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Transcript of JoCo on the Go podcast 10/27/2020

Theresa Freed 0:00:

This November election is already setting records here in Johnson County. On this episode hear from our Election Commissioner Connie Schmidt as she tells us about the many steps being taken to protect the safety and security of voters while also safeguarding the integrity of the election.

Announcer 0:16:

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed 0:30:

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go, I'm your host Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. 2020 is a year like no other. We're in the middle of a pandemic. And this November election is also very unique. Here to talk us through election day. And all the prep that's gone into it is Johnson County Election Commissioner Connie Schmidt. Thanks for being here.

Connie Schmidt 0:51:

Thank you. Good to be here.

Theresa Freed 0:53:

All right. Well, let's just go ahead and start off by talking about what we're expecting this year for turnout. And what we've seen so far with advanced voting.

Connie Schmidt 1:01:

Well we have a voter population that are very energized in 2020, it is an election like none other we've ever conducted. Here in Johnson County, we are expecting at least an 80% voter turnout, which will be a record setter. We're setting records and everything we're doing for this presidential election. As of the end of day, Saturday, we have mailed out almost 162,000 ballots to voters, we've never done anything like that before. We have voted almost 65,000 people in person as of Saturday Night. So that tells us that we're going to have collected on a good percentage of our votes in early voting, either by mail or in person. And we'll have those all here at the election office before we start voting on election day. And so the good news for that is the voters on election day will not be in long lines, because we will have already voted a large majority of our expected turnout early.

Theresa Freed 2:11:

So the answer to this is probably pretty obvious to most people. But why do we have so much of that advanced voting happening?

Connie Schmidt 2:18:

Well, advanced voting is happening a lot with COVID-19. This year, for the first time, back in May. In this county, we mailed out a ballot application to every registered voter. And that was done by every one of the large four counties in the state of Kansas and many of the smaller counties across the state. We wanted to encourage and give voters a heads up that they could choose to vote by mail, if they were afraid of COVID-19. And being in a small space. Our voters really responded to that. And they mail back these applications for mail ballots. So we've really changed the way we're voting people this year in our county. The election office here in Johnson County has been set up for in person voting, we have a large fleet of voting equipment, and that's all done to staff in person early voting and in person election day. And the by mail voting was never a large percentage. So that's sort of completely flip flopped on us this year. And so we are managing huge quantities of mail and smaller groups of people in person, but we're still seeing them come we opened up 10 early voting locations this year. And the reason we did that was to space the voters out so they would have more locations over an extended period of time, hoping that they'll choose to do that instead of waiting till election day.

Theresa Freed 3:48:

And could you talk a little bit more about the mail ballot process? I know there's probably just a little bit of confusion. It's it's fairly new for some people. You know, what does it look like when they get they get their ballot? What are they doing with it? And could you talk about that?

Connie Schmidt 4:02:

Sure. Well, to get a mail ballot, a voter in Kansas has to submit an application for each election. And here at the election office. We handle those individually and we have to verify their signature and their ID prior to mailing a ballot. Once the voter gets their ballot. It's very simple on there and they can mark their ballot and seal it inside of the secrecy envelope and be sure to sign their ballot envelope. That's the very most important thing. Be sure you signed it and seal it and then this year we installed a total of eight drop boxes that are around the county. Most of them are at a county library or at the county northeast office and the drive thru drop boxes here at the election office. And as of Saturday Night 100,337 people had returned their ballot to our office. So the drop boxes are very popular

Theresa Freed 4:59:

And I'm sure Some people wonder just how secure those are. Can you I know you can't go into probably very specifics about the security measures. But can you talk a little bit about just generally how confident people can feel into dropping out their ballots,

Connie Schmidt 5:12:

Sure the drop boxes that are here in Johnson County are, are under surveillance, 24 hours security cameras have been installed to watch each one of those. And we go to each one of those dropboxes two to three times a day. And it's a bipartisan team to people in the same car. And they're traveling together. And there are two different keys required to open up each Dropbox. And so one member of the team has one key, the other member has the other key, so takes two people by partisan and they transfer those voted ballots on envelopes into our Red Seal tamper evident ballot bags that we have at the polling place on election day. And they have a log and they apply a seal number to those bags and record those and then transport them back here. Back here we have a receiving team to receive each one of the red bags from each of the drop boxes, verify the seal numbers, break the seals, keep the seals and get everything out and count and bundle it in bundles of 21 thing we're very good at doing back here is counting from one to 20 because we've been doing that for weeks, it feels like

Theresa Freed 6:25:

That is an extensive process. And I'm sure you guys are doing a great job at it. And it's challenging work for sure. I bet. But can you talk a little bit more to about how people can can verify what what they signed up for in terms of how they're going to be voting this year?

