Distance Lends Enlightment: Newby in Albania

Flag-of-Albania.jpg

[Image courtesy of top10for]

NOTE: Sometime today (Wednesday, June 24) – if not already – the Election Academy blog will be switching over to a new WordPress platform. I’m hoping the transition will be seamless, but there may be some hiccups along the way. The good news is that the entire back catalog of posts should still be available and the only changes with the blog – including a mobile-friendlier layout – should be improvements. Watch this space and the Twitter feed for details!

Johnson County’s Brian Newby recently traveled to Albania for an election observation – and while there, he got some perspective on some election issues here at home. Fortunately for all of us, he shared them over the weekend at ElectionDiary:

Greetings from Albania!

I’m here on an election observation mission and I’ll blog about the experience, just as I did last time in the Republic of Georgia, when I’m back.

I was out scouting my areas of observation today, in advance of tomorrow’s election, and there were a couple of, um, observations that are safe to report early on and give a flavor of my day tomorrow.

Yes, tomorrow–Sunday–is election day.

What a great day for an election tomorrow will be. It’s debatable that Sunday is a good day, but elections over here are on Sunday for much the same reason they are on Tuesdays in the United States. This day fits with with the farming and business lifestyles of residents.

There’s been a lot of talk in Kansas about the value of moving municipal elections from the spring to the fall, but these municipal elections are in June and benefit from the same thing I believe we will with elections in November:

The elections will be conducted in empty schools. That means available polling places and no student safety concerns.

June 22, I believe, also has the longest amount of daylight in the year. The sun was up before 5 here this morning and I’m typing outside with a bright sky at 8:15 p.m. The polls will be open totally during daylight hours. That’s voter friendly, especially when polling places don’t have lit signs to direct voters.

Of interest to me is the fact that Albania has roughly the same number of voters as we have in Kansas, but there will be more than 5,000 polling places open tomorrow. Granted, they don’t have advance voting, but that’s a lot of polling places. Some might even say that’s an “adequate number.”

By contrast, there’s continued pressure to reduce polling places in Johnson County.

Mind you, that pressure isn’t coming from voters or citizens (who just named the convenience of polling places as one of the 5 best things offered by the county in the most recent citizen satisfaction survey).

It’s not being pressed by the highest elected official in the country–president Barack Obama formed a commission based on long voting lines in 2012 and declared, after the commission’s findings, that no one should wait more than 30 minutes to vote.

It’s not being pressed by election administration officials, well-represented, in fact, on the president’s commission.

In any event, these opinions exist, in part because of a lack of understanding how polling places are assigned. Our most common complaint we hear from voters is, “why did my polling place move?” followed by “why do I drive past one polling place to get to mine?”

I have never had a voter, however, in my 10 1/2 years as election commissioner, call, write, or say in a meeting to me that we had too many polling places.

Not one.

Oh–did you hear something? That was my microphone drop on the issue.

After a two decade trend of increasing polling places in Johnson County we went from 286 polling places in 2004 to 212 in 2012, and we found that we cut too much. Other communities cut as well in this time, and it’s no coincidence that line concerns became a national topic.

I don’t know how many polling places we will have yet for 2016. We will target 300 but that’s so we might net 250, or 225. We can talk about 212 being the minimum, but we work with what’s available, and we might find that 212 is aggressive, necessitating either us leasing hotel meeting room space as polling places in some cases or paying more for advance voting sites in order to ensure we have large advance sites.

Either way, we won’t be reducing for the sake of reducing, or growing for the sake of growing, for that matter.

We match voters to facilities, just as they did here in Albania.

Today, I visited four polling places not a block apart, not next door to each other, but in the same school campus, technically in the same building!

Each polling place is supporting about 1,000 voters, the number we use as our high-water “expected to vote” amount in Johnson County.

Did you just hear a squeal?

That was speaker feedback as I picked the microphone back up and dropped it again. It was nice to bump into a community that made such an effort to make voting accessible.

Polling places aside, [here’s] how I’ll spend by night, from about 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday night after reporting for duty Sunday at 6:00 a.m.

The votes will be tabulated in central counting rooms. The ones I saw today are small theaters, with the counting on stage and show on large televisions.

High tech and voter transparency, my two favorite things. The seats look comfy, too. I didn’t see a place to store my fountain drink, though, in the armrest.

So, just sharing for fellow election geeks out there. More afterwards!

Thanks to Brian for his work and for sharing … looking forward to his “after-action” report!

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