Wednesday, April 30, 2014 1 comments

Mad Men at the Election Office

I'm old enough to remember people smoking in the workplace.

It seems like a crazy work environment in retrospect, but yesterday gave me a flashback.

We just had a new air conditioner installed above my office and all seemed fine, except yesterday was a day for heat.

I switched it over on the thermostat, headed to our mailroom, evaluated the number of returned ballots in both our Roeland Park and Fairway elections, and bopped back to my cave, only to notice considerable amounts of dark smoke coming out of all of our vents.

Our county's facility contact was at our building, coming down from the roof, and I rushed to tell him.

"That's normal," he said.  New units have some amount of oil that must be burned off in the first use.

Thing is, normal here looked like a pretty legitimate fire scene.  The photo from my office was taken about 5 minutes after the unit was turned off.

That also was after I was greeted by our workplace safety coordinator ably directing employees to safety because of the fire.  This was not a drill, but it might as well have been one, and it was executed perfectly.

Not an office from the 1960s
One of our employees pointed out that in our haste, we didn't obtain and take with us the electronic records from previous election tabulations.  Our disaster procedures say we'll do that and this was a pretty good observation that such a thing really wouldn't happen in a real-life emergency.

We've thought as much.

"Pardon me, Mr. Bomb Threat Man, as we evacuate.  Could you kindly verify that the bomb is not in the room where we process and tabulate ballots?"

Such an illogical approach, we figured, would also apply in a fire.  We have a fire-proof safe but, really, if our building burns down, we have bigger issues than recovering the CD of results from the 2008 presidential election.

Such a post is boring, I know.  (That's not stopped me before). 

And it's a minor point.  Still, the overarching learning is that election administrators live for Plans B, C, and D. 

Maybe (maybe?) we over-function.  And, maybe, the farther the plans go down the alphabet (I bet we could hold a contest and find some administrator somewhere who once had a Plan ZZ--not confused with the need for ZZZ's), we have to realize that these might not be disaster plans but, rather, Disaster Dreams.

You might think Disaster Nightmares is a better phrase, but all of these plans are designed to bypass nightmares.  Sometimes, in a safe setting, it's good to see how the plan played out.

We're kind of "anti-network" around here (again, Think Like the Jetsons, Live Like the Flinstones) but we will look to create some sort of private remote storage for past elections based on this learning. 

We do keep backup versions of elections and software at an underground cave as well, and if that isn't living like the Flintsones, I don't know what is. 

For today, though, we're just thankful none of us went up in smoke.
Thursday, April 24, 2014 0 comments

We Need a Live Rooster

If you know me, you know I'm not a fan of business casual.

My preference is either suits or jeans. 

I never understood this third level of Granimals for Adults attire that many men would change into when coming home, back when we wore suits every day to work.  Taking off dress clothes to put on Dockers just seemed pointless to me.

Dockers at work, business casual, just feels like I'm wearing a Little League baseball uniform.

Besides, there's something about feeling like a real man when I encounter a day that leads to at least 12 hours in a suit.  I've always felt that wrinkles to a starched shirt represented battle scars from a tough day at the office.

Plus, being a poor government employee now, that $2.50 to have my shirt cleaned and starched requires the long day for a proper Return on Investment.

Yesterday was such a day, when I spoke at a county training session for emerging leaders in the morning and then participated in a panel on voting last night at an event put on by the Johnson County League of Women Voters.

Dave Helling from the Kansas City Star moderated, and I was joined by Holly Weatherford from the ACLU, state senator Greg Smith, and state representative Tom Sawyer.

It provided me some patter for my ongoing narrative.  Dave asked a concluding question of what each of us thought needed to happen in the next 5 to 10 years to make voting easier and to address some of the concerns we discussed.

My answer was that it would be great if we had a similar forum that wasn't put on by the League of Women Voters.  Last night's forum was the equivalent of preaching to the choir. 

Elections affect everyone, and it would be good if those other stakeholders (counties, cities, schools, and others) were interested and involved in addressing election administration reform.

That was my observation of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA)--great that election officials were involved but the general take I get from the response to the report is what I was worried would occur.  The only people who seem to be thinking about the report are election administrators and election enthusiasts (geeks).

Still, the 60 or so attendees from last night are election enthusiasts (League members may not consider "geeks" an endearing term, so, for now, "enthusiasts.")

I kicked off the discussion by referring to an article in the Star that morning that mentioned a couple of departments that had been underfunded, and I explained that we were no different.

In fact, we have the same-sized staff that we had 20 years ago, despite our modest requests to increase staff.

To put that in context, our staff size is the same as it was before households used the Internet. Windows '95 began the mainstreaming of Internet browsing.

The last successful new headcount request at the
Johnson County Election Office was typed on a computer
that didn't even yet have this operating system
My heavily starched shirts (I like to whistle to my closet and have the shirts walk out to me) cost only $1 per cleaning then.

"Google" wasn't yet a verb.

