How do you move election officials to rid the electoral process of its glitches? The answer is … slowly. Gradually. Denise Lieberman explains:
“Under the law, at least in Missouri, so much of how we conduct elections is discretionary. In other words, what I mean by that is election officials … there’s a lot that’s unstated in the law. There’s nothing in the law that tells election officials how to train poll workers. They have full rein to decide how they’re going to do that themselves. And we know that poll worker error is probably the leading cause of wrongful voter disenfranchisement. So what sort of legal stick do we have then to tell them that they have to train their poll workers better? There’s so-o-me. I mean, this memo sort of outlines that you have these legal responsibilities to make sure that these elections aren’t botched. But in terms of advocating for a specific kind of reform, I … there’s nothing in the law that says they gotta do it. [Laughs.] So you have to work with them and convince them why it’s important, and that you’re not their enemy, that we’re all sort of going for the same end goal.
And the fact is that I’ve been working with these officials now since 2000, since the 2000 elections, and … they have improved. We spent a ton of time, I mean in 2006 we had a ton of problems in St. Louis County. St. Louis County’s still our greatest area of concern in the whole state. But they did do a good job improving some of the areas that were really, really problematic in ’06. And so that deserved mention. They did reduce the number of provisional ballots that were handed out.
Now. There’s still a problem with how they hand out provisional ballots. And that’s something we’re still going to continue to work with them on. But they reduced it by half. And there were way more voters this time around, so that really does show that some of their training in that area improved.
So, I tried to be positive on that front [when I spoke at the public comment session the Board held in late November] because the fact is we were able to resolve all the problems, other than Velda City, we were able to resolve every single problem that came up on election day. Which is unbelievable. In every other election where I’ve run the legal command center, we’ve ended up in court by the end of the day.
Given the efforts of the Board of Elections in the county, then, to eliminate glitches on the big day, I asked Denise if we could assume that the foul up at Velda City resulted from a combo of carelessness and ignorance rather than from deliberately ignoring what they should have known would happen. She insists they should have known the problem would occur. True, the Board of Elections runs its own numbers in advance to calculate for each polling place how many ballots and how many machines will be needed, how many poll workers and how much space. But they base those numbers on 2004 electoral results.
The St. Louis Voter Protection Coalition ran much more specific predictions for each precinct in St. Louis County. They asked political scientists to predict more accurately what to expect in each precinct.
They did so based on past voting patterns, based on rates of types of voters–frequent voters, infrequent voters, new voters–based on census data by age, by all of these other factors. There actually was quite a bit of scientific data that was put out concerning turnout rates by all of those factors–by race, age, income, as well as whether that area saw a surge in voter registration. So we ran St. Louis County’s figures through that kind of an analysis.
The Voter Protection Coalition wrote a report , complete with spreadsheets, predicting which polling places would have problems–most of them in North St. Louis County, including Velda City. They presented that report at a Board of Elections meeting before November 4th, and they asked for specific actions to prevent foreseeable problems.
As a result of that report, the Board did print additional paper ballots for eighty polling places and did agree to allow voters using them to vote on any available surface rather than waiting for a privacy booth. Unfortunately, as to the privacy booths, not all of the polling places got the memo.
So when you talk about was it deliberate or not, we gave them a full spreadsheet by polling place that gave them all those numbers. You know, what I said at the election board meeting was problems like Velda City were absolutely predictable. We predicted it beforehand, we suggested what needed to be done to address it. They didn’t necessarily do so for all of those places.
It’s heartening to see so much cooperation between the St. Louis Voter Protection Coalition and the election board, but at the same time it’s frustrating to see how many right-on suggestions the board has shrugged off. If somebody, out of the goodness of his heart, hands you research far superior to your own, based on much more detailed analysis, that would head off problems you’re in charge of avoiding, what kind of gooney bird would you be to sneeze at it? That’s all I’m sayin’.