How I helped send California into bankruptcy

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I spent Tuesday working the polls for the California special election in which all the propositions that were supposed to unscrew the California budget crisis went down in flames. Some observations:
  • Turnout was very light. This is a precinct with about 1700 registered voters, of which about 1/2 are vote by mail. We got (from memory) 109 actual voters and 97 people dropping off their vote-by-mail ballots. The county reports 6.68% in-person turnout and 21.31% VBM turnout.
  • Pollworkers aren't paid well, but we are paid. Given this turnout, the state is paying almost $6/ballot just for the pollworkers alone. I imagine that the other costs are significant as well.
  • We were issued over 1000 blank ballots. Even in the 2009 Presidential election we didn't use that many and in this case we just ended up with a ridiculous number of extras. Of course, it's not entirely clear how to decide how many ballots to print, since you don't have a precise model of turnout and you don't want to be caught with no extras. With that said, however, you'd think twice expected turnout would be enough.
  • Pollworkers seem to mostly hate the DREs: they're complicated to set up and tear down and the pollworkers (who are often retirees) don't understand how to operate them: every time someone wanted to vote on our DRE (Sequoia AVC Edge), I had to stop whatever I was doing and activate the card for the voter. I'm not sure how the precincts where nobody understands computers work.
  • Voters, on the other hand, seem to like the DREs. The instructions we received were to assume people wanted to vote paper (central count optical scan) and just hand them a paper ballot unless they asked for the DRE. However, for privacy reasons once someone had asked to use the DRE we had to try to get four more people to do it. The next four people I gave the choice to (I didn't load it at all) all chose the machine.
  • The printers on the DRE really suck. We're required to print two extra results summaries and post them: the paper in our printer got misaligned somehow and gradually was creeping rightwards, so by the end the leftmost letter or two of each word was being completely cut off. You'd think people could get this right.
  • In Santa Clara County, if you are a VBM voter but you turn in your VBM ballots, you can vote as a regular voter. However, if you don't have your VBM ballots, you need to vote provisionally (to ensure that you didn't also vote by mail). We had a number of voters claim that they had not received their ballots and we had to vote them provisionally. This is a pain for everyone.
  • Closing the polling place is really complicated and takes forever. You have five separate bags and like 20-30 separate kinds of items that all need to go into the right bag and then sealed. You're constantly digging through your pollworker's manual to try to figure it out. I'm not sure how to simplify the process entirely, but at minimum it might help to have a single per-precinct checklist for each job so that you could just walk through it. That's not true now.

All of this for 109 votes on propositions we already knew would fail days before.

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