Anyway, that staffing issue is just one proof point of many budget needs, including voting equipment, that I will address in a future post, all at once, as the budget process unfolds.  I'll do that as part of my loosely threaded series of responses to the localized impact of the PCEA recommendations.

My big point now is that the suits are in rotation--speaking event last night, next Saturday, two weeks from Thursday, and three weeks from Monday.  And, we're just getting started.

Today was a jeans day, but I did a final walkthrough of our advance voting site we plan to use across from the Metcalf South shopping center.

We're lining up plans to utilize ballot-on-demand printing at two of our advance voting sites (for provisional ballots).

We just had a monsoon of a rainstorm as I began typing this piece and that literal hole in the wall in the warehouse we'd noticed since the security system was installed last month gave way to an indoor wading pool.  So, now, there's that.

We got word today that the US Department of Immigration will not stand in the way of the League photographing naturalization certificates, on our iPad, to assist new citizens when registering.

All of the sudden, we have a lot of moving pieces.

I feel like I'm Crash on the mound today, outlining what's going on to the pitching coach.

"And, we need a live... is it a live rooster? We need a live rooster to take the curse off Jose's glove and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present."

So, overnight, as the suit was hung up, it became clear that it's on--the frenzy of the August and November elections, and all the chaos that we simultaneously hate and use as an energy source, is here.

Thursday, April 17, 2014 0 comments

Guilt by Association? Nope, Just Clueless

Many of us created the little minute and a half life montage on Facebook a couple of months ago.

You might remember those, and the first thing it showed was "You Joined in...."

I joined in 2007, much to the disdain of my daughter who thought I was dabbling in a young person's world.

Like Twitter later, I remember initially thinking how worthless this platform was but soon realizing its value.

Facebook really is the phone book of our times.

(Odd isn't it, that people paid money to not be listed in the phone book but have so much of their lives public now on Facebook?).

One benefit of Facebook, in this job, is liking various organizations that might have posts of interest impacting election administration.

Usually, posts may be more about elections than administration, but it's good to know, for instance, if advance ballot applications are being distributed or if any voters are expressing any issues voting (as in, not getting their advance or mail ballots).

But by 2009, though, as more and more adults were on Facebook, I realized that I needed a friending policy, a code, a compass, or at least some sort of guideline when I would accept friend requests or like pages. 

Simply, I don't want to friend a candidate and have it even remotely appear that I have a vested interest in that candidate winning or losing.  In fact, a friend of mine once was a candidate at the time of a milestone birthday and I snubbed his party because I didn't want my mere attendance to suggest I had any interest in the outcome of his election.

Such an approach has gotten harder. 

Usually, in what probably looks like some cold follow-up, I'll start accumulating friend requests about this time of year, in even years, and act on them after the November election.

Problem is, if the person wins and later becomes a candidate, well, we're already virtual friends.  I didn't see any way around that and even, further, I modified my inner code to accept a friend request who is a candidate when the candidate is facing an incumbent who I'd previously friended. 

Otherwise, it might now appear I had a vested interest in the incumbent winning again.

More frequently and recently, though, pages I've liked (and often long ago remember liking them) might run advertisements. 

I check Facebook just once or twice a day so I usually don't see any linked to me, but apparently some are.  I've seen others--Friend ABC likes Razor of the Month Club, followed by a sponsored add by the Razor of the Month Club (which I joined just because of the video, I'm embarrassed to say).

A few weeks ago, a Facebook friend I greatly respect sent me a message asking why I supported a candidate.

I had no idea where she was coming from, and after trading some messages at least figured out the offending page.  Basically, it was similar to the Razor ad with a different cut, "Brian D. Newby  likes Site ABC," followed by a post that would lead people to think I supported the content of the post.

I unliked that page, but I've never seen the offending ad.

Politically, though, as ailing Miley Cyrus would tweet, #feelingnobueno.

Last week, my wife asked me about something similar and that evening we went through her news feed and couldn't find the feed, so the perp remains at large.

This is becoming a big issue and an emerging one for election administrators.

Since that 2007 sign-up time, social media has been a great tool in election administration.  It's valuable in tracking sentiment and our dramatic snowstorm in February 2013, it was vital in getting the word out regarding polling place changes.

This very blog has been a social media tool to provide insight into the issues facing election administrators.

I think one way to bypass this is to turn my page into a page people like, not having "friends."  That sounds like a lot of work, but something now on my to-do list.

Second, one purpose of this post is to alert new candidates that I'm not being heartless if we know each other but I've ignored your friend request.  I'll respond in November.

Third, to those who know me, if you seen one of these sponsored ads featuring me, please let me know.  I can't have this. 

And, of course, I've only discussed Facebook here.  LinkedIn is a whole 'other country.  Twitter is moving to more advertising so there could be some curveballs ahead there.

If anything, I think all of this highlights what a "social media policy" really is.

In most organizations, social media policies are just acceptable-use policies, basically telling employees when they are allowed to check their accounts.

