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I had no good ideas for tonight's Top Comments diary.  Fortunately, being a Californian, I'm a big believer in recycling.  Heck, we even recycle used Governors around here!  So here's my very first dkos contribution, "Diary of a Mad Election Worker," from wayback in February 2008.

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Tuesday, 4:00 AM

The alarm goes off, and I pack up my equipment so I can hustle out the door.  This will be my first time as an election worker, and they've inexplicably put me in charge of a polling place.  I have three sealed boxes of ballots, a three-foot-tall ballot box, several trees' worth of forms, keys, seals, and assorted office supplies.  And a flag, of course.

There have already been some minor screwups, so I'm nervous.  I was supposed to check in with the three people who will be working with me (two clerks and one election judge), but was only sent one name, and I had to track down the rest of the information from the Registrar of Voters.  Then one of the forms seemed to be missing when I inventoried, but turned out to be in the wrong bag with a slightly different name.

As I drive, I mentally go over the 3-hour training that was my only preparation for today. The training could best be compared with the scene in The Big Bus where the stewardess (bus attendant?) tries to explain emergency procedures in the event of a leak on the nuclear-powered bus.  "First put on your radiation underwear, which you will find rolled up in the left sleeve of your protective suit."  Maybe that movie is too old for anyone else to remember; suffice it to say that the stewardess wound up with the sleeves tied around her neck and a look of utter bewilderment.

We were issued a large stack of documents: Inspector Instructions, Seal Verification Form, a flow chart for who gets what ballot, sample voter rosters organized by name and street, additions and subtractions to said roster, and an all-purpose manual called The Guide.  We were told how to set up the equipment, where to have voters sign, what to do with provisional and absentee ballots, and how to take down the equipment and properly seal up the votes.  Which sounds like a logical sequence when I distill it that way, but it was like copying a picture when you're only able to see one square inch at a time.

Why did I agree to do this?  Oh yeah – the money.

The equipment worries me most.  I'm a bit of a Luddite; I can make computers crash just by looking at them funny.  We're going to have a scanner for paper ballots, and a touchscreen with audio hookup for disabled access.

After the training, a Registrar employee assured us that we'd be all right. "You can call your precinct captain if there are any problems.  Just follow The Guide.  We've tested it out on people who got no training at all, and they did fine."  I think they were probably better off.

6:20 AM

I'm pulling out ballots and setting up the official table. The clerks are setting up the scanner. They got no training at all, and are working off the instructions in The Guide.  The only one of us who's done this before is the election judge, and she's running late.

The touchscreen machine presents a new problem.  Before breaking the seal, we're supposed to verify that it has the same number as my "Seal Verification Form."  It doesn't.  I call the precinct captain and we proceed without it.

We have fifty-four different kinds of paper ballots.  There are six party ballots, one for nonpartisans, and two others for nonpartisans participating in the parties with open primaries (Democratic and American Independent).  Each of these nine variations appears in English, Spanish, and Chinese, and each of those in turn has a regular and provisional version.

Provisional ballots are for people who are registered in-county but not in our precinct, or have moved within the county, or are registered to vote absentee but didn't.  While regular ballots go through the scanner, provisional ones are each sealed in an envelope with the voter's signature and address, to be checked against the records later to make sure no one voted twice.

Promptly at seven am, the first voters appear.  I apologetically tell them to come back in 15 minutes.  Not long after that, all the equipment's set up, the judge is here, jobs are assigned, and the first voter is ushered in.  Before voting, we allow him to inspect the ballot box and the scanner bins to confirm that they don't contain any ballots.  Then the scanner and ballot box are locked up, and voting begins.

Within minutes, we have a voter whose name isn't in the roster.  "But I've been voting here for years!"  We give him a provisional ballot.

10:00 AM

"But I've voted here for years," turns out to be the most frequent sentence we hear all day.  We explain that the County added polling places in anticipation of a huge turnout, splitting up existing precincts.  Most people are accepting of this.  A few, particularly African-Americans, greet the news with suspicion.   After Florida in 2000, I don't blame them.

