[EM] election administration

Alex Small asmall at physics.ucsb.edu
Wed Oct 30 18:16:30 PST 2002

Please pardon a little rant about the administrative aspects of our
election methods.  I just got back from training for volunteer poll

I STRONGLY oppose the California ballot measure that would allow voter
registration on election day.  I'm not one of those paranoids who think
there will be massive voter fraud (with more than 100 million people not
voting we have massive voter boycotts, not massive fraud).  However, the
more procedures and paperwork you introduce at the polling place, the more
potential for screw-ups, especially in primary elections where party
registration matters.

Maybe there will be some fraud, but more likely we'll get more provisional
ballots for people with incomplete paper work, people who live on the
dividing line between precincts, people who moved and are still registered
elsewhere, etc.  Also, if poll workers are asked to police against fraud,
by having a list of ineligible felons living in the district, we increase
the risk of error.  I'm speaking from the experience of working at the

This doesn't matter in normal elections.  However, with close margins,
with every dangling chad and questionable registration (or questionable
refusal of registration) counting, this is a lot to put on the shoulders
of volunteer poll workers.  You might think nothing can go wrong, but
everybody has a unique story (absentee ballot never received, moved to new
house but pretty sure it's within the same precinct, etc.).

It's far better to have a deadline (say, 2 weeks, or whatever the bare
minimum is for the elections office to do its job), so that on election
day most of these questions have been sorted out.  Make registration as
convenient as possible, and allow as much time as possible, but make sure
it's sorted out before the polls open.

Mind you, as a volunteer poll worker I will not utter a word for or
against this measure on election day.  If it passes I'll perform my duties
in accordance with it at the next election.  However, I will argue against
it until the polls open.

One other rant:

I'm no xenophobe.  On immigration matters I'm about as libertarian as
you'll find.  HOWEVER, I strongly oppose printing ballots in multiple
languages.  Let me explain why:

We have a messy local recall election.  There are ambiguities in the
ballot instructions, as there are separate spaces on the ballot for the
recall, and the question of who should replace the official if she's
recalled.  People in both camps are upset over the wording of the
instructions (although one camp is more upset than the other).

When wording is contested, translation into another language only
compounds the problem.  Election administration is supposed to be routine
and uncontroversial.  A disputed ballot design becomes twice as
contentious.  I don't know if anybody has disputed the Spanish translation
of our local ballot (the district with the recall has few Spanish
speakers), but even if it isn't an issue this time around, the wording
issue illustrates the potential problem.  (Translating the infamous
"butterfly ballot" might be another minefield.)

I'm all in favor of community groups offering their own unofficial
translated sample ballots.  Before I started voting absentee I'd fill out
my sample ballot at home and bring it in.  So I don't object to groups
offering bilingual voter guides and sample ballots.  However, I do object
to requiring the neutral officials to offer a translation of contentious

Anyway, feel free to ignore my rant, or rant right back, or whatever. 
Just some thoughts on practicalities.


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