Tuesday, May 29, 2012 0 comments

Ahead of the T-Bones, Behind the Royals

What will be the top free Kansas City area attraction in 2012?

It could be the Johnson County Election Office.

The Kansas City Business Journal has just released its Top 25 Area Attractions based on 2011 attendance.

If you considered "attendance," to be the same as "number of votes cast," our attendance of 57,550 votes in 2011 didn't even crack the top 25.  The Harry S. Truman Library & Museum is number 25 with 2011 attendance of 98,000.

In 2012, we've already had 48,150 votes cast, still a far cry out of the top 25.

But, if our 2012 August and November election numbers are the same as in 2008, we'd finish with 411,026 votes cast.  A modest 10,000 voter increase because of registration growth from these two elections would put us at approximately 421,000 votes.

That would be good enough for 10th on the area attraction list this year.  If 2012 numbers are the same as in 2011, here's how it would look:

1.   Kansas City Power and Light District                          9,000,000
2.   Ameristar Casino Hotel Kansas City                            3,364,177
3.   Harrah's North Kansas City Casino and Hotel           2,553,000
4.   Kansas City Royals Baseball Club                                1,724,370
5.   Worlds of  Fun and Oceans of Fun                               1,300,000
6.   The City Market                                                                 720,000
7.   Kansas City Zoo                                                                 713,813
8.   Kansas City Chiefs Football Club                                    700,000
9.   Kansas Speedway                                                              600,000
10. JOHNSON COUNTY ELECTIONS                   421,000 (votes cast)
11. Watkins Woolen Mill State Park                                      420,000
12.  Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art                                        410,000
13.  Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead                               400,000
14.  Sporting Kansas City                                                         400,000
15.  Kansas City T-Bones                                                         261,115

Voting in Johnson County is a more popular Kansas City area activity than minor league baseball and major league soccer, but less popular than pro baseball, pro football, and racing.

Of the top 10, only elections are truly free (no cover charge, admission charge, parking charge, or items that are purchased).

Granted, you could consider "church" or "school" to be an attraction and add up all the attendees, but I've only listed the voters involved in Johnson County Elections, put on by one office. We've had quite a schedule in 2012, as many elections as the Chiefs will have regular-season home games.

So, the next time someone criticizes voter turnout or compares the number to those discussing American Idol voting, you have a snappy comeback:

"I'll have you know that all the votes cast in Johnson County in 2012 create a total admission that makes it the number one free area attraction in Kansas City."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012 1 comments

David Newby, 1930-2012

I've tried to have a post each Tuesday in recognition that there is always an election going on somewhere on a Tuesday.

Plus, as those in the election world can attest, the Tuesday election day is often the slowest day in the cycle.  The work is done and we leave the day open for mayhem, and thankfully there usually isn't any.

Today's Tuesday post is brief.

My father died this morning at 1 a.m.  He was 82.

He suffered a stroke last year and his energy level dropped over the fall and winter.  In fact, I planned to take him to a Royals game last September and he didn't have the stamina to go. 

He took me to the All-Star game when it was in Kansas City in 1973.  I still have the ticket stubs.

I knew he couldn't go this year, hosted again in Kansas City, and I probably couldn't have gotten tickets, anyway, so I was planning to be with him on July 10 (also a Tuesday) and watch it on television.

In 1985, he obtained two tickets to game seven of the World Series, Royals-Cardinals, and he gave them to me on the condition that I went with my brother.  It was the biggest moment up until then for the Royals--and it remains their biggest moment--and he passed so his two sons could go.

He was a Rotarian and believed in "service above self."  My brother died years ago (it's a very odd feeling to be the only family member still living from my childhood Christmas photos) and my dad also gave me a defining memory of my brother from sharing that World Series celebratory night, one of the greatest nights ever to be living in Kansas City.

I was with him on March 24 and it was clear he was declining.  I visited him yesterday afternoon after coming back in town from training, and I was not surprised to get the call this morning.

