How do I make elections more efficient at one specific polling place?
November 6, 2012 8:25 AM   Subscribe

The election process in my neighborhood is very inefficient. What can I do to make it better?

This morning I waited in a very long line only to get to the front and find out that only one district had to wait in the line and the others had no lines (there are four districts at my polling place). I tried to inform others in the line of this, but was yelled at by an election official to refrain from doing his job. I have great respect for people who do this work - it's a thankless task and they deal with cranky people all day, but I can see 10 different ways that the lines could be handled more efficiently and the instructions made more clear. It seems like there are too few poll workers, too little space, and too little information.

I'm not sure how much influence I could have as a poll worker. They seem to follow orders and not have the authority to organize the whole process.

On the other hand, if I were to become someone in charge of the county or something, I would also not have much influence on the actual, transactional process of voting. I don't want to organize all voting places, I only want to organize mine. Actually, it doesn't need to be mine exactly, just one specific place, not every polling place in the area.

How far up in the process would one have to go to have an effect on the actual physical flow of the election process? Who is in charge of that? How do I become that person?

I live in Brooklyn, NY, so it's not a matter of inefficiencies for the purpose of intentionally suppressing the vote. In the last presidential election there were long lines but they moved quickly and efficiently. My immediate area was not directly affected by Sandy and there wasn't an excessive amount of people voting by affidavit.
posted by valeries to Law & Government (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You start with the county clerk's office - volunteer to be a poll worker on election day (in some places they are called Precinct Officers). You can also volunteer with your party via the local office.

Every county/state is different but in my county, a fully staffed polling station (not a guarantee, it depends on number of volunteers) has 5 people staffing it. Here there are Inspectors, Judges & Clerks.

At a minimum here, there must be 1 Inspector and 2 Judges, 1 from each major party. The Inspector is "in charge" and that is who you want to be in order to set up the polling station the way you want it (within some guidelines regarding proper distancing, etc).

You don't really have to work your way up, I was an inspector at age 19 (my second election as a poll worker), but you might feel more comfortable starting as a clerk or judge, making suggestions, before it is all on you.

Inspectors are the ones who sign the documents saying that everything went according to the election guidelines, and they often either deliver or sign off when voting machines and/or ballots are picked up.

Bonus - you get paid. Between $70-$100+ depending on area and level of responsibility. And free food is usually provided.
posted by cessair at 8:43 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure how much influence I could have as a poll worker. They seem to follow orders and not have the authority to organize the whole process.

I disagree and I think this is your answer. A few election cycles ago, some voters in a district near my own complained to the poll judges that the pens they had been handed to vote with were out of ink. No, the judges said, those are full of invisible ink, to protect the voters' right to privacy. In reality, the voters had been handed paper ballots and a stylus for use with electronic voting. Roughly 20 voters' ballots were lost, turned in empty. An investigation showed that it wasn't malice or suppression on the part of the poll judges, just idiocy.

This pissed me off so last election I worked as a poll judge myself. (I'd be doing it again today if I could have shaped it around my work schedule.) I and my fellow judges had a lot of input as to how the voting went that day and I'd like to think we made the process very easy. I'd consider working as a poll judge in the future.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 8:46 AM on November 6, 2012 [8 favorites]

I became a poll worker to make the process better for my precinct, and I'd like to think I actually achieved that goal. Poll workers really do have a huge affect on how each polling station runs. Understanding the process and ways to make it efficient for all people is hugely important. When I'm inspector, I'd be sure to keep the faster people on the street index/roster because that kept the line moving. Communicating with voters in a clear and effective manner is also very help. But really, poll workers make a huge difference. I know my Registrar of Voters (Alameda County) is really happy to get fresh blood that can think on their feet. They also take comments seriously and want to make the process as easy as possible for the voter, which really means having well trained poll workers. So, if you care you should really sign up for the next election.

(Though sometimes for huge elections, like this one, lines and confusion can't completely be avoided. Mitigated, but not avoided.)
posted by kendrak at 9:30 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

My polling place had a similar situation--two precints, one with a massive line, the other with no line (so short that it was inside the building and its existence was not apparent outside). The poll workers took turns walking the line outside, asking people where they lived and sending the people from the no line precint into the other line. This was fairly efficient. I arrived about an hour after the poll opened and they'd figured out the correct question to be asking people ("Which side of [main road] do you live on?") to get the information without confusing people, which is a non-trivial task. Could this be improved? Sure. Getting some ropes to separate lines (we need to separate same-day registration people from those already registered), would definitely help. However, my guess is that the most efficient way to sort people into precincts is to talk to them, as people are pretty bad at reading the precinct maps.

Now, what idiot drew the precinct boundaries in such a way that one had a massive line and the other no line, I don't know. I think the issue is that they re-drew the ward boundaries and this entailed splitting what was one precinct previously into two precincts of unequal population, but that meant my not-much-smaller precinct had a lot less physical space to vote in than in the last election.
posted by hoyland at 1:05 PM on November 6, 2012

One of my poll workers brings signs he appears to have made at home and puts them up all over the place to show people where to stand/ vote/ park/ turn off the road to the polling place. It all goes pretty smooth so I'd say he makes a big difference.

People also bring donuts and baked goods to my polling place in the morning which is an awesome tradition I encourage other neighborhoods to try.
posted by fshgrl at 2:14 PM on November 6, 2012

Went to the polling place today expecting a mob scene, we were doubling up with another polling place because Sandy ripped the roof off theirs. There was a really long line, but one poll worker stayed at the end of the line, explaining this was the information line to find out which election district you lived in, if you already knew, you could go right in. I knew, so I voted in about 5 minutes.

Glad I looked it up last night.
posted by Marky at 5:53 PM on November 6, 2012

i've been an election judge for years because i'm really good at it. sometimes i have a lot of control--and sometimes i don't--it's really dependent on your fellow judges. overall in my area the judges tend to be senior citizens who take extra time to make sure they're doing things right and often aren't that fast in the first place.

sometimes the judges work really well together and things go smoothly. sometimes they don't and there are lines all over the place and the judges end up spending two or three hours in the polls after they're closed sorting out the mess. it's pretty much the luck of the draw.

overall--work the polls next time. you'll learn a lot and make a bit of cash. as you get more experience you'll handle your other judges better and hopefully have a more accurate and efficient polling place. but even as a judge with 30 years of experience can't fix everything--especially when your fellow judges are all in cahoots for doing things the wrong (or just stupid) way and simply ignore any of your suggestions.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 2:36 PM on November 7, 2012

Thank you, all! Looks like I'll be volunteering as an election judge or other type of poll worker at the next election!
posted by valeries at 8:50 AM on November 14, 2012

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