Thursday, October 04, 2007

Yet Another Boston Elections Mistake -- This Time with a Provisional Ballot

I heard no reports of significant problems at the polls in the September 25 preliminary municipal election for the Allston-Brighton District 9 City Council seat.

I did, however, hear about of a couple of smaller problems. In the end, fortunately, everyone seems to have had the chance to vote.

Provisional Ballot Not Provided

In Ward 22, Precinct 8 inside the western wing of the Edison School in Brighton, a voter who had recently moved within the neighborhood showed up wanting to vote. She was an organized person who had filed a change-of-address with the Boston Elections Department two months earlier, so she should be listed as an active, registered voter.

She gave her current address to the poll worker, but her name wasn't on the list at that address. The poll worker insisted the voter provide a valid Massachusetts ID or a current utility statement at the new address, but the voter responded that she didn't have either because she had just moved. Despite the voter's request for a provisional ballot, the poll worker sent the voter away to get an in-state ID or current utility statement.

Bad move.

This particular voter knew the elections laws cold. She knew that you're not required to show an ID to vote! (The U.S. Supreme Court has a related case on their docket this term.) This sort of voter registration address mix-up is exactly the point of having the provisional ballot -- you cast a ballot now, and then the elections department researches the issue later to figure out if you are allowed to vote -- and the voter requested one.

She spent some time on the cell phone with the Boston Elections Department downtown, then they called the poll supervisor, and finally the voter gets to cast a ballot. The problem turned out to be that someone entered the street name slightly incorrectly when converting from the voter's old address to the new one.

That was a relatively prompt and effective response from downtown, and the voter only spent the better part of an hour all told. That poll worker apparently didn't challenge anyone the rest of the day in 22/8.

Allston-Brighton is full of people who move every year right around September 1, including students living both on- and off-campus. Federal law allows students to choose their residency for voting purposes, so they are generally allowed to vote here if they so choose, although most probably do not. Poor training of poll workers about how to employ the provisional ballot law is likely to disenfranchise these so-called "transient" residents. I hope the city (and the Prince of Darkness overseer) look carefully at how they train poll workers to implement this recent law. We should get-out-the-vote, not shut the door.

Door-Banging, Not Door-Belling, in the Election

On election day morning at the same Edison School, two women went to vote at opposite ends of the buildings, i.e., one at Ward 22, Precinct 8, the other at Precinct 9. Both entrances locked. Woman at 22/9 walks over to 22/8, still no luck. They both walk to the main school entrance in the middle of the building. Locked. One woman, dressed all in black, starts banging hard on the door. Then she grabs the metal bars over the door and shakes them hard for good measure. Finally, she figures out there is a button to push to get buzzed in, and in she goes.

This wild-woman-in-black asks animatedly how to get into the polling location when they are leaving the door locked. She must have set off some mental alarms in the school employee's mind, so she is personally escorted over to the 22/9 polls, and the other woman proceeds on to 22/8. Wild Woman talks to the poll workers about the locked door, about how people might just walk away without voting, it might be illegal to have a locked door at a polling place, etc. Trying to get her point across like a classic suffragette. Wild Woman ends by saying that she is going straight home afterwards to tell her husband, who writes the Brighton Centered Blog.

Oh s&!t.

These two polling locations -- Ward 22, Precincts 8 and 9 -- are like this every single election: the doors remain locked, so somebody has to leave an item in the doorway to prop it open. The improvised door stop constantly slips out letting the door close again, etc. Yeah, pretty damn annoying. I once walked over from 22/9 to 22/8 myself, steaming mad.

I called the Boston Elections Department soon afterwards, told them about the locked doors, and asked them to call up the workers in 22/8 and 22/9 to request that somebody sit by each door to keep it open. They said they would get on it.

When I showed up to vote eight hours later, a poll worker was sitting right by the door keeping it open. Looks like they fixed the problem. Polls were slow enough they had volunteers to spare.

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