A true social media policy touches on the need to be market sensing and communicative through different vehicles, speaks to each channel, and is just one component of an overall outreach strategy.

I've never seen a social media policy that provides guidelines to avoid being part of sponsored ads, although I think the ability to have a page that people like, rather than friend, is the way to go.

Still, social media evolves and the need to track threats (the advertisements are a minor threat to election administrators, but they are a threat) is increasing.

New technology, BLE (low-energy Bluetooth), is enabling a whole new way for devices to connect and messages to be delivered.  In fact, I see that capability as an emerging threat to my Bring Your Own Voting Machine concept. 

That's a separate post soon where I will explain why.  For now, I have some friend requests to consciously review and ignore.
Sunday, April 6, 2014 0 comments

A Different Angle on Disabilities

Tonight will be the first Sunday in a while where I haven't watched The Walking Dead.

I'm not quite sure why I like that show.  Two years ago, regularly confined to the upstairs of my home for two weeks following ankle injury, I explored Netflix and binge-watched all the early episodes.

It is the most-watched show on TV, so there's that.  It's fairly mainstream to be watching a show about zombies.

There are plenty of Facebook posts where viewers can determine what character they would be in the show based on a series of random questions.  The questions have little to do with anything--other than a clever way to generate page views on a site for advertisers--and our family members have taken many of those, including the test for The Walking Dead.

As viewers, we often identify with characters.  My character in the show was Glenn, and he's a noble and good guy.  I was okay with that.

I also was Veronica Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and my wife was Charlie, so I'm jealous.  (Then again, that's exactly how Veronica would feel).

Thing is, we find community in sharing something as silly as television and movie viewing habits.  And it's human nature to be drawn to shows where we can project ourselves as one of the characters.

The series finale of How I Met Your Mother drew cable-eseque ratings according to USA Today (how insulting, rather than flattering, that statement would have been 25 years ago, by the way).  Long-term stable couples identify with Marshall and Lily, love-seeking urbanites might identify with Ted, and I'm thankful I don't know anyone who identifies with Barney--but I'm sure many do.

What's this have to do with an election blog?

Plenty, I believe.

If it's human nature to identify with others who reflect something about ourselves, wouldn't that carry into other aspects of life besides television?  Aren't we drawn to colleagues, friends, and partners who  share similar values or characteristics as us?

If so, why would voting be different?

If conventional wisdom is that older persons vote, is it any coincidence that election workers are older?

If conventional wisdom is that women vote more than men, I point out that there isn't a League of Men Voters.  Maybe some men see voting as something guys don't do--at least in local races.

I raise all of this as my response to one of the items in the Presidential Commission on Election Administration's recommendations.  Specifically, the Commission recommended more effort be made to make voting accessible for persons with disabilities.

"Persons with disabilities" is incredibly broad and I believe a comprehensive plan should break down those disabilities and address them granularly.

In fact, when we begin our evaluation process of our next-generation voting system, we will we ensure we have representatives from various disability stakeholder groups in recognition that disabilities is more than a buzzword.

But I am intrigued at the notion that people might vote more frequently if they see others like them at the polling place, just as we will watch a television show if we know others are watching it as well, and the way we will continue to watch the show if we see a piece of ourselves in one of the characters.

I'm not quite sure how, but I want to increase the level of election worker participation among persons with disabilities.  In turn, I believe, the polling place welcome mat will be more visible to others with disabilities and they might feel more comfortable voting at the polls.

There is some level of rationality here, I suppose.  Election workers who are disabled, themselves, may require more accommodation, resulting in more cost.

To that, I say, so?  Elections are about inclusion.

We had a young worker who is wheelchair-bound work during the 2012 election cycle.  It really wouldn't have been appropriate to have him motor around outside to place signs but inside he was able to perform all tasks at the polling place.  He received high peer-review remarks.

Back to "not quite sure how," but I feel strongly that inclusion of persons with disabilities as election workers, not just voters, has to be an ongoing strategic imperative.  Workers at our polling places should reflect the voting population.

If we want more young people voting, get more young people to work at the polls.  Our student election worker program has been very successful.  We can have one high-schooler, by law, at each polling place and we turn away more than 100 students in even years because the interest is so high.

That means, as an aside, that more than 10 percent of our election workers aren't even old enough to vote.  Hopefully, that statement will guilt some to consider becoming an election worker.

What if 10 percent of our election workers had a disability?  Maybe that's already the case, in fact, because disability, as I typed, has a broad definition.  At the very least, it would be good to evaluate and measure this.

Some who are disabilities are logically homebound.   Heck, I was disabled for a period with my broken ankle.

But what if some who are disabled simply worry that they wouldn't be welcome at the polls, that they would stand out, or be a bother?  Would they feel better coming into the polling place, greeted, and assisted by someone who compassionately understands because that person may also have a similar physical limitation?

I think so, and I'd like to test that hypothesis.