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."

Friday, January 25, 2008

Voting Season Again

As the members of this blog know, I usually serve as a poll worker during elections. I will do so again on Feb 5. We just had our training the other night. And I will tell you that before long, average citizens will no longer be able to volunteer to work in polling places. And those of us who do will quit. The processes and requirements are becoming more and more complex and the public less appreciative.

1. The days are very long and getting longer. We do 14 hr. days on Election Day plus the 2.5 hr. training before hand. You can't break things into shifts because that would be a security issue (the more people around, the harder to ensure security), and we just don't have that many volunteers. It is exhausting- especially in big elections. And 80 year olds are, for the most part, not the best types of volunteers for this sort of thing. Most are slow, easily confused, and not accustomed to how professional this has become. You can't just be a smiling old lady in the polling place. You have to be professional and official because of the increased scrutiny. For the Feb 5th election, the CA Secretary of State has chosen several counties (including mine) for observation. We, in my county, are to expect secretary of state inspectors at some point throughout the day and we have to be ready to answer pop quizzes from State officials.

2. Because of the problems in 2000 and the additional problems in 2004 and ever since, poll inspections and monitoring are at an all time high. The number of disgruntled and mistrustful voters is rising. The corrosive effect of poorly run elections across the country is showing. Candidates are quicker to contest results (note: Kucinich required a recount in S.C.), voters are showing up in larger numbers, but are less confident in the process, and local elections officials are indirectly held responsible for mistakes made by officials in other states and thus must react to everything with additional preventative measures. So we have to take more and more precautions, which translates into more and more bureaucracy.

3. The number of elections is rising. In my county this year, we will have 3 elections within a 12 month period. Since 2000, we have had a number of special elections- largely because Governor Arnold likes to "go to the voters" for everything. This means that the elections commission is now full time employment with much bigger budgets, staffs, greater accountability, and more opportunities to mess up than in the past. The logistics behind organizing elections are complex, costly, and time consuming. You need to call up volunteers, organize training, organize your polling places, assign your field officers, send out ballots to mail-in-voters, keep track of more equipment, etc. It means that it is taking longer to verify voters, rosters, and final election night results.

Now, the Feb 5 election in CA is especially hard because it is going to be a very HOT election.

1. After trying to get voters on the machines, we are now pulling them back. The primary method of voting is going to be by paper ballot. Each precinct will have 1 Sequoia machine and only one. Voters can opt to use it. This is a change. In the past two elections, we had all machines and voters had to opt out of the machine and request a paper ballot. This is no longer the case. FYI: our county always had a paper trail- even when using the machines. The machines have printers attached that printed 2 copies of each ballot cast. Now, at the end of the evening, we will have to print an additional copy of all the votes cast on the machine and post it outside on the precinct wall.

2. In the past, the machines had 2-3 seals- one over the power switch, one over the memory card slot, and one on the printer. Now they have 6 different seals including 3 holographic seals. All the seals are tamper proof and all have a number of them. In setting up the polls, two poll workers must be present to witness and record all the numbers on these seals. We have to re-record the seal numbers 3 additional times during the day and once at closing. That means we have to check the seals a total of 5 times.

3. If anything goes wrong with a machine, anything at all, we are to decommission it can call the elections office right away.

4. No voter is to be turned away from the polls for any reason. If the voter is not listed on our roster, if his/her political party affiliation is incorrect, if they are in the wrong place, etc. we are to offer them provisional ballots. The key is to put up as few barriers to voting as possible.

5. There are several documents now that all the poll workers must sign. In the past, it was only the inspector and one poll worker. Now it is everyone.

6. Voters are not allowed to place their own ballots in the boxes. We place the ballots in a "secrecy sleeve" and drop them in for the voters.

These are just a few of measures we have to take in addition to the regular stuff like dealing with the media and poll watchers, inspecting the polling place to ensure there is no electioneering going on, update the public roster every hour, etc. It is not a easy day and it isn't getting any easier.

9 comments:

Raised By Republicans said...

US West,

Thank you for your service. Seriously, they also serve who sit and collect votes.

How much of the problem would say is generational? That is that the nice old ladies don't like the voting machines?

The Law Talking Guy said...

Seriously, US West, thank you for your service! This is an amazing job, apparently becoming more difficult as time goes by. The obvious solution is to make election days state holidays, and to give overtime pay to all state workers who will then be trained and work at the polling places on those days. A ready reserve of punctillious civil servants. All that requires is a little bit of state funding. And of course state insurance for private polling places for the workers' comp issues, etc. You know, slip and fall while voting in jocko's garage or whatever.

My other question is really more subtle. How are you supposed to stuff ballot boxes under these conditions?

USWest said...

