Some tips to make elections go more smoothly in Grand County
May 14, 2008
To the Editor:
In light of the recent mayoral nullification, this letter to the editor, which I wrote as an election judge four years ago, comes to mind.
It is 9:30 a.m. on Election Day. We four civilians arrive punctually at the county courthouse with some form of dutiful anticipation. We will, along with the county officials, be the election counting judges. We are handed official badges to define the same. I am relieved to see that one of the judges is a former skiing Olympian, who confesses to me that she is not a snowboarder because “she likes using both legs independently for balance.”
Another judge appears organized and conscientious. The last was a former bank teller who was both good at counting money and helping me decipher statement hieroglyphics. Balance and good counting ability, coupled with pleasant and efficient officials, could make a sound, balanced counting team.
No one, however, told us to bring our toothbrushes, No Doze and lavender eye packs to the courthouse. It is only Wednesday, late afternoon when I finally get to call my daughter, after 27 hours of non-stop yet halting counting, that I am greeted with: “Mom, what happened there? Our election votes are even behind Florida’s.” I now realize there might be some hefty explanations in order.
Here, from my point of view, is what happened. The 2,200-plus absentee ballots cost us time ” lots of time ” about 14 hours-worth. They arrived through the mail, even through Fed-Ex they arrived ” one with spaghetti sauce spatter smudging the printing, one with yellow stickies attached further defining the vote.
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For the most part they were folded in three, but some in more unique ways. Many, many were, despite the USE Pencil instructions, written in ink and marker. Some, instead of marking in the oval, had big X’s or neat little boxes around the vote of their choice. A few reinforced their vote by stating “Not this one, no, but this one.” And there were many over-votes (voting for more than one candidate allowed)
One magnanimous voter checked off five presidential candidates. There were also some write-in candidates that acted as our caffeine at 3 in the morning.
These absentee votes not only challenged us but they challenged the voting system and the $30,000-plus-or-minus A15-115 vote counting machine. The very same machine, with a bit of our human help several hours earlier Tuesday, counted 1,063 early ballots, with barely a bleep. It now appears that the early voters, unlike the absentee voters, were given explicit directions by our county officials and ballpoint pens were banned from the vicinity. The counting machine liked those ballots. But then the large, locked metal breadbox-of-sorts arrived ” crammed with an assortment of absentee ballots.
The counting machine went crazy, spitting out alarm lights on about one of every nine ballots. As a check and balance system, it would beep and shut down. Then we judges, with increasing groans, would have to scrutinize the ballot errors, vote unanimously on voter’s Intent Found or No Intent Found and then carefully rewrite the whole ballot in No. 2 pencil, record and sign off on all the errors and submissions.
The machine did not reject one of our re-submissions. Somewhere in the late evening, the Olympian realized her team was potentially waning and she treated us to a brought-in Chinese meal ” carefully handed to us by the hired guard. It was quietly revealed that there had been a bomb scare at the local primaries not long ago.
At dawn Grand County was waiting for voting results.
So, with this in mind here are my non-professional suggestions to have the counting system race through more smoothly next time:
– Unless absolutely critical, support voters to vote early at the prescribed areas or to vote on Election Day at their local precinct.
– If an absentee ballot is absolutely mandatory, enclose a large cover sheet with graphics and written instruction on use of pencil, over-vote, folding restrictions, etc.
– Send out absentee ballots with large return envelopes with careful instruction of No Folds Allowed
– Every county school should teach at least one class on how to make your vote count.
– All new voting registrants should be given a mini course review and testing on voting ballot procedures.
– Concise resident qualifications should be submitted with every request for absentee ballots.
– Locations for obtaining absentee ballots (including the Rec District) should be clearly defined.
– Encourage attendance at the candidate forums for up-to-date information.
Every vote counts, and working around the clock for 27 hours, the county voting officials and counting judges tried to strictly adhere to this great American principle.
It’s an election year, enjoy.