Archive for the ‘Elections’ Category

Warren’s Roxbury Show and Tell

January 6th, 2013

Not exactly an Andrew Jackson moment, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s ceremonial ceremony had little pomp, no fluff and lots of celebrity pols. The conceit was that while she had already legally taken the oath, a show version in Boston would reinforce her populist cred. It worked.

The drama on stage was largely unspoken. Senior Senator for the moment John Kerry towered politically as well as physically. The always funny and nearly as candid as Barney Frank Sheriff Andrea Cabral (check her wonderful lacy black fan she kept flapping) started with the virtual certainty that Kerry will become Secretary of State. Kerry himself said that should that happen, Warren will be the Junior Senator for about three legislative days, as opposed to his 26 years behind Ted Kennedy.

What didn’t happen was anyone overtly pitching for either the resulting interim Senate spot or for the permanent spot to be decided in a special election, likely in June. The tension was there though, with so many possibles within a few yards of each other and sometimes in adjacent seats on stage.

Frank already made his lust known on the Morning Joe Show. He said he told Gov. Deval Patrick he would like the appointment. In his usual straight ahead style, he said, “I’m not going to be coy. It’s not something I’ve ever been good at. I’ve told the governor that I would now like frankly to do that because I would like to be a part of that. It’s only a three-month period; I wouldn’t want to do anything more. I don’t want to run again…Coach, put me in!” With all the looming fiscal conflicts and crises to resolve in Congress, Frank figures he decades of expertise there make him the right temp for the job.

While I saw the two huddling to one side of the stage before showtime, no one could hear, there were no bear hugs following, and Patrick has never indicated approval of the plug-in. MA political gossips instead latched onto yesterday morning’s tweet from Patrick’s campaign demigod, Doug Rubin. While Rubin noted later he was typing only for himself, he did tweet, “I respect Cong. Frank and what he has accomplished, but there are better options for MA Senate interim appointment.”

Rubin is always smart and often right. I lean with Frank on this one. The interim Senate seat is a specialized one for the fiscal expertise and negotiating skills it will require. Frank knows the devil out of the money and tax aspects, as well as the reality of Congressional dealings.

Likewise, no one spoke to the special election. At hand were Rep. Ed Markey, who not only announced first, but quickly got oral support from several MA pols. Most significantly was Kerry.

Yet Congressmen Mike Capuano and Steve Lynch are likely to make plays. Also MA Sen. Ben Dowling was there and could well go for the special election. They milled around the stage, shook hands, hugged the women pols, and tried not to look too eager or needy. As an interesting sidelight, when the college president was calling out the officials there, Capuano was the only Congressman who got big cheers and applause. He truly is the working voters’ champion that ex-Sen. Scott Brown pretended to be. That plays well, at least in the Boston area.

Not surprisingly, over at the Herald, in several posts related to the ceremony, the negativity was predictable. The commenters large dislike liberals, disrespect women, and detest progressives. The usual clowns who ride the fantasy pony of Warren gaining some advantage after the fact from her slight Native American heritage, continued to rant about certain debt and death of honesty via her. A few did manage to note that yesterday’s show swearing in was apt for someone they continue to define as a fake Indian. A lefty woman will never, ever suit them.They become pebbles washed up on the banks as the river flows on.

My mini-rant is one of amusement rather than disdain. Warren believes she is a true egalitarian. Certainly her writings and public service indicate that. Yet the upper distant half of the auditorium of perhaps 1000 seats was for us plebes. Thus, the shots that follow are from over 100 feet away and not all that clear.

Lower seats were for pols not important enough to be on stage, yet more important an ordinary voters. There were press rows, chosen campaign workers and such. No guards kept hoi polloi away, but there was a decided caste system in play. Again, her heart and head are aware, but this was no Andrew Jackson, let-the-rabble-in moment.

No one seemed to notice or mind. In fact, at the following reception in the student cafeteria, hundreds dutifully lined up in airline-ticket-style rows to get pix taken with her, her husband and Justice Kagan. People wanted to be part of their populist Senator’s day.

browniepledge The cute quotient came via the Cohasset Girl Scout, including the short end. They led the pledge of allegiance. Towering pols behind them, Steve Murphy and Andrea Cabral had to nudge the girls off stage as they became stunned by the clapping, cheering audience.
MA Treasurer/Receiver General and U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, The latter, publicly at least, gave his Senatorial ambitions a rest for the afternoon. grossmanmarkety
bumpcoakley MA Auditor Suzanne Bump and AG Martha Coakley also got spots on stage and were very busy before showtime. Neither allegedly wants to pending open Senate seat.
On the other hand, whatever Bump had to say to Boston City Council President Steve Murphy kept his constantly amused. murphybump
cabralfan My nominee for best accessory of the day was Sheriff Andrea Cabral’s lacy black fan. She gave it a real workout.
Gov. Patrick stifled himself. Warren praised him and his wife for their support and advice. He said nothing to us about the coming interim or replacement Senate spots. devalmic
kerrymic Kerry managed to speak of his near certain move to Secretary of State in theoretical terms. He did seem elated at the idea though.
Warren as always had the crowd with her populist messages, such as everyone paying fair taxes and government cuts starting, not with Social Security, but with big agriculture and big oil.

