Wednesday, August 27, 2014 0 comments

Raise Your Hand!

It was a busy day today, following a busy week last week. The next post will be on our equipment plans but I need to be in one place long enough to type.

For now, there's this (unlike some press release quotes, Secretary Kris Kobach said all of these to my face, for reals, and then a few more nice things. It made me kind of misty.


TOPEKA (August 27, 2014) – Today Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach reappointed the current Johnson County Election Commissioner, Brian Newby, for another four-year term. The swearing-in ceremony took place in Secretary Kobach’s office in Memorial Hall.

Newby was first appointed by Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh in January 2005 to fill an unexpired term, was reappointed by Thornburgh in 2006, reappointed by Secretary of State Chris Biggs in 2010, and served under Secretary Kobach before today’s swearing in.

“Brian Newby is an extraordinary election commissioner,” said Kobach. “He is not only recognized as a superstar by his peers in Kansas, he is also recognized nationally. He has been a source of innovation and improvement in Kansas elections for the past decade.”

Just recently Newby earned the Minute Man Best Practices of the Year Award from the National Association of Election Officials for ‘iPad, iRegister’ which uses an iPad to document proof of citizenship and photo identification for newly naturalized citizens registering to vote. The same initiative resulted in his receiving the Making Democracy Work award from the Johnson County, Kansas, League of Women Voters.

Last year the National Association of Election Officials bestowed the Guardian Best Practices of the Year Award for the online ‘Election Diary,’ Newby’s widely-read blog focusing on the day-to-day operation of administering elections.

Newby serves on the Election Center Legislative Committee, is a member of the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, and Election Officials and is a former board member of the National Association of County Records, Election Officials, and Clerks.

The secretary of state’s office is charged with the responsibility of overseeing Kansas elections. While 101 counties elect their election officers (the county clerks), the four largest counties in Kansas have election commissioners who are appointed by the secretary of state.

Thursday, August 21, 2014 0 comments

Leaving My iHeart in San Francisco

It's been a good day at the Election Center conference in San Francisco, and it's not because of this view from the hotel room.

That's nice, though, and the weather outside is 30 degrees cooler than in Kansas City, so preparing for the Head for the Cure 5k this weekend has been a little easier here than there.

It's also not been a good day just because the Johnson County Election Office received a Best Practices Award.

That was nice, too, though. The award is the Minute Man Award, given for something that can be executed swiftly and cheaply that is repeatable or provides sustained savings.

In our case, this relates to an initiative supporting the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. We provide the League (and other third-party registering groups now) with a secure iPad that they check out and return with proof of citizenship documentation for those they register.

This has been a big deal at naturalization ceremonies and is about as big of a "feel good" story as there can be. More than 600 new citizens have been registered using this iRegister application.

Anything that begins with a lower case "i" is so clever these days, and we have an election worker who came up with "iRegister."

I suggested she trademark it quickly. I think she thought I was kidding, so at least there is a date stamp here with the blog and the award that shows when she first used it. So, intellectual property trolls beware, or she might iSue you.

Our office has been awarded four Best Practice awards by the Election Center in my tenure, equaled only, I believe, by the Los Angeles County Election Office. This one, related to registration, is most special to me because it's truly aligned with an election administration function. Our other awards were for outreach of one type or another--text messaging, a Jo-Co-Po-Lo campaign to direct voters to the proper voting location, and, in life-imitating-art fashion, this very blog.

Even coming from a long Sprint career, I couldn't have anticipated back then how much phones and mobile devices would play a role in my job at the Election Office.

Today, though, I remembered something an advisor told me when we met as I pondered closing that 20-year chapter of my life and exploring something new.

"You'll find, Brian," he said, "that things you've done and learned at Sprint will serve you well."

"He" was Matt Anthony, CEO at the time of VML and now the head of its parent advertising conglomerate. Matt and I knew each other from Sprint, where he worked before going VML, which became our agency of record for the wholesale division. We actually first met before that, when he worked for the Kansas City Comets and I was a pup reporter covering the soccer team for UPI.

Matt also now leads the annual Head for the Cure 5k event (this weekend in Kansas City but not there are several in other communities). He started this event after losing his brother to brain cancer.

The race is now personal for me as well because my daughter had a brain tumor removed and was temporarily unable to move her legs just 6 months before running in the Head for the Cure three years ago. Plus, one of our "A" list election office temporaries also had a brain tumor and has a large team of runners at the event. This will be the fifth race for me (counting one in Lawrence) since my daughter's surgery.

As I ran outside at lunch time along the scenery you've now, um, seen, I was thinking of Saturday's race and drifted off towhat Matt said years ago. I then realized I had one of those "serve you well" moments this morning.

