Tag Archives: Santa Clara County

how I spent my election day – a report from the polls

(A great story, including Sequoia machine problems. – promoted by SFBrianCL)

Crossposted from my livejournal.

I spent the day working the polls in Santa Clara County (where the voting method is Sequoia touch-screen machines with VeriVote printers) with auros. This is the third election we’ve worked together (the first being the stupid special election last fall) and the second in the same precinct but so far it was definitely the most exciting, the busiest and the most fraught with problems! Below is a synopsys of how the day went, just to give one snapshot of the sorts of glitches we dealt with, similar to problems I’m sure happened all over the state and the country. I’m sure my timeline isn’t perfect – the times things happened at are estimates from memory since I don’t have a copy of the procedural or technical exception logs from the precinct (we had to turn them in of course).

5am – wake up, groggy but excited, shower and make last poke at political blogs and news websites.

6am – grab coffee at starbucks and head to polling place to set up. Set-up goes fairly smoothly, though the one machine that had failed to power up the night before still fails to power up. But we have 4 working machines so we’re all good, right?

7am – polls open! 6 people are in line already. And… our card reader is broken! None of the machines recognize the cards! Now you know that manual mode you heard so much about on the news? (Well, if you’re in CA that is). THIS is exactly why it’s there. We put two machines in manual mode and had one person watching them to make sure noone went around to the back. As it turns out you actually have to press the yellow button in the back one time per vote, so it would be pretty hard for people to really vote a LOT of extra times this way. Still, we didn’t want to have more than two machines going just in case. Meanwhile, half a dozen or so people opt for paper ballots so they don’t have to wait.

7:30-or-so – field inspector shows up with spare card activator. deems our old card reader defective (so, no, it wasn’t just user error on our part). Now we are up and running with 4 good machines. And already we have a line of 20 people outside the building and another 5 or 6 inside the building signed in and waiting for a machine. Wheeeee!!

10:30-or-so – a 6th machine gets delivered to replace our dead machine.

12:30-or-so – ok, we’ve finally cleared the line and there is an afternoon lull. Auros and I take time to eat the lunch we brought with us.

4-ish – Things start to pick up again. One of our printers allegedly runs out of paper (I’m dubious on this one – when I asked the precinct inspector how he knew it ran out of paper he said “make up a reason”. I think he’s a bit of an ass and sloppy in his methods, but I’m also probably too uppity about questioning him. Next year I wanna be inspector, damnit!). Another printer jams. We make several attempts to unjam it but none are successful. Now we are out of spares, but we still have 5 fully working machines.

6:30-ish – we’re full up in the middle of the dinner rush – I can’t even see the line because it’s dark out and we can’t find a switch for the outside lights, but it’s got to be at least 20. and now the chaos really begins – more printers start running out of paper. this time for real. pretty soon we’re down to only 2 working machines so we start asking people to vote on paper ballots. Inspector gets even more sloppy and starts pulling people out of line and giving them envelopes before they’ve officially signed in. I am working the sign in page. I am trying to keep track of who has paper ballots. People are bringing paper ballots to stuff in the ballot box next to me. Some are asking to sign in when they hand them to me. Some are not. Meanwhile I am still signing people in to vote on the two remaining touchscreen machines. We are running out of paper ballots in english. Some people say they are willing and able to do theirs in spanish. We’re also running out of ballot envelopes.

7:20-ish – We are down to ONE paper ballot envelope and are considering using the spare absentee ballot envelopes when the field inspector shows up with a stack of spare envelopes and an extra printer. Now we have 3 machines up and running. Chaos is still continuing. I’m still trying to manage signins for paper and touchscreen and get ballots into the bag. Everyone else is also working like crazy.

8pm – polls officially close. We have maybe 15 people still in line. The LAST guy in line gets to me at about 8:20. He’s in the wrong precinct. It’s too late for him to get to the right one so I have him vote provisionally. The line clears and I start tallying the signatures in the book. I am tired and low-blood-sugar from skipping dinner (the plan had been to order chinese but we never got a break). The numbers don’t match and I stress and recount them 3 times. Until I finally realize I missed the supplemental roster index. I add it all up. The numbers match. We have 483 signatures. Other people tally the machines and count the paper ballots. 36 paper ballots. 448 electronic votes. 484 votes. The numbers don’t match. Count checkmarks in the book. 35 people recorded as voting paper. 36 paper ballots. That means someone handed me a ballot in an envelope without signing in. Honestly, given how chaotic it was I’m impressed I did that well, but of course it bugs me when the numbers don’t match. Fill out exception log noting explanation. Pack up rest of equipment. Sign stuff, seal stuff, put stuff in car.

9:45 – leave polls. Call county dem headquarters but get no answer. People done partying? Head home. Turn on MSNBC. Shwarzenidiot is on giving his “go me I won!” speech. Check dailykos, electoral-vote.com, cnn… OMG dems win house! OMG McNerney is ahead! Oh fuck we’re losing Lt Gov and Sec of State.

11pm – flip from MSNBC to Comedy Central to watch Daily Show / Colbert Report combined coverage. I think some of it was funny but I was really paying more attention to reloading kos and cnn.

12am – head upstairs to get ready for bed. at some point Lt Gov and SoS races start turning around. McNerney’s gain is widening. Getting really tired.

1:30am – see that CNN had called CA-11 for McNerney. Realize MT is not going to be called before dawn. Go to sleep. Long fucking day.

