Wednesday, February 29, 2012 0 comments

Fuzzy but Depressing Math

Did you know that 37.1 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot?

It's true.  I just calculated that.

The relevance to that statistic comes in the spreadsheet I've posted below.  There are likely some aspects of fuzzy math here and the cliche, "You can use statistics to say anything," comes to mind.

Still, these numbers came from the county's budget group and you'll see that the election office has had budgets cut, by percentage, more than any other department since 2006.

I got these yesterday as we considered more costs for 2013, when we likely will lose two positions to retirement.  We're a poorly timed illness away from disaster as it is, and how could anyone conclude differently when looking at the sheet below?

I just talked with someone from a group where I'll be speaking tomorrow night and one of the questions she posed about Photo ID involved outreach.  Specifically, she said our online materials were very good but asked what we were doing to reach people who don't have computers?

The same question applies, I replied, for any outreach related to elections, not just Photo ID.

We have no money.  I've learned to barter with nothing but goodwill.  We stumble across talented groups and persons who want to be part of the election process because they believe in the importance of elections.  These people, like Whitworth Ballou, the agency we used in 2008 and the Secretary of State has enlisted this cycle, perform outreach tasks for us for pennies on the dollar.

At some point, it's all going to break.

The chart below gives an indication as to why.  The large chunks taken are from years with November elections and, as I said about fuzzy math, some of that likely came back to our department as the year ended.  It was placed in something called "countywide," which really is a rainy day fund for the county.  I know we tapped into it in 2010.  On the other hand, I'm sure there are extenuating circumstances related to the cuts in other departments, too.

Still, if only half this amount was cut (and it was definitely more than half), we'd still be among the cut leaders.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012 0 comments

Productivity in a 16-Hour Day

One of the oddities of elections is that election day is usually a great day to get things done.

Maybe it's because we're here for about 16 hours and a 16-hour day simply is more productive than a typical day.  Another reason, though, is that we leave the calendar as open as possible, free from meetings, to be ready to respond to any issue.  When issues don't arise, there is a large block of free time that can be put to good use.

The day after the election is usually busier, particularly if there are close races that could be decided by provisional ballots.  Usually, some unhappy voters call on election day but most tend to call the day after.

Election days, then, become a good day for a new thing on Election Diary.  I've resisted having posts that are a collection of smaller ideas, sort of a compendium of things, a "This and That," "Election Notes," or "Etcetera" kind of thing.

If I have those things, I will begin putting them into a Tuesday post, maybe on an election day or just a random Tuesday, but always on a Tuesday.

One such random item comes from the Wall Street Journal today and relates to a comment I made during the ITIF Elections and Disabilities conference last week.

If the concept of "Bring Your Own Voting Machine," that I first described last month here takes off, a natural extension of that is that your mobile device can become your portal to getting your election information, your election preferences (such as type size on your ballot), and the ballot-rendering device itself.

A natural question involves the equivalent of the digital divide--will those without data-enabled phones be disadvantaged? 

We're looking well into the future with this, at least 3-5 years.  The smartphone and tablet adoption rate will be well over 70 percent by then.

I think the bigger divide is the cost of the data service itself.  Many persons who have smartphones don't have unlimited data, and with spectrum squeezes, we can expect the price of data service to increase.  Someone may have a smartphone, but use it mostly with wi-fi and therefore they wouldn't engage as much when mobile.

I suggested that there could be some sort of public service data that was free, much the way calls to 9-1-1 are free.  Data using a particular app on the phone or to specific websites could be free.

At least one person didn't agree that this was an issue. 

As People's Exhibit A to my point of view, however, I bring you an article in today's Wall Street Journal.

AT&T is considering billing Application Makers for the data their apps generate. 

Personally, I think this is crazy because it's akin to Time Warner billing ESPN for the number of viewers who watch a particular game.  Users already pay AT&T for the access to the apps.

It shows, though, that there is a need to better recover the cost of capital to build out the data networks.  Sprint, for instance, (where I worked for nearly 20 years) has an overwhelming capital expense number in front of it in order to provide higher-speed data service.

John Donovan, AT&T's chief technology officer, discussed this during an interview at the Mobile World Congress.  John, as a consultant with Deloitte, worked with me on Sprint's wholesale strategy, and first and foremost, he's a futurist.  I'm sure this was more thinking out loud than a policy statement.

