Sunday, June 26, 2011

My first stint as Judge of Election (Nov. 7, 2007)

Current mood: jubilant

In Pennsylvania, every polling precinct (a.k.a., voting district) has five workers: a Judge of Elections, two inspectors and two clerks. The last four are effectively interchangeable for the most part, but the judge is in charge, makes any significant decisions, and in general has a good bit more responsibility.

Today was Election Day, and I volunteered to work as the Judge of Elections in a fairly busy district, one corresponding to a portion of the on-campus population of University of Pittsburgh student body. My son Gabe was one of my clerks. My two inspectors were a man I know through transit circles, and a woman I had never met. (The fifth position was vacant.) With the exception of the woman, who had many years of experience doing this, none of us had even the slightest. Gabe hadn't ever even voted, having just turned 18 in July. Nevertheless, we pulled off the feat of running a busy polling place, with neither mishap nor major error.

It's real late now, nearly midnight, so I'm pretty much drained. Before another 24 hours goes by, though, I will type and post the diary that I wrote as the day progressed. Stay tuned!


Rather than start a new blog, I'll just add the detail as a comment.

Saturday, November 3, noonish. Reizenstein MS is an easy walk to and from the East Busway's ELib station. I'm glad I didn't pick up this "suitcase" by bicycle. It's the volume and mass of a full milk crate, but with a handle and wheels. One thing I notice right off: The lid could use a bungee cord to tie it down. It popped off when I hit a large crack in a sidewalk. The thing is pick-up-able with two hands, provided you can lift 45 pounds correctly.

12:30 p.m. It can be lugged onto a bus, but it's difficult. On a 3100-series articulated bus, it only fits in the space directly behind the driver, and I can fold up in the little seat behind that, almost facing forward. Otherwise everyone is tripping over it. Such is the case on a 5400-series Gillig. I had to put it on the seat next to me. Later, I have little trouble lugging it 3/4 mile along Perrymont Road, though I can tell that big mass is there every time I climb a grade.

4:00 p.m. I take a look inside. I hoped to see a "Quick Start" page, a packing list, and charts indicating what's what and how to repack it after closing the polls. A photo would be nice, too. Ideal location for this: Underside of lid.

5:00 p.m. I do discover the green binder, which has a lot of really well written detail, and is organized well.

Tuesday, 5:25 a.m. Spent the night at a friend's house in Oakland so as to be near the polling place without a commute. Another judge in the same house is calling her other pollworkers to be sure they're up. It never even crossed my mind. Really I should have looked them up a couple of days ago to identify myself and say I was going to give them all a reminder call.

6:00 a.m. On site. Turns out 4-8 and 4-14 share a space. Good. Being close together can be useful.

6:10 a.m. Lee is here. She's been doing this for 40 years. Good. Jim Love is here, too. Jim and Gabe set up the machines, and Lee starts them, while I get the paperwork going.

6:45 a.m. Signing paperwork, swearing oaths, hanging signs. We look a bit disorganized, but it's coming together.

7:00 a.m. We're open for business; so is 4-14, who gets a couple of people in the first 15 minutes. We don't have anyone before 7:30. Our constable is here (Carol), as is 14's (Tom). Most of 4-8's clientele is on-campus students, while 4-14's is off-campus students and permanent, older Oakland residents. Carol runs out to Panera for coffee and bagels so we don't starve. In our rush to get here early, neither Gabe nor I ate. (Turns out, all day, only one set of food gets delivered to us. 4-14's staff has experienced deluges of deliveries in past years.)

7:45 a.m. First two customers. Also, Guy G, a campaign worker, comes by. He and the two constables recall an incident last year in which all the campaign signs got repeatedly torn down by Pitt maintenance staff during the day, and it took Chancellor Nordenberg himself to settle it. (Turns out, we have no trouble with this or anything else involving keeping order.)

9:30 a.m. Jim calls Downtown. Fifth person never showed. We're not that busy (9 so far), but Lee says we should have five. They take my information, but said I was in better shape than some of the districts.

