Newby Has Seen the Enemy – and it is SNOW

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[Image courtesy of NYDailyNews]

As huge parts of the country are digging out – or preparing to – from another big winter storm, Johnson County’s Brian Newby has a great new piece at ElectionDiary looking at the weather’s impact on elections. If you’ll remember, Newby’s county was pounded last spring by a huge winter storm and it created significant challenges for him and for his office to successfully pull of an election.

As this painful winter drags on, Newby’s observations are likely to strike a chord with many of his colleagues nationwide. You can read the entire piece here but I wanted to share the longish excerpt below:

Our election was this past Tuesday and the canvass can either, by law, follow on Monday (tomorrow) or the following Thursday.

Our canvass is scheduled for 9 a.m. [Monday] morning. At a canvass, the Board of County Commissioners acts as the Board of Canvassers and reviews any provisional ballots or challenged ballots. They allow those envelopes to be opened in accordance with laws and election standards, those additional votes are added in, and the election results are certified.

This is their meeting, by the way. The Board of Canvassers has a statutory obligation to have this meeting. I’m the emcee, but the Board of Canvassers is the entity that certifies the results and validates the election.

In Johnson County, we have seven commissioners but most counties in Kansas have three. In those counties, the canvass can get pretty purposeful, with each canvass member reviewing each envelope, maybe even during the tabulation process on election night.

Here, though, mostly because of the volume of ballots we usually have, the canvassers review categories and occasionally ask specific questions. Also, unique to Johnson County, the canvassers have created procedures that allow for alternates to attend in their place.

Five of the seven commissioners are at the NACO conference [in Washington, DC], and that’s where the introduction of the blizzard I’m watching out my home office window right now comes into the discussion.

We have alternates lined up–department heads from the county. We have alternates for the alternates lined up.

We also know from last year’s election storm that best intentions doesn’t trump the inability to get out of a driveway. We don’t really know that we’ll have the required 7 canvassers tomorrow morning at 9, or even our three special board members to open the ballot envelopes (I can’t do that, by law). If the special board members can’t make it in, we’ll have to figure out how to go get them.

Brian’s proposed solution?

Election day in-service day for November elections so that schools are available in August and November, and snowstorms aren’t a factor. The cost-neutral, less-havoc solution, would be to move spring elections to fall years, leaving voters with a predictable election day every November, usually at the same polling place.

By now, someone reading has probably thought that snow could be a factor in November.

It could. History has shown it hasn’t been, though. Heck, I was the kid who went home and changed costumes for trick or treating round two and as a parent I paraded my kids door-to-door candidate style as though Halloween was a conquest (isn’t it?).

I could chart for you the weather conditions from those years, although with grown kids I’m now retired from Halloween activities.

But I have put this same snowstorm costume on two years in a row, and that’s two years too many.

Thanks as always to Brian for his insights – and if you live in an area that’s once again, um, blessed with snow – be careful and lift with your knees!

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