Friday, July 27, 2012 1 comments

Perfect Elections

We've gone to great lengths to amp up our training in 2012.

I've already posted about gussying up our training room's technology so we can step into the 21st century with multimedia training.  One thing we purchased in 2011 but haven't yet put our heads around is the ability to have our workers take interactive quizzes in our training room.  That's a goal for this fall.

And, we also noticed the need to compress more information into our training time.  We block off three hours for training and pay our workers a whopping $15 to attend training.  I personally deliver the training, so it's an intense period right now.

When I attened the ITIF Accessible Elections Design Workshop earlier this year, I was impressed when they brought in artists to help facilitate the discussion.  It inspired me to be on the lookout for an application for similar creativity.

With our training needs, I started pondering the value of a whiteboard "lecture" kind of presentation that would be jammed with information and be innovative.  We've created such a thing, but it became, perhaps, too jammed with information.  I wanted it for new election workers and a test run a couple of weeks was a bit overwhelming.

We refined it and I think the perfect place for this video is with our supervising judge training.  The supervising judges attend refresher training and then come back for a second training on what is involved as a supervising judge.  These election workers are essentially our A list of workers and are expected to be experts.  This video reminds them of key things.

Further, it captures my philosophy about election administration.  I think it would be good for candidates to watch as well to gain a better understanding of provisional ballots.

I'm obviously proud of this video and would be interested in your comments.  I hope you find it informative.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 0 comments

Machine Preparation

Today, Verified Voting released a study in conjunction with Common Cause and Rutgers School of Law regarding what they term Voting Technology Preparedness.

(Note to self: I think this means that it's officially too late to get back with Verified Voting on their survey this go-round.  Thankfully, our state election director did respond to them and nothing has really changed since our last response).

A reporter from a local radio station called me this afternoon about the study and a couple of its conclusions and implications for Johnson County.

One of the study's conclusions, overall, is that Internet voting is a risk for military and overseas voters.  We aren't using Internet voting for these voters in 2012, so I explained that wasn't an issue in Kansas.

(Second note to self:  I think voters expect Internet voting to be something they can do very soon.  Of course, it's not ready for late-night, let alone Prime Time.  I have raised many objections to Internet voting myself, but, gee, hasn't anybody read, "Getting to Yes"?  Surely we can crack this code if we work together.)

I also explained a centerpiece of the Verified Voting study with relation to Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs).  Verified Voting wants them and our machines were put into service before VVPATs were invented.  Thus, we'll never score well in this department until our fleet retires and we have a new solution around 2017.

Our current machines are fourth-generation electronic voting machines in Johnson County.  We've had electronic voting machines of some sort or another since Lyndon Johnson was running for president.

That doesn't mean we're paperless, though.  We printed about $100,000 worth of ballots in this election alone for ballots by mail, potential provisional ballots, and to be able to have paper at the polls for anyone upon request.

We were the first electronic voting machine county in the nation to do such as thing as far as I can tell, by the way.  We have a special process for these voters, in fact.

We call them Gold Voters so they don't feel like second-class citizens asking to vote on paper.  Their ballot goes in a special envelope to distinguish it from a provisional ballot.  It's a Manila envelope, but "Manila Voter" doesn't sound very prestigious, so "Gold" won as the name.

I then explained our various security measures with our machines.  Besides physical security procedures, one thing we do is a manual logic and accuracy test, which is kryptonite to many of the supposed viruses that others claim could infiltrate voting machines over a period of years.  This spread of a virus to control a future election is speculation at best, but the manual test would catch such a thing if it really existed.

We do this for every machine before every election.  We had one of our election workers do a simulation of our machine diagnostics in the video below.  In real life, we use the actual ballot with actual votes placed at random and then compared to the tally, which is an expected outcome.  We chose the simulation here so that even our random votes would not in any way be construed as endorsement of an actual candidate.

Still, you get the idea, and imagine doing this for a full ballot on 2,000 machines before each election.  Then, we prepare for the Public Test, for which we will have rehearsal tomorrow.  I'll plan to post some photos of next week's public test.  We also do post-election audits to compare results from the machine printouts to the machine totals and also to what was uploaded to the tabulation server.

For now, a simulation only of the logic and accuracy test:

Monday, July 23, 2012 0 comments

Training Intermission

On the eve of advance voting in person, we have completed 18 hours of election worker training.

Each class has taken the fully scheduled three hours.  We could have gone for five hours and still left items on the floor.  Elections have become that involved.

