Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A peek behind the curtain

Yesterday I scrutineered at a local election voting poll and learned a thing or two about the messy side of democracy.

Scrutineering is a volunteer job, actually working the polls is a pretty well-paid job. Election workers put in very long hours, we scrutineers only show up at the end to observe. Some political parties have their scrutineers at the polls for the entire day and they do what is called "vote pulling". They have lists of people who have said they will vote for that particular party during door-to-door canvassing and they make sure those people actually show up to vote. The Green Party does not do that, they just observe the counting, and I was the official Green Party scrutineer for a nearby voting station. There were three polls there and I was assigned to one of them but I also got numbers for the other two before leaving.

So, I was amazed at how chaotic and confusing the whole process was. The doors of the poll were locked at 8.30pm, no one could enter or leave until the process was finished. Earlier in the day a Green Party representative had dropped by my place to "train" me. Basically, don't touch the ballots, do what you're told, and keep track of what is going on. Also no communication with the outside world until you leave. The poll workers had all kinds of binders and instruction manuals and envelopes and forms to fill in. The instruction manual was easily as big as an income tax manual, except they had to read and follow all of the instructions, not just the ones they thought applied to their particular circumstances. They had all been "trained", but judging by what I saw, I think they all got different versions of the training.

I had been told that if all goes well it would take maybe 45 minutes. I left after 2.5 hours and the poll workers were still there working when I left. I was barely functional at that point, I had not slept well the night before, been wakened by a strange nightmare and had a busy day doing other stuff, so by 11pm I was a zombie. Good thing there were no other cars on the road as I drove to the Green Party party.

Turns out they don't start counting the minute the doors close, there are a whole bunch of steps to be done before actual counting begins and a bunch of things that have to be reconciled. They did not reconcile. I think the big debate was, do we carry on with the count or do we spend a bunch of time trying to reconcile something we have no idea of how to reconcile? Apparently the manual had no answer to that question.

One of the three polls was very small, only 50 actual votes to count, and it reconciled and was counted in a speedy manner. Those poll workers got to leave early. The poll with the worst problem was of course the one with the most votes to count. The one I was assigned to was in the middle. We scrutineers were all sitting at a table away from the workers but one of the scrutineers had some experience doing this and he said we should go sit at our poll. It was interesting but I imagine it just put more pressure on the workers having us three "observing" them.

Finally our poll workers decided to go ahead with the count. The box of paper ballots was difficult to open and while there was plenty of paperwork and envelopes and pens and stuff, no box cutter was provided. So we "observed" the poll workers struggling to open the damn thing. Then finally the poll clerk got it open and started pulling out ballots one by one. She unfolded it, displayed the ballot to all of us scrutineers and the other poll worker, and called out the name on the ballot that got the vote. It was like something right out of "Survivor". She placed the ballot on top of the envelope designated for that particular candidate. She did this for all hundred-odd ballots.

Two of us scrutineers recorded the vote, the third scrutineer who was more experienced did nothing. He knew he could get the final tally at the end and as long as at least one of us besides the poll worker was recording this, he didn't have to do anything. Sneaky bstrd, lol. At this particular poll there had been a discrepancy of one before the actual count started, and a discrepancy of one after the count. I think the decision was made that an extra name had been crossed off the voting list that shouldn't have been—human error—but no real damage done since the differences between the counts for each candidate were well over one vote. They just had to record that as the possible reason why the numbers did not reconcile.

The poll clerk recounted all the ballots after she had read them all out to confirm the numbers. Then they were all packaged up and more paperwork done as per the manual. Meanwhile we scrutineers moved on to the last and biggest poll which was in progress. Since we were coming in the middle of the count we couldn't really confirm the numbers and since this poll already had problems with reconciliation it was not surprising that it did not come out right. But again the difference was only by one vote and the totals for each candidate differed by a lot more than one vote. I was so tired I just copied down the numbers the poll worker had recorded and left, knowing that the numbers I had were possibly out by one vote but not really caring at that point. The poll workers had to continue to recount and confirm the discrepancy and come up with an explanation for it.

All I can say is, if a simple First-Past-The-Post count is that chaotic, moving to some kind of Proportional Representation type of vote will be a horror show. We won't know for days what the final result is! But I do like that it is all done manually and on paper, and we are all just a bunch of amateurs trying to make it work.

Afterward I drove to the party and turned in my records to our candidate. We all knew she wasn't going to win, not even close, but still I could see the disappointment on her face. She had to call the winning candidate to concede and she was putting it off, her husband was urging her to get it over with. We watched the election results on TV and discussed our experiences and thoughts on the matter. I particularly liked Megan Leslie's comments on the results (on CBC), I thought she was spot on. *

The winning candidate in my riding was a Liberal, and I'd heard him at the all-candidates meeting and thought he was good enough. I also thought that the final result—a Liberal minority government—was the best possible result. Someone at the dog park this morning cynically said that although the Conservatives are dead against Proportional Representation, she bet they wished they had it now since they got the majority of the popular vote.

We now have three Green Party members and one of them is here in the Maritimes. That is fabulous news. We are coming for you.

* [Megan said, look at the map, it says it all. It was all done up in colours representing five different political parties and looked like an abstract painting. She said we are a very divided country with lots of regional differences and although we were promised proportional representation and then denied it, we gave it to the politicians anyway. The voters have spoken and they have forced cooperation on the politicians like it or not. Deal with it.]

1 comment:

Wisewebwoman said...

It is all such amateur stuff in a digital age, isn't it. I did the last provincial one here and I was a rasher after close to 16 hours for very little money too.

Good to see the minority government and the growth of the greens. Trudeau shaken up, it's good for him and for the country tho the threatened secession of Alberta gives us pause.