Thursday, February 28, 2013 0 comments

Part One, Walking Dead

In all ways, the election amidst a snowstorm demonstrated the very reason why I created this blog.

Of course, the experience will be detailed here.  The first point, though, is to define what will be detailed.

We didn't just have a snowstorm on election day but a week-long weather event that dropped a Tonya Harding blow to the shins of the entire area.  Then, as the city began to regain footing, a second wallop followed.

The result in Johnson County--and with many of my peers in the area and the state--was something we've never experienced.

As a whole, this week has been almost impossible to sum up adequately.

In fact, I'm more exhausted than I was following a presidential election, despite a turnout of less than five percent.

That turnout, always low in spring primaries, provided the paradox of the week.  As we scrambled to save an election, the saving grace was that we knew few would vote.

If the turnout was 75 percent, we'd still be processing voters from Tuesday.  We knew we needed to make voting accessible for those who would vote, but we were anticipating a 7 or 8 percent turnout at best during perfect conditions, and we knew that was optimistic.

While voting did end on Tuesday at 7, we're still living this election.

We have one race that is tied and one separated by one vote as we head to the canvass on Monday.  Those races have a few provisional ballots, and it is possible that one or both of those races will be decided by a coin toss--literally, that's what we do in cases of ties.

For that reason, I don't have time to devote to a long post that would capture the entire event.  So, I'm going to break it up, with at least two more posts that chronicle things.  I've decided to break it up by days and generally use real names of staff members when appropriate.  I've hesitated to do that in previous posts but I'm not going to use pseudonyms.  At times, I'll only refer to the title of the person.

From my view, I expect the posts to read like a page-turning thriller.  To most, outside of election geekdom, such a thought is probably an over-reach.

As a starting point, though, it's worth noting that some people should not have access to live Doppler power radar.  It can be a paralyzer.  This past Sunday and Monday were the ultimate "Hurry Up and Wait" Days.

I'm strategic.  One of my strengths that when overdone is a weakness is that I spend a lot of time evaluating potential scenarios.  Some of these don't come to pass, but some do.  I'm a huge believer that chance favors the prepared mind.

I once told a friend that I feel like I spend my life identifying things that might go wrong and then being chagrined when they come to pass.  His response: "Think good things."

I did that in this case.

I was convinced that our biggest problem this week would be getting our ballot file ready for the general election, and here we are, awaiting Monday's canvass so we can finalize the candidates and send our ballot file to the printer, at best, 4 days later than we wanted.

The messy middle, between the first item of note and now, was simply that--messy.

It began February 16.

Saturday, February 16
We conducted the second of our two election worker training sessions.  We had 150 workers scheduled for 28 polling places, and split the training into two classes.  The first had been Tuesday, February 12.

At the training, we walked through, among many things, the set-up of our voting machines.  The machines have a battery backup of about 45 minutes, and I always instruct the workers to check that the power indicator remains green and full throughout the day.

The biggest weather-related thing we likely could deal with, I said, at the end of February was rain. We've had that before, but it probably wouldn't be a thunderstorm.  In cases of a loss of power, though, the election would need to continue, and that's why the battery life was important.

As I said "rain," some simultaneously said, "snow."

"No," I said, "that's less likely, but it brings up something that truly frightens me."

A couple of years ago, our county created a notification system to alert employees and the media in cases of emergencies.  I told the workers that my biggest February fear is that we would have a snowstorm and people at home, the night before the election, would see a television screen crawl that said, "Johnson County government employees do not report to work tomorrow."

If that happened, I said, "That's not you!  Sorry.  The show must go on.  We do not cancel an election."

I even went on to explain, as I always do, that if for some reason on election morning they couldn't get into the polling place, they would need to begin the election at 7 a.m. somehow, even if that were from the trunk of their car in the parking lot.

Training ended at 11 a.m. with a beautiful day of temperatures in the 50s.

Monday, February 18
President's Day (ironically, not a holiday for the election office):   after hearing over the weekend forecasts for rain or snow later in the week, a significant weather event was being forecast for Wednesday night and into Thursday.

The Kansas House of Representative's election committee was planning a Wednesday hearing regarding a bill that proposed moving spring elections to the fall.  I wasn't planning to testify, but was hanging loose just in case.  It was starting to look like it would snow Wednesday and without fail snowy days always seem to coincide with me driving to Topeka.

