Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Doughnuts and Swag Bags

Doug Chapin's blog post yesterday regarding a doughnut controversy in Appleton, Wisconsin hit home because we've gone through the same thing.

In Fairway, the city's police chief for years has personally delivered doughnuts to election workers (two polling places) during the city's April elections.  In 2009, though, this practice received considerable attention because some voters thought it was a clever way to encourage voters to re-elect the mayor.

I haven't ever been able to figure out how seeing an election worker with doughnut-glazed lips would influence my vote, but others were certain it was a ploy.

Thankfully, electioneering isn't an issue in Johnson County.  I often say during training that no one wins if we have an issue at the polls, so primary methods A, B, and C that we utilize when encountering someone advocating a position within 250 feet of the polling place involve hope.

That, and hope's companion, wish.  We just wish it won't happen, or hope they'll be agreeable to covering the offending item or hope that if they aren't agreeable, no one else will come in while that person is voting so we can avoid confrontation.

Our voters are pretty cool about this issue, actually.  Some of our supervising judges bring a jacket to the polls just for voters to use if they've come with a shirt supporting a candidate or position on the ballot.

In the case of the Fairway doughnuts, that wasn't electioneering, but in fairness to the law, persons bringing something to the polling place really aren't allowed.  Only voters, workers, and authorized poll agents are allowed at the polling place.

When I ran for the Shawnee City Council in 2002, I had this fun publicity idea that I would "run" for office--literally run from one polling place to another of the six in my ward.  The distance was within what I regularly ran each day, but I wussed out because I was afraid that it could be icy.

Little did I know then that I wouldn't have been allowed at the polling places because I wouldn't have had my authorized poll agent credentials.  Even if I did, by the third stop, they would have been rather sweaty.

Beyond electioneering, it is also against Kansas law to impede someone as they are coming into vote.  We're just a few months away, in fact, from many organizations hoping to have bake sales or other fundraisers for the persons coming to the polls to vote in the presidential election.   This is not allowed.

In fact, in 2008, Starbucks called to say they wanted to offer free coffee to voters waiting in line at our polling places before the polls opened at 6 a.m.  I explained that this was against the law, but that our election workers would very much appreciate hot coffee at 5:50 a.m.

Then, as they say, "crickets."

Even beyond the laws, we have some cities that won't allow their city halls to be used at polling places because, indeed, candidates running for re-election have managed to turn the parking lot into a trophy room, getting the Fire Chief, for instance, to display the new pumper secured by the incumbent.

We send cookies to our workers, and those are generally devoured by the high-school students working.  That's followed  Krispy Kreme, which coordinated a doughnut giveaway to all of our workers in 2004, but we got the doughnuts before election day.  By the time the workers opened the boxes on election day, they were anything but the warm delight you'd get on drive-through.

In 2008, we even tried to coordinate the creation of a swag bag of samples and coupons from area businesses to give our workers.  Maybe that will come together in 2012.

We'll begin our usual strategy of wishing and hoping for such a thing.  In lean times this year, that strategy will be used frequently.
Monday, March 26, 2012 0 comments

New Election Worker Training, Expanding

Today we completed our second new election worker training session in 2012 and it's clear that the training time will have to be extended.

Usually, we go for about 2 1/2 hours, take a 10 minute break, and then run through some scenarios in a skit format for 20 minutes so the new workers can connect some of the dots.  Instead, with both trainings, we've come crashing out of the training room with no break straight to the skits with 10 minutes to go.

I personally conduct all of the training, and it's hard enough doing all the classes at three hours each.  In the summer and fall, we'll have some days with two trainings--essentially all the work of shows in Branson without the charm.

We could extend the courses to four hours.  There is enough material for 40 hours, really.  The issue is that it would take about 10 hours of productivity away from me in July and again in October. We'd have to increase the pay for an extra hour (our workers get $15 for training, less than minimum wage as it is) so that's another factor.

We'll be stewing on this over the next few weeks.

We'll begin new election worker training for the summer in about three months.  At our refresher training, in July, we'll show the video comedian Paul Wagner created for us.  It's ready, but I haven't wanted to show it to our workers until we get to the full-county elections.

I met Paul at a trade show in the late 1990s when I worked for Sprint.  He was hosting the booth for a company called Myway.com.  He creates and plays several characters and then usually interviews his recorded characters live, as though he's working through a satellite feed.

About a year later, I incorporated his approach with Frances Cairncross, editor of The Economist and author of one of my favorite books, The Death of Distance.   It was an unlikely pairing, at an industry conference in Puerto Rico, and it ruled.

He did a video for us this time, as a favor, basically for expenses.  He plays several characters, some you'd swear you've seen at the polling place.  All of this runs through Voter ID scenarios to help get our workers at ease with the process.

