Voting Irregularities

Theory on 2002-11-05T19:41:53

I voted this morning, but it wasn't easy. I encountered a series of problems as I went about my civic duty. As a result, I was extremely disappointed with the election system set up here in San Francisco.

My wife Julie and I headed to the polls around 9:30 this morning. We'd read the (long) ballot, made our choices, and were ready to cast our votes. Since we moved into the neighborhood last February, we didn't know where the polling station was, but I got the address off the sample ballot The City had sent me.

We walked the two blocks to the address, 360 Fourth Street, where we found the door locked. A sign outside notified us that, due to situations outside The City's control, the polling station had moved to "36 Bluxome Street (Firehouse)." There were no directions, no cross streets listed.

This was the first problem we ran into. Although The City had sent out a post card notifying us of the new address, I had never seen it, and didn't realize there was a new address. My wife knew about it, but didn't realize that I hadn't seen the card and got the address from the sample ballot. That was a screw-up on my part, but I wonder how many other people misplaced that card or never got it? How many people were going to show up at 360 Fourth Street only to find the address had changed, and have no idea where to find the new address? There are a lot of senior citizen residences in the neighborhood, so I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't a fair number of people who were confused about the address change and then didn't know how or where to find the new polling station.

But that's not the worst of it. Julie and I consulted a map in a bus shelter, and after studying it for a few minutes, saw that Bluxome was between Brannan and Townsend, near Fifth. So we walked up Harrison to Fifth, then the two and a half blocks to Bluxome. Here we encountered problem number two: There were no street signs for Bluxome! Neither were there signs indicating that there was a polling station nearby. On foot, we could see the name of the street imprinted into the sidewalk, but commuters in their cars were out of luck. There's just no excuse for placing a polling station on an unmarked street -- especially when it's a new, last-minute location for a polling station.

Julie and I walked first one way down Bluxome, then the other, when we realized that we were going the wrong way. The firehouse, it turns out, is almost back to Fourth Street. We had gone a full block out of our way. Had there been directions (or even cross-streets!) on the sign at the old polling station address, we wouldn't have taken such a circuitous route.

Once at the polling station, we encountered problem number three: They didn't have our names on their list. The station workers, who were friendly though mostly inexperienced, started to tell us that we needed to go to another polling station at the Salvation Army on Shipley -- right next door to 360 Fourth Street! In other words, if our names were on the lists at the Salvation Army, then either a) our sample ballot had listed the wrong polling address for us, or b) the sign at 360 Fourth Street was mistaken. The former seems likely, since the workers at the firehouse on Bluxome had worked at 360 Fourth Street last spring. But either way, we ended up sent to the wrong polling station.

Fortunately, one of the poll workers seemed a little more experienced than the others, and he had us fill out ballots and put them in special envelopes on which we wrote our addresses and he marked the box labeled "Claims to be registered" or somesuch. We filled out our ballots, turned them in, and he sealed them. I'm hoping that The City will successfully confirm that we are in fact registered and count our votes, but I'm becoming increasingly doubtful it'll happen. Some ballots were found floating in the Bay last November, and that doesn't set a very healthy precedent.

The last thing I did was to ask how to formally file a complaint regarding these voting problems. I was somewhat annoyed to have been inconvenienced by this ordeal, but far more concerned that others might have more difficulty -- particularly those for whom English isn't their first language, or for the many seniors in our neighborhood who might more easily be confused that I am. How many of them would simply give up and not vote? I wanted to make these issues known to The City, to at least alert them ASAP to these voting problems.

But then I was told that there is no formal process -- I just have to contact City Hall directly. What?? That's right, there's no formal procedure to let City Hall know that there were problems -- despite the fact that there have been serious voting irregularities here in the past. "That's city hall for ya," the poll worker told me.

What I think I'll do now is send a letter to The Chronical as well as to City Hall, describing all the problems I've narrated here. In this day and age, there's simply no excuse for this kind of incompetence. It's hard enough getting a good voter turnout each November without these kinds of logistical problems fouling up the process. In a city as liberal as San Francisco, where voting is considered so important, where high voter turnouts tends to push a liberal agenda, it's simply reprehensible that The City has to make voting harder than it should be.

Polls in the US

ethan on 2002-11-05T21:31:11

Quite an amazing story indeed. For us Germans this is all very odd and also unknown. Consider it, the US being in my consideration still amongst the most democratic countries in the world (and that for over 200 years now) ocasionally allows such strange things to happen (Florida is well known over here in Europe).

All the elections I participated in here in Germany went flawlessly. Each constituency usually has their ballots in some kind of primary school. Easy to find, and also seemingly a constant spot over the time.