Since I've been at the election office, I've never been quite sure he understood exactly what I did.  With him leaving on a Tuesday, I think he did.

Friday, May 18, 2012 0 comments

Redistricting, Unresolved

When it comes to predicting turnout, I'm especially good at nailing the number the day after the election.

Until then, of course, it's a guess.  I'm usually not that far off, though.

Since the day after the 2008 presidential election, I've been preparing for a drop in Johnson County turnout in 2012, from 78 percent to 75 percent.  I just think the 2008 election had an energy level that I didn't think would be repeated in 2012.

If I'm right, though, the story line in the newspapers will be that Photo ID suppressed turnout.  Not in effect in 2008, the new Photo ID law will be listed as the reason turnout dropped. 

Again, IF I'm right (and we all win if I'm wrong and the turnout is higher), I'll be pointing people back to this post.

Likewise, I point you now  to something I've said many places in the past 18 months: "For me photo ID isn’t even in the top 10 issues for 2012."

My post on Monday provides a sense of an item on my top 10 list.  We're up to about 75 machines that have power supplies "certified fried," by the way.  We're still evaluating.

Another worry came with the census and this one may impact turnout negatively and drop my 75 percent prediction.

We have no idea what state races we will have in the August primary.  By, "no idea," I mean, we don't know the legislative districts involved, the boundaries, or the candidates. 

We don't completely know the election date, even.  We thought the August 7 date could be moved by legislative action, but that idea seems to have died. 

That puts us a little more than a month away from the last date we can send ballots to military and overseas voters, and we got nothin'.

The filing deadline of June 1 has moved to June 11 for some races because the legislature has not approved plans for redistricting.  The new drawings aren't supposed to do this, but rumor has it they will split some precincts, which means some precinct committee candidates who file by June 1 likely will find out they aren't running after all because their precinct changed after the June 1 filing deadline.

New candidates have an uphill battle, I think, running against incumbents, so some people are likely sitting on the sidelines waiting to file but wanting assurance they aren't running against a Juggernaut.  Many will have a tiny window, or a knothole, to make the decision and get filed.

The issue seems destined to be settled by the courts, maybe by the end of May, maybe by June 4, or maybe later.  With many potential candidates hanging loose, there probably will be some uncontested races, and that's the ultimate turnout-killer.

Of course, voters will come out to vote for president, but there are some voters who only come to vote for their neighbor or friend in a local race. 

So, we're still riding the storm. 

I absolutely, absolutely hate the overused "Perfect Storm" phrase.   As Americans, it seems we encounter a Perfect Storm somewhere every day. 

Besides, it seems a compliment to call what we're going through a Perfect Storm.  There's plenty of imperfection at play. 

But, it's a storm, and rapidly becoming a Twister.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fired Up, Ready to Blow

It's not all fun and games here at the Election Office.

Every once in a while, we just have a day where we feel ran over.  (That would be physically ran over; we have plenty of days where we feel emotionally ran over).

Today was one of those days.

Amid the backdrop of the legislature's lack of a redistricting plan, we're pondering election scenarios and questions that simply don't have answers.  

Already, we've seen the filing deadline for candidates move in some races from June 1 to June 11, but June 1 had many other areas of significance for us.

When looking at voter registration numbers and the existing life of our fleet three years ago, I embarked on a mission to purchase 400 reconditioned voting machines at a significantly reduced rate from ES&S. 

We had money in reserves to cover the purchase and with the purchase, I felt we would be able to ride out our fleet through 2017.

We scheduled an agenda item with the Board of County Commissioners after it was determined that we did not need Board approval for the machines.  The agenda item was simply a way to have public record of our intent.

This was in 2010 and, unfortunately, during the meeting the agenda item was closed with someone telling the Board that they would see this item again as a formal resolution.

That was not the plan, but it suddenly became the plan.

