Sunday, March 30, 2014 0 comments

Out of Our League

On Thursday night, I provided an update on 2014 election administration issues to the Olathe Republican Club.

One item of interest involves the 4,000 plus voters we have right now with incomplete registrations.  Many of the incompletes stem from, well, an incomplete application--missing signature, oval filled, etc.

Some of the incompletes are registrants who aren't yet 18--once they reach their 18th birthday we will make these voters active.

A majority of the incompletes, though, are registrants without accompanying proof of citizenship.

I've explained some of the dynamics of that here before, but the context with this post is with an item I raised in association with this list during the meeting.

The Johnson County League of Women Voters has a long history of attending new citizenship naturalization ceremonies and registering these new citizens to vote.

They wave flags together, celebrate the United States, and instruct these new citizens on how to exercise their new right to vote.

Problem was, with the new citizenship verification requirements that went into effect in 2013, these new registrations needed accompanying copies of the naturalization certificate.

The League didn't know this, thinking the naturalization number was sufficient.  So, in trying to do a good thing, each month the local League chapter was adding to our list of voters in incomplete registration status.

We send each voter a letter to follow-up, and anecdotally this group of voters is more responsive than those typically on the list, but there had to be a better way, we thought.

We met with the League and offered to provide them with an iPad that they could use to photograph the naturalization forms and bring back to us with the registrations.

All involved cheered.  We applauded ourselves at our ingenuity.  The Olathe Republican Club members, hearing this Thursday, glowed admirably.

Whatever the opposite of rolling over in a grave is, Steve Jobs did it!

We've been working this way for a few months now and then, Friday, the very day after mentioning this and sharing the warm glowy feeling at the Olathe club, the League's woman on the street was thwarted by an immigration official, who forbid her from photographing the naturalization forms.

She was very upset as she dropped off the unused iPad and about 75 registrations.  She was so upset that she said she would follow up with me this coming week, wanting to chill some before talking about it.

I hope to hear more.

Specifically, I'm hoping she has a name and number of the immigration official.  Better, I want to know what an immigration official actually is.  Is that a staffer, or an officer ready to handcuff offenders?

I ask this because I'm an election official, but I don't have the authority to enforce election laws (except for electioneering and enforcing in that case is removing signs too close to a polling place or telling someone to stop electioneering or else I will say "stop" a second time in a slightly more stern voice).

Any law enforcement is done by law enforcement agencies--district attorney, sheriff, or police.  I can't detain someone, for instance, if I observe what I believe to be an election crime.

Is that we what were up against there?  Was it an immigration officer who would have detained the League of Women Voters representative if she had the gall to assist these registrants become legally registered voters?

Kansas law specifically allows for electronic capture and transmission of citizenship verification and further requires that election officials protect the integrity of the documents.  We check the iPad out, upload the images when it is returned, and wipe it before sending it back out.

If this is as simple as an immigration official needing to see a duly authorized election official taking the photos, we'll start sending someone.  It feels like, at this point, that someone overstepped.  Maybe we'll find out we were the over-steppers, but I don't think we were.

The argument that was given was that it was illegal to photograph the document.  In actuality, the certificates have various wording, but often say that it is illegal to copy or print the document with lawful authority.

You can see for yourself by doing an Internet Search for "naturalization certificate" images and seeing how well enforced this law is.

The Kansas Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) Act provides our office lawful authority--at least state authority--to make copies for the purpose of attaching them to voters' registrations.

Regardless, I'm not sure any certificates say that immigration officials will intervene and prevent the photographing, copying, or printing.

Naturally, I'm rather bummed about this.  This is the Year of the Voter, after all, so I actually believe I need to be a little outraged.  Or, at the least, I need a better understanding of the exact person who intervened and that person's authority to do so.

When our League envoy's blood pressure chills, she'll be back, and I will report with more details when I have them.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 0 comments

Fall Elections, Continued

Last Friday, I received a call from the Kansas legislature's legislative research group looking for information on how other communities conduct local elections.

As the legislature considers moving spring elections to the fall, there have been a couple of odd arguments against the move.

Namely, a central objection is that the elections are in the spring for a reason.  Why change?