He also recorded a couple goofy outtakes while in some of his characters.  I'll show those at breaks during supervising judge training. 

Paul is much more than a comedian and, in fact, has pulled together some heavy hitter deals in the entertainment industry.  I have a feeling he is about to get involved in social media election industry projects, and we're hoping to work with him on smartphone apps and some future iPad-based training.

You can see what he does at www.paulwagner.com.

Monday, March 19, 2012 0 comments

Execution, then a Post-Mortem

With tomorrow's new election worker training, our staff underwent an exercise today that we do after nearly ever election.

We conducted a post-mortem review, in this case an analysis of the last two elections to identify learnings before heading into our next one.

Typically, we schedule these reviews for a couple of hours over lunch, bring in pizza, and discuss the elections as a complete group.  We go through all voter comments and the feedback sheets sent back from our election workers at each polling place.

Usually, we break the election down from left to right, from election preparation through advance voting, concluding with voter history and the canvass.  Today, we dove directly into specific things we want to address beginning tomorrow.

 Our focus today related primarily to learnings around Photo ID, which included recognition that those up front need additional training on the ins and outs of ID.  We've focused so much on our election workers, that they may be more up to speed on some of the changes than our front-line staff.

A few of them will sit in on training tomorrow, although I think the training will more than likely just give them validation and confidence in knowing that they really are more up to speed than they may have thought.

We also spend time evaluating interdependencies.  During the cycle, each of us at some point becomes a temporary choke point before another group in our office can move the ball with their responsibilities.

For instance, jurisdictional changes beget precinct definition and new mapping, which begets the movement of voters into new jurisdictions, which beget determination of candidates, leading to creation of the ballot, followed by ordering the printing of the ballot, followed by ballot delivery and voting machine programming, coming before voting machine delivery--accompanied with supply delivery, except for some supplies picked up by the supervising judges, who learn about that when they come to training.

And that's just high-level overlay number of one of a dozen.

(Er, maybe one of 10--I felt like the narrator of "The Ten Commandments" there.  It's that time of year).

Just as "Frampton Comes Alive"
was a standard-issued album in
"Wayne's World," this book
was on the bookshelf of
nearly every Sprint executive
in the early 2000s.
Election professionals don't
need to read this book--many I
know throughout the country
could have written it.
Beyond these debriefings, we meet as a group every Monday morning.  When in the throes of an election, as we will be next Monday, the tone is a posting meeting, focused specifically on interdependencies, deadlines, and issues.  After a canvass Monday, our next staff meetings are broader and more strategic.

In fact, our county is undertaking an infusion of training, sending department and agency heads to training, with the objective of cascading a culture among all employees where decisions are made collectively and at all levels in the organization.

I went to this training in November, and all the while saw proof points that our staff was already operating in this high-performance mode.  Having about a third of your resources cut over six years kind of brings that out, but I think that's an election thing, too.

Election people are operations-oriented and are great at execution.  That's a good thing, because I think execution capabilities are the most coveted competencies in organizations.  

When I worked at Sprint, a couple of our senior leaders were fond of saying, "We have all the tools in place; it just comes down to execution."

Well, of course it does.  Strategy--while important--is the easy part.  Everything in life comes down to getting things done.

Today was just a great reminder that I share the office with 15 persons who are great at getting things done.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012 0 comments

March Madness Begins

And, we're back!

Back, that is, in major election mode after a whole 9 days since the spring primary canvass.

Today, we mailed out about 1,700 advance ballots for the April 3 election.  For all of these elections, we bill the jurisdictions the incremental costs and we're not only in the midst of our fifth election of the year already, we haven't even received all of our vendor invoices from the others so we can prepare our own invoice and get reimbursement.

We're essentially four elections in the hole.  We're a living practice case for a high-school accounting class at this point.

It's madness--regular madness, not March Madness, although this is the time of year that makes for a good analogy as well.

Tuesday will be our first new election worker training of the year.  Much like college basketball coaches, we're always recruiting when it comes to election workers.  We have enough seasoned workers to cover this election but we want to sprinkle in some rookies to keep feeding the worker pipeline.

We've also had several supervising judges hang up their poll books after last year, so we're looking for workers to step up and take on more responsibility.  We'll be utilizing a supervising judge buddy program, where we have supervisors serve as mentors to rising stars.

The number of supervising judges retiring after 2011 speaks, I think, to how hard it is becoming to be an election worker.  Running a polling places involves working through a series of exceptions.  The 95 percent who are what we call perfect voters (meaning they were in the poll book, voted non-provisional) take up about 20 percent of the mindshare of our workers.

The exceptions--the five percent--are the training brain-teasers.  The majority of our training time is involved with these one-offs.  Accumulating too many one-offs can be a turn-off, and I think that's what some of our workers have experienced.

