Thursday, December 15, 2011

Poll watchers and the Election Protection people (Nov. 6, 2008)

Election Protection is the name of a non-partisan group that sent hordes of volunteers out to polling places on Election Day. As the Judge of Election in my huge district, I spoke with several of them on Election Day. They were not the only group. Each candidate had official poll watchers, too.

In general, the Election Protection people were helpful. Their eagle eyed people notified me of problems before I was aware of them myself, which helped me deal with them. As for the candidates' poll watchers, none of them were shy about approaching me to tell me who they were.

My beef with those people was that they gave me too much attention. If one picked up on a problem, all the other poll watchers had their cell phones out, reporting the problem to someone higher up in their organizations. All day, too, if one had pointed out a problem, one of the others was on me within 30 seconds to see how I resolved the problem. At least one of them had a laptop with him, as well, probably documenting every little thing that went wrong, from barely 15 feet off my left elbow.

To their credit, the Election Protection people actually helped. They asked early on if they could help, I said to please help with line management, and so they put down tape on the floor that helped form the alphabetical lines. I asked if someone could periodically go through the line to make sure everyone was in Pittsburgh 4-8 and not 4-14, which was 150 feet away in the same building. Sometimes this happened, more often it did not.

The candidates' watchers, though, were a different story. I think they were paid to be a pain in the neck. Yes, they identified themselves properly, but they stood, later sat, barely outside the line of demarcation, watching my every move. I forget which one it was, but I had to keep sending him out of my space after he pointed out a problem. "Just let me go and deal with it. I'm not going to be able to solve it with you tailing me," I said out loud at least once.

Maybe it was that one of these guys got me the help I needed from the County in sending people. I am thinking it wasn't, because I did have Mia and Sean from the County who got me in touch with The Man Himself, who helped me press a couple of people into service. I've worked with Mia and Sean before, I know them, they know me, and I trust them. No, the candidates' people were mainly there to hound me. Thanks, guys.

Yeah, I guess we have to have the poll watchers there to keep us all honest. And I guess we need the Election Protection people, too. Had I to do it all over again, maybe I would try to meet up with the group BEFORE the election, to let them know what help they could be, in crowd management, in signage, in tape on the floor, in pre-checking people to make sure they were waiting in the right line, in getting people from the long A-K lines into the shorter L-Z lines.

What would be more helpful is if they could have scrounged up actual poll workers for me, back in September and October, and gotten them up to speed on how to process voters. Yes, I realize that's doing the County Election Board's job, but if all these dozens of volunteers knew what really had to be done, if they were properly trained and willing to devote an entire day to voter processing, then maybe the County could have been better able to provide me with those poll workers. At least half of the people sent to me had never done this before, and went through "baptism by fire".

Last but not least, I must thank William Heller from the University of Pittsburgh, who stopped by to see if I needed any additional equipment. He helped me get another table, thus allowing my workers to spread out a little. Fortunately, he didn't complain about our acquisition of the big upholstered chair from upstairs. Next time, though, we could probably use to get some more comfortable chairs, as well as five tables instead of the original three. We also should have had some space to store coats and backpacks. They ended up being shoved up against the wall next to the last machine.

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