Monday, October 27, 2008

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.

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