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January 29, 2008

Florida elections: still a clown show
Posted by Patrick at 04:51 PM * 117 comments

From the Orlando Sentinel:

Sheneka McDonald spent 10 minutes trying to convince poll workers at the same precinct that she should have a Democratic ballot. She questioned poll workers when she was handed a Republican ballot but was told, “this is the only ballot we have.”

“I said, ‘How can this be the only ballot,’” McDonald recalled. “That’s when the guy chimed in from the back and said the Democratic primary was in March.”

The poll captain eventually apologized to McDonald and told her they had forgotten to unpack all the ballots. “It was a little unnerving this morning,” she said. “I don’t see how you forget to unpack ballots. This is what gives Florida its reputation.”

Sharon McDonald said she was given an independent ballot at the Astatula Community Center in Lake County, even though she told the poll workers she was a registered Democrat.

She said she was told that the Democratic primary votes didn’t count, so she did not question the ballot. “Shame on me,” said McDonald, a homemaker.

A call to the Lake County supervisor of elections office was not immediately returned.

Good to know standards are being upheld.
Comments on Florida elections: still a clown show:
#1 ::: Kayjayoh ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 05:07 PM:

On the one hand, it is true that the Dems won't allow the Florida delegates to be seated, just like Michigan, but on the other, that is still some seriously troubling attitude.

#2 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 05:16 PM:

They'll seat the delegates when it comes convention time. It's just that by then all the decisions will have been made. (However, I wonder about the people running the Florida primaries. Are they all GOP?)

#3 ::: Roxanne ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 05:43 PM:

This is a principle reason that I signed up to be a poll worker (official title: election inspector). I want to know that at least one precinct is doing the job correctly. It's a 16-hour day, with only minor breaks for food and bathroom, but I think it's an important thing to do.

#4 ::: dido ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 06:22 PM:

One wonders how much of this story is due to the (More) Recent Unpleasantness. Would the voters have noticed? Would the media being paying attention? Would they bother to report it?

Also, I'm very cranky about the authorial decision to put one voter experiencing problems (SHENEKA McDonald) right before another (SHARON McDonald) who had a similar but not identical problem but an even more similar name.

Once again, I resent the way that this administration makes me feel like a conspiracy-theorist nutbar.

#5 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 06:28 PM:

dido (4): I hadn't even noticed the switch in names until you pointed it out. No wonder the story wasn't quite making sense.

#6 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 06:33 PM:

Only in Florida . . . almost.

I've explained in previous threads why, some years, the only votes that count are the ones cast in the Repuglican primary. Other background: there's a humongous RRR church, very evangelistic, on the south side of my little town. People who belong there tend to think that everyone in town goes there. I've known for several years that they encourage their more active members to staff the voting locations.

When I vote in the Democratic primary, none of them are there. In the Repuglican primary, the atmosphere is very easy-going. But when I went to vote in the 2004 general election, the woman who was first at the check-in table just happened to be wearing a Crosstimbers Church pin. When I showed her my voter registration card, which is supposed to be sufficient at any polling place in Texas, and she saw "Democratic primary" stamped on my card, she said, "oh, I know you from church, don't I?" And, when I answered, "no, I don't believe so," she insisted on seeing four forms of identification, including two with pictures, before she'd let me vote.

Still, I had lots of things with my name and address on them, and I got to vote. And I complained afterwards, and got a call back from the county election commissioner himself, who asked some very pertinent questions, and made it obvious he didn't like the answers I gave him. And things were very different in 2006--the cadre from Crosstimbers was absent. And no one told me the voting was next week, or last week, or in the next county.

#7 ::: Darryl Rosin ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 06:38 PM:

From this distance (Australia) American election seem very, very strange. Can someone point me to a source that explains how voting works over there? I understand primaries, caucuses, conventions, Electoral colleges and all that, but I don't understand what happens on polling day.

And is it really the case that the elections are administered directly by an elected member of the government?



#8 ::: Jurie ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 06:53 PM:

From this distance (Austria) American election seem very, very strange. Can someone point me to a source that explains how voting works over there? I don't understand primaries, caucuses, conventions, Electoral colleges and all that.

No, I am serious, Why are you all looking at me like that?

*looks up*



#9 ::: donna ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 06:59 PM:

I've run my precinct in 2006, too. We got it right, with three high school kids helping us out. I took over as precinct inspector last election after my neighbor's brother died the day before the election. She has been precinct inspector for many years now.

I'll be there again next Tuesday.... it is a long day.

#10 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 07:00 PM:

On voting day one goes to one's polling station, signs the roll, collects a ballot, marks it (in whatever form that takes, from punchcards, lever machines, bubble forms, touchscreeen), and puts it into a box.

There are various fiddly bits which vary, but that's the rough outline.

Where the problem comes in, is that one much register. There are people who make sure only legitimately registered people cast a vote.

Since one must opt in, there is room for screwing with people. Make them prove they are who they say they are. Engage in tricks (caging) to purge them from the rolls. Intimidate them into not going to the polls, etc..

#11 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 07:01 PM:

It's Charlie Brown, Lucy and that football, isn't it? You know the ball is going to be pulled away, but you still run up and try to kick it.

#12 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 07:27 PM:

Beh. Everything looks odd if you want it to. (I just had to Google to see if "week" was really the way to spell the 7-day unit, after typing it about 20 times in an email...) I doubt American elections are any stranger than elections in other countries. It's just that the specifics vary state by state and sometimes party by party, so it all sounds very confusing to outsiders.

#13 ::: Zed ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 07:28 PM:

Can someone point me to a source that explains how voting works over there?

To judge by the last 7 years, not all that well.

#14 ::: Mike Bakula ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 07:33 PM:

Just to provide the alternative experience, I had no trouble voting in Volusia county, just northeast of Lake. The election workers were friendly, and knowledgeable. Instructions, sample ballots, and a stack of practice ballots for a fictional race (that you could mark on, and show to the election workers) were available.

I'm not saying this to refute the author's claim -- just to say that it's difficult to identify how widespread a problem is by anecdote.

#15 ::: Mike Bakula ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 07:34 PM:

Just to provide the alternative experience, I had no trouble voting in Volusia county, just northeast of Lake. The election workers were friendly, and knowledgeable. Instructions, sample ballots, and a stack of practice ballots for a fictional race (that you could mark on, and show to the election workers) were available.

I'm not saying this to refute the author's claim -- but to say that it's difficult to identify how widespread a problem is by anecdote.

#16 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 07:49 PM:

I voted early in the Illinois primary, expecting to be in Louisiana on Feb 5th (Who holds elections on Mardi Gras? Seriously?) When I went into the County Clerk's office to get the form that would allow me to go across the hall to the polling room and get a ballot, I showed my voter registration card, and was asked for ID, and told that the voter registration card really wasn't necessary for early polling. I mentioned that I thought it was illegal to require ID to vote, and she said that only applied to polling on polling day, not to early voting.
Also, they were using Diebold touch screen machines, but there was a paper receipt that printed out that I could look at to verify but not touch that provided a backup.
In any case, it was purely a presidential primary for me, since there weren't any Democrats running for any other offices in our area. I do feel like I cast my vote for the Earl of Warwick though, rather than Henry or Edward... (I was trying to decide if that was too obscure a reference, and then remembered where I was.)

#17 ::: Spherical Time ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 07:54 PM:

I have to agree with #15 Mike, but sometimes you can easily see the odd voting patterns caused by certain kinds of election fraud/tampering, such as with the butterfly ballots with which Pat Buchanan got a large percentage of the vote in certain pro-Democratic counties in Florida.

#18 ::: Casey ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 08:25 PM:

Last November, when I arrived at my precinct polling location (in central Connecticut) at 6:25 as usual, the new scanner wasn't functioning, so I was told to go away and come back later. There were three white-haired ladies huddled around the equipment trying to prod it back to life. One of them was apparently on hold trying to get through to someone.

As it happens, it wasn't earth-shatteringly inconvenient for me to come back at 7:30, so I didn't make a huge stink about it, though it did make me late for work. I decided to work the polls on Tuesday. There needs to be someone on site that knows how to tell if all the dangly bits are plugged into the right sockets.

#19 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 08:32 PM:

Darryl, Jurie, I've been voting in this country for over 40 years and sometimes I don't understand it either.

Can someone tell me -- Google is not my friend tonight -- is the Florida primary a winner-take-all-delegates primary for the Republicans? I think it is, but would love someone to confirm it.

