Tuesday, August 18, 2015

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.")


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the witty recap of the events thus far. I confess, I too got a fissure of excitement at the thought of Amazon.com's atmosphere of brutal honesty. Onwards!