Connie Schmidt 6:44:

Well, we have a really good feature now, courtesy of the Sectretary of State's Office. The Secretary of State's website has a new feature called voter view. And so in order to make it easier for the Johnson County voters, we have done a backslash on the back of our Joko election.org backslash voter view. And if the voters type that in, that'll take them right to their voter record, they type in their name and their date of birth, and it will show them their voter status, it will show them their polling place, they can print off a sample ballot. And they can also track the status of their mail ballot, which is been a very, very popular feature. It shows that a ballot has been sent to them. And it's showing now after we've received them here that their valid has been accepted and returned to the election office. And that's providing that extra level of confidence to the voter.

Theresa Freed 7:43:

That's a great feature. I went on there myself because I just couldn't remember how I had signed up to vote this year. And you could I think I'm there also get your your voting history. Right.

Connie Schmidt 7:53:

That's a link basically right into your own voter record that's maintained at the state.

Theresa Freed 7:59:

Yeah, that's super helpful. You know, while we're talking about the security measures, you know, safety and security, always a big concern with any election, of course, but with COVID-19, just getting to your polling location. For some people that can cause cause some uneasiness with with COVID right now, but I know you guys have done a great job of taking a lot of necessary safety precautions to help people feel comfortable if they are voting in person. So can you talk a little bit about that?

Connie Schmidt 8:29:

Sure. We're doing the same thing we did for the August election. We're providing face shield face mask and sanitizing gloves, sanitizing spray hand sanitizer. The sneeze shields are in front of each one of the poll workers that are checking in voters, we are sanitizing the voting equipment after each voter right in front of the voter. They're trained to wipe down the face of the touchscreen machines. We're also providing their own pan stylus, it says I voted on it. It's a pretty popular item. We handed those out in August. Those also came to us from the Secretary of State's office. And so we'll have those again for the November election. So they can basically go through the polling place without interacting or touching anything that anyone else has touched because they use the stylus to sign their name on the poll pad or to touch the touchscreen of the Express vote ballot marking devices.

Theresa Freed 9:31:

I know it is important to to note as well though if people are not able to wear shoes not to wear a mask, that is not grounds to deny them the ability to vote. So can you address that too?

Connie Schmidt 9:43:

We encourage everyone to wear a mask. But if there's a problem and the voter's not able to our poll workers are trained that that's not a mand it's not mandatory for the voters to wear one in order to cast their vote.

Theresa Freed 9:58:

All right. You know, we're in the middle of cybersecurity month. And so it's important for us to draw attention to this aspect of voting to, can you talk a little bit about the integrity of of the elections and how we're protecting those from cyber attacks and things like that. I know, technology is always evolving. And so you really have to stay on top of it. But can you address some of the latest ways that you guys are doing that?

Connie Schmidt 10:23:

Well, it's kind of interesting, because I was Election Commissioner before from 1995 to 2004. And we put a lot of security things in place then. And so since I'm back here, again, it's interesting because technology has grown. But we've never really changed internally, the way we secure everything, we still have a secured room where all the ballots are transferred into. And to get into that room, it takes the two people that have the secured key locks to be in order to enter it. So no one can get in there. And let's go the authorized personnel, that's where all the ballots are stored. And there's a security camera in there watching them at all times. And then there's another secured room within that secured room, which is where the ballot tabulation server is that and that is not connected to anything outside of this office. So there's no internet, there's nothing, I always tell people, it's plugged into electricity. And we bring the USBs from each of the voting locations on election night, back to the election office via Pony Express. So it's basically they're put into plastic, see three bags that are sealed, and the number signed off by the bipartisan teams at the election polling places. And then they're transferred back here by teams of two and received back here and they go into the secured room to be uploaded. So it's all very manual. We don't, there are no vote totals. flying around in the internet, here in Johnson County, we bring them all back, hand delivered. Nothing is connected outside of that room. And everything in that room balances on a daily basis

Theresa Freed 12:12:

Is something kind of along those same lines. There have been questions about poll watchers, can you can you describe what what that is. And that role?

Connie Schmidt 12:22:

Sure, the poll watchers and we've had quite a few this year at our early voting locations, which has been kind of unusual. But poll agents have the opportunity to be authorized by a candidate or by the party. And they have to have a particular sign form and check in with the supervising judge. And they sign a log and they get issued a name tag. And they have to stay with within three feet of the check in table. And they're basically there to observe monitor, if they want. And they're there we can say the names of the voters that are checking in. But we feel like we will have quite a few poll agents in the field for this election. Good because it's the 2020 presidential

Theresa Freed 13:05:

It's definitely a big year for for elections, that's for sure. You know, we talked a little bit about this, but the people who volunteer their time and to come and work Election Day and all the time leading up to the to the election. You know, obviously, you know, paid workers, but they're there. A lot of people coming to do this because they feel a civic responsibility, which is just amazing. If you can talk a little bit about the amount of training that goes into making this, you know election happened?

