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What Goes Into Making An Election Happen?

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Primary election day is finally here.

After $55.54 million were spent on media buys in the Senate race and an additional $22.67 million of the governor’s race … we’re just about spent as voters here in the Keystone State.

Vote for me. Not for him/her. Did you know s/he did this? Or how about that? They’re bad. We’re good.

Make it stop!!

Some have already cast their vote through the mail as absentee or no-excuse voters. The rest are headed to their respective poll beginning at 7 AM Tuesday with the doors open until 8 PM. Remember, if you are in line at 8 PM, you are permitted to cast your ballot. Get in line at 8:01 … sorry.

There has been a litany of calls from mostly GOP candidates calling into question the integrity and the competence of election officials throughout the state. And, as someone who has an intimate knowledge of what goes into the process to make an election run smoothly, it offends me to no end.

Because I know the hard work that goes into making an election happen.

The good people at the Department of State do their best to coordinate with the election directors of all 67 counties to ensure smooth, consistent operations and security in the days leading up to the election.

How do the candidates wish for their names to be listed on the ballot? DOS reviews the petitions and shares the info with the counties. What is the proper order for the candidates on the ballot? Yep, DOS draws the lots and provides the all-important list.

It is up to each county election office to take it from there. Each works with a vendor to print the necessary ballots for each primary. Act 77 calls for counties, at a minimum, to print 10 percent more ballots than the highest total over the last three similar elections. So, that’s at least 10 percent above the 2016, 2018 and 2020 primaries.

But it’s just not ballots that need to be printed. It’s also envelopes for absentee and mail-in voting. Three sizes – #9 (secrecy), #10 (return) and #11 (mailer) – to deliver one vote-by-mail ballot. Oh, make sure the instructions are included as well.

Each office is charged with registration for voters in their respective county. Citizens have until 15 days prior to an election to register to vote and seven days prior to request a vote-by-mail ballot (VBM). You can see the lunacy of waiting until the last minute for a VBM ballot, as to process the request, to get it in the mail into the voters’ hands, to complete the ballot and to return via the Postal Service will most likely take more than seven days. And all VBM ballots must be in the hands of election officials no later than 8 PM on election night.

Take away the ability to have drop boxes throughout your community also creates problems, as does the elimination of drop boxes at most county courthouses where election officials are housed. But I digress.

And don’t forget the coordination with your print vendor to send VBM ballots to each voter who has requested one. FWIW, the ballot is sent where the voter requests. If they are in South Carolina during election season, if requested, it goes to SC.

Three weeks out it’s time for Logic and Accuracy Testing (L&A). L&A testing is a series of pre-election steps intended to ensure that ballots, scanners, ballot marking devices, and any component of a county’s certified voting system are properly configured and in good working order prior to being used in an election. These steps must include every protocol that counties will use in the actual election. Representatives from each party are invited and encouraged to attend to understand how the process works. Once the machines are tested, totals are cleared, new printing tapes are inserted and the machines are locked and sealed for delivery.

Become A Poll Worker - York County, Pennsylvania

Three weeks and earlier is the optimum time for training of poll workers. Election officials run through everything imaginable, from setting up machines to handling problems at check-in to voting machine jams … you name it, they cover it. For example, here is Philadelphia County’s 52-page training guide.

Usually seven or more days out, each election office prints the poll books with the names, addresses and party affiliation of each registered voter. There are watermarks beside each voter who has returned their VBM ballot or requested one and did not return. There are also electronic poll books that are becoming all the rage. But these need to be fine-tuned before each election.

Also in the final week, election officials must prepare for machine delivery to each polling place. It is not an exact science to determine how many machines are allocated to each poll. But a delivery schedule is established and machines are delivered with election day and provisional ballots contained. The machines are locked away until election day or 24 hours prior.

Now it’s time for local election officials to take over. At each precinct, there is a judge of election, a majority inspector of election and a minority inspector of election. Also, depending on the size of your poll, is a machine inspector and as many clerks as are necessary to make your voting experience smooth and easy.

The judge is the head official at each poll. These people are voted in by you in off-year elections for a four-year term. They can be any party but from my experience, that doesn’t matter as these folks are some of the truce champions of democracy. Their responsibilities begin with training prior to election day, include picking up all materials for the polling place, including sample ballots, signage, pens, electrical cords … you name it, they probably have it. Election Day begins before 6 AM for election workers and concludes somewhere north of 9 PM, once again, depending on the size of your poll. Then they must return materials to the county board of elections no later than 2 AM after the election. A long day for somewhere between $150-200.

County board of elections are not permitted by state law to begin pre-canvassing – or counting the VBM votes – until 7 AM on election day. That’s when all those VBM #10 envelopes can be reviewed for signatures and dates and opened. When all those are opened, then the #9 envelope – the security or secrecy envelope – is removed from the larger envelope. When all are removed, then they are all opened. Once they are opened, only then is the ballot removed. 

Typically, ballots are folded accordion-style, so they must be smoothed and prepared for reading by optical scanners. Then they are each fed into the scanner to record your vote(s). No vote totals can be announced until 8 PM, so not even election officials are aware of the current standing of each race.

Beginning at 8 PM, the official “counting” can begin and results are made available publicly. The “cards” from each voting machine are return to the county boards for tabulation. At that point, combined with the VBM totals, results begin to be released to the media and the public.

The thought that these champions of democracy have the time or the inclination to “change” votes is preposterous. It is an insult to their fine work to insinuate anything like that.

It is important for you, the voter, to understand how much work goes into the operation of making democracy work for us. And it is equally important for you to know that politicians seldom take the time to understand what goes on behind the scenes.

As someone who has been there on Election Day, as someone who experienced the madness of the 2020 presidential election, I want election officials to know that they are appreciated for everything that they do to make democracy work for us. They are the unsung heroes of the process.

And they deserve better than what we give them today.

So say thank you to an election worker on Tuesday. Appreciate them for their devotion to your neighborhood and community. You’ll be glad you did.

3 Responses

  1. You are either a comedian or a habitual liar. You orange demagogue lost last election fair and square. Everyone knows it except the magatards!!

  2. Agreed. Working elections is tough. Knuckleheads coming into voting office with improperly sealed ballots who can’t follow directions a 6th grader could understand and you got to explain how they failed to follow simple instructions. Salute voting workers!

  3. Stuffing the ballot box is the democrat party tactic, followed up with self-serving righteous cries of “count every ballot!” knowing full well they want invalid ballots counted.

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