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November 1, 2012 2:06 PM   Subscribe

My Fair Election crowd-sources pollwatching: "We hope that this information will be used by citizens, journalists, and election officials to identify the worst polling places and work to fix them. We hope that officials in charge of polling places with long lines or otherwise operate poorly will be embarrassed, held to account, and so motivated to do a better job." (via Hollie Russon-Gilman and Archon Fung)
posted by anotherpanacea (21 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
They're not embarrassable as that emotion requires humility and a sense of decency, and they won't be held to account if Republicans are elected.

Going on past performance it is likely that they will not be held to account if Democrats are elected either. The unwillingness of Democrats to investigate, expose and prosecute Republican electoral shenanigans is just baffling.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:16 PM on November 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


Unfortunately, the part of the election that really needs monitoring is inside the electronic voting machines.
posted by juliapangolin at 2:38 PM on November 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


This will be interesting to follow. I've been lucky; the worst thing that's happened to me as a three-time poll worker was having to listen to the owner of the home complain about the other elderly poll worker using her bathroom without asking her first.
posted by book 'em dano at 2:41 PM on November 1, 2012


The unwillingness of Democrats to investigate, expose and prosecute Republican electoral shenanigans is just baffling.

I think they just lack the power to do it, especially at a national level. At the state level, the places passing awful voter laws are already Republican-controlled and so there's no hope.

Besides, the Republicans have already set up the perfect defense to any attempt at this: their own constant bogus screeching about voter fraud and the like. It's bullshit, but it muddies the waters so when the Dems want to call out real fraud the Republicans can paint it as petty political revenge. It doesn't matter what's true; they can spin it enough to create confusion in the electorate and neutralize the Democrats.

Like falsely calling someone out for cheating moments before they can call you on your real cheat. The Democrats need to learn that it is completely irrelevant what is actually true; it's all about controlling the perception of truth. The Republicans are fantastically good at this.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:50 PM on November 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Warning: if you come to my precinct on Election day and attempt to enter the voting site as a pollwatcher without prior registration and permission from the County Auditor, or come within 300 feet of the polling site to speak to voters or disrupt voting, I will eject you from the site. If you won't leave, I will arrest you. If you are an authorized poll watcher, if you talk to a voter, or touch anything, I will eject or arrest you. The State has granted me that power. I have only threatened to use it once (against a uniformed police officer, ironically). It's my job to insure the accuracy and fairness of the voting process, not yours. If you want that job, sign up and become a Precinct Elections Official, like I did. There are never enough PEOs and you will be accepted.

Also, voters, please do not attempt to photograph your ballot with your cell phone. That is illegal. Please do not talk on your cell phone while in possession of a ballot, it is illegal to communicate via electronic means while voting. And for gods sake, do not joke with us "vote early and often." We have heard it a thousand times. It is not funny, I consider it an insult since it is my job to insure that every voter has only voted once. Speaking those words inside the polling place is also prohibited as electioneering, since it is a slogan directed against the Democratic Party.

Your state or county laws may vary.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:00 PM on November 1, 2012 [22 favorites]


Going on past performance it is likely that they will not be held to account if Democrats are elected either. The unwillingness of Democrats to investigate, expose and prosecute Republican electoral shenanigans is just baffling.

The efforts of the DOJ and state-level Democrats (and even the Obama campaign) this year against the voter suppression efforts puts a lie to this statement.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:04 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank you, charlie don't surf.

Of all the things to "crowd-source" (read: open up to mob rule), this should most emphatically not be among them. What's to stop Republicans from just lodging unverifiable complaints against the places where the poor and minorities vote? Assuming this did anything at all, it would just end up being another tool in the vote suppression arsenal.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:14 PM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's to stop Republicans from just lodging unverifiable complaints against the places where the poor and minorities vote?

Jokingly and stereotypically, I'd imagine it's the fact they have to actually go there.