The actual series of events will be in another post, soon (and maybe two or three because of the complexities, all coming within a week), but at a high-level I talked today with a ballot scanning and tabulation company we will be evaluating for several school mail-ballot elections we will have in January.

It was sort of a speed-dating type of meeting. We're going to lay out specs for a scanner and procure one within a month. The company we choose should have some familiarity advantage with us, I would think, as we evaluate next-generation voting systems.

That's the big story in the voting system equipment world--the pending need for new equipment, and the question many of us face is, "what will that system be?"

As I talked today (maybe I should have listened more, but I did listen to myself), I realized that jurisdictions may not replace a system with another system.

What if we had more than one system?

Remember, my time with Matt was when I was over marketing for Sprint Wholesale, a division that sold to other brands. I'm a brand expert, actually, more so than an election expert even.

What if we had, essentially, different brands for different elections? Brands can be vendors or sizes of systems in this case, or just call them models. What if we had small, big, and bigger systems to choose from, based on the election?

We wouldn't have one vendor for everything. I asked if that's ever been done--a jurisdiction having more than election system, for different uses based on the election.

The vendor I was with at that moment suggested that's how things were evolving because of the types of hardware that was being used, less proprietary, more over the counter. I know of all that, of course, but I never saw until today how integrated the election administration industry is about to become.

Mind blown.

THAT'S what made it a good day. There's a new paradigm coming in election administration.

iSaw it and iRegistered it.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 0 comments

Getting 'Round To A Coin Toss

August's primary election is officially wrapped up, with the recessed Board of County Canvassers reconvening from Monday morning to approve all results and the write-in winners Tuesday afternoon.

One precinct committee race was tied, decided by a coin toss.  I was surprised we had a tie, in that I was surprised we only had one tie--we usually have more than one in August.

Each candidate had six votes and the statutes explain that ties are determined "by lot."

Lots are like toxins to me.  Ask people to define either and, chances are, you'll never get the same answer twice.

In my mind, lots are usually "cast." 

Likewise, votes are cast, and I can understand that, but I'm not sure how lots are cast.  By all accounts (literally, I think, but I think it may have only been 3 out of 4 gospel accounts), the garments worn by Jesus were split among Roman soldiers by casting lots.  Many movies have interpreted that as some sort of dice roll.

"By lot" seems like a very vague phrase.  We've always conducted a coin toss, but to be consistent with "casting lots," we first flip to see who calls the race and then flip for the outcome.  If it's a 3-way tie, we have a flipping playoff.

We attempt to call those who might be involved in a tie and, if they come, they get to be the potential coin callers.  I flip, the coin hits the floor, and, ostensibly, lots are cast.

It may seem like an insignificant thing, this 6-vote tie.  But precinct committee people are pulled in to elect representatives and senators in the cases of vacancies.  Johnson County averages about one of these a year.

So, if that vacancy happens to affect this precinct, this race has much more significance.  It decides who votes in the vacancy meeting and one vote (or non-vote if the person doesn't come to the meeting) can be a long-forgotten moment that helped propel a political career. 

Therefore, lots must be cast.  And, for that, a coin had to be secured.

I'm not a big fan of coins.  I believe, for instance, that the only thing a penny is good for is to keep you from getting four more if the price at a store ends with a "1" or a "6."

I had to go searching for quarters and found one, but there was no significance to the coin.  I had a Kansas quarter in 2012.  This year, it was just the old-fashioned type.

I found an app for my iPad that randomly flips an imaginary coin, but I'm afraid that might ignite some new "Black Tablet Voting," movement.  The lack of a coin-flipping paper trail may come into play as well.  And, for virtual money lovers, I don't know how I would ever flip a Bit Coin.

This whole coin toss thing, though, plays up the slow process when going through anything hand-counted, and while write-ins are tracked on voting machines, we hand enter all the write-ins into a database.  Then, our staff has to pull these 800 races together from the voting machine list and the paper-ballot list and begin eyeballing each race.

In one race, Ginny, Jane, and Janice actually were the same person.  We have to research that and then make sure the winner is actually eligible to win that race.  It's a slow burn.

Perhaps the new-fangled high-speed scanners have a way to optically recognize write ins.  I'll find out that specifically when I go to national election conference next week.  One of my missions next week will be learn about these scanners very quickly because we're likely to buy one (and all that comes with it) within the month.

We have five of our six school districts combining for a mail-ballot election in January--between the November and April general elections and we've never done that before.  So, in between two huge elections, we'll be mailing out about 350,000 ballots--different questions based on the districts.