Seriously, despite all of those technical glitches we had at the polls I think we did an excellent job. We processed 484 voters in 13.5 hours – that’s 36 voters per hour at an average of one voter every 1.7 minutes. And that includes the afternoon lull (when we sometimes had only one voter in the building), so it was really closer to a voter every minute and a half during the heavy periods. We also had 103 absentee ballots collected, for a total of 587 votes cast in a precinct of roughly 1100 registered voters. That’s an estimate based on the people listed as active voters. If I count inactives the number would be higher. I am not sure which number is used when determining turnout, but if it’s the same one I used then we definitely had an above average turnout in our precinct vs national, state, and even county.

And now that Debra Bowen will be our secretary of state I am really hopeful that some of the issues we encountered will be dealt with intelligently. I can’t wait for next election!

Well, no, actually, I can. I need a rest.

[From NCP] Upcoming South Bay Land Use Battle

[Originally posted at NorCal Politics February 14, 2006]

This Mercury News Article outlines an upcoming measure to limit growth in Southern Santa Clara County:

The Sierra Club, Greenbelt Alliance, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society and other members of the coalition — which already has $300,000 in the bank — must collect 36,040 signatures from registered county voters to qualify for the November ballot, something they and their opponents expect will happen.

The measure, which farmers and ranchers fear would drive down the value of their land, would affect nearly half of Santa Clara County’s 839,000 acres.

The complex proposal would essentially do two things. First, it would reduce the number of homes that could be built in unincorporated, rural areas along the east foothills of the Diablo Range from Milpitas to Gilroy, the Santa Cruz Mountains from Gilroy to Los Altos and east of Mount Hamilton. On lands zoned for ranching, for example, it would allow only one home per 160 acres, down from up to eight homes per 160 acres now.

It also would set limits for new development in those areas: curbing the amount of square footage that could be built per parcel, reducing building on ridgelines and banning building unless adequate water is available.

The article has an interesting mini-profile of the author of the measure and a standard set of he-said, she-said quotes.  The final quote of the article is interesting, though:

“Owners have been taking care of their land all these years knowing that at some point they’d be able to sell a piece or two and be able to retire on their land,” said [Jenny] Derry [executive director] of the [Santa Clara County] farm bureau. “We see it as a property rights issue.”

I’m incredibly sympathetic to the need to balance conservation, profitable use, and the traditional rural culture of America.  I’m not, however, sympathetic to painting a rentier’s desire to speculate for extraordinary profit as a “right”.

Land use is where the knives come out in local politics, so this is going to be interesting.  NorCal Politics will try to get sufficiently educated to be of use.

Tax Kabuki in Santa Clara County

I lived and worked in Santa Clara County for years, so I have a soft spot for its politics. For the last month or so, I’ve been following the attempt by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to levy a half-cent sales tax in order to finance new public transit . . . though that’s not and can’t be the official reason. The strictures of California tax law imposed by Proposition 13 and its progeny require a particularly ridiculous form of kabuki.

[More on the flip]

Santa Clara County’s supervisors say they’ve made no deal to spend part of a proposed new half-cent sales tax on the planned BART extension to Silicon Valley, but the first formal message by the campaign promoting the tax places BART squarely before voters.

The ballot argument, filed last week by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, includes “BART, Caltrain, Light Rail and transit service for seniors and the disabled” among the “high-priority local needs” worthy of being funded by the proposed county tax increase.
But just how much would go to those specific projects — or any others — is something the supervisors who will control the money can’t tell voters before the June 6 election without opening themselves to a legal challenge. The result looks likely to be a campaign of hints but no promises, carefully crafted to imply popular projects will be favored, but without committing to them.

“The conundrum for us is that this is a general tax,” said Palo Alto Mayor Judy Kleinberg, who is trying to decide whether voters in her city should support the measure. “So when we ask questions about what this will do for our community or even for the region . . . we can’t get an answer. We’re told, `We can’t tell you, but trust us because in the past we’ve done right by you.’ ”

The uncertainty about the ballot measure — and the mixed messages voters probably will hear — are rooted in the supervisors’ decision Feb. 28 to pursue a 30-year “general purpose tax,” which needs only a simple majority to pass. If supervisors had specified where the money would go, the ballot measure would have become a “special tax” and require two-thirds approval from voters.

What’s happening here is that under SB566, (October 2003), counties (and cities) can put a general revenue sales tax increase before the voters, in a sort of mini-referendum. But, a simple majority of the vote in favor is adequate to enact the tax. I’m not a huge fan of this model (that’s why you elect representatives, after all), but it makes far more sense than the Proposition-mandated counterpart for special taxes, which requires a 2/3 vote to approve a sales tax which would fund a specific project or program. This requirement was imposed on SB566 by Proposition 13 (See CA Const. Article 13A, Sec. 4), Proposition 62, and again by Proposition 218.

Although the general consensus is that public transit is in need of more funding in Santa Clara County, it would be almost impossible to fund public transit specifically, thanks to the series of anti-tax propositions. So, everyone involved has to go along with a general tax, with the tacit understanding (and ultimately, the hope) that it will be used for additional transit.

I’m on record already (and will be much more often) as disliking earmarked taxes and expenditures (as is proposed, for example, in Proposition 82). I believe that we elect representatives to manage those things, and earmarking specific revenue flows breaks that process badly, removing flexibility, denying the possibility of expertise, and reducing political accountability. In this case, however, the anti-tax crusaders have created a painfully stupid situation for the county. The supervisors can’t even make a political promise that they’ll use the funds from the general tax a certain way. They have to say “We can’t promise anything.”

Proposition 13 and its stepchildren mandate wink and nod politics of the worst sort. And maybe that’s what their sponsors intended. Or maybe it’s the law of unintended consequences (a conservative mainstay, at least for conservatives of the Burkean sort) rearing its head yet again. Structural reform is clearly in order, on this and a host of other issues.