November 24, 2020

Grading the absentee-in-person experience in Virginia

[Each year, I write a “my day as a pollworker” report. This year, I’m not a pollworker, or election officer in Virginia parlance, for a variety of reasons, so I decided to write about my voting experience.]

I just got back from “in-person absentee voting”. This is similar to but not the same as early voting – in Virginia, it’s still absentee voting, but you do it by going to a central polling place (there are almost a dozen in Fairfax, which is a very geographically large and populous county). And you have to have one of a dozen reasons (e.g., you’ll be out of the county on business or pleasure, you’re disabled, pregnant, incarcerated awaiting trial, …) – you can’t just do it because it’s more convenient. See Code of Virginia 24.2-700 for all of the acceptable reasons.

My goal, besides the actual act of voting, was twofold. First, Virginia has new voter ID laws, and I wanted to see whether pollworkers had been trained to know what the new laws are. And second, Fairfax County by policy is supposed to offer voters the choice of “paper or plastic” – optical scan or DRE, and I wanted to see how that happened. (I know how it has happened in the past in my precinct, because I was responsible for ensuring that we followed the rules, but wanted to see how it was done in this environment.)
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New Jersey Voting in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy has disrupted many aspects of life here in New Jersey. Even beyond the physical destruction, the state’s infrastructure is still coming back on line. Many homes are still without power and heat, and some roads are closed. Schools were closed all of last week, and some will be closed for longer.

Sandy has also disrupted plans for Tuesday’s election. The election cannot be rescheduled, so we have to find a way to let people vote. Here in Princeton, 63% of the voting districts will vote in temporary, relocated polling places.

In response to the electoral challenges, New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno has issued three orders (1, 2, 3), decreeing changes in voting procedures:
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NJ Lt. Governor invites voters to submit invalid ballots

On November 3rd, the Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey issued a directive, well covered in the media, permitting storm-displaced New Jersey voters to vote by e-mail.  The voter is to call or e-mail the county clerk to request an absentee ballot by e-mail or fax, then the voter returns the ballot by e-mail or fax:

“The voter must transmit the signed waiver of secrecy along with the voted ballot by fax or e-mail for receipt by the applicable county board of election no later than November 6, 2012 at 8 p.m.”

We see already one problem:  The loss of the secret ballot.  At many times in the 20th century, NJ political machines put such intense pressure on voters that the secret ballot was an important protection.  In 2012 it’s in the news that some corporations are pressuring their employees to vote in certain ways.  The secret ballot is still critical to the functioning of democracy.

But there’s a much bigger problem with the Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s directive:  If voters and county clerks follow her instructions, their votes will be invalid.
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