Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The First Voting Horror Story

I've been a little lazy, and I hadn't gotten around to changing my voter registration to Bexley. I've had the new registration filled out and waiting for my next trip to the library with my daughter, but sometimes life goes by kinda quick. So now it's October and I don't want to take any chances with a delay between now and the 10th, so I decided to go the BOE and do it right there in person. When I found out that today was going to be the first day of early in-person voting, I decided to wait and try and kill two birds with one stone.

When I arrive, it's not the madhouse I was expecting, and an employee greets me right away and asks if she can help me. I say yes, I moved within Franklin County this summer and I need to update my address. She asks if I also want to vote today. I say yes, if I can do so without using a provisional ballot, but if I need to use a provisional ballot I'd just like an absentee application. She assures me that I can, in fact, vote today, and not just provisionally. My first stop is that man behind that desk over there.

So I fill out my registration card and the lady comes over and asks the man how long it would take for me to be set to vote. He says as soon as I finish with this person, I'll do it right away. 'This person' is wearing an OSU Votes T-Shirt, and she came down to vote on the first day. But alas, to her great embarrassment, she was unable to register in Franklin Co. because the address she gave was her permanent address in the Delaware Co. 'burbs. I felt bad for her, as she was clearly mortified with the series of events, but the man at the desk/counter was very reassuring and helpful.

So far, this was not only my best experience with election officials, it was one of my most positive impressions of any government office I've been in. When the woman in front of me left, the worker processed my registration information while I filled out an absentee ballot application. He checked both and sent me over to the absentee voting counter. At this point, the first glitch appears. It is a trivial one. Apparently someone had registered to vote at my address in the past, but in apartment Q. My single-family home does not have an Apartment A, let alone Q, but the workers make a note of it, and discuss briefly how best to fix it in the system. They agree that it is not a problem in the short term. They print out an ID sticker, put it on my application, and send me to an older gentleman who is manning the polls.

There are approximately 20 touch-screen machines set up in two rows of ten, back-to-back. None of them are in use. The man walks me to the second from the end of the row, by the rope cordon that separates the poll area from the vast expanse of office space beyond, saying that it will definitely provide privacy. He then starts going through the procedure with me, and damn if he isn't the best trained poll worker you could ever wish for. He starts out:

This is for security (places cartridge in slot). Now I have to key in "A" because this technically an absentee ballot. Please verify that it is "A" on the screen (I say yes, it's 'A'). Now I have to put in your code number. It is printed right under your name on the sticker here. Do you see the six digit number (I say yes). He hits the touch screen number pad as he says the numerals aloud - "nine eight seven", pauses, lets me see, "six five four." Can you please check that the six digit number on the screen is the same as the number on the sticker (I do. It is.) He moves to the next screen. It is a list of about twenty different ballot versions. He points to my sticker, and the code "B 003" and says B oh oh three means ballot version number three. Do you see where that is on the sticker (I do), does it say bee zero zero three (it does), I am going to push the selection for ballot version 3 on the screen. Did you see me touch version three (I did) can you verify that the screen now indicates that I have chosen version three (I can), okay now here are the instructions. They are also printed on this card right here to your left. You can refer to that at any time. You can change your vote anytime before you submit your ballot. You will be asked to review your ballot and confirm your choices before you submit your ballot. If you have not voted in one or more races, for instance some people intentionally don't vote for some of the judge races, you will also be asked to confirm that you intended not to vote in those races. Do you have any questions (I did not), then I can touch the screen here to begin, oops, it looks like I bumped it...

