Voting in South Florida

Voting in Oakland Park, FL

I went to my local polling place this morning to cast my ballot. When I first drove up, I was rather surprised by the abundance of parking. Usually there's quite a traffic jam around a polling place. Instead of a crowd of sign-waving campaigners shouting the virtues of their candidates, I saw only two sedate folks handing out flyers.

Early voting has been taking place from Oct. 23 to Nov. 5, so maybe the lack of crowd is unsurprising. Maybe it was only the last-minute folks like me showing up on this overcast morning.

The building, a run-down Unitarian Universalist church, was well-organized. Three separate districts were voting. After a 30-minute conversation regarding an address change, I was given permission to vote. I was also told by a friendly poll-worker, "No one gets turned away."

That was reassuring.

After my proper address was exhaustively established, the pollster with whom I'd been working asked for one of the election rolls -- the ring-bound list of registered voters, where each person signs for their vote. The following Kafkaesque exchange took place:

Worker 1: "What are you doing?"
Worker 2 (who'd been helping me): "I'm updating his address."
Worker 1: "You're writing in the book?"
Worker 2: "I'm going to write him down in the book."
Worker 1: "You're writing in the book?"
Worker 2: "Yes."
Worker 1: "But we were told specifically not to write in the book."
Worker 2: "But I just got off the phone with downtown [the supervisor of election's office?] and they told me to."
Worker 1: "Girl, you better know what you're doing."
Worker 2: "I'm just doing what they told me to."
Worker 1: "But they told us specifically not to mark in that book."

This all seemed to last much, much longer than it actually did. The total absurdity of it struck me: voting logs were kept on paper. But we were using electronic voting machines (presumably, because our elected officials didn't want to become the nation's laughingstock once again). Whether or not something was written down, or even should be, might determine whether or not my vote counts.

The problem as I perceive it was twofold:

1. No one was empowered to make decisions.
2. No one knew exactly what the rules were.
3. No one wanted to take the responsibility for making a mistake.

This could be easily fixed. If there were a single official, a precinct supervisor or manager, who was empowered to solve problems and accept responsibility for decisions, the whole process would go a lot smoother. This would mean more behind-the-scenes troubleshooting and problem-solving for the elections officials, but it would allieve a lot of stress on election day.

While I waited, a man came up and complained that a candidate he wanted to vote for hadn't appeared on his ballot. This conversation went like this:

Voter: "Charlie Crist wasn't on my ballot."
Worker: "Yes, he was."
Voter: "No, he wasn't. I looked all through it and I couldn't vote for Charlie Crist."
Worker: "Well, he was on the ballot. He's running for governor, right? That was the fourth part."
Voter: "Charlie Crist wasn't on my ballot. What kind of ballot did you give me? What kind of election are you running here? I want to vote again."
Worker: "Did you push the red VOTE button?"
Voter: "Of course I did."
Worker: "Oh, my. Well, that means that your vote has already been registered, and I'm afraid you can't vote again."
Voter: "This is an outrage!"

I'd just like to note, for the record, that 1), Charlie Crist was indeed on my ballot, and 2) I didn't vote for him despite the ream of junk mail and the 100 autodialer messages I received from his campaign.

After I was finally given permission (over the phone, by some anonymous official) to cast a real, not provisional, vote, I was handed a paper ticket. I stared at it. The ticket was about two inches high and four inches long, and the yellowish color of a manila envelope. I initialled it and carried it five paces, where I handed it to another poll-worker, and then I was directed to a voting machine.

I'd read a variety of stories about problems with the touch-screen voting system and I admit I was nervous that my sausage-like digits would mash the wrong candidate, but everything went well.

Everything important now will be in the post-vote analysis. We'll get a chance to see if minorities are shut out of polling places by police roadblocks, or if Palm Beach miraculously backs Pat Buchanan, and if the exit polls are wildly wrong once again. If things go as badly this time, I hope there's something we can do to stop it.