track meet. 

Some in our office were gathering the last ballots dropped; others were assessing which races might require primaries, polling places, election worker needs, and ballot plans.

It gave new meaning to continuing with an active election.

Ten years ago last month, I came to the Johnson County Election Office, and we have had an active election every moment in those 10 years.

How do I term an active election?  Well, one we are actively working on is the simplest way.

But the definition is more narrow. 

For instance, we're thinking about the 2016 presidential election, but that's not an active election. 

We're working on the spring primary--that's active.

It will be followed by the spring general--that's active.

The next election isn't scheduled until the winter of 2016.  The election isn't set, with candidates and questions, so that election isn't active.

And what that means is that fate is teasing us--the streak may come to an end in mid-April as we wrap up the spring canvass.

It's a bit of way to have an answer to the "what do you do the other 363 days of the year?" or "is that a full-time job?"

Back to the Super Bowl--I'm pretty sure the NFL event personnel work full-time for this once-a-year game. 

Elections are no different. 

We're event planners, after all.  That, and logistics managers. 

So, when I mention this active election streak, it means one thing to me and it means something else to those who were working at our office before I came.  As far as I can tell, the actual active election streak is about 14 years.

Tomorrow's canvass day--Groundhog Day, ironically--for the mail-ballot elections will mean closure to those five elections.  We're already working on election number six and seven.

It's unlikely that we will go the rest of 2015 without a special election. 

For instance, in 2013, the day after the spring election, I received a call from a city to schedule a mail-ballot election.

Nobody here is hoping for such a call this April.  We'd be fine with that streak ending.  We have more than enough pent-up work.

After all, advance voting for our real Super Bowl begins in just 21 months.