Really, being an election worker means learning the exceptions.  With 95 percent of voters processed the same way, the other five percent become the focal point.  The one out of a hundred, five out of five hundred, and one out of a thousand type of scenarios pile up for the workers.

Workers prepare for one of our 3-hour refresher trainings
on Saturday.  More than 300 attended this session.
Add to that the unique voting options for unaffiliated voters in this election and you have a 150-page manual and much to master.

One thing I've mentioned here is that there also is an outreach dimension to our election workers.  We want them to know as much as possible not just because of the election but because these workers are influentials in their own circles.  They become their own vehicles, in their personal lives, to ensure election day goes smoothly.

These trainings over the past week have been distinguished by their engagement.  They've almost been too engaged, jumping to questions about modules before they are presented.  I try very hard to make the sessions interactive, but at times I've had to explain that we'll get to their question with material ahead.

So now, we have a couple days away from training, with the focus on the beginning of advance voting at four locations tomorrow.  We have six hours of training on Saturday, ensuring that I will be achy Saturday night.  All of us, in fact, are wearing down (not unexpected, these are physically draining periods).  I expect that advance voting will spark some energy tomorrow as we start to see the results of all of our work come together.

Our advance voting location at the Great Mall of
the Great Plains, one of four locations opening

Sunday, July 22, 2012 0 comments

People Move, Plain and Simple

Since starting this blog, occasionally I've come across an image that screamed, "That's a blog post."

Friday's returned mail was such an image.

We mail postcards to each active voter before an election.  These postcards provide information related to the election, but they serve a dual purpose--they aren't forwardable and those that are returned as undeliverable allow us to the start the process to determine if a voter has moved, mark the voter as inactive and, if the voter doesn't vote in the next two federal elections, remove the voter from the registration list according to federal law.

Vigorous management of this list is important because inactive voters bloat our registration numbers, artificially show lower voter turnout than we actually experience, and create a chance that someone can be registered in two locations.

Once we determine a voter is inactive (and, to stress, inactive means that we think the voter has moved, not that the voter just hasn't voted in a while), we don't include that voter in our mailings.

So, with 370,000 registered voters, we mailed our postcard to around 340,000 voters.  More than two-thirds of these voters have had an election mailing already this year, so we've confirmed in 2012 that they still reside where they are registered.

That's why this cart of returned cards, from the first day they could have come back, is so dramatic.  I'd type "surprising," but I've seen this for 7 years.  In fact, of the 10,000 advance ballots we've mailed, we'll get about 500 of them returned this week as well--that's more surprising to me, that persons will have moved since requesting an advance ballot just a few months ago.

Keep this visual in mind.  When we send our postcard in October, I expect we'll have a similar number returned.  This demonstrates the amount of registration transactions we process annually--a rise of 10,000 voters in a year doesn't mean we entered 10,000 applications.

We likely processed about 60,000 documents to net that 10,000.  That doesn't include the processing of advance applications and the actual ballots.

People move.  It leads to provisional ballots, particularly because their polling places change as a result.

That will be amplified for us because we are actually cutting polling places by 20 percent, from 284 in 2008 to 221 this year, in recognition of what we believe was a watershed advance voting participation number (50 percent) in 2008.

Advance voting softens the sting of these changes because if someone votes in advance, the likelihood of it being a provisional ballot is dramatically lowered.  The number one reason for a provisional ballot?  Incorrect polling place.

Number two?  Requested an advance ballot but voted at the polls.

Number three?  Address change--full circle to the topic of this post.  Stay tuned for the "cart comparison photo" in October.
Sunday, July 15, 2012 2 comments

Perfectly Busy

In every corner of our building, and in every corner of every corner, things are bustling.

Our office is a bit like a hotel--not just because it seems like we are spending a lot of nights there, but also because we are constantly re-purposing the space we have.  We're essentially turning our ballroom into separate meeting rooms and a gathering space into a private event area this week.

In fact, our parking lot is the first space with multiple uses.  It will be more than maxed out with spaces tomorrow while we begin election worker training, so around noon our staff will methodically double, triple and quadruple park near the dock area so all of our new election workers can find a space when coming for training. We have some classes scheduled this week and need to complete all new election worker training before advance voting in person begins next Tuesday.

We're wrapping up a video for new election
workers and supervising judges that sums up
key things related to handling exceptions.  I will post it
when it is finalized.
We'll also be training our advance voting staff this week and we'll have refresher training for about 900 workers the next two weekends at a nearby church.  Our supervising judge training will be in yet another building the weekend before the election.