No, I don't think it is generational. The machines are touch screens and are easier to operate than most ATMs. The older voters, and even some younger ones, approach the machines with some trepidation at first, but they are willing to give it a try. And when you ask them how they liked it, they say, "Well, it wasn't too bad!" Opposition is more to change than the machine.

The real problem is the poll workers who are too arthritic to plug stuff in or to operate the card programmer. To serve the number of people that we have to serve, you have to be quick and efficient and you have to think on your feet. Many of the WWII generation workers are very slow and inefficient. They can't see well enough lots of time to read the roster properly, and they don't take initiative to do things that need to be done. They chit chat and don't pay attention to voters who are rushing to get back to work,etc. This is their social occasion, you know.

In part, I suppose it is my impatience that causes me to complain. But really, there are so many things that you have to remember and to do that smiling old ladies just aren't the best option for workers.

USWest said...

LTG: your question isn't so subtle. That is the whole idea of all the precautions. There is little way or time to stuff ballot boxes, if they are going to get stuffed at all. As the folks in India said, there isn't much risk at the polling place of ballot stuffing. It takes place between the precinct and the commission office if it takes place at all.

After the polls are closed, the precinct captain and one clerk must go together in one vehicle with all the stuff and both must sign off when they deliver it to the elections commission officials.

You know, voters have no idea what takes place before and after they cast their ballot. They don't understand why we have to ask them certain questions. When there is a glitch, you can see them tense up, ready to battle. So you have to explain why there may be a problem and what you are going to do to fix it, etc. People taking voting seriously and they get suspicious quickly, especially after Florida. That is where our country started to change. It wasn't 9/11. 9/11 was just a more obvious indication of the changes that had already gotten started. There is very little trust anymore in government.

So the perception of cheating is more powerful than the reality of it. I don't think a lot of cheating talks place in reality.

What most people don't know is that from the time we start setting up until we go to the drop off spot in the evening, we can be observed by anyone. You can go to any precinct and watch all day long if you want so long as you don't electioneer or disturb voters. It is a transparent process from start to finish.

Raised By Republicans said...

You know, US West's post has me thinking. Why don't we thank people like her as much as we thank "The Troops?" I mean sure the military is serving their country but we fetishize their brand of service so much more than others.

On the one hand they risk their lives and that is worthy of notice by their fellow citizens. On the other hand, many countries have won many wars and still lost their freedom (Rome after all had lost whatever freedoms were available long before they ever lost a war).

Anonymous said...

Thank you, US West, for being a poll worker. As a voter, it's so nice to know that people like you are around to help, especially since your comments about the seniors are so similar to my own experiences.*

It would be helpful if election days were state holidays.

One question - do you know how the election officials calculate the number of booths per polling place?

I've voted all over my fair city. Even in areas where there are far more people registered for one party than the other, there will be 20 people waiting to vote in one booth and 2 waiting for the other. There's probably not a lot that can be done about that, but it does make it easy to blow your whole lunch break standing in line.

-Seventh Sister

*I also think that some of the problem is that after a certain age, a lot of older women feel (with some justification) that no one pays any attention to them. So having any kind of audience or social interaction can be the death of efficiency for these people.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the background US West. I found it fascinating, given that my experience of voting in Australia is so completely different (for a start booth workers are paid).

I know I probably have asked this before but is there a reason why polling is not coordinated at a state or Federal level?

Spotted Handfish

USWest said...

Thank you all for your thanks! RBR is right that we need to make more of an effort to thank those who are preforming a civic duty. I think that those of us who volunteer to work the polls should be excused from jury duty. That would bring out the volunteers!

Seventh sister, I am not sure how the calculate the number of booths per precinct. But I will inquire. I think it varies by county. We usually have about 4 booths per precinct.

Spotted Hand Fish, we do get paid here as well. When I started 7 elections ago, we were paid $150 for the time. Now we are paid around $132. I tried to turn back the money, but was told that it would be very difficult to do this because all of this is regulated by state law and it is budgeted for. I do it less for the money and more or less because I know they need younger volunteers. Also, it can be a lot of fun . . . although I doubt this election will be.

As for a single electoral system . . . I could dazzle you with constitutional knowledge, but suffice to say that we do have a single system for the presidential race- that is the electoral collage. These primary elections are not federal. They are held by the parties to help their members pick a candidate and regulated largely by state law.

It is a states' rights issue.

Raised By Republicans said...

Spotted Handfish,

The United States is a federal system in which decentralization is taken far more seriously than in most federal systems - such as Australia, Canada or Germany.

When the country was first set up, decentralization was the absolutely neccessary condition for the states to come together at all. Given the population, size and diversity of the United States, this decentralization often comes in handy for a wide range of constituencies in a wide range of circumstances.