Sunday, January 25, 2015 0 comments

School Elections Near the Finish Line

We're 48 hours from the close of the five school mail-ballot elections, collectively the largest mail-ballot effort we've ever had and the largest number of paper ballots ever processed in Johnson County.

And yet, I'm in the office and it's empty, calm. 

I did not see this coming.  I thought today we'd have a full crew in, buried, wondering what kind of reinforcements we needed.

Our crew left yesterday fully caught up, although we expect an onslaught in the mail tomorrow and many drop-offs Tuesday morning.

So, we don't know when we will have unofficial final results, but it's feeling more like it will be Tuesday, at some point, rather than Wednesday or later.

I could say the reason is our preparation.  That's definitely fair--we thought we were ready, but we weren't sure.  We had about 50 part-time workers, in different stages, different roles, different rooms.

I could say the reason was the decision to utilize a new high-speed scanner, the first ever of its type used in Kansas and one of the first times this model has been used in the country.  It was a big risk--going straight to a live election without staff training through a smaller or test election--but it has gone very smoothly.

I could say the reason is the dedicated hard work from all of our part-time employees.  That's definitely true.  It's very gratifying to see so many people here, working hard and getting paid very little, but caring so much for our voters.

Another factor, though, is that voters aren't voting.

We're at 95,267 ballots returned right now, about 29 percent of the 332,237 ballots issued.

I expected closer to 50 percent returned.  Likely, the final number will be less than 40 percent.

Mail for Santa in Miracle on 34th Street.  We expect
a similar picture, in living color, Tuesday.
As I like to say, there's a lot of baseball left to be played.  We might experience, for instance, a Miracle on 34th Street experience where the post office brings in tray after tray after tray of ballots on Tuesday.

As I type, cars are coming in at the rate of one per minute to drop off ballots.  That will become intense tomorrow and Tuesday.

Still, 40 percent turnout.  That's like, to paraphrase Nuke LaLoosh, lower than 50 percent. 

That's probably all that means.

I don't know that the turnout leads to any conclusions.  We did have a lot of undeliverable ballots (people move, you know) and the turnout is pretty consistent among all 5 districts.

Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission are both at 30 percent, De Soto is at 33 percent, and Olathe and Gardner-Edgerton are both at 26 percent.  Perhaps there is a difference in the communications efforts within the districts, but the number of voters and even the type of voter (apartment vs. home owner, school family vs. non-school) are probably the main factors.

An interesting Big Data project would be to compare all of those factors after the election is over.  While interesting, it simply may be just that.  I'm not sure how actionable the data would be.  There may be learnings political campaigns in these areas can gather for future races.

Our actionable list was very specific--job one was to get the job done.  We're well on our way.

Expect photos and an update on Election Day.

Or is that spring election filing deadline day?

Why, yes, it's the same day, the same time.

These elections close at noon on Tuesday, precisely the same time and date we will know the extent of our March primary election.

We already know we have a primary for Shawnee mayor.  That whole update, likely, will be Wednesday.

Friday, January 16, 2015 1 comments

School Mail-Ballot Update

Many learnings, very busy as we're working on the 5 mail-ballot elections that culminate on January 27.

Our entire building is abuzz with people working on this election.  We've hired about 50 part-timers, nestled throughout the office.  Every room is an election room.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, in this busy time, what's a thousand pictures worth?

Or, at least a few, below.

More, for reals, soon.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015 0 comments

Now With Photos

Ballots are hitting the mail in our mega-mail ballot election.

Here are various photos from the mail processing site, a pit stop between the printer and the post office. 

We had them late last week, did some spot checking (just to make sure the right school's ballot is in the right, different-colored envelope), and got a sense of what 330,000 ballots looks like.

We had some issues with envelopes sticking together, but that seems to be worked out.

Outgoing postage was a little less than $100,000.

In the meantime, we're ramping up, converting meeting rooms into mail-processing rooms, making sure all of computers and hand-scanners work, and are ready--as much as possible--for the storm ahead.

Thinking of storm ahead, while it's cold in Kansas City today, in the "didn't come up with that worry until we got here" world, our whole concern with weather leading up to today was if a snowstorm would impact delivery of the ballots from Alabama to us.

