Please read Election Season: Let's discuss the process prior to this post so that you have a more complete overview of the entire process.
(Originally posted by Mrs Raptor on Open Salon, August 16, 2010, more details below)
After the polls open on election day, no matter if it is a primary, general, school or special election, there is a whole lot going on. People are being checked in, people are being given ballots, people are voting, people are recording information, they are answering the phone, they are troubleshooting and a whole lot of other things...
What is really happening?
The first step after you enter the polling place is filling out the Application to Vote. Each state has forms that look a little different but the picture below (pardon the poor quality of the photo) contains all of the information that must be on each application according to the Federal Election Commission.
The application above is actually from an absentee ballot application, however there is not much difference between the two applications other than the fact that the application to vote Absentee is a longer form. Each application has the date of the election, the poll book number (voter number) the ballot number, ward, precinct, voter's name, date of birth and address. Additionally, there is a place for the initials of the election inspector who handed you a ballot as part of the "paper trail." When you sign the application you certify that you are a duly registered and qualified elector in that particular jurisdiction and that you are making an application to vote.
When you hand your application to vote over to an election inspector (we will get to electronic poll books; for now I am sticking with the paper version) the inspector will check what is called a "poll list" -- that is a listing of all of the registered electors in that particular ward/precinct/jurisdiction -- and mark in some way (we always used highlighters) that you have been in to vote. They may also ask to see either your driver's license or your voter registration card to verify that you are, in fact, who you say that you are.
After you are "checked in" you are passed down the line to receive your ballot. Someone double checks where you live by looking at your application and determining what ward or precinct you live in and then, assuming that there is a booth open, they hand you a ballot (in a secrecy sleeve) so that you can vote.
At that point your name and ballot number are typically recorded in the Poll Book (again, part of the paper trail).
After you have cast your vote, you return your ballot to the secrecy sleeve, take it to the ballot box and how you have voted is recorded by the tabulator. The tabulator does not record the number on your ballot nor is there any way to tell who voted what ballot after they enter the ballot box. (All of which completely ignores the fact that the average election inspector doesn't care HOW you vote... they care that you CARE enough to vote!)
At the end of the day, the time for the polls to close arrives and either the election chair or the clerk will say "Hear Ye, Hear Ye, The polls are now closed!" That does NOT mean that everyone who can vote has voted. You see, if you are inside the polling place at the time that the polls close you absolutely must be allowed to vote. That's the law.
After everyone who is in the polling place has cast their ballot the top of the tabulator is unlocked and the "Ender Card" is run through the tabulator. At that point the tabulator prints, underneath the zero report that was printed and signed by the election officials just before the polls were opened, the first of three reports of the number of ballots cast and who/what they were for (or against). Then the ballots are removed from the ballot box, placed in a "ballot bag" that is locked and sealed and then placed in a "ballot can" that is also locked and sealed and then locked in a closet that only the clerk of the election has the key to. The only legal reason to open a ballot bag or ballot can for 22 months from an election is by either order of the board of canvassers or orders from a court.
What happens if there are problems on election day?
Other than mechanical failures, the place to start, although by no means the "final authority" on the matter, if you encounter a problem on election day is with the Election Chair. If the election chair cannot help you they will refer you to the clerk of the election. If the local clerk of the election cannot help you, or you have a complaint, you need to contact your county clerk or registrar (depending on what they are called where you live). If you do not feel that your complaint/problem has been handled properly, call your State Election Commission and file a report with them. The State Election Commission will investigate and attempt to resolve the problem. Additionally they will notify you of the action taken, or rather they are supposed to (If you live in Ohio and Blackwell is still the Secretary of State my advice is to skip the State Election Commission in favor of a courtroom...)
Modeming in results:
After the polls close and the reports have been printed, the tabulator (if you live in a state that allows modeming in of results) is plugged into a phone line and the tabulator calls the results into the County Clerk. The only time that a tabulator should ever be plugged into a phone line is when the tabulator is calling in those preliminary results.
If you live somewhere that leaves the tabulators plugged into a phone line please do yourself and everyone else where you live a favor and file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission because that is illegal. As in "United States Department of Justice prosecution, 10 years in prison for every election official where the tabulator was plugged in, plus some rather stiff fines" kind of illegal. The FEC is not messing about when it comes to tabulators and you are as capable of pitching a fit about illegal activities in polling places as I am. Matter of fact, when it comes to illegal activities in a polling place, a complaint to the FEC from you is going to be acted on a whole lot faster than one from me in most cases.
What happens if there is a mechanical failure?
As rapidly as is possible, the election officials will get a spare tabulator, remove the card from the tabulator that had a mechanical failure and seal it in the new tabulator. Sometimes spare tabulators are in that Election Closet and sometimes spare tabulators have to come from another polling location. If tabulators come from another polling location, they are tabulators with no memory cards in them and without memory cards the tabulators are incapable of storing information.
What is the minimum number of tabulators?
The minimum number of tabulators that your particular polling place needs depends entirely on the number of precincts and the population. If you live in a place where you have a population of 10,000 people and one precinct then the minimum number of tabulators needed is 4. If you live in a place with 3 precincts and a total of 10,000 people your polling place must have a minimum of 6 tabulators, and (personally) I would make sure that there were a minimum of 8 plus at least 4 "spares." (From MY perspective, better to be prepared and not need the extra tabulators than to not be prepared and either have a riot or have people waiting for hours on end. )
Next up: What happens after the election?
Originally posted at The election process: Election Day & closing the polls although it won't be available there much longer it can be confirmed by those who have access to Google archives or other archives.
Mrs Raptor, is a native American that has spent time in Michigan, the Dakotas and Canada and was a poll worker. She posted this on Open Salon years ago, but Open Salon is closing and I thought it would be a good idea to continue making this available so I saved it and reposted it under fair use. This is some of the things that could be kept in mind when enacting election reform. Even Jimmy Carter has admitted that our system has major problems that should be addressed. I suspect that Mrs. Raptor would agree that it wouldn't hurt to confirm these details with local poll workers, even though I see no reason to doubt her. This is because many polls across the country have different systems and some of them may have changed since she wrote them, so even if you're in the same are she worked that isn't guarantee that they haven't changed since then.