The Lady Speaks

PA Election Day – A report from the front lines

Okay, I've had numerous cups of tea, a peanut butter sandwich, and some Oreos, so I'm finally ready to talk about my first day as a poll worker. 


I'm the minority inspector of elections for one of the larger voting districts in my county. Things were very slow yesterday – just over 200 of the district's 1200 registered voters turned out – but that was good for me, as the only experience I had with any of this was as a voter – and we had paper ballots in the last election.

I went into this kind of worried – all the other poll workers are about 25 years older than me, and I was afraid of being the odd-man-out. Everyone's been in that situation at least once – you walk into a room where you don't know a soul, and you're treated as an outsider or a hindrance.

Instead, they were very welcoming, very enthused at having someone new show interest in the process, and extremely helpful in teaching me everything. It was a real pleasure to meet them, and an honor to work with them.


Here's how the day went: 

I was up at 5am, got to the polling site at 6am, and finally crawled into bed around 10:45pm, after delivering our precincts votes to the Election Bureau at 9:45pm. At 11pm, I realized I hadn't changed into jammies…or taken my shoes off. Like I said, it was a LOOONNNGGG day.

I learned quite a bit – like how to set up the Diebold machines (literally, as they come all folded up into a 'handy' carrying size) where specific signs and notices have to be placed (we got a couple wrong and boy, did we hear about that!) and what forms and papers the Minority Inspector has to sign (I think I signed about 50 different pieces of paper.).

I also learned that I get to keep – in a sealed envelope – my very own copies of: the signed oaths of the Judge of Elections, the Majority Inspector, and myself; the record of voters for the day; and one copy each of the end-of-day tapes from each machine. I keep them for three or five years. (The Judge wasn't sure which – it used to be five, but the Majority Inspector thought it had changed to three.)


I was a bit surprised by the Democrat-Republican makeup of the district's registered voters – about 55% are Republicans, and 45% are Democrats. Having lived here for over 10 years, I expected a much higher percentage of Republicans – in the neighborhood of 65-70%. Yesterday's voters were about 60% Republican, 40% Democratic, give or take a couple points.

I heard a great many comments from some of those Republicans to the effect that, were they allowed to do it again, they would not have voted for Preznit Halfwit MonkeyBoy in 2004. One of the best was a gentleman of about 80 years – with a USMC tattoo on one arm – who told us that Bushie's speech Monday evening was the "greatest exercise in blowing smoke up the nation's collective ass that I've ever seen."

One of the hardest things yesterday was maintaining neutrality. I really wanted to agree with those voters who expressed some kind of outrage with Bush and the GOP – regardless of their own party affiliation – but I was good and kept my poker face in place, and my thoughts to myself.


I learned quite a lot about the Diebold machines. They're quite interesting, and do make voting itself easier, since you simply touch the name of the person you wish to vote for. Once you've completed voting, a summary page appears so you can double-check your votes. If the voter is satisfied, they hit 'Cast Ballot' and their votes are recorded. If not, you can return to the ballot page to make corrections. For most people, voting took about seven minutes – and two of that was listening to me or one of the other workers explain the process.

The demonstration is kind of interesting – you're like a TV meterologist: you aren't allowed to look at the screen, so you just kind of hope you're pointing in the right direction at the various buttons. 

One funny thing was realizing most people are very used to credit/debit card transactions and would try to pull the card back out as soon as the instructions screen appeared. We had to explain – very quickly – that one pushed the card in until it clicked and then leaveitthereuntilyou'redone! 

Another good point – for poll workers – is that at the end of the day, we simply hit a few buttons and the machines print up copies of everything – each name on the ballot, number of votes cast, etc. The Judge of Elections and the Majority and Minority Inspectors sign each copy. Then, the memory cards are removed from the machines and sealed in special envelopes to be returned to the county Election Bureau.

Removing the memory cards was the one and only thing I knew how to do without training. No one could figure out how they came out, so I took a look and realized they have a little push-button – just like removing a floppy from your computer. 

Diebold did have a nice young woman who was the troubleshooter. Our polling place encountered only a couple of small problems that caused no delays and were easily corrected, but I heard one poll had serious problems that knocked two of its four machines out of service for awhile, and another had problems initializing their cards. 

We were given two calculator-sized thingies to initialize the voter access cards, which the voters then inserted into the machine. The cards have to be 'booted' – for lack of a better word – for each voter, depending on the party of the voter. 1 for Democrat, 2 for Republican (alphabetical order!) I'm told that some counties with large populations designated specific cards for each party, but I don't know how they did that, or if it's something we'll see here in Bradford County.

One key problem we encountered was that the power cords for the machines are not nearly long enough.

Ideally, the machines would be placed far enough apart that there would be plenty of room for voters to move between the machines. (They can't walk the aisle behind them, as they'd be able to see the screens of other voters.)

However, the Diebold machines are 'daisy-chained' – meaning each machine plugs into the one next to it, with the final machine being plugged into the power outlet. Since the cords are approximately eight feet long, that only left an area of two and one-half to three feet between each machine.

Since the cords have to go from machine to machine, we had to tape them down to prevent voters from tripping over them as they walked through. (Which explained the roll of duct tape in the super-special bag of goodies from the county Election Bureau that also included clear tape, sharpened pencils, and – for some reason unknown to everyone – a flashlight.)

Every single voter had to go sideways between the machines, and the wheelchair-accessible machine at the end of the row had to be turned to the side and pulled out by a poll worker each time a handicapped voter came in. We had to be very careful with voters using canes and walkers, that they wouldn't catch them in the cords. Really – a bad situation and one for which we couldn't find an acceptable solution.

I did discover that – for now – the machines do not connect to the outside world, except through the power outlet. So, while there could be some kind of tampering – prior to voting or afterward -, but it would have to be done through the systems that create or read the memory cards.

This will not last. The eventual goal is to have the machines be able to send their tallies directly to the County Election Bureau via modem connection. At that point, all bets are off, because there is no way to know if someone is messing with the results while it's in the data stream.


Despite the fact that there was no connection to the outside world, all I can really say is: although I know the number of ballots cast equalled the number of voters, I do not have any way (nor should I) of knowing if those votes reflect the actual intentions of the voters. Worse yet, the voters themselves have no way of knowing if the ballot they cast is what was recorded by the machine.

It is entirely possible that the memory cards were designed to flip every fourth, eighth, or tenth vote to its opposite.

Unless and until we see paper trails, we have no guarantee that our votes are being cast or counted accurately.


And that was my day at the polls.


May 17, 2006 - Posted by | Pennsylvania, Politics, Voting

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