Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Election Day 2009 - report from the trenches

What, it’s election day again? Yes, Virginia, there is an election this year (state and most local candidates are elected in odd numbered years). Today was the Democratic primary– it’s an open primary to select Governor and Lieutenant Governor candidates, and in some places to select candidates for the House of Delegates. (The Republicans picked their candidates at a convention last month – in Virginia, it’s up to the parties whether to select candidates by convention or primary. The third statewide office, Attorney General, only had one candidate on the Democratic side so it wasn’t on the ballot.)

My precinct in Fairfax County has 1975 registered voters (small for this county), of whom 146 showed up over the 13 hours the polls were open, and 6 others voted absentee. We had four pollworkers – a chief and three assistants (including me). We were using two AVS WinVote DREs, neither of which had an apparent problems (after the special election a few months ago with strange results, I checked the zero and end of day tapes carefully). I found the election interesting because it was so slow that I had a chance to observe all of the weird things that happen in nearly any election, but in a general election we’re too busy to notice.

1. One of the three candidates for Lieutenant Governor had withdrawn before the election, but after the ballots were approved. We had signs everywhere telling voters that, but he still got four votes in our precinct.

2. Several voters didn’t know it was only a Democratic primary, and wanted to vote for Republican candidates. I presume they undervoted.

3. One voter left without pressing the final “Vote” button. Local rules say that the vote is voided rather than cast.

4. Several voters seemed surprised that there were just two races on the ballot (as noted above, some areas also had a third race for Delegate).

5. One voter who didn’t have a driver’s license or similar ID tried to use a Visa card with a photo. Luckily, Virginia allows an affidavit as an alternative to an ID, so we didn’t have to decide whether a credit card is a valid ID.

6. One voter was listed as a permanent overseas voter who gets an absentee ballot automatically, so she had to vote a provisional ballot until the county can verify that she hadn’t already voted absentee.

7. One voter needed to vote curbside; the DRE was very easy to handle for that use. However, the rules in Virginia are such that I could carry it to the car by myself (without a second pollworker coming along), so I could have (theoretically) cast extra votes without anyone noticing – except that the count would have mismatched. We discovered when it was time to close the polls and fill out the final reports that we forgot to note the protective counter when the machine was carried out to the curb and back again – most likely because none of the pollworkers had ever done curbside voting before.

8. One voter said he had registered to vote in his high school in the past few weeks (which was probably after the deadline). I wanted to allow him to cast a provisional ballot (if for no other reason than to give him the feeling that his vote might be counted), but the chief for the precinct called the county which said they didn’t have him listed, so she sent him away.

9. One voter had trouble getting the touchscreen to respond to him. The problem seemed to be that he was balling up his fist and pushing the screen with his thumb, which probably caused his other fingers to touch the screen at the same time.

10. No one asked about the paper optical scan ballots we used in the fall general election, nor did anyone express concern about the reliability/accuracy of the DREs (other than my wife). Just a statement of facts, ma’am!

All in all, a thoroughly ordinary election, but one that reinforced the range of “unusual” activities.


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