The Changing World of Elections - Adapt NOW I mentioned in a previous post that the world of elections is changing. Technology is both advancing and being rejected simultaneously. Younger voters are not being served through channels they use regularly...

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The Value of Partners, Part 2 As I discussed in the last post, partners are the ay forward. Yes, there are pitfalls. Partners must define their roles, territories and other times to minimize conflict. Both sides must take a hard look...

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The Value of Partners Since 2004 the world of elections has undergone enormous changes in the way business is conducted. More recently, since approximately 2009, when Diebold sold its election services division, additional...

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Government Needs to Get OnlineGovernment Needs to Get Online So tonight the President says government needs to be more competent and more efficient. Regardless of your political views one thing has always been true - government is always slow to adopt new things....

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Contracting for Elections Series: When Things Go Wrong – Part 1Contracting for Elections Series: When Things Go Wrong... When parties enter into a contract, expectations are created on both sides.  The Buyer expects to receive the products and/or services that meet their needs.  These needs are often formulated by a committee...

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The Changing World of Elections – Adapt NOW

Category : Uncategorized

I mentioned in a previous post that the world of elections is changing. Technology is both advancing and being rejected simultaneously. Younger voters are not being served through channels they use regularly (social networking and mobile technology). Service providers are popping up everywhere. New legislation is being passed covering everything from easier access to voting for deployed military personnel to requiring voter ID at the polls. Some of this we in the industry can control, others things we are left to react.

On the subject of technology…
While many voters have no problem with voting on touchscreen voting systems (also referred to as DREs), many advocacy groups are pushing for a return to paper, or at least the use of voter verified paper trails. Some jurisdictions are switching back to paper as a result of maintenance costs for electronic voting equipment.

However at the same time, use of electronic poll books is increasing. The military can now access their ballots via a secure Internet portal. Companies enabling web based voting are growing in number.

Legislation…
Many states are passing a variety of laws affecting elections. All of us as industry members, and as citizens, can, of course, lobby our elected representatives for them to vote this way or that. For them to introduce this or that bill. But ultimately we remain largely reactionary. As a result we must focus on helping our customers adapt as quickly as possible.

Service…
This could be, from and election official’s standpoint, the most important. The companies that have been the major players in election services (namely the manufacturers) have essentially had monopolies on the market. However, through acquisitions, divestitures, layoffs, and other events, many jurisdictions now have a choice as to who they use for various election services.

What does this mean going forward? Ultimately it means certain costs for running an election SHOULD fall. In theory jurisdictions should be able to use competition to negotiate lower prices for services they have been paying a premium for up till now. For those of us providing services it means adapting. Price matters now. Client satisfaction matters. Service quality and responsiveness matter. Those who become lighter, faster, more agile will not only survive, but thrive. Those who continue to operate with the ‘ business as usual’ mentality will face uncertainty. Undoubtedly some will still succeed despite themselves, others may simply disappear. Only time will tell.

So what is an election official to do? Simple. The same thing you have always done. Serve your voters. Pick them best person for the job. Only now, you have more than one choice. Unhappy with your current provider? Find a new one. Like who you have? Great, you are one step ahead of your peers. And should you ever need…you’ll always had a plan B…and C…..and even D.

The Value of Partners, Part 2

Category : Uncategorized

As I discussed in the last post, partners are the ay forward. Yes, there are pitfalls. Partners must define their roles, territories and other times to minimize conflict. Both sides must take a hard look at what each brings to the table and identify the best areas to collaborate. Egos must be checked. Profits will most likely be shared. But in the end success will also be shared.

The key to the process succeeding is keeping an open mind. As i just said, egos must be kept I check. As long as each party does their job all will be fine. In the event one party does not perform, the client will expect someone to pickup the slack. You must always have plan B, C, and even D.

One party must always be deemed the lead. On their shoulders fall the responsibility for…well everything. The client will hold them responsible for everything. As a result, they must communicate clearly and effectively with all parties involved. All parties should communicate and update the lead group on a regular basis. This empowers them to act quickly and decisively in the event an issue arises.