He had. It was not a big deal. It was merely the 'button' that brought up the ballot choices. He had gestured at it with his hand, but my ballot application was in that hand, and the corner of it had kissed the screen. He was quite embarrassed, and shaken that he could have potentially bumped the screen at an important juncture. I wasn't worried. As I said, I was in awe of how much more knowledgeable, competent, and friendly the staff at the BOE were compared to say, the poll workers at my precinct in the Short North in '04. The poll worker retreated to the front end of the row, and I began to vote. All of the big name races are on the front page. I happily pushed the boxes next to Strickland (check), Brown (check), Sykes, Cordray, Dann, Brunner, Shamansky... Next Page (2/7)

And then it happened. For some people reading this, the payoff won't be nearly worth the time it's taken to get this far, but the first choice I was given on page 2 was:

State Senate District 15
Ray Miller - Democrat
John M. Roscoe - Republican

I don't live in State Senate District 15. I live in State Senate District 3, soon to be represented by Emily Kreider. But if something didn't get fixed, she'd have to get elected without my vote, because she wasn't one of the choices I was offered. If you read this blog you'll guess that I was quite unhappy at this point.

First of all, I want my ballot. Second of all, I want to know how many people are going to vote for a barely contested Dem in SS15 instead of the Dem in the dead heat race in SS3. First things first. I raise my hand. The poll worker is surprised that I need help, but hurries over. I point at the screen and explain that this is not my district, this shouldn't be my ballot. Shock and disbelief mingle as he says, but you saw me put everything into the machine, the ballot version, your code, everything, right?

I did. I assure him that I did.

He says I dropped your ballot in the box already. That's a locked box. I can't get it out now.
Fear starts to creep into his expression. I tell him that I had just come directly from the absentee desk. They know I live in Bexley. If they can assure me (they can't) that Bexley is in the 15th district (it isn't), I'll go ahead and vote. Seemingly relieved, he dashes off. Minutes pass.

He returns, and tells me to stand by the machine, he's working on getting someone to help me.

More minutes pass.

He returns with a higher up. I explain the problem. It is obvious that if he were a betting man that he'd put money on me living in the 15th. But he goes off to confirm both my address and my district.

Minutes pass. A reporter and cameraman from channel 10 come over and stand by the camera that's been set up next to me this entire time. They take no notice of me.

The higher up comes back with the poll worker. He explains that I live near Bexley and that districts don't follow boundaries exactly and I have the wrong ballot. I say I don't live near Bexley. I live in Bexley. It's true. I'm several blocks from the border in any direction. It's not even close. There should be absolutely no confusion to anyone looking at the district maps and my address. He is reaching. They tell me to wait and they go off.

Minutes pass.

The poll worker ducks back around a corner and tells me the big boss is working on it, they're on the computer checking things out, don't worry about a thing.

Minutes pass.

The poll worker ducks back, says the supreme boss is working on it. There's no higher authority in the building. And he's right. I see Matthew Damschroder, head of the Franklin County Board of Elections in person for the first time. I've written about and even to Mr. Damschroder on several occasions. Once in a while even coming to his defense. But not mostly.

It is obvious that they are taking this seriously. That is good. There is a serious problem on the first day of general election touch screen voting. The staff is trained, rested, ready, the machines are shiny and have that new touch screen smell, and yet, there is a serious problem. That is not so good.

Finally, the poll worker and the immediate higher-up come over, and says apparently the address change hadn't fully processed in the computer before they printed out my ID sticker.
I'm not sure if I believe him. On the other hand, that explanation provides me with so little reassurance that it I hope that he's lying, and a single human error was responsible. He puts his cartridge in, cancels my vote, the printer whirs and scrolls, he quickly goes through the steps, pausing to show me that he is choosing ballot version 17, this time, which I confirm, and we are then interrupted by the woman from channel 10:

Will he be looking over your shoulder the whole time you're voting?"
For a split second both higher up and I are confused, then I state, I'm actually the voter here, he's an employee working on setting up my new ballot"
"yes" higher up says "I'm just setting stuff up, and then I'll leave before he votes"

"Oh" laugh the 10TV duo, we thought... he was standing there and you came... he was working, oh, well, go on." they laugh and go back to talking to each other next to the tripod with the camera. Higher up leaves. I vote my straight ticket, confirm, and leave.

I hope to hell nobody reading this needs to write a novella to describe their voting experience, but I'm afraid I might end up reading more than a few.

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