blueeowyn: (Default)
My friend Fred acts as an election judge and has agreed to let me post his thoughts on my LJ. All the Election Judge Entries now have the same tag.

General Election 2006 )
blueeowyn: (Default)
My friend Fred sent this around to several people and gave me permission to post it. He wrote up his experiences in 2004 posted on my LJ here. [edit, the cut-paste didn't get the whole entry the first time]

Since several people have asked, here's my account of my experience during the election two days ago. First, if you're reading this, you probably ought to also read these:

Day In the Life of an Election Judge )
blueeowyn: (Default)
My friend Fred sent this around to several people and wanted it on the web.

Just jotting down some thoughts on my experience as an Election Judge on November 2nd, before things get too fuzzy. It's approximately in chronological order, but events have been shuffled a bit for the sake of narration, or because it's all sort of a blur in my mind.

On Monday evening, I went to the pre-election meeting where the Head Judges reviewed procedures. This was mostly stuff from training, many months ago, though since I hadn't worked the Primary Election, this had all gotten sorta fuzzy.

We set up nine Diebold Accu-Vote machines, ( www.diebold.com/dieboldes/OnLine_Demo/screen1.html ) and put up some of the signs for Tuesday.

Everything for the election came mounted on a wheeled cart. The voting machines were sealed with seals of the form you've seen on electric meters. These consist of a plastic dongle with a serial-number, and a wire-bail that inserts into the plastic dongle. Once the wire is inserted, it cannot be removed, but must be cut.

The problem I see with this is that there is absolutely nothing about the seal to convince me that it was applied by the Elections Commission. There is no difficult-to-forge holographic image in the seal, just a serial number. As far as I could tell, the serial number wasn't used for anything. There was no log of which seal had been applied to which machine, and the numbers were not recorded as the seals were removed. The upshot is that the seals actually prove nothing. I assume that seals of that form can probably be purchased pretty cheaply, or manufactured in a moderately well equipped shop. The only materials are some stiff wire which needs to be bent into a convoluted shape, and plastic, which needs to be molded into a slightly odd shape.

Google to the rescue: http://www.americancasting.com/specs/pds_8001.pdf)

If that wasn't bad enough, everything other than the machines were sealed with black plastic zip-ties of the form you can buy at Radio-Shack or any hardware store. The only purpose they served was to prevent the casual pilfering of election materials.

The machines were stored in the gymnasium of Pointer-Ridge Elementary School. This building is locked but not alarmed, as far as I could tell.

I never saw any evidence that anything HAD been tampered with, but this would hardly be considered adequate security for, say, a large pile of cash.

Three days earlier, at the Clam Chowder concert at Holy Trinity Church in Bowie, there was an identical cart with 10 voting machines and related equipment. The church hall also was not alarmed and was secured by reasonable, but not particularly spectacular locks.)

We left.

I went shopping for supplies for Tuesday: Gatorade, a roast-beef sub, paper napkins and styrofoam cups.

Fade to black, then fade in)

Tuesday morning I arrived at the school at 6:00 A.M. There were a couple very bright things in the eastern sky, I think one of them was Venus.

Hmmm, turns out it WAS: http://www.universetoday.com/am/publish/venus_jupiter_upcoming_conjunction.html)

We unsealed the voting machines and powered them up, and went through the magical incantations to print out the zero-reports that prove that they haven't been used since their memories were cleared. The zero-reports were torn off and all the judges signed them. I think I was the only one who actually LOOKED at them to see that they did, in fact, indicate zero tallies for all races/questions. These were "posted" as required by law, by putting them on a table. ;-)

A second set of zero reports was run and left on the machines, but signed by the judges and the printer compartments locked. Yes, the Accu-vote machines DO have integral printers; the voters never see them.

Seven of the machines were powered by one power-strip plugged into one outlet. The two handicapped-accessible machines, zero and one, were on a different-strip, and machine zero -- the accumulator -- was plugged into a UPS. The UPS was beeping and the light on the power strip was dark. I pulled the plug from the wall, bent the prongs and re-inserted the plug. The UPS shut up and there were no more problems.

By 6:30 A.M. there were 30 or 40 people lined up outside. It was getting light. When we finally opened at 7:00, there were about 100 people lined up. We were almost immediately mobbed.

I started off as a Machine Judge. This means that, if there are voting machines free and anyone in line, I take the next person in line, direct them to a free machine, take their Voter Authority Card and verify that it's been signed by them and the Book Judge, program a Voter Access Card ( http://www.sos.state.ga.us/elections/electronic_voting/remove_card.jpg) using the encoder, and insert it onto the machine, record the machine number on the Voter Authority Card and place it into the shopping-bag attached to the machine, all the while keeping up a bit of patter to see if they've used these machines before, or have any special problem, or need anything explained. If they have vision problems (I left my glasses at home etc.), I ask if they want the enlarged screen and - if so -- program the access card to give them that.