Tuesday, February 19
It was becoming less likely that I would need to go to Topeka.  Wednesday was going to be mostly dry.  Rain, then snow, was expected Thursday.

Wednesday, February 20
The National Weather Service upgraded its forecast to a winter storm warning, with snow beginning in Thursday morning.  Five to 10 inches are expected.

We have a public test of equipment scheduled for the next day, published that it would occur at 2 p.m., and advance voting underway in our office.  The law requires that advance voting begins at least one week before election day at the county election office.

Thursday, February 21
State government offices are closed, as are most businesses and many restaurants.  The governor asks that residents stay home.

At 7 a.m., we still were without snow, but it began snowing as I headed to the office.  By 8 a.m., we were in a full-on blizzard.

Five employees come to the office.  Some tried to come but couldn't make it and others stayed home.

Only one member of our advance voting board arrived, and I tell all but those involved in our public test to go home.  Two hours later, the county suspends operations for the day.  Our office stayed open for advance voting and the public test, but no one visited our office.  No mail was delivered.

An employee, returning home from the office, veered off the road and was helped back by two UPS truck drivers who said they were being called back to their office and that UPS was suspending operations as well.

A friend emailed me to ask what we would have done if this were an election day.  As I looked out the window, I saw the farce in conducting the election, "from the trunk of a car."  This was bad enough, and I was thankful it was not an election day.

Following the public test, at 2:30, I closed the office.  I have an SUV so I didn't have difficulty getting home, but the surroundings looked like a "Walking Dead" episode.  Cars were stranded everywhere, often in the middle of intersections.

At home, my wife and I shoveled the driveway.  She had been shoveling when I got home, for which I was both grateful and ashamed.

We completed a "C effort," and went inside.  I did some work and then we watched a movie.  At 5:30, an employee called me to tell me she just made it home, and she lives just 3 miles from the office.

We realized that equipment deliveries planned for polling places on Friday would not be possible because most locations had already announced that they would be closed.  That meant all of our deliveries would have to be made on Monday.  She called our delivery company and lined up more delivery trucks, as well as temporary employees to assist with set-up on Monday.

Looking at the weather, though, it appeared that we might have more snow Sunday night, and I hoped it would be over by Monday.

Friday, February 22
Coming into work, it was clear that this storm was a 2-day event.  Throughout the county, people spent the day retrieving their vehicles and digging out.  Many main roads still were not plowed by mid-day Friday.

Also, the snow expected Sunday night was now projected for Monday and early forecasts had it bigger than Thursday's snow.  Clearly, our election was going to be impacted, but with the aftermath of Thursday's storm still an issue, projecting this was futile.  Thursday's storm was still, essentially, going on and no one could think about what was next.

Our assistant election commissioner over polling places and election workers, Tom Ray, came into my office to tell me that he had a cancellation for Tuesday, leaving only three workers at a site.  He asked if I was comfortable with that or if he should re-assign someone.

I told him it was up to him.  He could re-assign one today, or wait until he was dealing with 100 cancellations on Monday and cover it then.

"We've never had to re-assign that many workers," he said.

"I know," I told him,  "but that's the paradigm shift we have to have here.  That's the magnitude of what I think is coming."

I went home that night, preparing for supervising judge training the next morning.  I knew we would talk about weather almost exclusively.  I changed my presentation to include a slide from "Survivor," and changed my slide on "The Perfect Election," to "The Perfect Storm Election" for levity.  I felt it would be most important to hit the weather concerns up front and discuss contingencies we were making.

There really isn't a roadmap for what we were facing, but I thought it important to begin thinking in terms of events, or checkpoints:  machine delivery, worker scheduling, polls open, election day, results pick-up, and, finally, our overall communications plan that I expected to form Monday.

It was especially hard because we needed to live in two worlds--one, assuming the storm wouldn't happen, or be rain, and everything would need to occur as planned.  We couldn't afford scaring people into not working.

What if, I thought, we were on the other side of the election listening to reporters ask, "What happened to the snow we were supposed to get?"  It wouldn't be the first time that happened.

The other world was one that would go horribly wrong.  The discussions, what ifs, and stress of the uncertainty needed to be discussed at training so we could move to implementation mode.

