Thursday, February 14, 2008

Turnout in our voting precinct in bleak weather

Hello, friends & neighbors! This is the first post on my new blog, and I hope to write regularly to share my thoughts about North Bethesda, real estate, community concerns & updates, and some politics. Thank you for checking my blog, and I hope you return often and post your comments and wisdom. I can't promise wisdom from my side, but I love to learn from others. Voting went smoothly for our precinct, 4-13, at Farmland Elementary School. The Board of Elections suggested a new circulation pattern and layout, and the school obliged by allowing us to let people enter and leave through the main doors. From the point of view of those of us working at the polls, it was a far superior layout, and no one had to stand in line outside in the rain and sleet. We opened promptly at 7am with all touch-screen machines functioning perfectly and experienced no glitches during the day. Turnout was great for a primary election. Of the 2020 voters registered to vote at Farmland, 1026 were logged as "voted" in the electronic register when we closed the polls at 9:30 pm (that's right- we were held over to extended hours; more on that later). By party, there were 760 Democrats, 234 Republicans, and 32 Un-affiliated voters. Since the Democratic primary has been hotly contested, the turnout for that party was extraordinary. A recent court case resulted in permissible voter registration of 17 year olds who will be 18 before the general election in November. We were delighted to see several enthusiastic voters take advantage of this ruling. We had to give them provisional ballots, so all of them voted on paper. Provisional ballots will be counted at the Board of Elections by next week. In November, when they are 18, they will use the dreaded Diebold touch-screen machines like the rest of us. Many people asked my about the security of the voting machines. As I said, we had no glitches or problems with the operation of any of our 12 voting units, but Maryland does not have a paper trail capability or requirement to be able to audit any of our elections this year. This means that, if a hacker were to change votes in the machines or at the mainframe, no one could ever prove that the system had been hacked or the election tampered with. This happened in 2004 in Ohio in at least one dramatic case, where a precinct, voting on these same machines, delivered over 6-times the number of votes for George W. Bush than there were voters in that precinct. No one could prove tampering (no ability to audit the election), but the mathematics were unmistakable. To our knowledge, this type of thing has not happened in Maryland, since we are not known as a contested state in the general elections. Thankfully, after long court battles since 2002, the last MD general assembly passed a bill to require a paper trail for all elections after 2008. We will use the current Diebold system in the 2008 general election, but will have something new (and auditable!) by 2010. Back to our primary... The weather got worse all day, and we were hearing reports from the "outside world" that traffic was snarled all over and people were skidding on ice outside. We were about to close at 8pm (after being open for voting for 13 hours) when we received the dreaded call from the Board of Elections, instructing us to stay open until 9:30pm. Some judge in Anne Arundel County had decided that people needed more time to get to the polls. Our extended-hours rules require that we close the electronic voting units and use provisional ballots for all voting after 8, so we closed down the machines and re-arranged the room to accommodate additional provisional voting. Seven brave souls came in to vote between 8 and 9:30. Again, the provisional votes will not be tallied until next week. As required by law, the pre-voting and closing paper tapes (which show the tabulation of each race, by candidate, for each machine) were taped to the wall outside of Farmland ES at the main entrance. In the future (this may only apply to the November general election, which could be the last time we use these machines), if you are interested in the election results from our precinct, you can come to Farmland after 8pm and examine the tapes. It can take us up to 1/2 hour or so to close the machines and run the final tallies, printing the tapes out, but they will be there. Although the hours are loooonnnngggg when working at the polls, it is really fun. I encourage anyone who can take the time & has the strength to volunteer to be an election judge. You will learn a lot, and meet wonderful people. We had a fabulous group, and I was proud to serve with them. As an aside, there is a small stipend paid to election judges. Don't spend it all in one place! To sign up, or, if you want to reach the Montgomery County Board of Elections for any reason, the site is

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