Thursday, November 8, 2007

Tuesday's Election: Cuyahoga BOE-"10"; Diebold/Premiere -"Zero"

The only decent thing that's come from Florida, 2000 and Ohio, 2004 is that huge numbers of Americans are finally aware that the people we're told are the winners of our elections, has far more bearing on each of our realistic hopes for a future, and even whether or not we ourselves have a warm home in winter, food on our tables, healthcare when we're sick, and the ability to get to some sort of job - than any football games, clothes ads, or the latest big screen tv.
Of that growing number now concerned about elections, more are finally shocked out of the false primitive "spell" that the people's only election concerns "should be" with 1. contributing nicely to and volunteering for "our" candidates/"party" - too usually the ones we see as serving our own self-interested desires the best; 2. maybe, voting - just to be "good citizens" (though between elections we're rarely thought of, let alone listened to, other than whether or not we've paid our taxes) ; and 3. that we "should" listen to what we're told are our election results, but only to check whether or not "our" candidate or issue "won" - before going back to our sports, tv, (now, just a little, after paying for gas) shopping, and if one is lucky, our daily job of business as usual.

More are finally aware that our elections have been usurped from right under our noses; and that we have no idea - and every reason to NOT believe - that the results we're told truly represent our collective will; that our elections have somehow been variously stolen, at times with a combination of inside "dirty tricks" to doctored numbers created by the richest and/or most corrupt - sycophants, incumbents, and their appointees - completed with "doctored" stories from an often, also revenue-scared and sold-out national media.

The horrible news is of course, the lives lost; a living planet on last gasps; the majority of Americans steeped in unidentifiable fears, with thoughts of success having turned to those of survival, violence rampant among even our children, and discussions of whether or not human torture is torture being a norm. The horrible news too is that so many have just given up on, and dropped off of what is so suspected as now only the corruption that has become U.S. elections.

However... No longer in Cuyahoga!
Though Cuyahoga County, Ohio, the 15th-17th largest voting districts in the U.S., previously under Misters Bennett and Vu, Ms. Dillingham, et al, previous to this new director and board, certainly qualified as the U.S. poster child for questionable to bizarre election incompetence, and arrogant and blatant insider-"ownership"-political manipulations, that is no longer!

Under Platten and the new board, still to date, the CCBOE remains on track to becoming a model of what boards of elections can and must be: working hard to even publicly identify and quickly and thoroughly solve all sources of problems - for the voters and for election integrity; stabilizing policies and procedures - for the voters and for election integrity; training and promoting good use of employee talents and teamwork - for the voters and for election integrity; employing honesty, immense respect for the public and implementing transparency wherever possible - for the voters and for election integrity, etc.

What happened Tuesday
As an election Observer, I was completely notified of upcoming dates and times of BOE activity, and welcomed in to really watch. (Compare with last year:

noted below, that we started on Sunday with absentee ballot opening and rectifying, but not counting.

Though actual absentee scanning and tabulating was to begin at 7:30 am, I chose to begin closer to home, first voting and checking out 3 additional polling places. All were comfortably up and running, welcoming, though slow in voter turn-out.

I noted a few poll worker/election day technician training issues yet to be addressed, but all 4 polls I visited had not even a hint of the mayhem or confusion experienced early in the day in both May '06 and November '06.

Also Platten and her staff address noted and solved problems immediately when possible, as they came up, and when not possible and not immediately critical, they listen and assuredly note and solve them later. Now even when there are problems there is someplace to actually call and get the call answered, and to actually get help.

All polls were open by 6:30 am.

Early in the day, Platten reported that the biggest problem to still be worked on is still getting all 6,000+ poll workers not only properly recruited, trained, and scheduled, but to have them show up for duty for this long, mission-critical, one-day stint - a huge logistical challenge for any organization.
Through concerted effort and outreach to high schools (17+ year old voters,) colleges, corporations and other organizations, the CCBOE went into election day, unusually, with sufficient and extra recruited and trained workers. For this election they wrote, called at least twice, sent reminder cards, had poll workers send back confirmations and called those who did not send them back, and still the Monday night meeting before election morning and the morning itself brought last minute surprises and needs to scramble, re-assign and fill in.

The biggest poll worker no-show problem was among the 1,000+ Election Day Technicians/people hired specifically to set-up, take down and troubleshoot ("babysit") Diebold's machines (and if not busy, help voters find their right lines.) My understanding is that approximately 20% of EDT's did not show up.

