Monday, May 30, 2016 0 comments

Memorializing Memorial Day

It's Memorial Day weekend, a milestone weekend where we begin about a 90-day reflection upon all of those who have served our country in the military to protect us, our families, and everything associated with American life.

Memorial Day is that unofficial transition to summer.

It's also the time, in every even year during my 11-year tenure as a local election official, that I declared, "Game On!"  With a June candidate filing deadline, an August state primary, and the November general election, the Memorial Day weekend also was the unofficial transition from baking plans to ensuring we had contingency plans.

Memorial Day weekend was that last restful weekend before, in some years, Christmas.

Memorial Day is a different transition point here.  ElectionDiary was created in 2012, a presidential year to give behind the scenes views on election administration.  That's just as vital in 2016.

I have a different role and a different perspective, and one I'll try to link with my experiences.  I still would prefer to have election administrators serve as guest bloggers, but the best way to move that idea along is to be visible here.

ElectionDiary was never political in a traditional sense, as in having any view of the outcome of any election.  But the blog has chronicled the equivalent of office politics that are encountered when administering elections. 

I'm now convinced more than ever in getting to know so many of my peers over the years, that behind nearly every highly regarded election administrator, known for running elections efficiently and fairly, is a story of an entity trying to inflict some seemingly unjust amount of influence on the administration of elections. 

That adds a wrinkle of stress to election administrators.  Fact is, such a wrinkle probably is felt by nearly every public-facing government agency.  Those are topics, I guess, for other blogs--DMVDiary, PublicHealthDiary, AirportDiary, or the like.

My hunch, though, is this is more intense with elections.

I've often had an imaginary conversation about this with my father, always someone who cut through things.  My father, a veteran, passed away in May of the last presidential year and received a military 21-gun salute at his funeral.

"Elections involve politicians," imaginary dad lecture would go.  "Why wouldn't you think they were political?"

Election Administrators are professionals who are more worried about ensuring voters are registered and have access to vote than anything else.  Typically, the only reason election administrators know who is on the ballot is because the names were proofread, literally, 10 times.

So to repeat the initial mission of the blog more than four years ago (and the blog has had more than 110,000 unique visits in that time just living in little ol' Kansas), the stories here will be about elections behind the scene, what happens on the "other" 364 days we don't have elections.  Guest bloggers are invited from administrators and election geeks in the field.  I won't enlist vendors per se, but, perhaps, thought leaders representing the vendor community.

These stories--the SHARING of best practices--will be the hope from guest bloggers and my posts along the way.  ElectionDiary won't be for news. and @HHHElections handles that very well.

 But, it's Memorial Day, "Game On!" in elections, and time for updates to the diary.  As my friend at @HHHElections would say, "Stay tuned."

Friday, March 18, 2016 2 comments



Former Johnson County Election Commissioner Brian Newby believes that the findings of the "transition audit" released yesterday are inaccurate, incomplete and misleading.
Unfortunately, Newby was never provided the opportunity to review and respond to the findings prior to its release. Newby can only assume that the County Manager and Commissioners are motivated to bring the Election Office under their control instead of allowing the Office to operate independently as provided for under Kansas law.
Under Newby’s leadership, the Johnson County Election Commission has received national acclaim, earning innovation awards from Harvard University, the National Association of Election Officials, the National Association of Counties, and the League of Women Voters.  The Office’s accomplishments, and Newby’s leadership specifically, were profiled in USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.  Newby’s leadership was recognized through nomination by a panel of his peers as a finalist for his current position overseeing the operations of a federal government agency. 
Johnson County voters benefited from Newby’s efforts that included securely managing a fleet of voting machines worth $10 million and overseeing an annual operating budget of several million dollars. Newby personally trained 2,500 election workers, and advanced accessibility of voting through satellite voting centers at Metcalf South and the Mall of the Great Plains.  Johnson County’s elections, by all standards, were impeccably run.
The audit appears to have focused on book purchases, attendance at out-of-state conferences, and office equipment purchases. These purchases resulted in the taxpayers of Johnson County saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in efficiencies and cost saving measures. Newby’s inspiration for these cost saving measures came from the books and the out-of-state conferences he attended on behalf of the County.
Further, his book purchases and travel expenses on behalf of the Election Office were within the budgetary parameters previously approved by the County Manager and the County Commission.  Additionally, Newby complied with established protocols for submitting expense reports associated with his travel. 
The audit improperly stated the conditions for Newby's car allowance of $300, which were reiterated when the current election commissioner was named.  (See photo of resolution prepared for the February 4 BOCC meeting that explains the car allowance supports in-county travel only).  The car allowance only applied to travel within Johnson County and allowed for the sedan transportation taken to the airport that the audit disputes.  Every incident of this transportation method in the audit review period was approved by the county manager.  In no instance, as an aside, was a limousine used, although the county auditor and BOCC chair referenced limousine often.  The car company, Westport Transportation--used for the entire 11 years--used "KC Limo" as the merchant name on the credit card, a distinction known to the auditors and, again, each of these charges were approved by the county manager.
Although the Election Commissioner is a position that isn't required to specifically follow county policies, at Newby's request, he approached the county manager at the end of 2009 to approve all of Newby's credit card purchases.  The audit implies end-runs around procedures, yet the accompanying photo of the county travel policy (printed October 15, 2015 while Newby was still at the county) clearly shows that "the Election Commissioner may approve (his) own travel expense."  This speaks to the independent nature of the office, according to Kansas law.
Newby invites the auditor to consider contacting Newby in the spirit of the auditor revising the findings to be more accurate, not misleading, and complete.  Finally, Newby stands ready to help his successor in any way possible to ensure a smooth transition of leadership.