I had just drifted to sleep at 10:20 Friday night when Tom called me, asking me if I had watched the 10 o'clock news.  I hadn't.  I knew what we were in for, but the weather forecast reached him then.  We were in crisis mode, and he now knew it, too.

28 more needed to know it Saturday morning, and I went back to sleep, ready to tell them.

I'll pick this up on Saturday, February 23, with Part 2 of this series as soon as possible.
Friday, February 22, 2013 0 comments

Contingencies for Contingencies

If you know me, you know I'm about as much of a newshound as there can be.

This job feeds that information-gathering need into a frenzy.

For instance, by law, election officials must read the obituaries and use that listing as one of our tools to groom the registration list.

In Kansas City, the obituaries are usually on the page before the letters to the editor, which I scan each morning to see if a) there are any concerning us, b) there are any written by election workers, and c) any written by election workers that are political. 

Then, I track the weather, starting with long-range forecast on the last page of the paper.  With so many elections, we're always looking ahead at weather, as we prepare for the start of advance voting, a training date, or election day.

We're eyeballing Monday's forecast as the city is digging out of a major snowstorm from yesterday.  Monday's storm has the potential to be a repeat, making the oft-asked question yesterday, "What would you have done if this was election day," much more relevant.

Election administrators are nothing if not over-functioning.  We already have a Monday contingency plan, which includes our plans for dealing with delivery delays from today, and we have a contingency plan for that contingency plan. 

We're now planning Contingency Scenario 3 for Tuesday morning.  It's a bit too early to develop a follow-up contingency plan for Tuesday evening yet, but we've thought about it.

The paradox of this planning is that the one thing that plays in our favor when planning this election is that few people will vote.  We can expect fewer than 5,000 voters, total, in this election and that makes paper ballots a much more viable fallback option than when 300,000 vote.

We have supervising judge training tomorrow and we'll be conducting it more as an episode of "Survivor."  We'll start with the likelihood that we'll have weather mayhem. 

I'm not sure if there is an opposite of a rain-dance, but we could probably use that.  We'd be ecstatic if we never have to roll out Contingency Scenario 4.
Thursday, February 21, 2013 0 comments

February Election? Must Be Time for Snow

Today's snowstorm marked the biggest winter weather event in the last two years, since a February 2011 snowstorm that also occurred when an election was in full swing.

Two years ago, a huge snowstorm arrived on election day, a mail-ballot for the city of De Soto.  Mail-ballot elections end at noon on election day, and our office shut down shortly after that.

Today, a foot of snow fell between 7 and 11 a.m., the entire state literally was closed and announced the closure last night before the storm, UPS and the Postal Service aren't delivering, and here we are, waiting for our published public test of equipment to begin at 2 p.m. 

Our office also is open for advance voting, with no voters thus far, but we'll lock up for the day after the public test.

In both of these February blizzards, the county's offices opened, then closed, effectively endangering employees unneccessarily.  The county has the most advanced weather forecasting resources available, yet, apparently, refuses to believe them.

We determined that the advance voting schedule and the public test made some of us essential today.  I'm hardly essential but I personally have one of the easier commutes to our office.  Add that to the fact that, compared to my staff, I don't actually do any work, and the least I could do is be here.

We also wanted to be here in case today was the only day someone could vote. Kansas law requires advance voting begin in our office at least a week before the election, but there isn't any specification on the operating hours. 

However, the public test was an issue of our own making.  We learned today to add a disclaimer for future public tests to publish something along the lines of, "In case of an emergency-related building closure, the test will be the following day at the same time."

Weather like this brings up frightening thoughts about what we would have done if this were next Tuesday, election day, and we're stressing at the thought of another storm on Monday.  We'll cover that with our supervising judges during that training Saturday.

But then, in the kibitzing and planning, as we wondered if facilities will be open tomorrow to accept our polling place equipment and supplies, discussion turned to Monday.  We may need to push some Friday deliveries to Monday, particularly if no one is available to greet our deliveries tomorrow. 

It's very difficult to deliver supplies on Mondays to polling places, even though we use a large moving company, because there is simply a physical limit to the number of deliveries that can be made.  Election administration is known for it's Plan B, but we're looking at Plans C and D, considering calling in some temporary employees to help us with deliveries on Monday.