9:55 a.m. A lady shows up, has ID, but no paperwork. She did move, so upon further thought decided to look there. I look for but do not find the URL of the website which can be used to verify voter status. Note: Later (like 2 p.m.) I have a student look it up for me, so here it is, for the record:

10:00 a.m. Lee notes that we have 3,662 registered voters in the district, which overfills two "cans", i.e., long cardfile boxes. I had brought in my own 3x5 box to hold the overflow, but it's still tight to work with. The explanation is that a lot of students registered to vote in 2004, then graduated, but did not change their registration. 4-14 has 937 people, and a lot of them are former off-campus students now living who-knows-where. Lee's old district had maybe 300.

10:15 a.m. We actually have a short line.

11:00 a.m. Very busy, about five in five minutes. Lee notes that tops of hours tend to be busy.

12:15 p.m. Call Downtown. What is the number to find out where you vote? Call is disconnected. I suspect they're being hammered. Promoting that website would have been a good idea.

12:30 p.m. Constant trickle of voters. Now 40 on roster, a few more than 4-14. Had three machines busy at once a few minutes ago. We've settled into a routine of Lee on register, Gabe on card file, Jim on PEBs, and me on the numbered list or anything else when it gets busy. No problems. Several have come by either not knowing where they should vote, or thought they could vote anywhere since they were registered (i.e., some other town/ward/district). No fleeing voters yet; most voters are familiar with the iVotronics, but also note nearly all voters are under 25, and most had never used a lever machine. Also, no problems so far with the wires on the floor. We have enough cords across paths that I thought we might be a problem, but our "Please use other door" signs must be doing the trick.

2:10 p.m. In a flurry of activity, we thought four people came in to vote. Only two were found qualified (the other two were just asking questions), with cards were pulled for the two. This caused a mix-up in one log book. I think that if I do this again with a district this big, I will split the register in half. Finding the right card and register entry for each person is a time-consuming task. Gabe and I clearly can read faster than the others, so we can look up people a lot faster, but it also takes time to log each person as well as mark voter cards.

2:20 p.m. We finally get the URL of the website which allows you to figure out where you're supposed to vote:
I made up a couple of sheets that say "Not sure where to vote? Check on this website." I allow students to borrow this, go over to one of the several terminals nearby, use it, and return the slip, usually smiling, and usually knowing where to go. We realize that non-students would be helpless here, so really what is needed is for District staff to have a laptop handy with Internet access, so that we can look up people's voting status and location for them. While it would be a significant drain on our resources if we were really busy, we may be able to help a lot of people vote, since they would be able to go directly to their polling place, assuming it is nearby. Beyond this, it would be a good idea to have a table set up at fairs, festivals and the like, through the summer and early part of the school year, while there is still time to register to vote, or change one's registration.

4:15 p.m. Film crew from a Pitt class films a pretend candidate. They've been filming themselves off to the side for 20 minutes or more, not bothering us or anyone. Four, I think: One well-dressed woman (like a reporter or PR person), one well-dressed man (the "candidate"), and two average dressed students with camera. They ask permission to film the candidate operating a voting machine. I say it's OK, provided nobody else is voting and the machine is blank. Constable Carol reviews the rules with them in a little more detail, but they are OK with that. They complete filming and leave without incident.

4:20 p.m. We grow tired of the one inside door flying open, as it is very cold and windy. I have Gabe put up "Please Shut Door" signs just as the Facilities Maintenance guy shows up. He suggests putting a chair in front of the door to deter usage. He comes back around 4:30 to work on it some more, and post a more official "Please Use Other Door" sign. He suggests placing a chair in front of the door to keep it from blowing open.

4:25 p.m. We compare notes with 4-14. We have something like 90 voters to their 40. For a while in the morning, we were neck-and-neck. I think a lot of the permanent residents voted early, then went to work, while students were just getting up. Lee is right, we get crowds at one-hour intervals, corresponding with class-change times.

