March 24, 2008

Focusing on the wrong machines

I’ve worked the polls in Union County for a number of elections and I am not all concerned about the voting machines. However, I have always been amazed that the system of hiring poll workers is so dysfunctional. Given to what I know about the people running Union County this past decade I have to wonder if this is orchestrated by the power brokers.

It certainly worked in their favor in Elizabeth in 2006. When a contentious primary election didn’t go their way and the only independent Democrat on the city council won re-election they had the money to challenge it in court. If you look close enough at any election you will find poll worker errors. In this case poll workers allowed 40 registered Republicans to vote Democrat. A judge threw out the election results and ordered a second primary and the machine won that one. "There is nothing to be done except policing," said Michael Moussallem, director of information systems for the county elections board in a Star-Ledger article. "This could be happening every time."

I get my conspiracy theory from the fact that every county will tell you it is hard to find enough people to work the polls. Yet I don’t see enough of an effort on Union County’s part to hire poll workers and on any given election in places like Elizabeth you will see county and city workers being used as challengers alongside poll workers and as campaign workers handing out literature outside of the polls. With such a shortage of poll workers, why doesn’t the Democrat machine encourage these employees to be poll workers instead?

Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi is an educated and professional woman, yet when she raised alarms about voting machines recently, however justified her concerns may be, the fact that she chooses to ignore the process by which poll workers are hired to work these machines makes her motive’s suspect to me. Why didn’t she demand an overhaul of the system that hires poll workers after the Elizabeth fiasco when she called the special election "unprecedented (in Union County) from my historical knowledge". The redo election required the services of 103 poll workers and cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

Ditto for State Senator Nicholas Scutari who plans to introduce legislation to create a Voting Machine Integrity Unit within the state Division of Gaming Enforcement to thoroughly test and certify all new voting technologies before they are implemented. Sequoia already submits their machines to a federal certification process.

“It’s an embarrassment that we have a far more rigorous and thorough approach to ensuring the fidelity of our slot machines than voting machines” Scutari said in a March 29, 2008 Star-Ledger article.

Yet Scutari isn’t embarrassed that a poll worker who operates the voting machines could be hired by simply providing their name and social security number. The gaming workers that are in charge of the slot machines are required to have a license issued by a regulatory agency, such as a state casino control board or commission. Applicants for a license must provide photo identification. Poll workers are never looked at face to face, never mind interviewed. Poll workers do not have to submit work experience or references.

To be a poll worker you fill out a form which gives your basic information: name, address, Social Security number. The only requirement for employment, besides showing up for work, is you have to attend a mandatory training class every two years.

To most of us, including, the definition of mandatory is: Law, permitting no option; not to be disregarded or modified. Yet the definition of mandatory to the Union County Board of Elections is: It is mandatory for all poll workers, to attend a training class at least once every (2) two years….The payment (for working the polls) will be $200, and if you do not attend the mandatory class, you will be paid less.

When you attend the training class you sign your name on a list and sit down without anyone speaking to you. You could easily walk out. You could just as easily have someone sign you in. Attendance isn’t called and a test isn’t given. And Senator Scutari isn’t embarrassed that we have a far more rigorous and thorough approach to ensuring the fidelity of our slot machine operators than our election poll workers? Hell Nicky, we have a far more thorough approach to ensuring the fidelity of our fast food workers. Little wonder to me that this is the same senator that introduced legislation to legalize marijuana.

When Sequoia voting machines showed a discrepancy in the last primary election, the company maintained the errors were caused by poll workers who inadvertently pressed buttons on the control panels.

During a primary election a voter is signed in at the table and given a pink slip if they are a registered democrat and a blue slip if they are a registered republican. The voter then gives this slip to the poll worker manning the machine. The poll worker then has to push (1) one button which sets the machine for either party. Yet time and again it is found that poll workers have a difficult time performing this task.

I can tell you from experience, the person manning the machine is usually determined early on in the day. It will be the person least capable of signing voters into the book which simply requires knowledge of the alphabet.

Along with a better screening process for poll workers, another piece of legislation someone truly concerned about the integrity of our elections should introduce would be that Board of Elections Deputy Administrators shouldn’t be involved in partisan politics. Union County’s Dennis Kobitz, while seemingly to be competent at his job, has been a Democrat municipal chair in Hillside for a number of years. Why aren’t the Rajoppi’s and Scutari’s concerned about this potential conflict of interest?

People are focusing on the wrong machines. Sequoia may have quirks, and perhaps a certain amount of human error will just have to be dealt with as needed, but it’s an embarrassment that no one in New Jersey has the political will power to address the fact that it is more likely that the election process is being compromised by man made political machines.

Union County Board of Elections Poll Worker Application

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Tougher tests sought for Jersey's voting machines