No Small Stuff (cont.): NJ Election Day Edition

[Image via ufl.edu]

Regular readers of this blog know that I am fond of the adage “there is no such thing as small stuff in elections” – and two news stories out of New Jersey yesterday highlight that fact, especially when it comes to polling places on Election Day.

The first is from Morristown, where a polling place opened up more than an hour late because no one could find the keys to room where voting would take place. The Daily Record has more:

A communication breakdown Tuesday – Primary Election Day – led to a 75-minute delay in opening the poll site at the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School on James Street.

Both town Mayor Tim Dougherty and Councilwoman Michelle Dupree Harris – who is challenging Dougherty in the Democratic primary for the four-year mayor’s term – said they learned through telephone calls within minutes of the required 6 a.m. poll site opening at the school that there was a problem.

By 7 a.m., a woman who identified herself as a master poll worker was inside the designated voting area within the school with other poll workers and said that a head custodian who was supposed to unlock the doors was away and word never got to a back-up custodian.

The master poll worker – who declined to identify herself – told a few voters around 7 a.m. that another 15 to 20 minutes were needed to start the electronic voting machines and finish other preparations. One voter said she would go grocery shopping and return while former town Mayor Jay Delaney, who hoped to cast an early ballot, said he had to go to work but was due back in town by the afternoon and would vote then.

The master poll worker said workers were at the school by 5:15 a.m. to set up.

“These things happen,” Delaney said. The Thomas Jefferson School is one of seven polling locations in Morristown…[Dupree Harris] said she received a phone call from her sister early Tuesday who relayed that poll workers couldn’t get into the school. Dupree Harris said she called a secretary at the Alfred Vail School, who spoke to a head custodian who called a school district maintenance supervisor, who quickly arranged for the poll area in the school to open.

County Board of Elections Superintendent Dale Kramer and her staff fielded early calls about the locked school. Kramer said municipal clerks are in charge of access to their poll sites.

“We don’t have the keys,” Kramer said.

The other “small stuff” story comes from Wanaque, where poll workers at a local school suddenly found themselves  the subject of a full-court press to move the voting location for a basketball game. NorthJersey.com has more:

The borough clerk was called in to referee a polling place dispute at the high school when an election worker “cried foul.”

While voting was taking place at the Lakeland Regional High School gym there was an attempt to erect a divider to separate the space so a scheduled basketball game could be played, Municipal Clerk Katherine Falone explained.

“I got a call from a board worker up there,” Falone said. “He said they came in and put the divider up in the gym and they were going to play a game there.”

Wanaque resident Chris Cirello said she was there voting when the incident happened and that an election worker was told the voting machines would have to be moved to another room.

Falone alerted the Passaic County Board of Elections of the situation and headed to the high school. She said by the time she arrived, the game had been moved to another part of the school.

The important thing to notice about both of these stories is that while voting was affected, the breakdowns occurred outside the two election offices, who neither are responsible for opening or unlocking locations nor ensuring that other community uses aren’t attempting to share polling locations on Election Day. To be sure, these are both the kinds of things that election officials worry about, and will probably make the list of new things to be aware of before Election Day. The other thing to notice? Voting did take place at both locations despite the detours.

Bottom line: Election Day in most communities across America requires cooperation from a wide variety of offices and agencies – and sometimes things go wrong. Knowing that will happen – and being ready to react – is a vital yet unappreciated skill in election administration.

Kudos to New Jersey’s election officials for making it happen; now the “small stuff” worry beads pass to colleagues in other states. Stay tuned …

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