I asked each voter if they'd used one of the electronic machines before: the most common reply was "I don't know.". Huh? How can you not remember that? Other replies were: "Yes", "No", "I've never voted before" and "How do I vote Republican?"

One guy asked how to do a write-in. Oddly, we're not allowed to mention write-in voting unless a voter asks. There are several very strange rules. Someone else asked what a write-in vote is.

The ritual with the voter access cards may seem like unnecessary ceremony, but there's something profound going on here. The moment a voter exchanges their Voter Authority Card for a Voter Access Card, their name is disassociated from their authority to vote, that is, that is the moment their ballot becomes secret. From then on, they're just another voter, and nothing is recorded in the machine to indicate who they are. While anyone in the room can see them standing at a voting machine, (in theory) no one's peering over their shoulder at the screen.

Exceptions to this are, children up to age 12 are allowed to accompany their parent at the machine, and someone who requires assistance can either: A) Have a family member or friend fill out a Voter Assistance Affidavit and accompany them or B) They can be assisted by two Election Judges not of the same party.

I met several of my neighbors, and found that someone I hadn't seen in 20 years now lived a couple doors down from me.

I looked out the window to see my friend Ed handing out leaflets in front. I knew he was going to be there. I hadn't realized until then, how much he looks like Michael Moore. ;-)

The protesters and leafleters were all well behaved, and only came inside to vote, or use the bathroom.

After awhile I started to think: "I ought to take a break.", but things were a bit too busy to do so just then. Awhile later I thought to myself "I really need to take a break.", but it was still a bit too busy. Finally, at noon, I decided that I'd better take a break before I fainted, so I handed my encoder to one of the other judges and went into the kitchenette, grabbed a donut and sat down.

This was one of those "It feels so good when I stop." moments. I realized that I'd been standing since I'd arrived at 6:00 A.M., and that was after walking from my house. After that, I forced myself to sit for five minutes every two hours.

By then things had calmed down and there were 20 - 40 people voting. By about 1:00, things were pretty dead, and I decided to grab the opportunity and got in line to vote. There was one person in front of me at the Book Judge table. When I went to the machine line, the judge there was confused when I handed him my voter authorization card. He asked "What's this?" then said "Oh! YOU're going to vote!". Then he stood there until I reminded him that he had to program a voter access card for me, since he had the encoder.

We had a couple problems with the Voter Access Cards becoming dirty and not being read by the voting machines. There was nothing to clean them with, but wiping the gold contacts on my shirt-sleeve seemed to work just fine.

One of our big worries was losing these cards, so it was important to pounce on the voters as they finished, and retrieve the cards from them. A couple were reluctant to return them, and I had to pry one out of one person's hand.

We had one young woman, who I'm guessing had never voted before, become flustered when she reached the page of judges up for election. She didn't know any of them, nor which she wanted to vote for, so she asked if she could cancel her ballot, run home and read the newspaper to see which she'd like to vote for, and come back to vote. Oddly enough, there IS a way to do that. It's a feature of the Accu-Vote machines that isn't publicized. A Head Judge has to cancel the ballot. (Obviously, this can only be done before the "Cast Ballot" button has been pushed.) I didn't see her later, though I hope she made it back. I applaud her civic mindedness to want to do that, even if it was a little strange.

One person, after voting, asked if he HAD to vote for the judgeships. He wasn't sure his ballot would be counted unless he voted for everything, so he DID vote for everything, even if he didn't know what he was voting for. Uhhhh, right. It would have been nice if he'd asked BEFORE voting rather than voting randomly.

Only one person complained about there being no paper audit trail with the electronic machines. A couple complained that the two handicapped- accessible machines (0 and 1) were too easily read by people other than the ones voting at them. This was 'cause the screen was mounted far forward to be accessible to a person seated, or in a wheelchair.

I suggested to these people that they write to the Elections Board (Which I expect I'll do myself) as there was not much we could do then and there.

The machines COULD have been positioned to give more privacy, but that would have required more and longer power cables which we didn't have.

The card-slot on machine 6 was tight; we had to push a bit harder to get the Voter Access Cards in, but that didn't cause any noticeable problems. I mentioned this to the technician who came by several times. He was circulating between several polling stations.

I alternated between being a Machine Judge: programming Voter Access Cards and escorting voters to the machines, and handing out "I Voted" stickers and collecting Voter Access Cards, then handing them back to the Machine Judges. The second task was a lot easier.

When I offered a sticker to one voter, he asked: "What does it say, 'Eat me'?".

One of the Machine Judges was a bit too intense. He'd interrupt the other judges who were already speaking to a voter, to drag the voter away to a machine, as if there was a competition to escort the most voters to machines. It was a tad annoying, and one of the other judges grumbled about it a bit. I retaliated by intentionally running him out of Voter Access Cards when I was collecting them from voters. I simply gave them to the OTHER machine judges, so he'd always have to scrounge from one of the other judges or collect his own from a voter. This slowed him down, but only a little.

