Poll Woker Experiences

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Nov 2 2010 Gubernatorial Election -- My First Time as a Poll Inspector [LONG!]
Hey, does anyone other than me remember this community???

On Tuesday Nov. 2, I worked as a Pollworker for my 4th time, and for my first time I was an Inspector. This meant I was in charge of my Precinct: go to training, pick up supplies, set up voting, make voting work, teardown & accounting, drop off materials. I worked in the San Gabriel Valley part of Los Angeles County.

WARNING: my notes below are LONG -- I wrote up all the fussy details for my own sake, so I can remember them if/when I do this again. I just remembered this community and thought I'd post my notes here too.

There are five jobs at our polls -- and we had six people! That was nice! Two of our clerks were very experienced (far more than I am), one with a particularly fine grasp of many of the gory details. Both had considered becoming Poll Inspectors, but both also felt they weren't up to it (inadequate vehicle or not enough strength -- I was actually barely adequate on both of these!). I really appreciated having these two extra-helpful people around. Overall we were in relatively good shape, personnel-wise. :)




SUMMARY: I think I would work as a Poll Inspector again, if I have the time available. It should be easier the 2nd time, using my "NOTES FOR NEXT TIME" above to make it better.

My frustrating experiences as a pollworker on Nov. 4th (LONG)
Liberty & Justice for ALMOST All....
Yesterday was my second experience ever as a pollworker. What a dysfunctional mess!!!

[Long post, but I added subheadings for your reading comfort!]

1. Half-Hearted Morning PrepCollapse )

2. The Disorganized Voting DayCollapse )

3. Anarchy After We Closed the PollCollapse )

4. Final Thoughts

In the end, I found the experience to be horribly frustrating, stupidly ridiculous, embarrassing, and just plain unpleasant in the extreme! Without any authority myself, with people not wanting to respect my input, and without anyone who had any authority exerting that authority, the anarchy and stupidity drove me nuts! I even had to go behind the backs of my co-workers to tell on them to get them to follow some rules (for the Street Index Roster Copies).

IF I ever do this again, I am going to make sure the first thing I do is find out who's in charge, and then be Their Personal Auditor ALL DAY! I will not be polite (though I'd start out polite), I will not take uncooperation from anyone, I will push, and push, and call the county officials on them if I have to. On the other hand, I may not ever do this again, even if I have the time. I do not want to do a job where I have to feel like a hated bully and/or snitch all day. It's extremely disheartening dealing with such anarchy and incompetence and hostility.

I've wondered about what it'd take to be declared a Poll Inspector myself (head of the pollworkers). Addled Woman proves that it must not take much! But I wouldn't want to sign up for it unless/until I was sure I'd have the time to work the polls next time. And, given the troubled levels of competence and respect that I've seen, I'm not sure I'd want the responsibility to coordinate such people.

Presidential Write-In Candidates
Harp Lap
Going through my elections suitcase, I found a list of the offical write-in candidates for Presidential race.

Chuck Baldwin & Darrell Castle

James Harris & Alyson Kennedy

Frank Moore & Susan Block

Ron Paul & Gail Lightfoot

Election Day is just around the corner
Rock the Vote
Election Day is just around the corner. We should be about what we need to do to make election day go more smoothly. This is going to be a big election with a large turn out. So expect to be busy all day long.

A list of extra things bringing to the pollsCollapse )

So far this community only contains people already on my f-list...
...but as a placeholder (I can copy over the full post if anyone wants), here's a link to my post about the double bubble and my rant in favor of a Constitutional Amendment requiring votes to be counted where the intent is clear, even if not conforming to the registrar's version of what should count.

primary recap - santa clara county precinct 2005
Yesterday was my last day working the polls in santa clara county - auros and I have moved to San Mateo County (we made sure to have overlapping residency in scc so we weren't in violation for the election) so we'll be working up here next round. We were in precinct 2005, college terrace palo alto, right next to Stanford campus. We've worked that precinct before - me twice and him 3 times. Fortunately this time they gave us the larger chapel room at the university lutheran church instead of crowding us into the tiny fireside room.