But realistically, I would imagine this service enables one to submit a review from the comfort of their living room, so the potential for abuse is there, for both parties.
posted by CancerMan at 3:28 PM on November 1, 2012


Guy Rundle visits an event for pollwatchers run by True The Vote, a Tea Party based "anti-fraud" organisation.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:38 PM on November 1, 2012


Oregon votes in its underwear. Love all the ballots being mailed out and then waiting to drop it off at the courthouse on election eve. Something reassuring about the traffic jam there. This year I mailed it... and will miss the annual scramble. Wonder if the mailman gets suspicious delivering a hundred ballots to my house (just kidding). That is the only down side of ballot by mail the ease of voting multiple ballots via multiple registrations is pretty hard to police. I would think you could monitor mailing addresses to trigger if there were a suspicious number of registrations at any one place.
posted by pdxpogo at 5:15 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of all the things to "crowd-source" (read: open up to mob rule), this should most emphatically not be among them.

Wait... you don't think we should crowd-source elections?
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:23 PM on November 1, 2012


I had a lovely voting repair experience in King County (Seattle) Washington. All our ballots are mail-in.

After the primary this summer, for some reason I received a notice that I was no longer eligible to vote. So I traipsed on down to the County Building, AKA the ugliest building in Seattle, by light rail.

When I arrived, every entrance had folks in bright orange King County Elections aprons (with its iconic image of MLK!). They directed one to more, courteous, apronned people with iPads set up to connect with the county and state voter databases, and lots of answers. One had to walk by drop-in ballot boxes near the lobby - armored steel boxes similar to the kind in front of a US Post office. When the iPad-using person couldn't help, another orange-apronned person - with several waiting, of many ethnicities, each speaking several of the county's recognized languages - escorted one to an upper floor room heavily staffed with more poll workers seated behind a continuous table around the edge of the room, each with keyboard and monitor. I was told they had all these personnel in place from the day after the ballots were mailed, for every election. In less than 5 minutes, after showing my voter registration card (paper, no picture) and proof of current address (recent mail, including the notice I was no longer eligible), I was set up with a replacement ballot and a card with a specific person's name to call by the end of Election Day if I had any further problems. They asked me if I needed help getting back out (I didn't), and that was that.

I read a few voter's guides, and voted on my to-be-optically-scanned paper ballot with a nice black pen. Then took it to a ballot drop box, assisted by yet more orange-apronned, very friendly, King County Elections personnel.

So, if voter suppression is going on in my county, they're subtle about it. That being said, I miss going to a neighborhood elementary school and hanging out with the combination of elderly black and 30-something queer precinct workers, while I wait to vote. Using the little booth with it's hokey US flags. And then feeding my ballot into the acceptance box, and receiving a receipt for my ballot.
posted by Dreidl at 6:03 PM on November 1, 2012


The thing at the top of the page did not recognize my address. My address is not strange in any way. The error message was a tad cryptic: The change you wanted was rejected. Maybe you tried to change something you did not have access to.
posted by Glinn at 8:08 PM on November 1, 2012


That is the only down side of ballot by mail the ease of voting multiple ballots

Well, that and the ease of coercing somebody else's vote. That's why some of the things charlie don't surf mentions are illegal— one of the very traditional means of election corruption is "if you don't prove to me that you voted for XYZ, I will fire you/beat you/shun you". Voting-booth voting makes it difficult to prove to someone else how you voted, but mail-in ballots make it very easy.
posted by hattifattener at 8:21 PM on November 1, 2012


Warning: if you come to my precinct on Election day and attempt to enter the voting site as a pollwatcher without prior registration and permission from the County Auditor, or come within 300 feet of the polling site to speak to voters or disrupt voting, I will eject you from the site. If you won't leave, I will arrest you. If you are an authorized poll watcher, if you talk to a voter, or touch anything, I will eject or arrest you. The State has granted me that power. I have only threatened to use it once (against a uniformed police officer, ironically). It's my job to insure the accuracy and fairness of the voting process, not yours. If you want that job, sign up and become a Precinct Elections Official, like I did. There are never enough PEOs and you will be accepted.

