Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Regardless of the Outcome

I served as a poll worker in yesterday's midterms in CA. My district is solidly Democrat and our Congressman is always unopposed. But there were many other things on yesterday's ballot, local measures, state propositions, and all the state offices in additional to the selection for gubernatorial candidates for November's elections.

I worked a 14 hour day yesterday and the flow was slow, but steady. It would have been slower had we not been the hot spot for disgruntled voters who arrived at their usual precinct location only to find it closed. My county elections office closed 4 voter precincts, precincts that had been in operation for over 30 years, without telling the local residents in that area.

These folks were simply sent absentee ballots and not reassigned to a new precinct. Many didn't understand why they had gotten ballots in the mail and used them as practice ballots, expecting to show up at their normal polling place to vote. The county elections office would not allow us to put signs on the doors of the old polling places to let people know where they could go vote. So we finally, a disgruntled voters from the closed precincts put signs on the doors instead with locations for other precincts.

Many people in these precincts are Senior Citizens who, when arriving at their normal polling place and seeing it closed just went home. Those who arrived in the precinct where I was working were allowed to vote a provisional ballot and w gave them information cards with the phone number of the County Elections office and encouraged them to call and complain. Those who actually made it to our place told us that they had driven all over looking for a polling place, some coming from as far away as the next town. It made me mad to think that voters were being disenfranchised in such a way. And the county elections office was aware of the problem because apparently precinct captains had complained about it loudly after the last elections. No one seemed to care. I work elections to help make sure that people get to vote and it makes me hopping mad when complaints like these go unaddressed.

My second issue is with the damn media, as usual. I was loading up my car with ballots last night to take them over to the court house. It was 9 pm. Polls closed at 8 pm. Once dropped off, the elections truck has a 45 minute commute to election headquarters. Then stuff has to be unloaded and inventoried before the counting can begin. That means, nothing will get counted at least until 1-2 am. The whole state is this way. So no one has returns before 2 am. Yet, at 9 pm media is reporting on results, most likely based on exit polls and early voting. Absentees, I have been told, get counted last. When will the media learn? It is complaint after every election, and again, no one listens and responds. I don't want to hear about results for 2 days after an election. I want to know the outcome based on the ballots cast.


Dr. Strangelove said...

USWest... glad to hear you were a pollworker again. (I seem to recall you've done that several times.) I only was a pollworker once (Nov 2004) but at least I can understand what it's like to be on the other side of the table. When precincts are moved, closed, or overburdened, it seriously discourages voter participation. In terms of election process reform, here's what we need:

1. Funding. There is no excuse for the richest democracy in the world to hold its elections on a shoestring. Every precinct should have a surfeit of voting machines, plus backups, and they should all be well-tested and inspected. Pollworkers, our most important "voting machines," should be adequately compensated for their 14-hour days.

2. Uniformity of procedures across counties and states. Pollworkers need to know how to handle common voting irregularities, and voters need to know their rights! A national education campaign would be possible if we had a simple, common set of voting procedures.

3. Holidays. Every two years there should be a Federal holiday in November, and there should also be State Holidays on primary election days.

4. Consolidation of local elections with statewide and federal elections. We do this to some extent, but not enough.) This goes hand-in-hand with the election holiday.

5. Information. There should be a nationwide 1-800-ELECTION number, well staffed, to connect you to any registrar's office or precinct in the country. There should be a searchable, online national registry of polling stations so you can find out where you are supposed to vote, no matter where you are. (Obviously we need to ensure that privacy is protected in such a database.)

6. Surveillance. This may be touchy, but I think we should have video cameras observing all precincts at all times. (Of course it would be vital to ensure that the voting booths themselves are not viewed.) But we need records of what's going on. We need to see how long the lines are too.

7. Confidence. Each voter should be able to know, before he or she leaves the voting booth, that their ballot says what they want it to say and that it will be accurately read by the processing machines. This probably requires electronic voting machines in the voting booths. In that case, there should be a clear hardcopy of the votes kept as well.

8. Identification. I believe we should require voters to bring acceptable identification with them to the polls. And by the same token, voter registration should be made automatic when you are issued an ID of an acceptable kind (probably DMV).

When I was a pollworker, we all tried hard to follow the rules exactly and treat the ballots with care, almost reverence. But the day is so long, training so minimal, and the resources are so slender that it's tough to do. None of this should be an issue in the richest democracy in the world.

Anonymous said...

I agree that we have to have a more centralized voting system. I have worked the polls about 3 times now and I can only tell you about my county. I wanted to address a couple of your points, Dr. S.

1. Funding & Holidays: I was paid $150 for my 14 hours plus the additional 2 that I had to do a week ago as part of my training. I would gladly give that money back, but it is harder for my County NOT to pay me than to pay me. I see this as a civic duty, like jury duty. That means I shouldn't have had to use a vacation day to help out. If you want elections, you have to help make them happen. There aren't enough young people getting involved in this work, and I think we need to change that. Get high schoolers involved. And then run the day in shifts to make it shorter. It's a great way to teach the value of voting.

2.Uniformity: I agree with Dr. S. I would only say that in my County, we are trained in some of the more common voting irregularities. Our county has made a big effort to train its volunteers and I have seen the trainings getting better and better. But you can't be ready for every possible scenario. And there are issues with voter fraud. Our county keeps a red list of suspicious voters.

