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As you read this, I'll be working second shift at the polls. Ballots and procedures vary from state to state, and even counties and cities within states. But here's how it goes where I live.
SHAMELESS PLUG: But first, I know that a lot of you are not working the polls. I know that intuitively because most people who work the polls are older. While we won't know the average age for 2008 until after the election, in 2004, the average age was 72. AVERAGE. Which means there are a lot of people in their 70's and 80's. And I'm pretty sure they're not the prime demographic of this blog.
As an aside: consider working the polls. I wouldn't say "it's fun", but I've done it for a few years, and I'm always glad I did it. If you ever want to, just call your local city/county Voter Services office, and volunteer. Here, you attend a 2 hour class, for which they give you a $10 bill, a pen, and candy.
WORKING THE POLLS: You check people in, you call our their names so that the poll watchers can check off their lists, as well as in case anyone wishes to object to a voter. Then, you have them sign the book, compare their signature, hand them a ballot, write their name next to the next sequential number in the "another book", and send them to their booth to fill out their ballot. This "another book" has numbered lines, so that we can tabulate the number of voters, provisional voters, and spoiled ballots. Then, there are people at the scanner to receive the completed ballots. All ballots go into folders, so the selections are private.
In between, you solve problems related to people's names not being in the book, people who have come to the wrong polling place, people who filled out absentee ballots but want to vote in person, and a bunch of things you never can predict.
CLOSING THE POLLS: At 8 p.m. someone stands at the end of line (if there are people who haven't voted) so that people who weren't in line by 8 p.m. can't vote. We make sure that everyone who IS in line by closing time CAN vote, no matter how long that line may be. Our polling place is the largest in the township, and we are hoping to split it, but we haven't found an appropriate venue yet.
Once the polls are officially closed, we open the absentee ballots. They are in two envelopes. We use the outside envelope to check that the signature is correct. Then we take the inner envelopes, shuffle them, open them, and stack the ballots. Finally, we scan those ballots. While this is going on, the Ivotronic (touch screen) machine is closed out. We have one, and since optical scan is our default, very few people use it. It is there generally for the blind, as there are headphones so that the ballot can be read to them, and they can hear how they voted, and change if needed.
Once the absentee ballots are scanned, the optical scan machine is closed, meaning we have a tally. So here's the answer to that age old question of "why does it take so long to get the results?" While we at the precinct polls know the initial tally, we're nowhere near done. And until we're DONE, we don't report to the county.
We pull the ballots with write-ins, tabulate them, and add them to the post sheet.
We need to make sure that the number of ballots balances. We add together:
Used optical scan ballots
Ivotronic vote "ballots"
Spoiled ballots (trust me, it happens)
And compare that tally to the total number of ballots we received in the morning, AND to the number of lines used in the "another book". Then, because the number is usually off by 1 - 5, we do it again until we find the error. Once we have balanced, all of our equipment is packed up. We have different coloured packages for different types of paperwork, plus we have machines and voting booths (where people fill out the ballots) to close up.
Then, the post sheet is completed. This includes the tallies for all the candidates in all the races, as shown on the ballot, plus the tally of write-ins. A copy of the post sheet is displayed where the public can see it. At our precinct, it is posted on the inside of the glass wall next to the door, facing out.
Then, another copy of the post sheet, with all the information, along with all the materials, is driven to County Voter Services, where they certify our unofficial results. Then they double check OUR work, and the tally is official.
Now you know.