Also, voters, please do not attempt to photograph your ballot with your cell phone. That is illegal. Please do not talk on your cell phone while in possession of a ballot, it is illegal to communicate via electronic means while voting. And for gods sake, do not joke with us "vote early and often." We have heard it a thousand times. It is not funny, I consider it an insult since it is my job to insure that every voter has only voted once. Speaking those words inside the polling place is also prohibited as electioneering, since it is a slogan directed against the Democratic Party.


Good for you for enforcing your local rules, but man...They are scary local rules. Here, all you need to do to observe at a polling place is show up and say you want to observe. Your scenario seems to me to place far too much power in the County Auditor and the one person who fills your role (which I assume is something like a poll warden).
posted by rollbiz at 8:26 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good for you for enforcing your local rules, but man...They are scary local rules.

Perhaps that is true, but it is a response to even scarier political tactics. Until these rules were implemented, pollwatchers would deliberately jam up the polls by making frivolous challenges, like that everyone in line was in line was under 18 and ineligible. Of course they could all come up with ID disproving that, but it would still cause delays that would result in some people waiting long enough that they would give up and leave without voting.

It isn't that hard to become a pollwatcher. You can register through the GOP or Democratic Party, and I have never heard of anyone being refused as a pollwatcher. If you want to be an independent pollwatcher, you can start a petition, or declare that you are a pollwatcher for a nonpartisan position or proposition. Just about the only thing you can't do is show up and announce you're a pollwatcher.

Perhaps I declare my intentions too intensely, but I am just dying to rip into some rogue pollwatchers. In 2008 I had 2 GOP pollwatchers dispatched (legally) to watch my every move, since I was using the new rules to reregister voters they had challenged and stricken from the eligible voter register. Have you ever spent 6 hours with two GOP operatives sitting right behind you, waiting to pounce on the slightest mistake and challenge some voter? I just did my job as usual and they couldn't touch me, because I am scrupulously honest. Even the GOP operatives finally admitted I was scrupulously honest.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:16 PM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's fine, charlie don't surf, but RTFA. This isn't that. Unlike Dreidl, above, I've waited for hours to vote, had the polling station run out of ballots, and been asked to show ID even though the law didn't require it. (Another poll worker corrected that last one when I challenged the asker, though.)

Think of this as Yelp! for polling stations. They'll ask:
Was it easy for you to vote?
Were there long lines, closed polling places, or broken machines?
Do you have comments about your voting place?
How long did you have to wait to vote?
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:01 AM on November 2, 2012


Yes, there are problems with the process. It's a process to count votes cast by human beings, with human referees, so it is subject to human errors. And there is a wide variety of PEOs of differing qualifications. Many of them are elderly and frankly, I've seen PEOs that I thought were senile and unfit for duty. And I've seen some appalling attitudes that I thought died out in the 1950s. For example, last night at the School of Instruction (required for all PEOs before each election) one old lady asked a question about how we're going to keep foreigners away from the polls, and cited some racist propaganda by GOP operatives trying to cause trouble with phony voter fraud accusations.

But I personally try to compensate for that, by making my precinct work strictly according to the highest principles. I don't know how many others do that, but when I work as Chairman at different precincts, some of the workers obviously don't take it as seriously as I do. I actually ask voters the questions you cite, how long did you wait, was there a long line (usually I can see the line), were there any problems, did you encounter anyone outside the polling site that was interfering or electioneering? We have teams called Rovers, spare PEOs and full time election staff who can be dispatched to help cover any problems at the precincts, in case of emergency (like a power outage) or whatever. Our standard is that nobody ever waits more than 15 minutes to vote. In my years as a PEO, I have only seen that exceeded a couple of times, at peak rush hour in one of our largest precincts, and even then it only got up to about 20 minutes.