We plan to overstaff slightly in April so we can get some new workers seasoned before working a second time in August so they will be full-fledged veterans in November.  We'll have a bevy of new election workers--high-school students--in November but most of our new workers will come in these next few months.

We'll finish new election worker training in early October, before advance voting and about the time we start to get calls from people who've heard there is a presidential election coming up and would like to get involved as a worker.

If by chance you're thinking about working in November, or setting up your organization to adopt a polling place as a fundraiser, now is the time to raise your hand.  

Sunday, March 11, 2012 0 comments

Oh, That Wasn't Us

This has been a week of, "Oh, that's not us."

First, we weren't involved in Super Tuesday and second, the caucus yesterday in Kansas was a party thing, not an election office thing.

But we have been busy.  For grist, I turn you to our warehouse, which we are in the process of rewiring. 

Our voting machines are always plugged in but cycle so the batteries run down and then recharge.

Some rows charge on Sunday, some on Monday, Tuesday, and so on.  The batteries will only last a couple of hours, in case of a temporary loss of power at the polling place, but we want to make sure they are, indeed, ready if called upon.

We purchased 400 machines last year to accommodate growth but our warehouse has no room for them.  We're exchanging tables to squeeze more machines per table.

Or, at least we hope we are exchanging tables.  The new tables have been on order for more than a year with assurance they will all be delivered by June 1.  We'll see.

In the meantime, our facilities group has enlisted a moving company to shift tables around for the electricians and we have been very frustrated that we had to provide extra insurance for them to make these moves.

This is a moving company, after all, in the business to, yup, move things.  Apparently, "Butterfingers McGee Moving" couldn't accept this job without our county paying extra for the insurance for all 2,500 machines.


Tables of voting machines, moving 5 feet either way.
The tarp covers them in case the fire sprinklers go off.
Suitcases of supplies that
will be squeezed to make
way for new tables and machines

Oh, and we have a deductible.  Break two machines and that's acceptable, apparently--the first two are on us. 

Of course, they won't break or drop any.  But it was a clever way for the company to get about $21,000 extra from our county, and we have been helpless in pointing this out.  Our Risk Management department had no problem negotiating our money (yours, if you are in Johnson County).

The option would be to leave the new machines standing in the aisles, and that's not acceptable.

I think if the movers thought they would drop all 2,500 machines we probably needed different movers.  All they are doing is lifting each table a foot and moving it over by 5  feet.

Anyway, this is the first time I've popped some pictures of our operation into the blog.  The photos don't do things justice, but I thought it would give you sense of what's happening.  I'll show more when we get closer to our next full-county election in the summer.
New electrical wiring awaiting the
final move (suitcases did
not have to be insured).
Tuesday, March 6, 2012 0 comments

It's Super Tuesday!

Well, not in Johnson County, actually, but it is Tuesday and a good time for the topical kind of posts that I've said I'll do occasionally on Tuesdays.

With it being Super Tuesday, there's no shortage of media coverage related to elections, including the obligatory jabs at e-voting:  a write-up of an Internet hack from two years ago (I'm sure I'll get into the white paper that's included in a future post) and one forwarded to me today by my favorite former election office employee who lives in Ohio.

Expect a full onslaught, by the way, of new voting machine articles at the end of September.  That's when these articles tend to harvest.

More importantly, there were also a couple of articles today related to social media.

The first was in USA Today, an article that reminded me of callers in 2005 and 2006 who were certain that exit polls were 100 percent reliable and, thus, determined that the Ohio presidential results and the 2004 election were stolen by the same voting machine company we use.

We'll get into polling later this year, when I describe how it's done in Johnson County, and I'm sure you will conclude that such polling is 100 percent UNreliable.

But the big article today was in the Wall Street Journal and didn't mention elections.  It was a story about Twitter use by members of juries.

Our election workers at the polling place share one thing with members of a jury.  We want our workers sequestered, immune to the media coverage of the day.  But here in 2012, we also have to worry that they could contribute to the media coverage of the day.

As sure as today is Super, you can count on a specific question being asked during election worker training:

What do we do about people with cell phones?

Well, who doesn't have a cell phone and, for that matter, who actually talks on the phone anymore?  We don't ban cell phones but we do ban disruptions, so if Billy Bluetooth comes in while on a conference call, we'll ask him to hop off the call and he almost always does.

We have high-school students working as election workers and we don't let them keep their ear pods from their phones in while they work because it looks like they'd just rather be any place other than at the polls.

But we don't fight their texting.  We don't ban texting, but we do ask that they dial it down, limiting the texts to things like, "Mom, can you bring me a jacket?"

But last Saturday, when I discussed our short-code polling place lookup by cell phone, half of our supervising judges immediately pulled out iPhones to try the lookup.  All of our supervising judges have cell phones without exception, and most are smartphones.