Every voter is supposed to get a mailed notice along with their sample ballot, confirming their voting location.  The outside of the envelope warns: "CHECK YOUR POLLING PLACE AS IT MAY HAVE CHANGED."  No one ever does.  I never did.

There is no efficient way to find out someone's correct polling place.  We have a list of locations, but nothing that matches them with voters' addresses.  We give out cards with the Registrar's phone number, but no one is thrilled with the idea of spending ages on hold.  We give out provisional ballots.

Over a third of the votes cast have been provisional ballots. We're already out of the "Nonpartisan Democratic" provisional ballots.  I call the precinct captain asking for more.  In the meantime, we give out regular ballots and I write an explanation on each envelope.

The precinct captain comes to see how we're doing.  He checks the touchscreen; it turns out there's another seal in a different spot that does have the right number.  As long as he's here, he sets the machine up for us.  My Luddite heart is warmed.

4:30 PM

I take my final break for the evening, gulp down my fifth cup of coffee and call my spouse.  "It's going pretty smoothly, I guess," I say.  "I think I can do this again for the next election."

When I return to work, we're out of provisional Democratic ballots.  I call the precinct captain again.  There are no more ballots to be had.  Also, the signature log for provisional votes is nearly filled.  He tells me to turn it over and have people sign the back.

Only one voter has used the touchscreen machine, a blind man who needed the audio hookup.  We direct another voter to the touchscreen so that his voting choices will remain anonymous.

A woman brings her kids along as she drops off her absentee ballot, and explains to them about the importance of grown-ups voting to pick a good President.  The kids seem more interested in the stickers we give them, but with any luck they'll be back when they're old enough.

8:00 PM

It's been steady all day, no huge crush or long lulls.  A final voter races through the door just as we're about to close it.  Voters all day have been unfailingly pleasant, accepting the inconveniences around provisional ballots and thanking us for our service.

Now all we have to do is figure out how to take down the equipment, seal the scanner tape and touchscreen memory card in designated envelopes, count and seal the ballots, have everyone sign and/or initial in a dozen places, and deliver the votes to the return center.

My first task is to count the unused ballots, tallying by party and language.  And we appear to be missing 800 ballots.  I search the room, double-check the boxes that the ballots arrive in.  I try to call the precinct captain, and reach a recording saying, "There is no voice mailbox set up for this phone."  I try the Registrar's office.  Lengthy recordings inform me of voting hours and office hours, then dump me back into the voice mail menu.

Meanwhile, the clerks are searching for the Vote Totals Form to write down the two votes from the touchscreen.  I vaguely remember that the form may have a different name, but it's not on the table or in any of our assorted bags.

I try calling the precinct captain again.  "There is no voice mailbox set up for this phone."

I think I'm in hell.

10:00 PM

Somewhere over the last two hours, someone found the Vote Totals Form stuffed in with a bunch of the other papers.  On my tenth attempt to reach the precinct captain, my exhausted, overcaffeinated brain had a breakthrough.  We're not short 800 ballots.  The two boxes labeled "800 ballots" refer to the total, not 800 in each box.

Everything's in sealed bags inside of sealed bags.  The equipment, ballots, and flag are packed up.  One of the clerks goes with me to the Return Center.  I see the precinct captain there, and tell him I've been trying to reach him for hours.

"My phone was on," he says.  "I was getting calls from downtown."

I'm too exhausted to puzzle this out.  A final signature or two, and I'm on my way home, Springsteen blasting on the stereo to keep me awake.

11:30 PM

I get home, gulp down a glass of wine, collapse into bed and....

...can't sleep.

My coffee-soaked mind chugs along like a train, replaying every mistake I could possibly have made.  Is everything signed in the right place, sealed properly, counted right?  What if I disenfranchised someone with a mistake, maybe did the provisional ballots wrong?  I feel like a surgeon doing a life-and-death operation.

I go through it step by step in my mind: we properly sealed the red bag, which contained several other bags, all properly sealed and initialed.  One of them contained the voter log...