(Now, I think that's an odd stance on many points but mostly because by its nature, isn't every law a change of some sort?  Isn't this the equivalent of the "Not in my backyard!" argument?)

The mission for the legislative research group was to report back about the timing of other local elections.

I responded that I thought local elections really were all over the place.  Intuitively, I would expect about 80 percent of local elections to be either in the April or November timeframes, likely evenly split between the two.  Then, the other 20 percent are sprinkled among the other months, mostly June and September.

But, who needs facts?

Well, they do.  I'm just not sure there is a central place for such a thing.

I gave her a couple of leads, but short of a fast survey among election officials, I don't know how such data could be gathered.  I did also suggest that maybe the search be narrowed to those states that border Kansas, giving the data a conventional wisdom view.

Yesterday's Kansas City Star article on potential changes of Kansas City elections to June was timely.    The driver?  Possible turnout increases.

That's the reason touted for the consideration in Kansas as well.

No one really knows if turnout will increase in Kansas City with a move to June, just like no one knows if turnout will increase in Johnson County if local elections are moved to November.   As an administrator, I've favored moving local spring elections, in odd years, to November of odd years to better load balance elections.

And, I am of the opinion that people correlate "November" with "elections."  That's purely an opinion, though.

The League of Kansas Municipalities has been advocating its own opinions.

The League contests that moving the elections will have little to no impact on turnout.

First, I would point out that because we've had local elections in Kansas in the spring for 153 years, we really don't have reliable data to suggest what the outcome would be if things were done differently.  I don't know what triggered the spring thought 1861 but society is a bit different today, so maybe the timing of elections should be, too.

And if doing something different than has been done for 153 years might have "little impact" on turnout, that still might be enough to try something new.

The League also compared average temperatures in April and November and, finding them the same, suggested no benefit from moving.

They overlook the primary being in August rather than February.  It rarely snows in August.  

Both the House and the Senate committees on elections have advanced bills to move elections to the fall of odd years.  The Senate, with an amendment, excluded Johnson County Community College and Water One of Johnson County.  This effectively moves the city elections to the fall but keeps the spring elections--4 elections now instead of 2--so we're hoping that this is fixed.

Quite likely, we're headed to a legislative conference committee inflection point, where the details are sorted out in early May.  I'm still hopeful, although, it's a long shot, that someone will, at the 11th hour, include a provision that the school's have in-service day on the November election days and be available as polling places.

If that doesn't happen this year, it probably will never happen.

I've learned in public policy that chance favors the prepared mind, but also to be wary of anything that is a once in a lifetime chance to do something.  I wouldn't put this as a once in a lifetime chance, but it's hard to see legislators revisiting the school issue again for a while.

When I was on the Shawnee City Council, we were evaluating, once, a potential golf course community.  To do this, the developer required the city to condemn an owner's property.  We had to do this, he said, because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to create such an economic benefit to the city.  He was guaranteed a PGA Seniors golf tournament if he built this, he said.

And as he stood at the podium, I swear that I began to see him turn red, with little horns emerging from his head.  Was that a cape?  A scepter?

It was an out-of-body public policy moment, and an impression on me to always be wary of "once-in-a-lifetime."  We didn't join the crusade and Shawnee is doing fine without it.

Still, I don't want to be THAT guy with the school issue.  This is just an ideal time to add the school in-service item.

I hope it happens.  I understand that people at the podium want ice water, too, though, so my primary concern with the bills as they are is that they take away the exemption of the junior colleges and water districts.

Having four elections in odd years solves nothing.

Interestingly, what stirred the amendment was an attempt to exempt entities that had their own charters, like Johnson County government.  "By vote of the people," it's often said, citizens of Johnson County wanted their commissioners non-partisan (and without veering into the weeds--really, we aren't in the weeds?--this amendment protects that.)

But "by vote of the people" is an interesting phrase because, in 1966, Johnson County "by vote of the people" authorized the use of voting machines.

As we went through our capital budget process--and a new post coming--I've reflected on that.  Using the same "by vote of the people," logic, I wonder if a paper-based next generation system would first have to be approved by voters.

