08 Nov 2012

After The Election, Questions of Problems at the Polls

Photo by Maria Carey on Instagram

Along with the long lines at the polls on Tuesday, there were apparently a number of glitches facing voters.  On Twitter, user @dinhzarr arrived at her polling location only to find no ballots with her ANC.  Across the Hill and later in the day, Matt Ashburn Tweeted his issues, which included bad organization issues, a broken scanner and little reassurance his vote would be counted.  You can read the full story at the City Paper.  We also received the following email from a reader, reporting even more issues:

At the polling station in the North Hall of Eastern Market I was given the wrong ANC ballot. Without asking me for any identification, the lady at the the check-in desk just asked for my name and then wrote 6B02 on my ticket even though I live in 6B03. Without noticing, I handed in my ticket and received a 6B02 ballot. When I started to fill it out I noticed that the people I was expecting to see in the ANC race for my neighborhood did not appear on my ballot, which prompted me to notice that 6B02 was printed on the top of the ballot instead of 6B03. I went back to the desk to explain that I was given the wrong ballot and asked for a 6B03 instead. The person at the desk took back the 6B02 ballot and gave me a new 6B03 ballot without ever asking me for identification or confirming my address in any way. This experience gives me at least four different concerns:
(1) How many other people were given the wrong ANC ballot, never noticed the discrepancy (most people don’t even know what ANC they live in), and ended up casting a ballot for the wrong ANC race?
(2) How many other people can just walk up and receive a ballot without showing any kind of identification and/or request a different ballot without any proof of your address?
(3) It’s possible that the polling volunteer crossed a different person off her list (a 6B02 person) when she meant to cross me off her list (a 6B03 person), which could be the reason that I was given an incorrect 6B02 ballot. Is it possible that the person who was crossed off the list will show up later and not be allowed to vote because their name was inadvertently crossed off instead of my own name? Is it possible that I can show up and vote again because the other person’s name was crossed off instead of mine?
(4) Relying on the polling volunteer to write the correct ANC number on the card you’re given when you first check-in at the desks organized by last name must create a large volume of human errors. They could be inadvertently transposing and writing incorrect ANC numbers down on peoples cards all day long. Perhaps there should be different polling places for each ANC so that each polling station only gives out one kind of ballot.
Kind of makes the whole process seem like a crap shoot. High margin of error to say the least, which is a little disconcerting when a few votes either way can sway a small ANC election.
Did you experience issues trying to cast your vote?  Or were things smooth sailing?

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  • Justin McLachlan

    They’re supposed to confirm your address with you. You don’t need proof unless you live in a state with a Republican controlled government.

  • comesthesun

    (2) It’s against the law to require identification.

    (3) The voter is required to sign his or her name on the same line as his or her name in the registration book.

  • Ivan Frishberg (AME)

    I know of two people who had the same problem. We made the precinct captain aware of the issue and it was also reported to the City wide ANC office.

  • Brian Pâté

    Both my opponent, Steve Holtzman, and I noticed a similar discrepancy with people receiving an incorrect special ballot. We actually cornered a BOE official (together) to press the issue. Initially, he didn’t seem to concerned, until a constituent came out and reported on his own situation. Then the BOE official took note. Very much a cause for concern in a close race and philosophically plain n wrong. We also had reports of folks being told (incorrectly) that they could only vote at their designated polling station. All of these issues seem like human error easily corrected with better training and supervision. BOE should do so next election cycle.l

    • Stanton_Park

      Voters can vote at any polling place, but on election day if you vote outside your precinct you must vote by special ballot. Each precinct only has ballots that are needed by the people who live in that precinct. There is no difference between the special ballots and the regular ballots, so the correct ballot may not be available in another precinct. If you vote outside your precinct the special ballot clerk needs to determine which ballot they have is closest to the one you should have, and you get that ballot. Any races that are not on the ballot you should be voting will not be counted, and there is no way for you to vote in races not on the ballot you actually vote.

      This is different than early voting. Every early voting location has every ballot. Although all special ballots had to be voted on paper this election, the electronic voting machines are also only programmed with the ballots for their precinct. This reduces the potential for voters receiving the wrong electronic ballot.

  • Stanton_Park

    The election is a massive logistical project. It is amazing to me there aren’t more errors, but they are actually pretty rare.

    Obviously a mistake was made in your case. There is no foolproof way to eliminate all errors in the system. This could have been a simple human error by the poll worker writing in the wrong ANC number, or there could have been an error in the program that prints the ANC number in the voter books. Here’s what should have happened in your circumstance.

    When you returned the ballot, a poll worker should have retrieved your voter card (the yellow card with your name and ANC on it) and verified the ANC in the master index. If the ANC listed in the index for you was the same as the one written on the voter card, you should have been directed to vote by special ballot (using the ballot you claimed was yours, not the one listed in the book). If the ANC listed in the book was the one you claimed, the voter card should have been corrected and you should have been issued a new ballot and allowed to vote normally.

    Special ballots are reviewed by the BOE staff after election day. The staff would determine whether you were wrong or the registration book was wrong. Assuming you were right, your ballot would then be fully counted. If you were wrong, only the votes for offices that were on the ballot you should have voted are counted.

    Even if the poll workers did not follow the proper procedures, the ballot you returned would have been spoiled, and caused a discrepancy in the ballot counts which would be sorted out after election day.

    Answers to your specific questions:

    1. There have also been problems in the past with the wrong ANC candidates printed on the correct ballot. Unfortunately, these errors persist. There is no way to know how many people may have voted the wrong ballot. We only know for sure when the wrong names were printed on the ballot. (Unfortunately, this has happened.)

    2. All of them. Voting is perhaps TEH core Constitutional right. It cannot be denied lightly, and when it is there must be an important public policy reason why.
    Not everyone has ID, and if it were required, poll workers would need
    to be trained to distinguish a valid ID from an invalid one. Would it be fair to deny your right to vote because your wallet was stolen, the motor vehicle office made an error and you didn’t have an ID, or a poll worker thought you didn’t look like the photo on your iD? Think about the potential civil rights issues involved with that.

    3. Nobody is ever denied the ability to vote. You are not crossed off a list, you are required to sign your name on the line next to your name to certify, under oath, that is who you are. If there is a mistake, you sign on the wrong line, and the person whose line you signed on comes to vote, that person is required to vote by special ballot. When reviewing the special ballots the BOE staff will see that you signed on the wrong line and count the other person’s ballot. Remarkably, this happens very rarely. Any time there is any discrepancy in the process, a voter should be directed to vote by special ballot.

    You could attempt to vote again. Assuming the poll worker did not notice the error when you sign in a second time, the BOE staff will. That record would then be used to prosecute you for voter fraud.

    4. There is no way to eliminate 100% of errors. For this election, the BOE web site sometimes sent voters to the wrong polling place. One polling place per SMD wouldn’t solve that problem. And the “solution” would create new problems: Also, we would need a lot more polling stations. Each SMD is about 2,000 people. Each polling place has an average of 4,000 residents. SMDs are redrawn every 10 years, so your polling place could change every ten years. And polling precincts were originally drawn with the polling station near the center of the precinct. Changing them could mean that you live across the street from a polling place but have to go elsewhere to vote,

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