Wednesday, November 7, 2012

TO DO LIST BEFORE 2014: Educate Voters, Beginning With Elected Officials, Media Not Making Inaccurate Statements

I will be able to go into more detail later, but for now, here are a few notes on the process of elections. I was involved in election day in a few capacities, which allowed me to look at the process in both partisan and non-partisan ways, and to speak with (and, educate) a number of voters and would-be voters.  In addition, I have experienced past election days in a few other capacities.

Channel 12 (and other media outlets) were reporting last night on the large number of provisional ballots, and speculating on whether it was because of problems with the election system.  The answer is certainly that there is are issues enough to go around, but that they all can be traced back to those elected officials who are in charge of elections at the county and state levels.

Election workers:  These folks work a super-long day with a minimal amount of training for LESS THAN MINIMUM WAGE.  Even so, most of them are quite conscientious and quite capable.  Those who are less so are usually able to perform their one-day duties when they are well-supervised by the inspector (the most responsible member of the polling place crew).

The inspectors I worked with yesterday were all up to the task of running a smooth polling place.  But, that does not matter when the polling place is turned into a chaotic site because of problems outside the inspector's control.

Such was the situation yesterday at the polling place handling ASU dorm residents - and many non-college students who live near the campus.  For a variety of factors, including apparent pre-election issues with the Maricopa County Recorder's Office's handling of students' registrations, extremely large numbers of provisional ballots (conditional and not conditional) had to be processed.  This led to long waits for the more time-consuming process, which caused the small church room to be completely filled, with lines snaking around inside the room and much of the parking lot.

Students and non-students patiently waited for hours to cast a ballot - provisional or not.  Only a tiny number complained, although some may have left out of frustration.  The inspector and the entire crew was swamped for the entire day. (I was not there early in the day, but received several reports.)  Unfortunately, some of the delays were also caused by temporary shortages of basic supplies to cast the provisional ballots, due to the County's inability to recognize the situation. (This could have/should have been anticipated and solved at either the "troubleshooter" level or at Election Central.)

The County was unable or unwilling to add poll workers to make it run more efficiently, although poll observers sent by the Republicans and the Democrats apparently did step in and volunteer as the crisis worsened.

Under the pressure and with insufficient training and preparation (for the student issues), the poll workers inevitably made errors and/or were unable to effectively communicate issues to the voters.  This has led to hundreds of provisional ballots with many students who now need to visit an election office or sub-office (e.g. Tempe City Clerk) within the next few days to prove their dorm (or, apartment) residence.

Voters:  Many voters in this very mobile society are completely unaware of the basics of how and where they need to vote after they move, for example.  The terms "provisional ballot" and "conditional provisional ballot" sound scary and often go unexplained.  True, the laws and rules can be confusing, but there ARE ways that the rules could be better explained.  For many voters, this process only happens once every four years; they are not going to waste brain cells to try to remember from election to election, and the information conveyed before the election is spotty.

Media:  The media often add to voter confusion by trying to capsulize the procedures and getting them wrong.  Two minor examples from yesterday: (1) a KTAR reporter (and a DJ on a music station) both told listeners that the law entitles them to time (one of them said "three hours") off of work.  Neither mentioned that that is only applicable in very specific instances, leading to misinformation and inevitable problems at workplaces and with people getting to the polls.  (I know, I have fielded calls from them in the past.)

(2) The Arizona Republic yesterday correctly told readers not to mail their early ballots; however, they then reported that you need to "take it to your polling place." This ignores the much more convenient option available to those thousands of voters - that they could bring it to ANY polling place in the County (or to the County Elections Offices).  I spoke with two separate people yesterday who wanted to cast ballots at the polling place near their workplace or school, on the basis that they were not going to be near their home for the rest of the day; that holds true for early ballot-totin'-voters, too.

Election officials:  We expect our (elected) elections officials (County Recorder, Secretary of State) to help to take charge of getting the necessary and correct information into the media's and voters' hands. We expect them and their staffs to help anticipate and solve problems.  We expect them to be hyper-vigilant about errors that could mislead voters.  (We will not know if any Spanish-language voters will go to their polling location tomorrow; one is too many.) We do not expect them to make inaccurate statements that may cause problems in the future.  (Their is a particular statement made by Secy/State Ken Bennett last night on Channel 12 that I am investigating further.)

This is just an overview of some of the issues we need to address better to make future elections run more smoothly and fairly.  I plan to try to give my input to the county and state elections departments, and I urge others to do so, too.  (Comments under this post would be useful, too.)

We must demand better of ourselves and our elected officials.

We welcome your comments about this post. Or, if you have something unrelated on your mind, please e-mail to info-at-arizonaspolitics-dot-com or call 602-799-7025. Thanks.

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