This may be a once in a lifetime situation we will have to address soon.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 0 comments


Here we are on a Tuesday, election day somewhere, and always a reason to post if it's been a while.

And it has been a while.

You might think that's because of slow goins' at the election office, but it's really been the opposite, with so much grist I've actually written two posts and decided not to publish them.

There will be a time for those soon enough, after our own election day of April 1.
This might be my favorite
text message received of
all time.  It may me think
of the people who get upset
when we didn't alert them
that they DIDN'T have
an election.  There
was no election in Johnson
County today, by the way.
(Only when posting it today
did I realize the grammatical
issue, too.  I was just so
stunned that I received a
text that my prescription
wasn't ready).

We're mailing out ballots for that election now, testing the capability to print our own ballots for all of those we send in advance.  That process is in itself a post, but intertwined with some thoughts of advance voting locations (another post) and some legislative activity (yet another post).

And, all the while, I still have my homework punch list of localized anecdotes related to the recommendations from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.

Tomorrow, we'll have our first new election worker training session of 2014.  We don't really need new workers for this election, but we need to keep the pipeline fresh so that these 24 new cadets will be seasoned by the time we hit November.

We have refresher training for the returning workers in this election on Thursday and Saturday and additional supervising judge training the following Saturday.

On Thursday, though, our parking lot will be packed with election workers and if we were open for advance voting (that begins the following Tuesday), there would be no place for voters to park.

You might remember that the county purchased the "rectory," the little house to the south of our office  nearly two years ago.  The idea was that it might provide an opportunity for easier entrance and exit to our office during the peak of advance voting.

In those time, we have police navigating traffic.  In fact, on the Monday before 2008's presidential election day, our office was required by law to close advance voting at noon.

We had a line and after consulting with the Secretary of State's office, we determined that we should treat the noon deadline just as we would with a polls closing time on election night--those in line at noon could vote, while those coming up after noon came too late.

Problem was, the line was more of a swarm.  Our parking lot was full and people were leaving their cars at other buildings and hopping over bushes to come to our lot.  We decided that anyone in the parking lot at noon was "in line."

Still, there was a line of cars literally a mile long waiting to turn in to the lot at noon.  We had a police car drive to the end of that line and when he made into our parking lot about an hour later, we declared that he was the official end of the line.

(In 2008 by the way, lines were cool, a sign of freedom.  There was no "we've got to fix that" declared that day--"how do we sustain this" was more the tone that day.)

Anyway, in light of traffic and the purchase of the rectory, we were very interested to learn that a little sliver of adjacent property to the north of our building was going up for auction last Thursday.

Our county's appetite to purchase property since the acquisition of the former King Louie bowling alley has waned and this lot was a casualty to that discretion.  I don't know that I had personal feelings about the potential purchase other than that it seemed misguided to purchase the rectory if the county had no intention to literally close the loop and bid on this property.

I didn't advocate the purchase of the rectory, but we had that land now.  Surely there had to be a price where this land on the north side made sense to purchase.

Even though the county was not a bidder, I decided to watch the auction.  It had an auctioneer, a microphone, a speaker, and bid numbers, just like a real auction.

It also had no bidders.

Bidding started at $500,000, then $300,000, then $150,000, and then the auction closed without a bid.  After the auction ended, the one attendee besides me made an offer for $110,000, and from what I can tell, the sellers aren't expected to accept that offer.

The sellers bought the land with the intention of building a hotel.  That hotel would have come in handy during our winter snowstorm election last year, but the hotel concept became a victim of the recession.

Now, the area around our office is likely to be built as more warehouse space associated with a train intermodal being built about eight miles away.

This property may have greater relevance here on the blog in coming months.  There still may be an opportunity (and a reason) to purchase it.

There's another post there coming.  A theme you'll get for the next few posts, though, is that there are times where the actual election operations become the smallest part of our jobs--not because there isn't an election, but rather because there is a need to constantly mind the store.

Sunday, March 9, 2014 0 comments

Would That Be ElectionS Day?

We're looking at something that rarely happens--two elections on the same day.

I guess it's the equivalent of an elections lunar eclipse.  Or, a double rainbow.