Connie Schmidt 13:37:

Well, then training of poll workers is really an important element of everything that we do, because with the more technology that's in place, as you said earlier, technology has transferred out into the polling locations where in the past it It used to be just a paper roster, where they looked alphabetically through it to find a voters name. Now we have the electronic poll books, and they have to have training on how to use those devices. They're, they're very simple, but still, we want to be sure everybody gets hands on training, which is really critical. And then they have to get training on the whole process from how to check in a boat, or how to set up the polling place how to open the voting machines. So we're doing and we have about 2000 brand new poll workers for the 2020 election. So we have just done a lot of training. And Fred Sherman, who is going to be the Election Commissioner in 2021, has been leading that charge and they've been doing it over at the county admin building. So lots of training going on and we have a room set up over there we call the perfect polling place and I found in the past, we created that and it's a place where that after they receive the first part of training, they can go into that room and actually observe what it's going to look like on election day and polling place. And so we try to role model checking in voters. So they can kind of get a bit of a an idea of what it's going to look like when they're actually doing the work that we just trained them on. And so they do hands on on the poll pads, and then they do the perfect polling place. And then they have an opportunity to come back to what we call practice makes perfect, which means practicing all of the different things before election day. So we're doing that we started last week, and all of this week, they can go in one room and practice on the voting equipment, opening and closing it processing voters. And they can go into another room and practice on the poll pads, the electronic poll books, and they can go in another room and practice on checking in provisional voters and being sure that they fill out all the forms and the odd Lopes and everything correctly. And so we've found that practice makes perfect, helps them because they only do this job once a year sometimes, and they can't make a mistake. And that's the interesting part about elections. You can't make a mistake. And so we want to be sure we've made it as simple for them. And so that they can be successful.

Theresa Freed 16:15:

A lot of pressure, but it sounds like you got a great amount of support to to help them through that process. So that's, that's great. You know, this is a huge year for elections. And it's very different. So what does the return process look like? When can we expect to know who the winner is?

Connie Schmidt 16:36:

Well, that's I think, on election night, across the country, we won't know the winner, particularly in the presidential race, because a lot of my colleagues across the country can't begin to start counting the mail ballots until after the polls open on election day. When we started advanced voting here in Kansas back in 1996. We immediately here in Johnson County lobby for an update to the law to allow us to electronically store the ballot images as the ballots were coming in. If we hadn't gotten that law in 96, Johnson County would have never been able to have any results on election night, if we had to wait until the polls open. Just imagine 160,000 mail ballots, and we can't begin processing until the polls open. So we can because of that law, we're lucky we can start process. And so we were ready here in Kansas and in Johnson County. So we're processing now as they come in, and we're electronically storing the ballot images. And so on election night, if all goes well, and everybody returns their ballots, and we keep them coming in. By eight o'clock, we'll have the early votes reported out to the public. And that'll be all the by mail that we've received today. And all of the in person early votes. And that's historically been what we've been able to do. And that's our goal.

Theresa Freed 18:00:

All right. Well, we're all very excited, I'm sure. And I know there's a lot of build up to that that moment. And finally, can you talk a little bit about the information that is available on your website. And I think one of the most useful things, at least that I found is the sample ballot. So you can really take a look at it, understand it, do your research and make an informed decision.

Connie Schmidt 18:24:

If particularly if you're voting in person, the sample ballot is really very helpful. People can print it off and take a look at it at home and maybe begin to circle some people they want to vote for, and then use it when they go to vote in person that makes the whole process go faster on Election Day, and we do have three questions on the ballot in November. One is the county wide question. And we have two city questions that are also on the ballot so people can study that ballot and make their make good decisions. So they can go to our website. And that's jail CEO election.org and click on voter information. And there's a link called voter lookup. And that's the county's voter lookup that we maintain with the IT department in our office. And that will also give them their sample ballot and their voter information. They can go to jail, co election.org backslash voter view that takes them to the state site and that'll give them the information on their mail ballot. And that's popular. We don't have that information on the county's website.

Theresa Freed 19:32:

All right, great information. Keep up the good work and we look forward to to election day for sure.

Announcer 19:40:

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast, visit jocogov.org/podcast Thanks for listening.