Thursday, August 24, 2006

Election Judge Training

Our primary in Maryland is coming up on September 12. Once again, I've volunteered to be an election judge in Baltimore County, and this time, I was assigned my home precinct at temple Har Sinai, which is right near my house. Despite having already worked an election, I was required to attend poll worker training again for this election, a three hours session that I attended today with about 60 other judges. I'd say that three quarters of us had been judges before, from a show of hands. We went over all of the procedures, and then we had hands-on training with all of the equipment.

The process is mostly the same as in 2004. The one big difference is that we will be using Diebold's poll books for checking in voters in stead of paper access cards. The poll books are touchscreen computers that contain databases of all of the registered voters in the state of Maryland and their real-time status, meaning, whether they had registered absentee, already voted, were required to show photo ID (for first time voters), etc. The electronic poll books are all networked together via ethernet so that someone can't check in on one machine and then check in later on another. It was not made clear how, if at all, the machines were networked with other poll books at other precincts. I imagine that after the election, they are all synchronized somehow. So, if that's the case, then it would be possible to vote in one preceinct and then go vote in another one, but that would be caught after the fact. However, since there cannot be a record of how someone voted, it's not clear to me what could be done after catching people who did this (besides punishing them) to undo the extra votes. There is no network connection at the polls, so I'm not really sure how cross-precinct synchronization is possible until after the election. There is a modem used with the voting machines, but that is to report preliminary results to the board of elections, and we were not told that it would be used for the poll books.

I found several differences from the last time I did poll worker training too, mostly in the attitude of the other judges. Several of them told me that they did not trust these machines and that they don't see why we have to vote on these when the old way worked fine. I'm pretty sure none of them knew who I was. One gentleman went so far as to tell me that he was sure that "someone on the board of elections must have been in tight with the vendor and received kickbacks, otherwise why would they go to all the trouble to get these unnecessary machines." I shrugged and kind of nodded uncomfortably. There seemed to be several issues that upset some of the judges. One of them was the fact that in Maryland election judges are not allowed to ask people who come in to vote for a photo ID, unless the poll book comes up with a photo ID requirement (MVA registered voters voting for the first time) or if a registered election challenger demands it. When I suggested to a few people that there might be poor people who do not have driver's licenses, they got it, but overall, there was a strong sentiment that security was so important that this was a crazy law.

Another issue that caused a stir was when we were shown how the memory cards are used to accumulate the votes. We were told that these were the definitive ballots, and that we had to guard them with our lives. The man next to me turned to me, again, not knowing my background (I believe), and said that he was outraged that the memory cards would be used to hold votes. He said that a magnet could erase them, and that these fragile things should not be trusted with votes.

Overall, I felt that the awareness that many of us have raised about the DREs in Maryland and the security problems, the lack of audit, and the inability to perform meaningful recounts, had made a difference in this group. One thing that I found a bit funny was a flowchart of how to handle requests for provisional ballots. This appeared in the election judge manual, and we went over it. At the end of the flowchart it says, a person requests a provisional ballot because they are protesting electronic voting, and the instructions say that such a person may not receive a provisional ballot. It was interesting that in the election judge manual in Maryland, there is an acknowledgement that some people might protest the use of DREs at the polls, and there are instructions for dealing with that situation.

Out of the approximately 60 people there, I would estimate that most were older than 75 years old. There was one other person there of my generation, and she told me that her oldest is starting college next year. So, even she is probably a bit older than me, as my oldest is 7 years old. The people seemed enthusiastic, attentive, and despite the 3 hour duration of this training, which did not end early, everybody paid attention the whole time, and nobody hesitated to express themselves about their thoughts.

One final comment. When the admin smartcard was demonstrated to us, the PIN value was 1111. The trainers joked about that, and then said not to worry because there would be real passwords used in the actual elections. (of course in 2004, 1111 was the real value)