Thursday, October 31, 2013 0 comments

And, I'm Back!

Back in the USA from my election observation mission in Georgia.

I will updating the blog with a couple of posts related to that mission, as well news back in Johnson County.

Digging out at the moment, though.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013 0 comments

I Would Walk 500 Hundred Miles and I Would Walk 500 Hundred More....

Tuesday's Overland Park canvass closed that election and we're a week out from mailing ballots for a similar mail-ballot election in Olathe.

Ballots for Olathe will be delivered to the Kansas City post office a week from tonight, in voters' mailboxes as early as October 23.  Extra ballots--for voters who registered since we sent the voter file to have envelopes printed--arrived yesterday and the main load should arrive for sorting Friday.

In working with the two cities, we were able to create this buffer of a week; it wasn't really needed, but between the two cities, more than half of our county's voters will be involved this fall and all involved like the idea of shutting down one election and then cranking up the next.

For me, this little sweet spot between the two elections seemed like--why not--an opportunity for complete exhaustion.

This Saturday, I hope to run my first-ever marathon (and only marathon, based on my preparation experience, perhaps).  I'll then collapse, hopefully after the finish line, and about 48 hours later fly to the
Republic of Georgia to be an observer in that country's presidential election.

It's a crazy combination that reminds me of the phrase, "You are unique--just like everyone else."

For starters, millions of people have ran marathons.

I said this recently and got pushback on the word, "millions," so I thought I was overstating the number.  About 500,000 people finished a marathon worldwide in 2012 alone, so millions is a fair word, even if the total over the years (accounting for duplicates) is just a few million.

At least that's what our virtual staff member Dr. Wikipedia told me.

However, I can't say millions have observed elections internationally.  It has to be in the tens of thousands at least, though.  More than 300 observers will be deployed in this election alone and as readers of this blog will attest, there are a lot of elections.

Georgia's Big Race actually
is the day before the election.
I'll be working, but it's a fun
I doubt many ran a marathon on one continent and then observed a presidential election a week later on another continent, so there's that.  The week after a marathon is supposed to be a rest week, at least from running, so that's another reason this observation comes at a perfect time.

I'll be drained from the observing activities and unfamiliar with the surroundings, so I'll easily fend off the urge to run.  We're told to prepare for a 24-hour day on election day.

That sounds like a marathon.  I'm a lightweight, I guess.  The longest election day "day" I've sustained is 19 hours.

The whole thing, so far, feels like a whirlwind, and just the preparation of going to Georgia (just getting confirmed a week ago) has been exciting.  I'm going to Election Camp in a location where not only can I not speak the language, I can't even read the alphabet.

In fact, the pending trip has boldly replaced my marathon anxiety.

Anecdotally, having played goalkeeper on indoor soccer teams for 25 years, I was often injured, usually with nagging things that took weeks to heal.  I was always in pain, but I found that there was a limit to the places I would feel pain.  My sprained wrist, for instance, suddenly didn't hurt after I twisted my knee.

It's as though my brain could only process pain in one area at a time.

This experience has reminded me of that.

I've been apprehensive about running the marathon.  I've ran six half marathons, but never a full.  Last week, when the Georgia trip got real, the marathon seemed much more achievable.

Probably, though, at about mile 18 on Saturday, it will be the Georgia trip that will seem much more achievable.

We'll see.  I've received some great advice from a couple of colleagues and I'm convinced I'll come back with new appreciations for our processes and also a few ideas of things we may want to change.

I'll likely be dark here during the trip and a few days after, but I'll post photos and election administration stories when I return.  There's a whole political backdrop to the election, of course, but I won't touch on that.

Expect boring things like number of polling places, election procedures, turnout, and all the things that I cover here.  Election geekdom needs no visa.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013 0 comments

Out = Green, In = Yellow

Tuesday was an election day.

In fact, it was the biggest mail-ballot election in Johnson County's history.  The election involved a tax-issue in Overland Park and the turnout was pretty low, actually, at about 30 percent.

This was a renewal of a tax passed in 2008 and the turnout then was 35 percent.  Mail-ballot turnouts, in the 50s ten years ago, rarely reach that point anymore.  Most mail-ballot turnouts in Johnson County begin with a "4."

Sadly, some spring primary polls elections have had turnouts that began with a "4" and were specifically followed by the period above, as in 4 percent.  Our snow-primary last February had a 4.5 percent turnout, but a comparable primary in February 2011, with good weather, was at 5.4 percent.

Olathe ballots, queued, ready to travel from Washington
to Kansas City next week.
But, that's a different post!

