koralleen (koralleen) wrote,

Fun at the polls, P-D 13-08

When I learned that we were using the electronic poll books for this election, I was thinking that it would really speed the process along. Instead of the frustrating line disparity caused by the alphabetical system, people would be able to check in with the first available judge.

When I first met with my new group--half experienced and used to working with each other, half brand new (including the Chief Republican Judge)--I learned that instead of six check-in judges (three stations), we were assigned only four. No problem, we figured, because the new system was more efficient.


We met at the school the night before to set up. We were issued three electronic poll books, two to use and one as backup. Super. Then we unpacked our printer. Our single printer. The training sessions had indicated that each station would have a printer, but we figured sharing a printer wouldn't be too bad with only two stations. Except we couldn't share the printer. This seemed too stupid to be true, so we tried a bunch of ways and finally figured out that it was indeed both stupid and true. We called the Board of Elections, which was quite hard to reach both the eve of and all during election day, and were told that yes, we were only issued one printer and no, there was no way to share between stations. Where we had had three stations in the past, we would now have one.


Then the part everyone knows about: the damned cards. The instructions include checklists for everything delivered. That's how we knew that we were missing the batteries for our printer (no big deal unless we lost power). But those cards did not appear on any checklist. That morning, if we hadn't been "reassuring" a check-in judge about the ease of electronic check-in (her training had occurred several months ago and the electronic polling books weren't available for training then), we would not have noticed the absence of these until the polls had opened. Although we were not allowed to "open" the poll books, we were acting out the process and said AAAGH! when we realized we were missing a critical item.

Double-hmm (in case children are reading this).

A chief judge called the Board of Elections and when she finally got through, the person answered the phone with, "The cards are being delivered." By now it was a few minutes after 7am and we had to open. The other chief judge informed the people waiting that they could vote provisionally or come back later to vote electronically. He said that many people left, but a couple dozen came in to vote. We were only issued one privacy screen, so now the bottleneck we had predicted at the check-in was made insignificant by the needle's-eye presented at this step. We rigged up new stations using boxes from the recycling bin (and one kid's science fair project board), which helped. We were concerned about running out of democratic ballots, so we tried to copy one. Of course the copier at the school wasn't working. We ended up running out to Kinko's. Our stock of democratic ballots held through the morning, though, so we didn't need to use them.


By 8:30am the cards had arrived and people were voting electronically. Much better, although the single check-in did prove to be a problem. We were sent 10 voting stations, but we were unable to check in people fast enough to make use of this quantity. The line at check-in was quite long. Our team did figure out a way to split the two-part procedure into three parts, which did allow people through a little more quickly. Then we found ourselves low on printer paper. It was pretty clear that one roll served about 150 voters, so our allotment should have been based on our expected attendance. One chief judge spent half the day waiting to talk to the Board of Elections about one thing or another. She requested additional paper several times, it took hours to get some delivered and we were beginning to panic. A Diebold rep came by and we begged her for some paper but she said that she had inquired about carrying supplies and was told that she wasn't allowed to. She also told us that the supplier was not able to provide enough printers and (this horrified us) she could not reassure us that more printers would be available for the general election.

In the middle of the day, one of the watchers came in to let us know that people were being informed on tv that the election hours were being extended. After another long wait on hold, our Chief-Judge-in-charge-of-calling-the-BOE learned that this was true. It was good to have some notice (thank you, watcher!) because the instructions for extended hours voting were unclear, so we had time to read them and plan. We actually did run out of democratic provisional ballots *right* before 8pm and had to use the copies we'd made earlier for the rest of the night. Since all votes cast after hours have to be provisional, we were very glad to have the copies available.

In shutting down for the night, we were unable to transmit our results because we were missing our modem card. No one in the East Silver Spring Elementary School cafeteria was very sad about this; the antiquated process is onerous and we had had a pretty long day. Ever the i-dotter-t-crosser, our chief judge with the phone called to confirm that we could skip this step--we could tell the answer was yes when she yelled WOOHOO! and did a little dance.

I had never been an assistant chief judge before. Part of our job was returning the critical materials to the BOE after shut-down, so my experienced partner drove. She said that we were lucky--the line was much shorter than usual. I suspect we finished earlier than less-capable teams. I was really impressed by how well this group worked together and met each challenge (again, I am adjusting my vocabulary for the tender-eared) with aplomb. A team with no dead weight?! I may have to adjust my view of humanity in general.

Oh, and I shook hands with George Pelecanos. He checked in while I was subbing at the check-in station. I saw his name pop up and turned into a blithering idiot. How embarrassing! But I am still walking on a cloud. His family is nice. Another check-in judge is a neighbor, she said she doesn't even think of him as a famous guy (until she sees a person like me dissolve into a puddle under his gaze). But enough about me.

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