Thursday, November 09, 2006

Election Day report

Very long day. We opened about three minutes after 7 AM after the Republican judge did not set up the night before and we had to find the San Jacinto college police at 6 AM to open up the library. We then had to assemble 13 polling booths and get set up. We only had two clerks plus the presiding judge and myself as the alternate judge. We were authorized 9 people total plus should have received two bilingual Spanish clerks (one would have been good) from the county. The judge said none of the others showed up. Who did show up were two poll watchers from the Lampson and Sekula-Gibbs campaigns that we could not put to work.

Normally judges hate poll watchers whose job it is to spy on their elections and make sure they know what they are doing and that they conduct a fair and honest and non-partisan election. Our judge was not concerned with that, we do, and did not impose the strict restrictions of no talking by the poll watchers except to the election judge. We had conversations with the poll watchers and even let them have a few instances of non-election talk to a voter if a friend came in.

I ran one Judge Booth Controller controlling 6 booths and the presiding judge ran the other with 7 and the two clerks divided up the sign in. Both of us judges also assisted voters and handled problems and called in to the county to find correct precincts for wanderers or about other problems.

I refer to my booths, we set up one aisle with booths on either side. I normally gave voting codes activating a booth to one side and the presiding judge the other. We both assisted voters on any booth or handled problems at check-in.

A good election except we just had a few minutes slack during the day as there were about 540 voters, I don't have the exact number with me right now. Very understaffed for the election. I have had fewer people as a presiding judge but not with that many voters and four is the minimum you need.

Around 9:30 AM or so I went out and moved some polling location signs further out to the street after hearing a complaint from a voter of having a hard time finding us. I believe the clerks had placed the signs before 7. We were in the San Jacinto College Library lobby and were down a few blocks from where early voting was held. I was surprised we had no candidate signs near us. I was going to put up a Lampson sign at Spencer highway and our side street, moving it from my front yard, but forgot this at 5:45 AM.

There was a minor opening glitch - the battery of my JBC didn't work but it worked off of the power cord. When the tech guy came around later he just said he didn't think it would be a problem unless we lost power and then we could call him. The other JBC seemed fine.

There was another programming glitch in the machines we discovered. If you accidentally voted a straight party ticket, which someone did for the Libertarian Party, canceling the straight party vote did not remove the votes for all of that party's candidates. The voter had to go through and make individual changes in each race. That was a simple programming error.

The biggest problem with the machines we use is the big cast ballot button. A few voters just love to push that instead of the enter button for a selection. A warning should pop up on the screen that you are about to cast your ballot and you will be done but it doesn't do that. Instead, the e-slate just goes through and starts showing the tally list of all the races and who you voted for and didn't vote for. There is now an information pop-up they added the first time you override a straight party ticket vote, there should be one final warning on the cast ballot action. This time we only had one person we know of who cast his ballot after only voting for the first race but looking at the under votes later there were probably several others. There were 10 non-votes, also called under votes, at my booths in the most popular election. Most people when they start getting the tally screens will ask us for help or we will spot and go assist.

The other problem, of course, is those voters who go through the ballot and check their tally screens and then forget to push the cast ballot button. This is the first election I had this didn't happen to any of our voters - we manage to spot the couple of voters before they left.

A large number of people did need help on the first special election for the US House CD-22 race. "Why wasn't there a straight party choice first," etc. This was also the first page and some had to be shown how to move the highlighted choice over what they want as their selection and hitting the enter key and so on. After that special race the machines did not automatically go to the next page after a choice was made, you had to move the selector wheel or hit the next button. Or maybe it was just sometimes it didn't, I was too busy assisting voters wondering what to do next to see if it automatically advanced for some.

We had a line from 7 AM to 9 AM and were also busy around noon. Right after 3:30 with no one voting I looked out the glass entrances and saw what looked like a scene from a Night of the Living Dead movie, a large group of people with lots of kids converging on us. They had picked up kids from school and here they came. We stayed very busy from then on with it intensifying even more right before 5. At 5 all thirteen booths were occupied and there was a line of fifteen or so waiting to sign in and another line of a dozen waiting for us to give them a ticket for a free booth. The presiding judge's wife showed up to help - technically she was supposed to be the presiding judge and then said something came up and the husband who was normally the presiding judge anyway had taken over. We stayed constantly busy with all booths occupied from 4:30 or so until 6:45. I am surprised there wasn't a last minute rush right before 7 PM.