She concluded by saying she hoped to be able to live to up Ted Kennedy’s legacy. “As I take this oath of office, I make this sacred promise to each and everyone of you that’s here today witnessing, I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as your Senator, I am grateful for your hard work and support, I am deeply touched by the faith and trust you have put in me, and I pledge today that I will  never, never stop fighting for you.”

warrengesture

Pix Notes: You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons, so just cite Mike Ball once.

 

What George Taught Me

October 21st, 2012

Without ever meeting me, George McGovern taught me a lesson I’ve kept in mind since 1972. Even back in the grim and exciting days of the Vietnam War era, I interviewed other pols, including similarly anti-war U.S. Sen. Wayne Morse.  As newspaper reporter and editor, I was eager to speak with pols.

Yet the lesson McGovern coincidentally revealed was news I could and can use.

In 1972, I lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, long before Yuppies or hipsters. Instead, it was the Hell’s Angels, many Russian and Ukrainian elderly women (hubby had died), junkies, and immigrants using the area of cheap apartments as staging ground for becoming Americans and maybe even wealthy.

In some political ways, I felt a bit like I was back in South Carolina. There, I had been a hippie peacenik sort. That was a decided minority persona. Back on East 3rd and 9th Streets, I sensed the conservative vibes all around.

Russian and Ukrainian greetings and conversations were ubiquitous. Even the tiny A&P on First Avenue was an Eastern European outpost. It sold those deceptive loaves of black bread that weighed two or three times what sandwich loaves the same size did. The old women chatted with clerks and each other in their native tongues, even though many had been in the neighborhood since the 1917 Revolution. I recalled enough of my college Russian to understand the gist.

To a one, the old women seemed dour and sour. I even recall seeing one stumble and fall, spilling her bag of groceries. I helped her up and repacked her bag. I told her in Russian that I’d help her home, but she snatched the brown bag from me and looked terrified as she limped home with her bloody knee. Trust of the other was not big outside of that community.

I thus knew it was surely a fool’s errand to canvass for pinko McGovern in my precinct. I knew Nixon decidedly wasn’t THE ONE as his campaign claimed but rang the bells anyway.

The old women who filled the apartment buildings (one to five story humble dwellings, as was my own) would not have rung me in. However, as was and is the standard NYC practice, I’d just go in when someone else opened the door to enter or exit. Once I was inside, I did get a face-to-face hearing after the woman had looked through the door peephole.

They were stunningly unresponsive. I gave my pitch about the pivotal election and hopes for peace and equality via a McGovern administration.

Sometimes I threw in a little Russian, always being careful to avoid such loaded terms as товарищ (comrade), far too risky I knew. They invariably remained impassive. They certainly were not like the Swiss, who quickly forgive poor pronunciation of any of their three languages or the Japanese or Chinese, who largely sincerely appreciate any effort to speak even a few words in their language. Instead, I saw the same stone faces, never smiling nor nodding nor asking anything.

After several weeks of doing this in the evenings, I had covered the precinct, but was deeply disheartened. Clearly my audience was conservative, unswayed by McGovern’s messages or at least my delivery of them. I had done the right thing in the cause noble, but to what effect?

I had a keen bead on my target voters. They were not buying what I was selling.

Come Wednesday, November 8th, the day after the election, I had an awful acknowledgement and a shock. First, Nixon had crushed my man. Only Massachusetts went for McGovern. Yet, yet…when the precinct results appeared in the papers later, mine had gone overwhelmingly for McGovern. I think it had the highest percentage in the city and state. Those sour elderly women were not at all as I knew them to be.

They didn’t make a deal out of their leftist leanings. They didn’t show them, at least to me. Those many Russian and Ukrainian elders did want what McGovern offered. Perhaps they had experienced enough war and violence and death and instability in their earlier years. Perhaps this or perhaps that. Regardless, they voted as I.

So I learned and have remembered. When I’m cocksure that my assumptions are absolutely correct, that’s far, far less important than reality. You need to ask, to make your pitch, to expose yourself, to be open to the obvious or even the eventual responses of others.

As my mother told me many times, ask, the worst you can hear is, “No.”

MA Election-Day Tricks

February 16th, 2012

Getting my warden training for working the polls in Boston for the March 6th primary, I’m glad the turnout will likely we wee. I normally hope and advocate for lots of voters, even though it’s more work for elections folk. This time though, oddments are going to force explanations to voters and poll workers alike.