#20 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 08:33 PM:

Mike Bakula @ #14 & 15: I don't think anyone here is suggesting the anecdotal problems are happening state-wide. Speaking for myself, it just goes to show that some (crooked) people never give up. Only unpacking the Republican ballots and telling registered Democrats that their primary is next month isn't a case of bad memory, it's a case of malfeasance, pure and simple, as well as collusion. After the focus that's been on Florida since the 2000 election, you'd think the crackers would have learned, even if their side did prevail in the original thrown vote disputed election.

#21 ::: David Hungerford ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 08:34 PM:


Think we can ask for there to be UN election inspectors in Florida?


#22 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 08:37 PM:

Lizzy, yes, it is.

#23 ::: Doug Faunt ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 08:41 PM:

I was the inspector(in charge) at my neighborhood polling place for a number of years, until I was trained on the Diebold touch screen machines. After that training, I had the temerity to tell the Registrar of Voters that there were serious problems with these machines and the procedures around them. I was banned from working on elections at all after that until:
the Registrar of Voters (appointed office) changed;
the California Secretary of State banned those machines (mostly);
a friend who's an elected official and a Democrat party election official vouched for me;
and I was subjected to a lengthy personal interview.

I'm still not allowed to be in charge (mixed blessing-if I were in charge, I'd be required to drive and provide a vehicle).
I was not actually told I was banned until I confronted the ROV, at which point he admitted it.
Apparently, I wasn't ignorant enough.

We have mark-sense paper ballots now, and the onsite scanner only validates the ballot and provides a preliminary count, although there's one touchscreen machine (not used at all, in the elections I've worked) for disabled access.

#24 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 08:56 PM:

Doug— are you in California? That's weird... we haven't had any of those problems. ("We" being my parents, who are often precinct officers.)

Of course, in terms of the optical scanner, my family is very computer and machine literate, so when something breaks down we can usually get it going again in a few minutes. (Turn off, turn on, run diagnostic...) If not, there is an alternative method, and we're always sure to know what it is. (After all, there are such things as power outages.) I think, perhaps, that it might be a separate sealed ballot box (such as the provisional ballot box for those who may not be eligible to vote) where the voter's ballot is scanned at a later time.

As to the topic, the story indicates to me a laziness. "We didn't remember to unpack the ballots." Well, get off your butt and UNPACK them, damnit! You've got a checklist for a reason. Follow it. There is NO reason you should not be able to run a competent precinct. (And dude, don't ever have one-party precincts. Even the possibility of bias is a bad idea when your state is known for its shenanigans.)

#25 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 09:21 PM:

Looking at Florida; it looks like McCain is going to take it. I'm disappointed. I would really like Romney to be the Republican candidate for President. McCain will be hard to go after without seeming ugly. Romney has a Kick-Me target painted on all his shirts. McCain has some dignity, and a serious history (war hero, prisoner of war, etc.) Romney has none of that. Also, the media (Chris Matthews, Tim Russert, those guys) love McCain and will be happy to /*****/ if it will help him get elected.

#26 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 09:25 PM:

#16 ::: EClaire

[ I voted early in the Illinois primary, expecting to be in Louisiana on Feb 5th (Who holds elections on Mardi Gras? Seriously?) ]

That's why the Louisiana primary's on the 10 -- by then the Mardi Gras hangover should have gone away.

We put off a trip to New Orleans until the 6th, so we could vote here on the 5th.

Love, C.

#27 ::: Darryl Rosin ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 10:00 PM:

Let me refine my question a little.

Americans vote for Local, State and Federal representatives all on the same day, along with judges, board members and some other public office holders. Do you get a separate ballot paper for each office? Or are all the offices combined on the one paper somehow?

As two people who live in the same Federal district may live in different State and Local districts, how do the polling officials know which combination of ballots to give to a voter? This complexity suggest to me that a voter might also be restricted to casting their vote at one of only a couple of different polling places.



#28 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 10:14 PM:

Darryl Rosin:

Voters are registered by precincts, which are the electoral quanta: all other electoral units are built up of precincts. Ballots are printed or assembled in precinct lots (assuming paper ballots of any sort) and polling places, where they still exist, are supplied with the registration books and ballots for several precincts. My state, however, is moving toward all mail-in ballots, which are sorted and mailed in precinct lots, also.

There may also be several elections in a year- not just primaries and general elections but special school elections and bond issues for other taxing districts.

I've been doing it nearly reflexively for so long I forget how complicated it is.

#29 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 10:22 PM:


I've voted in three different US states and in each of them, you'd typically either have one ballot with all the elections for your precinct on them, or one for Fed, one for State, and one for whatever else.

For example, you might have a ballot with your Federal elections: President/VP, whichever Senate seat was up that year (if there was one), both of which would be the same over the whole state, and at your polling place you'd get the right list of choices for your US House of Reps district - wherever you happened to be voting (ward/precinct/whatever). If there were also state-level elections (governor, state legislature, whatever else - that also varies by state) the choices for your polling place would be on that ballot also. And any referenda. And any local races (mayor, school board, etc.)

So what ends up happening is there are umpteen different variations of the ballot - it's not the same ballot for all of, say, Florida, you're going to have different choices for county sherriff when you cross county lines - and that's where it becomes entirely possible for somebody to have the wrong box and screw things royally up.

#30 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 10:36 PM:

In NYC, voting is done in great big portable metal voting booths that have been around forever. Voting is done via little metal flippers. You zero out the machine, and register your votes, by throwing a great big lever one direction or the other.

Procedure: You go in, draw the curtain, and throw the lever way over to one side. Then you start setting your flippers. One oddity is that the same candidate can be listed for several different parties. If you, the Democrats, the Liberals, and the Working Families parties all favor Gnort Esplanade Gneesmacher for Attorney General, you can vote for him under whichever party you want to be credited with your vote.

You go down the list, setting flippers to indicate all your votes. When you're done, you grab the great big metal lever and throw it all the way in the other direction, which locks in and records your votes. You are now finished.

The booths are big, unwieldy, old-fashioned, require maintenance, and have to be hauled around the city on big ol' trucks. On the other hand, they're clear, durable, and by all accounts damned hard to rig.

#31 ::: dido ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 10:46 PM:

Dude, I would totally vote for:

Gnort Esplanade Gneesmacher for Attorney General

almost regardless of platform.


#32 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 10:57 PM:

#30 Teresa Nielsen Hayden: In NYC, voting is done in great big portable metal voting booths...

I hope that's still true in my precinct. I got a notice the other day that my long-time polling place has been moved to another (farther away) school. I don't know what's going on, really, but things being the way they are these days, this sort of thing makes me very nervous.

"...Went to school
and I was very nervous,
no one knew me,
no one knew me..."

#33 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 11:02 PM:

And as with everything when we talk about these details, they vary by state.

The state I grew up in (Oklahoma) (when I was there; I don't know if these details have changed) had a 1:1 correlation between precinct and voting place, typically public schools but in some places fire stations, city halls, and even churches (the church choice bothered me then and still does).

You'd vote by showing up at the single location between 7am and 7pm on the day of the election, signing the registration book by your name (I never needed an ID, but I would sadly not be surprised to hear that that was because I was white), filling in the ballot and sliding it into the ballot reader. The ballots were multi-page forms with broken arrows for each choice; you filled in the broken part of the arrows to make your selections.

Within my memory, but prior to my being voting age, voting was done on a mechanical machine where the voter would flip levers to make choices, then pull a big switch to record all the selections.

At 7pm, anyone who was already in line would be allowed to vote, but nobody could join the line. Once everyone had voted, the machines were 'closed out' and would print out a tally of all the votes. Those tallies would then be posted on the window of the polling place for any interested observers to read, and the boxes would be transported to thhe central county election board location, where county-wide totals were created.

If you had a 'valid reason' you couldn't make it to the polling place on election day, known sufficiently in advance, you could ask for an 'absentee ballot'. I never did that in Oklahoma and don't know what exactly the procedure was, but it was intentionally cumbersome and very restricted on what counted as valid reasons.

Candidates would frequently print up 'sample ballots' marked the way they would prefer -- not just on their race, but on other races and questions -- and mail them out for people to copy off of. I don't know how many people actually did, but considering how many candidates did it, I assume they believed it worked.

