Friday, October 24, 2008

I Voted!

That's what it says on the sticker that is supposed to be handed to me by the poll worker who accepts my completed ballot. This year, however, there is a big push in California to vote early. Not only does the seriousness of the Presidential Election promise to (finally?) bring out a large number of voters; but also there are twelve State Propositions on the California ballot (and another 22 for the City and County of San Francisco). Completing a ballot is going to take more than the usual amount of time, even in the best of circumstances.

In my case it was a choice between enjoying the convenience of my polling place being down on the mezzanine of the building where I live or walking a couple of blocks to City Hall to vote early. I opted for the latter primarily on the basis of reliability. Having now voted quite a few times in my own building, I have noticed a progressive drop in the quality of our poll workers. These are volunteers, so I do not say this to criticize them. Rather, I suspect that they are victims of budget cuts that have impacted how well they are screened (for such things as which languages they speak, which is particularly important in California), how well they are trained after passing screening, and how well they are served by the call center they are supposed to consult if they have any questions. Thus, during the Primary we had a poll worker who spoke Chinese (which matters in our District). Unfortunately, he spoke only Chinese; and none of the other poll workers on site could communicate with him! The good news is that one of the voters waiting was fluent in both Chinese and English and was able to help him get the ball rolling; but she made it more than clear (several times) that she was in a rush and was none too happy about giving her services. One would have thought that, between screening and training, this situation could have been anticipated; so I take what actually happened as an indication of the effectiveness of those two processes.

Sadly I also managed to get a taste of call center operations. On this particular occasion the Chinese-only poll worker was just one of several problems, which included the procedures necessary to complete before opening the polling place, making sure that each voter was directed to the right worker (this being a Primary, different parties had different ballots), verifying that the ballot box was empty, and making sure that each completed ballot was properly accepted by the ballot box. Thus, I knew that the call center had been contacted and given the response that help was on the way. By the time I (along with most of those in line with me when I arrived, including the Chinese woman-in-a-rush) had completed my ballot, help (presumably based those few blocks away in City Hall) had not yet arrived. I was watching the poll workers run into yet another instance of the kind of "service pathology" about which I have written on several occasions. Thus, for better or worse, I decided that I did not want this particular ballot to be subject to the vagaries of screening, training, or service pathology; so I cast my vote early.

I realize that, while we generally worry about an "October surprise," the way in which the media business now works allows plenty of time for a "November surprise" in the few days before November 4. Nevertheless, I have put in a lot of time deliberating on how I would fill out my ballot (and even shared some of those deliberations on this blog). I have my reasons for voting the way I did, and I strongly doubt that the media are going to pull out of their collective hat any rabbits that will gnaw away at those reasons like their cousin Peter in Mr. McGregor's garden. I thus decided to act on the basis of where I felt my ballot would be handled most securely, and that took me to City Hall.

It was pretty empty when I was there, but I asked what conditions had been like. I was told that it got pretty busy later in the day. Also, because my wife wanted to vote on Saturday, I was told to advise her to show up early, because they are expecting heavy voting over the weekend. I find the promise of such a high level of participation encouraging; and, if there are problems with the efficiency of dealing with such volume, I am glad that there are still ways in which our votes stand a good chance of being effectively processed. That is too much to say on any sticker I might get after voting!

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