Phone help from the county: During the 5 PM rush a clerk asked me to help with a person with a driver's license only and not on our books. And then to help the other four or five people there not on our books. I got on the phone with the registration office. They couldn't find the voter. This involves giving them name and address and then more information like date of birth or TDL number and Social Security number and then previous addresses. This was taking a while and the guy couldn't remember his previous address. When I said there were several others as well she said we sounded like we were too busy and I should just let them call a public number the clerks could give them to find their correct precinct. There was another clerk who for the longest time could not understand me when I spelled out a person's name. Jan. Jay Aye eN. Kan? No, J as in jello. Kay? No, J as in Jello? KellO? J as in jet, J as in jump rope. Ken? No matter what she kept hearing k - no matter what examples I gave. Finally she passed me to someone else less tired who had no problems. Kello?

Provisional ballots - my presiding judge hates provisional ballots and always tries to persuade people not to waste our time. There was one person near the end with his wife at the same address in our books but he wasn't. He said he had moved around a lot the last several years and was now with his wife again, technically ex-wife, I think. After passing around several people at the clerks office they said he had been removed from the rolls when he moved to Galveston County. The man said he had requested a new voter residency at the driver's license bureau six months ago when he got a new driver's license. The presiding judge explained that if it had been one or two months ago his vote might count but six months or more he did not think they would find a record of him applying that did not get passed on. Sometime the DPS offices are late passing the material on but not that late. The presiding judge explained he could fill all of this provisional ballot stuff out and then after the election they would check but it was very likely, more than very likely, it would not count. (I am not the presiding judge and have a higher opinion of provisional ballots and would not try to discourage them as much as our judge does. The Stanley - Harrison election both times was decided by provisional ballots. I didn't push my opposite viewpoint when the man started in on this "all these illegal aliens voting and he doesn't get to" spiel.) We had no provisional ballots cast.

At closing, I had no real problems with my JBC, just had to remember to print a result of the write-ins as well as the vote tally. The other JBC when the presiding judge attempted to do the first write-in printed tally the machine died with a programming error - "Status Error line XXXXx - expected XXx, data exception" and more computerese database programming error message. The machine was frozen and the judge could not get the printed tally. So we only received a printed tally of a little less of half the votes in my precinct - those who voted on the booths connected to my machine. Help Desk was not available at either number so he took it in with no printed tally. Remember the morning battery problem? The battery key would not unscrew from my machine at closing.

Poll watching is more dull than working the election. They stayed all day and didn't observe any real problems - I think they both wrote down a couple minor things but at least one tossed it away later. Both of us judges only provided help when asked or it looked liked a voter needed it and avoided mentioning candidate's names. If assisting straight ticket voters or Republican voters I pointed out some races do not have party candidates listed on the ballot and to look at the other candidates or write-in candidates - period. I showed them the list of write-in candidates in the machines. I said the same to all voters. The Republican presiding judge persuaded one poll watcher - the Lampson actually, to work elections.

Looking at my heavily Republican precinct where Sekula-Gibbs lost to Lampson on my booths, I expect also on the others but no idea because of the problem at closing, it seemed obvious to me Lampson would win in a close race. Sekula-Gibbs would win if more voters knew what they had to do. I was surprised on how many write-in votes were cast and it wasn't obvious until I printed the tally after 7 PM. When you are handling problems you don't notice all the ones who quickly get through even the write-in without problems.

Election Results from the booths I ran: Of the 260 ballots - Straight party: R - 65, D - 31, L - 1.
District 22: Lampson (D) 102, Smither (L) 23, Write-in Sekula-Gibbs(R) 81, Other write-ins 3.
Governor: Perry 101, Bell 48, Kinky 54, Strayhorn 46, write-in Sekula-Gibbs 1.
Unexpired term CD-22: Smither 40, Stockman 28, Richardson 19, Sekula_Gibbs 116, Tran 3.
Governor's race had the most votes with 250.
County Commisioner Sylvia Garcia running unopposed had the most votes of any Democrat with 136, Lampson next with 102.
State Rep. Wayne Smith (R) was the biggest vote getter at 183. Many unopposed Republican judges were within 10 of this.

Odd for this election was the high number of statement-of-residence change-of-address forms we used. I don't remember having had more than two in previous elections. I think we had over 25 for this one which is high even with the much higher number of voters. I don't know if it was the Kinky factor or the interest in the Lampson - Sekula Gibbs race.

I let the judge take the materials to turn in after spending over an hour taking everything down, packing up poll booths and putting every thing in the proper place.

For the first time I went to a post-election party. I picked up Pat who had been a judge at her precinct and met Janette Sexton at an election party in Northwest Houston where we stayed until past midnight. The next morning I slept through someone coming to fix the furnace.

ADDED -I keep making minor edits to this. Here is another election day poll report from another blogger in Lampson's district.

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