The election double rainbow actually had to be the time in 2010 when we had two recall elections in Gardner the same day as a spring primary in Prairie Village and Shawnee.

This is a two-fer though, as well.  A day-night doubleheader, in fact.

Actually, as I type, I'm not sure there is a standard definition of what comprises an election.

It could be a specific race, or a group of races in one city, or anything scheduled on a day.  I'm not sure all communities define elections the same way.  I remember reading about an election administrator who had managed more than 5,000 elections, so I know he was counting something I wasn't.

But, because I'm in the habit of counting things (come on, it's what we do), I count the number of elections I've worked.   And, in doing that, I had to come up with my own definition.

I consider an election to be a scheduled primary or general election.  A scheduled primary is an election on a day for races leading to the general election and may include a subset of the races (such as one ward in one city). 

I suppose if a primary was scheduled and no races triggered an election, it would be hard to really support my definition in that case.  That would be some sort of election fault, like a missed serve in tennis, and not count as an election.

That's also, by the way, never happened since I've been here.  We've always had at least one race in a primary election.

Then, to continue the definition, I consider any special election called by a governing body (or me in the odd case of a recall) to be a separate election.

We have a mail-ballot election in Fairway scheduled for May 13 now.  And, just to keep our average of 6 elections per year alive and strong, we got word last week that Roeland Park will need a special election to fill an open city council race.

Roeland Park is the only city in the county that backfills an opening this way.  The city's ordinance puts a parameter on when the election can be held, and the math leads us to May 6 or May 13.

We'll seal the deal as a staff on Monday, but we're looking at May 13.

So, that's two, two, two elections on the same day. 

One is a mail-ballot that closes at noon.  The other, a polls election, closes at 7.

That's wacky. 

This way, though, we at least have some economies of scale with our special board that processes the ballots by mail.  And, we only have to have one Board of Canvassers meeting.

I haven't yet figured out the agenda for that meeting, though.  Typically, we like to go through ballots we recommend to count first so that the special board can be off and working while we go through those recommended not to be counted. 

That short period often is enough time for the special board to update results, allowing the canvassers to stay in our building with a short recess rather than reconvening back at our office late in the day.

So, we are now about to live a little piece of election trivia.  And, we will have had four elections before the first five months of the year are completed.

And what is that question about what election people do when there isn't an election?  I'll answer that when we aren't working on one. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014 0 comments

I Have Seen the Enemy, and His Name Is Snow

If you've been reading this blog lately, you're probably tiring of me advocating for the move of spring elections to the fall of odd years, but this weekend is one big reason why.

Well, it's 5 reasons, anyway.

That's the high temperature.  We're experiencing the coldest March day in Kansas City history amidst a winter storm.

That's following the once-every-20-year storm we had last year during the spring primary election.  That was the argument, in fact, for downplaying last year's snow event as a reason to move the elections.

That month knock-out last year is still fresh on our minds at the election office.  It will probably be fresh on my mind for 20 years.

This storm created flashbacks but a whole new set of issues and further reasons to consider the move.

Another reason is being touted, I think, today by a member of Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) at the National Association of Counties conference.  I just saw a photo of Tammy Patrick on Facebook, speaking to a legislative committee, about the readout of the report.

The report advocates a school holiday or in-service day for elections.  If we move spring elections to the fall of odd years, we'd have August and November elections every year, with school out on both days (if the school holiday was also part of the law), voters would have predictable polling locations, and military and advance voters would have the convenience of voting that laws intend.

Ooops--that last item is a new reason on this blog, brought to light by this weekend's weather event.

And, while I'm piling on new reasons, we're rumbling into Ash Wednesday this week, here simply an indicator that we have a later Easter than normal.  Spring election polling place selections also meet uncertainty when we crest against Easter and Passover.

I'd much rather not have a storm, but we've had had two in two years.  That, combined with the recommendations of the PCEA (which cited this blog--at least a blog citing this blog, actually--in making this point) create the cliched perfect storm for improving scheduling of elections for our voters.

Back to this weekend:

Our election was this past Tuesday and the canvass can either, by law, follow on Monday (tomorrow) or the following Thursday.

