Poll Worker Preparedness, Voting Machine Quantity Called into Question in DMV

Across the Potomac region, civil rights groups have been voicing their concerns about poll worker and precinct preparedness.

Within the last week, the NAACP has filed suit in Virginia to either change the number of voting machines in minority precincts or extend the time that people can vote, with a proposed end time of 9 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.

Last night on ABC World News, it was reported that on average in Virginia, there is one voting machine to every 440 voters in precincts that are predominately African-American and one voting machine for every 200 voters in predominately white precincts.

“Polls — they are what they are. It’s the vote that counts tomorrow,” anchor Charles Gibson said. “Stay in line and vote– no matter how long it takes.”

Between 136 and 140 million Americans are expected to vote in this election and several will be standing in long lines tonight, having not cast absentee ballots or participated in early voting.

Because of long lines, some voters will have to cast provisional ballots, which records a vote but is not guaranteed to be counted.

Alice P. Miller, the executive director of the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE), said the number of people who work at a polling place is determined by the number of registered voters by precinct, historical voting patterns and anticipated voter turnout for the election in question.

“We look at all of this before staffing levels are finalized for all precincts,” Miller said.

Miller is featured in an introductory video on the DCBOEE’s Web site, which informs poll workers and the general public on election day protocol at polling places, also known as precincts.

“A properly set up polling place will help to ensure that the voting process runs smoothly and effectively,” Miller said.

When the polls opened at the Banneker Recreation Center in the Northwest quadrant of the District, there was anywhere between 100 and 170 people at time in line, waiting to cast their ballots.

At 9:30 a.m., the wait to vote at the Banneker was less that five minutes.

“We have done 546 people,” precinct captain Rita Dorsey said. “It’s astronomical.”

Banneker features one touch-screen poll and several stations to fill out paper ballots, which election workers told voters how to use.

“We can take votes until eight,” election worker Andreas Smith said. “After that, we don’t have to.”

The process at Banneker is smooth. Once in the polling place, voters stand in a line according to the first letter of their last name and once election workers look up their names, they sign next to it and receive a card.

Taking their cards to another line, they receive a corresponding paper ballot and instructions — if needed. There are volunteers walking around to help voters with any problems as they lean over a table and fill in their choices.

Once finish, voters slide their ballots into a machine and the number on the machine’s digital display increases by one, marking the number of voters who have cast ballots at the location.

In the District, poll workers are trained through video modules. There is a video that includes the responsibilities and instruments used by precinct captains, voting demonstration clerks, check-in clerks, ballot clerks, ballot box clerks, special ballot clerks and precinct technicians.

Together, these paid volunteers make up the election team.

Beyond the precinct captain, the area representative keeps everything in order.

“An area rep serves as a field manager to several precincts in an assigned zone,” Miller said.

Area representatives assist in solving problems that may occur in the field, provide additional supplies as needed to the precinct captain and monitor ballot usage at the precinct assigned to them, maintain direct communication with the board’s central office and oversee the general management of the polling places.

There is also a training video that focuses on assisting voters who have disabilities. A main focus in this module is being aware that a physical disability isn’t an indication of diminished mental capacity.

Miller said “at least one” table-top voting booth should be set up for the disabled and elderly.

“At the board,” Miller said, “we have a saying that ‘election day workers make democracy happen’.”