Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Election Day

Pretty clear that you need ID to vote here then!
Finally it's here - polling day.  After months of campaigning, thousands of speeches and untold millions of dollars it's all happening today.  I just got back from the polling station at Pickens County, Georgia where I'm staying.  I was keen to see what the elections process is like here in the US compared with the experience in the UK so I jumped at the chance to accompany my host family to the polling station.  The people I'm staying with were keen to get there as early as possible so I dragged myself out of bed at 6am which is about the earliest I've got up this whole trip - good practice for being back at work I guess!

First thing to note is that as a US voter you don't get a polling card each election like we do in the UK - this explains for me some of the issues with people not knowing if they are registered to vote or not knowing where to got to vote: has spawned a whole set of websites to help people locate their polling station.  As a political activist in the UK you spend a lot of time telling people who've lost their polling card that it doesn't matter and they can still vote without it, but I think I like the security and simplicity of the system we have that means you know you're registered to vote before you make the trip out to the polling station. And although I laugh when I get my card at home which has a detailed map to help me navigate the 400metres to my polling station up at the WinWood Community Centre, it's better to have that than turn up at the wrong place (see below).  

The second thing is that you have to show some form of ID to vote here in Georgia (see main photo).  This is interesting because of the work that Rep. Keith Ellison is doing in Minnesota to prevent just such a thing being required there.  I'm a bit conflicted on this one - I think it's odd that in the UK you can just turn up and say your (or any) name and address and they'll dish out a ballot paper, but I know that any kind of restrictions will fall disproportionately on the most excluded in society already - the poor, the old and minorities.  And based on my experience this morning further restrictions will reduce turnout and suppress participation which has got to be a bad thing.  

(As an aside, I was pleased to notice that one thing was exactly the same as the UK - the somewhat matriarchal poll staff who were very suspicious of my presence and almost asked me to wait outside in the rain). 

All throughout the process there were a lot of queues.  Now I'm British so that means I automatically like queues but this was a bit ridiculous!  You had to queue to get a form to complete certifying that you were a legitimate voter and not disqualified - again this is often seen as a form of voter suppression and it was somewhat fearsome. 

Once you've filled in the form mentioned above you queue up to get your ID checked and be issued with your ballot.  The elections office here have eschewed the tried and tested method of using a piece of paper and a pencil that has worked so well in the UK for many decades and use a complicated system of touch screen computers.  I was therefore able to be very smug when the system crashed and refused to work.  I said (perhaps little too loudly...) to those around me: "a pencil never ran out of power or crashed!".  

The queue to get your ID checked and be issued with a "ballot"
Once the computers were coaxed into life the (by now somewhat testy) queue started moving relatively quickly.  (One guy when I was there had turned up at the wrong polling station - he needed to be in the next county.  He claimed to have voted here in the primaries so wasn't happy but the staff sent him away never-the-less.  I hope he got a chance to vote somewhere!  The staff member actually used the phrase, "the computer says no" - obviously this is a cultural thing as I was the only person to laugh at this point). When you got to the head of the line your ID was scanned (everyone used their driving license - but other forms were acceptable - not sure how they would "scan" them if they didn't have a barcode) and you were given a sort of credit-card with a chip on it that you took over to the main voting action.  

I say you took it over, another poll worker took it from you and escorted you over to the main machines.  This was a bit odd, not sure why this was the case.  I wouldn't want that card (which activated the machines and linked my vote to my ID) out of my sight!  Maybe I'm just paranoid!

You can just see the row of 5 or 6 touchscreen machines - sorry, not very good photo
At this point I obviously stepped away so that I didn't compromise the security of anyone's vote but I imagine that the screens then show you a series of ballot options and you press your choices.  I know that you don't get any kind of confirmation or receipt which is odd as this would be easy enough to produce I'm sure.  

I managed to grab a sample ballot which I've photographed and put here - main thing to notice is how big it is.  I got a similar document when I was in Detroit which was even longer - no wonder turnout is so low when this is what you get confronted with. I'm not sure that even I could summon the energy to get enthused about choosing which person I wanted to be County Coroner or Limestone Valley Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor (actually, it looks like even the candidates couldn't get enthused as no-one has stood for that position!).
Page One of the Ballot
Page Two of the Ballot
An early start but I was very glad to have the chance to experience an authentic polling day operation here in rural Georgia - hope the GOTV is going well for the Obama teams in the key swing states!

1 comment:

  1. Whoohoo - you did it ! Lots of relief and celebrations over this side of the pond.