This election of course we were on paper ballots (optical scan) as our primary voting method but we still had one sequoia touchscreen machine as an option for disabled voters. This became relevant later. We set up everything with no problems and had a line of about 15 people already when the polls opened at 7. Voting when pretty steadily in clumps throughout the morning but I don't think we ever had a line longer than that - we were managing to process people fairly efficiently. I had one person with macular degeneration who asked for assistance filling out her ballot. She showed me a paper with how she wanted to vote and I filled out her ballot while she watched, making sure to read her choices out loud to her (but hopefully quietly enough that other people in the room could not hear) and then went over it a second time to make sure I got everything right. That felt really good and even a little awe-inspiring that someone would trust me to do that - I did everything I could to reassure her that I was marking the ballot as she had requested but I imagine her vision was poor enough that she couldn't REALLY see for sure.

A lot of people were surprized to see paper ballots and asked for direction on how to mark them. As we found out later when we emptied the box, a bunch more people apparently were confused but did NOT ask for help since we noticed several ballots with "x" marked next to the candidate's name or the name circled instead of the arrows being connected with a horizontal line like they should have been. I hope that these ballots will get hand-counted because the optical scanner certainly won't read them - if the machine says it has a blank ballot does someone double-check it? Does anyone know? Anyway, we did not alter these ballots - we turned them in as marked. I really hope they get counted. I wish we could have caught them at the time the voters turned them in but we were making an extra effort NOT to look at how people were voting in order to respect their privacy - many of the ballots were slid into the box through "privacy sleeves".

At the beginning of the day we had 110 Non-Partisan ballots, 60 republican ballots and 185 democratic ballots (as well as I think 10 each of the minor party ballots). Around 11:30 I noticed that the once huge democratic stack had gotten to be about even with the republican stack - the vast vast majority of our non-partisan voters were voting democratic, which was not surprising. We were not supposed to OFFER them democratic ballots, but several people took non-partisan ballots and came back a couple of minutes later saying that they wanted to vote for president and why wasn't that on their ballot (fortunately most of them had not marked the ballots so they were unspoiled) and we had to explain that they were allowed a ballot for either the democratic party or the american independant party but they had to request it (a few wanted republican ballots and we had to explain that they party had not allowed N-P voters to vote in their primary but most wanted democratic ballots). After that we started saying "I see you are registered as a non-partisan. Do you want a non-partisan ballot?" which prompted most of them to either ask for a democratic ballot or ask what their options were. Some of them were simply confused and said "I'm a non-partisan" and STILL came back later and asked for a dem ballot, but this did significantly reduce the number of returned ballots we were getting and was, I hope, an acceptable compromise that met the letter of the rules. Much later in the evening a poll-watcher came by and posted a sign outside that informed N-Ps they were allowed to ask for a dem ballot, but by that point we had our routine down. We had fewer than 10 N-P votes all day and at least 100 N-Ps who voted democratic (we did not get an exact count). We also had a LOT of people who were vote-by-mail who came in to vote dem and either surrendered their ballots or had to vote provisionally because they could not - this represented the vast majority of our provisional voters.

Anyway, around 11:30 or noon I noticed that shrinking stack of dem ballots and realized they were not going to last the day so we called and asked if more ballots could be brought. We were told there were none left (apparently this was happening around the county) and we should have voters use the electronic machine when we ran out. Quickly realizing that this would totally screw us up come the dinner rush, we started giving people the electronic option right away to preserve our paper ballots. We still gave paper ballots to people who preferred that and gave paper ballots when the line for the machine got to be more than a couple of people. A couple of hours later someone brought us back-up ballots but they were flimsy photo-copies that we were pretty sure would end up having to be hand-counted beause they would not make it through the optical scan machines so we tried to avoid using those. Our planning ahead paid off - we managed to stretch our paper ballots pretty close to the end and the final tally was 110 people voting on the machine (all dems) and only 10 of the flimsy paper ballots used. This was with 378 total voters (not counting returned absentees - we had over 200 of those and they didn't fit in the bag designated for them so we had to improvise - fortunately they gave us spare seals). Our republican ballots finally did start to run low but we made it to the end with a few of those left.

