Election Inspector – Voting For Justice

“There are over five thousand people in this city
who know that being an inspector is an endless, glamorless,
thankless job that’s gotta be done. I know it, too.
And I’m damned glad to be one of them.”

~Joe Friday E.A. Blair

Guest author, E.A. Blair, looks ahead to Voting Day and his time on the front lines as a Wisconsin election inspector.


“The story you are about to read is true. The names have not been changed in order to implicate the guilty.”

“This is the precinct. District 3, Ward 138. I work here. I carry a badge. My name’s Blair.

It was Tuesday, November 6. It was cloudy and cool in the city. I was working voter check-in when they came. They were shifty, nervous, and they had badges of their own that said “Election Observer”. They had notebooks and pens and took a lot of notes. They eyed the voters like a butcher sizing up a side of beef, like a tiger ready to pounce. But instead of claws and teeth, they were armed with challenges and misinformation, seeking not to kill but to disrupt and delay. They signed in as “Concerned Citizen” but were silent about their concerns. At the slightest provocation, it was part of my job to send them packing. If I had to, I could call for backup. The polls had only been open for an hour, and voters had been lined up for two. The “Observers” were making them nervous. It was going to be a long day.

Dum-da-dumdum! Dum-da-dumdum-dum!

Prologue:  There are only a couple of days left before the Big Day. While most people are looking forward to the day after, when the ads, the knocks on the door, the robocalls and the endless wrangling over who’s a bigger liar will finally come to a brief end (until the 2014 midterm elections), I am concentrating on the days leading up to the election, maintaining my sanity by not answering the phone unless the caller ID shows someone I know. There is a sign on my door telling people that I’ve already voted (I haven’t) and to go away:

If You Are Here About The Election:
I Voted Early
You’re Too Late
You Can’t Change My Mind
Don’t Leave Literature
Go Annoy Someone Else

There is another sign showing my politics:

But my real concerns come from the fact that I work at my local ward as an elections inspector. The job that I and the others in my crew have is to set up and operate the polls on election day and to do everything we can to make sure that everyone who wants to cast a vote gets a reasonable chance. Our day starts at 6:00; voting takes place from 7:00 to 8:00 PM and the final tabulation and securing the ballots for transport to City Hall takes another hour and a half. Working the full shift means a fifteen-and-a-half hour day. If it’s busy, as presidential elections usually are, there’s no time to take a lunch break. By the time I get home, I’m barely able to function, much less watch the returns on the news. I’m more involved in the preparation work than everyone else in my crew except the Chief Inspector, mainly because I live less than a block from the school where Ward 138 votes. I do the location scouting and smooth things over with the school staff. If I get a call from my Chief asking me to check on some detail or other, the school is a two minute walk from my door.

The Players:  This year, at least two groups have targeted Wisconsin for an attempt at voter interference. Posing as election observers, they are being instructed to insert themselves into the voting process with the intent to disrupt.

One of these groups is called True The Vote. Based in Texas, it is an offshoot of the King Street Patriots, a tea-party group. They present themselves as a non-profit 501©)3 charitable organization, but are engaged in lobbying for voter ID laws and supporting conservative candidates. They have inserted themselves into Wisconsin politics before. During the summer gubernatorial recall election, True The Vote ran Verify The Recall, supposedly a volunteer effort to verify signatures on the recall petitions but, in reality, an attempt to challenge and invalidate enough signatures to nullify the recall effort.

The other group is backed by the Romney campaign, part of a multi-state effort called Project ORCA. They have held a series of training sessions for election observers and have been omits a number of acceptable forms. Copies of the PowerPoint slides that Project ORCA used in Wisconsin have been posted online.

Means:  Wisconsin law allows anyone except a candidate appearing on the ballot to be an election observer. They can be affiliated with a political party, a campaign, a citizens’ group, or be just an election junkie. They could even be a homeless person looking for a warm place to sit for the day. They are allowed to watch and make notes, and do not have to register or get a permit; all that is required is that they identify themselves as observers to the Chief Inspector. They may not insert themselves into the election process unless a voter asks one to assist in casting their vote. They may, however, challenge any person’s eligibility to vote, which then requires that the voter produce proof of residence.

Motive:  So why are these “concerned citizens” here? While they cannot engage in electioneering or overt intimidation, there are other ways they can disrupt the process.