Worst, consider that voters have a single shot at requesting a ballot. A majority are unenrolled. In these party-based primaries, that means each one will have to choose a single ballot from, this time, Democrat, Republican or Green-Rainbow. What could be so simple, eh?

There shall be gnashing of teeth and mutterings of offense. Consider:

  • Unenrolled voters typically proclaim they are independent. Not only is there no such designation in MA, but not belonging to any party does not give them the right to a single ballot of all the candidates of all parties on it. Year after year, primary after primary, people don’t understand that and get pretty belligerent.
  • Everybody gets one ballot for just one of the parties. If you are registered in one of the three this time, you must take the ballot for that party. Yesterday was the last day to change party affiliation or switch to unenrolled. No one in elections, at the poll or City Hall or the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office, can let you change on election day. Live it or live with it
  • At the check-in table, poll workers use the voter list book, which has the party affiliation. They will mark in the book for each unenrolled voter which ballot was requested.
  • We have to mark this choice in red ink. Once you choose, that’s that. Even seconds later, you can’t get a different party ballot. Live it or live with it.
  • Choosing a party ballot for a primary does not, does not, does not change your party registration if you are unenrolled. Downtown at Elections, worker bees go through the check-in/check-out books and record party votes for data gathering. Unenrolled voters don’t have to do anything to retain their status for future elections of any type. Only if they want to register with a party do they fill in a new voter registration form to do this. We will explain this hundreds of times on March 6th and each future primary election. Older voters remember many years ago when you would have to re-register as unenrolled after a primary.
  • Yes, the letter for the Green-Rainbow party is J. Sure, D is Democrat and R Republican, but G had already been reserved for the Green Party USA, and remains so even when they are not on the ballot. J was the next free acceptable letter.

Another oddment that voters don’t know yet is that the September primary election will almost certainly not be on the logical second Tuesday. Because Labor Day is the previous week and many travel before or even during that time, the second Tuesday is the normal one. However, this year, it would be 9/11, a date fraught with history and emotion.

We heard yesterday that Secretary William Galvin thinks voting on that anniversary would be inappropriate. Our trainer disagrees. He believes the patriotism roused on that day would inspire better turnout. He, however, was resigned.

Would-Be POTUS, Even in MA

January 10th, 2012

Faint rustling of papers, coupled with an occasional phone call means (ta da), yes, we’ll have a Presidential primary in the Bay State. In 42 days, we get to play too. Tuesday, March 6th is the commonwealth’s go.

I got a call today to confirm my availability. I’ll be warden at precinct 19 ward 12 again, the Woodbourne Apartments at the bottom of Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

Because the field should be pretty well decided by then, we don’t have the drama of the early states, not even the quasi-plebiscite of Iowa’s GOP caucus. Yet, knowing we’re finally closing in on action is like being in a long stalled car that is at least trying to turn over.

I’ve been lucky to fill in my political dance card a bit. We have two announced candidates for Mayor in 2013. I’ve been having a good time with one of them, who actually has started his campaign. He may not be at all premature on this, if our longest-serving ever Mayor, Tom Menino, decides to give it a go for a sixth four-year term.

Otherwise, we have some time before the biggies  here. Among those will be the seminal battle for a U.S. Senate seat. Party candidates have until June 5th to make their final filings for that, and non-party ones until August 28th. Both have to turn in the initial papers four weeks earlier.  The state primary is September 6th. Of course, the MA and U.S. election is November 6th.

In other words, if we didn’t have a March Presidential-primary vote, it would seem a devil of a long time to have been sitting still.

We poll lackeys can be pretty sure of very different elections, March, September and November. They should run the spectrum from boredom to death march.

From previous elections when few showed, we would fret and exercise our well-honed blades of self-righteousness. Voting is a fundamental duty, privilege and function of democracy. How could only 11% or 14% or whatever vote? Harrumph, as the expression goes.

We make sure to have reading material. We tell voters to send their neighbors. We constantly keep running tallies per page to make end-of-night verification easier. We make sure the inspectors and clerk get plenty of breaks. We look for the possible coffee or sandwich delivery from some campaign. We pick at voters who break the rules by displaying campaign literature inside.

On the other hand, a huge turnout, as we had with the 2008 Obama/McCain election, we’re flat out. The first-time, recently moved, and befuddled voters come like phalanxes of attacking soldiers.

  • Some are absolutely positive they have always voted there, until the warden or clerk checks their address and personal information with Elections to find that they’ve always voted two miles away.
  • Some did not send in the annual voter form mailed and then checked by phone or personal visit. So they are marked *I* for inactive and require showing ID and filling out several forms.
  • Occasionally, someone has mistakenly been marked as deceased. That also requires ID, a call to Elections and more forms.
  • Commonly someone moved one, two or even five years before, had not voted since, and never notified Elections of the new address. That’s another big deal of calls, ID, forms, and the dreaded Provisional Ballot. That goes into the Clerk’s Book, all the paperwork gets its own envelope, and Elections hand-checks the documents that night to see whether the vote will count.

