Poll Woker Experiences

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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primary recap - santa clara county precinct 2005
plymouth wrote in poll_workers
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.

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Your NP voters got to vote a regular Democratic ballot? In our county those who wanted that had to vote N-Dem rather than plain Dem ballots.

And I'm pretty sure the scanner is supposed to spit out the ballot if it registers it as blank. If it didn't spit them out, here's hoping that means it was able to read them.

Was there anything actually different between the two ballots? My recollection from the last primary I worked (2006) is that there were party officers on the ballot and only actual party members were allowed to vote on those, so the N-P people got a different ballot (though we were still all touchscreen at the time). This time around the only things on the ballot were the presidential election and the ballot measures so there was no need to give them a different ballot.

I don't think there was a difference, but they got separate ones anyway. I remember when they first (I think) started allowing NPs to vote in primaries, if you read the fine print it said that NPs could vote but their votes didn't actually count officially. I don't know if that's still true; if it isn't, maybe they wanted to give 'em separate ballots just so they'd have more information about which way nonpartisans were leaning.

In '06 there was a different N-P/Dem ballot, because only actual registered Dems were voting in the race for County Committee. In this race, there were no differences, so N-Ps got the same ballot.

Oh, and yeah, originally what happened is CA passed a ballot measure demanding open primaries. The parties said, "The hell with you, we have a 1st Amendment right to free association, and until the Supreme Court settles this we're not counting the N-P ballots." The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the parties. Then CA passed a revised measure (I forget whether ballot or legislative) setting up the current system, where the parties, each primary, choose whether to allow N-P votes. If they decide to allow N-P votes, they do have to count them.

The Democratic Party, shortly after that system was instituted, passed a by-law at its convention declaring that it will always allow N-Ps. The Republicans have by-laws saying they do not allow N-Ps in presidential years (but the party leadership can choose each time, for non-presidential years).

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