Monday, October 27, 2008

Pennsylvania Ballot Initiatives

My friends in California have so many ballot initiatives to chose from. On any conceivable issue, you can probably find a ballot measure to oppose. There are two on the ballot for Northampton County Pa. Short summary of this post: Vote yes on both questions.

The first is a $400 million bond issue to support clean water initiatives in the state. See the details at Ballotopedia. The Commonwealth Foundation has some helpful details about other borrowing by Pennsylvania, a total of $3 billion in July 2008 that brings the state government's outstanding debt to $8.5 billion. That's roughly comparable to Ohio's state debt, $8.6 billion. (Individual state authorities and local governments have the vast majority of state of local obligations, though.) It doesn't sound like a huge debt problem.

I found two endorsements of the proposal.
I'll be voting in favor of this measure. Investment in infrastructure for water and sewage is good spending for the state. It will have good long term benefits for communities. In the short-term, it will mean increased public spending and more jobs at a time when the economy needs that kind of stimulus.

The second ballot measure is to hire a full-time, paid country controller. I have my absentee ballot, so I know the question is on the ballot. I can't find any one who discusses it. I can't find anything from the Morning Call or the League for Women Voters. In principle, it makes sense to me to have full-time, paid officials for some key county offices. Lehigh County's controller is paid significantly more than Northampton County's controller, so I will assume that Lehigh County has a full-time controller ($62,500 vs. $39,000).

I'll be voting for this measure, too. It makes sense to pay for competent, qualified professionals to run the local goverment.

Poll Worker Training

I went for my semi-annual poll worker training session on Sunday. The normal focus of the training session is on operating the voting machines: How to prepare them in the morning, operate them, and record the votes on the flash memory to be delivered for the county count. This year there was an added emphasis on the complications of a presidential election. The most obvious difference with the typical election is that more people come. There will be lines most of the day, primarily because of the time it takes to sign people in.

We were encouraged to be patient. It will be a long day. With long lines, we were asked to keep an eye out for people campaigning inside the polling place or doing anything else inappropriate. The first line of defense here is the election board, but we were encouraged to call the Register with any questions.

Common Cause has a good summary of Pennsylvania election procedures. We were told that the county would provide lots of provisional ballots for polling places and encouraged us to use them. I was happy to hear that Pennsylvania will count a provisional ballot cast at any polling place in the county. If you show up at the wrong polling place 10 minutes before the end of voting, you can cast a provisional ballot and it will still count. My only reservation is that it's more work to cast a provisional ballot. There's more paperwork for the voter and the poll worker. If we have a lot of votes cast this way, it will slow us down.

Provisional ballots sound like a mixed bag. The county collects the provisional ballots, decides whether each one is valid, and counts the valid ones. It will probably take two or three days to count them. The obvious advantage is that anyone not allowed to vote using the regular voting machines can still cast a ballot. If there's a problem and you don't cast a ballot, you can't fix that later. I've read a lot of warnings about provisional ballots. At some level, the warnings make sense. If you can vote on the official machine, that's better. Your vote will definitely be counted--at least to the extent you can trust the machines--but I don't have any idea how they decide which provisional ballots to count and which to toss. I do have some trust in the process:
Howard Erney is the acting chief registrar for this election. I don't know him well, but he runs voter training and often visits polling stations on election day. He seems fair, honest, and conscientious.

I asked about poll watchers and about challenges to voters. The answers here were pretty thin. We had two poll watchers during the primary. One woman was tracking Republication voters--making sure people who said they would vote really came to vote. The other poll watcher came and went. They both stayed while we counted the votes at the end of the day. I did find a summary of the Pennsylvania code on poll watchers that explains things in a fair amount of detail. They can challenge someone's right to vote, but that doesn't automatically disqualify someone from voting. It just makes more paperwork for all involved.

The Pa. League of Women Voters has some more useful information for poll workers. There's a checklist for poll watchers that will work just as well as a checklist for poll workers. I found a really detailed FAQ for Pennsylvania voters on their site, but I don't know if it's current.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Thai Pumpkin Pizza

I had a pumpkin and some Thai basil from my neighbor Tina. I found a recipe for Thai pumpkin soup and that formed the basis for a Thai pumpkin pizza that I made tonight. It turned out well. We'll definitely make it again, so I'm recording the recipe here. I made enough for a small 8" round pizza. All the proportions are approximate.
  • Cut pumpkin into small cubes, less than an inch on a side. 1-2 cups total.
  • Puree an inch of ginger, two pieces of lemongrass, and some Thai basil in a blender with a 1 cup of water.
  • Strain the ginger / lemongrass paste and save the liquid.
  • Dice 3 shallots and saute in oil for about five minutes over medium heat.
  • Add the paste and pumpkin to the shallots and saute for a few more minutes.
  • Add the reserve liquid, a half cup of vegetable broth, and some nam pla to the pumpkin. Lower the heat and saute until the pumpkin is soft, perhaps adding a little more liquid. Cook off all the liquid until there is just a thick paste remaining.
  • Spread the pumpkin / shallot paste on the pizza crust. Add some vegetables. We had slivered snow peas. Carrots would be good, too.
  • Add a thin layer of cheese. We used three parts fontina and one part mozzarella.