To their credit, most voters really want their ballot to count once they’ve made it to the poll. They’ll fill out the form, produce identification, and sit the extra two minutes on top to fill out a new voter-registration card to make sure they’ll be right in the computer the next time. First-timers, typically students, seem grateful that someone explains the process and helps them fill out the right forms to get in the system.

Sometimes though, middle-aged sorts are indignant that all-powerful, all-knowing city hall did not magically move their address or understand that even if they didn’t return the annual questionnaire that they would certainly vote in the next election. That too can have bits of humor, as when a woman began to scream that she knew for certain that she had filled in the annual form and returned it. Her honorable and brave son was with her and to his credit he admitted that she had indeed filled it out, but he decided it was too much trouble to mail it. She never apologized to me, but her look to him could have stripped paint from the door. That was not the first time he’d seen that gaze and he winked at me and smiled as they left.

We arrive on election days at 6 AM and take a full hour to set up the tables, signs, voting machine and on and on for the 7 AM. Polls close at 8 PM, but we’re not done. We have to reconcile the voter lists at the check-in and check-out tables, as well as match the machine counts exactly. That involves:

  • Pre-counts (done by hand) of all ballots that arrive
  • Counting all absentee ballots that arrive with the police officer as well as throughout the day, feeding those into the scanner after checking them in and out
  • Accounting for all spoiled ballots and provisional ones
  • Recounting all unused ballots
  • Clearing the voting machine (throughout the day if it clogs) of ballots
  • Checking ballots for write-in votes and recording each (even for Mickey Mouse) in the clerk’s book
  • Entering columns of votes (by party for primaries) for each office, candidate, ballot question, and tallying each until they come out perfectly

We are not allowed a single mistake or seemingly missing ballot. What we got over the day had to be exactly what goes back to Elections. There’s the extra fun of Elections giving us packets of ballots in 50 or 200, depending on the election, and a single one for the general or two to four sets for primaries. Down at city hall, they weigh them, which means packets can vary by four ballots and that inspector’s hand counts morning and night have to be perfect and recorded accurately. A single error can mean that 8 PM becomes 8:30 or 9 or later until counts are perfect.

There’s the removal of all signs and other materials, returning all materials into the proper one of two big boxes, plus the magic blue bag that the police officer carries separately when he or she checks in at city hall.

Maybe it’s like a circus. Someone has to set up the big tent, there are the various workers and performers, and someone has to clean up after the elephants as well as strike the tent.

Come 6 PM to 9 PM on September 6th, I’ll likely be cranky and wonder why I keep doing this. Till then though, I can’t wait.

Angry, Who Me?

August 20th, 2011

Multiple mentions of physically dark folk not wanting to appear emotionally dark caught me this week. The perceived political wisdom that black or Latino men should not turn off voters is at once obvious and befuddling.

I recall Black Panthers and others who seriously expressed anger. Speeches included calls to kill whitey, plain folk as well as cops. There’s some threatening anger.

For two examples this week, consider:

  • Very savvy image consultant Dorie Clark was on WGBH’s Callie Crossley show again. She noted in a segment asking whether Barack Obama could win a second term that the POTUS was caught in the vise. Angry black men can freak constituents.
  • This morning’s Financial Times had a similar treatment in their generally LITE Lunch with… series, this time with San Antonia Mayor Julián Castro. He spoke of the immigration backlash against Hispanics and its racist aspects. Yet, as Richard McGregor wrote, “He admits he is conscious not to sound angry. Obama has exercised a similar discipline. It seems to be a rule of American politics that an angry black or Hispanic man does not play well with the broader electorate.”

angryYet all but those in comas here are aware of angry white folk. Many in Congress, the Tea Party and winger spokesmen (screams-men?) and lobbying and interest groups are mad as hell about this, that and the other. They yell, they defame, they lie at high volume and with repetition, and some even threaten violence.

It all makes me wonder that if the timorous and accommodating POTUS displayed real anger that really would be so bad. As a nation, we certainly have expected our top leaders to express outrage and anger befitting the situation. Is it really true that our first black President has a separate set of behaviors?

The recent, prolonged GOP debt, spending and tax disgrace just had to make him furious. Even many voters in that party expressed and continue to express fury at the continued insistence on transferring wealth to the super-rich from the middle and lower classes. Yet, the POTUS spoke of disappointment.

Disappointment?! That’s when the ice-cream shop is out of the flavor you drove 10 miles to taste.

Rage should come when confronting ideologues who would steal from tens of millions of oldsters to increase benefits for multi-millionaires and billionaires. If that doesn’t make even the most mild-mannered black man angry, something’s wrong here.

