aku-aku: v.. To move a tall, flat bottomed object (such as a bookshelf) by swiveling it alternatively on its corners in a "walking" fashion. [After the book by Thor Heyerdahl theorising the statues of Easter Island were moved in this fashion.] source: LangMaker.com. Aku Aku also has another meaning to the islanders: a spiritual guide.
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democracy needs a tune-up
Posted by dav at 2004 November 3 12:33 PM
File under: Thoughts

I'd never so wanted to be wrong in my life, but yesterday's election played out exactly as I predicted. In fact I even predicted that if Bush won re-election there would be a dark cloud over San Francisco, and this morning, after a week of blue skies, there's a dark cloud over the city as I look out my window. Ugh. I mean, it's -thundering- right now and that hardly ever happens here.

But I don't really want to get into how shitty I feel today, this post is about my experience being a poll worker yesterday.

Two things I learned:
1) It's not fun being a poll worker
2) The mechanism of democracy needs a tuneup

The reasons for the first involve simple displeasures like working 6AM to 8:30pm and dealing with rude or annoying people, so I won't really go into it.

The reason for the second is more serious. It became apparent to me that the voting process could be vastly improved through digital technology, and that said technology needs to be robust, transparent and with an excellent user interface. Or in other words, nothing like the electornic voting machines that are in use right now.

The most egregious problem yesterday was this: Some number of voters, possibly around 200, were given ballots with the wrong candidates for their distrcit on it.

There were three ballots issued to voters. One federal which had things like US President, US Senate and US Representatives on it, one State and one local. Around 11am the federal forms started getting rejected by the Eagle voting machine. I figured out that they were being rejected because of a bad bar code at the top. We called the Fed to get the right ballots sent, and in the meantime started putting the rejected forms in the "Auxillary Bin" instead. People did not seem happy about this, especially it being the form containing the presidential race that was being rejected, but no one complained too much as we assured them that auxillary bin votes would be counted (I hope anyhow).

At some point right after the Fed had dropped off new ballots, one of the voters discovered that there was the wrong list of candidates for the Represenative race on their ballot. It was listing the candidates for district 12 instead of district 8. Apparently no one had noticed up until this point.

In the end it turned out that our polling place had been given 3 or 4 differnt federal ballots, that seemed to be broken down like this:

- correct ballot, which machine accepted and had right candidates
- incorrect ballot 1, which machine rejected and had right candidates
- incorrect ballot 2, which machine accepted and had wrong candidates

There was also a fourth one which had a different bar code than the other three, and (iirc) was rejected and wrong candidates.

I say 'seemed' because it's still confusing to me. It was difficult to be sure of what got counted prior to the onset of problems because of course we could not just open the ballot box and compare the old ones. I assume that this is all going to be investigated by the San Francisco elections commison, maybe I should put some effort into finding out what happened in the end. The Inspector in charge of our precint did not seem overly concerned.

The thing that worries me most about this is this: here I am, someone already suspicious about the fairness and accuracy of modern voting mechanisms, and I get randomly assigned to a precinct and there's a problem that potentialy affected nearly half the voters (there were a little over 400 votes cast that day).

And this in San Francisco, which had no new-fangled and under-tested electronic voting system, and wasn't in a swing state so there was no real impetus for purposeful corruption in the federal election.

I don't think this was a coincidence. I think this sort of thing is commonplace. I think that our voting system as a whole in America is broken.


Hey Dav... You think it odd that no one has responded to this post?

We hosted a party on election night here in the hood. Had all the standard anti Dubya stuff : people, quotes, pics, etc... It was a good thing we stocked up on booze.

The wife and I were in a funk for days...

For what it's worth I do think that your observations of election irregularities are interesting and it seems obvious that such irregularities could have a significant impact to the election results?

Will have to do the same in Austin next election.
Later, Frank Hayes

Posted by: frankhaustin on December 1, 2004 02:26 AM

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