But, telecommunication carriers are the epitome of "Me-Too" companies.  If this makes sense to AT&T, it will make sense to the others.  And, one way they can sell this concept to the Federal Communications Commission is to have public service apps free from these data costs.

John says as much in the interview, comparing some apps to 800 numbers where the data is free.

There's a window, here, I think for something central to elections, like the Voting Info Project to own the "800 app" for elections.

We do this on election night.  Somehow, showing everyone how we run around checking things in provides some comfort that things are moving along.  The link will be posted on election nights on the Johnson County Election Office website.  The attached picture is from the computer we have in the warehouse, so people know how to get out of the view if they need to sneeze.
Monday, February 27, 2012 0 comments

Too Much, Too Soon. Or, Not.

Maybe I still have the Oscars on my mind, or maybe it was the Volkswagen Super Bowl commercial, but this month has reminded me constantly of a line from Ferris Buehler's Day Off.

Life moves pretty fast.  If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.

So it has been as we get ready for this year's fourth election tomorrow.  It will be the second with the new state Photo ID law.

Thank goodness for Leap Year.  We'll need February 29 to recover from a very busy first two months.  About 40 percent of our county's voters will have had an election so far in 2012.   Our next election will be  April 3, but that's more than a month away.

That will give us time to organize our new envelopes, replace those that were damaged in shipping (it never ends), portion out our snazzy "Got Photo ID" balloons for the next set of polling places, test more of our voting machines, rewire the entire warehouse, and change every bit of our floor plan with new tables.

We'll also use that time to debrief election worker learnings from the ground related to Photo ID and the use of iPads to help steer voters to the correct polling place.  The iPads also have electronic searchable versions of our manual so workers can tap in, for instance, "Photo" and see the 10 places where we cover Photo ID.

I'm a big believer in knowing when to say, "Too much, too soon."   Sometimes, though, I don't have the sense to listen to Brian of two weeks ago.   Somewhere during the month, throwing the use of  iPads at our unsuspecting election workers didn't feel like, "Too much, too soon."  Some of the workers' looks during training Saturday suggested otherwise.

Still, this is the first step to the adoption of electronic poll books, where I hope we'll be within five years, and the paper and staff savings aren't insignificant.  The one-time savings isn't equal to the cost of the iPad, of course, and maybe not even over a two-year life of the iPad, but sending one street index guide to all of the polls instead of carving it up polling place-by-polling place is a big staff timesaver.

The iPads may last longer than two years, but it's worth pointing out that iPads didn't even exist two years ago.  (Really, stop and do a fact check if you must.  I bought one the day it came out in April 2010).

Eventually, the iPads give us a chance to revisit the use of wireless Internet at the polling places, if the facility has Internet, to check our site and direct lost voters more quickly.  We kept wi-fi out of our polling places because of voting machine integrity activist concerns in 2006 but now most polling places have wi-fi for their own employees who work at the facility.

Times have changed and, in the meantime, voting machines still aren't susceptible to being modified by computers using wireless Internet.  (There isn't any kind of wireless modem installed in the voting machine).

Tomorrow's election will be slow enough that our workers will have time to learn the iPad, learn the street index guide and, maybe, read through the training presentations that we uploaded in addition to the manual.  We will have high-school student election workers in August and November--one at each polling place--so if we continue on this path the students will be a support resource for the iPads this fall.

The story line with the media tomorrow will continue to be Photo ID.  From our standpoint, while Photo ID implementation is something we're watching, the adoption and use of the iPads is the biggest area of learning.
Thursday, February 23, 2012 0 comments

One Part Experience, One Part Economy

I've just returned from Atlanta, where I spent the last two days in an Accessible Elections Design Workshop put on by ITIF, The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

This was the second one conducted, each time with a different group of participants.  The whole scoop is at

The workshop was very well organized and I've attached the workbook, which is a great model for ideation efforts in any industry.  The workshop featured graphic artists from Georgia Tech who made our ideas pop.

ITIF is posting the designs and is looking for specific input from you, dear reader, here:

We split into four groups and if there was a common theme, in my opinion, it was that there feels like a movement is afoot to create an improved and personalized voter experience.  I know there's been talk in the elections industry around the experience, but it feels pervasive now.

