Three Important Nuggets in Newby’s Latest ElectionDiary


[Image courtesy of livenerdierepeat]

It’s no secret that I am a fan of Johnson County, KS’ Brian Newby and his blog, ElectionDiary … and his latest post, “Let Me Say This About That”, just confirms my electiongeek fandom.

The whole thing is worth a read, but I wanted to flag three key nuggets that are gold (see what I did there?) as we move ahead in the wake of the 2012 election:

1. In working through capacity issues related to long lines, it’s important to remember to “sweat the assets” as much as shortening wait times.

Brian’s post starts with a paean to the Magic Math Machine brought to him in second grade by his teacher Sister Shirley, and then pivots to his search for his own version:

Sister Shirley, my first and second grade teacher, introduced me to the Magic Math Machine.

I remember it vividly, up to the point of near-practicality. It was something she drew on the overhead. It was square, with ears.

Think of Mickey Mouse with a square head, and you have the image. Instead of a nose, the Magic Math Machine/square Mickey Mouse had a rectangle in the middle of its face, where the magic answer would appear …

I’ve been on the hunt for the equivalent of an Elections Magic Math Machine.

What I’d like to know, in some easy way, is the relationship between advance voting and polling place turnout. My imaginary Magic Math Machine has sliders that let me increase the number of advance voting sites or machines at a site, and see instantly how that impacts the number of voters at each location on election day.

One of the things I determined is that advance voting clearly lets us “sweat the assets,” getting utilization of our voting machines at a rate of about 85 percent (meaning, of the time we are open, a machine would be idle only 15 percent of the time). At the polls, the utilization rate is about 25 percent.

The notion of shortening wait times via early/advance voting – i.e., increasing throughput by increasing capacity – is common, but I’ll admit I’d never really considered “sweating assets”; i.e., the need to ensure that available capacity is being used efficiently and effectively. That’s an idea which all election officials and policymakers should keep in mind as debates over election reform continue.

2. It’s possible to have too much capacity. Over a year ago, I discussed the snowplow problem associated with excess capacity, but Brian’s latest does even better using another seasonal metaphor:

2012 highlighted the lack of control we have in preparing for turnout and no one–in this election–is talking about the other side, planning for a higher turnout than occurs.

There’s a cost there.

One of our county commissioners, a former mayor, once wisely compared planning for elections as buying a summer’s supply of snacks for the pool. Terrific weather, and we’d be back needing more money for more snacks. If the summer was cool and rainy, expect a lot of chips to be wasted.

3. There’s a good chance nothing will change. I once worked with a lawyer who had the following observation about working in Washington: “When all is said and done, more will have been said than done.” I think we’re at risk of something similar happening in the wake of the 2012 election; so does Brian, except he says it far more elegantly than I did:

[T]here has been no shortage of ideas put out by the media, scientists, and election administrators on how “that” might be fixed. There have so many ideas, in fact, that I’m growing concerned that fixing “that” likely won’t happen, primarily because no one seems to be stopping and agreeing upon what “that” is. The entire community is in solutions-mode without a problem statement.

The challenge, of course, is defining that problem statement – with so many different voices bringing so many different priorities to the discussion, it will almost certainly prove difficult to agree what problem, exactly, it is we’re trying to solve. In other words, if we take President Obama at his word that “we need to fix that”, we need to figure out what exactly “that” is.

Thanks, as always, to Brian for sharing his thoughts – and here’s hoping he gets that Election Magic Math Machine up and running soon!

Be the first to comment on "Three Important Nuggets in Newby’s Latest ElectionDiary"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.