Before we could applaud our plans, though, another snowball full of "elections are hard, darn it," came flying at us.  The schools we are using in this election, because of the recent safety concerns, won't let us in Monday until 4 p.m. 

Really?  I know we are guests, but really?  Why us?  Are all deliveries and outsiders pushed to 4 p.m. or later?

Does the world not want elections?  (I remind you of my postal concerns and the fact that despite the, "Neither rain, nor snow" cliche, no mail and no ballots were delivered today).

There's an article today quoting me on Internet voting and, contrary to how it may read, I am really not pro-Internet voting.  I'm just FOR VOTING, and the forces against us are beginning to wear me down.

Or, maybe it's just today's snow.  Monday's snow could definitely be a wet (or at least cold) blanket if the forecast is real, so we'll be working on our Plans C and D this weekend.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 0 comments

The Blue Bear Faces the Devil

In-person advance voting for Tuesday's primary began this morning and our fourth voter has just entered the building.

In the Blue Bear world, I'm predicting a turnout of about 8.5 percent and, of course, I hope I'm outrageously under-projecting the turnout.  A similar election in 2009, though, had turnout of less than 10 percent.

Such talk is one of the drivers of a myriad of bills introduced in the Kansas legislature to move spring elections to November.  One is being reviewed by the Kansas House tomorrow.

At this point, I'm not planning on presenting testimony on the bill but conceptually I'm fine with it.  If it continues to move, I hope to testify as the bill is worked.  If the devil is in the details, I'd like to have input into the details so we can, um, exercise the bill efficiently.

There are aspects related to the move that aren't in my wheelhouse--particularly, any move to make elections partisan.  As an administrator, I can only say that such a move won't necessarily add complexities to the elections.  The political side is a debate for others.

The move to November will increase ballot styles and the overall effort to conduct fall elections.  Of course, there is the offsetting elimination of spring elections.

"Or is there?" asked the Detail Devil.

You see, the only scenario I oppose in this move is one where we now would have November city elections AND April city elections.  If cities are allowed to "charter out" of the November provisions, this would be a mess.

Right now, cities have charters that decide when their elections are, what constitutes the need for a primary, and how many candidates advance to the general election.  We have no uniformity, not even close, and the spring elections have become a carnival, with nearly each city and school district having a booth that offers something different.

Take that complexity and combine it with the election with the highest turnout, and we've got Devil's Food. 

Really, though, I'm sure we'll make it work.  We'll need some more full-time staff for proofing, printing, and overall management of things, but the offset of savings from spring elections will result in less costs in the odd years, so the blended increase (net increase divided over a two-year cycle) will be an increase, but less than $100,000. 

The trade-off would be turnout that is triple that of a spring election.

Plus, I like the idea more given the recent school safety concerns.  If our primary was in August and the schools had an off-day, or even a teacher in-service day, in November, we'd have access to the schools as polling places.  Parents wouldn't worry about a large volume of visitors in their school because of the election.

But if cities can excuse themselves from this November cycle, we will have added complexity and costs virtually for no reason.  Just enough cities would stay in November that our ballot would be pushed to two pieces of paper and this extra printing and postage is the biggest cost increase from moving elections.

Cities pay incremental expenses if the election isn't countywide, while countywide elections are free to cities.  So, this incremental expense of about $3 per registered voter becomes an unnecessary expense to their citizens if the cities are allowed to charter out.  Plus, there are plenty of sunk costs that impact county taxpayers that can't be passed on to the cities.

For instance, we send out supplies in suitcases--nice, durable suitcases.  The county paid for those about 10 years ago and one day soon, they'll need to be replaced.  At $500 each, 300 suitcases would cost $150,000, all borne by the county yet receiving wear and tear on each non-countywide election. 

We have many of those kinds of examples, and I have some cost-recovery ideas we've reviewed with a consultant hired by the county--the subject of another post on a slow news day.

Instead, today is simply a slow voting day.  And, slow-voting days make the discussion of moving to November elections relevant.

But, the move to November conjures one of the administrative concerns related to Internet voting.

If we had Internet voting, we likely still would have advance voting by mail, advance voting in person, and voting at the polls.  Rather than replace these methods, it would be added to the menu, at least in the short-term.