I'm sure that when transit professionals gather, they talk about the rider experience.  Same, I bet, for the library experience.  Heck, I know that in Johnson County, inmates often are called corrections customers.

Difference is, there's money in those parts of government.  I know elections are expensive, but that's largely because of the volume of persons served--it's just a scale thing.  Take 500,000 registered voters and an election that costs just $2 per registered voter and you've spent a million dollars.

$2 doesn't buy much of an experience anywhere.  I don't even think it pays for a ticket on our transit system, and it certainly won't be enough for bail for our corrections customers.

In fact, I bought a bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper in the Atlanta airport  after the conference for $2.68 and that experience, from Freshen's Yogurt, wasn't as satisfying as casting my vote tomorrow will be in the Shawnee city primary.

Elections are expensive but that's because they are inclusive, for everyone, and when you count up everyone, that's a large number.  Elections aren't expensive because of the unit costs.  Elections are expensive because we have so many units.

This workshop and effort is focused on persons with disabilities.  I've learned that the largest disability bloc is comprised of persons who may not consider themselves disabled.

That makes the true experience opportunity something that is focused on person-first, then the disability (if any).  If we're living in the Experience Economy, though, we're going to have to devote some thought to the Economy part, too.

For today, though, Hail the Experience!  Part of getting somewhere is having a map, and here's small piece of ours from today.  I need some soak time myself to explain it better and I will in another post soon:

A key but subtle word here is "effective" voter participation.
More later.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012 0 comments

Sticker Shock, Literally

Johnson County's budget squeezer is taking a pause from the expense side and looking at revenue.

The county has hired a consultant to compare costs versus fees.  In the elections world, the major area that will be examined will be what we charge cities for elections.

I've mentioned before that the cities pay incremental costs when the election is less than countywide.  The laws are pretty specific about what can't be charged, but the areas that can be charged are more general in nature.

"Supplies," for instance--no question, we don't capture the full cost of polling place supplies, for instance.  We just don't have the resources to track all the costs and charge them back in a scientific way.

Take the "I Voted" sticker.  We buy a case of stickers once every couple of years.  A role is in each suitcase.  We know how many persons vote in an election and, theoretically, they each got a sticker (in person, at least), so we could do some cypherin' and recover the two cents per voter from the cities for stickers.

I'm sure the consultant will find more than unrecovered sticker costs.  I met with him today and expect that down the road we'll have some productive discussions where I give my view if I think he's struck gold or if he's drawing a conclusion that's probably outside the margins.

Then, he'll take his findings to the Board of County Commissioners, who will have to determine how much of the new costing model equates to a new pricing model.

It's a pretty good bet that the costs to jurisdictions for special elections will go up.  Probably the other area in line for its own version of sticker shock are maps that we produce as part of the Kansas Open Records Act.

We provide them electronically for free (or for $10 if we put them on a flash drive--to recover the cost of the flash drive).  We also charge $10 for printing the map, though, and I'm sure that barely covers the cost of toner.

Higher fees won't benefit our office.  They don't come back to the office to offset budget cuts.  They basically will go for the good of the order at the county level.

To a large degree, this whole process is good because essentially it's a third-party establishing fees.   It still will be an issue, though, particularly for candidates who get maps.  My advice to them is to buy a bevy of maps once redistricting is completed this summer.

Oh, redistricting--another topic for a future post.  The nuts and bolts of redistricting aren't an issue for us, but the timing will impact candidate filing deadlines and put a crunch into the August election.  More on that later.
Thursday, February 16, 2012 0 comments

Election Fatigue and the Move to November

Last spring's city election turnout of less than 10 percent invited thoughts of moving the city elections to the November even years, piling on with the presidential or gubernatorial elections and riding the coat tails of the higher turnout.

You won't get any argument from me that we could benefit from fewer elections.  We've averaged six a year since I've been here.  We just wrapped up the 43rd in my time and are working on number 44 February 28.

Of the 44, however, 23 were non-scheduled special elections.  Many were mail-ballot elections.

So, if cost synergies provide the motive for consolidating elections, I say, look first at the low-hanging fruit.

That fruit comes in 23 unscheduled elections that could have been free to taxpayers, or nearly free.  The items on the ballots might have tipped a second ballot page or otherwise created a cost, but generally they represent costs that could have been avoided.