I'll tell you about the worst thing I ever saw happen. I was working on the Absentee Ballot Commission, we count the absentee ballots and determine challenges on Provisional Votes (oh that's tedious). We were opening the envelopes to remove the ballots, working in batches of 10. We were down to the very last package of 10, I was supervising the table, and a pollwatcher was observing. This pollwatcher was a guy I respect, an internationally renown expert in voting systems, and his work is one reason I wanted to be a PEO. Anyway, he's watching us, we've been at this for like 15 straight hours, opening envelopes, flattening the ballots, and counting them eight nine ten eleven. Oh holy crap, eleven ballots from a stack of ten envelopes? WTF happened, this is a serious discrepancy. We looked back at the addresses on the envelopes, one was from overseas, addressed from Mr. and Mrs. John Doe. Oh hell. A married couple probably put two ballots in the same envelope, to save postage. But that's not permitted, each ballot must be returned in a separate envelope, so the ballots would be invalid. If the PEO had caught this when opening the envelopes like he should have, those ballots would have been set aside. But now the ballots have been removed from their secrecy envelopes, we cannot associate them with the voter, so we don't know which two ballots should be excluded. We had to call the deputy, who ruled that we can't throw out the batch of eleven ballots just to exclude two invalid ones, that would compound the error by disenfranchising valid voters. And there was no obvious intent by the voter to commit election fraud. But I was horrified that such a grievous error could have occurred right underneath my nose. One moment of inattention, and two ballots slipped through that should not have. The pollwatcher was amused at my taking this problem so seriously, he said it was a trivial error and nothing to worry about, and that he'd seen much worse, but he had never seen anything that would come anything close to affecting the results of an election. I said, he hadn't ever seen ME do something worse.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:53 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mr. and Mrs. John Doe

Hmmm... seems legit.

Seriously, though, charlie don't surf, what state do you work in? I'm curious as to this system where you work at different precincts. In PA, all members of what we call the Election Board of a precinct must be registered to vote in that precinct.

Our EB is supposed to consist of a Judge of Elections, a Majority Inspector, a Minority Inspector, and a Clerk (appointed by the Minority Inspector). In precincts large enough to necessitate multiple machines, a Machine Inspector may be assigned by the County Bureau of Elections. The Judge of Elections and Inspectors are elected by the public. The election for Judge of Elections is winner-take-all, but the election for Inspector is somewhat different in that the winner becomes the Majority Inspector, and the first runner-up becomes the Minority Inspector. Since it is assumed that the most likely outcome is for the Judge and the Majority Inspector to be of the same party, the Minority Inspector gets to appoint the Clerk, creating a bipartisan team to work at each precinct. In reality, we are so segregated politically that is often the case that all four members are from the same party.

It's hard enough to find ANYONE to do the job because, while it pays $100 for the day, it can be a long work day, from 6:30AM to anywhere from 8:30-10:30PM, depending on how many things went wrong between 7AM and 8PM. The workers are predominantly under-trained, overwhelmingly elderly, and in ridiculously short supply. I've been to many polling places with only two people working inside, and have even seen them with only one person.

So, yeah, our system sucks, but I still applaud the few people who step up to do it. What people don't quite realize is that the overwhelming majority of people who work our elections are honest, if not reassuringly confident. Most irregularities are honest mistakes made by people who are trying really hard to operate a fair election with inadequate training, byzantine systems of accounting, and outdated technology

Also, those long lines that people worry about? In my experience, delays at a polling place are more often due to voters taking a long time in the booth than to inefficient work by the Election Board. This could be voters with mental health issues, voters with physical or sensory impairments, voters without strong English language skills, or voters who are just assholes. The machines do break down sometimes, but that's relatively rare in the overall scheme of things.
posted by snottydick at 7:37 AM on November 2, 2012


I work in Iowa, I don't really want to name the county because I don't speak on their behalf. We generally are assigned to work in our own precinct, since supposedly our knowledge of our neighbors might help us in identifying authorized voters. That is a quaint, outmoded concept, but I have once "attested" that a neighbor I knew personally was living in the precinct and authorized to reregister and vote. There is a shortage of people who will work as PEOs, but mostly because we have to keep a party balance, there must be a balance of Democrats and Republicans, and it's not permitted to have more than one excess D or R in a precinct. Since this is a pretty heavily Democratic county, they have a hard time finding enough Republicans. We are allowed to work in any precinct, but those duties, and higher level "rover" positions that fill in for emergencies, are usually done only by the most experienced and best trained PEOs.