To turn this from political to personal, this has reminded me of way back in my single days. I was keeping company with a fairly volatile woman, who would blow up and yell sometimes, including at me.

A mutual friend, a psychologist, noted how even tempered I was and how I grew up in a home where people didn’t act out. He asked how I reacted when she was like that. I said I let her run through the course. He asked then what I thought would happen if I yelled back. I said I hadn’t thought about it and he went on to ask (with a smile) whether I figured that would destroy the relationship. I replied that I thought it would.

He had known her for a long time and said it would not. He advised yelling back. She did. I did. Not only did nothing bad happened, she was much less likely to flip out around me. Things got better. She acted more like I and I didn’t have to yell back again.a

That’s not to say that if Obama displays justifiable anger some people won’t diss him. Hell, they already do. Plus, he has the big bunch of progressives who are on him for not being strong enough to demand fair negotiation from the wingers.

Conciliation doesn’t seem to be the best approach here and now. It’s time for our President to yell back.

Passing of a Daily Acquaintance

June 13th, 2011

Charming, scrawny, engaged John Abany is dead. It’s not a death in the family, but not that far off. He was our letter carrier for our two year here on Fairmount Hill. His obituary says he was a letter carrier for 38 years. Today’s notice from the HP post office said he’d been on our route for 28 years.

I knew John from regular conversations on the doorstep and in the polling place. He had that rare in-the-moment presence that delights us all. He paid attention to others.

John never missed an election — preliminary, primary, special or general. As a clerk or warden down at the Roosevelt School, I recognize and appreciate the regulars, those who say voting is a privilege. Moreover, he always sought me out and we’d chat there too.

He’d tell the poll workers that ours was the last house on his route. He’d often get there late and see through an open window by the mail box that we’d be setting the table or preparing a meal together or even having an early dinner. He said not too many families he knew ate together and he liked that we did.

When I didn’t see him for a couple of weeks, I figured he was on an early vacation. Eventually, I walked up to a substitute carrier’s truck to ask about him. She said he got a sudden diagnosis of a serious disease and retired immediately.

He never too me up on my invitation to eat with us.

Rewardin’ the Warden

November 4th, 2010

hp18Sometimes the fatigue and torpor of a 15-hour day seem a bit much to poll workers — the inspectors, clerks and wardens. We carped during the September primary at the low turnout and too little to do and we were flat out this week for the general with triple the voters.

Yet, Tuesday brought its sweet, high-democracy moments. As warden at a Boston precinct, I had the worst duties and got the best rewards. I was the troubleshooter, the fixer.

The irate senior who answered every question at the check-in table with a shout and insult was mine to mollify. The mid-aged lawyer who swore that she had voting at that school for years was mine to locate her real polling place and provide directions. The several who were simply not in the voter book each needed investigation, sometimes among their wallet ID and others in a long call to the elections department for database or paper registration files.

A couple of young men who could have been really nasty about their problems turned out to be the nicest and most reasonable. As a father of three boys, two of voting age, and someone who has more than once railed against poor manners and irrationality here in the Hub of the Universe, I was very pleasantly surprised. These guys worked with me, filled out the necessary paperwork, stated how much they wanted to vote, and then shook my hand and thanked me for helping them.

All right!

One want-to-vote guy had moved from Bedford back to Hyde Park. He had changed his drivers-license and updated the city voter census annual form. He figured he was covered. Of course, while those are reasonable assumptions, we don’t link the license and voter databases as many states do. We expect voters to get a reg card online or at various government offices or less commonly at temporary sign-up tables in public places. Filling out a card for even the slightest change is always safest, but even that doesn’t always mean you’ll be the check-in book when you arrive.

For the fellow from Bedford, I called elections to find that the Boston lists did not include him. He was still game when I explained that we could do a provisional ballot, which required him (and me) to fill out several forms. Then it would go to elections at city hall, where they would research it. If they agreed that he was qualified, they’d count his vote.

Doing that required him to fill out the application provisional ballot, show me ID with his current address and mark a ballot on which I had written PROVISIONAL. I filled in the lower half of his form, created a provisional ballot ID and prepared his pink sheet, with information identifying his code number and giving him a phone number at elections to call no sooner than 7 or more than 20 days later to see if his vote counted.

He returned the marked ballot, which I inserted into its own envelope marked with his unique number. He then filled in a voter registration card on the spot. I put his sealed ballot envelope into Envelope B for such research downtown. He got the pink sheet. His reg card and provisional ballot application went into Envelope A, along with the log of all provisional ballots issued that day from that precinct. His choices remained private, with the ballot available for recording if the researchers found that he was qualified. They saw the name and address, but not the ballot itself.

While elaborate, that does uphold the letter and spirit of voting laws, including ballot privacy.

