A Report on Staffing Levels at the Polls for the 2008 General Election
A Report on Staffing Levels at the Polls for the
2008 General Election
Election Reform Network
July 7, 2010
The Election Reform Network is a non-partisan citizens’ organization based in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Established in 2005, the Network is committed to protecting the integrity of elections and strengthening the democratic process.
Montgomery County in Pennsylvania is the third largest county in the state with voter registration as of the November 08 general election of 584,537 voters. The county employs the Sequoia AVC Advantage, a direct recording electronic (DRE) full face vote machine for poll place voting. The machines were the subject of controversy in New Jersey, when in the 2008 primary, it was discovered that they miscounted the number of ballots cast. Montgomery County is one of 50 of 67 counties in the state using DREs. The machines, upgraded in 2006 with an audio component for the disabled, have been used in the county since 1996. Seventy-five additional used machines were purchased for the 2008 election to supplement the original 1,050 machines.
According to the official vote count of the 2008 general election, 403,606 voters voted by machine and 23,919 voters used absentee ballots. Total turnout was 73 percent of registered voters, with almost 6 percent of voters using absentee ballots.
In mid-May 2010, the Network issued a report, Did Your Vote Get Counted? Voter Record Totals Don’t Equal Votes Cast in Montgomery County, which identified ballot reconciliation problems for the 2008 general election. This report examines the adequacy of staffing at the polls for that election, which may be an important source of the ballot reconciliation problems.
The Network employed two databases secured from the Department of Voter Services. The first is a log of payments to poll workers for the 2008 general election broken down by election district, from which we derived the number of poll workers present at each election district. The second was the number of voting machines allocated to each district. The latter was used to determine the total number of poll workers required for each election district in accordance with the PA election code. With these two sources we were able to determine the total number of local election staff required for each election district and compare that number with the total number of staff actually present at each district (for those districts for which there was data).
Findings and Analysis
Of the 418 election districts in 2008, sufficient staffing data was available for 406 of them. Of those, 69 districts or 17 percent were understaffed. Of the 44 districts with staffing records with disparities between the numbered poll list and the machine count of at least nine voters, 11 or 25 percent were understaffed (see Chart below).
In addition, of the districts with the greatest disparities, five out of the top six and six out of the top ten election districts with the greatest disparities were understaffed, as were nine out of the top 20. The relationship, then, between disparities and understaffing, while not so overwhelming as to point to understaffing as the causal factor, is much stronger in the subset of high disparity precincts than it is for Montgomery County election districts overall. In short, the data indicates that understaffing is a likely important explanatory factor for high disparities in some election districts.
Moreover, this is consistent with the view that disparities are caused by either the failure of staff to remind voters to press the “cast vote button” after making their choices (the “fleeing voter” problem), or the failure of machine operators to reactivate the machines in the time between a voter presses the “cast vote” button and leaves the booth and the next voter enters it. Compounding the latter problem is the inadequate Sequoia AVC Advantage machine interface with voters, which was documented by a Princeton-led research team of computer voting experts in 2008. According to the study, voters reasonably may believe they are voting when, in fact, the machine has not been activated and will not record any votes. This may happen, according to the researchers, because when voters press their selections they light up for about two seconds and when they press “cast vote,” the button also lights up, which could lull voters into believing that their votes will be counted even when the machine is not activated.
However, the problem of understaffing at the polls and the longstanding difficulties surrounding the recruitment and training of poll workers are critical weaknesses of the current elections system and go beyond their impact on voting machine operations. To our knowledge, there has never been a staffing study of the polls in Montgomery County prior to this one, which found that 17 percent of the polls were understaffed for the 2008 general election. Anecdotal evidence over the years supports the premise that understaffing is an enduring problem. A first step to a solution would be to iron out the jumble of responsibilities with regard to staffing between the election board and the political parties. While the current process seems to emphasize a collaboration in which all actors escape full responsibility and accountability, the election code appears to give authority to the Election Board and the Board/Department of Voter Services should take leadership in the recruitment and training of poll workers, especially for temporary appointments to fill vacant elected positions and all slots for machine operators.
|Upper Gwynedd 4||1,740||1,705||35||4||7||7||0|
|Upper Hanover 1||1,549||1,527||22||3||6||6||0|
|Whitemarsh Mid 5||741||720||21||2||5||6||0|
|Upper Dublin 1-1||679||660||19||2||5||5||0|
|Upper Merion Gulph 2||1,436||1,418||18||4||7||7||0|
|Lower Providence 3-4||1,199||1,182||17||3||6|
|Upper Providence Oaks||2,217||2,200||17||5||8||6||2|
|Lower Gwynedd 2-1||1,508||1,492||16||4||7||8||0|
|Lower Merion 9-3||818||803||15||2||5||5||0|
|Upper Merion Gulph 1||1,576||1,562||14||4||7||7||0|
|Upper Merion Bel 4||1,372||1,360||12||3||6||7||0|
|Upper Merion Cand 2||1,400||1,388||12||4||7||7||0|
|W Norriton 3-1||1,356||1,344||12||3||6||7||0|
|Lower Pottsgrove 2||2,007||1,996||11||5||8||6||2|
|Lower Salford 6||1,336||1,326||10||3||6||6||0|
|Upper Providence Mingo 2||2,174||2,164||10||5||8||8||0|
|Lower Providence 2-4||965||956||9||3||6||7||0|
|Lower Providence 3-3||1,724||1,715||9||4||7||7||0|
|Upper Moreland 4-2||882||873||9||2||5||5||0|
|* See footnote iii for the definition of “required” based on the Pennsylvania election code|
See New York Times editorial, March 22, 2008, “Unreliable Voting in New Jersey.”
2008 General Election November 4, 2008 Summary Report Montgomery County, Pennsylvania Official Report.
In addition to the three elected officers for each election district mandated by the Pennsylvania election code, including the Judge of Elections and the Majority and Minority Clerks, Title 25 P.S. Section 2674 specifies the following: “One clerk shall be appointed by the minority inspector in each district in which a voting machine or machines are used, and in each district in which more than one voting machine is used, the county board of elections shall, prior to each primary and election, appoint for each additional voting machine to be used in such district, one qualified registered elector of the county to serve as machine inspector therein for such primary or election.”
Andrew Appel, et al, 2008, Insecurities and Inaccuracies of the Sequoia AVC Advantage 9.00H DRE Voting Machine, Part III: User-Interface Inaccuracies and Insecurities Can Disenfranchise Voters.
See Title 25 P.S. Section 2674 or footnote iii.