That might help ease the world into Internet voting, but it wouldn't make administering elections any easier.  It would be more complex, in fact.

We already have four cities that have charted out of the countywide spring elections, moving their elections to even years.  (And cheers to my city of Shawnee that just "un-chartered" out of that to get back with the herd).

It's hard to imagine the cities not taking varied paths unless the law specifically prevents that.  If the law doesn't prevent that, the move will simply result in more complexity and more cost. 

From my persepctive, it's the key detail to address if this bill moves forward.
Friday, February 15, 2013 0 comments

Election News, At a Minimum

President Obama made big election news Tuesday night during his State of the Union speech.

Oh, yeah, he mentioned something about a bipartisan commission related to the voter experience, but that wasn't the election news of the night.

He proposed raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour.

If you've followed this blog, you know the blog isn't political.  My reaction to the minimum wage issue is not intended to provoke debates on federal vs. state sovereignty or whether we need a minimum wage at all.

The minimum wage statement was impactful to us in elections because our elections ride the backs of persons who make less than that $9 rate.

I'm not just talking about election workers, who at $110 for a 14-hour day would need to be raised $16 for the day ($25 in presidential elections) just to be at this new minimum wage.  We already pay workers just $15 for three-hours of training, so I'm not sure that minimum wage laws actually apply to election workers.  Our election workers haven't had a raise in seven years so we'll be pushing for it, regardless.

But in an office where we have the same number of full-time staff that was here more than 20 years ago--despite more than twice as many voters and precincts, as well a compendium of new laws, technology, and increased expectations--the dirty secret of elections in Johnson County, and elsewhere, is that much of the heavy lifting is done by people who can make more doing just about anything else.

Our top temporaries--those who process registrations in busy times, process advance voting applications, check signatures on the applications, check in and scan mail ballots, mail out the thousands of ballots we have, and check and program our voting machines--typically make $8.75 an hour.

Generally, they are election workers who have signed up for more duty in our office.  In the busiest of times, just before the presidential election for instance, we have to bring in additional temporary-agency employees who are less skilled than our workers and are paid at least $3 more per hour.

On one hand, election administration creates situations where, instead of five temporary employees for 10 hours, we need 10 for five hours--to test and proof the ballot layout on our voting machines, for instance.

But the temporaries often are plugged in to avoid the reality that we are understaffed. 

And, our temporary employees care.  They are uber-devoted.  They inspire us all.  Often on the front lines,they surprise me at what they put up with for $8.75 an hour.

Freedom isn't free, but in the elections world, it's nearly free, particularly when considering the small speck elections comprise out of a county's overall budget and the very fact that if there were no elections, there wouldn't be a county government in the first place. 

Elections are expensive, but that's a result of the number of people we serve more than anything.  Events for 400,000 people cost more than events for 40.

The sad thing is that if the minimum wage increase occurs, the financial impact to our county in a presidential year could approach $100,000 from the increase alone.  Missing the forest for the trees, we will find ourselves defending if we really need this many people (yes, by the way) instead of the obvious question--we run our democratic process with people paid minimum wage?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 0 comments

Gushiness For Our Workers

I've compared before that elections are like having a newborn baby, where as time passes from the sleepless nights, only the more pleasant memories remain.

Yesterday's election worker training--the first for February and the first since November's election--reminded me of this.

Each of the 75 in attendance worked in November and while I still remember some of the pain--them, not so much.

We had a couple of polling places, for instance, that didn't utilize signs the way we cover in training.  This seemed monumental to me on election day, when I was at the pinnacle of my over-functioning self.

Standing in the front of the room, pointing out the correct sign placement, this seemed much more minor to me yesterday.

I asked about their opinion on the need for two poll books at all locations and didn't get a reaction.  I saw shrugs of shoulders and heads softly nodding no, not some sort of pent-up rage that I somehow expected.  I was anticipating the raising of pitchforks and a scream of "Hell's Yeah!" 

That didn't happen.

