"My report on Being a Poll Worker in Ohio in the May 8, 2007 Election

First I want to say that poll workers are not the problem in our Ohio elections. Of course there may be an incompetent, or sloppy, or even dishonest one here and there. Or one undertrained. But by and large, poll workers are volunteers for Democracy, paid about $100 for 15 or more hours of work, either boring, tedious work or chaotic work, depending upon how popular the particular election is at one's polling location. The poll workers I have seen are dedicated to making sure every registered voter gets to vote and working hard to ensure that everyone's vote will count.

Of course it would help in attracting quality workers if boards of election would get the word out sooner that more workers are needed, and tell more organizations—there are certainly a lot of progressive ones online. Surely the conservatives have their groups to draw from also. Having two shifts would help, with the last one being particularly trained in watching for anomalies in machine totals and securing the other records of the people's "electronic ballots." Staggering the shift workers times would insure that continuity is maintained.

It's not the poll workers' fault if a machine has a glitch, or freezes up, or vote-hops to another candidate on the touch screen. That did not happen in our polling location, anyway. Not even a paper jam or a running out of paper. Whoever said to "watch out when the ‘glitches' are cured, and there is NO indication whatever that the secret software in these privately made computers is miscounting," was wise. When the glitches are cleaned up, everyone will think that the machines cannot be hacked. Problems solved. But, the poll workers will be doing their job regardless, doing their best to have a "clean" election. And more importantly, believing they have.

I decided to bite the bullet and become one of THEM even though I believe our election system is not working and that the remedies being suggested by our elected officials are bandaids on a gushing artery. SOME of the correct candidates are being elected, but in selected races, the official vote count is so wrong as to cause the candidate with FEWER votes to be "elected." I have seen the proof and it's pretty compelling.

Well despite my sad assessment of the integrity of American elections, I became a poll worker, at the urging of one of my friends who is always a "presiding judge" in Ohio elections. They were desperate, she said, and would take me even though I am known as an activist to our county board of elections. And they did.

My other major objection about being a poll worker actually is the hours. 5:00 am is closer to when I go to bed than to when I get up. Nonetheless, I figured I could do a 16-hour shift in a new job on four hours of sleep, one time. And I did.

Those of us recruited at the last minute had a crash course of training the day before, for about one and a half hours. This was enough for me since I have been studying elections for a few years. Some of the others were more clueless, and had not even used the machines before. They did go over those in detail for those who could stay. We newbies were to be scattered among the experienced. My location had two newbies. I think we did pretty well.

Our presiding judge confided that he usually had a nap at 4 pm when he got home from work, so the period from 4-6pm was the hardest for him to stay alert. I managed to stay awake by keeping on talking (easy for me) and moving around…and eating from the bake sale the "schurch ladies" of our location were having in the room next door. Also the job was fascinating to me. I have been studying elections for two and a half years, but still didn't know what actually went on behind those polling tables where the ladies with white hair sat and wrote in books and took our ballots. I thought, "Oh my gosh, I have BECOME ONE of the LADIES!"

The job was not too hard to learn, though it might have been if we had had a greater turnout than about 30%, AND if it had not started slow. By 5 pm the lines were forming from time to time and I was doing the most hectics job, greeting the voters, finding their names in the signature book, getting them to sign, and asking them whether they wanted the "issues only ballot" or the "Republican primary candidates plus issues ballot."

This last part had to be repeated for most people. There were no contested races for the Dems in most of my county. It was interesting to me to see people registered as Dem (listed in the signature book) jump parties to vote in the Republican primary, or to genuinely ponder the pros and cons of doing so. Not that I could blame them--whoever won the two Republican primary races has no Dem planning to run against them in Nov, so they will be the new Mayor or Clerk of Courts.

There were also a few R's who wanted "issues only" ballots, because "they didn't know anything about the candidates." And as usual in Ohio, most voters are listed as U, and not D or R. U is for Undeclared, which means they did not vote in a primary before the last general election, sometimes because they did not want to tell the government (the board of elections) their party preference. I believe this reluctance to be identified by party is an extension of their wanting their votes to stay secret. It's "nobody's business how they vote or which way they lean politically." U's this election could go either way; we could not predict whether they wanted to vote in the Republican primary or just vote the issues. Sometimes we told them this would make them registered as Republicans, sometimes we didn't. We all made every effort not to show any personal response to their choices of ballot.

The next poll worker checked their name on a "hang sheet" hung at 11am and 4 pm, for anyone to see who had voted already. By the end of the day, we were looking for a lost name, and I noted that this last hang sheet was not all that accurate when the crowds started coming in—I think the guy doing the check-off was just too harried. He also wrote their names and addresses in another book. In this book he missed one name of a voter, but since I had it in the signature book, we were able to find it. That took over an hour after the polls closed and was found by some lucky guesses. We then had the exact number of voters signed in and duplicated in the poll book as the machines said voted. I understand that in audits of some of the precincts in some counties in other elections this is not always the case. It does not seem like an unreasonable expectation to me that the poll workers should be expected to have the numbers balanced.

But we were tired by 7:30 pm and almost didn't find our mistake. I WOULD recommend two shifts to keep the workers more alert and more willing to look for mistakes.

The fourth poll worker was in charge of provisional ballots. No one seemed upset to have to vote provisionally; they all knew they had moved since voting and had not changed their addresses in time. We were as generous with ID law interpretation as we could be. We did insist that the ID have a correct name and address, except for drivers licenses, as the guidelines now state. Several people forgot their ID and went home or to their cars to get it. Some were irritated by the ID law. I tried hard not to agree with them out loud. One piece of law which I could not quite remember was if they had moved to our precinct but had not filled out the change info in time, would their provisional vote count, or did they need to go to the BOE to vote. The presiding judge didn't know. We didn't call the BOE because there was not time for them to get to the BOE anyway. There needs to be better poll worker education on the moving rules. We were good at checking their provisional envelopes for them.