This afternoon, I prepared our training room, getting all of our audio-visual connections and gadgets operable, or nearly operable.

As posted here, we've had two power surges/events in our building in 2012 and I was chagrined to find today that our new speaker setup, urgently purchased this spring to replace the speaker system that blew this winter, was a casualty of the latest surge.

My backup speaker isn't loud enough with the microphone we're using, so we're on to a backup-backup idea for Monday while we assess options. The speaker and microphone setup is necessary because our makeshift training room doesn't have a ceiling and sits in the middle of our warehouse.

Tomorrow, we'll be sending out equipment to one of our advance voting sites, continuing to test voting machines, loading up ballot carts, and preparing polling place supplies.  The warehouse will be quite noisy.

Our training room has come into the 21st century, at least, over the last few years. Training is so important, yet when I arrived in 2005, our room consisted literally of chairs and a whiteboard. We did have a great set-up called "The Perfect Polling Place" and we continue to use that in our training.

Our training room is getting
more and more professional, with
more capabilities.   It has everything
but a ceiling (below).
A big step-up for us, of all things, were tables in the training room to make it more like a classroom.

We began utilizing a big-screen television in 2008 and installed two more in 2009.  We have the ability to now stream video to these televisions and be able to walk through screen shots that the workers might encounter, although we are our own A/V staff and it takes us this time before each election to get reacquainted with all the workings.

The training room gets converted into a check-out area for supervising judge equipment the day before the election and then becomes a room where we begin our work on provisional ballots the day after the election.

The Perfect Polling place will be scrunched rather imperfectly against a wall to allow for the return of equipment after the election.

Our Perfect Polling Place
helps workers connect the dots.
The equipment going out to each advance voting sites is the equivalent of mini-offices, with chairs, tables, and break supplies, as well as laptop computers to check in voters and prepare voter cards, voting machines, and carts and carts and carts of paper ballots.  In an August election, we have about 2,000 variations of our ballots.

The laptops have to be specially loaded to work with our election system, so preparing them has been a month-long ordeal.

A row of equipment
and supplies staged for
The Great Mall, a new
site this year.
We're also preparing ballots to be mailed on Wednesday (and as of Friday at 5, we'd entered 7,895, so I think my swag of 8,000 that I used here last week was pretty good).

Also, we are in the process of organizing our secure file room with each ballot for mailings during the remaining time.

This is one of those times that I'm hoping to capture with this blog to help answer what we do on days when we don't have elections.  Hopefully, this gives you a flavor.  We'll have more this week.

Boxes are ready to
store the many variations
of our ballots.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012 0 comments

An Election By Any Other Name

In an election year like no other, it seems only fitting that we are preparing for an election like no other.

That's not good, actually.

In my view, the pathway to properly managing the operations of a business is knowing the key metrics.  And to evaluate the data and pivot properly, I look for patterns.

There is no pattern for this election.  Guessing turnout for the August 7 election is, well, a guess.

It's taking me back nearly 20 years when my gig was product manager for telecommunications relay service at Sprint.  That service bridged persons who were hearing with those who were deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-disabled.  It was a service opportunity created by the Americans with Disabilities Act, grew from start-up to $65 million a year in revenue before I changed roles, and is the only business of any size where Sprint ever was the market-share leader over AT&T.

That was a call-center business and our primary unknown, after winning a state contract, was the day one call volume.  I created some variation of math soup, blending county and state populations with the population of persons who were deaf, to come up with an estimate and we were usually pretty close.  To underestimate would result in long-answer times and to over-estimate would lead to profitability issues.

Predicting election turnout has the same ramifications--long lines or excessive costs are the two bookends.  The primary cost drivers related to turnout are election workers and paper ballots.

In this election, unaffiliated voters can vote unaffiliated, Democratic, or Republican ballots and we have about 1,500 different ballot styles.  Over-building the election can easily result in more than $50,000 of unneeded paper ballots.  Properly building the election still will result in considerable unused ballots.

That's because we have no idea of the distribution of ballots even if we nail the turnout percentage.

If we predict a turnout of 25 percent, the mix of those three political distinctions can vary, so it's not as simple as expecting a flat 25 percent.  It could be a 10/40/5 percent blend or a 20/30/20 blend or any variation based on the actual races.  The blend possibilities literally are nearly infinite.

So, we look for the pattern.  2010 might feel like 2002, 2008 like 2004, and so on.  This year, though,  the pattern is missing.

