Observation Post

[Due to technical difficulties we have not been able to post entries for the last few days.]
Dear Readers,
Observing the polls is more fun, and more patriotic, than observing 4th of July fireworks. To some of us, anyway. That’s why we sent a staff-person down to city hall where, disguised as a large “I Voted” sticker, he slipped into the room where the ballots were counted after the polls closed November 3.


The ballots from the two ballot-scanning gizmos had been emptied and placed in a stack of black, metal-edged cases each about the size of a shoe box. The scanners had already recorded the ballot data as voters slipped their ballots, enclosed in a black cardboard covering, into the clear plastic chutes . The scanning gizmos look like oversized white plastic laundry bins on wheels married to copier machines. There are only three of them in the world – the third one was in a back room in case one of the others broke down.
One of the gizmos’ creators, wearing a “‘Scantegrity Tech Support” badge, filled a nearby chair, looking weary but pleased with himself, or rather, with his device. In the shy-but-abrupt manner of people who spend most of their time in basements with computers he proudly described his machines. He himself had designed the feeder device and affixed them to the plastic tubs. The glitches had all been worked out, he hoped, at the mock election the city held a few months ago. Everything was going perfectly this time, so far. He smiled, not so much at the job well done, but at the happy future of his company.
Security coexisted with laxity. The election judges dutifully followed procedures, aided by the city clerk. The ballots were carefully boxed and sealed with a locked strap, the absentee ballots were ceremonially removed from a locked bag, the provisional ballots were placed in a similar bag. Yet, there was a lot of apparently unmonitored foot traffic in and out of the room. the cable tv crew dodged around the counting activity as they set up their equipment. At one point while the absentee ballots were being scanned, onlookers including one of the candidates entered the room and stood watching a few feet away. The door was sometimes opened and curious bystanders peered in or stepped inside.
The provisional ballots were summarily dealt with. City clerk Jessie Carpenter and a couple of city staffers sat down at a folding table in one corner of the room and reviewed them. Some quickly passed – spelling errors and address changes corrected. The rest were put back in the envelope to be reconciled the next day. It was only a matter of 26 votes, not enough to change any poll outcomes.
The absentee ballots delayed the final results. They were handed over to a group of volunteer election judges who had to check the return adduces on the 100 or so envelopes against a voter list, open each envelope, and place ballot and envelope in separate piles. Then the ballots had to be scanned.
“10 seconds per ballot,” the Scantegrity Tech Support Guy estimated the scan time, expecting them to do the math. 16.7 minutes later, the last ballot fell into the white plastic tub under the scanner. Tech Support Guy and the chief election judge Anne Sergeant bent heads over the black boxes atop the scanner devices. These appeared to be where the data were stored. Tech Support Guy and Chief Judge muttered numbers.
They reached some sort of agreement and the data was transferred into Tech Support Guy’s little white Macintosh laptop computer. He carried it over to a nearby folding table where he connected it via cable to a small printer. As he sat down and opened the laptop, the people in the room gathered around – all except the press observers on one side and the cable tv technicians taping wires to the floor, setting up a podium in the center of the room, and pulling the black plastic covers from the wall-mounted cameras (they had been covered through the balloting).
One woman standing behind tech support guy read the numbers on the screen to herself. She circled the room, eyes shining with secret knowledge as several people tried to tease her into spilling the beans. Laughing, she resisted.
Tech support guy proudly pushed the “print” command. The printer churned out a piece of paper as the circle moved closer. Tech support guy inspected the printout. He flushed. He sheepishly explained the one thing he hadn’t thought of was that he would need to put the data into an easy-to-read format prior to printing. He hunched over his computer, hurriedly making the data legible to non-techies. He printed again, wasn’t satisfied, twiddled the computer keys again, printed again. This version was acceptable.
Following a short wait for the cable tv technicians to give the go-ahead, the chief judge read the results at the podium, then walked to the press table to show them the printout.
By that time at least 40 people were present, including several of the candidates, including the unopposed councilmembers. Notably absent were the mayoral candidates.
The entire ballot-counting process took a bit more than two hours after the polls closed. It may have seemed like a long time to those anxious to know the outcome, but considering all there was to do to finalize the vote, it was reasonable, and, when it comes to celebrating the democratic system, more gratifying than fireworks.

– Gilbert

About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

1 Comment on "Observation Post"

  1. Tom Gagliardo | November 18, 2009 at 11:55 am |

    How much did the gizmo and its learned inventor cost the city?

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