One might think that an 18 or 19 year old could find all this was not worth the trouble. Some older adults have walked away rather than work 15 or more minutes on forms. Of course, several older adults also walked away after learning they needed to drive two or three miles to their proper polling place.

The young men who were voting for the first time were not deterred though. They plugged away, while I stayed close and help explain some of the blanks they had to fill in on this form or that.

Then came the reward. After all they had been through, each stuck out his hand, pumped mine, and thanked me sincerely and vigorously. The only reward we can offer is a small oval I VOTED sticker. They took that with smiles as well.

I’ve been voting for decades and have rarely missed any election, primary, preliminary, special or general, once when I was suddenly sick and once when I got sent out of town on business with no time to get an absentee ballot. I confess that I can still get blasé or at least take it for granted that I’ll be able to vote.

Now having worked elections for years at three different precincts in Boston, I pretty much know the rules and how to avoid problems. I’m quick to fill in the annual voter census, I complete a reg card when I move, and so forth.

I do admire the determination of those caught in the intricacies of registration. Those who arrive ready to be a citizen only to hear they aren’t in the book, were deleted by mistake (one of those in my precinct this year), were never moved from the old ward and precinct to the new one, or the many who are marked *I* (inactive) and having to show one of the few forms of accepted ID, fill out a form, and literally take an oath that they are who they say.

I salute those young men who went through all the clerical work in their disappointment. They wanted to vote, we made it happen, even knowing they were not positive that ballot would count, and to top it off, they thanked me. Good stuff — almost worth a 15-hour day right there.

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Boston Ballots’ Beauty

January 20th, 2010

While recapping my battlefield promotion from clerk to warden at a Boston polling place yesterday, I thought repeatedly of the arcane and essential ballot control in the process. At least to a tech geek such as me, it has a true beauty.

A lot of planning and training and procedure development goes into ensuring one-voter/one-ballot here. Clerical controls are in the middle of it. The city accounts for every damned ballot many times with abounding crosschecks. While not impossible to scam the system to get two or more ballots, it would be damned hard and almost certainly not worth the trouble or risk.

Follow an unused ballot from the time it arrives at a polling location.

  1. Polls perk an hour before the 7 a.m. opening time. Elections workers have already brought the signs and other supplies and a police officer has brought a scanner and the blank ballots in a locked case.
  2. Workers (inspectors, interpreters, clerk and warden) arrive to tape up the many necessary signs, prepare check-in and check-out table, turn on and validate the scanner andassistive ballot preparing machine, and count the ballots.
  3. Depending on the expected turnout, blanks come bundled in nominal rubber-banded packs of 50 or 200. Poll workers first count bundles assuming the right number in each. These can vary by 6% (3 more or less in a 50 pack) because Elections prepares them by weight for efficiency.
  4. The clerk records the supposed number of blanks in the book.
  5. Before opening, inspectors hand count a group of bundles and put a Post-It on each with the actual number. The clerk keeps a running tally of each as it is brought into play to fine-tune the count of blanks.
  6. The scanner tracks each ballot it accepts, incrementing its count, which starts at zero. Throughout the day, Elections calls every few hours for the number and in busy elections, particularly primaries, observers from candidates and parties may look at the total, which does not differentiate by candidate.
  7. Spoiled ballots go back to Elections in their own envelope. If a voter mismarks a ballot, changes the decision before putting it in the scanner or marks too many candidates, the clerk or warden writes SPOILED on it, places it in the envelope and gives the voter up to a total of three ballots to get it right. The clerk tends to keep a tally of spoiled ballots and records them in the book at closing time.
  8. Absentee ballots arrive with the officer at opening and sometimes throughout the day as Elections sorts them. The clerk or warden opens the larger envelope and each absentee’s cover envelope to find the sealed envelope with the ballot. Then each ballot is treated like a voter, checked in at one table off the voter list and out at the other table. Then the ballot is removed from the sealed envelope and fed into the scanner. The clerk records the number of absentee ballots in the book.
  9. Provisional ballots for voters Elections cannot clear to for scanned ballots go into unique envelopes, one per ballot. That’s an elaborate process touched on in the battlefield promotion post. The warden provides each provisional voter with a ballot, which goes to Elections separately and is not scanned. The clerk records the number of provisional ballots as well as the voter’s name and address.
  10. At poll closing the ballot procedures align. First, the officer at the check-out table and the clerk or inspector with the check-in book compare notes. They verify that they have the same number of voters checked off per page of their respective voter list. Any discrepancies give them the chance to identify anyone missed ormismarked. They end up with a total count of voters.
  11. Meanwhile, the warden has generated totals from the scanner. If there is a difference between the voting books and scanner’s total, the three identify and correct it.
  12. The clerk then totals ballots  the book. The total ballots received needs to equal ballots cast, accounting for the spoiled ones,provisionals, absentee ones delivered,  and unused ballots remaining. Again, all stops until the numbers are accurate.
  13. The warden removed ballots from the scanner. Any that fail to scan are in one compartment; the get a re-feed and if necessary a hand count and recording in a log and the book. Write-ins are in another; they are hand recorded and placed in one envelope. The other ballots get a look for write-ins not ID’ed as such but clearly intended even without the write-in oval smeared. All scanned ballots go into envelopes that the officer delivers under lock to Elections.