In Oregon and Washington, vote-by-mail is easy and common; in fact, it's the only way to vote in Oregon now, and is likely to be in Washington sometime soon. The ballots are essentially scan-tron forms like you'd use on a standardized test. Oddly, this is one place where I think the OK system is better -- with the scantron, there's no direct connection between the paper you're marking and the paper listing the choices you're making, so it's easy to make mistakes. On the other hand, both Oregon and Washington mail out ballot books, listing all the races and questions, with brief statements from the candidates and arguments, both pro & con, for the questions. In Oregon, anyone can have an argument (of limited size) placed in the ballot book for a pretty nominal fee ($50, I think).

After you mark the scantron form, you seal it in a 'security envelope' which has a few holes in it, so that you can tell there's a ballot inside but not read any of the choices. You then seal that inside another envelope, on which you place a signature and date, and put it in the mail. If I'm remembering properly, in Oregon, it had to be in the mail by election day while in Washington it has to arrive by election day, and of course the postal service makes no delivery guarantees. There are also various places you can drop the ballot off on election day (which can be anywhere in the right county), or for the moment in Washington, places you can vote in person. I think those are directly mapped to precincts, but I haven't done that here so I'm not sure.

As to what the ballots themselves look like, googling 'sample ballot' will find examples, such as these for Tulsa Oklahoma's general election in 2006.

#34 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 11:03 PM:

Darryl, remember that in most places in the US, the filing deadline for running for public office is months before the primary election, not weeks. Then, the primary decides what candidates are placed on the ballot for the general election, which is again, months away. Thus, there is plenty of time to validate the qualifications for office of each candidate, check names on petitions for "third-party" or independent candidates, and print ballots.

I live in Texas, and here, each county is divided into voting precincts. No precinct overlaps county borders--they're strictly subdivisions of counties. This varies widely from state to state, but our counties are typically around 160 sq. miles (415 sq. km. +/-). My county is moderately populated (Dallas/Fort Worth suburbs in the southern part, a college town of 100,000 that's county seat in the middle, and rural towns and ranch land in the north and west), so there are a number of voting precincts that make up each of four county commissioner districts, five justice of the peace "places," and three state court districts. The state and federal districts for representatives (the House of Representatives) are divided up by precincts, but don't usually follow county lines; the state senate districts are larger but divided up in the same way, but the federal Senators all run "at large" in their home states.

In my county, there are no contested primary elections until we get to the federal level. In the general election, I will vote for a county commissioner, constable (who mostly serves civil court papers), and justice of the peace (judge for minor civil and some criminal matters) based on my voting precinct; the county judge and sheriff (running county-wide); a state representative and senator and district judge, as well as state district judge and US Representative, all based on voting precinct but not county lines; several state-wide offices such as supreme court justices and various commissioners (the gubernatorial elections are held in alternating even years from presidential elections); and a senator, president, and vice president on the federal level.

For those who wish to vote early, during the early-voting period, they do so at one of three polling places in the county. Their voter registration cards contain the information needed to assure that they get the proper ballot for all local elections. On election day, it is necessary that we vote in our home precincts (it would be waaaay too crazy to keep everything straight otherwise, particularly in a large state with small precinct divisions), but the polling places open early and stay open late to allow for working people to vote.

You might notice that there aren't any local (city) elections included in that list. Most areas in this state have moved their municipal elections to odd years, so local candidates can campaign without interfering or being overshadowed by by the national campaigns.

I hope that's enlightened, rather than confused.

#35 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 11:07 PM:

The machines Teresa described sound like the ones which were used in Oklahoma City in my childhood. They are indeed hard to rig -- they're very simple machinery, and it's easy to understand how they work, and easy for the poll-workers to verify that they're configured correctly.

The double-listing thing she describes, however, I think is unique to New York state. Oklahoma in particular makes it very difficult for third parties and independent candidates to get on the ballot at all.

#36 ::: Darryl Rosin ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 11:29 PM:

"Voters are registered by precincts, which are the electoral quanta: all other electoral units are built up of precincts."

Ah-ha! This is a piece of info I never knew and makes it all a bit clearer. We don't have precincts and for a Federal election, there'll be about 90k voters in a Division and 20 or 30 polling places. A voter can go to any of them and get a ballot paper for their division, or if they are away from home, they can go to any polling place in their State and cast an absentee ballot (where an issuing officer will hand-write the candidates on a special blank ballot).

LMB wrote:

"there is plenty of time to validate the qualifications for office of each candidate, check names on petitions for "third-party" or independent candidates, and print ballots."

I knew about your long lead time. Here, you can get your name on the ballot if you get your forms in 23 days before polling day. I couldn't work out how you deal with the *issuing* problem. But Precincts make it sound a lot easier.

"In the general election, I will vote for a county commissioner, constable... justice of the peace... county judge and sheriff... a state representative and senator and district judge, as well as state district judge and US Representative... several state-wide offices such as supreme court justices and various commissioners... and a senator, president, and vice president on the federal level."

JESR: "There may also be several elections in a year- not just primaries and general elections but special school elections and bond issues for other taxing districts."

Boy, you people do a lot of voting. I'm surprised the administration of it is so... hap-hazard. :^)

thanks for your comments, I appreciate your time.


#37 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 11:35 PM:

In Washington state, they used to use the big machine booths like Teresa describes - my mom would bring me and my siblings in with her when she would vote. Alas, I only got to use them once before I went to college (where I voted absentee), and then they switched away from them during those years.

Precincts are also handled differently by different states. Although in all cases they are the smallest unit, and everyone within a precinct lives within all of the same jurisdictions at various levels, the maximum allowable size of a precinct varies. In Washington, at least in the 1970s/1980s, they were pretty small - around 120 or so voters, I believe. The long-time polling place for my parent's house is the elementary school about 1.5 miles away, and 4 or 5 precincts all voted there - infrequent voters always had to check the posted lists to make sure which line to stand in. On the other hand, in California, they are much larger - my precinct there was at least 400 registered voters. And polling places usually served only one or two precincts. The polling places also changed regularly, so you had to check your mailed sample ballot carefully. Over time, I remember voting in a bank, a music and arts school, and the common rooms of two different apartment/condo complexes.

And speaking of sample ballots - Washington, Oregon, and California each generally provide very good sample ballots and election information (statements pro and con on each issue, information from any candidate who wants to submit a statement). I understand that some other states produce less comprehensive voter education materials.

#38 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 11:51 PM:

Casey, #18: Good for you! You're a hero.

#39 ::: Casey ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2008, 11:58 PM:

Until last fall's municipal election, I'd always used the big mechanical lever machines Teresa describes @30. (Philadelphia in '88, central Connecticut every year since.)

#40 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:31 AM:

Todd Larson, for the last several elections, the scantron form in my county in Washington is the kind with a single page with names and bubbles next to each other. The last time I voted a system with separate "answer forms" was about 2002, and that was an absentee ballot rather than a mail-in form.

But yes, the Voters Information Pamphlet is a great boon for decission making.

#41 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:35 AM:

Todd Larason, (subtly making up for my mispelling of your name. Not that I've ever done that before). The Oklahoma ballot you linked to brings up another difference that can exist between states: there is no option for a straight ticket vote in my state.

#42 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:44 AM:

#30: I LOVE those old beasts. Like big old adding machines.

The party lines have (had?) a little logo under the party title card. The Right To Life party logo was a little fetus. It didn't seem appealing next to the eagles and bells and such.

I read recently that the NY machines are being phased out, as they're getting hard to service.

#43 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:55 AM:

Hawai'i has the scantron variety. You get pens rather than #2 pencils, but it's very much like the SAT I took a million zillion years ago. The consequences seem to be even greater for elections than for the college exams these days.

#44 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 01:02 AM:

Another serious answer to Darryl: I've been a US citizen all my life and I've been voting here for almost 25 years, and I don't know everything about how US elections work. I suspect that nobody does. It varies too much from state to state, and there are so many details that I suspect that nobody know them all. A day after the Nevada caucuses people were still trying to figure out which candidate got the most delegates--only an expert on Nevada caucuses could answer that question. Is there anyone in the country who's an expert on Nevada caucuses, and Iowa caucuses, and Florida voting eligibility laws, and Democratic superdelegate rules, and the Republican delegate adjustment formula? I doubt it.

If you think that the US electoral system is fiendishly complicated and that you have no hope of understanding it, you're right.

#45 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 02:43 AM:

JESR @ 28: Voters are registered by precincts, which are the electoral quanta...

One thing to bear in mind is that a precinct represents a unique combination of districts and is not a fixed size. When I lived in Northeast Queens in the early 90's, my precinct consisted of only about 100 registered voters because we had an odd combination of Congressman/State Senator/State Assemblyman/City Councilman. I think the geographic area was only a single city block. It was the smallest plat book I had ever seen - only a couple of pages. The upside was that there was never a line when I went to vote!

