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by Kathleen Moore

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When the city is waiting

By Kathleen Moore
Thursday, June 17, 2010

When it comes to Election Night, I’ll admit it, I was spoiled by Rotterdam.

When I was covering Rotterdam, the Republicans were a well-oiled machine. They had a poll watcher at each site who jotted down the votes for each candidate as soon as the polls closed and raced to party headquarters, where tech-savvy Republicans had the figures added to a spreadsheet in seconds. As a reporter, I went there first, because I could find out who won more than half an hour before the Board of Elections made it official. (The Democrats were not, at the time, nearly as organized.)

Unfortunately for me, the city school district’s election process isn’t well organized either. Last month, it took school officials nearly 90 minutes to figure out how people had voted on the budget and whom they’d chosen for school board.

So for the re-vote Tuesday night, I decided to watch the high school poll watchers to figure out what was taking so darned long (and to make sure the numbers weren’t misread, as they have been in the last two school votes).

One would think the new computerized ballot system would speed things up. But rather than simply asking the machine for the results, the poll workers had to follow a booklet full of regulations.

First they checked the machine’s seals. Untampered. Then they checked the serial number on the seals. Unchanged.

(I cannot imagine how someone could rip off the seal, break through the lock behind the seal, snatch some ballots, and then replace the lock and slap on a new seal without any of the poll watchers noticing, but who am I to question the rules? The poll watchers are only sitting there RIGHT IN FRONT of the machine.)

Anyway, this took three minutes.

Then the poll watchers told the computer to close the poll. The computer asked if we were really, truly, sure that we wanted to stop voting for the night. We were reminded that if there were people still in line, they had a right to vote. Poll workers confirmed — via shouts — that no one was hiding behind a door waiting to vote at the last minute. One worker bravely clicked the “close poll” button a second time. The computer decided to think about it.

Three more minutes.

Then it printed out a receipt. This is what democracy has come down to: election results on a Stewart’s Shops receipt.

But we’re not done yet. The poll workers still had about 15 minutes of procedures to get through so they didn’t even bother to glance at the results at first. They were too busy searching through four envelopes — all of which had the same label — to find a key to unlock the machine.

Meanwhile, I was goggling at the results, which read: “Non Yes: 124” and “Non No: 126.”

Um.

In the interests of English, I have to point out that implies there were 124 no votes and 126 yes votes.

But it turns out “non” is just filler. Someone thought “non” would be a brilliant thing to put in whenever the election question has no party affiliation.

Meanwhile, the poll watchers were carefully inspecting one part of the machine to make sure there were no emergency ballots (even though they knew there weren’t). Next, they would get to actually touch the real ballots, placing them in a locked bag to deliver to district headquarters.

So I headed for headquarters too. I wanted to interview the school board as the results came in. They were good sports — but mainly our conversation consisted of complaints about how long this was taking.

We waited. And waited.

More than half an hour later, the high school’s results were finally added to the district’s calculations.

In the end, it took the district 58 minutes to collate the results of one question from just 12 voting districts.

Thank goodness the political parties are a bit more enthusiastic about getting the results quickly. Otherwise I’d be up all night on the first Tuesday after the first Monday every November.

Kathleen Moore is a staff reporter for The Daily Gazette. Reach her by e-mail to moore@dailygazette.com.

 
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