The Value of Partners

Category : Contracting for Elections, The Buisness of Elections

Since 2004 the world of elections has undergone enormous changes in the way business is conducted. More recently, since approximately 2009, when Diebold sold its election services division, additional changes have occurred. What has become apparent to some, still remains a mystery to others. Counties and other government bodies now have choices in who they have service their elections.

Prior to now you had only two choices, figure it out on your own, or hire the manufacturer of your voting system. However, now smaller companies are popping up and are able to do everything from ballot programming to printing to testing, training and process consulting. Obviously, like any service, clients should verify a providers experience and credentials. But nonetheless, there now exists competition.

Perhaps most interesting is that many of these companies lack the size to take on complex jobs. Additionally, a company ( or individual freelancer) may be able to do one service, but not have the capabilities to manage the entire process end-to-end. This is why partners have become not only a necessity, but the key to success in the world of elections from this moment forward.

It is necessary for small service providers who specialize in certain services to come together, pool resources, and provide customers with a full range of solutions. I have heard all to often from small service companies that they could break through against the ‘big boys’ if only they could X or had access to someone who knew how to X.

By forming partnerships and building a network of specialists, small providers can offer scalable solutions to clients at much more reasonable costs than the traditional providers. In the end, election officials and government agencies get better service for a more reasonable price.

Until this happens small providers be stuck scratching out meager earnings, failing to maximize their potential, and election officials will be left with the same choices as always.

Government Needs to Get Online

Category : The World of Elections, Uncategorized

So tonight the President says government needs to be more competent and more efficient. Regardless of your political views one thing has always been true – government is always slow to adopt new things. One can argue that it does so to prevent the loss of federal jobs (after all technology has replaced workers in just about every other industry), but that’s not the purpose of this blog.

Ultimately we have become a nation of instant gratification. And while some of that can be bad (i.e. texting while driving) some can be good. We can now find new stores and restaurants near us that we might not have known of. We can get directions to anywhere. We can even use Google’s street view option to see what buildings looks like, making them easier to find.

Yet amidst all this progress government lags behind. In the election world, we seem to be even slower. It is time that this start changing. So many county election departments have little or no web presence. (Let’s not even start in on social media). Why is that? Yes, it requires some extra effort. And yes many counties are being asked to do more with less. But I see all this as an excuse.

The reality is by putting information on the web we inform the customer (read: THE VOTER). Why aren’t polling locations listed online? Why aren’t sample ballots online? Why don’t counties post important documents online for voters to be prepared when going to the polls. So many calls on Election Day or just before deal with topics that could easily be addressed online. Yet in so many counties I visit their websites are lackluster. On some you can’t even find the phone number of the Election Department.

So often issues arise at the polls because voters are unaware of certain procedures or requirements. Even poll workers sometimes need certain basic information. Perhaps the burden could be lessened by embracing technology. Certainly not everything would be fixed, but progress could be made.

Many counties DO have a good amount of information online and get compliments from voters on the ease of obtaining information. These jurisdictions should serve as models for smaller counties. It’s time we all embraced the 21st century to some extent.

I am not suggesting that counties spend tons of money to build a website that rivals Apple, or AOL, or Facebook, or anything of the sort. Let’s just aim for an easy to navigate, information-filled, useful website. After all, in the election world we serve the voters, and the needs of the voters are changing. Sure, many still call or come to the office to get information. But more and more voters, especially the younger demographic that we have such a hard time getting involved, are not preferring, but rather EXPECTING information at their fingertips. It’s about time we respond to our customer and step up to the challenge.

Contracting for Elections Series: When Things Go Wrong – Part 1

Category : Contracting for Elections, The Buisness of Elections, Uncategorized

When parties enter into a contract, expectations are created on both sides.  The Buyer expects to receive the products and/or services that meet their needs.  These needs are often formulated by a committee or possibly even a consultant hired by the Buyer to develop the specification which sets forth the description of the needs.  As time elapses between specification development and contract performance, needs can change.  Or unknowns suddenly become clear.  Or the political situation changes.  So as performance proceeds difficulties can arise where the expectations of the Buyer and Seller are quite different.  I recall a situation where the Buyer wanted a fiber optic cable installed in a facility.  During the negotiations the Buyer did not have enough money to fund the cable installation.  So the testing was eliminated and the Seller proceeded to install the cable.  At the conclusion of installation the Buyer asked for the test reports.  I think you can see where this is going.  A major confrontation took place with hard feelings on both sides.  The solution developed to prevent this from happening again was to hold a kickoff meeting on every contract or task with the Buyer so expectations could be flushed out and documented.  If conflicts became evident, then action could be taken to resolve them before performance began.  The experience was dramatic.  Time after time differences in expectations were common.  The value of these kickoff meetings was very beneficial for both parties.

