Monday, November 03, 2014

I Was an Election Observer Today

This was the first time I have volunteered for anything political since moving up here in 2010. As readers know, I was involved in northern Nevada elections for a number of years, with volunteering in the fall 2004 presidential election, and with being a delegate for the 2006 and 2008 Democratic county and state conventions. I had been too penniless to really get out and do anything up here, but this opportunity came up, so I took advantage of it.

There were of two of us observers there during the four-hour shift. The other person was a Republican observer. She had done it before, so she didn't need to have the orientation. The Jackson County Clerk, Chris Walker, showed me around the area and gave me a rundown on what I was supposed to do. She showed me the main areas where the election officials work.

It is a LOT of work, especially with Oregon having nothing but mail-in voting. After the envelopes with the ballots are batched, all of them are run through a machine which copies the signatures on the outside envelope. A group of officials check via computer those signatures against the signatures already on file when voters register to vote. They check every single signature of every single envelope to make sure they are comparable. They are further verified by two other officials so that each signature is checked THREE times. Those that appear not to match, or those that are believed to be forgeries, or those that aren't signed get put aside and the voter is called to come in and re-register or sign his or her ballot. None of these officials are forensic experts, but they have quite a bit of experience in handwriting analysis.

In the largest area are where the envelopes containing the ballots are brought in on USPS mail trays, with about a hundred to a tray, and are processed to prepare to be run through the tabulating machines. Today there were a total of 36 election officials at 18 tables, with two people at each table. The two people are of different parties, one Democrat and one Republican, although I noticed there was at least one independent in the mix. That way it ensures there is no fraud involved in the preparation of the ballots. One of the two goes and picks up one of the trays to bring to their table. At that point, the envelopes in the tray are divided in half so that each person has an equal stack of envelopes and ballots to work with. They first take out the secret envelopes from the mailing envelopes. Then when they finish with that, they rubber band those and put them in the tray. Then they open the secret envelopes and take the ballots out, which are stacked and set aside. Those envelopes are then rubber banded and put in the trays. Then the officials check each ballot to make sure that there are no unusual marks or they are damaged in some fashion. Those that are are put in a file in the middle of the table to be worked on later. When the official is done checking his or her stack of ballots, that person switches with the other person to double-check to make sure nothing was missed. When the pair of officials are finished with the ballots, they put them in a box that will be sent to the tabulating room so the ballots are tabulated. The ballots that are torn or damaged are recopied on a new ballot with a red marker, with one official reading off who or what the voter voted, and the other person using the marker to make a new copy. The person reading off the original ballot checks while the other person is marking a new ballot. When that is done, those ballots are put in the box with the other ballots. If there are markings that may not be counted by the machine, the official puts a tape over it and makes the correction. If there are questions about how that person voted, those ballots get set aside for further research. The trays with the envelopes are put on a long table, and the boxes with the ballots are also put there. Then the officials get another tray and the process starts all over again.

The tabulating room has four machines. These machines remind me of scaled-down versions of optical card readers (OCRs) like the one I used when I worked at Harry & David many, many years ago to read time cards and packing slip items. The tabulating operators take a box with the completed ballots (the boxes are numbered), pull some out of the box, stack them into a hopper ala a photocopy machine, pushes a button, and the ballots are run through this machine very quickly, unless, of course, there is a paper jam, which invariably there is. There are also some ballots that the machine rejects. Those ballots are put aside for further research and put in a separate envelope. When the ballots are completed, they are put back into the box, marked with a # sign to show they were tabulated, and are brought back into the room where all of the ballot boxes are kept.

Almost all of the election officials are retirement age, and the vast majority are women. If I am still around the valley in 2016, I would like to be able to do this job. It does require quite an eye for detail, however.

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