The third poll worker programmed the "voter access card." Since this is done electronically and I know that electronic voting is subject to fraud, I was interested in this piece of the process. The access card is like a credit card that is given to each voter to use in the Diebold TXs machine. After they use it they return it to us to be reprogrammed. Each voter needed one of four differently programmed ones because of the four possible ballots: issues only, issues plus R candidates, in each of two school districts., since there were school levies. The cards were slipped into a hand held little plastic box, a little thicker than a calculator. We punched the keys to cause the read-out to say 1,2,3, or 4 and then pushed a key to make it program the card, which we pulled out and handed to the voter. One of the experienced poll workers was telling voters this was their "electronic ballot", which I thought was a misnomer. It is actually just the "voter access card," allowing them to vote an electronic ballot. Perhaps this is what voters need to think: that they still get a physical ballot.

The third person also asked the voter if they had voted electronically before. If they said no, the last poll worker got up and walked them through the whole process, from the back of the machine (there were three in each precinct). If they said yes but sounded unsure, we said to call us if they had any trouble. We helped, I'd say, about one in ten voters. I liked this part the best, because I am fascinated by these pieces of electronic wizardry.

The scary part of watching them use the machines, when I had time, is that almost NO ONE checked his or her paper trail. They did not bother to lift up the grey plastic covering over the paper record after it whirred into place. When I got to instruct them, I said, after they pushed the print button, "Now you can lift up that grey door and check to see if what it says is what you meant to vote. If not you can still change your votes." Also I told them to lift the magnifier door, which distorts more than helps, in my opinion. One couple, voting opposite each other said they couldn't see all their choices at the bottom, till I told them to lift the magnifier door. Then they said, "Oh! That's much better. I didn't know we could open that door!"

Whoever devised these coverings for the paper trail effectively reduced the odds immensely that voters would check their paper trail. None of the other poll workers seemed to understand that not checking the paper makes audits or recounts worthless, since the paper may not correctly say what they voted. They knew the paper was for recounts, but did not think to question that it could be purposely inaccurate. I tried to tell them this, but they did not seem receptive. Poll worker training needs to address this possibility for fraud. Poll workers need to simply say to voters, "Be sure to check your paper trail for accuracy before you press ‘Cast ballot.'" This problem would also be alleviated by voters filling out their own ballots, as they do in optical scan or hand-count systems. I don't believe that audits will make electronic voting tamper proof, but if audits are to do any good at all, voters must check their paper trail for accuracy as if they had filled it out themselves.

Of course I wanted to cry that all these sincere voters and poll workers were voting on computers that could very well have software that was switching votes and no one would be the wiser. The verification process for these machines has missed major software insecurities in the form of backdoors and Trojan horses that can actually change vote totals, as shown by many university studies and our own government's GAO report. To use a metaphor,

When I handed them their voter access card, which I had just programmed for them, I felt like I was handing hungry people little food squares with wheat gluten from another country, like the dog and cat food from China. It might satisfy their initial hunger, but would it make them sick? It looked good, and seemed to produce a "clean" election but who is checking to see if this secret software is secure or is the death of Democracy? And the "additive" to the food or to the vote-counting software that causes the sickness leading to death is covered up and denied in the name of corporate profit.

Of course I am good at playing roles, and for this learning experience, I was trying to be the best poll worker I could be, which included suspending portions of reality and pretending all is just ducky with electronic voting. On the surface this was true. A few people had trouble following the screen instructions, but with our help, they figured it out. If we had been busier, this could have been much harder. Some had never voted on the machines before, or if they had, they had forgotten how. But all, as they handed their cards back, looked extremely pleased to have figured it out. Touch screens ARE fun. It's fun to make such a complicated, expensive piece of equipment obey one's mere finger touch. At least the parts that they could see.

The recording and tear down process is still a bit mumbo-jumbo to me, because I was searching for, and finding, the name we were missing in the second book. I signed tapes that had totals that I have no idea if they were correct or not. We did check the screen totals often to see if they matched our number of signed voters. But the tape totals also say how many voted for this candidate or issue or that. How do I know if these are right? I can only say that this tape was spit out by that machine. The full rolls of all the facsimile "ballots," unchecked by all but a few voters, were locked in their grey plastic "clamshells" with those plastic wire-thin "locks," with individual serial number recorded on a piece of paper, initialed by all of us.

The totals tapes we placed in another bag, locked with another plastic lock and NOT initialized by us. While I trust our precinct judge, since he had acted with integrity throughout the voting day, who can say that an unscrupulous judge, carrying these tapes, could not break the lock, replace the tapes with fraudulent ones, and replace the lock with another? He had plenty. He could even have had locks with this same number. And if the phony tapes agreed with phony memory cards, and only a few paper trails of ALL the "ballots" are checked against these two records, would the paper prevail?

I can't remember how the memory cards, the "electronic ballot boxes" of all the ballot totals were handled. I would have to have been a presiding judge to really understand this process. Or participate again as a poll worker. Don't know if I can stomach that. It's like being at a family reunion with the uncle who abused you. You have agreed with your mother not to say anything, and upset the "perfect on the surface" party, but you wonder how else to make the potential and likely abuse of others stop.

I got my check from "Uncle" today. I am signing it over to BlackboxVoting.org for their ongoing and courageous work in revealing electronic voting fraud in the United States.

Marj Creech is Public Education Coordinator for Election Defense Alliance, and can be contacted at honestelectionscow[at]gmail[dot]com