Wanted: More Poll Workers, Modern Tools

Paul Bass Photo Valerie Horsley offered to tap a 1,500-person network to help the city avoid another election featuring two-to-three hour waits to vote.

It was unclear at a public hearing whether the registrar of voters office might take up Horsley or other volunteers on offers to help fix a broken election system.

Democratic Registrar Shannel Evans and Republican Registrar Delores Knight made a presentation on the ups and downs of the last election to alders at the hearing, which was held Tuesday night at City Hall by the Board of Alders City Services and Environmental Policy Committee.

The hearing was called at the request of Wooster Square neighbors who wanted to get to the bottom of long lines, missing ballots and the chaos that ensued during New Haven’s Nov. 8 presidential election election.

Evans and Knight rehashed with alders many of the same ideas and concerns identified at a previous public meeting about problems at the polls. Those ideas include the need to substantially increase the pool of people who work polls on Election Day and to train those workers better.

But the registrars were light on specifics of how they might make that happen.

Markeshia Ricks Photo Horsley, a Yale professor who is a member of the New Haven branch of Action Together Connecticut, was among a handful of people who testified at Tuesday’s hearing. She had a suggestion: take advantage of social media and reach beyond traditional forms of word of mouth to recruit workers.

“We need more manpower and woman power, or whatever that power might be,” she said. “But it’s not clear how one might volunteer to be a poll worker. We need to make that process a little more transparent.”

Horsley was asked to add her name to a list that the office is compiling of people who have indicated a willingness to help with staffing polling places on Election, and she dutifully did so.

But writing her name in ink was the the antithesis of online grassroots mobilization she and others recommended Tuesday night for modernizing a 20th century process.

“It’s not an efficient process if you have to come here and sign a piece of paper,” she said.

Evans said that currently the office relies mostly on word of mouth through alders and community management teams to recruit people to work in the city’s polling places — which, depending on the election year, could number as many as 40. Democratic and Republican town chairs also submit lists of potential poll workers.

Evans has used recent public meetings to urge people to volunteer, but acknowledged that there has been no real public outreach campaign to cast wide the net for potential poll workers. In fact, the office provides no information on its website about how to work at the polls on Election Day, or what the pay is for that work. Evans said in addition to a possible media campaign, the office is thinking through the various types of organizations that might be able to help.

Knight said that the office has had trouble getting people to participate in training sessions, which have historically been held one to two weeks before an election. And there is no penalty for missing the training, though people are paid for participating. Depending on the position, a trained Election Day worker who is an “official checker,” or the person responsible for making sure a voter’s name is on the official voter list, can earn about $180 before taxes. (Twenty dollars of that is for training participation.) There are other paid positions including a moderator, a voting machine tender, ballot clerk, demonstrators and translators.

Evans added that the office is looking to expand its pool through a more concerted outreach efforts and use of various forms of media, but she didn’t articulate a strategic plan Tuesday evening. She said the office also is planning to change its training for poll workers.

Horsley suggested that the city registrar of voters office make better use of online recruitment to get the word out about the need for Election Day workers. A mix of new technology solutions and old fashioned, low-tech communication strategies dominated the suggestions on how to not only improve the city’s voting process, but also take it into the 21st century.

Aaron Goode of New Haven Votes Coalition pointed out that the majority of the problems this past Election Day were caused by lapses in communication — confusing postcards that went out to voters about their polling place locations, or a lack of signage to direct people once they got to their polling place. He suggested the registrars office might make use of its own website to provide more accurate and up-to-date information, or even an app.

Goode also suggested the use of a cloud-based system for voter check-off instead of the current system of using one paper-based master list. Other technology fixes he suggested included using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter,and government-geared platforms like SeeClickFix to communicate information about realtime intervention when there are problems to track and resolve them.

“A lot of this is common sense,” he said. “The most important intervention is better strategic deployment of resources.”

Republican Town Chair Jonathan Wharton told alders Tuesday night that more efforts to promote basic voter education might also be in order. He testified about being approached by someone at his polling place who was handing out campaign literature within less than the required 75 feet, which is a violation of state law.

