Special Series Part 1 : The Mechanics Behind the Election

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Franklin Co. elections workers feed paper ballots into scanning machines. They were testing the machines with randomly marked ballots prior to Election Day.
Franklin Co. elections workers feed paper ballots into scanning machines. They were testing the machines with randomly marked ballots prior to Election Day.

Part 1 of 2.

There’s more to an election than touch screen voting or shading ovals on a ballot. There’s a lot of teaching and testing that goes on beforehand as was the case prior to the March 4th primary. Instructor Stan Wayne led a class several weeks before the election.

“All right, I want to welcome all of you to the poll worker training for March,” Wayne says.

If recent changes in voting seem complicated or overwhelming, try to keep up in poll worker class.

“There are lots of changes every time you come back,” Wayne says. “We certainly have to be flexible if nothing else.”

In this class at the Jewish Community Center some of the attendees are getting a refresher course, others have never worked an election before. Because court rulings and government edicts are accelerating, just about everyone here is learning something new.

“Even if you’ve worked for us for 30 years things change enough every time that it’s like starting over as a new person,” Wayne says. “The other thing we’ve given you in the past is a DVD. Do not use that. It’s out of date with the changes that have occurred this time. Throw it away.”

These poll workers-in-training have learned that a single precinct has one presiding judge and two roster judges. It has one provisional judge – down from two last November – and two machine judges where there was only one before. Each worker has a voluminous election training manual more than a hundred pages long.

The final exam for poll workers is Election Day, where they’ll work long hours handling hundreds of voters. The board of elections tries to keep a balance between Democrat and Republican workers at each polling place. That’s true, too, at the Franklin County Board of Elections.

“Myself, I’m a Democrat, Todd Wedekind and Carla Patton is a Republican.”

In the basement of the former COSI building technicians are ensuring that each of the optical scanning machines they’re about to test indicates that no ballots have yet been counted.

The optical scanners count paper ballots at blinding speed. Wedekind says the testing helps ensure an accurate count on Election Day.

“We know what the results of these ballots are,” Wedekind says. “We know how many there are. So when they’re done we proof the reports against the known reports and if they’re wrong we know that one of the operators messed up. And we re-run them.

Which the board had to do during this particular test. Out of 24,492 scanned paper ballots, one ballot was counted twice.

A few elections employees seemed almost incensed at the suggestion that there might be a malfunctioning machine somewhere that they don’t know about. They’re firmly convinced that the vote that emerges election night is accurate. A consultant for Election Systems and Software, the company that supplied the scanners, says some people can’t be convinced no matter what.

“You can’t argue with those people,” says Dan Shebesta. “They probably don’t thrust that when they buy a gallom of gas they get a gallon, either. There’s no way to argue that point. There’s testing, proofing, testing, proofing, more testing, more proofing, testing, proofing “

There’s another measure aimed at an accurate and fair election. That’s the law. Remember the poll worker’s manual? It can’t hold a candle to this one.

“Title 35 of the Ohio Revised Code is what governs elections and that title is about 500 pages long,” says Terri Enns, a senior fellow at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law and a recognized elections expert.

[The Code]…covers a whole variety of kinds of things. The table of contents includes who’s qualified to vote, registration, those kind of issues, it has to do with voting machines and tabulating how we count where we count, how to keep the ballots secure, those types of issues; Absentee Ballots, how they get counted how they get mailed back, all of these rules. Then there’s all the issues about candidates. How candidates can get on the ballot, how candidate have to act during an election, how they may raise money and spend money so it’s a pretty complicated and involved process to govern an election.

Enns says it’s a complicated and involved process to govern an election. And there are other considerations far beyond the Ohio Code and state constitution.

There’s the U.S. Constitution and then there are the statues that are passed by Congress, so there are the federal laws. And then there are court interpretations of those federal laws. Then there’s the state constitution; there’s the state General Assembly that can pass statutes that apply; there’s the Secretary of state who issues directives and advisories that also apply and then the courts interpret all of those. And all of these layers are what has to be administered by – not every day, not every week, it’s every election.

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