Thursday, November 8, 2012

Election Day, 2012

I was a poll inspector Tuesday, one of many in CA who is supposed to be the guru of things a clerk may not be aware of. No matter what the problem I can either give or get the answer. You hope so anyway.

To be a poll inspector you take a live class, then an online class and you are given reams of material to read. Very little has changed over the years except to make what should be simple more and more complicated. And in fact, while there are live people in training, they make you watch the same poorly made and embarrassingly sophomoric videos that you've watched for years and then yet again online. After the horrific day I had, it strikes me that the State of California could hire Apple Computer to set up their systems and procedures for them. If they can make something as truly complicated as a smart phone fun and easy to use, they could make the voting process faster and better too. Then hire one of the movie studios (Disney?) to create some world class lessons. As it stands, truthfully, they haven't a clue. The lack of art and design is embarrassing.

You pick up your materials about a week before the election and are supposed to go through them. I learned not too. If you do, you will NEVER be able to pack them back in the tubs and the tubs once opened have lids that pop open strewing materals all the way to your car. There is no order, there is no packet one for this, packet two for that. You have a table guide of course then scramble to find the bag that material is in. It took us several hours for some things. Some things were never found.

The InkaBlok checking system must be pre-shuttle in design. They warn you to plug it in right away as it takes awhile to warm up. After 30 minutes of nothing happening (we could hear the hum) I was told to restart it. Finally, at 6:59, a minute before the polls opened, it lit up and swamped from at least 30 people waiting to vote we forget to tie it down. Those first two hours were hell. Every problem and many more that I have never encountered plus a near 911 call happened and we had 11 hours to go.

Part of the problem was that California was weeks late in getting the voting materials out. I didn't receive my booklet until well into October. We had already been hearing about the propositions on TV for months but had nothing to compare them too. Then our sample ballots came even later. A good friend in desperation went online and received his vote by mail ballot last Saturday. It HAD to be at the registrar by 8 pm Tuesday and he knew that would never happen. He gave it to me and I put it in my ballot box.

California has this notion that everyone wants to vote by mail...whether you do or not. In fact page after page came marked that way in the official roster and I got two more lists, including one the day before with even more. I heard person after person tell me they didn't want them and had never asked for it. Period. In fact, an amazing number of pink envelopes were filled out during the day. You have to wonder, why bother if you're going to show up at the polling place anyway?

There is a way you can vote even if the roster says you received a ballot, that is by Provisional Ballot. You fill out a envelope with your info that the registar verifies, you vote normally and if they find you didn't vote VBM (vote by mail), your ballot counts. The dirty secret is that it won't BE counted for weeks. In a regular election you may have 6, 8 or 10 provisional ballots. My precinct had 102. We were going nuts. At one point every one of my voting booths was filled with people voting provisionally. It got to be a joke until we found out that other precincts, including the other one in the same hall, didn't want to do the work so were sending them to any other precinct. Garvey School, a Buddhist Temple, and others that couldn't be bothered. I called my coordinator and told her what I had been told. She said she would write it up. I said, "NO! Call them and stop it!"

20% of our voters were provisional, an unheard amount. I heard that a friend up north was running into the same problem. So, how could we know in a few hours the tally when those provisional votes haven't even been verified yet? It leads one to consider Mayor Daley of Chicago's dictum, vote early and vote often.

In fact a woman who voted in my precinct returned a few hours later and tried to vote again. I called out and stopped her after they gave her another ballot. I said, "You've voted." "Well, that was another name and another address," she replied. "One person one vote," I snapped back. Double voting is a Federal Offense. She left, registration form in hand.

We are so afraid of offending others who speak other languages that we had brochures of 7, 8 maybe even 9 foreign languages. The two most asked for, and the ones we didn't have were English and Chinese. As several Asians said, but I thought we speak English here? Well, not in this precinct I guess.

The thing that fascinated me was that several of my clerks spoke various Asian languages. Talking about how the translations compare with English, they admitted that by inference and concepts they are often very different. That was why they wanted the English version. You have to wonder.

As busy as we were, only about 500 voted out of a potential of 1700. It is sad that here is this great country and the opportunity that we have to make our voices heard so many citizens can't be bothered. It was fun to help the new voters or new citizens vote. They were serious and spent time carefully going over their ballots.

The polls close at 8 and oddly after the crazy day were had, the day ended with a whimper. The booths have to be packed, the Inkavote system turned off and packed, all the stuff that is given to set up is returned to the big black box that is the ballot box during voting, we struggle to balance the votes, ballots, all the other things, hopefully putting the voted ballots in the "red" box and the roster and street maps in the green stripe envelope, packing up and then returning all the materials to a receiving center.

This year, it turned out to be a nightmare. It took nearly an hour to be unloaded. Watching the enfolding scene, it resembled a Keystone Cops movie. One or two working and the rest just standing around. Several people got out of their cars to walk up and see what was taking so long. Basically, not much coordination and what appeared to be no one in charge. By the time I left the line had only grown and you can bet there were many upset people. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and by 10 p.m. I was not jolly anymore and didn't suffer fools lightly. We were all tired and didn't deserve this kind of end of day treatment.

The system is flawed. The state and definitely Los Angeles County left down its citizens. Since there is a deadline for items to be on the ballot, there is no excuse voting materials took so long to reach the voters. In its rush to make sure everyone votes, it tends to forget those that speak English. Witness no English materials for voters. We only had one set in Chinese, and of the other languages we had materials for, no one asked for any other than Vietnamese. Tons of unused voting materials on paper is now in the landfill today.

Too many voters were thrown into voting provisionally because of what was printed on the roster. And even if they actually want to vote by mail, the ballots came so late that many could have voted any other way than taking that ballot to their polling place. Kinda defeats the purpose doesn't it?

And finally, with all those mistakes, when are those ballots actually counted? I mean, if the registrar has to check each and every provional ballot, and there had to have been tens of thousands how can you have a definitive count in two or so hours? Those ballots are sitting somewhere, untouched AND uncounted.

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