#46 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:18 AM:

In my area, they've been merging the precincts, so that everyone who typically votes in one location also votes in the same precinct. I've been told that it's because of the outrageous gerrymandering that's been going on in our state during the past 18 years. (Thank you, Tom DeLay, and may you rot in prison some day!)

There's been a strong move, state-wide, to standardize the polling places. In my little town, every election votes in the local school district's administration, except the infrequent (max. 5 years) water district elections, which vote at the district's public building. Texas' rural roots definitely show in their election laws.

#47 ::: Darryl Rosin ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 04:16 AM:

"It was the smallest plat book I had ever seen"

OK - here's another question from your newly annoying Australian friend. What's a plat book?


#48 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 05:57 AM:

TNH #30: When I was little, Rhode Island used those, and I spent most of my youth peeing myself with the anticipation of waiting to get to use them. I was very disappointed when I reached 18 and we had switched to a paper ballot.

#49 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 06:53 AM:

I have to say, there's something very satisfying about the slow swoosh as you close the booth's heavy curtain, the initial grinding crash of the big lever, the crisp snapping noises of the flippers being turned, the lists of candidates and their parties (which do indeed still have the party emblems on them, in red and blue and occasionally green), that second grinding crash as you lock in your vote (WHOOOOOMP! YOU HAVE VOTED! AND EVERYONE CAN HEAR IT!), and the much faster swoosh of the opening curtain as you emerge, a citizen who's done their duty by the Republic and its democratic institutions.

#50 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 07:10 AM:

Teresa @ 30 and 49... Your description of the machine, and the candidate's name, makes New York's voting experience sound like something from an Agatha Heterodyne adventure.

Ottar Tryggvassen for President?

#51 ::: Gnort Esplanade Gneesmacher ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 07:21 AM:

I would just like to announce my candidacy for attorney general in this forum.

I promise to increase the number of legal puns. To improve the Serge, to cause all criminals to Xopher.

#52 ::: Serge channeling Ottar Tryggvassen ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 07:41 AM:

Do not listen to my opponent. I am the man with the visor... er.. the vision.

#53 ::: Serge again channeling Ottar Tryggvassen ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 07:44 AM:

...and, unlike my opponent, I will serve to the best of my Abi-lities.

#54 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 07:45 AM:

re 48, 49: I had the same anticipation, and something of the same letdown. But then when I moved to Montgomery County we had these sliding punch things, which didn't have the same all at once "Voted!" sound, but the "kerchunk" for each individual vote was just about as good.

I notice, though, that you've left out the part of the voting machine that intrigued me the most. In the general election, you could slide open this little window and vote for anyone for president or what-have-you.

The classic, archetypal, Norman Rockwellian place to vote is the fire hall. When I was really little my parents would go to the fire house in Savage (the next town over-- in those days our neighborhood was too small to be its own precinct) and they would let us little tykes join our parents in the booths. The other classic place is the school gym, which is where we go-- out our back door, across the field, and there it is. (That's a major reason why all the schools are closed on election days.)

#55 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 07:53 AM:

I remember my mom voting in Louisiana on one of the big metal machines. It did look intimidatingly cool. The first time I voted I used a paper ballot that had places down the center to punch with a stylus to mark my choices.
Having voted in Oregon, I think that a mail in system is best. I got to set aside my ballot until I had an evening free to fill it out at my leisure. I got to use the booklet provided with candidate statements for EVERY race or ballot measure, and I further got to do some internet research on the candidates as I went. I actually finished voting feeling as though I had made an informed decision on every race, down to water commissioner and city councilman.
Contrast to Illinois, where despite our best Googling, we couldn't even get a sample ballot for our county, much less our precinct, ahead of time, and so went in for the primaries with no idea what races were being contested. We were pretty sure that the state senate race was for one town over, but only because they were only showing ads for the candidates on the Peoria tv station, and not the Bloomington ones.

#56 ::: Gnort Esplanade Gneesmacher ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 07:56 AM:

Gnort Esplanade Gneesmacher stands for visor reduction. That and improvements in all paronomasic devices. There will be an immediate reduction in all Karney-age. Gnort Esplanade Gneesmacher is the man who knows how to say Fraga-NO.

#57 ::: Ottar Tryggvassen ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 08:00 AM:

My opponent has no Cohen-rent agenda.

#58 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 08:25 AM:

Gnort Esplanade Gneesmacher & Ottar Tryggvassen

Are you guys writing a sequel to Vinge's classic book, called "False Names"?

And does either one of you have a platform position on the current plague of giant rabbits? It's getting pretty harvey out here.

#59 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 08:26 AM:

#47--Darryl--a plat is a specialized type of map showing property divisions; a plat book is a bound collection of these maps, which gets used to help locate property for various purposes, including things like deeds, property taxes, residency for voting and school assignment, and so on. They can be seen by the public in county court houses and various city offices, and copies are also often held by surveyors' offices and other interested professionals. (My cousin has a late 19th-century plat book my great-grandfather owned, with property belonging to various family members and friends carefully marked out.)

A plat book may show developed land, marked out under the Lot and Block System, or rural land, marked out under the Public Land Survey System, which is used in most of the US (with allowances for old Spanish lands, Texas, Hawai'i, land once part of the original 13 states, and a few bits of French weirdness in Louisiana and Missouri), or both, depending on what past of the country it covers. A plat book for part of Chicago will almost certainly be all lot and block, while one for Metropolis, IL, may show some land under both systems, as Metropolis is a small town, and some precincts will include both developed and undeveloped land.

Much more than you wanted to know:

Especially in developed areas (urban and suburban) land is the US and Canada is described under the Lot and Block survey system, which gives a piece of property a lot designation and a block designation, and reference to the specific plat (AKA map) on which that area is shown. Like the Public Land Survey System (which divides most of the US up into sections, townships*, and ranges), it was an effort to introduce some good, Enlightenment-flavored rationality to replace the common-law land survey system of metes and bounds, which some may recognize as the system that produces such surveys as "From the stump of the chestnut tree on the left bank of Red Oak Creek a mile below the junction of Red Oak Creek and Dog Hollow Branch , two hundred yards NNE to the large red rock" and so forth. Despite the charm of many of the land descriptions under the metes and bounds system, and its admitted antiquity, it's a system that is highly open to interpretation (which big red rock?), to say nothing of the loss of landmarks and changes in watercourses and the like. The Public Land Survey System is an arcane language, but it can be learned, with the aid of a map to try examples out on, pretty quickly, and the doughty and determined surveyors of the USGS have benchmarked most of the terrain in this country so that land on the map can be located in the, well, not flesh, but rock and dirt.

*Not political townships, whch are something else, akin to precincts, but survey townships.

#60 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 08:31 AM:

The precinct polling place my mother uses, and that I used the first time I voted, has the big mechanical voting machines, and so did the one I use until 2004--that year the whole city of Pittsburgh went to touch-screen machines. I don't worry about it too much, since trying to rig the 'Burgh to go Republican would stand out like a sore thumb, but the first two elections after the switch I voted by absentee ballot as a form of protest; absentee ballots are paper and require more handling. Fortunately religious obligations is one of the valid reasons for requesting such a ballot.

My precinct's polling place is the basement of the Teamster's Union building. I never have to show ID anymore, but that's because the ladies who run the polling place all know me by sight. I walk in, remind them of my surname, get looked up in the book, and am good to go. Heck, for a while my ex-landlady (and the woman who sold me my house) was Judge of Elections. (An appointed office, chosen generally from the pool of folks who can be relied on to not pull stupid "Oh, we didn't unpack the Democratic ballots yet" stuff, there to make sure things run smoothly and correctly.)

#61 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 08:44 AM:

Jurie @ #8: I don't understand...[snip]...Electoral colleges and all that."

Don't feel bad, most U.S. voters (including myself) don't understand it all that well either, but I may be able to cast a bit of light on the electoral college question.

U.S. voters do not directly elect the President. That is to say, the votes cast on election day are not just tallied up and whoever got the most votes is the new President. Instead, on election night, each individual state elects members of the Electoral College. A few weeks later the electoral college casts votes and elects the president.

The number of votes a particular state sends to the electoral college varies widely, from California (55 electoral college votes) to Rhode Island (3). The number of electoral college voters per state is determined as follows: in the U.S. each state, regardless of size or population, has exactly two Senators. The number of House members[*] per state is determined by that state's population. The number of electoral college delegates each state sends to actually elect the president == Num_Senators + Num_Representatives.