Former longtime Westville Alder Jon Einhorn, who served as a moderator for Election Day Registration at City Hall and sometimes serves as head moderator of elections, suggested that the city has too many polling places. Reducing them — which would require hard-to-obtain state approval — might alleviate the lines and result in quicker returns after polls close and less beyond-midnight tabulation marathons. (It took New Haven a week to produce official final voting results after this past November’s election. Both Evans and Einhorn said it was because the Secretary of the State’s system is not designed to handle a city like New Haven that has so many polling places.0

Westville Alder Adam Marchand suggested another way technology might be used is to prevent people from standing in lines for 45 minutes or more before they know whether they’re even at the right polling place. Several alders shared stories about people who were sent from one polling place or another because they were told by poll workers they were at the wrong polling place, and didn’t find out until they’d already stood in line.

Marchand suggested that having someone simply work the line and use a tablet or smartphone to verify that people are in the right place might save a lot of frustration for people.“It sounds like a combination of modern technology and old school human interaction could be the ticket,” he said.

Low-tech solutions included using post-Its for helping poll workers better index and more quickly find street names as they verify names on the master list also was suggested.

“You don’t need no computer to do that,” Hill Alder Dolores Colon said. “Post-its are cheap.”

Though Evans and Knight didn’t offer many specifics, they did indicate their willingness to take on the suggestions they’ve received as part of an eventual overall strategy to make future elections smoother.

{media_10}CSEP Committee Chairman Sal DeCola put the women on notice that he expects them to produce a game plan when the committee next meets on the issue.

“We’re going to have another meeting in June on the things that we’re going to try to implement, and we want to hear what we’re doing and how we’re going to establish some new protocols,” he said.

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 11, 2017  11:59am

Give me a break.The problem is that the Democrats and Republicans control the electoral process at every level of government and don’t want to lose power Rather than having a government that most represents our views, we have a government that is the lesser of two evils.This is why the whole electoral process and system needs to be replace.

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on January 11, 2017  12:15pm

I was out of town for the general, but during the primary it was taking close to 2 minutes per voter to check people in! This was the bottle-neck and the reason for the lines and unacceptably long wait times.

At first I blamed the Ward 7 poll workers and thought they were having trouble with their alphabet. However, when I made it up to the desk, it became clear the problem was the voting lists themselves!

It wasn’t all one alphabetized list. Instead it was broken up into several different sections, and the unfortunate poll workers had to search through the print-outs to just to find the right street.

That was the crux of the problem that I observed,. If I have the chance I’ll go down to the Clerk’s office and obtain a copy of the 2016 check-off list for Ward 7. I’ll also get one from a previous election to compare the 2016 fiasco to.

PS—Isn’t the next step to bring back Sharon Ferrucci as a paid consultant? She certainly had it together!

posted by: Patricia Kane on January 11, 2017  4:51pm

When the impending collapse of the State and City government occurs in the near future, we will be forced to re-think the wasteful and uncreative governmental systems in place.
The problem is not with the paid employees who deliver services and value, but rather with the politicians like Malloy who keep bonding out debts, privatizing services and diverting millions into the scam that is charter schools.
Since no one with vision exists to call for a complete revamp that might involve regional government rather than fiefdoms, and abolishing the nuisance taxes that were supposed to disappear with an income tax, and eliminating the exemptions for so-called non-profits that pay bloated salaries to the tops, while increasing pressure on the workers and while hoarding bloated endowments and maybe even a Constitutional Convention to add a right to shelter and health care, since no one is carrying the banner for change, let’s wait for the collapse and the finger pointing that will follow.

posted by: RHeerema on January 12, 2017  3:53pm

I’m grateful for the work of the Alders and community members to conduct this public hearing.

The Registrars Office should create volunteer job descriptions so people understand what the positions entail, and then promote volunteerism for new poll workers.

There should be a standard of one-hour maximum wait time at polling sites. Every election cycle should then have a public review to see how to make improvements to meet this standard.