In Kansas, countywide elections are completely funded by the county.  Less-than-countywide elections share costs with the county.  The county pays for sunk costs and the jurisdiction pays all incremental costs. Postage, paper, and election workers are the primary incremental costs.

If, instead of cost synergies, turnout is the motive for consolidation, that's a bit iffy.  It's likely that the races toward the bottom of the ballot will have a significant drop-off in voters.  Still, even a 50 percent November turnout surely will result in city council votes of more than 10 percent by the time voters make their way to the end of the ballot.

We've seen this at the county, where a good number of voters for the U.S. Senate, for instance, didn't vote for their county commissioner.

Still, consolidating elections seems wise to me.  There are likely political pros and cons, and that would have to be sorted by the Kansas Legislature.  The House is considering a very long bill for this very thing and I provided input to the fiscal note yesterday.

On the surface, the concept combines the highest turnout election with the most complicated one to administer.  In the spring elections, we have to rotate candidate names and this results in more ballot styles.  We already have 1,500 different types of ballots in August and 500 in November.

The biggest issue I see beyond resource needs would be that communities truly would need to prohibited from chartering out of the change.  Otherwise, all we will do is have city elections in November AND April.

That brings up a different issue that we election administrators know.  Whenever there is a question of, "When we will move to this? (such as Internet voting)," we know the question really is, "When we will add this to what we are doing?"

Advance voting, for instance, didn't eliminate voting at the polls.  It just added to the repertoire.  Internet voting, if it happens, likely won't replace voting at the polls.  It will be an additional item on the voting menu.

Back on point:

The bill looks like it attempts to address the possibility of jurisdictions opting out of the move to November.  The other real issue from our standpoint comes down to resources.

This change would require staffing increases.  As typed a couple of times, we're steady at the same number of staff members we had 20 years ago and we're facing being unable to backfill two who retire in 2013.

Forget the soft talk of "unfunded mandates."  If the bill doesn't require that counties fund the staffing needs as proposed by county election officers (regardless if the state or county pays), this move will fail.  Even if the bill spells out that our office must add three persons, our county processes will still require that we sleep on it, we pray on it, demonstrate six alternatives considered to not add the resources, and, all in all, nearly tie up a full-time person (me) for several months before approval.

Or, realistically, we'd be told that while those persons were required by legislation, our existing staff wasn't.  So, deal.

One benefit of the April election from my standpoint is workload distribution.  That's not a good reason to keep elections in April but it is a factor when considering moving them.

Elections are expensive, and too many elections fatigue voters and lower turnout.  Consolidating elections, in my view, is absolutely the right discussion to be having.  I don't know if this bill is the answer, but hopefully it can lead to a meaningful dialog and a long-term solution.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012 0 comments

Active Readers, Inactive Voters

The smart people at PEW have released a study about the number of voters in registration databases who may not live where they are registered.

This has reminded others of that rocket scientist (really) at who did the same a couple of years ago.   (By the way, for you out-of-Kansans, he's a must-follow).

But, ahem!  This is news?

Not to regular readers of!  

Okay, if you are a reader, I've only been around six weeks and I'm touched you've checked the blog out and all, but it's a little egotistical on my part to think of you as a regular reader.

I haven't earned that yet.  I get that.

But, I did speak to this very thing here:

and here:

PEW mentions that 1 in 8 voters don't live where they are registered.  These would be inactive voters, which I discussed.  The PEW graphic mentions "active" voters; I think it's a blending of terms, so hone in the 1 out of 8, not the categorization of voters.

And, because I often figure baseball batting averages after the second game of the season, I've memorized what 1 for 8 is:  .125, or 12.5 percent.

My blog posts mentioned 10 percent as the typical number of inactive voters in Johnson County.  I was rounding.

I'll give you 12.5 percent, maybe.  (I don't think we're dramatically better than the average, but certainly we're not worse).

But isn't this a legal thing, a savvy reader might ask?  How can you really be better or worse?

Well, in larger communities bordering a state line, like Johnson County, there's a lot of voters coming and going, making list management even more important.  The fact that we send a couple of postcards a year helps.

Small communities, especially, don't have the resources to actively manage the registration lists.

Speaking of resources, the hot topic in Kansas is the consideration of moving spring elections to the fall.  As an election administrator, this...well...I have to say, it freaks me out.