Voter Challenges:  If a voter’s eligibility is challenged, that person is then required to produce proof of residence in accordance with state law. Lacking that, the voter may either go home to get the necessary documents and return or may cast a provisional ballot, requiring them to present their proof at City Hall within five days. Why do this? It cause delays, delays that may discourage people waiting in line and reducing the time available to process more voters while the challenge is resolved. More delays means fewer votes cast.

Covert Intimidation:  There are a number of tactics that observers can use to intimidate voters while remaining within the letter of the law. Inside the polling area, standing too close to the voting booths, taking notes while observing individuals and, of course, challenging voters are all things that can be done to intimidate and disrupt.

Opportunity:  Outside the polling area, observers may try to misrepresent themselves in a semi-official capacity to people waiting in line and bring up matters of eligibility or ID and suggest that a person is not able to vote. Other ways include taking pictures of people in parking lots, entering and leaving the building and waiting in line.

Countermeasures:  I have been in communication with my Chief Inspector and we’re planning a briefing session for the entire crew before we set up the polls. All the inspectors will be warned to keep an eye out for misconduct by observers. We don’t have the authority to restrain anyone, but we can instruct them to leave or try to prevent them from entering or re-entering. If necessary, the Chief can call a mobile supervisor. If the supervisor deems it appropriate, a police officer can be sent to the ward to maintain order. We are also posting signs in the waiting area asking people to report any attempts to interfere with the voting process. It’s going to be an interesting day, even if only in the Chinese sense.

Epilogue:  On November 6, trial was held in Ward 138, District three of the City of Milwaukee. In a moment, the results of that trial.

Commercial Break: Voting In Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, voters mark paper ballets with a #2 pencil then feed them through an Opt-Tech scanner to tabulate the votes. The paper ballots are retained in a locked compartments and are stored for ten years against the possibility of recounts, lawsuits and other investigations. This is a portion of the 2012 Wisconsin ballot:

Voters mark the ballot by connecting the two ends of the arrow with a straight line. The scanner rejects ballots that are improperly marked (e.g., two votes for the same office, stray marks). Voters have two chances to redo a rejected ballot. In the event of irregularities, the paper ballots preserve a record of the vote that is available for hand inspection. Hanging chads are not an option.

Write-in votes are accomplished by filling in the name of the candidate on the line at the bottom of the column and completing the arrow for that section.

Epilogue (Continued):  The suspect was found guilty of severe fatigue and a tendency to get cranky. He was remanded to the custody of his cat and sentenced to eight to ten hours of bed rest and avoiding watching election returns.

E.A. Blair: Now serving his sentence under house arrest.


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18 thoughts on “Election Inspector – Voting For Justice

  1. We could surely use Joe Friday now to clean up rightwing election fraud. They’re going to try anything they can to steal it in Florida and Ohio.

  2. E.A…….I will be thinking about you this Tuesday. Keeping all the republican wingnuts in line will be exhausting, but I know you can handle it. Don’t take any shit from the observers, and don’t give them an inch. You can do it. I have faith in your skills.

  3. E.A, we need more people like you! I too have served during the election process as an election judge here in Illinois. I am feeling such an urgent need to keep reminding people that the process works only if you help it work by getting educated then sharing what you know with all you know and then VOTE! People have been injured and died to make sure we continue to have this right. Thank you for your service to our nation!

  4. via Facebook

    Er ist such ohne Sinn, Mitleid,…& please God never again such a totally unfit individual.

  5. Thanks, people, I’ll do my best to keep the forces of darkness at bay on Tuesday. The school where we have out polling site has moved us from the usual basement room to the ground floor gym which makes a lot of things easier for us, but also is making us have to spend more time figuring out the new site logistics.

    I started this just as a rather prosaic summary of getting ready to meet the vote intimidation programs, and while I was working on it, the cartoon Tree Cornered Tweety came on. It’s a clip show from various Terrty and Sylvester cartoons with the bird doing a Dragnet-style narration to link the scenes together, and that gave me a new frame for the piece.

    True The Vote had showed up at the 5 June recall election. I didn;t know much about the group then, but they creeped me out – standing right behind me, always scribbling notes and looking over my shoulder. There three of them, all men in dress shirt and tie, who looked like they would have been right at home going door-to-door with bibles in hand. They all had this sour, pinch-face look that instantly makes one wonder how long it’s been since they last got laid.

    Now I’ve read up on them and Project ORCA, and I’m prepared to be a lot less intimidated and a lot more assertive about keeping them out of my way. And that’s what let to writing this piece (thank you for your kind comments).

    Ya gotta wonder why it is that it’s always the right-wingers who have to resort to subversion and dirty tricks to get what they want. That’s not to say that Democrats and lefties are simon-pure, but there’s no way the people we support are as blatant, shameless and vicious about negative campaigning. If my thoughts could maim, you’d be able to stuff Karl Rove, Sheldon Adelson, the Koch Brothers, Reince Priebus all into a very small box. (Hey, I know that liberals are supposed to be all compassionate, warm and fuzzy with malice toward none and tolerance for all, but sometimes that wears a little thin – sometimes I gotta hate, even just a little bit).

    If I feel up to it, I’ll submit a report on how my day went on Wednesday morning.

  6. E.A. – this expatriate Cheesehead cannot wait to see R/R shoved down the proverbial political rathole, never to be seen again! That rich, spoiled brat Ryan gives my wonderful hometown, Janesville, a truly bad name! You go, E.A.! Don’t let those phony “observers” intimidate even one single voter!

  7. E.A……it’s time we dems lost our “warm and fuzzy”. Here we are, thinking we are having a rational intelligent truthful conversation about the issues and the other side is playing war, setting bombs, using snipers, and deploying mass propaganda. It’s time for us to loose “the nice”. Rip their heads off E.A., rip them right the F off.

  8. I’m with Sydney, EA. They don’t play nice and we too often back down from the bullies. Bullies understand nothing but someone pushing back.

    Keep up the good fight and good luck! Great piece!!

  9. I can’t wait to see Romney and Ryan consigned to the dustbin of history.

    That’d be nice, but don’t forget that Republicans have a way of coming back from the dead. Who’d have thought that Nixon could go anywhere after losing in 1960 and sitting out 1964, or that Reagan could come back after being an also-ran in 1976? In more recent history, I never thought that I’d be seeing Gingrich back on the national stage again, and pretty much thought that Santorum was just going to lurk deep in the bowels of obscure right wing think tanks for eternity.

    Republicans are a lot like Freddy and Jason – when you think they’re down, they get up and keep coming after you. When you think the tombstone had been set in place, someone resurrects the monster for another cheesy sequel.

    Mario – I bet there’s a good illustration in there.

  10. E.A. more power to you my friend, the massive GOP voter suppression conspiracy is years in the planning and it will take the determined resolve of the people and citizens like you to combat the evil forces of radicalism and insanity.

    You’re right, GOP has a history of coming back, falling asleep at the wheel at 9/11 when 300 Americans died, didn’t stop them, causing 2 wars and Economic Crisis Disaster, hasn’t stopped them, obstructing Economic Recovery at the cost of millions of Americans suffering for 4 years, hasn’t stopped them and now running a campaign on pure lies and deceit…it’s still up in the air. Conclusion – GOP are zombies !

    Suggestion, maybe we can get all 2 of the “New Black Panthers” that the GOP claimed they were so afraid of in years past, to make a tour of the voting centers to balance the intimidation factor – lol !


  11. Update: I was over at the school doing some early setup work for tomorrow. On the short walk there and back, I noticed that there were scads of damp (it rained of and on today) Obama/Biden/Baldwin(Senate)/Moore(House) fiers lying all over people’s lawns and sidewalks. Out of curiosity, I finally picked one up, and noticed that they were imprinted with the ward number and address of the polling location – except that it was the wrong ward and the wrong polling place! It was too late to call the Election Commission offices, so I called the local Obama headquarters and reported it as a problem, suggesting that they send a few people out to go through the neighborhood and start gathering these things up.

    There’s no way to know if these were left by Obama volunteers who didn’t know what they were doing or by Republicans trying to fuck things up – something they’re so good at – but anybody from my ward who goes to the ward 140 polling place will just be told to go back where they belong, and it’s only two blocks away.

  12. E.A. thanks for doing a great job – I know it’s not easy, Republicans are deceitful and despicable.
    I’m grateful for your hard work and effort in the front lines. GS

  13. Update: I’m back home after a fifteen-and-a-half hour shift at the polls. We had no observed cases of voter intimidation, the observers, even the Romney ones, were well-behaved, and turnout was lower than we had expected. How much of the lower turnout was due to early voting cannot be known. The worst problem was a two-year-old brat named Kennedy who had a screaming fit of hysterics for fifteen minutes that made it impossible to even hear voters giving their names and addresses.

