Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Anatomy of An Election

Anatomy of An Election

Yesterday, 2 June 2014 was a Gubernatorial Primary here in California. For reasons that I don’t quite remember, I decided to be an election volunteer. I was designed as a Substitute Clerk and was assigned to a small precinct co-located in a church with another precinct.

The polls were open from 0600 to 2000. During that time we processed a grand total of 57 live voters. All used two page ballots each about 11” by 17” long. Not one person (even in Silicon Valley) used the voter machine. We also collected over 100 absentee ballots.

The whole experience harkened me back to Sarajevo in 1997 when the Combined Joint Information Campaign Task Force (CJICTF) had to re-print ballots for Bosnian election because the local contract printer had printed the ballots just as the samples looked. Meaning each line had a placeholder like “AAAAA” or “BBBBB” rather than the actual candidate names.

In reflecting on the two elections and recent events in Afghanistan, I thought it appropriate to offer some observations from an organizational perspective.

First – a bit about my day yesterday.

Starting at the bottom.

Clerks and a Precinct Inspector (PI) are the two levels of individuals at a polling place. The PI reports to a Field Inspector (FI) who manages between 8 and 12 precincts. All of these people are volunteers. Clerks are paid $95 for their service and inspectors receive stipends of $150 to $180. If you’re interested you can check out:

The polls are totally manned by volunteers. Judging from my personal experience, there are no qualifications or test to be the PI. This is a big mistake, as you’ll see as I continue on.

I was a Substitute Clerk. I took a 3 hour Election Training Class which was well done because it was mostly hands on. The Election Officer’s Manual (in my photo) is very much by the numbers and easy to follow.

Assigned Clerks and PIs report to their polling places on Monday night at a designated time to set up the polls. Controlled items such as the ballots, official forms and voting machines are not set up at this point and are still secured until Election Day Morning. These teams report to their polling places at 0600 on election day.

All substitutes report to the Registrar of Voters (ROV) office at 0600 on Election Day.  It took the ROV over 3 hours to get me an assignment and there had to be over 100 people still to be assigned when I left at about 0905.

My precinct had 1 PI who was in her first election. Her line of work was that she was a home health aide. She couldn’t even figure out how to work the official precinct cell phone. There were two other works with 5 years or more experience, one other new guy and me.

The day went by slowly but we were able to process all 57 voters without incident. Close-up was a bit of a fire drill. All of the forms, machines and supplies came in either cases or bags or cases. Each container had a label indicating what went where. Some had to be sealed, others did not.

The two experienced workers counted the ballots and filled out the forms related to that paperwork. The other guy and I tallied and shut down the voter machine, which we then packed. We also dismantled the polling booths/tables. In all it took about an hour and 20 minutes to pack things up.

The PI took a two-hour lunch without apology while the workers only got an hour. She was also overwhelmed by the sheer mass of materials and the multiple steps involved in closing the polls. She essentially stood by bewildered while the rest of us did the work.

I loaded the PI’s car with the ballots, cartridge from the voting machine and other controlled items that had to be returned. IAW protocol followed her car with the ballots to the drop off point where ROV people would unload the car.

Here are my thoughts as far as MISO operations. These are some key things that MISO personnel need to bear in mind:

1.     Impressions are everything. Elections and the people running them have to come across as competent, transparent and honest.
2.     Polling places must be run in a consistent and nonpartisan manner. Polling station managers must be able to work with other people of all kinds and have the management skills to orchestrate the logistical issues with trust and aplomb.
3.     Polls are open and must be secure.
4.     Observers or poll watchers are allowed to observe and observe. In the case of the State of California there is a Roster Index which shows who has voted. The purpose would appear to be to allow poll watchers to call those who have not voted and encouraging them to vote for their candidate.
5.     There may also be Election Observers who are from nongovernmental or community based agencies who are there to observe that the election process is running IAW State and Federal Laws.
6.     Observers and watchers are not allowed to interfere with the election process, permanently remove any posted Indexes, handle any ballots or act as replacements for the Election Officers (Clerks and PI).
7.     Languages are key. Ballots and instructions need to be clear and that they need to take into account the languages of the population. We had ballots in English, Spanish, Tagalog, Chinese and Vietnamese. Next year California will add Hindi, Khmer, Korean and Japanese.
8.     Processing can be cumbersome as long as it is easy to follow, transparent and embodies multiple checks and balances.
9.     Ballots must be printed in plenty of time before the election so that any issues can be dealt with prior to Election Day.
10. Chain of custody and security of ballots as well as the sanctity of the election process must be maintained at all times.
11. The counting and reporting function must also be similarly transparent, trusted and reliable as well.

Hopefully this will provide some useful perspective and since nothing ever goes away on the Internet – it will always be there if you need it.

Reader input invited as always.

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