Usually, the outcomes of the electoral college are indistinguishable from those of a popular vote. However, very occasionally, it happens that the candidate who wins the popular vote loses the election. I'm not sure what the criteria are for a particular state getting a new Representative (and thus a new electoral vote) but obviously you can have two states with the same number of electoral votes having widely different actual populations. Nonetheless, their electoral college votes could still potentially cancel each other out.

So let's say that states X and Y both have similar size populations and thus both have, umm, 27 electoral votes. On election night, 99% of the voters in state X vote Democrat, so their 27 Electoral College delegates go to the Democrats. In State Y, on the other hand, the Replicans can win the popular election by exactly one vote, and all the state's Electoral College votes will still be cast for the Republican candidate. So, despite the Democrats having won vastly more of the popular vote for the combined populations of the two states (recall democrats won with 99% in state X vs. a elect the President.

Depending on how the rest of the country goes, that disparity can, in theory, lead to a candidate who loses the popular vote winning the overall election. Though such a result is, mmm, counter-intuitive, it's nonetheless perfectly legal.

I think it's also worth pointing out that there's a constituationally mandated delay of several weeks between popular elections and electoral college elections. I don't really know what the thinking was that led to the Electoral College system, but that fact alone suggests to me that it was at least somewhat influenced by its being written in a time and place where travel was by horse and communication was by courier. Some decades later, the telegraph and railroad were invented. Not long after, people began talking about re-thinking the electoral college system as it was starting to seem a bit dated. Unfortunately, serious debate on that topic will have to be postponed until we come to a consensus on to what degree our national policy should be shaped by the 2000 year old superstitions of illiterate nomads.

#62 ::: Gnort Esplanade Gneesmacher ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 08:48 AM:

My opponent is clearly appealing to the barbarian vote. This will avail him nothing. I anticipate that he will not get the late Serge of support for which he is hoping, and his attempts to heterodyne the process will fail.

Gnort Esplanade Gneesmacher promises to lower taxes and increase expenditure at the same time, thanks to the use of a nifty wormhole access device, a Duckman's Dumper, and increased utilisation of handwavium dichloride. Vote for Gnort Esplanade Gneesmacher the only candidate who can protect you from the unspeakable threat that comes from beyond the stars to eat your brains.

#63 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 09:15 AM:

Scott H, seats in the US House of Representatives are allocated based on the decennial census, which is one reason we have the thing. However, in 1910, with reaffirmations in 1929 and 1941, they fixed the number of seats in the House at 435, so that some states with increasing population are, in fact, now under-represented. Re-allocation is an isue that keeps coming up, and keeps getting pushed to the back burner.

#64 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 09:37 AM:

fidelio @ 63:

Tnx, and duly noted. So did they fix the number at 435 with each state keeping what they already had, or is there still occasional flux between states?

also, fixing an embedded-tag bobble by me in #61, paragraph 6:

So, despite the Democrats having won vastly more of the popular vote for the combined populations of the two states (recall democrats won with 99% in state X vs. a 1% margin of victory in state Y), the candidates have exactly the same number of electoral college votes. So, effectively, the national election was decided by a single typical American voter.

#65 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 09:43 AM:

Scott H, reapportionment of congressional seats is supposed to take place in every year ending with a 1, right after the census figures are in. This is closely followed, back in the states, by the redrawing of districts, where the parties try desperately to gerrymander the districts to their best advanatage, and sometimes others interfere with this effort.

No, really, I'm not a bit cynical about it.

#66 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 09:47 AM:

I believe it's only appropriate:


#67 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 09:56 AM:

Did it actually make sense for the Democratic Party to punish some unduly early state primaries by (I think) making votes cast in them not matter? It seems to me that parties should avoid dispiriting their supporters, but maybe I'm missing something.

#68 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 10:09 AM:

Edwards is out; formal announcement at 1:00.

(No link necessary: check the news source of your choice)

#69 ::: Janet ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 10:10 AM:

The voting age in the US wasn't lowered to 18 (from 21) until 1970 so the first general election I could vote was in 1968. It was also the first and only time I got to use one of those big curtained voting machines. That's how voting had always been depicted in the media and it felt right.

But, alas, I left Ohio and those awesome voting machines behind the next year. All my voting since then has been via punching holes in or completing arrows on machinie-readable ballots.

My polling place is in the chuch across the street from where I live. The voter list print-out is split alphabetically among several registration clerks. I'm always a bit amused and somewhat annoyed that the line to sign the roll for my segment of the alphabet (K and its neighbors) is always noticably longer than the other 4 or 5 lines. It's possible we mid-alphabetters are simply more dutiful voters but more likely the Board of Elections are dividing the list without considering the actual number of people that fall in each grouping.

#70 ::: Jackie L. ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 10:18 AM:

The secretary of state here in Colorado just decertified all of the voting machines in the entire state. So, of course all the county recorders are having kittens. In '06 people were in line to vote until 2 am in some precincts, because of the high tech voting machines.

Apart from the cr*ptastic voting machines, Colorado elections are really quite civilized. As one of probably a handful of registered Democrats in Tom Tancredo's district, I have never had a problem voting in 14 years.

However, in California, they were not going to let me vote because they couldn't read my signature. (Another Repuglican* stronghold precinct.) I'm a doctor, no one can read my signature, it's a matter of personal pride.

So I pulled out my cell phone--the old clunky ones that cost a small fortune and only doctors were willing to tolerate in those days--and asked if anybody knew the number to the LA Times newsroom. Loudly, of course. I talked about denying a woman suffrage (how nineteenth century), etc, etc, till they gave me my ballot just to shut me up. My voting rights are worth being obnoxious about.

*I love that Repuglican thingie--LMB MacAlister@ #6, can I borrow it to annoy my ultra-conservative neighbors?

#71 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 10:43 AM:

You can end up voting in different locations for school board and general elections. When I first started voting, the school elections were in the (basement) rec room at the Baptist church in the next block and across the street, but other elections were at the fire stattion two blocks down on our side.

The voting age was lowered by amendment 26 in 1971.

#72 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 11:07 AM:

In addition to all the differing ways of handling things like absentee voters, registration to vote varies widely from state to state.

In 2006, deadlines for registration to vote ranged from thirty days,which it was in many states, to day of registration, which it was in a few states including Maine, Minnesota, and a couple of other states I can't remember. North Dakota had no registration requirements at all.

In addition, there are quirks about where you can register to vote. In New Hampshire, you have to register at with the town clerk. Again, that information dates from 2006, so that state registration laws have possibly changed.

All of which brings up the problem of people who register and then have to move to a different precinct after the registration deadline has passed so they cannot reregister. In Florida, they are entitled to vote in their old precinct. This information is as of 2004 (I'm in a hurry this morning or I'd Google it).

Then there are the "provisional ballots," which are ballots for people whose registration or identification is questioned. Theoretically, these are supposed to be verified after the fact. In practice, most of them are tossed out.

Voter laws were a bit of a hobby of mine. Also, I was a "legal field representative" for Election Protection in 2004 in Tampa (meaning I went around in 3 precincts and helped poll monitors at each site deal with poll workers when necessary).

#73 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 11:15 AM:

Re the closing of schools: Not in Calif. My mother used to do precinct work, which was at my school. They were given a room, and all other activity continued as normal.

re the apportioning of reps: The number was fixed, but the distribution was not. The problem (I wrote about this a while ago) is the small states.

Wyoming has 600,000 people (more or less) they get three electoral votes. California has 36 million, more or less, and gets 55.

So each person from Wyoming gets 30 times as much pull, come election day. (200,000 per vote vs. 650000, per vote)

Then they complain about being outnumbered.

#74 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 11:20 AM:

Doublechecking New Hampshire, you can also register on election day at the polling place, so that "register with the town clerks" may not be such a big deal. Again, from 2006.

Florida was not the only place where there were problems in elections in 2004 and 2006: Pennsylvania and especially Ohio were believed to have issues as well.

#75 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 11:22 AM:

C. Wingate @ 54: Schools are closed on election day around you? Not around here--the kids just don't have gym class that day. Or else they only use half of the gym. I've always thought it was kind of nice that the kids got to watch people come in to vote . . . on the other hand, we had a major kerfuffle not too long ago, when someone realized that Open Schools on Election Days meant that possible sex offenders could be wandering the halls. Seemed a bit silly to me, since it wasn't as though the playgrounds at the school I vote at had either fences or guards--why not just make voters come in through one of the outer gym doors and not enter the school building proper at all?--but not all schools have the same design of physical plant, of course.