Our canvass is scheduled for 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.  At a canvass, the Board of County Commissioners acts as the Board of Canvassers and reviews any provisional ballots or challenged ballots.  They allow those envelopes to be opened in accordance with laws and election standards, those additional votes are added in, and the election results are certified.

This is their meeting, by the way.  The Board of Canvassers has a statutory obligation to have this meeting.  I'm the emcee, but the Board of Canvassers is the entity that certifies the results and validates the election.

In Johnson County, we have seven commissioners but most counties in Kansas have three.  In those counties, the canvass can get pretty purposeful, with each canvass member reviewing each envelope, maybe even during the tabulation process on election night.

Here, though, mostly because of the volume of ballots we usually have, the canvassers review categories and occasionally ask specific questions.  Also, unique to Johnson County, the canvassers have created procedures that allow for alternates to attend in their place.

This was a very small election and the number of provisional ballots is low.  The canvass shouldn't last that long.
I'm So Tired of Photographing
Snow--This is an Artist's
Rendition of the Look Outside
My Window

Five of the seven commissioners are at the NACO conference, and that's where the introduction of
the blizzard I'm watching out my home office window right now comes into the discussion.

We have alternates lined up--department heads from the county.  We have alternates for the alternates lined up.

We also know from last year's election storm that best intentions doesn't trump the inability to get out of a driveway.  We don't really know that we'll have the required 7 canvassers tomorrow morning at 9, or even our three special board members to open the ballot envelopes (I can't do that, by law).  If the special board members can't make it in, we'll have to figure out how to go get them.

Take a look at the results from Tuesday's one-race primary and you'll see that the winner picked up 324 of the 420 votes cast.  Number two has 36, three has 31, and four has 28.

We're recommending, based on law, to open 8 more envelopes.  Presumably, there will be ballots in those envelopes.  The ballots most likely will be voted and when tabulated they probably will trend the same way as the final results, with the majority going to the leading candidate.

But that's why they play the game, sports fans.  The distribution could be such that we might have a different number two.

And, with number two not decided, we can't send off our ballot order for the April 1 election.

That would be the April 1 election where military ballots should be delivered no later than February 15, ten days before this primary.  Of course, we couldn't have met that date based on the spring election schedule, but we could have sent ballots, say, on February 26 if the outcome was certain.

Advance ballots by mail for non military and overseas voters can be received beginning March 12.  Assuming the canvass is tomorrow, we'll be lucky to have our printed ballots back by Monday, the 10th.  That gives us about 24 hours to get out a couple of thousand ballots.

If we had the primary in August with the general election in November, this math crisis wouldn't exist.  "One less thing," as Forrest Gump would say.

We saw this storm coming in forecasts on Friday.  Schools very likely will be closed tomorrow, with overnight temperatures forecasted at -8.  That also plays a factor in who will arrive for the canvass.  Some alternates may have parenting priorities.

We had discussions of moving the canvass.  But, to when?  Thursday?  Advance ballots surely would go out late.

Later on Monday?  What if the storm came slower and 9 a.m. tomorrow turned out to be passable but 2 p.m., not so much?

I just returned from a trial drive to the office after a night of sleet and three inches of snow (we were forecast to have more but it came as sleet).  I returned, though, in a full-on blizzard and my driveway doesn't look like I'd taken a shovel to it, although I had it nearly cleared this morning.

So, you never know.

And, of course, "never know" is what eats at election administrators.  Plans B, C, and D in effect, it would be nice to stress the value of, um, Plan E:

Election day in-service day for November elections so that schools are available in August and November, and snowstorms aren't a factor.  The cost-neutral, less-havoc solution, would be to move spring elections to fall years, leaving voters with a predictable election day every November, usually at the same polling place.

By now, someone reading has probably thought that snow could be a factor in November.

It could.  History has shown it hasn't been, though.  Heck, I was the kid who went home and changed costumes for trick or treating round two and as a parent I paraded my kids door-to-door candidate style as though Halloween was a conquest (isn't it?).

I could chart for you the weather conditions from those years, although with grown kids I'm now retired from Halloween activities.

But I have put this same snowstorm costume on two years in a row, and that's two years too many.