If you were able to divert one or more ballots, then what? Without collusion of a worker and the officer, it would not qualify for the scanner. Even if you were able to sneak one in the scanner, it would mess up the total. Those and similar ploys would be possible, but elaborate, involving several people and surely not worth the exposure and punishments.

From my years of documenting computer software, I am impressed by the flow here. Elections has had a lot of time…with many eyes watching…to get this working well. It shows.

Cross-post: This also appears at Marry in Massachusetts.

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Fallen Poll Soldier

January 20th, 2010

I got a battlefield promotion yesterday, as the Boston elections trainers had said often happens. Our warden left right after the polls opened, not breathing well and shirt cascading with sweat. So the number two, the lieutenant, the clerk took over.

Many who know me say I can be intimidating. I snicker at that. True, I am big and I do look folk right in the eye, but I am fairly shy and was raised with Southern politeness. I am prone to let others bluster rather than mark my territory or shout anyone down.

Asked a few time before whether I was interested in a wardenship, I said I was comfortable as an inspector (the bulk of poll workers are inspectors or inspector/interpreters)  or clerk. I would just as soon have avoided the extra warden responsibilities and interactions.

It turns out what I was avoiding wasn’t so bad and might be a bit easier than the clerk duties. The primary things I had evaded played off my shyness:

  • Troubleshooting potential voters who don’t appear in the voter list (that book inspectors use to check addresses and names), are on the list as inactive or requiring ID, or otherwise exceptions.
  • Locating voters in the city database and directing them to the proper polling location or getting them plugged back in if they have been deleted.
  • Toning down the irate who swear (often incorrectly) they had voted at that place recently, had returned the annual voter census, or otherwise entitled, damn it, to vote then and there.

The Savage Breast

Not surprisingly, my upbringing has me well suited for the latter duty. My mother ran Red Cross chapters, which are similar to polling places in a key aspect. Many volunteers are like potential voters in feeling a strong entitlement to be there and do their thing. Anything that disrupts  the seamless operation is an insult. I watched her deal with the difficult and pleasant alike and learned how to do it on my own in volunteer organizations as well as  my work.

It comes in handy as a warden. A calm and gracious explanation of the problems and resolutions turns the voter/warden contact from adversarial to cooperative. No one left unhappy yesterday, even those whom I worked with to fill out the two-page provisional ballots and affirmation of residence forms.

There were others whom I told could not vote that day. Elections had deleted one for not voting for five years and not returning the confirmation letter saying he wanted to remain on the voter list. Others had moved three or more times in the previous two years, some form as far as Mansfield, and had not registered in Boston or not registered in time. Each sat and filled in a new voter-reg card and left content. Our work is done here, Tonto.

With the tales of City Hall shortcomings common chatter at places like the men’s locker room at the WR YMCA, I was repeatedly pleased at the competence and thoroughness of the Elections staff and their database. Using ID such as a driver’s license on my end, the saints downtown located every voter with cues such as date of birth. That was true even for the nomadic sorts with multiple tent locations over short periods.

Sometimes the phone call lead to a redirection to a previous polling spot. Others meant that reg card for future elections.

Sort of Voting

The most strained and strangest process makes sense and may be necessary but is convoluted. Provisional ballots let questionable voters prepare a ballot and sort of cast it. If Elections and the warden cannot be positive that someone really qualify by residence and registration, they fill out several forms — swearing they are who they say and live where they say. Then, they mark their ballot, put it in a sealed envelope. The warden has assigned it a unique number, marked on the form that goes to Elections, on the envelope, and on the take-away form the voter gets, as well as recording the voter’s information on a list. That night or soon after, Elections staff evaluates each ballot in light of the available data to decide whether to count the vote. The voter gets a number to call on the take-away form that coupled with the ward and precinct and unique number can let Elections say whether the vote counted.

Whew. I admire those who cared enough about the process and their role in it to go through their work in preparing their provisional vote.

At the end of the polling day, the clerk and warden diverge again. Closing duties  for the clerk include filling out the detailed clerk’s book that she or he has updated all day. That has detailed tabulations of ballots as well as checklists and records of virtually every anomaly.

Closing Time

The warden ends up as the key master.  In Boston, the main voting machine in a precinct is the AccuVote terminal. The same company makes this and the AccuMARK assistive ballot preparing equipment that we use. Locked throughout the day, it tracks and stores every ballot inserted and is the linchpin of the clerical part of our ballot integrity.