Listening to myself during training, I realized there were moments to point out what a good job they did in November:
  1. In general, they managed the largest test of the new photo ID law very well.
  2. They did an excellent job understanding provisional ballot situations.  We have a process where persons who request to vote on paper vote in a streamlined way, non-provisional.  If the worker makes a mistake, though, and the ballot should have been provisional, we don't collect enough information to be able to count the ballot.  That's bad and something we emphasize.  We call paper-ballot requestors "Gold Voters," so they don't feel intimidated by asking for paper, but we also stress to our workers that if there is confusion on their part, it's always better to have the ballot provisional, so we know it will count, vs. assuming it's a Gold Voter and be wrong.  Gold Voters must be in the poll book.  Our workers handled these situations exceptionally in November.
  3. Further, and on some level this is glorifying what should be the ordinary but it is a big deal, I have never had a voter call me with an issue attempting to vote where the voter wasn't, at a minimum, offered the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot.  That's how it should be, of course, but many things "should be" and I'm thankful this is "is" as well.
  4. Voter complaints, as we realized during our post-mortem review, were limited primarily to two polling places that were our two with lines most of the morning.  Those two had lines under control by 11 a.m.
  5. Our election workers received compliments from poll agents.  Poll agents (observers) often are called into duty at the 11th hour, but they also often are influentials--elected officials and former candidates.  We instruct our workers to treat them likely family, embrace them, give them their best robe and sandals, slaughter the fattest calf, and make them feel welcome.  I'm not sure our workers always went that far, but they did a good job working with poll agents.
  6. Our workers handled more voters at the polls than any other election in Johnson County history.  Because of our consolidation of polling places, traffic at each polling place was 50 percent higher than 2008's presidential election (and that election had a record 78 percent turnout).
I'm not a person who remembers to gush appreciation.  Further, election administrators, by their nature, tend to focus on what didn't work as opposed to what went right.  Eection administrators are typically the ones who might get a "99" on a test and instead of celebrating, dwell on the 1 problem missed.

I feel the need to be gushy today.  Johnson County is very fortunate to have hundreds of persons who give 14 hours for roughly $100.  The February 26 election may be an exercise in dealing with boredom, but last November was a test under pressure, and they performed terrifically.

More training is scheduled for Saturday.  Gushiness is also on the agenda.
Wednesday, February 6, 2013 0 comments

The Fuse Has Been Lit

This morning we're preparing to mail about 1,000 advance ballots for the February 26 election, the first day we can mail ballots, and also reviewing a mail-ballot election schedule requested by a school district.

It's happening as the Postal Service is announcing that it will stop delivering mail on Saturday.

Forget the "future of voting," as many want to discuss.  The present is drying up.

This follows yesterday's election administration news, where the New York Times summed up efforts related to reduce long lines at polling places.

One method of reducing lines is already in motion--eliminating polling places.  We're facing the possibility of losing several schools as polling places.

The Times article quotes a survey of waiting times per state in the presidential election  (Kansas was at 11.5 minutes) .  That same survey also looked nationally at voters' confidence that their vote would count as cast and only 56 percent who voted by mail answered affirmatively, compared to 67 percent at the polls and 65 percent in advance. 

In this same survey, 18 percent of the respondents said they had requested a ballot by mail but didn't get it.  These were national numbers, but I think they at least suggest that the Postal Service has more issues than just financial issues.

Without Saturday postal delivery, Johnson County voters who get ballots issued on the last day allowed by law (the Friday before the election) will have no way to turn them around and know they were delivered by Tuesday. There likely will be others who will find they need the Saturday delivery 10 days before the election to get their ballot before going out of town the following Monday morning and now otherwise will be unable to vote in an election.

In my view, eliminating any day of delivery is a mistake.  It's the beginning of what I've termed in other industries as the Light the Fuse Strategy.

I first coined the Light the Fuse Strategy when evaluating options while working as director of strategic planning at Sprint 10 years ago. We saw voice calls moving to calls over data facilities and wireline minutes shifting to wireless minutes.

We saw a large part of our revenues and margins evaporating, but we didn't stop letting people call on Saturdays. We recognized that shrinking to survive was not the answer.

Jettisoning an unprofitable part of the business can be a smart strategic move.  But shrinking to survive, or worse--thinking you are shrinking to grow--can be a terrible approach. Look at US News and Newsweek.  Those magazines still exist, virtually.  The fuse is nearing the end for them as well.
Here in town, how many of you remember The Olathe Daily News?  I remember a few columns in the Olathe News over the last few years that said the paper was changing its delivery schedule, but, not to worry, it was going to be stronger than ever.  