Yesterday, and why it didn't cross my mind until yesterday I don't know, I realized a new crippling situation would be a massive snowstorm that keeps our special board from the office for a day or two.  That would put us 30,000 ballots behind faster than you could catch a snowflake on your tongue.

It's always something.

Here are the photos, below.  We'll have photos of our first batch of incoming, as well as, I expect, about 10,000 undeliverables, address changes, even though we just had a mass mailing to all voters in October.

Thursday, January 1, 2015 0 comments

Dropping Out of Society

I'm 10 days from being Johnson County Election Commissioner for 10 years, and in less than 7 days, we begin the most monumental thing our office has experienced in that time.

On Wednesday, we will mail out more than 330,000 ballots to voters in five of the county's six school districts.

The significance is not just the amount of paper and volume we're facing, but also that this is a steep mountain of paperwork, hitting us at a 90 degree angle and an equally fast drop-off after February.

That's an unusual way of saying, "We'll never see another like this."

So, what does that mean?  It means that if this were the new normal, where we moved to all mail elections for instance, we'd scale our operations in a way to permanently handle the volume.  This wouldn't be an egg going through a snake's body, but bunnies, constantly nibbling and sweetly multiplying.

I would have never considered our current stressed-out environment conjured up images of bunnies (or unicorns or rainbows), but fact is, we've historically proven we can handle a certain volume of transactions, and the number of registrations and voters reasonably increases over time. 

We would have time to request and budget additional resources.

If we moved to all-mail ballots, we'd have this big ramp up, but then, with each election, we'd only be dealing with the incremental changes.  January would be tough, but in a short-term-pain, long-term gain kind of way.  By the time we carried this new normal into 2016, if that's where we were headed, we'd have manageable routines.

Here, we've taken on this big meal and are trying to process it through our existing structure.  We have to do it this way because after the election, we're back to the processes we already have, with a spring primary already ensured for early March and then a countywide election at the polls in April.

The fact that we're having these elections in between November and April is news enough--we've never had this, this fast, this large.  In fact, election day is also the filing deadline--when we know how large the March primary is.  Talk about transitions:

Election ends at noon.  Filing deadline is at noon.  The finish line for one and starting line for another is the same line.

So, how to deal:  first off, we're on lock-down. 

I've already informed our staff that days out of the office require two levels of approval a week in advance and my administrative assistant has shut down all meeting scheduling until April 15.

I'm dropping out of society, much the way new parents do when having a newborn (and, I've often here compared elections to babies--babies are cuter, but bunnies are cute, too).

We are utilizing an ES&S high-speed scanner for ballot scanning--the first in Kansas and one of the first times in the country--and we're being trained on next week.  By the time we are experts with, we will flex back to normal size, essentially putting the scanner on the shelf until another large mail-ballot election.

It's not uncommon for us to have mail-ballot elections for 80 or 90,000 voters--just never for 330,000.

We're bringing in a special board of about 40 employees, who will work 6-day weeks.  We're not sure if that is enough, and we'll assess that a week into this.

We're expecting an average of 10,000 ballots returned per day, but that's an average, and there is a postal holiday involved, too.  We could very well find ourselves trying to swallow an influx of 30,000 ballots on a particular day.

That's a lot of scanning, but that's even more blocking and tackling--opening envelopes, checking EVERY signature, entering the voter into our registration system.

For that, we're using every computer and every work station in every crevice of the building.

That may not be enough.

We may have to hire temporary agency employees and work two shifts, but we'll see.

In the end, we're taking a structure that is used to handling 50,000 pieces of returned mail, tops, and flexing it 6 times.  I'm not even sure Stretch Armstrong flexes that far.

There is a fair likelihood we may not have final results on election day (the election ends at noon).  If we have a big mail push that day and our special board is weary heading into the evening, they'll come back and finish the next day.

We might even assess providing results district-by-district, where only one or two might be waiting a day for unofficial results, but that may not be possible with the scanner.  For instance, in running Gardner's results, we might get exposure to interim results for another district, and that would be unacceptable.

Blogging will be impacted.  Everything will be impacted.  If nothing else, I'll be posting photos.

Tomorrow, a group of employees are going to the Pitney Bowes facility to watch them load up the envelopes.  We'll have photos from that.