The CCBOE will be doing careful inquiry and post-analysis on what kept so many away to solve the problem. My guess is that it has to do with one or a combination of the following problems - most having to do with "Diebold-zero points"
1. The Diebold/Premiere machines are so "fragile" and necessitate so much oversight and troubleshooting to get them set up and minimally secure, and problem free throughout the day - that there is far too much detailed, critical information for people to intake in a four or five hours, too many detailed things to do in too short a period of time especially in large polling places, and then to feel responsible for throughout election day. So rather than risk not remembering everything properly, or having to use their manual too much, or risking what had been construed by the past board as the workers' public failure, people just don't show up.

In my opinion, this overwhelm is due mainly to the machines' user-unfriendly, cheapest construction, incompetent design and numerous built-in security holes that people need to try to make up for, (despite the machine's $2700/per price tag,) which makes the machines unfit for normal use, with normal people in a decent sized election. The printers are still jamming frequently, the screens still freeze, they need all kinds of logged written seals, incident reports, etc.
As example, at the Shaker Rec Center, my last of eight poll visits, a full 6 of their approximate 15 machines had to be taken off line/shut down by the end of the day. We don't know how many votes got overprinted with a machine jam before a voter noticed ( there is no alarm or error message) or how many voters (or EDT's) got confused when their machine froze.

2. And/or, far less likely, especially with the same day evaluation of trainees and various trainers, there was an EDT training problem to be solved.

On Monday night, during the Monday night pre-meeting of election day workers, the CCBOE fielded 2100 calls, mostly about missing workers - a problem they had to start solving immediately. On Tuesday morning , between 5:30-9:30am they took 1600 calls to solve mostly set-up and missing worker problems.

There were other minor poll worker training problems which I will note in my Observer report, to be addressed in training, including more visible posting of helpful signs provided for inside the polling place (like not needing to vote on Issue #1 - "the stripper bill" which didn't, in the end, have enough signatures to be validly on the ballot;) the campaigning 100-foot, mark-off flags being far too far from, or too close to the polling place; one's misunderstanding that voters don't declare a party affiliation in a non-partisan race; a few hard to find polling locations once inside a school, library etc. etc.

On the very positive side, even where poll workers may have been having machine problems they knew to provide paper ballots ( though most precincts had at least one machine operating at poll opening;) at my arrival as an election observer, not a voter, three polling places knew to have me sign-in in the back of the poll book as having been in their location; all poll workers seemed relatively happy; no one I experienced was having trouble with understanding voter ID's - they were in the main, calm .

Also, I visited one of the 5 pilot locations, where the CCBOE tried centralized voter sign-in, then "concierging" voters to the the proper precinct table. This experiment is one solution to a last-year recurring problem of voters getting to the right location, but having their votes not count because they voted at the wrong table/precinct; and to have a centralized location for taking off-line and really solving sometimes confusing provisional voting problems/actually finding the person's registration, directing them to the right location, etc.
Though only one voter came in while I was at this school set-up, the appearance of the poll looked more streamlined, organized, and welcoming. I've heard good things since about the experiment from a few voters and poll workers there.

Most of the 580+ polling locations and 1436 precincts were complete and workers ready to leave at the end of the day, as I remember by about 8:00 - 8:15 pm. ( The CCBOE has a call-in tracking system, calls those having trouble, reminds how to close down, and calls those who don't call in.)

The smoothness of the day was all due to systems put in place, written, and constantly refined in many small elections, most since March '07.

It was not due to low voter turn-out, since the same amount of prep needs to happen for all precincts, no matter how many people show up to vote.

It was truly well done, and is admitted to still be a work in progress - with suggestions truly welcomed. Platten's determined to get everything really solved and smooth - for everyone.

Back at the board Tuesday morning... absentee scanning.
When I arrived back at the board at about 10 am to observe the absentee scanning, they were just getting started with the actual count.

Kudos to Platten! She began that phase - even after all the "stress testing" and other types of testing of the scanners - with the testing of each scanner before they got started, to make sure, in public, that each scanner was working and reading correctly. She wanted it public, and with no time/"air" between the final "extra" tests ( even feeding the ballots in all four directions) and the tabulation, to make sure the count was one of integrity.