So, off we went, formalizing a contract that took much more time than it should and arranging for a vendor to build new tables and another to lay in electrical wiring for the new machines.

We finally got Board approval in June 2011 and the machines were delivered in July.  The tables were expected at the same time.

The table delivery date drifted and drifted, first September and then January.  The absolute line in the sand was June 1 and we were assured we'd have the tables delivered before we were in full election mode for the August primary.

We're 15 days out from that and have only a smattering of tables.

Cleared out space for the new tables and....

Today, we moved machines on the new tables, plugged them in, turned on power to the plugs, and had an immediate power surge of popping and exploding.

We've tested one of the machines and its power supply is fried.  We'll test more tomorrow, or, better said, when our power situation in the warehouse is stable.  Right now, we're without air conditioning.  Apparently, we need a new transformer now in our building or at the curb.

...the tables in place, waiting for machines
to be connected.
It's possible this is related or, otherwise, the electrical work was completed improperly.

In any event, as I sweated out all of the things that could go wrong with the tables, I never thought the project could go so wrong it would destroy the machines I spent two years obtaining and that they would be fried less than six months before the presidential election.  

The machines are insured, but we're told the deductible is $100,000.  I imagine we'd need Board approval to replace the machines.  

That would be the third go-round for this project and each trip to the Board includes a Board meeting, an agenda review meeting, a staff pre-meeting, a staff pre-pre-meeting, a meeting with budget, and a meeting with the county manager.  If we do go after more machines for the presidential election, we'll get them in 2013.

The good news is that it took our minds off the fact that we don't really know when the August election will be.  That's worthy of an update.  

Okay, "worthy of an update," is different than an actual blog update.  We're waiting for an update, too, but I plan to blog the latest on that by Friday.
Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Rectory and the Election Office

There's a little house next door to the election office that I often refer to as the rectory.

The set-up reminds me of churches when I was a kid, with a little house to the side of the church that housed several priests.  (A few years later, a couple of priests; later, "the" priest; now, an overnight house for the visiting priest).

Anyway, because I'm nerdy, I always thought how cool it would be to live there and walk over to the office.

The "rectory," which sits next to our office.  You can
see our sign underneath the left tree.
My wife, by the way, has never shared this dream.  And, the dream would be a depressing one if some day I wasn't reappointed as election commissioner and I sadly gazed out the back window to what used to be.  Plus, it would be pretty creepy for my successor.

Still, it would be cool.

And, NOW, the county has a chance to buy that house.

We've actually been hoping we'd move from this location because the building needs some costly love and our warehouse is full.  The place will handle about 2,000 advance voters each day in October but only about 150 fit into the building at any one time.

Buying the house could allow for the creation of a separate entrance and exit from the parking lot, something the Olathe police department would like.

Or, we could build a new office area in that place and convert our existing office space to a better area for training and voting.

Or, we could just have extra parking--now, during advance voting, we all park down the street in Sysco's parking lot (with their permission) and walk about a 1/4 mile to the office, right past the house.  If nothing else, we could cut through the backyard of the house and save a lot of the walking.

The house is worth approximately $100,000, so purchasing it seems like a smart move to me.  Worst case, it can be added to the area where our building is if the county were to sell it (our properly is worth about $2 million, and I think it would be worth more if torn down and built into a hotel--the economy kind of slow-rolled that possibility for now).

However, the valuation of our building has dropped about 20 percent in the past couple of years.  Perhaps this investment and parking lot modification would stave off further declines in this property's valuation (or bump it up slightly), recovering the investment.

The county ran into some controversy lately when purchasing a former bowling alley for possible future use as a museum, with a total investment of about $3.6 million.

So, even though this is a much smaller amount, there will be some trepidation to make the purchase.

The parks department also had its share of controversy recently after allowing employees to live in certain park properties tax-free.  The employees lived there as security for the park and to maintain the property.

With that in mind--unless my wife changes her mind in a hurry and we sell our house (unlikely, anyway)--the rectory concept will just be just that.