Pulling back 50,000 feet (30,000 just isn't high enough here), there's really no reason our city elections are in the spring, as far as I know.  They just are in the spring.  Surely there is a way to make this idea work and keep the heart rate low.

I'll elaborate on that tomorrow.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012 0 comments

The Blue Bear is Mine

I've posted before about how the person in our office who comes closest to predicting turnout without going over wins the traveling trophy of the little blue stuffed bear.

We play Price is Right rules and how handy for me.  I guessed 5.4 percent and the turnout was more than twice that at 11.1 percent.  Another staff member guessed closer, 12 percent, but the Blue Bear is cozying up into my office, thanks to the interpretation of the rules.

We're only two weeks from the next election, so it may be a short visit.

This one--our first with Photo ID--will be remembered more for the return of the trophy than anything unusual.  Reports from the ground showed no issues with photo ID and only one provisional ballot, issued because of a name change and not because of the ID.

We had a great group of election workers at the polling location, including a fill-in for a cancellation.  The fill-in typically is a supervising judge, so we had lots of leadership at the polling location, and the four set a high-standard.

To my earlier post mentioning, "There is no such thing as a perfect election," I think for this one, at least, we've said, "Au contraire!"
Monday, February 13, 2012 0 comments

Getting Ready for the Afterlife

We just completed our first training session for a voter ID election.

We have an election tomorrow, Roeland Park, and another on Feb. 28 in a few cities.  We combined training today, marking the first time we've ever conducted training for two elections at the same time.  I led the training for about 50 workers.  We have another training on Saturday.

This has been a year of firsts and none really because of Photo ID.  Four elections in five weeks has made for a crazy beginning to the year.

It's worth noting that In Roeland Park, during in-person advance voting, we didn't have a single issue associated with Photo ID.

We also didn't have a single voter.

Yes, five days of advance voting and no voters.  There are three candidates in this race, and I have a feeling we will be looking tomorrow night at something like 16 votes for A, 15 for B, and 14 for C with 10 provisionals.

Roeland Park is the only city in our county that fills council vacancies with a special election.  That's either great government or bad government, depending on your point of view.  From a cost perspective, it's definitely bad, but letting voters decide (versus a governing body appointing) is always good.

We had our first snow of the winter today, around two inches, but tomorrow should be fair and about 45 degrees.  So, I doubt turnout will be impacted by the weather.   I plan to visit the polling location tomorrow afternoon and I think the Secretary of State will as well.

There is plenty of media attention for the Roeland Park election, though, because it's the first in the county with the Voter ID requirement.  There are 1,000 voters in the ward, but many are apartment dwellers and the conventional wisdom is turnout will be low.

Roeland Park has done this twice since I've been here--in a different ward--and the average turnout was 23 percent.  Yet, I'm putting my Blue Bear prediction at 5.4 percent.  Much lower, and we'll probably have more media members covering the election than voters in the election.

Regardless of the turnout, preparing for this election this early has been beneficial because we've been able to smoke out operational changes and training issues.  We still likely don't know what we don't know, but we'll have a pretty good feel for it all after February.   Our next election is in April.

It makes me think of the Glenn Close line in one of my favorite movies, The Natural:

I believe we have two lives--the life we learn with and the life we live with after that. 

I think after April, we will be done with the Photo ID elections we learn with, and we'll be ready to live come August.
Thursday, February 9, 2012 0 comments

Master and Servant

I met today with the postmaster at our post office.

To his credit, he is the only postmaster in my 7 years here who has ever talked with our office about issues.  It's not like he reached out to us, but he has been responsive.

(I'm just sayin' that, at the very least, if I ran a post office branch I would take a look at our largest business customers and maybe send them a piece of undamaged physical mail to introduce myself and invite them to call me with any issues.  I might even want to know what I could do to grow their business with the Postal Service.)

However, he did return my call two weeks ago and during that call, and today, he seemed empathetic.

He asked me if things were better and I said they were related to the delivery time of ballots but that I had seen more damaged pieces of mail in this past set of mail-ballot elections than I had seen with all ballots through the mail in the last seven years.

I showed him this picture, of a ballot that arrived Tuesday, a week after the election closed.  This wasn't the worst of the damaged ballots we received. 

He took me over to our station and showed me a couple more damaged ballots heading our way today.

