Poll watching

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One of the disappointments of election night for me was not being able to celebrate with all of my friends who were on Tuesday's ballot. John Eagleton's win was a long-time coming -- third time's a charm. Rick Westcott told me he played Western Swing music at the victory party at his house. Steve Roemerman has a couple of photos of Jim Mautino at his victory party. David Schuttler has a photo of Roscoe Turner's celebration cake (along with links to images of David Patrick's last minute slimy ad).

What little time I spent at a watch party was spent at the Chris Medlock party at the Embers Steakhouse, but after a short time there, I headed down to the Tulsa County Election Board to get a clearer picture of the results as they came in. But more about that later.

My election day started at 6:45 a.m., at Bethany Christian Church on Sheridan between 61st and 71st, the polling place of precinct 171. I had volunteered to be a poll watcher for the Medlock campaign. In some states, poll watchers spend the day at the precinct, but that's not permitted in Oklahoma.

Instead, Oklahoma poll watchers observe the setup and shutdown procedures as they are carried out by the poll watchers. Before the polls opened, I was sworn in by the precinct judge:

Do you solemnly swear or affirm that you will abide by all laws and rules prescribed for Watchers and that you will limit yourself to observing the voting device before the polls are opened and after the polls are closed?

I looked in the ballot box to observe that it was empty, noted that the count on the Optech III-P Eagle scanner was at 0000, and looked at the paper-tape printout, which showed a zero count for ballots and for all candidates.

I made a note of the ballot numbers to be used in that day's voting: Democrat ballots numbered 38301-38700, Republican ballots numbered 9901-10900, and non-partisan ballots numbered 28201-28400. When the ballots were set up on the table, I noted the first ballot to be used in each category.

When I returned at about 6:50 p.m., I chatted with the precinct worker whose job it was to process provisional ballots while I waited for the polls to close. If someone had shown up to vote and his name wasn't found in the sign-in book, he would be allowed to vote a provisional ballot, sealed in an envelope with an affidavit. If necessary in a close election, the voter's claim to being properly registered would be examined, and if valid, the vote would be counted. Precinct 171 didn't have any provisional voters.

At closing time, I noted the next unused ballot number for the three ballot types: Democrat 38406, Republican 10185, and non-partisan 28212. That means that 105 Democrat ballots, 284 Republican ballots, and 11 non-partisan ballots were issued, for a total of 400 ballots. The number on the machine -- 398. Two ballots, one Democrat, on Republican, were spoiled -- messed up by the voter, exchanged for a clean ballot, and never inserted into the scanner. The precinct officials ran two results tapes -- one for the door, one to return to the county election board -- bundled up the ballots, packed up the equipment, and filled out the forms, noting the number of spoiled ballots and the next ballot number.

The Republican mayoral results were LaFortune 114, Miller 67, Medlock 97, Harper 3, plus 2 undervotes (no candidate marked for that race). For the Council primary, Magee 123, Christiansen 146, and 14 undervotes. In the Democrat mayoral primary, Taylor 81, McCorkell 21, 2 undervotes. The charter change passed 260-126, with two undervotes.

So everything balanced perfectly: the ballot numbers, the scanner count display and the number of ballots counted in each race. 284 Republican ballots were issued and 283 Republican ballots were counted, plus one spoiled GOP ballot. 105 Democrat ballots were issued, 104 were counted, and one was spoiled. In total, 400 ballots were issued, 398 counted, and two were spoiled. 1807 voters are registered in precinct 171, so the turnout was 22%.

There are deficiencies in Oklahoma election law: the possibility of duplicate voter registrations between counties and states, voters not keeping their registration address up-to-date, and no requirement to show photo ID when voting. But once a ballot is issued, Oklahoma has one of the most accurate systems for counting the votes, with a manual backup in the form of paper ballots, so that we're not completely dependent on electronics.

The Optech scanners are getting close to 20 years old, and there are occasional problems with tape jams and defective data packs. (One precinct's data pack erroneously credited Democratic mayoral candidate James O. Desmond with 10,000 votes.) It's probably time for the state to look at new scanners with more capabilities, including the capacity to handle instant runoff voting, but we ought to stick with optically-scanned paper ballots.


susan said:

Good reporting Michael. I have also heard complaints the workers want to be paid more. One worker that worked in another state said no only did they get paid more but they even had lunch provided for them since they work morning until the poll closes. The extra pay and a restaurant that would be willing to provide sandwich box lunches might get more attentive workers that will notice when a "C"
Catherine is voting in a "K" Kathy Taylor's place and also be attentive to notice if there is a difference in the middle initial on the name signed.

We have really nice lunches provided for some medical companies. I know I was in Warren Clinic and one of the workers said they can get anything they want. They just put in the order -- Zio's or any other good restaurant for the entire staff. Just go by the hospitals around 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 and you can observe it also being done. All paid for by the companies that hope you will buy their brand of medicine. And we wonder why medicine is so high -- that is not even counting what doctors get or at least have gotten in the past as far as financial extras.

Something as important as an election, I agree, box lunches could be provided by a restaurant. Jason's deli also delivers for medical employees.

The interesting thing I have noticed is these lunches to employees are delivered in cars with no special refrigeration for the meat or salad delivered.

David S. said:

I'm glad yours seemed to have went well. I was meet with a hatred of my being there and a reluctance to be cooperative.

What I find curious is the provisional ballot. While I was at mine there was a couple who came in about 5 minutes till 7pm. They couldn't find the womans name on the list but she had recently moved so she was still registered at a different poll was the conclusion. The workers did not offer a provisional ballot, she was turned away without the option.

XonOFF said:

I read somewhere that the State is in the process of redefining the election infrastructure. New ballot machines, etc. In the same piece, it stated they were initially planning on full electronic, touch-screen type ballot machines.

It would be a huge mistake to go paperless. Paper ballots similar to the current system should be kept. In addition, voter receipts should be issued and positive ID requirements should be included.

The current system is good, as far as actual ballot handling, but the voters need much better precautions as to who does vote and where.

Also, the results data needs to be become available in other than printed form (digital).

In general, a more transparent system.

theotherguy said:

Who is pushing for changes? Has a bill been filed? We need to keep the paper backup! All electronic would be a disaster!

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 11, 2006 11:54 PM.

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