Thursday, November 08, 2007
What if they held an election, and nobody came? That's what it felt like in San Francisco on Tuesday, as a quintet of citizens including yours truly, staffed an election precinct in a fire station in the Civic Center neighborhood.
We arrived at 6AM after a short, fitful night of sleep, and set up the polling station in a freezing cold garage that only had enough light on those occasions when the fire trucks were out attending to an emergency. When they returned to the station, for some reason, half of the lights would soon be extinguished, leaving everyone to go blind while trying to find a name and address in the "Street Index."
A major part of the setup is putting up a bewildering array of signage involving voting rights and disability access in multiple languages. Though mandated by law and costing a small fortune, I never saw a single voter stop and read a single bit of it. Let's not even go into the federally mandated "Automark Voting Machine" for disabled people, which has to be the worst-designed new piece of hardware and software in American public life.
Not only is it a ridiculously complex piece of crap that is virtually useless, but the Nebraska vendor ES&S did a last-minute switch and delivered a "new" version of the voting machines which California Secretary of State Debra Bowen disallowed. John Arntz (above), head of the Department of Elections, is now charged with putting all the ballots which went through the regular "Eagle" counting machines at the polling places into the more sensitive absentee ballot counting machine at City Hall, which makes something of a mockery of the entire day's voting rituals.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera is now threatening to sue the company (click here for an article at SFGate) and is acting outraged, which seems a bit ingenuous since this situation is not exactly news. It was reported on the indespensable "Brad Blog" (click here) months ago, though I never saw the local newspapers covering it except in the most cursory way.
Still, there were a few compensations besides $165 for attending a class, presumably memorizing the training manual in all its byzantine complexity, and running a polling place for 16 straight hours. The real charm was meeting strangers such as the gentle soul Rey (above) and connecting up with the neighborhood in a different way. Plus, I had the good fortune to be with a lovely working group that didn't include a single schizophrenic, drunk, curmudgeon or outright lunatic, which I believe is a first in the half-dozen times I've worked this gig.
Jan Adams has a clear-eyed essay on the "magical thinking" involved in "Ranked Choice Voting" (click here), and it corresponds with what I observed at the polling place. At least half the voters didn't have a clue how the system worked. And for a wiseass look at the San Francisco Voter Information Pamphlet, check out Sid Chen's artful anthology of absurdities (click here).