There is No Small Stuff (cont.): Brian Newby’s “Fired Up, Ready to Blow”


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Earlier this week, I shared a news article detailing the intense preparations local election offices go through to make Election Day happen. Today, I want to give you a different perspective – the grinding small stuff election administrators (especially those at the local level) go through to get all of those things done.

Except, as Brian Newby’s latest ElectionDiary demonstrates yet again, there is no small stuff in elections.

I’ll let him take it from here:

Amid the backdrop of the legislature’s lack of a redistricting plan, we’re pondering election scenarios and questions that simply don’t have answers.

Already, we’ve seen the filing deadline for candidates move in some races from June 1 to June 11, but June 1 had many other areas of significance for us.

June 1, for instance, was the drop-dead date to get our warehouse rearranged with customized tables to support our growth of 400 new voting machines.

When looking at voter registration numbers and the existing life of our fleet three years ago, I embarked on a mission to purchase 400 reconditioned voting machines at a significantly reduced rate from ES&S.

We had money in reserves to cover the purchase and with the purchase, I felt we would be able to ride out our fleet through 2017.

We scheduled an agenda item with the Board of County Commissioners after it was determined that we did not need Board approval for the machines. The agenda item was simply a way to have public record of our intent.

This was in 2010 and, unfortunately, during the meeting the agenda item was closed with someone telling the Board that they would see this item again as a formal resolution.

That was not the plan, but it suddenly became the plan.

So, off we went, formalizing a contract that took much more time than it should and arranging for a vendor to build new tables and another to lay in electrical wiring for the new machines.

We finally got Board approval in June 2011 and the machines were delivered in July. The tables were expected at the same time.

The table delivery date drifted and drifted, first September and then January. The absolute line in the sand was June 1 and we were assured we’d have the tables delivered before we were in full election mode for the August primary.

We’re 15 days out from that and have only a smattering of tables.

But, in the meantime, we were able to get the new electrical work done.

Today, we moved machines on the new tables, plugged them in, turned on power to the plugs, and had an immediate power surge of popping and exploding.

We’ve tested one of the machines and its power supply is fried. We’ll test more tomorrow, or, better said, when our power situation in the warehouse is stable. Right now, we’re without air conditioning. Apparently, we need a new transformer now in our building or at the curb.

You might remember that we had a power outage at the curb earlier this year.

It’s possible this is related or, otherwise, the electrical work was completed improperly.

In any event, as I sweated out all of the things that could go wrong with the tables, I never thought the project could go so wrong it would destroy the machines I spent two years obtaining and that they would be fried less than six months before the presidential election.

The machines are insured, but we’re told the deductible is $100,000. I imagine we’d need Board approval to replace the machines.

That would be the third go-round for this project and each trip to the Board includes a Board meeting, an agenda review meeting, a staff pre-meeting, a staff pre-pre-meeting, a meeting with budget, and a meeting with the county manager. If we do go after more machines for the presidential election, we’ll get them in 2013.

The good news is that it took our minds off the fact that we don’t really know when the August election will be. That’s worthy of an update.

So if you’re keeping score, Brian spent almost two years to get approval and then delivery of new machines and tables – some of which were then rendered inoperable in a matter of seconds and may not be able to be replaced in time for the November election.

When you think about this story, you begin to understand why election officials – across the board – often seem impatient with sweeping policy debates about issues like voter ID.

After all, they have much smaller – and more important – things to worry about.

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