Wednesday, November 07, 2007

poll position

Another 15 hours working the polls, this time for the Virginia State and Arlington County elections, has come and gone. The turnout in our precinct couldn’t have exceeded 15% - very disappointing for State Senate and House of Delegates elections. I know it’s not sexy but these chuckleheads have a much greater influence on people’s daily existence than most national elections. They control the state taxes, constitutional amendments, and voter districting. You only need to follow a little bit of Tom DeLay’s success in redrawing lines in Texas to understand the effects of state government. That’s my preaching for today.

Some keepers that floated by in the elementary school gym polling place is certainly in order. There was a very interactive father voting with his two children in tow. As he’s explaining the voting process and working the computerized voting machine, his about 7-year old son pipes up with “How about some Democrats!” How about some Democrats. I was assisting a gentleman who was legally blind and needed the ballot read to him. I started out at the top of the ballot with “for Virginia Senate district 31 you have: Mary Margaret Whipple, Democrat; Samuel…” He jumps in with “hit me with that Democrat!” He had no time for…things.

One gentleman was irate that the county board and school board nominees didn’t have party affiliations listed with each candidate, and he was more than willing to point out to me that it was clearly illegal. He filed a voter complaint/worry form to be forwarded to the Arlington voting ‘dictator’. I had noticed this party fact when I voted earlier in the day and determined that those positions are probably considered non-political and Virginia law no doubt covers the issue.

This was the second election I’d set the machine for a woman who completely mistrusts the electronic voting process. The county uses touch screen machines that maintain numbers of ballots cast per machine, votes for each candidate in each race, provides duplicate records that are forwarded to the county, the numbers are matched to the voter roll which is numbered by voter, by name, and verified with ID. The numbers accounting adds up. Of course, if the software is tampered with and every touch allegedly for Bob is being rung up as Joe, we’ve got problems. This particular voter tells me how distrustful she is of the electronic system – there’s no way it could really work – and my first thought is this, way are you voting if you believe the nuts-and-bolts of the system are dysfunctional?

From her we move to the paper trail woman who takes it to the next level. The paper trail isn’t completely clear to me. Do people want hardcopy of their vote to take home with them? A receipt from the machine? Their name associated with their vote? The machines have do a paper trail that takes a few hours to collate after the polls close. I think complaints often revolve around some lack of knowledge in how the machines work. There’s clearly no greater risk in electronic voting than there was in the days of ballot box stuffing in Daley’s Chicago. It’s the same fear that Bill O’Reilly carries for the ‘Internets’. Are there issue? Probably. Is it the evil that conspiracy theorists believe? Probably not. I like the idea of the paper ballot you can hold in your hand as a receipt when you leave the gym. If there are problems or questions after the election everyone can bring back their receipts and we can certainly recount from there…that’ll work.

The last memorable moment was when a woman standing in line for the M-Z last names leaned over to me (sitting at the empty A-L table) and said “where are your Republican voting cheat sheets?” The back story here is that the Northern Virginia area is a Democratic stronghold: immigrants, lower middle class, vibrant, exciting, interesting, and both young and old who see more than water boarding and overbearing administrations. Oops. The Democratic Party mans the outskirts of polling sites, legally, and passes out voting information and ‘cheat sheets’ for voters. If the young lady needed a Republican cheat sheet she’d need to head down way down state to find any. I didn’t say that to her…I merely pointed out that it was the party handing out literature, not the election officials.

I’m into Sacco and Vanzetti by Bruce Watson. Enlightening and frightening.


No comments: