Thursday, April 25, 2013 0 comments

On the Clock

Here in Kansas City, it's NFL draft day and that's larger news than normal because the Chiefs currently own the number one pick in the draft.

The draft has become so theatrical that only the first round is conducted the first day.  Tomorrow, it's rounds 2 and 3.

So, assuming the Chiefs select a player in the first 15 minutes of the draft, the Chiefs are done for the night.  Scouts and player personnel staff can go home and even sleep in because the Chiefs, at the moment, don't even have a 2nd-round pick.

Of course, that's crazy thinking.  Even after making a selection, the team will be working hard, monitoring the selections of other teams and strategizing what might happen if the Chiefs did pull off a trade for a 2nd-rounder, or, worse-case, planning for round 3.

In fact, I'm sure the front office staff will be up tonight as late as the team that makes the final pick of the first round.

I bring up this example because it correlates to my last post.  Election day is not the end of work, but often it is assumed to be.  It's no more quittin' time than it will be for the Chiefs after the first selection is made.

Our April election, though, was officially wrapped up yesterday, when we met (as we always do as a staff) to conduct a post-mortem and review the good and bad, from an administration perspective, of the election.

Actually, we don't "always" do that--we did, for the first time, skip one--the February blizzard election. We had enough of that atrocity.  We didn't want to relive it further.  We will be walking through that in our nightmares for a while.

Our post-mortems are over lunch and give everyone a chance to reflect on things away from draft day.  I imagine the Chiefs will have such a meeting as well.

In the meantime, we're on the clock for another election.  Military and overseas ballots for the Olathe School District go out tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 2 comments

Election Pile-Up or 52 Pick-Up

One of the biggest misnomers in elections is that when an election ends, so does the work.

In fact, with news today of another mail-ballot election coming this year, that will put us at two planned elections and three special elections (at least) in 2013.  My running total of elections administered will now be a full deck, 52 in less than nine years.

52 seems like a lot to me. Before I became an election guy, I had no idea there were so many elections.

We're averaging nearly one election every two months since I've been here, and that's been a pretty steady moving average.  With mail-ballot elections planned for the Olathe School District, Overland Park, and Olathe, the majority of our county's voters will have another, unplanned election in 2013.

Meanwhile, not only did the April election still have fragments that needed gussying for two weeks or so (we're doing some post-election audits now, in fact), the April election ended a 14-month frenzy of elections at the polls.

The February primary came upon us after November's election faster than the November election came from August.  Leading into August was a crunch-mode redistricting effort that consumed us from the end of the April 2012 election into the filing deadline days of June.

2012 kicked off with the implementation of the Secure and Fair Elections Act (primarily voter ID legislation) and our first polls election on Feb. 14.  Beyond the census, the obvious push of the presidential election was top of mind (and top of body) as we muscled ahead.

So now, everything that could have been discussed, pushed, or otherwise worked since December 2011 is on the docket.  My "to do" list is 821 items right now, and only one of them is my Walmart shopping list.

We only have a few months to make hay, personally and at the office.  Most staff members are max'd out on vacation accruals, have home repairs to address, and children events to make up after being invisible.  Sadly, one reason we wear our "Vote" apparel is that we don't have time to buy real clothes.

At the office, we have a massive fire alarm upgrade that started last week and has turned into the city of Olathe pulling large heavy construction vehicles here this morning.  They literally have torn up Kansas City Road in front of our building in a quest to understand our water maze.
A 5-year-old's dream observation moment:  several
yellow trucks doing serious excavating.  This is a small
part of the job, as the city looked for main water line
connection (which was under Kansas City Road).

We have a building security upgrade approved in either the 2011, 2010, or maybe 2009 budget that has been pushed out, with hopes of starting this summer.

Most importantly, we need to begin addressing every strategic issue facing us before we're into the 2014 cycle.  We're kicking off that process on July 2, when we thought we'd be done with elections for the year (ha).  I'll be reporting on that process here.

Meanwhile, the outside world assumes we're in down time.  Every meeting that could have been scheduled over the last 18 months is getting scheduled and our calendars are more overloaded than ever.

It makes sense, though--maybe conventional wisdom is right:  when the election ends,  maybe the work really is over.  We'll find out someday, maybe, when there isn't an election in process.
Sunday, April 7, 2013 0 comments

It's Not Rocket Science

Election administration may not be rocket science, but it does have one thing in common with the airline industry.

Specifically, that commonality exists with airline security.  In both cases, it seems like we're always focused on the last problem.

We take our shoes off and check our liquids at airports because of incidents that happened.

We train election workers and create processes for election day to address one-offs from the past.

Voters have concerns about voting machines?  Create a streamlined way to allow them to request a paper ballot at the polls.

Voters realize that touch-screen technology in place since the late 1990s can be temperamental?  Create a sign at the registration table to remind them that they aren't voting on modern Android or Apple devices and to review selections before hitting cast ballot.

Election worker fat-fingered the selection of a specific ballot on an encoder?  Send out a finger stylus that likely won't be used but try to create a simple 1-2-3 mental picture of how to check to make sure the proper ballot is encoded.

And so it goes.  A good half of our training time covers things that likely will never happen, but with 200 polling places and 1,000 workers, they will happen to one of them.

Much of the training is, "1 out of every 100 times," "2 out 10," "If you draw the short straw and this happens to you," etc.

April elections are the mostly likely ones where election workers might encounter a locked door when arriving at 6 a.m.  This happens once or twice in an election, and happened once this past week.

That's just a 5 percent of our polling places if you are scoring at home, affecting 0.5 percent of all of our workers.  If we knew where that would happen, training would be more efficient.  Without knowing that, everyone gets the rundown of what to do.

I'm a strong believer than in any industry, the technology is the easiest thing to learn.  Our election workers don't have any problems with voting machine technology or the iPad technology (for our electronic manual, for instance).  It's the procedures, the one-offs, the mental work that is the toughest.

When the mental work intersects with technology, technology looks like it's to blame.  One worker from Tuesday's election suggested that we give out the manual electronically.  We know the iPad was never pulled out of the supply bag at that location.

One of our more alarming pieces of feedback from this election was the suggestion that we separate new election worker training from those who have worked before.  Um, we do that, and even have a bit of a preamble at each training about the type of training they are attending.

In our refresher training, workers will ask questions that often are on others' minds (or should be).  Occasionally, someone goes to an absurd place: "so a dog comes with a photo ID that an owner got as a joke...." (no, not really, that was an absurd example to protect the genuine absurds).

It's common to hear moans when questions are asked.  I have relatively good moaner radar and make mental notes of the moaners.  Generally, the know-it-alls know it less than think they do.

We have lots of things we want to do to modify our training and had hoped to make hay with it and other planning this summer and fall.

Less than 24 hours after Tuesday's election, we found out we will have another special election, a mail-ballot in Overland Park.  Combined with a mail-ballot election in the Olathe School District, the majority of Johnson County voters will be voting again this year.

The special elections and the turnout this year highlight this year's model of "The Last Problem."

With turnout in this election at 8 percent and two summer special elections scheduled, the push to move spring elections to November has legs.

(That's right, by the way--turnout in a full county election on a sunny day in April was in the single digits and not even twice what it was during a February blizzard election that had a 4.5 percent turnout).

I'm not sure if moving these elections to November will increase turnout, but I do think a case can made that it will, just from the predictability factor of November elections.  People are transient, coming from other cities, and most of us just assume that there is an election each November.

Proponents of the move will point no further than to the turnout this year, and we could very well be conducting election worker training in the summer of 2015, explaining the election-day move as the latest "last thing" impacting our training.