The item likely will be presented soon to the Board of County Commissioners.  It seems unlikely that anyone will ever buy that house to live in it because it's nestled in a commercial zone; the property is destined to be repurposed.

For nostalgia's sake, it will be a sad passing when the rectory is gone.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Training Video Premier

This week in Dodge City, the clerks and election commissioners in Kansas discussed creative ways we are all getting the word out regarding Photo ID, now necessary when voting by mail or in person in Kansas (unless a voter is on the permanent sick and disabled list where the voter is automatically issued a ballot by mail).

There's considerable energy and creativity, times 105 (the number of counties), going on in the field.

As mentioned earlier in ElectionDiary, I've directed our meager funds toward election worker training.

I've done this for a few reasons:

  1. In general, I don't think the need to bring ID will be news to voters.  Most will come in with a driver's license.  There are other IDs that are allowed, but trying to reach individuals who might try to use one of those would be a considerable guessing game and very inefficient.
  2. It ties to my "key connector" approach on outreach.  I want to hit 10 hubs that spoke out to thousands rather than groups of 20 at a time looking to fill a weekly meeting agenda.  2,000 election workers include high-school students and high achievers in their first, second, or current professional act.  Many are wired within several social groups.
  3. Our big message will continue to be encouragement for voters to cast ballots in advance.  In fact, we likely will have 10 percent fewer polling places than we had in 2008.
  4. Ultimately, when we're aiming for excellent execution, properly arming election workers with tools and understanding to help voters will pay off most on election day.

The three elections at the polls thus far have validated this view.  At our training in July, we will show a video that we created as an ice-breaker to smooth any apprehension about the difficulty of administering Photo ID.

I showed this video to an audience for the first time in Dodge City.  I felt like a real movie producer, relieved that the group laughed at the right moments and thought it was effective.

Then, after the showing the video, I'll pull up screen shots of the characters' personas and provide key points for addressing that situation.

The video features several characters, all played by the same person, Paul Wagner.  We used actual election workers in the video and they were amazing.

Paul has posted the video on YouTube.  I'm putting the link here knowing that some of our election workers will have seen it by the time we roll into July and, in fact, the second character in the video is one we are taking out of our July training.

Our personas include someone who intentionally doesn't come with ID, someone who comes with the wrong ID, someone who doesn't look like his photo, someone who comes in only with the voter registration card, someone who wants to discuss the new law with an election worker, someone who believes his ID is valid and doesn't want to come back and wait in line, a familiar face who is surprised he still is asked for ID, and a voter who goes by several names.  Paul plays himself briefly just for context and the bit is hosted by a British hipster.

I hope you like it.  Comedy is subjective and as I mentioned before, this was a risk, but I'm feeling better and better about our training plan this fall, and this is one reason why.

I'm working with Paul on another training project that I hope to highlight here in a month or so.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Get Into Dodge

I've been in this job long enough that I've lost track of a couple of things about the annual May conference I'm attending right now.

First, it's a conference of all 105 county clerks and the four election commissioners in Kansas.  Election commissioners are appointed by the Secretary of State in the four largest counties and the elected county clerk pulls double-duty in the other 101 counties.

The conference includes annual training required by law in association with the Help America Vote Act.  The "lost track" part comes from where it is required, in federal or state law.  I've lost interest in looking up that (I think it's state law) because the training is non-optional.

It's good, also.  The Secretary of State's office has a small elections staff and each member is incredibly bright, competent, and even-keel.  They are great role models.

The training provides a good time to understand legal and process changes and I always have a running list of topics I'd like to catch one one or more of them on and here they provide me a fish-in-a-barrel opportunity.

I've also lost track of where we were in a particular year.  The conference rotates and has been in Salina, Great Bend, Topeka, Manhattan, and Hutcheson (I was reminded of that yesterday).

I remember 2010 being in Topeka just because that year our office planned to rent a car for four of us to go and when I arrived at Enterprise, our Chevy Blazer, instead, was a Hummer.

