The Voting Process in Durham, NC

Durham, Elections, North Carolina Comments Off on The Voting Process in Durham, NC

Tomorrow, Nov 4, is election day in the United States.  I’ll be spending all day as an election official.  As of the moment, I’m scheduled to show up at the Durham Board of Elections by no later than 6am.  However, 97,697 people have already voted in Durham County (out of approximately 175,000) so there is a question of just how busy the polls will be.  It may be that they’re fairly slow or it could be that they’re busy and we have record turnout. Check back later in the week to find out.  Either way, we’ll either have more than enough people working the polls or the right number of people working. Thanks to good planning by the Durham BOE, though, we hopefully will not have the problem of too few people working.

Since the election is tomorrow, I thought it would be instructive to go over the voting process.  In North Carolina there are actually two different methods that someone can vote: an inline process where the voter casts their vote and it is counted immediately, and an offline process where the voter casts their vote and it is counted at a later time.  The later process is called casting a “provisional ballot”. Both allow the voter to cast their ballot and in both cases valid votes will be counted.

So, when someone comes to a precinct, the first thing they do is check in.  North Carolina does not require ID in order to vote.  We do require ID to register, however, and as such, if a voter registered by mail or some other process where their ID was not validated by the board of elections, they will be asked to show ID the first time they vote.  After that, for future elections, they will not be asked for ID.  So, a good rule of thumb is that if you are a first time voter, bring your ID. It’s possible you may not need it but if you are newly registered, it’s a good idea to have it with you.  In either case, though, the voter is required to state to the election officials their name and their address.  At this point in the process there are three possible states:

  1. The voter is in the election worker’s printed pollbook and all their information is correct.
  2. The voter is in the election worker’s printed pollbook but their information is incorrect.
  3. The voter is not in the election worker’s printed pollbook.

If the voter’s situation is #1, the election worker pulls off the sticky label with the voter’s information, affixes it to an Authorization To Vote (ATV) form and then presents it to the voter for them to sign.  The voter must sign this form in order to get a ballot.  Their signature does not have to be legible, but without a signature they cannot be given a ballot.

After the voter signs the ATV, they then take it to the ballot table and present it to the election official there.  The election official takes the ATV and gives the voter a ballot.  What ballot a voter gets depends on where they live and in the case of a partisan primary, what political party affiliation they hold.  (In short, Democrats & Republicans must vote in their respective primaries while unaffiliated voters are allowed to choose which primary they wish to vote in.  They can then vote in just that primary, not both.  In Durham county, where often races are decided in the primary because no Republicans run, like the city council, this causes some Republicans to register as Unaffiliated so they can vote in the Democratic primary and thereby have a part in electing the City Council.)

After the voter gets a ballot, they take it to a pollboth (or really anywhere if all the pollboths are full) and cast their votes.

After they are done marking the ballot, the voter takes their ballot to the tabulator machine and feed it in.  If the ballot contains an “undervote”, that is, if a race has fewer or no votes for it, the machine will take it without question. However, if a race has an “overvote”, that is, if the voter has marked more than they are allowed for any particular race (i.e. voting for both McCain and Obama in the presidential race), the tabulator will beep and on the display say that the ballot contains an overvote and the race that is overvoted.  At this point the voter has a choice: they can accept the overvote, in which case that race will not be tallied from that ballot, or then can get the ballot back, take it back to the ballot and exchange it for a new ballot.  The old ballot will then be “spoiled” and will not be counted.  In either case, the voter should tell the official manning the tabulator what their choice is and the official will press the appropriate button to either accept the ballot or return it.  If for some reason the voter has already left and doesn’t know that their ballot has an overvote, the election official will simply accept the ballot so that properly marked races will be counted.

Once all this is done, the election official at the tabulator offers the voter an “I Voted” sticker and the voter leaves the polling place.  This completes the inline voting process I previously mentioned. Let’s now look at the offline voting process.

We covered case #1 where the voter is in the pollbook and all their information is correct.  Let’s look at case #2 where the voter is in the pollbook, but their information is incorrect.  In this case, the election official checking the voter in checks the “exceptions” box on the ATV and sends the voter to the exceptions table.  This is because nothing can be fixed at checkin. The election offiicial at checkin simply checks people in and sends them to either the ballot table or the exceptions table.

In case #3, where a voter is not in the precinct pollbook, the election official simply sends that voter directly to the exceptions table.