How should a Buyer handle disagreements that arise during contract performance or even after it (during the warranty period)?  First the Seller will most likely say “no” as their first response.

Here is where negotiation skills come into play.  The most important factor is to address the issue in a timely manner so costs do not increase.  The Seller may delay hoping the Buyer will accept a system that does not meet the full range of expectations.  The Buyer must take the initiative and press for a resolution.  Both parties should look for common ground in solving the issue.  The Seller should be asked to propose a solution that does not increase total costs.

Optimizing Your Team: MBTI Overview

Category : Best Practices, Uncategorized

Today we spend more time than ever at the office. Ask any election official about the days and months leading up to Election Day, and they will tell you they easily log upwards of 10-12 hours in the office.  In some cases we see our colleagues more than we see our family. Not to mention all of the interactions we have with suppliers, customers, vendors, voters and the list goes on and on. We tend to assume that other people’s minds work the same as our own but what we are actually faced with is people who do not value the things we value, reason the way we reason and are not motivated by the things we are motivated by.

Organizations have to rely more than ever on ever on good communication skills, teamwork and an increased understanding of the people we work with side-by-side?  Insight into why Michael always barges into your office without even knocking or why Susie prefers to take notes rather than comment during meetings can go along way.

By learning about typology, we would be able to infer that Michael may be an extravert who enjoys talking to others and doesn’t think before he speaks and Susie may be an introvert who while not appearing to pay attention, is actually honing her comments and may even send you an email with all of her observations and comments after the meeting is over.  Understanding personality types allows us to better handle conflicts, understand our shortcomings, develop plans to address them and find out what motivates our staff. According to workforce.com, 89 of the Fortune 100 companies use MBTI in some manner.

MBTI classifies each of us by one of the four opposite pairs: Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I), Sensing (S) or Intuition (N), Thinking (T) or Feeling (F) and Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).  Each pair relates to a specific personality characteristic. Although throughout life we use all of the attributes, we each have a preferred way of thinking and acting that we naturally fall into.  Just as a right handed baseball player can learn to throw left handed and left handed player can learn to throw right handed, but it’s a lot easier with their preferred hand. We learn throughout life to adapt and use the right function at the right time. Even the most introverted person can summon the strength to stand up in front of the whole office and give a speech on their time management project while the most extraverted person can remain completely quiet during a brain storming session.

As trainers, we use MBTI everyday to better relate to our students. Some students require step-by-step instructions and want a lot of one-on-one instruction, while others prefer to get the assignment and work through it on their own. As a so called “work through it on your own” person, it becomes even more important for me to understand that not everyone wants the quick once over, and I need to make sure that my written instructions are very clear and detailed for the students who like to make sure they dot every I and cross every T before getting started.

Take a look at the people you work with, think about how much they are alike or different than yourself. Does it frustrate you when they go about things in completely different manner than you do or do you find it a breath of fresh air? Would you like to have tools that help you to communicate with them better and learn new ways to motivate your staff? Stick with us and in future posts, we will further explore the individual preferences in more detail and show you how knowledge of MBTI can be used.

Optimizing Your Team: Nature vs. Nurture – Part 2

Category : Best Practices, Uncategorized

After the proofing class I mentioned in the last post, I thought back to my original question of Nature vs. Nurture and whether there was a clear cut answer to this age old question.

Were we born to be great proofers or could a class teaching you how to look for mistakes be just as effective?

It seems that the question will never be answered in a cut and dry manner. While there were individuals in the classroom that appeared to enjoy and excel in the proofing exercises even without our instruction, many other students who struggled in the beginning after given the right instruction and tools completed all of the activities correctly and enjoyed the same success as the others.