This year, we're preparing for an August primary in a presidential year:
  • President on the ballot?  No, that's not part of the Kansas ballot in August.
  • United States Senate race?  Nope.
  • Governor or other statewide races?  Not until 2014.
  • United States Congress?  Yes!  But, the incumbent is running unopposed in the primary.  No candidates are running in the other party.
  • County Commission Primary?  One, affecting 1/6th of the county.
  • District Attorney Primary?  No.
  • Sheriff Primary?  Yes.  In this year, this becomes the only countywide race, and with all deference to the sheriff, how many people really know what a sheriff does in an urban county canvassed by police from several cities?
We have plenty of state House and Senate primaries, and candidates have been working the neighborhoods.  To some degree, those races are similar to city races, where turnout is driven by door-to-door campaigning.  That said, city races generally have turnouts in the 10 percent range.

I've looked at even-year August elections back to the early days of the Internet and our website ("modern" times, anymore) and there has never been an August election without a competitive race for a national or statewide office.

I'm predicting a 20 percent turnout simply because that's what it feels like.  I can't scientifically define the "20-percent feeling," and that bothers me.  We always build the election for slightly more than my prediction, so we're preparing for 25 percent, or about 75,000 voters.

Our mailroom is starting to get loaded with advance
voting applications.  This is just a smattering.
Ten temporary employees are entering in applications
in another room to get ready for our first mailing
next Wednesday.
Right now, we are entering applications for advance ballots my mail.  I expect we will send out about 8,000 next Wednesday, the first day allowed.  If that represents 5/13 of the advance voting number (the metric from 2008), that would give us about 21,000 advance voters.  

If those voters represent a third of the total, we'd have 63,000 voters.  If half, we'd have 42,000.

That's a turnout range between 11 and 17 percent.  Those are downright spring-like numbers, not August numbers.  

Of course, who knows...I remind everyone that I'm particularly good at predicting turnout the day after the election.

Right now, though, it sure feels like a low turnout and, as a result, many close races.  They number to watch in the next few days will be the number of advance ballots we send out the first day.  If that number jumps to 10,000 or 12,000, all those extractions balloon and we'll be into numbers that look more like August.

Sunday, July 1, 2012 0 comments

Six Bites of the Election

This has been such a crazy week that I'm left to update in a way I've been trying to avoid: the hodgepodge collection.

Being a Diary, after all, I've tried for more frequent updates and when then things were happening rapidly this week, I realized I missed some opportunities for video.

I'm dialed in now, though, looking especially for some video to bring to life the preparations in these next two weeks.

First, this week:

  1. We have final maps from redistricting.  We've reconciled those against our maps and are making a couple of minor changes, planning to post "official final" early next week.  We have about a gazillion maps to print for candidates and for our election, so we'll begin knocking them out.  Maps take quite a while to print, however.
  2. And, speaking of printers, we have a lot at our office.  Trees R'nt Us.  Or, maybe they are because we consume so many.  With about 2,000 different ballot styles for this upcoming election, that's a lot of printing and proofing.  We're fortunate to have such dedicated employees proofing the draft ballots.  They worked as 12-hour day Friday on the heels of about 50 hours put in last week before Friday.  We're hoping to be in ballot-printing production mode before July 4.
  3. All of our voting machines are tested manually before each election by a dedicated group of retirees and election workers.  They've done preliminary testing but will be testing them in depth in about 10 days and I'll plan to capture that on video.
  4. Likewise, I'll plan some video and photos of our training, which starts in 2 weeks.  Training is exhausting.  I have no idea how Broadway actors can perform as they do because I'm achy and sore after leading a 3-hour training and I don't sing and dance.  I'm still hobbling a smidge following ankle surgery (but I'm beginning to run on my zippered ankle) and I swear I'm shorter since my surgery.  I'm hoping to be physically ready for training and at least the same height as I was in 2010 by then.
  5. Speaking of that, I have such empathy for all candidates walking door-to-door in constant 100-degree heat.  I say it often--it's incredibly hard to be a candidate.  I think the winning candidates should push a measure, for their sake, to have all elections only in 70 degree temperatures.
  6. Candidates should get their updated voter list orders starting Monday.  We're proofing all the changes, but we're done with the changes.
We have so much ahead of us.  This election especially, we're looking at the most immediate couple of steps.  We're taking a baseball approach to this mid-summer election classic, one day at a time.  We have the whole timeline mapped out, but this is an election that is better taken in bites.

I'll have some images to share with the bites that come after the 4th.