Dave Helling

Long lines, errors define Johnson County’s long, hot summer

Voters in Johnson County waited Tuesday to cast a ballots on new voting machines at Colonial Church in Prairie Village. Election workers reported no problems and a steady stream of voters at the polling place.
Voters in Johnson County waited Tuesday to cast a ballots on new voting machines at Colonial Church in Prairie Village. Election workers reported no problems and a steady stream of voters at the polling place. The Star

Now is the summer of Johnson County’s discontent.

First, lines stretched out the doors of the state-run driver’s license offices in the county. Some customers waited for hours to obtain a document the state says you must have before you can drive.

Then, the Aug. 7 primary. Long lines formed again, this time because newly-purchased voting machines were broken. Poll workers gave some voters incorrect instructions. Some voters just gave up.

That evening, Johnson County’s voting results were badly delayed. What’s going on?

Excuses abound. The license offices are run by the Department of Revenue, not Johnson County. There weren’t enough offices, residents were told, and operating hours were askew.

That pesky, federally-compliant Real ID was an issue as well. “Customers decide they want a Real ID after arriving at the office, but often didn’t bring the correct documents with them,” a DOR spokeswoman said.

After the Aug. 7 primary, the buck was also firmly passed. The election machine vendor, ES&S Systems, took the fall for late reporting. That’s not a surprise, since the firm presumably wants to collect the millions it is still owed on the sale.

Oh, and a big voter turnout caused problems. Duh.

The two foul-ups were different, but of a piece. They’re the result of a relentless campaign, usually waged by conservative Republican candidates and politicians, against the idea of a functioning government.

Here’s how it works:

1. Criticize public tasks like voting or snow removal, and cut their funding.

2. Fail to perform that function.

3. Blame someone else for the failure.

4. Attack the media.

5. Repeat.

Most of the time it works. In Johnson County, that time may be coming to an end.

Johnson Countians have a well-deserved reputation for whining when things go wrong (I make the observation as someone who’s lived there most of his life). But they also show an enormous willingness to pay high taxes in return for perceived high performance — that’s the basic Johnson County bargain.

The bargain collapses when promises aren’t met. That’s especially true for things like voting, or getting a driver’s license — or going to school, or swimming in a pool, or driving on uneven pavement. When those public services fail, high taxes make less sense.

Now, it takes some time for Johnson Countians to get riled up about any of this. Most worry more about soccer practice than politics. In fact, that’s why they’re so willing to pay for quality services, so government runs smoothly.

Eventually, though, the county’s politicians will start to take the heat for repeated failures. Partisans and ideologues will be the target.

At some point, Johnson Countians will wonder why banks can reconcile checking accounts to the penny each day but voting takes hours, and is riddled with errors.

When that day comes, the anti-government crowd will need some answers, or will need to find other jobs.

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