My Day At the Polls

I don’t know how Avi Rubin has enough energy to recount his poll-working day. But I’ll try, at least in brief form.

Woke up at 4:50am to make it to the poll by 6am. I was the Precinct Inspector, i.e. the California term for what Bostonians call “Precinct Captain.” I had a great team of Poll Workers, including some high school students (Go Santa Clara County for allowing high school students to work the polls, it’s super helpful.)

Optical-scan paper ballots, scanned at a central location, not in the precinct. One touch-screen machine for voters with disabilities or anyone who wants to use it.

Everyone has a strong opinion on the security of voting machines. A voter asks “I want to vote on the machine, is it safe?” One of my poll workers answers “sure it’s safe, just like your TV.”

One of the high-school students helping out asks “what’s a hanging chad?”

“Connect the arrow” is possibly one of the stupidest user interface I’ve ever seen. People just don’t get it. No wonder they prefer a touch-screen machine.

The Provisional Ballot instructions are much clearer this time around than in the past two elections I’ve worked. We can tell the voter exactly when their vote is going to count. It’s still incredibly painful for voters to know where they’re supposed to show up. Precincts are re-drawn regularly, and a good 10-15 % of voters come in, aren’t on the list, and understandably complain “but I vote here every year!” It would be good to take a simplicity hatchet to this whole process, i.e. to send out a single postcard to voters, 3 or 4 times, with just one thing on it: THIS is your voting location. Really, THIS right here, here’s the map, THIS is your voting location.

Propositions suck. Multiple times, a voter asked “so if I vote *for* Proposition 1, am I withholding funding, or am I not withholding funding?” The public simply isn’t well informed enough to vote on these complicated, deceiving proposals. Isn’t that what government is for?

I had to tell a guy to take off his “No on Prop 8” button, even though I strongly agree with his position. He said “I don’t see why I have to do that, I’m not talking to anybody.” Me: “I understand this is upsetting, but California Law says that you can’t display your opinion within the polling place, as that’s considered electioneering.” He continues “Well, this seems to me like a free speech issue, so that trumps California Law.” Oh boy, I thought, this should be fun. “I’m really sorry sir, this has nothing to do with my own opinion, I just need to ask you to take off the button.” In the end, he did, but I think he hates me and is convinced I was pro-Prop-8. If you’re somehow reading this, Mr. Mountain View voter, my apologies. I was only following the rules.

A voter walked in with a super cute dog wearing an Obama t-shirt. She saw my face and asked “what did I do wrong?” I said “well, #1 there are no pets allowed, and #2… your pet is endorsing a candidate.” She apologized profusely and agreed to let one of the Clerks walk her dog in the parking lot while she voted.

I tried to shake the ballot box, which is just a cardboard box with a slit for dropping ballots in, so I could compress down the ballots. The ballot box tore, ripping the seal. Had to call the Field Inspector to reseal the ballot box. Oops.

It sucks to vote in California. In the last hour of polling, I was getting text messages from friends like “Ohio called for Obama!”, and the excitement of election night just isn’t the same as it is on the East Coast.

The closing procedure is still ghastly, but much improved over the Primaries. Took 1.5 hour with all clerks working full speed. Ended up with a discrepancy of 1 ballot out of 367. Pretty happy about that.

And finally, running an election is hard. Anyone moaning and groaning about “how hard can it be to count votes” needs to work a full day as a poll worker to get an idea of how hard this is. It’s insane. Hats off to Santa Clara County, to the Sec of State of California, and everyone in between. Wonderful staff, wonderful resourceful people, and an amazing job.

It’s 11pm. I’m dead and my legs are killing me. Avi’s proposal of working half-days is enticing, but I think there’s a bit of a “medical residency” issue: the handoff between election officials would be too crazy, just like the handoff between doctors at the hospital is so crazy that it’s actually *better* for your health to be followed by the same exhausted doctor for 30 straight hours rather than a bright and energetic group of 4 doctors.

I fear I’m not making much sense anymore, so I’m off to bed.

6 thoughts on “My Day At the Polls

  1. Thanks for writing this up! You can use a hospital gown or xxl (or xxxl) white tees for electioneering issues (at least on humans). I had a woman with a candidate on her shirt and I said, “I apologize but you can’t wear that t-shirt in here.” She said, “Are you asking me to remove my shirt?!” I said, “I apologize, but California law does not allow paraphernalia that expresses opinions about issues or candidates on the ballot. You can turn your t-shirt inside out or you could wear one of these (brand new) white t-shirts while you are in the polling place.”

  2. Thanks for writing this up! You can use a hospital gown or xxl (or xxxl) white tees for electioneering issues (at least on humans). I had a woman with a candidate on her shirt and I said, “I apologize but you can’t wear that t-shirt in here.” She said, “Are you asking me to remove my shirt?!” I said, “I apologize, but California law does not allow paraphernalia that expresses opinions about issues or candidates on the ballot. You can turn your t-shirt inside out or you could wear one of these (brand new) white t-shirts while you are in the polling place.”

  3. Pingback: Rick Carback’s Blog » Blog Archive » My day as an Election Judge in the 2008 Election

  4. Pingback: Scantegrity » Blog Archive » My Day as an Election Judge in the 2008 Election

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