Monday, March 13, 2006

A Day at the Polls

I thought it might be useful to post a day at the polls hereon this Blog from someone who has been there. I have been a precinct chair and either election judge or alternate judge (depends on the last gubernatorial vote in a given precinct) in precinct 145 since 1994. I worked this election as alternate judge, like everyone, first time on the electronic voting system.

All election workers went through over five hours of training for this in two sessions. There were, and are, unanswered questions, some due to unanticipated problems, others seem inherent to the new process.

A voter in the March 7 primary initially checked in as usual at the table with the Combination Form, the printed list of registered voters which also indicates whether a voter took advantage of early voting. Assuming the clerk at that table approves the voter, (all but one in our precinct), that clerk gives the voter a color coded Republican or Democrat slip, which is presented to the person at the Judges Booth Controller (JBC) station. At that point, we ask again to be sure their Party affiliation, and once verified give them the option of using the E-Slate electronic method or the traditional paper ballot.

I was a bit surprised, my precinct is an older demographic, but a slight majority elected to try the E-Slate. We made a point of assuring the doubtful ones they could ask for help on the E-Slate and get it without compromising the privacy of their vote. Most voters willing to try it did not have much difficulty getting the machine to do what they wanted.

One premise of the demand for electronics under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was to facilitate the total privacy of handicapped voters and lessen or eliminate the need for other people to assist after signing an Oath of Assistance in which the assisting person, usually a relative or friend of the voter's choice, promises not to direct or influence the voter's selections. The system does have an option that will actually read the ballot to the blind, even a breath tube that would allow a quadraplegic person to vote unaided. Interestingly, the only curb-side voter we had was a gentleman who absolutely did not want the new-fangled device, paper ballot, if you please. We also had one voter whose hands shook from a recent stroke, insisted on the paper ballot, he did not see any electronic option being easier than the laborious process of steadying his own hand enough to mark his ballot.

Our precinct is traditionally a light turnout area, and this was no exception. We had one two hour stretch go by with two voters. I personally tried the E-Slate for my vote. I had no problem at all, having had practice in training, but neither can I say it took any less time. Actually, I could have voted paper slightly faster, as all the choices are there and can be marked with pen faster, no time spent “dialing and entering” from one race to the next.

One hang-up to these machines that only became evident after 5 when we got the usual after work rush. As the pre-qualified voter comes from the first table to the JBC to get his access code, we were required to make them wait until there was an open E-Slate. There is a thirty minute “lifetime” on any access code. It can be canceled and a new one issued, but to avoid that, the judges are instructed not to issue a code until there is a station open for the voter. Note here: once the voter has entered the access code, there is no time limit on that voter, but the voter must start within thirty minutes of being given the code.

We had two E-Slates, and any time they were both in use, the next voter always chose the paper option. At one point I had both E-Slates in use and four voters at the old booths using paper ballots. We are told the limited number of E-Slate booths was due to budget, understandable, these toys are not cheap.

There were other problems, mostly having to do with the election worker's side of the new system. I will get into those in my next post, right behind this one.

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