Plan B: An Ohio Pollworker’s Look at Tuesday’s Problems

Crossing out Plan A and writing Plan B on a blackboard.

[Image courtesy of redefinedliving]

One of the big stories from Tuesday’s election was the difficulties several Cincinnati-area precincts experienced on Election Day. The problems led to extended polling hours and a scolding from Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. Yesterday, however, local writer and pollworker Michaele Jordan told the story of the day from the pollworker’s precinct-eye view:

The election went very badly. As a poll worker, I know that better than anybody. Really. It was awful. Because of this, they decided to keep the polls open late (“Problems, delays keep the polls open” Nov. 4). That was not a good idea. It fixed nothing.

Many of the problems were blamed on the new technology. But that wasn’t the real issue, per se. I hear some locations gave up on the new machines and reverted to paper because they couldn’t get the printers hooked up.

But that’s human error and inadequate training. The training was, indeed, inadequate. Only about half the poll workers – the precinct managers and deputies – were trained on the complete setup. It was assumed the regular precinct officials wouldn’t need to know. That was a bad call, especially since some of the managers and deputies – older, hard-working, honest and experienced personnel – were not very technically savvy. I know. I met them in class, and tried to reassure them that they could do it, even if they’d never owned a computer.

I was a poll worker in precinct 5-G and we liked the machines. Our problem was the redistricting. The lines between 5-G and 5-H had been redrawn, and suddenly our tiny little precinct nearly tripled in size. Also, although the Board of Elections insists that it sent out notification on Oct. 5, the voters whose polling location had changed were not properly notified. (Somebody messed up royally. They might want to think about finding out who.) Hundreds of people turned up at our precinct already annoyed because they had gone somewhere else first.

And then, a machine is only as good as the software. I suspect the problem was caused by the attempt to rollover registrations in accordance with the new districting. A lot of voters, even those who had been voting at the same location for years, appeared in the system as new voters with last-minute registrations. As such, they were expected to vote provisionally.

I wish to point out that there is nothing really wrong with a provisional vote. It’s just manual, and therefore slower. These votes are counted and have been known to change the results of a close race. In any case, because of this system error, about 6 percent of our votes were provisional rather than scanned. That’s a very high figure.

But all of these votes, scanned or provisional, came in by 7:30 p.m. None of these issues prevented anybody from voting. They made for an extremely unpleasant voting experience. Trust me, the poll workers were very conscious of the voters’ discomfort and were not themselves happy with the situation. Huge numbers of voters suffered at least annoyance and irritation. Many were seriously angry. At my precinct, two walked out, saying, “I’ve had it. I’m not going to vote.” But I never heard of a single person who was prevented from voting by these problems.

Nonetheless, at 7:25 we all got text messages, ordering us to keep the polling location open. We’d already been on our feet since 6 a.m. It had been a grueling day, handling all the above-mentioned voting problems. We still had an hour or two of packing up our polling equipment and delivering the ballots to look forward to. But while [poll watchers] went smugly home to their dinners, we had to put in another hour and a half. Court ordered. And after 7:30? Not a single new voter came in. Because that wasn’t the problem.

Ms. Jordan’s account highlights the fact that it is rarely a single problem that causes difficulties at the polls; it’s usually a combination of things – here, a mixture of new technology, inadequate training, re-precincting and a failure to communicate with voters – that conspire to make the experience unpleasant for folks on both sides of the table. Her other point – that extending voting hours didn’t make a difference, at least in her polling location – is worth noting.

There are undoubtedly lots of things for Hamilton County to address between now and next year – but if there’s a silver lining it’s that the number of voters (and amount of national attention) is much smaller than it would have been in a presidential election. That doesn’t help Ms. Jordan, her pollworking colleagues or the voters inconvenienced on Tuesday – but it does suggest that their experience may be crucial in avoiding a repeat in 2016.

Stay tuned …

7 Comments on "Plan B: An Ohio Pollworker’s Look at Tuesday’s Problems"

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