Yes, there are bottlenecks at the voting booth, with people taking a long time to fill out the forms. This year we were told that we can call for more booths if this happens. But there are partisan efforts to slow down voting, and of course those always come from Republicans. In 2008 the Democrats held both the State Legislature and the Governorship, so they were able to pass laws that prevent GOP tactics to suppress the vote. But now state legislature is split. The Governor is Republican, so he is using his executive authority get the Secretary of State to make rulings that can suppress voting or slow it down. For example, our state just implemented voluntary ID scanning, so instead of filling out a form with your name and address, you can wave your voter registration card or driver's license under the scanner so we can look you up in the voter register, and the computer prints out the form for you to sign. It saves a ton of time and keeps the line moving. But the Sec of State just decreed that these voters must still fill out the form by hand, even if they want to scan their ID. This is obviously a tactic intended to slow down voting in high volume precincts, which are urban and mostly Democratic. Small towns with low volumes of voters almost never have these problems, and are usually Republican.

I usually spend all October working at the auditor, but I got hung up on another job and I could only be available in the last week before Election Day. I went down to the Auditor to do my usual back-office data entry and they claim to have all the slots filled, which is ridiculous, there is always too much work and not enough experienced people to do it. They said don't call us, we'll call you. But I am seriously concerned that while they may have enough workers, they don't have enough competent workers. I decided that while I was at the Auditor's office, I might as well vote early. But I asked to use the AutoMark, the assistive device for vision impaired voters. The noob working at the counter said that I couldn't use the AutoMark, since I have perfectly normal vision. I took off my eyeglasses, waved them and said, "perfectly normal, can you be sure?" As far as I know, anyone who asks to use an assistive device is entitled to use it. I have assisted people in using the AutoMark, one of them said she worked with disabled people and wanted to see if the device conformed to the Help America Vote Act standards. I was happy to comply with her request. I have hauled AutoMarks all over the county and set them up dozens, maybe hundreds of times. I have been asked for assistance operating the machine, but I cannot help them while they are in possession of a ballot unless the voter signs a request for assistance, and then the voter must be assisted by a "bipartisan team" of a Democrat and a Republican, to watch over each other and avoid any fraud. And that's the whole point of the AutoMark, so that voters who need assistance can still vote privately, without having someone fill out the ballot for them and know how they voted. I know the AutoMark setup and operation procedures intimately, but I have never actually used one to vote. I offered to set up the AutoMark and operate it for them, it takes only moments. The untrained PEO refused. I am absolutely astonished, I was turned away from voting, which I was told was the worst possible offense a PEO can do. You absolutely never prevent someone from voting, even if they want to do it illegally and you know it, at least you have to let them do a provisional ballot that is held separate from the other ballots. If you turn someone away from the polls, you have disenfranchised them. I am currently checking the voting regulations, but I am definitely going to use the AutoMark in my own precinct on election day, if I can't get access to one during early voting.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:26 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


This AutoMark sounds great. PA's only concession to voters with special needs (visual or physical impairments, English illiteracy) is to allow them to be assisted by a person of their choosing. Said person cannot be their employer, union leader, or the Judge of Elections. An exception can be made if the Judge of Elections is the only available person who speaks the same language as the voter.

Interestingly, the only way they verify that the helper is not the voter's employer or union leader is to ask the voter (in the presence of the helper) whether or not their helper is their employer or union leader.
posted by snottydick at 10:24 AM on November 2, 2012


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