Anyway, we haven't started closing schools on elections days yet. The bill proposing it keeps getting defeated in the state legislature.

#76 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 11:43 AM:

Gnort Esplanade Gneesmacher @ 62

My opponent is clearly appealing to the barbarian vote.

That tactic worked well for G Bush. And it's interesting that no incumbent politician is willing to take a stand on barbarian immigration.

#77 ::: Gnort Esplanade Gneesmacher ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:07 PM:

Gnort Esplanade Gneesmacher is both for and against barbarian immigration. In barbarian neighbourhoods, Gnort Esplanade Gneesmacher will kiss barbarian babes babies. In non-barbarian neighbourhooods, Gnort Esplanade Gneesmacher will make anti-barbarian speeches. Gnort Esplanade Gneesmacher is a man for all seasons.

#78 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:22 PM:

Oh, yeah, registration. Another fun state-by-state thing. In some states, you register by party, and you can only vote in that party's primary and if you're registered Independent, too bad, no primaries for you. (Which is why my father had a metaphorical heart attack when I registered as an independent at 18 and drove me down to change it the next day.) Other states let Indep's pick a primary to vote in. In VA, where I live now, you don't register by party, so you get to vote in whichever primary you pick on voting day (but not both).

Which is why I found the discussion on voting for Romney in Michigan so strange. I thought everyone gamed their votes - since that's how primary voting was explained to me originally, it never even occurred to me that people didn't think that way, or would think it wrong. I still haven't decided which primary I'm voting in, much less who I'm voting for - it all depends on what the situation looks like in two weeks. (Or if it even matters by then. Then again, I vote Democratic in VA, so it's not like my vote on the National level /ever/ matters. But at least we go for pizza afterwards, so that's something.)

#79 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:24 PM:

I remember the big mechanical voting booths like the one Teresa described back when I was in elementary school. We were even shown how one (an inactive one) worked by "voting" on it. When I was eligible to vote in 1978, Tennessee still used them, and when I moved to NC in 1984, they too used them.

Now, though, we've got a big, long, stiff piece of paper with everyone's name on it, and you have to fill in the break on an arrow with a certain type of pen to register your vote. Then the card is put into a machine and you get an "I voted!" sticker to wear the rest of the day.

#80 ::: Leigh Butler ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:31 PM:

Interestingly, even though I grew up in Louisiana, I've never actually voted there. Instead I've voted in Texas, where I went to college, and then California.

I do have to say that while CA was very annoying with their endless Propositions (and the TV ads! Oy), they did do a very good job, at least in the L.A. area, of getting sample ballots out to registered voters, with fairly clear and concise explanations of each Prop on the ballot, and even little Pro/Con sections listing the major arguments for and against each one.

My sister and I used to sit down and read through it the day before, and decide how we wanted to vote on each Prop/Candidate. Led to some very interesting discussions. I always felt very good about myself afterward, that we had not just voted, but that we had thought about what we were voting for. Very grownup feeling, that.

#81 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:32 PM:

I love the big mechanical machines, and I am so glad that New York state still uses them.

Yes, they leave no paper trail, but I trust them with my vote in ways I would never trust a computer.

#82 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:34 PM:

Here in Austin, precincts voting in/at schools generally do so in the front hall, with some sort of arrangement to make sure that the kids don't get loose and wander through.

My own precinct has two polling places, one on the premises of the state alcoholic beverage commission (board room, in fact!) and the other combined with another precinct in an elementary school. There appears to be some sort of algorithm involving expected turnout that governs which place we go to.

Austin does not limit their municipal elections to off-years; there's an election every year, because the city council terms are staggered in a three-year rota.

I've never done mail-in voting, but there is a wrinkle called "early voting" which you can do over a period of about a week at a limited number of polling places. One of those just happens to be on campus, so I frequently took advantage of that. There is no required relation between actual precinct and early voting location, so the workers are provided with what seems to be an infinite variety of ballots for all possible precincts. I think there *is* a limitation that you can't vote out-of-county.

#83 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:38 PM:

In Ohio, voting machinery varies from county to county; I don't think anyone has the lever machines any more. When I moved here, 1984, Scioto County voted on punch cards. We changed over to optical scan in 2006.

#84 ::: Jurie ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:53 PM:

ScottH: thanks :)

#85 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:57 PM:

fidelio @65, I'm in the Washington Ninth, which would make a cynic out of anyone. It exists as a band between one and five miles wide up both sides of Interstate 5, and contains more suburban sprawl and less cultural coherancy than one would believe possible.

To express the generic/entropic nature of the district, my congress-critter is named Adam Smith.

#86 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 01:17 PM:

Cat 78: Then again, I vote Democratic in VA, so it's not like my vote on the National level /ever/ matters. But at least we go for pizza afterwards, so that's something.)

You and the other Democrat?

#87 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 01:39 PM:

When the big mechanical NY voting booths are phased out, I think someone should buy a dozen and offer them to artists and tinkerers for repurposing.

You could base a whole issue of MAKE magazine on the things . . .

#88 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 02:00 PM:

Wow, I initially misread this headline...too bad, that would be an interesting endorsement ad.

#89 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:16 PM:

I voted in Louisiana, for Kerry, that year. We registered to vote there, even though we knew we were coming back to NYC, because we felt a dem vote in Louisiana would count for more.

Our original polling place was the basement of the neighborhood anchor, St. Anthony's RCC. It was good experience in every way. The people working there worked in our local delis and bakeries and so on. You saw all your friends and neighbors.

But the local delis and bakeries shut down as the New Money charged in and took over the nabe. Our friends and neighbors died, or moved away -- moved because New Big Money bought out their buildings -- often with the death of our neighbors.

Then we got gerrymandered and were sent far away to vote. Then we got changed again, to a place closer by. But it's not the same.

Love, C.

#90 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:19 PM:

I love the old mechanical voting machines as well. The love affair began when I was six, and I got to play with the little demonstrator board while my parents voted.

In regard to getting one's own, CMU professor Julie Downs bought one for $40 in a county auction (it was the scrap price). The fees and shipping were far more than that. It currently takes up much of her living room.

This particular machine has something I have not seen in years:

"I had never seen a machine like that before. It was like something out of another century," she says appreciatively. When she first heard about the concept of pulling the party lever, "I thought that was a figure of speech. I didn't realize you could literally pull the party lever" to vote for all of that party's candidates.

Louisiana, where I was born, had them while California, where I have always voted, did not. I do remember political campaigns telling people to "pull the lever at the top". I assume they switched what lever was Republican or Democratic becuase in the South that I grew up in, you would have worn out a Democratic lever, while the Republican lever might never be used. You could vote the straight Democratic ticket from President to dogcatcher with one push.

#91 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:21 PM:

Whoops -- hit the post button a bit fast. The article referred to above is Professor saves voting machine from term as scrap from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

#92 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:37 PM:

#90: "'I didn't realize you could literally pull the party lever' to vote for all of that party's candidates."

Thus, "voting the party line."

I'd forgotten about the demonstrator boards.

Also, the repeated instructions not to move the levers back into the up position before pulling the big lever. Apparently, some people thought that their choices would remain visible after the curtain opened, so they'd carefully lower and then raise the levers in the belief that would do the job. In fact, the levers all pop up when the curtain is opened.

#93 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:51 PM:

I will never say a bad word about Elections Canada again.

#94 ::: Mike Bakula ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 04:19 PM:

LMB McAlister @ 20, I'm not trying to refute a straw-man argument here. Rather, I think that the story may be a good sign -- that same focus you mention causes even relatively small problems to hit the papers, and give a public black eye to those responsible.

And I wonder how many of "the crackers" (I'm charitably assuming you mean long-time native Floridians here) are involved in the mechanics of elections -- a significant percentage of the people I deal with here have retired here from somewhere else. Retirees form a large percentage of election workers, because guys like me have to work (or in my case, attend classes), making it difficult to participate. They all get the election worker training, but do they all get the message? Sure the elections commissioner knows and acres, but an election worker from Ohio may not have been here for 2000.

It seems to me, the challenge is identifying systematic bias within a noise floor of individual mistakes and bad behavior. That's the stuff that can undermine elections, and confidence in the election process. So, the value of anecdotal evidence is in keeping the noise floor low, and indicating areas to look for systematic problems. In my opinion kind of generalizing directly from it is fraught with peril.

(and, apologies for the double post! gotta click slower... MJB)

#95 ::: Mike Bakula ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 04:27 PM:

(*sigh*) a bit slower yet...

