Voting Review From Troy School Election
by Schenectady County Commissioner of Elections Brian Quail
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Three Schenectady County Board of Elections representatives,
including myself, were graciously permitted to watch the opening of a Liberty
Machine at one of the Troy City School District’s poll sites yesterday. We asked for this opportunity because we wanted
to see poll workers in action with a DRE in a real election environment. It was an eye-opening experience. I will recount the good, bad and ugly. In reverse order, of course.
At our poll site voting started a full thirty minutes after
the time specified. And only one of two
machines was available at that point.
The delay happened even though there were two company representatives on
hand essentially doing the set-up under the gaze of six star-crossed election
clerks. The company reps said a half
hour was too short a period in which to open the polls – an hour was
needed. But even an hour after the
set-up effort began only one of two machines was operational. The other was still in its suitcase.
The set up included poll workers placing the machine on a
table, opening the machine case (after checking and breaking the seal), opening
a separate suitcase with a power supply and cords, inserting and feeding the
paper roll, inserting the VVPAT catch basin (including installing two seals),
and checking three other seals on machine compartments holding the flash drive,
printer, etc. Ironically, putting
together the curtain was the most difficult maneuver. Neither company representative could figure out how to deploy the
curtain because the design had recently changed, we were told. Fortunately the school maintenance guy was
able, with some fuss, to install the curtain.
At this point a poll worker printed out zero reports and did various
other steps to activate voting. This
entailed some anxiety and missteps also, but ultimately the machine was turned
on. With eighteen voters on line, and
other voters having already opted for emergency ballots, the moment the machine
indicated it was ready for voters brought a wave of relief. The poll workers were incredibly on edge –
one commenting to me at the height of the chaos “please pray for us”.
Contrary to the Times Union report, not one poll worker at
this site showed up late. They were
early. All of the set-up problems
involved difficulty moving through the process. None of the problems related to tardiness.
Voters (including several older folks) had no apparent
difficulty using the Liberty machine.
Once the machine was set up and turned on poll workers under their own
direction were able to easily press the “entrance button” and move voters along
quickly. Notably the first few voters
complained that it was hard to get the machine to accept their vote choices
(i.e. “I had to keep pressing the button because nothing was happening”). I think this occurred because poll workers
were a bit slow, at first, in pressing the “entrance button” which resets the
device between voters. In general,
voters seemed comfortable with the machine.
III. A Lesson
Setting up the Liberty is more complicated than setting up
the AVM. (In fairness the Liberty is
probably no harder to set up than any of the other new machines, but we haven’t
had a chance to see the other apparati being used in a real-world scenario
yet.) There are simply more steps to follow which involve “putting things
together” and plugging things in. It
will be crucial to have trained people present to help poll workers set the
machines up on election morning (regardless of prior training), and the process
should begin a full hour before polls open.
In an interesting twist of events, even though the
Schenectady County delegation was given access to a poll site to watch the
opening process unfold, the LWV was forbidden from poll site access. The Superintendent of Schools took to the
television cameras to say “the league of women voters wants to disrupt this
election”. Many criticisms have been
leveled at the LWV, but “disruptive” is not a word often used to describe these
folks. We should encourage more transparency in election administration and
thus more confidence in the results. To
the extent the school district exercised discretion, I think it erred in
keeping the LWV at arm’s length. Of
course I am mindful that if the LWV attempted to do the same observation in an
election under the jurisdiction of the BOE, we would be required to exclude
them from poll sites unless they produced poll watcher credentials in proper
form. I think this is an area where the
law needs to evolve to reflect common sense.
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