Earlier that year, the Republican Secretary of State who had appointed me to my first term in 2005, Ron Thornburgh, unexpectadly resigned to take a great job at NIC and the Governor had just appointed Democrat Chris Biggs to fill the term.   I strive to be apolitcal in my job and I didn't want his first impression of me honking and waving as I entered the parking lot driving a Hummer with gas at $4 a gallon.

So, we squeezed into my Kia. 

Loaded up, and the reason
This year, the meeting is in Dodge City, about a 6-hour drive from Johnson County.  It probably seems incongruous to my Hummer story (and it's not because the current Secretary of State is a Republican) but this time we took a chartered bus.

I knew I wouldn't be able to drive following ankle surgery and I wasn't too keen on asking any of my staff to drive.  Right or wrong, I think it's incredulous to ask subordinates to haul around their boss and carry his things.  I'd have no problem driving them, but I think it's an unfair exercise of power to expect them to drive me.  I also, as an example, don't get my shoes shined at airport stands.

Plus, any car would be impossibly cramped with four of us going and there really wouldn't be any room for my gimp toys--scooter, crutches, and such. 

We knew we'd have to rent a vehicle (a van at least) and we rented a shuttle bus with a driver, the smallest bus available, and offered to pick up others on the way. 

We stopped at Shawnee County and picked up my peer there (election commissioner and current IACREOT president Libby Ensley).

The bus that came was much bigger than what we ordered and paid for.  Our driver, as it turns out, has been an election worker in Johnson County.  He has been terrific.  We're all refreshed, ready to learn.  We saw everyone last night at a reception hosted by Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
I'll take some photos and post them later.  For now, I've posted photos from our first day.

The bus driven by Garry, below, a former Johnson
County election worker.  He's been terrific.

Photos of Shawnee County's election office.
It's very small and, just like our office, is, um,
kind of doggy for such an important
government function.
Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day

No doubt, this is a self-indulgent post.

Let's face it, though.  Blogs are self-indulgent.  It being May Day and an election day somewhere, this is the right time.

When I was 13, and someone who had experienced the cliched suburban kid lifestyle of the times and the riches of Christmas in the past, my mother gave me only one gift for Christmas--a pencil sharpener.

It was a battery-operated Snoopy pencil sharpener and it was all she could afford (I really wanted it--once a geek, always a geek).  It's my favorite gift that I have ever received for Christmas.

My parents had divorced earlier that year.  In the 1970s in our world at least, divorce was big news.  I was the only student at St. Regis School with divorced parents and my mother was devastated.

I watched my mother over the next 25 years build a new life, literally moving from near-poverty to a modest and comfortable retirement existance.  I have great memories of that post-divorce time.

We jumped up and down dancing in our living room the night she found out she had a permament job and we shared similar joy in that same room when George Brett hit a three-run ninth-inning home run to tie game 5 of the 1976 championship series against the Yankees.  We shared grief when Chris Chambliss led off the bottom of the ninth with a home run.

I remember, years later, taking my mother and 3-year-old daughter to a Royals game and watching them "awe" together at each fireworks explosion after the game.

My mother was born on May 1, and died on May 31, 1999.  In the Catholic world, May is the month of Mary.  It's fitting that a great mother had her life's bookends at the beginning and the end of the month of May.

When I was elected to Shawnee City Council in 2002, I wish she had seen me sworn in.  I tried to treat my time on the council as a prayer to her.  Similarly, in this job, I am motivated to be someone she would always be proud of.

I'm blessed to have been close to three women who are truly admirable, all for different reasons:  my mother, my wife, and my daughter.

I'm further blessed to be working at this office, with people who really want to be here, are great at their jobs, and support me more than I deserve.

So, today--a day to reflect and feel fortunate.  Tomorrow, off to Dodge City for a statewide meeting with election commissioners and county clerks.  I'll blog from the road.