Warden duties at the end of voting include:

  • Retrieving the AccuVote key from the police officer on duty
  • Opening the side compartment where any unscanned ballots feed (reinsert those and hand count them if they fail again)
  • Unlocking the front panel, insert the bar-coded sheet that stops the machine while simultaneously pushing two YES/NO buttons, and generate three copies of ballot summaries.
  • Having  poll workers and the officer sign the summaries, and posting one on the wall for public viewing next to the one with zero totals for ballots and each candidate from the morning, one in the clerk’s book, and one taped to the machine.
  • Removing the actual machine (about the size of an attache case) and placing it with its cord in a case for the officer to take to Elections.
  • Opening the stand for the machine to remove any write-in ballots from one compartment for hand recording and the mass of ballots from the other compartment. Those can be quickly examined for any write-ins that the scanner did not catch or the voter did not smear the write-in oval, and shuffled into marked envelopes for the officer to take to Elections.

Off the oddments  — spoiled ballots, provisional ballots and forms, voter reg cards, absentee ballot envelope and such also go into a large pouch that the officer delivers to Elections along with the machine, the clerk’s book and the keys to both voting and ballot marking machines.

For folk who see each other twice a year or less, there is an impressive efficiency at closing. There are many obvious exceptions like problems on the voter list throughout the day that the electorate notices. The setup and closing happen where the officer and custodian are the only witnesses.

I confess that I too have been known to carp about Registry and City Hall inefficiencies. Perhaps it is my closeness to the elections process and roll as a minor official in Boston’s voting army, but I have no complaints about how they handle and prepare for massive one-day pushes.

The undone business from yesterday has little to do with the election. All of us on our team want to know how our stricken warden fared. His cell went to voice immediately in numerous tries and he didn’t call those whose numbers he took. That’s an issue not in the training manual.

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Playing the Voting Game

December 9th, 2009

elections badgeDid anyone else take civics classes? …read elections mailings? …even listen to TV voting tips?

Yesterday’s puzzlement at Boston polls was the huge percentage of voters who had no concept of how a primary works. Each unenrolled (independent or undeclared in other states’ lingo) voter got to choose one of the three ballots for the special election primary yesterday. With half the state unenrolled in any political party, that was a lot of choices.

Amusingly, the Libertarian party got a ballot without a listed candidate. Their committee picked a candidate without bothering with conventions, membership input and those messy details. Yet, they had enough presence in previous elections for a ballot. In this case, it was blank, requiring smudging the write-in oval and then doing that deed. The recommended candidate from the LAMA site was Joe Kennedy, no relation to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s family.

How Many: In Boston, out of 67,025 votes tallied, 53 were Libertarian write-ins.

At my poll in Hyde Park, voter after voter with U beside their name instead of R or D insisted their were independents and should not have to choose Democratic, Republican or Libertarian ballots. Many asked with passion, “Why should I have to tell you who I’m voting for?!”

Of course, we sticklers had the answer. In a general election, you can vote for any party’s candidate. In a primary, you are narrowing the field for a given party. Unenrolled voters can do that at primary voting for any one party with a ballot. Like other enrolled voters, they cannot do that for all parties simultaneously.

Most of the objecting Us were 40 or older. They certainly had participated in primaries numerous times before. All of us working the poll were surprised and amused at how widespread the confusion was. In fact, in my clerk’s book that goes back to the city Election Department, I asked whether this suggested a need for more voter education on this matter before the next primary.

A typical dialog would be:

Inspector: You are unenrolled. Which ballot would you like, Democratic, Republican or Libertarian?

Voter: I’m an independent.

Inspector: Yes and you have the choice of any of the three ballots.  Would you like, Democratic, Republican or Libertarian?

Voter: (angrily) I don’t have to tell you who I’m voting for!

Inspector: That’s true, but you do have to decide for today’s primary which party ballot you want.

Voter: (raising voice) No, I’m an independent!

With some voters. this continued for several iterations. Some were placated when they examined all three ballots and almost invariably were happy with the Democratic one. Many asked how they could revert to independent as they called it after voting a ballot. They were unaware that the ballots were not associated with their names and usually they needed to hear twice that they remained unenrolled on the list unless they filled in and returned a voter registration card affiliating with a party.

The pride so many U voters showed in claiming to be independents was stereotypical New England. Hedging your bets is also more generally American.  Yet, the primary process should not seem so esoteric to so many.

Yesterday, everyone eventually got it. Some had tostand to the side of the check-in table to keep from blocking the queue while they examined all three ballots. In the end though, everyone chose one of the three ballots.

No doubt they’ll feel better voting in the January 19th special election final. Everyone will get the single ballot with the Democratic and Republican candidates listed and an oval/space for write-in option.

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