Read "cares" for acres, and I meant to say "any kind of generalizing"...

#96 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 05:00 PM:

JESR: My congressman is named, Adam Schiff (he replaced Fred rogan; a scumbag, whom Maia and I; when we weren't in this district, helped get booted out).

Schiff says Law and Order helped him get elected.

#97 ::: Natalie ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 06:08 PM:

I get to go vote at the church down the street next week. Where they will likely route us through the sanctuary, past tables of leaflets about their ministry--which is of the conservative televangelism flavor. There are outside doors to get into the rooms we vote in, but they don't let us use them. Complaints to my state rep have gone unheeded, but I'll likely complain again this time around for good measure. Probably call the Board of Elections, too.

In Delaware, when you vote, as you go into the voting booth, the pool worker announces to the entire room that you are now voting. It's very exciting.

The first time my husband went to vote here, in the last mid-term elections, we discovered that the geniuses at the DMV hadn't completed his voter registration properly (considering that they also couldn't figure out what constituted proof of address in order to let him get a license, this wasn't surprising). The election workers were extremely good at figuring out the appropriate course of action which was to get a court order to validate his registration (which happened that night, before the polls closed).

#98 ::: Pfusand ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 06:19 PM:

Nit Alert: Rhode Island, while small, is populous, so it has two representatives and thus four electors. It is states like X. Dakota that have a single representative.

#99 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 06:26 PM:

I've worked as a pollworker in almost every election, major or minor, since 1992; i'll be doing so next Tuesday.

I *cannot imagine* that this was actually a mistake. Not knowing which ballots you're supposed to be handing out; not knowing who is allowed to vote on which ballot -- these aren't difficult things which you could accidentally get wrong.

This has to have been deliberate. What I can't figure out is why. It's not like throwing the Democratic election would have mattered.

Is it possible the intent here was to force Democrats to vote in the Republican primary, thereby making McCain more likely to win?

#100 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 06:33 PM:

Larry, at #45: while it's true that precinct size is variable, there's now a federal law which sets a maximum of 1000 voters per precinct in federal elections. (In effect, this controls precinct size in no-federal leection,s cause who's going to have different sets of precincts for one than for the other?)

#101 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 06:34 PM:

Scott, at 61: the electoral college doesn't assemble in DC to vote; it votes in the states, and then the results are dispatched to DC and opened and read on the floor of the House. This is how, in 1877, there could be a dispute over *which set of dispatched votes* to accept from certain states which had submitted multiples.

#102 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 07:04 PM:

Teresa wrote at #49: I have to say, there's something very satisfying about the slow swoosh as you close the booth's heavy curtain, the initial grinding crash of the big lever, the crisp snapping noises of the flippers being turned, the lists of candidates and their parties (which do indeed still have the party emblems on them, in red and blue and occasionally green), that second grinding crash as you lock in your vote (WHOOOOOMP! YOU HAVE VOTED! AND EVERYONE CAN HEAR IT!), and the much faster swoosh of the opening curtain as you emerge, a citizen who's done their duty by the Republic and its democratic institutions.

Oh, yeah. In 2000 I got carried away. I got in the booth, went first to the right-hand corner where the local levy issues were, and clicked "yes" to support our county library levy (which does little things like pay me, buy books, etc.) then went right across the top (Democratic) line and voted "click, click, click, click..." until I got to the far right corner where it said "Al Gore". Click! Then I went back to double check that I'd voted the way I wanted, especially on the two most important (to me) issues: "Library -- yes; Gore -- yes".

So, feeling all happy, I pulled the big lever, said goodbye to the poll workers, one of whom put a "I voted" sticker on my shirt, left the Lions Club (which is where our precinct's polling place is), got into my car, and it wasn't until I'd gotten all the way down the hill that I remembered I had meant to vote for a third-party candidate for governor! Oops! (Of course, she probably would have lost anyway, but I felt bad about it.)

There are "straight-party" levers so you can vote for all the Democrats or all the Republicans or all the (third party name here)s, but I enjoyed the click click click.

(Aside to non-USAn's: all parties that are not Democratic or Republican get called a "third party" even if there are a dozen of them. Which doesn't happen often in West Virginia. The laws here are such that it's hard enough for one or two third parties to get on the ballot. Which is still called "the ballot" for such usages even if it's a machine. Laws vary from state to state and I am told that in some states, such as Minnesota, quite a few third parties get on the ballots.)

In Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties, Pennsylvania, where I grew up and voted the first couple of elections I was eligible to vote, the machines had the parties at the top and the issues on the side, so to vote all Democratic you had to go down the row (or hit the straight-party lever). In Hancock Co., West Virginia, it was the other way. One of those little adjustments I had to make when I moved.

But when I first moved to W.Va., I lived for awhile in the Brooke County part of Weirton. (The county line goes right through the middle of town. In fact it went right through the apartment building where I lived!) In Brooke, they started out, when I first moved there, with old-fashioned paper ballots where you'd put an X, with a regular #2 pencil, in the box for whoever or whatever you were voting for, or against, as the case may have been. (And to answer Darryl in #27, all the candidates and issues were on one piece of paper. It was a good-sized piece.) Then they replaced that with the punch-card system that years later became so notorious in Florida, but hanging chads never seemed to be an issue at the Edgewood School polling place. Still, when I bought my house, which is on the Hancock side of the block, I was glad to be able to use the big, familiar old lever voting machines.

Now we have touch-screen voting which is much less fun, even disregarding security issues. I think some people are intrigued by the "Ooh, shiny! Modern! Computers! Touch screens!" part, but I guess I've become too familiar and maybe even jaded with technology. Mostly it reminds me of ordering my hot dog with ketchup and onions, cole slaw on the side, at Sheetz. That's a convenience store chain in the Pa./W.Va. region, and a frequent lunch order of yours truly there. And the ordering is done on touch screens.

#103 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 07:18 PM:

I should probably add that the machines, lever or touch-screen, are not used in all elections. Just the main elections, which in our area are in even-numbered years.

Last year, 2007, we had our city elections and a special-issue county election. For the city elections, which were for mayor and city council, there was a primary election in May and the general election in June. Since each voter only had three things to vote on -- candidate for mayor, council member for his/her/my ward, and an amendment to the city charter -- it was paper and pencil, marked with Xs, in both May and June.

A couple of weeks later, at the end of June, there was a county-wide special election, whether to legalize table games at the racetrack in our county. (Legalized gambling is a big issue around here. Now that the steel industry has gone caput, the main employers in our county seem to be the racetrack/casino and Wal-Mart.) This time only one choice, yes or no, not worth dragging out the heavy machinery for. So one (this time small) piece of paper, one pencil, one X.

And no "I voted" stickers.

#104 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 07:38 PM:

I have voted in Louisiana, a couple of times on a flip-lever mechanical machine, and once via absentee/early ballot, which involved going to an unfamiliar building downtown (registrar of voters?), signing an affidavit that I was going to be out of town on election day, and using a punch-card ballot. I think that last time was the one where the moderate Republican candidate for governor got eliminated in the open primary and the race came down to David Duke (Republican, Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan) versus Edwin "Fast Eddie" Edwards (Democrat, then thrice-indicted for various kinds of malfeasance but he wasn't convicted of anything until some time later) - nothing like Louisiana politics.

I then moved to Oregon and voted in the last Oregon election to be held at polling stations, where we used the fill-in-the-dot optical-scanner type ballots before switching to the mail-in ballots Todd Larason described above. I miss the Oregon voter's guide.

I now live in Maine and used the connect-the-arrow style optical-scanner ballots for all the elections I've voted in, but I haven't figured out how to vote in the primaries here. It's not at all obvious and people look at me funny when I ask. I suppose it could be that the candidates are just very polite New Englanders and take turns at being on the official ballot...

#105 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 09:14 PM:

I've noticed that in the bafflement over the Electoral College, many people state that they do not understand why it is still in place. Part of the reason is that it is a force-multiplier— if you thought recounting in Florida was a nightmare, imagine having to do so over the entire country. Even though it has occurred that the winner of the popular vote is not necessarily the winner of the electoral vote, each state is usually clear enough to be outside of the margin of error, while the country as a whole is not.

The more pressing reason, however, is the EC assists those less populous states to get attention. If the Presidency were determined by a popular vote, a candidate today would spend most of his or her time campaigning along the East and West Coasts, totally ignoring "flyover country." Now, those of you on the coasts don't mind that, but the middle of the country not only would mind, but they have different interests than the cities— for example, food production. So a candidate that campaigns only for cities might ignore the needs of farmers, because short-term political gain often trumps long-term planning.