4:40 p.m. The wind pushes open the door along with the chair. I have Gabe duct-tape down the chair. About an hour later, the wind yanks the door open, along with the chair and the tape. Re-attaching it, the wind dies down enough that the chair stays put the rest of the night.

5:15 p.m. District 4-14 has a machine that sounded like a fleeing voter. The machine was right behind me, and we weren't busy at that moment, so I looked at it and called their attention to it. (4-14 had at that moment only one machine with a customer, an elderly couple at the machine to its left. I do not know what happened prior to the machine going into "fleeing voter" mode, since it was occurring behind me, and wasn't my district.)

When I looked at the machine, the ballot did not appear to have ever been started. One of 4-14's clerks came over and filled out a minimal ballot and entered it (red light then green square). I got the Judge in 4-14 to try to cancel this blank vote, but he was not quite sure how to deal with it, so they have a vote discrepancy of one, a problem that could have been avoided if their Minority Clerk had -- or used -- the proper training. (Sorry to say, he isn't too bright.)

6:15 p.m. All four of 4-8's voting machines are in use at once for the first time all day. Four young women came in as a group; none had ever voted before. At that moment, I was the runner manning the PEBs. The fourth machine in line (S/N: V5184887), after use, went to the opening screen. I had started all four of these voters, one at a time, with the same how-to-use-it speech. All knew to push the red button at the top when done, then the green square to confirm. I stepped off to the side, casually observing them from some distance. When the fourth one was done, I noticed that the machine had changed to display the beginning-of-poll screen. I personally verified with this voter (Tess Sanders, 118 on 4-8's log of voters), before she even stepped away from the machine, that she did follow all instructions properly. She said she did.

She left, and Gabe and I watched the terminal for several minutes, expecting it to go into "fleeing voter" mode. It did. Gabe then inserted the red PEB and canceled the vote, selecting "Problem with terminal". When this was done, the message "Public count 66" appeared; the time was 18:25:30. Gabe and I then counted the paper stubs in the envelope; total was 67. Sorry, Tess.

We tape the machine closed. It was not used again that night. (We closed it officially along with the other three at 8 p.m.)

6:50 p.m. With the permission and supervision of 4-14's Judge, I count slips on their machine that had malfunctioned in the same way (S/N: V5181467). I find 14 slips, but "Public count 15". This was because of the Minority Clerk's filling out of an empty ballot to clear the problem on that machine.

7-ish. Gabe canceled a voter's vote at the voter's request. At the close of polling, we find that our vote count is under by 2. One of these undervotes was this requested cancel; the other would have been Tess Sanders.

7:45 p.m. Began going through suitcase, assembling collections of recyclable paper, forms to complete, envelopes to go back, etc.

8:00 p.m. Went outside at two exits, as well as inside, and announced loudly and generally inside that the polls were closing. I think our last customer was at 7:57.

8:05 p.m. Gabe and Jim yellow-PEB the machines, pulled and stored the flash cards, and took them down. Lee took care of envelopes and paperwork. I posted returns and got signatures on forms. Called my wife (who had the car) to ensure she was on her way.

8:28 p.m. Machines down and loaded on cart. Suitcase and envelopes ready. Final stages of getting stuff posted, packed and filed.

8:42 p.m. Sarah and Amy here; Amy came in to find us while Sarah circled, looking for a parking space. Jim left. Lee left with us, as she lives near Reizenstein and it's still blowing bitterly outside.

9-ish At Reizenstein. Lee, Gabe and I take the suitcase to the first turn-in line. Since Lee had done this several times before, most of our ducks were already in good order. As we got closer to the front, we/she could see what specific things they were looking for and in what order, so when we were up to bat, she had it ready. Repeated this at the 2nd and 3rd tables inside. One poor guy "had a mess", as the Table #2 lady observed. Nothing was filled out. But us? Bing-bing-bing, we were in and out of there in less than five minutes, all with smiles and thanks from the other side of the table. Then off to her place of residence and saw her in. Then home before 10, and finished writing this (long-hand) by 10:30.

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