Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Day at the Polls; Part Two

Always in past elections, the person in charge of a precinct would go to elections the day before and set up the polling place the afternoon or evening prior to the election. The physical layout was mostly up to the judges to best use space available. For example, we always placed the check-in table directly in front of the door, to draw the voters' attention there first, then the booths to the sides, with attention to both lighting and privacy. We always set up at least one booth at table level, for either wheelchair-bound or to allow voters using canes or walkers to sit while they voted. The ballot box itself sat by the door on the way out.

This time, the equipment was delivered and set up by elections staff the day (or night) before. We had one of our people meet them, but there were limitations we had not dealt with. The cable length between the JBC box and the E-Slate booths required that the booths be only a few feet to the side. While we received no voter complaints, had we at the JBC been so inclined, it would not have been difficult to look past a voter and track how he was voting. The concern with obesity notwithstanding, most voters aren't wide enough to block vision completely.

One of the E-Slates was set at table height, seated level, but since they are not easily adjustable, this was actually an inconvenience for standing voters, who had to lean over to work the machine. I did get complaints about this. We only had two E-Slates and several voters who might have tried the new system opted for paper to avoid a wait.

We had one voter who approached the E-Scan box with his completed ballot and slid it in the “emergency; power down” slot before an official could stop him. It took a couple of phone calls and a visit from elections staff to resolve how to deal with that ballot at end of day. It was resolved and I am sure that ballot was counted, but this could have been avoided if a snap-in cover for that slot had been provided, to be removed in the power-off circumstance if necessary. As it was, duct-tape to the rescue, it didn't happen twice in my precinct.

As was reported, several stations had problems at end of day with E-Scan machines not accepting the provided passwords. We had a frustrating time trying to figure out what we were doing wrong. Last election, we were provided three numbers to dial into elections for help. This time we had one # and it took us until 8:20 to get through. Their advice was that we were not doing it wrong, to unplug the machine.

We may have dodged a bullet when Dan Edwards elected not to ask for a recount on a 13 vote loss. By the way, additional ballots have been discovered and counted, reducing that margin to 12. It seems there are as yet uncounted military ballots which may or may not affect that very close race.

I was an observer during the Hoelscher/Cardenas recount. That process was tedious, but straight-forward. Bipartisan counting teams hand counted Op-Scan paper ballots, watched by bipartisan teams of observers, with the candidates themselves free to move about and watch any part of the process. At the court trial which affirmed Hoelscher's win, the judge pointedly asked, election night aside, had anyone raised any allegations of misconduct or mis-count during the recount. There were none from either side.

In the event of a recount of electronic votes, I am less certain what would be recounted by whom. While the Hart Intercivic machines used here are actually better than most, I have yet to hear of an electronic system that is error free, whether it is counting votes or how much I owe on the charge card. That is why most cautious consumers “recount” their billing statements every month, and inevitably, some of us spend varying amounts of time getting errors corrected. In a recount, I am told the individual E-Slate machines will generate a paper readout of each vote cast. Here I have a simple question of ballot security.

Judges were told to bring in the JBC with final tape still on, likewise the “head” on the E-Scan paper ballot station, along with the actual paper ballots, voted and unvoted. The E-Slate devices were to be left in their respective booths, where they could only be accessed by the elections staff sent to collect them or, of course, anyone else with a key to the church, hall, or other site chosen as a polling place. Ballot security is crucial to how satisfactory a contender will find a recount.

Overall, we didn't flunk our first time out, and I'm sure we will get better from the lessons we learned. I lobbied in behalf of Mike Benton as Molly Taylor's successor, he is an honest man doing his best. I strongly disagree with the Standard-Times' position that we should eliminate paper ballots. Their desire for quick results, let's all go home and to bed is understandable, but it does not trump the rights of voters. Many voters feel intimidated or simply unsure of the new machines and they have a right to cast a meaningful ballot.

As we know more about not only our problems, but those experienced around the state, we will have more information to guide us. We at Conchoinfo will be looking hard, and I am sure we will have more posts on this subject.

1 comment:

  1. I have been informed that Dan Edwards is requesting a recount. This will be very interesting.