We'll be processing around 175,000 pieces of paper in January and we've never done that before, either.  If there's ever a time to move from our rinky-dink four scanners to something big time, here we are.

Monday, August 4, 2014 2 comments

In the Begetting

With election day tomorrow, a common question right now pertains to my projection of turnout.

I'm very good at nailing the turnout number the day after the election.

Actually, before the election, fine-tuning each day based on advance voting, I'm generally not that far off with my estimate the night before the election.

Many variables, though, come in to play.  It's trendy right now to discuss predictive modeling techniques to forecast turnout, number of machines needed, and the right potion to ensure that lines at the polls are reasonable.

In fact, I want our staff to become better at logically predicting turnout, because forecasting volume, to me, is the precursor to everything election administer-ey.

I'm thinking the turnout for the August 5 election will be somewhere between 17 and 20 percent, closer to 17 than 20.

(I hate talking about turnout, generally, though because I'm always worried that a public turnout estimate will impact voting behavior.  Some may come or stay at home because they worry that the polls will be busy; others may not want to go to a party that doesn't have anyone there and, counter-intuitively, may not come to vote if they think no one else is.)

(If you haven't picked up this by now by reading this blog or this post you may never pick it up, but coming up with Backup Plans A, B, C, D, E, F, G, Gg, H, H1, H2, Hn, I, etc., induces a constant neurosis and tendency to over-think the most simplistic items).

Anyway, back to the 17 percent.  378,000 voters times .17, divided by 183 polling locations, and voila, there you go, forecasting, right?

No, especially in this election when Republicans cast a Republican ballot, Democrats cast a Democratic ballot, Libertarians cast an Unaffiliated ballot, and Unaffiliated voters can cast an Unaffiliated, or Republican, or Democratic ballot.

Further, while every polling place will feature some competitive countywide races, not every House race, for instance, features two candidates.  Turnout likely will be lower at those locations.  Some polling places will have a combination of precincts with super competitive races and precincts with less competition.

So, toss all that in with your Soup Stone, and what's the turnout again?

Turn to history, some may say.  The key to the future is found in the past.

But, what past?  2010, the last time there was a county commission chair primary?  Turnout in that election was 22.9 percent.  There was an extremely competitive primary for an open U.S. Senate seat that year, with both campaigns pushing advance voting extensively.

About 5,000 voters in that election didn't cast a vote for the county commission chair race, but the "turnout" in that race still was more than 21 percent.

Hmmmm, how about 2012?  Turnout that year was 17.33 percent with no U.S. Senate race and no county commission chair race.

2014 will be higher, right?

Well, look at these numbers through the weekend:

Monday Morning Before Election in:                          2014            2012              2010
Ballots Issued                                                               24,738         26,285           33,118
Ballots Returned
(includes in-person and by mail)                                18,150        18,245           23,805

In-Person Advance (included in numbers above)        9,163           9,254            12,337

So, 2014 is tracking just 95 fewer ballots than in 2012.

You'll see that it's pretty common in an August election to have many ballots mailed out that are not returned.  Many come back undeliverable, not just from the permanent list but also from people who recently requested a ballot.

I've said it before and I'll say it again--people move.

Although we don't have updated numbers through today yet for ballots returned (2012's number jumped to 20,767), the in-person advance numbers from today close our total out to be 9,512--compared to 9,486 in 2012.

So, what does that mean?  Are we surging?  33 percent more voters cast ballots in person today than in the last day of 2012.

The new in-person gain puts 2014 now 22 ballots ahead of 2012.

2012, though, had tons of energy.  Redistricting led to a later filing season and plenty of rookie candidates that made nearly all races competitive.

2012, really, is nothing like 2014.  But, the numbers are nearly identical.

Dismissed as coincidence?

I'm just getting started, kids, but in the interest of time for the three people who have made it this far, I'll stop the post here.  The point is, simply, that all of these variables have to be considered when looking at turnout.

And turnout begets staffing, which begets number of machines, which begets number of locations, which begets the number of printed ballots, which begets the need for advance voting locations.

I'm not exactly sure that I have the "begets" in the correct order, but I am correct that one number begets another, and the best number I can give for August 5 turnout is 18, with homage to today's surge.

We'll see in a week.

What?  The election is tomorrow, you say.

Yes, but tomorrow's turnout percent doesn't include provisional ballots.  Those counted are added to the turnout at the canvass on Monday.  Those not counted aren't in the turnout percentages at all.

And, so, another variable was just beget.

(A new one, by the way, is emerging in terms of facility availability, shown below).

Suitcases staged for supply delivery last week, but....
More and more facilities don't want
deliveries until Monday, a whole
new problem with polling places.  Our
setup teams each delivered to a location
today as well as the delivery company.