Poll worker reflections, part 1

From: Ed Kennedy <ekennedyx_at_yahoo_dot_com>
Date: Sun Nov 07 2004 - 23:29:08 CST

Hello All:

    As I have mentioned previously, I spend November 2, 2004, working as a poll worker in a precinct not too far from where I live. The polling place was at an elementary school in the music room behind the stage. During the March elections this was shared with another precinct and apparently didn't work out so well. This time we had the entire place to ourselves in a place that was approximately the size of a classroom. It had two external doors and two doors that opened onto a combined lunch room/general purpose room. I was part of a crew of 5 and we were quite fortunate to have a Vietnamese, Tagalog (Filipino) and Spanish speakers among the crew as the ballots were also available in those languages. Two of the crew including the inspector had worked before and were either current or retired San Diego County employees. One crew member was a high school student. High school students in San Diego County are required to put in a certain amount of volunteer/community service to graduate.

    We all pretty much showed up about 0600 for an 0700 poll opening. I and at least two other people there got zero training and we were barely functional by 0700. Unfortunately the inspector blew off a refresher course from that weekend and hadn't studied his manual. All the pictures I see of polling places show nice metal and plastic polling stations with built in lights. Ours were built out of folded corrugated paper. They arrived flat, packed in large sleeves with the instructions.printed on the sleeves. A couple of us flailed around and managed to get the 8 stand up polling stations built in short order. In the meantime we were also negotiating with the custodian to fully open the partially opened partition between the two halves of the room. Also we were moving furniture around, laying out paper work and so on all with a minimum of guidance. There was also a handicap station made out of cardboard. Votes were on paper ballots (hooray!) which were then feed through a Diebold optical scanner. What impressed me was that the scanner was held up at operating height by a cardboard structure as well. More on the scanner and station later.

    People started lining up outside to vote around 0640. By the time we were barely ready at 0700 we opened the doors and about 20 people came in all at once. It wasn't until we were through the first 25 ballots that we realized that we were supposed to give the voter their ballot with one of the two stubs on it. The inspector was running around putting up signs, two people were working the index, the student was handing out ballots, pens, privacy folders and sending people to the polling stations. I handled running the ballots through the scanner. This went more or less continuously without a break until 1000. After a while, I realized people didn't 'get' the privacy folders at all so I instructed the person handing out the ballots to put them inside the privacy folders. This helped but wasn't a complete solution. Plenty of people handed me their ballots outside of the privacy folders. At first I would shove their ballot into the privacy folder immediately. After a while, I realized I could barely see them with my bifocals on and there was no way I could remember them and the people associated with a particular ballot. So I just let people hand them to me as they pleased. We didn't actually get the sample ballots and ballot marking instructions (in 4 languages) up on all the polling stations until noon. In the meantime our inspector was struggling with his manual on how to deal with various situations and having a hard time keeping up.

    The Diebold optical scanner seemed like a pretty good piece of equipment to my untutored eye on that day. I noted that on the front right there was a memory card slot. A memory card was present and was covered by a metal bar that was held down by what looked like two internal hex head screws. One screw had a transverse ~1/16" hole through it which was sealed with what was characterized as a spring seal. Unfortunately for San Diego, I found it to be broken upon taking the scanner out of its padded fabric case. A roving County troubleshooter ruled that as the tape read zero and the machine was otherwise sealed that this broken seal didn't matter. On the top of the scanner were two features. On the left was a hinged door secured by an unimpressive 5 pin lock. The inspector had the key for these Under the door was a small printer and a couple of buttons. The inspector pressed one button and the printer which basically had adding machine tape in it, ran off the contents of the memory card. I didn't get a chance to inspect it but I was told that all 15 races and 25 propositions had printed and showed zero for the totals The inspector and the assistant inspector signed that print out and put it away. On the right hand side of the top was the feed and read slot. Somewhere behind this was microswitch or something that detected the presence of a ballot when it was not quite 1/2" in. When the ballot was detected, internal rollers would grab it and pull it through the scanner rather quickly. There was an exit in the back of the scanner. A rather clever trap door arrangement had been built in to the cardboard holder which received the ballot and directed it down ward into a waiting cardboard box. The card board box was sized to fully occupy the cross section of the stand and two paper seals attached it to the inside of the stand so it could not be removed without tearing the seal. The scanner itself was secured with two paper seals to the top of the stand. To get at the 'trap door' and handle jams, one had to break the seals on the scanner to do so. I did that on one occasion. We had a log for broken seals which I maintained. I only found out at the end of the day that there were numbered, foil, numbered, tamper evident seals. On the front of the scanner was a two line LCD display. It gave a running total of the number of ballots successfully ran through the machine. The scanner was 'smart' enough to reject over votes by reversing direction and spitting the ballot back out. It would give a cryptic message on the two line display which included the word, "Over vote." I would quickly scan the ballot and find that it was usually a case where the voter had changed their mind and put an X through an already filled out bubble. In a few cases people had circled their choices or had inadvertently punched through the ballot. I would mark the ballot spoiled and get the voter to vote again. We had a special jam clearing page that had a line of dashed across the middle which I had to use a few times. It would be pulled in and pushed back out and worked fairly well. The machine ran on 120v but was supposed to have a 4 hour battery. It was the only AC electrically powered device at the polling place. We also had a Nex-Tel cell phone. Unfortunately this phone didn't handle the text messages it was supposed to and never was replaced despite a request.

    In actual operation, I would line up the ballot and get it engaged into the feed slot. Then I would try and get the voter to push it the last little distances to where it engaged the reader. I regularly asked people, "Are you ready to cast your vote?" Then I'd get it ready and tell people, "This is your ballot so a want you to vote. Just give it a little push right here (on the bottom left of the ballot)," At first it seemed a hard concept for people to grasp but after a while most everyone was able to do it. People were impressed by the machine but a few people wanted to know what happened to the DRE's. I generally told them that they hadn't worked out. Most people seemed pleased with that especially when I explained that while their ballot were read then and there and written to a memory card, the actual paper ballot was saved as a back up paper audit trail. A few people wanted to know if the machine knew if their vote was their particular vote. I assured them that this was a secret ballot. One person wanted to know if there was any assurance if the machine actually correctly read their ballot. I said no but referred him to Doug Jones' article on these machines. The privacy folders did not work as indicated. First of all, they were brand new and too stiff to work as designed. Then, once they had been broken in, the scanner kept trying to grab the bottom of the folder and drag it in with the ballot. There was a triangular ridge folded and glued on the top half of the ballot that kept it from being dragged in as well.

    I have at least two or three more long paragraphs of material to write down about my experience, but I am tired, so I'll submit them later.

The poll watchers, exit polls
County support
Observations on the design of the ballot.
Traffic through the rest of the day.
Modifications to the polling place layout over time.
Disabled voting.
Provisional ballots.
The canvassing.
What could have been done better.
Odds and ends.
What might be applied to the OVC.

Thanks, Ed Kennedy

10777 Bendigo Cove
San Diego, CA 92126-2510
Just remember  when Republicans talk about helping the little people, they're talking about short fundamentalists and the vertically challenged wealthy.
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Received on Tue Nov 30 23:17:16 2004

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