Sunday, June 7, 2015

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.