...which contained the form where I should have noted the time where everyone left.  Except of course that there were several other steps to complete after the sealing, before everyone could leave.  Does this mean we won't get paid?

I fall asleep.


Back at work, I check in with a couple of friends who also worked the election.  It seems I had it relatively easy.  One had a worker fail to show up (which is a misdemeanor); we'd been advised at the training that if that happened, we should recruit one of the voters and see if they'll agree to a 16-hour workday.  She wisely prevailed on a relative, who didn't hang up on the six A. M. call.

I don't know if any of the first-timers will return in November.  It was a meat grinder of a day, yet it makes total sense to have the same person overseeing for the full sixteen hours.  I see the reasons for the multiple checks, manual counts against electronic ones, protections against fraud. Yet each time the process is made more complicated, there are more opportunities for mistakes.

I participated in something really important, and tried to do it well.  I may try it again for that reason.  (That, and the Registrar's Office telling me that despite the sealed-roster problem, we will get paid.)

On to Top Comments!

From expatjourno:

Chi's comment pointing out a stunning, atrocious and obvious example of how everyday sexism works.  (Note from Tara:  the submitter forgot to provide a link to the comment or the name of the diary, but I tracked it down in zenbassoon's diary New Poll:  Karen Lewis beats Rahm by nine points, because I am a TC Goddess!)
From mojo11:
A very bumper sticker worthy comment from fuppet on Hunter's diary Anti-immigrant Arizona Republican saddened by refugee kids ... from YMCA camp.
From Gwennedd:
Anakai answers the question of the eons: "Why are we here?" in Gwennedd's diary Finding Life Beyond Our Solar System.
From your humble (if antisocial) diarist:
jim304 provides the setup, and GeorgeBurnsWasRight takes it to the logical conclusion.  Found in Hunter's diary Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin is back, and he's steamed.

There's probably some rule against submitting comments from spam diaries, but after all the rock crusher spam, this was too good to pass up.  In this hotel advertising spam diary, Remediator kicks off a hilarious thread with some help from blueyedace2.

In librarisingnsf's diary Marriage equality rulings imminent in Florida, Sen. Frothy's loopy "man-on-dog" comments came up.  Commonmass had a wicked thought, only to be out-wickeded by d3clark's vile pun.  Bring your brain bleach.

Top mojo, courtesy of mik:
  1) And.the Onion is scooped again by CPT Doom — 213
  2) Nice to see you writing. by Bob Johnson — 196
  3) USPS Rocks. by aoeu — 176
  4) In s perfect world: by Pluto — 170
  5) I like even trade. But poor Guatemala! by Gwennedd — 134
  6) See how sexism works? by Chi — 124
  7) It's a dry hate. by Pluto — 114
  8) Rahm doesn't need to retire. by psnyder — 110
  9) Disappointment?! by Demi Moaned — 108
10) A classic case of projection by Norm in Chicago — 107
11) Good news.  If Kansas doesn't by Its the Supreme Court Stupid — 102
12) Recall when GOP played this trick on Gore in 2000 by Betty Pinson — 99
13) Drop them on an atoll by psnyder — 98
14) Clay Aiken. He's running, but the district has by samanthab — 96
15) She does have a point: by bryduck — 93
16) Around my neighborhood, by karmsy — 92
17) You can run people over and kill them. by brooklynbadboy — 90
18) guns like cars by Iberian — 88
19) She's an embarassment to all women, not just her by My Philosophy — 85
20) Not only... by JackND — 80
21) Just another by fugwb — 80
22) Good news for John McCain! by Liberal Capitalist — 79
23) There are not enough facepalms by nosleep4u — 77
24) I wonder if the tipping point by MadRuth — 73
25) There are a expected batch of polls by tmservo433 — 73
26) TV gun theory. by 88kathy — 73
27) It's ok... by i understand — 73
28) small government idiots don't realize that making by annieli — 72
29) Where and when   by LakeSuperior — 72
30) I've heard a lot about the harm from "secondhand by Calvino Partigiani — 71
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