This demographic that supposedly isn't computer savvy is savvy, and they are being followed by a group of middle-aged election workers who are used to checking their email on the minute.  We can't fight that, so the "dial it down," message now extends to all election workers.

But our workers come to us without background checks or without any history.  Most volunteer for the right reasons but some have agendas.

They might want to ensure laws are followed at the polls, for instance, and that's an activism we embrace.  They may want to know how secure our election is.  Swell, again.

But we don't need any worker tweeting about the day, or, worse, describing the voters or what they think is happening at the polls.

Photos from within the polling place tweeted out--why that's a loss of control at the polling place that would make an election administrator break out into a cold sweat.  A Facebook status update by an election worker seems almost a certainty.

We've spent the last few years thinking about the technology our voters might bring into the polling place.  This election will be the first where we lay down specific rules about the use of social media on election day by our workers.

I'm a big critic of organizations that develop social media policies because usually they aren't forward-thinking policies on how social media will be used, but rather employee policies that restrict who can access social media.  There isn't enough thought devoted to how the employees can be harnessed as social media evangelists of the organization.

I've mentioned before that our election workers are influentials and we want them spreading the word in any appropriate way possible to help promote voter participation.

In this case, though, a social media acceptable use policy is shaping up as a must for workers while at the polls on election day in 2012.
Sunday, March 4, 2012 0 comments

Stay on Target!

I'm not the first to adopt a line from "Star Wars" as a strategic mantra and not even the first to adopt, specifically, "Stay on Target!" as that theme.

But it is the constant cry I'm using for our election workers, our staff, and even me for 2012.

You'll remember that as Luke Skywalker was flying towards the Death Star to shoot a laser into the station's pea-hole-sized vulnerability, he faced enemy fire and and was coaxed by his comrades in other ships to, "Stay on target. Stay on target!"

We're not in any kind of universe-saving mission, but we are expecting to be surrounded by election noise, particularly related to photo ID laws, voting machines, and the overall publicity around the presidential election.  All of that is simply a distraction to what we need to do--administer the elections.

Particularly with Photo ID, I don't read about what's going on in other states, or what the Department of Justice may or may not do, or what anti-Photo ID legislators are saying, or, for that matter, what proponents are saying.  As I often say, we are rule followers at the election office and the rules have been established.  If the rules change, we'll change.

It's akin to when I worked in competitive intelligence at Sprint.  We spent so much time chasing the impacts of bills that were proposed and never passed, we finally realized that our Give-A-Darn Meter should only be raised when actual changes were imminent.

That being said, Photo ID wasn't much of a distraction with our Feb. 28 election.  We had one photo ID protester and another voter legitimately left his ID in his other car, but that was it.  

We got more feedback from our election workers regarding the rollout of iPads to help get voters to the correct polling place than we did from photo ID.

That is worth a pause:  this whole big ball of angst--good and bad--known as Photo ID was overshadowed in election worker mindshare by tablet computers that gave our workers a new tool to direct voters to their correct voting location.  A new solution to an old problem was bigger news to our workers than all of these new procedures.

I've heard that Photo ID was a non-event in other states and I gave those who said that the cocked-puppy-dog-head look like they were crazy.  But, it's starting to look like that's the case here.

So it was hard to get fired up to speak on Photo ID Thursday night.  I was beginning to think the event would be about as exciting as a lecture on, well, telecommunications legislation.

I was invited to a panel on Photo ID at the Mainstream Education Foundation.  There were about 75 people there and if I was wondering where the anti-Photo ID crowd was, they were well-assembled there.  I spoke, followed by a state senator, then a voting rights advocate and someone from the ACLU.

There was definite energy in the room.  This was the most engaged group I spoke to since meeting with the Political Chips a couple of years ago.  These two groups have opposite viewpoints, but it's always nice to feel the passion regardless of the point of view.

I've posted my presentation here, but it probably needs some explaining.  "Tales from the Hood" is a phrase I've used in training, where I'm asking our election workers to give us training feedback on our procedures.
Because "the hood" seemed a little intense, I changed it to "Neighborhood," and figuring they would be feeling good in the neighborhood, I thought of Kansas City company Applebee's.

Hmmm.  Maybe it would have been better without explaining.

Anyway, we need groups like this, though, to get the word out about Photo ID requirements, just like we'll need the Political Chips.  

Our approach, as mentioned a bit on this blog, is to have a key connector outreach strategy.  It ties some to the book, "The Influentials," one of those books that you've almost read just by reading the title.  If one person influences nine others, we want to direct our outreach to those who can reach large numbers.

You'll also see our outreach vehicles (literally).  And, I'll soon have an update on our training video for our election workers, another group of influentials.