Periodically I checked the power cables and power strips, and the yellow "charging" indicator on the machines' screens that indicated that they were receiving AC and were not running on internal batteries. We had no power problems.

From then on things were slow. About 2/3 of the voters registered in the precinct had voted, so it couldn't pick up too much. Traffic increased around 5:00 - 6:00, and died out again. The time really started to drag then, and we go to sit around and chat. One of the judges went a bit bonkers and began applying massive quantities of "I voted" stickers to another judge.

It occurred to me that I ought to do the book-judge thing for awhile, but by then I was so tired I felt I didn't want to start a new task since I was pretty sure I'd screw up. Instead, I stuck with what I'd been doing all day.

I'd compare the experience a bit to jury duty, in that you're in a relatively confined space with a bunch of strangers, carrying out an important legal function under arcane rules. In fact, jury-duty stories were one of the main topics of conversation.

At 8:00 we locked the doors. There was only one person voting at the time.

We then began the shutdown ritual. A judge read the total votes cast from the screen of each machine. The Head Judges inserted their supervisor access cards into the machines and entered passwords at the machines' screen, and the printer compartment was unlocked. The Head Judges performed various incantations on the machines menu screens and they began printing their totals. There was a signed zero-report already in each printer compartment left from the startup procedure. The total reports were printed contiguously attached to the zero-report. These sets were torn off together, then another total report was printed. These were all laid on a couple tables and all the tapes from all the machines were signed by all the judges. This, predictably, was a confusing procedure, with a few judges reaching over the table and signing upside-down since they were facing the wrong way.

We counted the Voter Access Cards. We hadn't lost any.

The PCMCIA cards from each machine were then sequentially loaded into the accumulator, machine 0. Each machine has two PCMCIA slots, but only the accumulator uses both. The accumulator was then used to print two copies of the vote grand-totals for our precinct, which were signed by both Head Judges.

I'd looked at the totals on some of the machine-tapes already, but this was my first chance to look at the totals for all machines. About 400 votes for Bush, about 800 for Kerry, 5 for Nader, ones and twos for the other candidates and two write-ins for people I'd never heard of.
    We now break for a for a funny story: back in the 1960s, in a Baltimore City Council election, someone wrote in an obscenity. Both candidates for the seat claimed it was a vote for the other.


One of the judges wanted to know the percentage of registered voters who'd voted, so she needed to divide the number counted by the book-judges (1300 or so) by the total registered (1500 or so) but no one had a calculator. It turned out that I was the only one there proficient in long-division. That's sort of scary. That was something I was doing in fifth grade, but looks to be becoming a lost art.

The answer was 86%, which I think is pretty good.

Then came the part where the votes were transmitted via phone to, er, wherever the heck they're supposed to go. The PCMCIA modem card was inserted into the second slot on the accumulator and the modem cable plugged into the phone jack and the other end ... er ... didn't quite reach the machine.

The machine was turned, but it still didn't quite reach.

We un-taped some of the power cables to create some slack, and moved the table, and with the modem-cable stretched across a doorway it reached the modem-card ... but the 4-pin plug didn't fit: (one of these: http://www.bixnet.com/4pinpcmcimod.html )

Several of us tried. I got out a pocket magnifier and took a close look. They were definitely the correct plug and socket, but one of them just hadn't been formed correctly and they just would not fit.

We pulled up the power cables that we'd duct-taped to the floor the night before, to discover that we'd used a LOT of duct tape, and managed to pull one floor-tile up.

The machines were re-sealed using more of the little plastic dongle-seals which were in one of the supply envelopes. The serial numbers were not recorded.

Another judge and I posted one set of tally-tapes on the outside of the school building. This is one of those oddball requirements. It makes sense to post them, but I would expect it to be under glass to protect them at least a little from vandalism.

We went back inside and the Head Judges were still on the phone with election officials to figure out what to do about the modem cable problem.

My ride arrived and I loaded my gear into her car, then went back inside to find that we'd all been dismissed, leaving the Head Judges to deal with getting the votes properly recorded. I still don't know how that was resolved. I would hope they simply carried the PCMCIA cards to the Elections Board.

One side-note: I'd already noticed that the cards mailed out by the election board were printed on pin-feed paper stock on a chain-printer. The voter rosters used by the Book Judges were printed on green-bar pin-feed paper. That is just soooo 1960s. Really, I haven't seen that anywhere for about the last 10 years.

I noticed that the screen layout used by the voting machines has been improved since the last election: the "Cast Ballot" button used to be adjacent to the scrollbar on the review screen. There was a displayed warning to be careful to not accidentally cast your ballot when all you wanted to do was scroll down. The new display has the "Cast ballot" button on the right, and the scrollbar on the left. That's a bit odd in that scrollbars are customarily on the right, but it's still an improvement.

I gained four pounds on Tuesday, probably from all the donuts.

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