Balance is very important, as anyone who has paid any attention to the salmon-vs.-farming debate can tell you. On the one hand, you have a declining native species, and on the other, food supply and the prices thereof.

It's actually pretty impressive that the salmon, who can't vote, have so much representation... but I digress.

Under the current system, a candidate cannot ignore the middle of the country and still get elected. But if it went to a popular vote, a candidate could probably campaign in as few as ten states and still win a majority. As the EC is in the Constitution, and it takes a supermajority of states to approve an amendment to change that, you can bet that the low-population states aren't going to shoot themselves in the foot by voting for such an amendment.

#106 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 09:56 PM:

Why the Electoral College? Madison et al. explained in The Federalist Papers that the various federal office holders were selected in different ways to in order to reduce the danger that they would all go corrupt at the same time or in the same way.

Thus choosing a small group of wise men (and they did mean men), not otherwise involved with the federal government, to meet in the state capital and discuss who might be the best president, was hoped to be a more thoughtful process than the impassioned mobs voting directly in each district for someone to send to the House of Representatives. (The framers of the COnstitution were quite worried about the fickle passions of the mob.)

Although they probably weren't thinking of the mathematics back in 1787, the extra 2 electoral votes for each state very roughly cancel out the advantage that the winner-takes-all rule gives to the larger states. But they were consciously trying to ensure that the interests of all states were protected better than a nationwide popular vote would have allowed for. (The framers were also very concerned about large states versus small states.)

#107 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 10:50 PM:

Cat, #78, there's a chance Virginia will go Democratic this time. My upstairs neighbor and I will both be voting Democratic, so at least there'll be three of us. Now, here in Manassas, the closest elected official we have to Democratic is Independent.

Stefan Jones, #87, they could be Tardises!

#108 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 10:58 PM:

See the problem with the EC, as it presently functions is that I, in Calif., a large; and largely pre-determined state, don't get a whole lot of attention from the candidates.

But the smaller states, where swining a couple of dozen thousand people might change the vote, they get lots of chances to see, and be seen.

So they issues they care about get national attention (because those are the things the candidates talk about) and the issues which affect Calif. (much less Los Angeles) are given short shrift.

The system is screwed, and I don't know how to balance all the needs.

#109 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 11:09 PM:

TNH fills in later an advantage of those monsters: the curtain, so nobody can see how you vote. My precinct used these until recently; now there's a scannable ballot, filled in on a high table with a flimsy 3-sides-of-a-square plastic screen. I don't know the official size of precincts here, but it's small enough that the next one over (including half of my one-block street) has the same polling place.

Daryl@36: I think JESR is describing an uncommon situation; I suspect more common is 1-1.5 polls (average per year), which is infrequent enough for people to forget what to do. Boston has more due to Clinton and an odd law: the schedule was reset to have full-term elections to replace the mayor he appointed to be legate to the Vatican, rather than let the acting mayor (who ended up winning) rule until the next scheduled election or elect a short-term replacement. So we had city council (2 years) ~primary and general last year, and will have state and Federal primary and general (mix of 2-, 4-, and 6-year -- governor is 4 years, opposite phase to President) this year and council and mayoral (4-year) next year. It's still not enough -- at the last election there weren't enough ballots delivered to some sites.

re platting: despite being part of one of the oldest cities on the continent, the area around me was platted for home lots only in 1925; IIRC, before that it was stockyards.

Durbin@105: Your explanation does not make sense mathematically; the majority of votes are in a handful of states. There is a modest multiplier effect from the 2-votes-for-existing rule, but it's not that large; e.g., Bush would have beaten Kerry even without it. As for paying attention to farmers: some would say we have far too much of that now, others would sugggest farm \corporations/ are getting too much representation -- cf the ethanol boondoggle, a present for ADM.

#110 ::: marty ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 12:06 AM:

We just had an election here in Australia, which you're probably aware of: We ousted our Bush-clone Little Johnny, and so far the world hasn't imploded from having a Labor government.

Our ballots are paper. We get one for the House of Representatives (the lower house) and one for the Senate (upper house). The House of Reps is elected by "Electorates", which are primarily based on population and so are redistributed over time. Federal elections use different electorates to State, State electorates being smaller.

The House of Reps ticket has boxes which are numbered from 1 to n, where n is the number of candidates, one per political party. Whoever gets the least number of 1s has all their ballots put into the pile corresponding to the 2 on the ballot. This process is repeated (which each ballot looking at whatever was the NEXT choice for the voter) until ONE pile has more than 50% of the vote (usually this means there are only two piles left, but can occur before). 50% + 1 = a win. The majority of seats in the House is the Government, and the leader of that party is the Prime Minister and thus leader of the Government.

Then the Senate, which is the complicated one :D

The ballot has two parts, with a thick line dividing it. ABOVE the line the voter can put a single 1 in a box. That means they accept the slate that the party they voted for had submitted to the electoral commission. If the voter doesn't do that, they have to put the numbers from 1 to n into all the n boxes.

At the last election there were 40+ boxes below the line on the two foot wide ballot.

I'd try to explain proportional representation, but I got too confused to continue. Simply, you win a seat if you have a quota of votes, which is something like the number of votes cast divided by the number of senators in the state plus one. Once YOU get your quota, your excess votes are redistributed to the other piles until all the quotas are filled. There is an article on this here which is a better explanation than I can make (see the Senate section).

Oh, and our elections are compulsory. We are ticked off (heh) on the electoral roll when we get our ballots. If you don't get ticked, you get fined.

Simple, right? Not like your confusing elect the candidates and then elect them again thing.

#111 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 12:30 AM:

Darryl @ 47 - Fidelio @ 59 is correct. My sleepy mind conjured up the wrong words. What I meant was voter Roll Book. The ones I last used in NY were computer generated so each person had only as much space as needed for one signature. My precinct had only a couple of pages.

Now I vote permanent absentee - I get my ballot by mail, vote and mail it back. It's much more convenient.

Until today, I was disappointed that I would be traveling on Washington state's Democratic Caucus day, 1/9. Now that Edwards has dropped out, I'm less disappointed as I preferred him to Obama or Clinton, and find O&C just about equally appealing.

#112 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 12:54 AM:

Jackie L. @ #70: But of course! Feel free.

#113 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 01:10 AM:

Mike Bakula @ #94: Thanks for explaining. My definition of "cracker" is "prejudiced redneck." Doesn't matter where the person's from, only that (s)he is willing to give a member of the [an]other party, particularly one of another race, a lie in an attempt to keep the person from voting. That person, in particular, should never have been allowed to work at the polls.

#114 ::: Doug Faunt ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 01:21 AM:

I have actually done setup of the "old walk into a booth, move the big lever, set the small levers, move the big lever back", and they're not too bad, but even in my youth they were getting a bit unreliable and hard to maintain. They reminded me very much of the time I rebuilt a typewriter.

I'm in Alameda County, and we got touchscreen machines very early. The ROV was very personally invested in them.

Unscanned ballots, for whatever reason (busted machine, power failure, even ballots that are marked but not machine readable (we can give the voter three trys, but some people give up early)) are just put in a bag marked so, and hand processed to the degree necessary. Here, if you do a provisional ballot, you get a receipt and can inquire after 28 days if your ballot was accepted.
And we've been told we are welcome to come down and observe the count and processing of provisional and absentee ballots. It's a pretty open process.

Note that here the official votes are the paper ballots- the results of the scanner are a first cut and a preliminary count.

#115 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 05:56 AM:

Othar, not Ottar; G'nort, not Gnort.

#116 ::: Othar Shmothar ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 06:14 AM:

Details, details... As for my opponent, he isn't even a real American. Does he think that shoving an 'N' in his first name will prevent our recognizing him as Gort, whose visor, unlike mine, lets out a disintegrating beam that he has been known to use toward the destruction of tanks and other devices involved in the defense of America?

#117 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 08:35 AM:

Xopher @86: You and the other Democrat?

And our daughter.

It's not really quite that extreme; we live in Northern VA, which is as blue as anywhere else in the DC Metro area. The problem (or benefit, depending on your political stripe) is that Rural VA still makes up the bulk of the voters, and it's as Republican as it gets.

Marilee @107 - sure, there's a chance VA will go dem - but I'll believe it when I see it. (If it's Clinton, I'd give you slightly less than the proverbial snowball's chance in Hell - Obama, maybe 2:1 over the snowball.)

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