Today’s organizations are being asked to do much more with even less.  Understanding your organizations preferences can better assist you in assigning tasks where your staff will excel and be most comfortable. To help out we’ll be posting now and then on understanding MBTI and how it can be an effective tool for your office. If you have any questions I would be happy to answer them. I personally have used and been certified in the Meyers Brig Type Indicator. It helps me to better relate to students in class by understanding how I prefer to think and act vs. how they prefer to think and act. I firmly believe any organization who takes the time to utilize MBTI will be better off and see happier and more productive employees.

Optimizing Your Team: Nature vs. Nurture – Part 1

Category : Best Practices, The World of Elections, Uncategorized

Recently we received a call from an election official inquiring about whether we have a proofing class available to teach his staff. We informed him that while we don’t have an off-the-shelf course available we would be more than willing to create a customized class for him.

As the work began, conversation ensued about the topics that would need to be included in order for a new election official to really grasp proofing. After we put the final touches on the course, I started to think about what truly made someone good at proofing.

The nature vs. nurture debate has been the topic of many heated questions. Are we born with a specific hereditary skill that makes us better at spotting mistakes or can anyone learn proofing with the right instruction?

In 1910 Carl Jung wrote a book called Psychological Types. Jung proposed that each of us is born with a preferred way of thinking and acting.  His work was later turned into the nationally recognized preference assessment that is now used all over the country known as MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator). Today as many as two million assessments are administered yearly. MBTI helps to answer questions such as do I prefer activities centered on others or is the solitude of my own mind more appealing? Am I a big picture thinker or do I prefer to look at the details? Do I make decisions with my heart or my head and do I like following a prescribed set of steps or blazing my own path? With the answer to these questions, we can better find the right occupation, type of physical exercise and even relationships that are best suited for us.

One major distinction Jung always stuck to was that TYPE does not equal SKILL. Even if you were not born with a love of mining data it doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to be really good at it. We know that proofing requires a detailed eye and love of data which MBTI refers to as sensing. Sensors usually occupy jobs that allow them to organize and work with a lot of information. If you find someone in your organization with a natural sensing preference, they will probably enjoy the long hours it takes looking through reports to find mistakes-and may even be pretty good at it.

Optimizing Your Team

Category : Uncategorized

Over the next several posts we’ll be featuring a series, authored by ElectionIQ President Bliss Foutty, aimed at helping election officials (or any manager really) optimize their team to get the most from their employees. In today’s world we’re being asked to do so much more with so much less. Thus, any manager or supervisor needs every tool possible at their disposal to ensure harmony and productivity abound in their office.

To Outsource Or Not To Outsource? Part 2

Category : Best Practices, The Buisness of Elections, The World of Elections, Uncategorized

In my last post I discussed part of whether or not to outsource work in the election world. Part of the equation is simply finding a truly qualified individual or firm to work with. But there is something else to keep in mind. Which services should you outsource?

The reality is, some jurisdictions have outsourced everything….the WHOLE election. Some have rules that prevent them from ever using outside help. It ultimately comes down to comfort level. When you find a good mechanic who you trust, you’ll do whatever he says. Why? Because you trust him. Sometimes he might tell you all that was making the awful noise was a $5 part that he replaced for free. Other times you end up paying for $600 worth of work, all on his recommendation. Over time you forge a relationship and that allows you to believe in whatever he recommends.

The same is true here. Almost any task can be outsourced. The key is to find your comfort level. Then ask yourself the following questions:

-          What tasks takes up the most of my time?

-          What tasks are the most frustrating for me?

Whichever items appear on both lists, consider outsourcing. You might choose not to in the end, but it’s a good place to start. By eliminating tasks that are the most time consuming or the most aggravating, you free yourself (especially your mind) to focus on the big picture. By removing stress and increasing your focus, you also increase the chances that you’ll catch any mistakes.

If you still are not sure what to outsource consider starting small. Have someone come in to review your training and work with you to develop better curriculum. If you like their work, extend the contract to include the actual training (either the live training or a train-the-trainer session). Bring someone in to help proof your database/ballot. As with training, if you like their work you can consider having them assist again or hand over the proofing completely.

As you work with them you’ll quickly learn what you are comfortable with and not comfortable with.