We actually managed to end the night without a line... somehow. The last voter in at 7:58 was an AAA tow truck driver who said he had been looking for a polling station all day and finally found us. He was from the county but not our precinct so we let him vote as a "failsafe" voter. Another voter came by at 8:02 and we had to turn her away. I hate doing that.

It takes a lot longer to tally and pack up with paper ballots but we compiled everything and turned it in at the dropoff point - my first time getting to do that! We got home a little after 10 and ran into ef2p just getting in from his polling place and compared notes in the driveway before coming inside to read about election returns on the intornets.

All in all a great day full of excitement and good turnout.

As we approach super-tuesday..
Pelosi smackdown
auros and I went for our election officer training today to work in Santa Clara County on the Feb 5th primary. This will be our last election working in Santa Clara before we move to San Mateo County. We both elected to do the "online training" option, which allows us to do a short 90-min hands-on training instead of a full afternoon session in the classroom. I expect this sort of training to be highly popular with the younger more tech-savvy crowd.

The online training itself however had several problems. The main one being that it had outdated and contradictory information in it. For one thing, as of this election Santa Clara county is using optical-scan ballots as our main voting method, with only one touchscreen machine available for people with disabilities and who, for whatever reason, just prefer to vote electronically (it will have a printer for a paper trail). However, while the online training did mention this, when it got to the point of describing setting up the election it still had a picture of a cart with 5 machines. And the diagram of how to set up the table did not include a spot for the paper ballots at all.

At the end the training had a section on "conflict resolution", which I hadn't seen in previous years training. It was actually pretty useful I thought, with videos of interactions with different types of problem voters (a husband who tries to get into the voting booth with his wife to influence her vote, a man who is in the precinct and doesn't have time to go to his home precinct, a campaigner who is insisting on remaining within the 100yd limit on electioneering) and a sort of "before/after" on dealing with them in a negative vs positive fashion. The problem is, several of the scenarios had OTHER aspects of voting protocol just plain WRONG. In the example of the man in the wrong precinct the pollworker starts the scenario by asking the man for his ID - we are NEVER supposed to ask for ID unless we find the person in the roster FIRST and it SAYS to ask for ID. In another scanario, a man who really should have gotten a provisional ballot was denied the right to vote at all. I found the ID scenario ESPECIALLY troubling as that rule is something that has not changed in YEARS. We both, of course, submitted feedback on the errors in the course material.

One odd new bit of protocol we're supposed to follow this year is that at the end of the night we're supposed to change printers and make an extra copy of the election results from the touchscreen machine to post on the door after we leave. No results from the paper ballots will be included as we're not actually counting those ourselves. I can't think of what could possibly be the purpose of this - the number of electronic votes is going to be a miniscule portion of the total votes so this printout won't be at all representative of precinct results. Anyone know why they are doing this?

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the election and will be sure to post more after it happens.

Letter to Elections Office
Rock the Vote
After the November election, I wanted to take my blog post, clean it up and send it to the county elections devision. I purposely don't do this right after the election because the canvas is still going on and I don't want to distract them or have my comments buried.

Just as I was thinking I need to do that, the county help a phone conference with poll workers. While I didn't get to say everything I wanted to, I did take notes while on the phone. I combined those notes with my blog post into the following letter. Long letter insideCollapse )

San Mateo County Elections Blog
Vote Smart
San Mateo County Elections has a blog where they discuss various aspects of elections. Posts include how the county is meeting the new requirements from the Secratary of State for electronic voteing, how they pick the 1% or precincts that get manually recounted, and preparing for election day.

I have created a feed for this blog. You can read it at san_mateo_elect. Some of it interesting. There are not a whole lot of posts so it will not spam your friends page. Good reading.

Today Election
Vote Smart
Since I created this community and I worked today’s elections I thought I would post my thoughts about the day. It has been a long day. The alarm went off at 5am. I just got home at 9:pm. This is not organized or well thought out. It is more of a brain dump. Given my personal schedule for the next few weeks, if I don’t do it now it will never happen.