I pointed out to him that this damage means persons' votes didn't count.  He said he understood, but I wonder.

The culprit, he said, was the Kansas City post office, where the mail is sorted mechanically.  He told me how they've had roller issues.

I stressed to him how important voting by mail was to us.  More than 20 percent of the votes in 2008 were ballots cast through the mail.  We need those kinds of numbers in 2012 to avoid long lines at the polling places.

I pointed out the sign that I photo'd earlier for my previous post and told him what a joke I thought that was.  He didn't see the humor or the disconnect.  He truly believes that the United States Post Office would eat UPS's lunch, for instance, if UPS delivered mail.

All I know is that I've never received half a box in a plastic bag from UPS.

But, I do have a local contact at our post office and I've never had that before.  So, there's that. 

However, this post office also is on the list to close very soon.  I can only describe my feeling about that as a type of Stockholm Syndrome.  As bad as things have been, using another post office would be inconvenient.

I came back to my office and was greeted with a news headline that the Postal Service lost $3.3 billion in its first quarter.  There's growing talk of a bail-out bill for the Postal Service.  I think the losses are being allowed to hemorrhage to force that discussion.

Hopefully, that discussion will include an honest evaluation of service.  We aren't even alone in the local election community, so I'm sure service issues run deep. 

Surely, large businesses are leaving because of the service.  If voters can't trust that their ballots will arrive through the mail, this is another a huge revenue stream that will be lost as well.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012 0 comments

I Can Run This Election With One Arm Tied Behind My Back...

...or, at least, with one foot in a cast and on crutches.

You see, back in December, after stopping a shot while playing indoor soccer, I was literally ran over by the opposing player, fracturing a bone in my right ankle.

I know the blog is better augmented with photos, but I'll spare you the photo of the ankle. 

You're welcome.  But, think pot roast.

Yesterday's doctor visit confirmed that I will need surgery, sooner than later, and that may impact my planned participation in a technology in voting workshop for persons with disabilities later this month in Atlanta.  Easy for me to say before surgery, but if I can swing it, I still want to go.  I probably wouldn't be the only person with mobility issues attending.

One reason I want to attend is to join the conversation related to a post by Thad Hall on Personalized Voting.

Thad has defined what personalized voting could mean for a person with disabilities and I suggest further that such a customized voting experience could be possible for each voter.  At the very least, I'm a big fan of customizing outreach materials (even if it is just changing something like to to make things feel more personal.

Essentially, the post from Thad is the first articulation I've seen about defining a new covenant of the voter experience.  We've dabbled with it here but never been able to create a comprehensive way for voters to customize their voting experience.

Customization could range from a user-specific web page to remembering ballot font-size preferences on a voting machine.  At the very least, and to the extent possible given our resources, I think customization would make voters feel like guests, and that's a good aspiration.  I am proud to say that our election workers take that point of view, too.

One-to-one marketing was a hot concept pushed by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers 15 years ago.  It's a great idea but almost impossible to implement effectively.

The concept spawned the phrase "mass customization," which shares the title with "co-op-etition" and "share of wallet" as the three marketing phrases that most make me cringe.  They remind me of my high-school physics teacher's explanation of, "rapidly approaching zero," which is what I believe happens to companies' revenue prospects when believing these phrases represent good business strategies.

But, it's a great approach.  Customer Relationship Management Systems were borne out of this concept.

In fact, I subscribe to email updates pushed by Peppers and Rogers.  The emails often suggest new articles on their website, with a link.

You'd think if anyone could get the one-to-one concept down, it would be them, but after the click, I'm greeted with a log-in screen.  Okay, fair enough, but it could at least say, "Welcome back, Brian!" 

Instead, it says, "if you are registered with, please login." 

I feel like a first-time visitor to the site, every time. Even the inventors of personalized service can't implement one-to-one marketing effectively.

So, going in eyes open, knowing the difficulties, I still am an embracer of the concept of personalized voting.   Thad's post recognizes that there are roadblocks, and this is a discussion I'm hoping to join.

First things first, I'm waiting for a surgery date, and I do need to juggle it around election dates and training sessions.  I definitely want to be off crutches before the intensity of our primary election hits.

