Oct. 30th, 2012

abqdan: (Default)
At the general elections, I work the polls for Bernalillo County. In the past that has been a pretty simple job, because I was assigned to a local site, and we only dealt with our local precinct. This year however, Bernalillo has purchased a computer system that allows anyone to vote at any voting center. The result is that instead of having thousands of pre-printed ballots, they are printed on demand when you turn up to vote. That alone should save many trees.

That's not the main aim of course - the idea is to make it more convenient to vote. You don't have to know where to go - you can pick any location from a list of 69, county wide. The system feeds real-time data to an app that shows the polling locations, and the approximate wait-time at each one. All the clerk's workstations are linked by a VPN to allow real-time updates of who has voted, and this is sent every couple of hours to all political parties, so that they can get out their voters (or not). All of this simplifies the process.

Some things though become much more complex. Now, instead of having to deal with ballots for a single precinct, poll workers have to deal with all the various types of ballot for (potentially) hundreds of precincts. While a lot of the vote tallying is dealt with by a mark-sense reader (we have paper ballots, with bubbles you have to fill in), incorrectly marked ballots (where they've marked both Romney and Obama for example), and ballots with write-in candidates selected, must be tallied by hand at the end of the day. All this information has to be entered into several Excel spreadsheets by the poll workers, and then transferred to a secure flash drive.

Many poll workers have worked the polls for 20, 30, and sometimes more years. The older folks are used to precinct ballots, where there is no technology and a slow trickle of voters. In the past, they could sit and chat, do crossword puzzles, read a boo and have a pot luck. Not any more. This year, they're all going to be working computers, and they will be working flat out for most of the day, since there are far fewer voting locations than previously. Where a single precinct might see 200 votes, a convenience center will have between 1000 and 2000 voters on election day. (These are estimates by the county, based on early voting patterns). The county has hired 800 temporary workers to staff the voting centers.

This year, I'll be a Presiding Judge for a voting center. This means I have to manage all the equipment, poll workers, and the observers, poll watchers and poll challengers. I have to ensure everything is done as prescribed by NM law, and I have to make sure no-one and nothing disrupts the polling process. Along with a second judge (the Exceptions Judge) I have to handle any exceptions - people needing provisional ballots, those who have requested but not received absentee ballots, etc.

One of my main concerns is that the challengers appointed by either party behave themselves. We've been warned that there may be attempts to act illegally, trying to challenge registered voters, question voters waiting in line, see information they're not entitled to, etc. so I plan to have a chat with them before the polls open to make sure we are all on the same page about what they can and can't do.

Closing the polls used to be quite straight-forward; you ran the paper tally from the voting tabulator, corrected for write-ins, documented provisional votes etc, then packed everything up and shipped it back to the voting collection point. This year though, it promises to be a long and involved process. Although we'll still be working on a final tally late in the evening, the provisional (and accurate within a few votes) results will be out very quickly after the polls close, because the provisional results are released when the electronic totals are submitted to the voting warehouse. We were warned that in all probability, the result of the Presidential election will have been called before we even finish our final totals, unless the race is very close and New Mexico's electoral votes become a deciding factor (not likely either way).

I'm expecting to be working from 5am to midnight. It's going to be a long, long day.


abqdan: (Default)

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