The only negative surprises in connection to votes I am used to are the wrong party getting too many votes...which has happened more frequently within the past few years. ;-)

Re: Polls in the US

Theory on 2002-11-05T21:42:16

The only negative surprises in connection to votes I am used to are the wrong party getting too many votes...which has happened more frequently within the past few years. ;-)

Yeah, that happens here all the time. That's the price we pay, I guess. Let stupid people vote, you get stupid people elected!


"new to the neighbourhood"

nicholas on 2002-11-06T09:53:12

Since we moved into the neighborhood last February, we didn't know where the polling station was,

In the UK, particularly during the term of the last Conservative government, many career politicians seemed to become troubled by the fact that the expected swing away from their pary would cause their majorities to evaporate, and hence they would loose their seats at the next election. So many did the "chicken run", abandoning their former constituencies and parachuting themselves into safe seats where (usually) the incumbent MP was retiring at the election.

(We don't get as much of what seems to be the standard US solution to this problem - change parties to stay in office)

I really don't like this. MPs are supposed to represent their constituents, not further their careers in Politics. Not only has a chicken run MP already demonstrated a lack of commitment to constituents (they've already ditched one lot; will you be next?) but it's quite likely they have no knowledge about your constituency, and based on behaviour they probably don't care about it (it's not as if they were actually trying to get elected to serve you).

So I'm proposing a parachute test:

  1. The prospective MP is parachuted into their new constituency. Somewhere. (OK, you can simulate this bit by blindfolding them and dropping them off somewhere)
  2. They have to make their way to a location in that constituency used as a polling station.
  3. without ever crossing the constituency boundary and leaving the constituency en route.

If they ever cross outside the constuency before reaching a polling station they are out, and are disqualified from representing the constituency. They are accompanied by an independent srutineer. (Remember, we have independant returning officers. Not like some coutries, where all the election officials make things transparent by declaring which party they are affiliated. transparent != fair). I'm not quite sure of the rest of the rules. I think they have to announce to the scrutineer when they think they've reached the site of a polling station. I'm not sure if they get fail immediately if they get that wrong (probably not) but I don't know how many goes they get at that before restarting, or how long before they time out, or if they re-run. They probably are allowed to ask anyone they meet questions, as most people are sufficiently ignorant about boundaries or locations (60% turnout at general elections must mean that many people have no idea where their polling station is), and this would actually force the prospective MP to talk to their constituents. (Something, given my experience of a chicken run MP, is the last thing they want to do). Although I suspect that they'd only be allowed to open conversations with passers-by with the words "I'm your prospective $conservative canditate" to make sure the person being asked gets a chance to give them an earful back about what the government is doing wrong.

turned away

entropic on 2002-11-06T11:37:20

I recently moved across town. As required I went to the bureau of motor vehicles and updated my car registration, drivers license and voter registration. The friendly BMV women supplied me w/ receipt of my voter registration.

When I went to vote today at my new voting location, I wasn't on the list. I provided the head guy w/ my voter registration reciept and he gets on the phone and calls (someone) who tells him I'm to go to another location because my registration is still my old address. Apparently the receipt is worthless.

No big deal (i say to my self), its just a 30 minute drive accross town. So, I make it to the new voting place. Supply the voting-worker-lady w/ my receipt and tell her about my situation. She confirms my name on the list and proceeds to tell me that I cannot vote here because I no longer live in the district. I say "but, but" and she says that I should have re-confirmed my registration w/ the "city" 30days before the election. She says "its your responsibility".

I'm supposed to confirm my registration? WTF? Seems my freaking BMV receipt is enough.

I drive back to my original, correct voting place and the guy tells me I can't vote because I'm not on the list w/ him but on the other list and they can't let me vote.

Even though I feel screwed I couldn't figure out how to complain since everybody was so super nice. But if I were an old black woman from Broward County Florida they would have figured out how to let me vote.

My Congressman Dan Burton's office is right next door. I wonder if I complain to them I'll get any simpathy. Probably not since he's been getting 70% of the vote for 10years.

And its a real bummer since I'd vote libertarian. I could have bumped the percent from 2% to 2.1%.

Word to the wise .... be sure to "re-confirm" your registration if you move to the 6th district of indiana.

vote absentee

tondef on 2002-11-07T18:19:48

Well, I agree you have a right to be frustrated by your voting experience, but its good you actually persevered (that is, if you voted for the right people). You should, however, write a letter to your supervisor.

That said, you should give a little slack to the Dept. of Elections, who fired their department head last year after a string of tallying inaccuracies, and voting boxes turning up floating in the bay. They have had to deal with her suing the city for firing her without just cause, and managing an election with an interim department head.

Last year I decided to register for Absentee Voting, which is great. I voted from home 3 weeks ago. The only problem is I can't change my vote if there are any last minute scandals on the campaign trail. :)