I'd often thought how fun it would be if we had a Segway in our warehouse and thought, "This is my chance!" but, alas, Segways cost several thousand dollars.  (Yes, I checked).  Maybe I can personalize my crutches.

Quick Update on Citizenship Verification

In my earlier post regarding the timing of citizenship verification, I said I would upload my testimony and here it is:

In the future, I'll just post everything to slideshare and insert the document into the post.

Speaking of links, this was nice and is related:

I'll have a post for reals later today.
Saturday, February 4, 2012 0 comments

Bring Your Own Voting Machine

It's capital budget time at the county, and that has major implications for the future of voting in Johnson County.

First, the capital budget process has been tamped down in an environment of cuts.  If you can't put "public safety" into the name of your project, there's likely little traction to be seen.

There's been a lot of talk in the elections industry about the sustainability of voting systems.  In this context, many communities purchased new voting systems with money provided by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) and those systems will soon be showing their age, requiring replacement, but there is no available funding and tapping into local government's capital process generally is futile.

In Johnson County's case, the acquisition path of our 2,500 touch-screen voting machines started in 2001 before HAVA.  The majority of our machines were purchased with county funds.

My predecessor wisely pushed the county to create a replacement fund schedule and that went great until the latest recession.  The funds put aside weren't enough to pay for a new system, but would have gone a long way towards the system.  Some years funds were transferred, other years were skipped, and now its use is really just to augment and keep our current fleet breathing.

Best-case, our fleet breathes last in April 2017.  The goal is to replace the system in 2016 or after April 2017.

Either way, we have to build the process into the capital budget now.  Our current fleet of machines, if replaced in today's dollars, is more than $13 million.  For comparison sake, that's more than the cost of a new jail and usually the type of dollars that requires a new tax, such as a quarter-cent sales tax.

I have been very active with the open-source software gang and in considering open architecture where the voting system is not utilizing a proprietary piece of hardware.  The downside to that is that hardware changes frequently, more than annually, and we don't want to have a hodgepodge of technology that makes training difficult.

There have been discussions about moving to iPads or other devices that reduce the warehouse footprint.  (Touch-screen technology has come a long way since our voting machines--that's another post coming).

Then, you have the certification issues by Election Assistance Commission (EAC).  The only thing worth talking about that topic right now is that vendors have invested millions into this process and are going to look at communities like Johnson County to recover that, making future systems more expensive.

So, this is where we're going:  we're not going to buy a new system.

An old book, but my favorite
on high-tech project management:
"Get comfortable with the idea
of building a useful but incomplete
system," is the message.
That's the line I'm drawing and pushing.  Amid many reasons why this is a crazy idea, I'm going to force myself, our staff, our county, and vendors to accept that these are objections to work through in design, not reasons to say this won't work.

The vision I see is one where a voter comes into a polling place with a device--iPad, iPhone, Android, whatever they have--and either through Near-Field communication (ala Google Wallet) or by tapping in a voter number we give the voter, the voter's specific ballot comes up on the device.

The voter makes selections on his/her device, presses "print," and a paper ballot, with scanning marks, is printed for the voter to place in a scanner.  The ballot isn't a label, isn't a barcode, and isn't in a format that only has the selections.  The ballot is the ballot, just like they would get if someone mailed back one we printed and mailed them for advance voting. And it would work with our existing scanner model and software.

I have shared this with vendors who have quickly jumped to, "Yeah, we can do that today."  That's not true.  But they have some years to figure it out.  I've done the heavy lifting.  I'm an idea guy.  Now, it's just a small matter of programming.  :-)

But this is where we're going.  It's Internet voting without the Internet.  It has a paper trail.  It hopefully uses our existing scanners and if designed right will do an end-run around many of the needs of EAC certification.

It's taking a page from the IRS playbook.  Instead of our government sending out tax booklets, the cost of completing a tax return shifts to the end-user.  I'm not cool with that concept, except that tax dollars are saved, but in this plan the end-user already has the device.

We will need to have a device at the polling place for the small number of persons who don't have a device, and by 2017 that will be a small number.

The main point is all about avoiding the $13 million capital outlay.  We'll have to buy scanners and printers, and this will have to coincide with moving to vote centers (like mega advance voting sites) where users can go to any location and vote.  I'm sure it can be done for 1/3 to 1/2 the cost of a straight replacement.