First this was a really slow election. My precinct is voting for the Board of Directors for the local fire protection district and a measure affecting appropriations limits for the fire protection district. It is now 3 in the afternoon and I have had 7 people vote out of the 716 active voters in my precinct.

The beginning of the day was chaotic. There are 4 precincts in this location. We are all supposed to be in the cafeteria. I think in previous elections there have only been 2 precincts here. The day started with the lunch lady and later principal telling us we could not use as much space as we needed. Eventually we squeezed into twice as much space as the principal was willing to give us after losing one precinct to an other room.

Unfortunately the cafeteria is still being used for students activities include breakfast, lunch and after school programs. This has made for a very loud polling place at times. [Bad username: cortneyofeden] and I talked about this a bit. When we were is school, the school made special accommodations for elections. At my elementary school, they closed the library for the day, told the entire school about it the day before and day of, and we took different routes to and from lunch to avoid making noise near the library. To me it appears as if the school made no changes for the election.

I tried visiting the precinct the day before the election. I realized that there would be a problem but the principal was not available all day and nobody else seemed to know anything beyond that we were in the cafeteria. Between this election and the last one, I think I have learned that it really is important to talk to both the person in charge of the facility and the person in charge of the specific room you are in. I’m not sure how to actually pull this off. I’ve tried to do it both times I have been in charge of a precinct but without any real success.

In general the beginning of the day is crazy even without dealing with angry uncooperative principals. In about an hour you need to set up all the equipment, hang flags, put up a bunch of signs, make sure there is disabled access to the room… It would be really nice to have a preplan for the room. I’m not sure how to pull this off. There are 4 different precincts with a different person in charge of each one, plus there is school. I’m not sure how to get the people together before the election. Another trick is that I didn’t know how many precincts were in the same location. So even if I do go ahead of time, I don’t know how much space I really need or if another inspector had planned on using the space.

Some brain storming on ways to deal with this problem that can be done before hand:
  • County preplans the layout of each precinct before the election. Layout is approved by both the county and the school.
  • County specifies the minimum number of square feet supplied to the precinct. (This way we can say that your contract with the county says this much space.)

Some tips that I have found useful:
  • Bring an extension cord (or two). If I had not brought an extension cord, we would not have been able to move our booths to the end of the room like the principal wanted.
  • I really like having a table that the voters can not get to. I can lay out all my extra paperwork and forms on this table and not worry about people playing them. Gives me quick access but keeps prying fingers out.
  • We have ‘street indexes’ that allow the get out the vote people to see who has voted and who has not. We have 3 of these. One is a master. The other two alternate hanging outside for people to see (one gets updated while the other is displayed.) On busy days using colored pencils on these is really useful. If you change colors every time you swap the displayed one, it is really easy to glance at the master and no which names need to be updated.

Other things I would like to see from the county:
  • The county provides a ‘street range detail’ for each precinct. This sheet lists all the streets and the range of house numbers in the precinct. For example my 716 voters are all on 16 lines of text on the ‘street range detail.’ In case like today we have lots of voters that know they are supposed to vote here, but do not know what precinct there is. We frequently spend a bunch of time figuring out which table to go to. On a slow day, I will walk to each table until I find the table they are supposed to be at. But on a busy day or time, I can not do this as I have to keep my precinct running. I would like to get copies of the ‘street range detail’ for all the nearby precincts. This way I can direct people to the correct place without having to leave my precincts table. Alternately a map with precinct boundaries would work.
  • A way of rating elections workers. This should go up and down the chain. Inspectors should be able to comment on both their judges and field techs. Judges should be able to comment on each other. I think one of the biggest problems with our elections is the quality of our poll workers. This might help weed out the bad seeds.

I also had a complaint today about one of the other poll workers in my location (not my precinct). The complaint was the she was chewing gum which made it impossible to understand. I note that the same woman is not dressed appropriately in my opinion. I feel that voting is an important part of our democracy and that I should have a professional appearance when working at the polls. For example today I wore a nice pair of dress pants, a button up shirt and my corduroy jacket.


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