5. Information: We can call the election office anytime to ask questions when we are working. Poll workers in my county can solve most problems we encounter if the voter will be patient with us. Usually, voters are pretty good. But sometimes they get huffy and storm off before we can resolve the problem. That is the wrong approach. And no, if arrive at 8:03 with your absentee ballot, we can't take it. You can scream and yell at us, but we legally cannot take your ballot. Voters in my county are really big on voting and I think that power they feel when they step up to that machine is real. It is the most fundamental exercise of our democracy and boy do people get worked up when they so much as smell the possibility that they may be turned away. So we don't turn them away. We hand them a provisional ballot. And we give them a phone number that they can call to see what happened to their ballot.

7. In California it is law that all electronic voting machines must have a paper trail. Our voting machines are Sequoia AVC Edge machines  with a detachable printer. They are easy to set up and so far, they have proven to be quite reliable. I have used them in two elections thus far, and had no problems. We seem to have adequate numbers of the machines. In my first experience, we had 6-7 machines. This time, we had 5 machines and no lines. The lines were much longer in 2000 before the machines. We have 2 extra printers in case one runs out of paper or ink. We had one mahine that was tempermental and we shut it down and called it in to the county office. Had we been really busy, they would have come and replaced it for us.

If you are all interested, I can post about how the machines work. The link above will show you as well. I like the machines and most voters do as well. Some are suspicious because of the negative press Diebold has gotten. But California DOES NOT HAVE DIEBOLD MACHINES. And no, the machines are not linked to the internet like some people think.

This election was tiring because it was a primary will all sorts of local issues. We had 27 ballots issued in the county. We had about 10 ballots in my precinct alone. It is pretty hard to keep it straight. The machines helped immensely because all we had to do is program a key card with the right voter info.

8. Identification: We used to chack drivers' licences. We no longer do. I am not sure why we stopped. But we really should do something about that. 

// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...

When I lived in California my precinct was moved once and it took me a couple of hours to vote that day. I was a student at the time so I could afford to spend the morning walking around the neighborhood (I couldn't afford to own a car) looking for my polling place. What annoyed me most was that the polling place I used to vote at was still active but had been assigned to a different precinct. The workers there did not know which polling place my precinct had been assigned to. They sent me to the wrong one. I ended up having to go to 3 different polling places in my neighborhood that morning.

Another year, I was at yet another moved polling place and discovered that multiple precincts were at the same place. The problem that year was that some of the precincts were in one Congressional District and some were in another. It took me 20 minutes of complaining before the polling workers gave the correct ballot with the correct Congressional candidates on it. I'm a political scientist so I'm probably off the charts as far as determination to vote and information about what my ballot should say.

Part of these problems are the result of our federal system and its just part of the inefficiency we tolerate in order to prevent the kind of concentration of power one sees in other democratic systems. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

USWest - there are live results on the website for the Secretary of State for California beginning at 8:05pm on election night. Some reporting is electronic, most are tabulating the absentee ballots. You are almost right about absentees. The ones that arrive a few days before election day are counted FIRST. Those that arrive close to or on election day are held back because the registrars are busy coordinating the elections, and the rest are counted last. In CA returns, this means that the initial returns usually show conservative leads (absentee ballots are correlated with education and income, hence more conservative). Thus, if Dems are leading in the initial count, they usually win. If a Republican has a tight lead, it's interesting to watch. Of course, absentee ballots are also counted at the END, so conservative candidates/issues also pick up at the very end, although if the last set of absentee ballots are not counted if it would be futile (i.e., if there are fewer votes than the remaining margin of victory). So that's not the media's fault.

Bruce McPherson, CA Sec State, is a Schwarzenegger appointee b/c Kevin Shelley, the elected Dem, resigned in disgrace. Of course, the GOP generally wants to depress turnout, so I'm not surprised you see problems re-emerging now.


// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify, the machines are independent- not linked to any network. They have their own computer cards which we pull at the end of the evening and seal along with everything else.

I just wanted to point that out because I can't see where the early returns on the Sec. of State's webiste can possibly include any votes cast on election day. Absentee ballots that are collected at the polling place and provisional ballots stay with us and are turned in after the polls close. But, this is my county. Who knows what goes on in other counties.

RBR, I worked in a a double precinct this year as well, as I did back in the 2004 presidental. This does happen and people don't always know. So we checked their name on our list and if they weren't listed, we sent them to the other table. This can be a huge pain if the lines are longs. What's worse, sometimes it changes from election to election. So the fairgrounds where I worked had a double precinct for this primary, but didn't for the 04 elections. All in all, our county must do a better job of publishing precinct lists for people! 

// posted by USWest

Dr. Strangelove said...

My experience was similar to USWest's. Back in 2004, in our county, we did not send our ballots off to the precinct until 10:00 pm. (Although we were told that 9:30 pm was more typical.) The guy who drove the boxes downtown was probably on the road for at least half an hour. So I think it is unreasonable to expect any significant number of votes cast (or collected) on election day to be counted until at least 2 hours after polls close.

But in the 2005 California Statewide election, forty percent (40%) of voters used absentee ballots, which are counted first (if turned in before election day). While this still represents a skewed sampel of the population, it is more representative than it used to be--and becoming more so with each election.

Dr. Strangelove said...

historical data on the rise of absentee ballot use in California is stunning.

1986: 9%
1996: 20%
2005: 40%

Given the historically low turnout (28%) in the June 2006 primary, I would not be surprised if for the first time mst ballots were cast by mail.

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