One thing about this is the idea that we have to get comfortable designing a voting system for the near future, not the dream system for the long future.

Voting system design is now a forever thing.  If the cliche "success is a journey, not a destination," is true, the same can be said for voting systems design.  It's a journey.

We also have the benefit of a major county, Los Angeles County, walking down the next-generation path about a year ahead of us.  We'll learn a lot from them (that's a future post, too), particularly in ideation and in involving the user community.

But this is my resolve and the direction we are heading.  We're hoping to collaborate with vendors over the next year to look at defining the requirements, but it means that nothing under development or certified currently by the EAC is something we would use.  That's a harsh starting point.

If you're in the industry, you've probably thought of at least 10 reasons why this is wacky.  The most important commitment to real progress is to treat them all as hurdles in design, not reasons to move on.
Thursday, February 2, 2012 0 comments

Perfect Elections

Yesterday, three weeks before Ash Wednesday, I was thinking of Lent.

I testified yesterday regarding moving the timing up for the proof-of-citizenship portion of the Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act passed in Kansas last year.  The initial bill had the timing of that portion effective January 2012 and the final bill, as signed, moved it to January 2013.

The Kansas House of Representatives is considering a bill to move it to June 2012 and I support that.

The initial bill's message--"Citizenship when registering, Photo ID when voting"--was a straightforward directive.  Add in the subtle element of the staggered timeframe, and it becomes more confusing than it should be to voters when calling our office.

Further, they are calling our office and are coming to our website.  We have a captive audience.  This is the time to communicate the change, not in some phantom way in December and January without any outreach dollars before the February local primary election in 2013.

So, to me, this discussion isn't, "Is proof of citizenship the right thing?"  The legislature decided it was, for Kansas, last year.  At the election office, we are implementers, rule followers, and that rule has been set.

The current discussion should be about timing, as I said in my testimony.  (I'll upload my testimony and place a link to that testimony in a post within the next couple of days).

But I sat in the hearing room listening to others debate voter fraud, disagreeing how much fraud tips the meter to be of sufficient concern.

I often think that the issue of voter fraud either simply speaks to you or it doesn't.  One case of fraud is no big deal or it's unacceptable, and whichever side of that spectrum you fall, it's almost impossible to pull someone from the other side to your way of thinking.

As an election administrator, I often say we're in the zero defects business, much like banking, and anything less than perfection is unacceptable.  One defect is unacceptable.

In fact, one of my least favorite phrases I hear in the industry is, "There's no such thing as a perfect election."

That statement actually is generally true.  I just don't like it.

Elections are dependent on many factors, especially human factors.  We rely on many persons who are paid just enough to feel guilty for not showing up and we wear them down.  Heck, we wear ourselves down.

But just because a human error is possible, it doesn't mean we shouldn't strive for perfection.

So that's where my thoughts drifted to Lent.  When I was 18, our priest that spring spoke about giving something up for Lent and then buckling--giving up chocolate and eating a candy bar.

"That doesn't mean you tried and failed, and now you can go back to eating chocolate," he said.  "You start the next day on your commitment again."

What?!  People did that?  They'd buckle on day two and call it over for Lent?

I never buckled during Lent, perhaps because of my mother's loophole that Sundays weren't really part of Lent, but the idea that if I did I wouldn't keep going on for the rest of the 40 days never crossed my mind.

A defect doesn't mean the commitment ends.

We do have perfect elections.  We accept and cope with elections that aren't perfect.  But we never stop striving for a long-winning streak, an endless stretch of perfect elections.

Circling back to the discussion in the room, I was then thinking of a real-life immediate example this week where imperfection bumped against potential fraud.

In the Blue Valley mail-ballot election that ended Tuesday, we have a case of a woman who was issued two ballots and voted them both.  She was registered twice.  A clerical error had her birthdate wrong from her initial registration years ago but she registered again at the Driver's License bureau.  In our system, she looks like two people.

There's the imperfect part.  She was issued two ballots.

But she voted them both, signed the envelopes, and mailed them at the same time.  The envelopes include an affirmation that she has not voted in the election and will not otherwise cast another ballot.  She signed them both, and we matched her signature against her records.

Is that voter fraud or simply the result of an imperfect election?  That's something our district attorney will have to determine, but I will be sending him the information on the ballots after Monday's canvass.  I sent him an email about it today.