Now, the Daily News is a tiny insert in the Saturday Kansas City Star, which itself has shrunk to the point that the Monday edition often could benefit from some pebbles in the bag when tossed on driveways to keep the paper from blowing down the street.
I'm not pretending there are easy answers for what the Postal Service is going through.   But I do believe that they've created a victim mentality instead of creatively addressing the problem.

They have a huge competency in that they go to every home six days a week. Surely that can be exploited within other industries.

Instead, the Postal Service is eroding its core competency.
I believe, just like the transitions in the newspapers that used to be daily (that also went to homes, by the way), delivery stopping on Saturday is just the beginning.   The fuse will have been lit.

Eventually, mail will only be delivered, for instance, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  Every change will decrease the importance of the Postal Service and, in turn, reduce the mail to be delivered, leading to the spiral.  The fuse will be burning.

It's rough for us because elections is an industry that is actually looking to increase the use of the Postal Service.  I can't think of another industry that is in that mode. 

So, the Future of Voting is now.  We are in the future.

Unfortunately, that's not intended to be some sort of inspirational message. 

In elections, we often deal with yesterday's issues.  And, we look at equipment issues as future issues.  The number one future issue is pretty basic--how are people going to vote in next presidential election?
In Johnson County, 340,000 people will vote for president in 2016.  Right now, I don't know how we will accomplish that.

I don't know that I will have enough sites available for polling places.  I don't know that voter confidence will continue with the mail service.  I don't even know what service level we'll get from the Postal Service.

Vote centers (mega polling places) are more and more likely, but they will be expensive sites to lease.

I'm not necessarily a proponent for Internet Voting, but I'm not an opponent, and it's quickly becoming the gorilla in the room.

I've often heard the proverbial gorilla described as a 600-pound gorilla and also as an 800-pound gorilla.  I've never known which weight was correct, but my hunch now is that the 600-pounder will become an 800-pounder as the sound of the latest burning fuse gets louder.
Friday, February 1, 2013 5 comments

The Post Office Steps Up

It's been nearly a year since I met with the postmaster at the Olathe Post Office regarding our concerns with mail delivery, and I'd like to say things have been better.

That's what I'd like to say.

However, today we have progress. We can thank Tammy Patrick from Maricopa County, Arizona, for that.

Tammy carried our water in one of her meetings with the Post Office as part of a Western Region Focus Group. We're part of the Mid-America Region, but they had a representative at the meeting as well.

So, that person told a friend, who told a friend, and so on, and so on, and so on...

And, I got a call from a manager in Kansas City.  We talked this morning and I've never been more encouraged.

In fairness to purists of the definition of "encouraged," I've never actually been encouraged when it came to the postal service.  The postal service here regularly represents one of my personal Four Horsemen of Despair (the others being my newspaper delivery man, Time Warner Cable--whom I happily dispatched last year in favor of local company Surewest, and our trash/recyling company).

I sent our new contact the photos I gathered and have posted here.  He asked that I stay in touch with him and let him know of elections we have underway.  He said he understood that this was a period where elections weren't going on.

Not so fast, my new Postal Point Man!

I was happy to be able to immediately take him up on this.  We send out ballots on Wednesday for the spring primary, so I'll be able to test his resolve immediately.

It may not look like much, but having the local postmaster meet with me and now receiving this call from Kansas City, where all ballots pass through, is more action than I was able to trigger in my first seven years here.  My annual surveys sent to the post office were intercepted or not read, because some of my cries for help that I wrote likely would have made the receipt-writing pastor at Applebee's blush.

Cheers to Tammy Patrick, Johnson County's best friend voters didn't know they have.  Tammy's famous in the industry for being extremely thorough, as well as living proof of one my key theories of life--everything comes down to Powerpoint.  She's a Powerpoint expert (she probably has a Powerpoint presentation on how she uses Powerpoint), and many of us have pirated slides from her.

Thanks to her, there's hope for improvement. 

Speaking of ballots, they should arrive from our printer late this afternoon.  It will be our first test of the printer since some personnel changes.  Things (assuming "things" mean "communications") have gone well thus far, but we're anxious to get these ballots, get them in the mail next week, and begin to see the results of the new postal attention in action.

Perhaps soon we really will be able to say things are better.