Here, we're pushing on out the green envelopes, preparing for the canvass next Monday and then, one week later, on come the yellow envelopes of the Olathe mail-ballot election.

The election is for a similar tax issue and also very large--about 80,000 voters.

On the heels of that (or somewhere actually in the middle of the shoe) comes the Roeland Park mail-ballot election in December.  That's smaller, but overseas and military ballots will be going out in that election just as Olathe's ballots are hitting the traditional mail.

Things have improved, by the way, with the Olathe Post Office.  We've actually been getting separate ballot deliveries in the mornings now.

And, if there is any question that people other than election geeks read this blog, the leasing agent for Westbrooke Village, the subject of the last post, finally called us back.

The Dallas connection is gone.  That leasing group went bankrupt.  And what a shock it was to hear that!

Anyway, there is movement afoot to prepare the property for a sale so there is little interest in leasing to anyone for anything.  There may be a chance, though, and we'll be bird-dogging it.

For now, if it's Wednesday, we must be working on Olathe.
Thursday, October 3, 2013 0 comments

Trolling for Advance Sites

Advance voting's biggest nemesis?

It's optimism.

Remember, this blog takes the perspective of the election administrator, not politicos.  The optimism to which I'm referring is the optimism of landlords that their vacant space will not remain vacant.

People's Exhibit A is a shopping area near my home.  The area, at 75th and Quivira, is well-located and convenient.  The shopping center is huge. 

It's also been nearly empty for five years.

We approached the leasing agents in 2007, for 2008.  We explained that we would pay rent for space and that, in November, we would be bringing in 15,000 visitors to the shopping center over a two-week period.  Surely some of them would stay and shop at the bookstore, buy a pizza, or have coffee at Starbuck's.

At one point, we were offered a tiny little sliver of a shop that would house only about 15 voting machines.  We wanted a bigger space and were told that there were plans in the works for all of the other empty storefronts.

We heard stories of the bridal shop becoming an Auto Zone, the grocery store converted to office space, and of all the shops immediately filled with tiny cottage industries.  None of this happened.

When I say these were stories, that's what they were.  They weren't plans.  They were long narratives I listened to as explanations of why we couldn't lease space.

No joke, at one point, the leasing agent of this shopping center explained that there were social issues, too.  "If I lease to you and the KKK comes in wanting space, then I'd have to lease to them," he said.

Really?  That's how your mind works?

If there's ever a signal during a conversation that "we're through here," that was it, but he said this before waxing another 30 minutes about how he knew better than the owners what would work in the (still empty) shopping center.

This brings up one of the issues with advance voting space.  We don't have a team of lease negotiators, we're a small staff, and we have to negotiate these in our spare time.

Often, this is a linear process, where we get a nibble and spend a couple of weeks trying to secure a site, only later finding out that the landlord isn't ready to commit to us.  We look for space that we can have mid-July through mid-November of even years.

It's pointless to begin talking with landlords until January.  Even then, they aren't willing to entertain the idea that the vacant space won't be filled until May or June, and that timeframe is much too late for us to wait hoping for a location.

The Dead Zone (other pictures are at the end
of the post, along with pictures of a thriving
pizza business in the middle of the cement desert).
This particular shopping center has taunted me for years.  After the 2008 election and with the center still empty, I sent the leasing agent (in Dallas) a courtesy copy of a local paper's coverage of massive advance voting turnout at another site.

We watched it empty in 2010 but were happy with our location we found a couple of miles down the road.  2012 came with no new tenants and now we're evaluating locations for 2014.  We're worried we might lose the space we had before, so we noticed new leasing agents on signs at the center and called again.

No return call.

(By the way, we've learned that "new leasing agents" often are the local leasing agents, who in turn talk to the same leasing agents we've dealt with before).

We even identified an old Kmart location that might be better.  Alas, it has the same leasing agent.  Best we can tell, this leasing agent's role is to ensure the locations stay empty.

But this is our advance voting life.

We're nearing the time to get busy identifying sites.  I stress that we pay rent (we don't really have the budget for that, but we get how the world works and we aren't expecting it to be free).

Our main competitor for space is Halloween.  We're often bumped by temporary costume stores.

If such a store opens in the tumbleweed zone up from house, that simply will validate that the leasing agent does return phone calls, just selectively.

Or, maybe we can partner with Halloween stores (as long as they greet voters on the way out, to be compliant with state law).  As the economy has improved, landlord optimism is likely to improve as well.  There is less space available now than when we started looking in 2007.

It's a bad combination, this and our polling place situation.  We just got word yesterday that we've lost several schools as polling places because of construction (but really, safety).  I'll post on that soon.

The oasis of traffic, at a family pizza restaurant.