Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Petty Irregularities

It seems that every time I cast a vote at a consolidated polling place--not Tucson Precinct 69, but a single polling district at the "Fine Arts Auditorium" covering much of mid-town--I encounter irregularities, stemming more from poll-worker incompetence than from outright malice or Chicago-style corruption.

We vote on paper ballots which are in turn fed to an optical scanner. Wasteful, but until and unless computerized voting machines go open-source and are open to voter inspection, the paper trail is necessary. It didn't stop County staff from flipping the result of the 2006 RTA election (or creating the appearance of having done so), but it is, at least, a safeguard. The polling place often has a worker looking on at the optical scanner to make sure that the same sort of dingbat that couldn't figure out punchcard ballot doesn't screw up putting a piece of paper in the only slot available. (I'm serious: that's all that needs to be done. Orientation doesn't matter.) The worker sometimes seems as though he's reading the ballots as they go in.

Hence paper "privacy sleeves" are available to ensure a secret ballot. But when I took one today, I was admonished: those were not for me. I voted, fed my ballot to the machine (with the old man looking on), then asked at the original table, in a somewhat heated fashion when we got rid of the secret ballot in Tucson.

Told to take it up with an equally old lady at the next table, the matter was resolved: I was reassured that not only were the sleeves available, but that the poll workers were supposed to offer them. She set them straight.

That isn't as bad as what happened back in 2008, when I had to raise a fuss and get on the phone with the County Recorder's office to get poll workers to give me a primary ballot. "Your party isn't having a primary," I was told. Of course they were, and there were write-ins to nominate, as well.

I understand that poll workers are largely retired, that their brains are in slow decline, and that it isn't a well-paying job. But getting it right isn't very difficult. We should at least adopt some minimum qualifications, or better still, an "If we forgot to give you a receipt"/"30 minutes or it's free" policy. If the doddering old folks screw up and you catch them, you should get ten bonus votes, a pizza, dinner at Cafe Poca Cosa, a contribution to the charity of your choice, or something similar. On them, not on the taxpayer.

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