Voting controversy and how elections work

A meme making its way around the FB nets.

Donald Trump was very upset about the way the mid-term elections turned out. When you are involved in politics and your side loses, you are supposed to walk away quietly unless you have provable allegations of fraud. This is what we heard this week: 

“The Republicans don’t win and that’s because of potentially illegal votes,” Trump told the Daily Caller, a conservative online news outlet, during a Wednesday interview. “When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again.”

From Business Insider

Okay. I’ve been listening to the BS from the Trump bots over voting and election for two years now without blogging about it. Back in the days before the election, I even defended his paranoia about voting irregularities–there were plenty of shenanigans about the Democratic Primary, and it bothered me that newsreaders were dismissing his claims of potential voter fraud.

That ends here, as it should.

Some background: I’ve worked as a ‘poll inspector’ at our local precinct six times over the past few years. I’m on a first-name basis with the old-timers (which means I’m an old-timer now). I’ve helped hundreds of people cast a legal vote in the City of New York. Here’s how the process works. It’s all explained in a big honkin’ book handed out to trainees for poll inspector slots (and yes, it gets edited every year). 

This part is all procedural. If you don’t want to read all the minutiae, skip down to the next section.

So let’s say you’re a voter and you’re registered. And in order for you to follow the process, I’ll use italics for when you are NOT a legal voter and you’re trying to pull a scam). Let’s start at the beginning. In NYS, if you’re a registered voter, you get a postcard reminding you that there’s an election and you need to show up at a specific polling place–election district for Brooklyn ED, which is usually a school or (sometimes) a church. 

You might not get the postcard, btw–I’d need a whole post to tell you of the stories of my current fight with the USPS not delivering mail to my apartment. But you read the papers and you’re pretty sure you voted at this school last time (or your next-door neighbor tells you that’s where the polling place is) and you show up at the appointed time (between 6 AM and 9 PM, though if you want to get the process done quickly, you should wander in before work rather than after) (PS–DO NOT wait until you get in the booth to read the Ballot Initiatives) . 

You enter the polling place and go to the information table. The humans at the Info table ask you your address (whether you’re a valid voter or not). You give your address upon entering and if you belong in this polling place, the info table people will say ‘Yup. You belong here, go back to the table marked 42-22’. They’ll point at the area where your table is located and you’ll stroll over. If the address you give them is NOT in the polling place’s districts, they’ll try to look up your district and they’ll tell you, ‘no, you need to go to this address on Avenue U and Bedford’. At no point will they say ‘hey! Wanna vote here?’ (okay, they might but they shouldn’t). 

So you get to the district table and they ask you your name. There’s a big
Voter Registration List for the district and if you’re registered, the poll worker will find your name, address, age and a sample signature. If this is the first time you’ve voted or your registration has been challenged in some way, there might be a stamp next to your name that says VALID ID (a driver’s license, passport, or other official document as outlined in the Pollworker manual). . This is the only time you’ll be asked for ID unless there’s a dispute. At this point, you will sign in the signature block. The pollworker will make sure your signature is reasonably close to the one in the book. If your signature doesn’t match the one in the book, there might be a valid reason–people who have had a stroke or an accident that has affected their penmanship can be challenged and they have to produce valid ID, and that fact is logged into the Voter Registration List. But if everything goes as planned, the pollworker hands you a ballot and a ‘privacy sleeve’ (which is a manila folder with a black lined border) and directs you over to a booth. You take the handy pen(which should be in the booth unless someone got desperate and ripped the pen off the chain), fill out the bubbles next to the candidate you want to vote for, and then you walk the whole thing over to the Scanner. The scanner machine takes your ballot (or ballots if it’s more than one page) and scans everything in and keeps your ballot.  You walk out, and if you ask nicely, they’ll give you an I Voted sticker.

Now let’s deal with the Trump scenario (which might apply if you’re voting legally, but also applies if you’re trying to vote when you aren’t registered (the illegal stuff is in italics)

Let’s assume you come into the polling place and you don’t have an address in the district (because you’re trying to vote illegally) If you don’t have your address right or you aren’t registered, you won’t be able to vote on a regular ballot. If your info isn’t in the Voter Registration List  for any district at the polling place,  You must file an affidavit ballot if you want to vote. That’s a different ballot than a regular ballot, and though it looks like a regular ballot, it doesn’t go in the scanner when you’re finished. Instead, an affidavit ballot goes into a special white envelope with red printing– you have to fill out all the info on the front of the envelope. The info you fill in is name and adress, registered party (if you’ve picked one) phone number or two, age, SS and/or ID registration such as a drivers license. You also have to sign the form, and if they want to contact you and your info isn’t correct, they’ll throw the ballot away. And if you use any real identifiers, they just might track you down for perjury.

Last but not least, you can demand to see a judge and get a court order to cast a regular ballot if you’re not in the Voter Registration lists. I’ve never had anyone demand a court order because of the hassle of going to the court. And if you’re voting illegally, you might not want to appear before a judge and swear an oath

Okay. Glad you skipped the boring parts? 

We get here because if you’ve read all of the above, you might now know how hard it is to file a fraudulent ballot in my polling place. The one way someone might try to do something is pretending to be someone who’s already in the registration book. But unless you can mimic their signature and survive a challenge from the workers, you probably don’t want to take a chance. I should also point out that the Voter Registration book keeps track of people who’ve had a ballot challenge (and why). And again, the voter fraud envisioned by President Trump is… shall we say?–comic. It’s hard to figure how someone could get past the Info desk without lots of relevant info. And filling out an affidavit ballot with appropriate info is probably beyond the skills of the average individual envisioned for this task. 

That isn’t to say the vote in my polling place can’t be gamed, but sending lots of people with fake ID and multiple hats to successfully complete a ballot that can pass muster is extremely unlikely. A scenario where the same person gets past the info booth multiple times while wearing different shirts and hats sounds like a plot from THE HONEYMOONERS. And arguably, the scanners can be gamed. I’d have to explain a lot of dull things that pollworkers do once the district shuts its doors, but it comes down to this–in the 15 hours my table is open for business, I see all but a few dozen voters (I get a lunch and dinner break, but I can see how many voters came by in my absence). At the end of my shift, the scanners run a count, and it has to match the count at my table. My fellow workers and I would quickly notice any total that looks wrong. Which is not to say that paperless voting can be trusted–friends who were activists for Bernie in 2016 can recite the names of counties where machine voting handed lots of votes to Clinton. I’m not going to write about that here because it wasn’t what Trump was alleging. 

The voter fraud that has plagued US elections since 2000 doesn’t have anything to do with unauthorized voters showing up. It’s a result of ‘caging’–invalidating voter registrations and disenfranchising voters (mostly people of color). If you believe journalist Greg Palast, there were 97,000 Florida voters who were scrubbed from the rolls in 2000; most of them were people who would’ve pulled the lever for Gore. Palast estimates that a similar program of disenfranchisement was carried out in 2016, resulting in upwards of Seven Million voters who were told when they showed up at the polls on Election Day they couldn’t vote.  

The real voter fraud in 2018 was carried in the open with everyone watching. And not a single haberdasher or costumer was involved. It was all about disenfranchising voters who wouldn’t support the GOP agenda. This meme has made the rounds, and Greg Palast’s website verifies these talking points about the Georgia race for Governor:

Again, this has been happening since 2000 and the DNC has demurred, preferring to target ‘Nader’ or ‘Bernie’ or The Russians. The one period when the DNC controlled all three branches (Presidency, House, Senate), they did not address this. One must think they’re satisfied with being a weak tea opposition party.

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