Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Middletown Voting: the back office

The last time I covered an election as a reporter was in the mid-Seventies for The Hartford Times. I'd forgotten the wait, and the numbers, and trying to get the head-numbing details right.

I wasn't at any of the polling stations when they closed (and if someone was, a report would be delicious), but what happened after the last voter fed a ballot into a machine, the machine is locked, an electronic tabulation is printed out, and then the tabulator is sealed. The results are announced at the precinct, and then the results, and the ballots are physically carried to City Hall, where the grand tabulation occurs.

It's an interesting sight as party officials, city officials, city staff, reporters and observers all gathered to watch results be announced and tabulated on a big board by the Town Clerk. Tired clerks and moderators filled plates with Italian take-out while they waited for the count to begin.

At the beginning of the evening an attempt was made to "televise" the results as posted on computer on City Hall's closed-circuit television. The result was type so small, that even the youngest among us, with 20/20 vision were having trouble reading the monitors. So it was back to the big board.

NOTE: Suggestion to city officials. It makes sense to consider a link at the city's website that's linked with the official tabulating computer. Everyone in town ought to be able to link to the results from their personal computers at home.

The evening began with a misstep. Voting results for one district were posted on the board in the wrong district, and the correction was made with little white cards stuck on the board with tape.

The results were read aloud as the numbers were posted, and noisy visitors were repeatedly shushed as people attempted to get an accurate reading of votes.

It all went pretty smoothly. As moderators arrived with votes and tabulations, the precinct numbers were filled in. Unfortunately candidates for third (and fourth) parties got short shrift. Their numbers were read cursorily aloud, but not posted on the big board. In addition, Working Party Votes for Democratic candidates were announced as an add-on, and not posted on the board.

At one point, as sixth precinct votes were being read, the clerk who had been reading all the results began to announce presidential votes for the precinct. She announced the McCain/Palin numbers and then instead of saying "Obama/Biden," she "Obama bin Laden," accidentally. The room rang with laughter as she dissolved in a fit of embarassed giggles, but it was an odd, and uncomfortable slip of the tongue. When the clerk couldn't recover from giggling, another clerk was called into duty to read the remaining numbers.

The only hitch in the night was a broke-down tabulator in the 3rd district, the city's largest voting district, which demanded a hand count of votes.

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