In this process each scanner is networked directly into the tabulator. The ballots for each precinct had been counted twice, and they were counted again to make sure they still had the same number of ballots per precinct that had been returned to the BOE by Sunday. (Monday and Tuesday's absentees will be included in the later certified count, as well as the approximate 3,600 Provisional votes, the approximate 360 votes cast on paper at the board on Monday and Tuesday (Tuesday's being Provisional, by law,) and any overseas that may come in the 10-day waiting period after election day.)

I have a few questions about this process, about such things as how the scanner knows what ballot style it's reading marks for, (what's on the greatly different ballots in different suburbs - which if off, could make a huge difference in a precinct's vote counts.) We began their very willing explanations, but I ran out of time. Though I have full confidence in that CCBOE process I witnessed, especially with their willingness and certitude in beginning their answers, I want to find out, since this could be a huge issue in less diligent boards or ones of less integrity.
I hope to interview the ballot department to get a fuller explanation soon. They remain very open and willing.

The entire absentee scanning/tabulation process went very smoothly. They double checked all numbers and finished by 1:30pm.

Highly unlike last year, members of the board were present to help and answer questions the entire time, as was the Director and Deputy Director.

After a short lunch, the ballot department and the Director and Deputy Director began remakes - the ballots the scanners could not read when inserted in any direction, that had to be redone, matching voter intent so the scanners could read the new ones.

With all of the testing of the scanners, weeding out those that did not work perfectly, and lo and behold a written process (!) this year, there were only 33 remakes of the almost 24,000 ballots scanned, compared to multiple big grey bins of them - hundreds - last year.
That's when, with Mr. Vu, Ms. Dillingham and the board nowhere in sight, and with no overall or specific plans or policies thought-out for the board, the ballot department was left guessing what to do, what Mr. Vu may have wanted, and had to spend days with many workers on doing hundreds of remakes. Then when Mr. Vu arrived the next day, he had them doing bins of remakes of remakes, with ever-varying directions of how to interpret voter intent. It was not good - for anyone - and it was bizarre.

This time it took Jane and Pat McDonald, the Deputy Director, a relaxed but intent, less than one hour to remake the ballots with oversight, and get the originals and remakes filed correctly, etc.

Just like all other procedures that I've witnessed at the board, there were written directions pre-created by a team, and which were all signed off on by everyone involved in the process indicating understanding. (The ballot department and I were laughing, remembering the bizzarities of last year: Imagine! an actual procedure! that everyone understands! can do! and agrees that favors the voters!)

The problems with these 33 ballots, making them unable to be read the first time by the scanner included such things as possibly a paper fold, in just the "wrong position"; the voter using light check marks instead of filling in the ovals; a completely coffee stained but still humanly readable ballot; and someone who cut off the "timing marks" all around the margins, apparently thinking that these codes might identify him/herself.

Election night back at the board.... CCBOE still - 10; Diebold - really zero, or below
When I arrived back at the board from my second half of poll visits in the wind sleet and hail, the CCBOE again was ready. The media area for watching into the tabulation room was set up, along with the computer feed onto a large screen, with the absentee numbers already posted at poll close, badges were ready allowing people various points of access, the parking lot was just beginning to receive vans from the regional drop off sites (not a taxi cab was in sight, let alone with only a taxi driver hauling our votes as happened last year) etc. All workers were there, and there was a plan for everyone in the intake room - memory cards ( in a pre-marked business card holder, so workers could immediately see if one was missing) went one place for bar code checking-in and one designee passing to tabulation; poll books another, being filed correctly by precinct as they arrived; provisional ballots another place for counting and checking in; incident reports, another; paper trails, another; certificate ones, another; and supplies another place, all while the bags were re-filed properly in the basement etc. It was a well-oiled, diligent, very large team effort. I can't even begin to compare to the confusion last year.

On the third floor the IVR poll closing check-in was hopping. A bank of trouble shooter hotlines was manned for those having trouble shutting their polls down, and more.

It had been a very good election day in Cuyahoga. There were no 5-hour meetings taking managers away from their posts, so everyone could listen to or have to add to false claims of how "perfectly" things were going, or how bad voters or observers are. There was not even a set-up for the big election night press conference to do the same.

It was just a really good, smoothly working election day, providing fairness, access, help and order to the entire process.

And then entered the Diebold/Premier "more problems."

For Diebold/Premier-"Zero" grade - what happened election night - please see the next post, above.

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