    I am ready to collapse, so I’ll keep this short and report in more detail tomorrow. Here are the results for my ward:

    Obama/Biden: 1,449
    Ryan/Rmoney: 156
    Johnson/Gray (Libertarian) 33
    Stein/Manski (Green): 24
    LaRiva/Ramirez (Socialism & Liberation): 1
    White/Scherrer (Socialist Equality): 0
    Write-Ins: 63 (Cthulhu 17)

    It needs to be pointed out that my ward is heavily populated with gays, students, ethnics and aging hippies.

    US Senate

    Baldwin: 1,399
    Thompson: 169
    Kexel (Libertarian): 46
    Nimrod Allen (I.D.E.A.): 14

    US House District WI-4

    Moore (D): 1,389
    Sebring (R): 147
    Raymond (Ind): 13

    State Senate District 6

    Nikiya Harris(D): 1,253 (Unopposed)

    State Assembly District 16

    Leon Young (D): 1.091 (Unopposed)

    Milwaukee County Clerk, Treasurer and Register of Deeds candidates were Democrats running unopposed.

    I’ve been watching some returns before falling into bed, and it looks like I’ll have an okay birthday next year after all (it falls on Inauguration Day).

    Meanwhile, my cat Isa needs some serious cuddling. Due to the death of my elder cat, Kveldulf, on 13 October, this is the longest she has been left alone since I adopted her, and she’s feeling seriously neglected.

  14. More details: Vonter turnout in the ward was lower than expected – a total of 1,676 ballots were cast, where the Walker recall got 1,924. We attributed the shortfall to the probability that early voting was responsible. People were not as concerned about early voting for the recall.

    We were prepared for a heavy turnout. Instead of holding the vote in the usual basement room, this time the school gave us the use of the ground floor gym, and we were able to provide a one-way flow of traffic, where previously people who had finished voting had to go against the line of those waiting to get in. The room was also much bigger, giving us room for more voting booths. We also split the check-in between A-L and M-Z so we could process voters faster. This ended up backfiring a couple of times, since the quirks of statistical probability sometimes had long lines for one half of the alphabet and nobody for the other.

    The observers were well-behaved. We had two people provided by the Election Commission who used painter’s tape to mark out the area for them to occupy, and they spent the entire day staying behind the lines with little interaction with the crew or voters. Two came from the Obama campaign, two from the Romney, and two more from a supposedly nonpartisan group. The Romney people were very stiff, in suits as opposed to the more casual dress of the Obama reps, and they were so self-important that, instead of sittting on the bench provided, they chose to sit on the floor until somebody located chairs for them. I got a real kick out of seeing those stiff-assed Republicans sitting on the floor.

    No trouble was reported in the lines that extended outside the gym, and the school held a bake sale to exploit the people waiting to get in; they sold all but a few of their items by the end of the day, so that was counted a success as well.

    After the polls closed at 8:00 PM, we then started the closing procedures. The tape from the vote counting machine was printed and the tabulation read aloud (that’s how I was able to report the figures as soom as I got home). The machine is supposed to store the ballots that have votes for write-in candidates in a separate compartment to the write-in report forms can be filled out, but we still have to inspect each of the other ballots to make sure that 1: no ballots with write-ins got missorted and two: that all ballots had been initialed by two inspectors.

    I found one ballot on which the voter had written in “Cthulhu” for each office, but not cast a vote for the Elder God, so that didn’t count as a write-in ballot. We found two ballots that had been initialed by only one inspector, and that was corrected. The finished ballots were then bagged and sealed for transport, all the necessary forms were signed (in the course of the closing-out procedure, we sign a total of fifteen different items). The last thing to be completed was the enumeration of the write-ins, and those of us not so occupied sat around and shot the breeze. Since there were no voters or observers around, the conversation mostly consisted of trash-talking Republicans.

    So, altogether, things went much more smoothly than we anticip[ated. The lines weren’t as long, the observers kept their places and there were no attempts to disrupt the voting process. On the other hand, we had an increase in the number of disabled voters requiring assistance; one man was so infirm he couldn’t get out of the medi-van that brought him to the school, so we gave him curbside service. We all counted it as a successful day. Next election: the spring primary on 19 February 2013.

    P.S.: It took all day Wednesday to both catch up on my sleep and console Isa for leaving her all alone the previous day.

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