Poll Woker Experiences

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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Letter to Elections Office
Rock the Vote
ef2p wrote in poll_workers
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.
County Elections Offical,

I was the inspector for precinct #### in East Palo Alto in November’s election. The content of this email was generated mostly from two sources. The first was a blog post I made the day after the November election. The second is notes made during the December 12 phone conference with Gretta and Warren. Do to the nature of the phone conference, I felt I was not able to provide as much input as I would like to.

Warren asked us if we were able to get set up in time. While the e-slates did create some complications, I found that the biggest time waster was figuring out how to layout the room. In my case there were a number of factors that contributed to this. The first is that I am in a multiple precinct location. While I did visit the school and look at the room, I did not know how many other precincts were going to be in my location. I also had no way of knowing who the other inspectors were, so it was difficult to create a ‘preplan’ for the morning.

Figuring out the layout was also complicated by the fact that the principal for the school was ‘gone for the day’ when I visited and was not on site until 7am on election day. Somehow I have never been able to get the correct set of parameters on the rooms we are using. Something seems to always come up where the school ‘needs’ access to the room during the day and we are ‘in the way’. The thing that has been said to me in every case is, ‘They never set up this way.’

Would it be possible to have a site specific sketch of the room marked with where to setup and what locations the staff still needs access to? This wouldn’t have to be done by the Tower staff. During each election have the inspectors or field techs sketch out the layout. On the page they can write notes about lunch or after school programs that need access at certain times. For example, the cafeteria I was in had lines on the floor for basketball, we used a line on the floor to mark the divide between the ‘lunch’ area from the ‘voting’ area; that line could be labeled on the sketch. Of course multiple precinct locations would how the different precincts would fit into the room. For the next election, this sketch would be provided to the inspectors as a guide for their setup. This would provide some consistency between elections that would make it easier and less confusing for the voters, elections staff and school.

For this last election, my precinct was in the cafeteria. Not only did the students eat lunch in the room, but they ate breakfast and organized after school programs in the room as well. This created space difficulties as we tried to do both in the same room, not to mention 3 one hour block of noise throughout the day. In a big election, I could see this noise becoming a problem and distraction to voters.

I understand that finding voting locations is difficult. I wonder if there is a way you can sell the idea of hosting a precinct. The less stressful you make it on the staff at the location the better, hence the consistency of layout I suggested above. When I lived in Pittsburgh, PA, the school I voted at always had a bake sale on election day. Suggesting to schools that they do this would give them a change to earn a little extra money and encourage them to welcome voters. It might just tip the scales in favor or hosting elections.

Once the poll are open and we’ve calmed down for the opening rush, the biggest problem I have had is directing people to the correct voting location. As an elections officer, I feel that it is my duty to give the voter a correct, definitive answer to their questions. I feel like I have failed if I tell them to call Tower. The typical voter walks in knowing that they vote at this location but they do not know what precinct they are in. Given that there were four precincts in our location, finding the correct precinct usually meant running around to each table and checking the street index. If that failed I would take the time to look it up on the League of Woman Voters website using my cell phone. While this last election was slow and I had time to do that, I will not have the time to do this in a busier election.

The binder that comes in the red bag contains one or two sheets of paper labeled, ‘Street Range Detail’. The sheet lists all the address that vote in that precinct. The list says something like, ‘100-199, even only, Main St., My Town; 200-499, all, Main St, My Town….’. Can we get these for the whole county or at least all precincts within a few miles of our voting location? Hopefully they would include a key that says precinct 1234 is voting at the Main St fire station for all precincts listed. With this in hand, I could quickly and easily direct the voter to the correct precinct or even different location, without having to get up from my table. In multi-precinct locations, it would be great to have a ‘greeter’ that was not affiliated with a specific precinct, looked up this information and directed voters to the correct table.

I have some comments relating to our training and poll workers. Can you provide hand outs at the training that contain the information on your flip charts? This will provide a way to follow along and take notes without having to write down each bullet point on the charts. Also, please address dress code and curtsey of election staff. I’m seen poll workers in sweat pants and T-shirt. I’ve also had complaints about pool workers chewing and snapping gum while giving voters instructions. Neither of these present the professional demeanor we want to project. While talking about poll workers, I would like to see some way to provide feed back about other workers. I know you have staffing problems already but knowing who to promote and who to hold back would help the conduct of the election. There are poll workers out there that do more harm than good. Also, I know you get requests for half day workers. There seems to be a set of people who would work if it wasn’t a 15+ hour day. Can we bring some of these people in for the peak hours of the day? Like between 4pm and 7pm as people come in after work.

As we enter the next presidential election cycle what we do and the e-slates are going to come under greater and greater scrutiny. Can we somehow ‘train the voters’? I see two was of doing this. The first is to take the machine out to the people. Before the election, set up them up in a shopping center and let people vote for their favorite ice cream and food. This will give the voters a chance to use them without stress, when they can go back and vote again, when they can ask questions, etc. I would be willing to volunteer my time to do just this. The other way is to have a dummy e-slate in the precinct, again programmed for favorite ice cream or food, where we can walk voters through the voting before they cast their real ballot. It would also be great to teach the poll workers about how the e-slate differs from the Diebold and Sequoia systems. I read the Secretary of States reviews and press releases about the systems. I see how the e-slates are really a superior system. The voters just see the bad press about e-voting systems and assume it applies to all of them. By knowing the information, I was able to reassure voters that San Mateo County’s machines did not suffer the major drawbacks that other systems suffered.

Some other odds and ends before I finish. It would be nice to have an opening and closing checklist that includes everything: set up e-slates, post voter information pages, hang American flag, sign zero tape, check and seal ballot box… Several people on the phone conference mentioned extension cords. I always bring my own and I have always ended up using them. Warren asked about the field techs. So far I think they have been wonderful, but I have not used them for a technical problem. When I set up I like to have a table that the voters can not get that I use to layout forms, ballots, provisional envelopes, etc. This gives me easy access to all of this without having the voters poking through it during the day. Typically I set up with a wall, followed by this table, followed by the election staff, followed by the table with the street index, roster and JBC and finally I have the space where the voters stand.

I know this has become quite long. I hope you find the information useful. I understand that you will not implement every suggestion I make. I am trying to not only present problems but provide solutions as well. I have come to think of working elections as a civic duty instead of a couple days a year job. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. I would really like for this to become a conversation. I’m even willing to drive up to Tower or the county offices to discuss these issues face to face.

Thank you for you time and you effort,

I have already sent out the letter. I'm curious to see if I get a reply.


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