Fallen Poll Soldier

January 20th, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

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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