Now, when a voter gets to the exceptions table there can be two possible cases:

  1. The voter has an ATV with the exceptions box checked.
  2. The voter does not have an ATV.

Case #2 is the simplest.  In this case, the voter simply votes a provisional ballot.  The election official gives them a provisional ballot envelope and has them fill out the yellow fields.  Once that is done, the election official looks up the voters home precinct, records that, if possible, and gives them a ballot.  Hopefully, here, the voters is directed towards a pollbooth that is separate from the normal ones because whatever happens we do not want this ballot to go into the tabulator.  Once the voter fills out their ballot, they fold it up and place it in the envelope and seal it up.  Somewhere in this process, the election official takes 3 sticky labels with a unique number and places one of them on the envelope, one of them on the provisional ballot pollbook, and one of them on an information sheet which is given to the voter.  The information sheet has information on how the voter can call the board of elections to see if their vote was counted or not.  At this point, the voter is offered an “I Voted” sticker and they are done.

In case #1, there are several options. Most of the time, this case will be because a voter has moved.  In this case, there is a box on the ATV for them to fill out their new address.  If they have moved to somewhere within the same precinct they can simply fill out the change of address form, get the correct signatures and then proceed to the ballot table to get a normal ballot and vote the normal inline process.  However, if the voter has moved out of the precinct, things get more complicated.  If they have moved out of precinct less than 30 days ago (that figure is from memory, so hopefully it is correct) but still live in the same county, there are two things they can do:

  1. Vote a provisional ballot
  2. Do a precinct transfer

In case #2 they will fill out the appropriate boxes on the ATV and then take that ATV to their new precinct, present it to the official at the exceptions table, and proceed through the normal inline voting process where they will get a ballot at the ballot table and vote as normal.

If, however, they have moved out of the county, of if they have moved more than 30 days ago, the voter must vote a provisional ballot.

Throughout all this process a strict count on the number of ballots is kept.  All ATVs are numbered sequentially and this count is checked against both the number of ballots given out and the number on the ballot tabulator.  In addition, it is checked against the provisional ballot pollbook.  At the end of the day, the number of ballots is added up and compared to the number of ballots that the precinct started with at the beginning of the day to make sure everything matches up.

What happens, however, if there is an exception situation?  If the tabulator breaks down, there is a special compartment directly under the tabulator that can be opened to accept ballots.  This is known as the emergency bin and is used to hold ballots until the tabulator can be fixed at which point the ballots are fed into the tabulator.  Whenever a ballot is fed into the tabulator by someone other than the voter, the election official must announce in a loud voice what they are doing!

Polls open at 6:30am and close at 7:30pm.  Anyone who is in line at 7:30pm is allowed to vote.

There’s more, but I’ve run out of time now.  I’ll have more later, but that should be enough to get a basic idea of the process.  Any errors in the description are entirely mine and I’m sure I’ll hear about them. 🙂

Anyway, if you haven’t voted already, go vote tomorrow!

Florida extends early voting hours

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Reading the news, I see that Florida has extended it’s early voting hours from 8 hours/day to 12 hours/day.  While I think this is a good move for Democracy, I think everyone really needs to give a round of applause to the poll workers that are making this happen.  Previously, they were simply working 8 hours/day on the week days and 8 hours each weekend.  Now, the local boards of election in FL will be scrambling to fill an extra 4 hours each day and an extra 16 hours each weekend!  I’m sure that many of the Florida election officials will work longer and they should be commended for that.

Just what does this have to do with Durham, though?  Durham has election officials too and many of them right now are spending many hours staffing One Stop Early Voting sites.  Many more will spend upwards of 14 hours on election day making sure that the polls are open and that everyone gets to vote.  While they do get paid for this, it’s still a very long day.  However, without them, the election simply could not be held.  So, if you haven’t voted yet, when you do, please say thanks to the people working the polls.  And, if you really care about democracy, ask how you can sign up to help for the next election.

Election Totals and Training

Durham, Elections, North Carolina Comments Off on Election Totals and Training

Fewer people than I had expected voted in Durham County this weekend.  The totals for Saturday were 4,597 people voting and on Sunday 2,218 people voted.  I had expected fewer people to vote on Sunday, simply because the One Stop Early Voting locations were only open from 12pm to 3pm.  However, I had expected more people to try to vote on Saturday.  No matter, though.  Currently 18,470 people in Durham county have already voted.  See the full totals at the Durham County BOE website.

This week is going to be fairly packed for me, election training-wise.  This evening I have provisional ballot training at 6pm.  Then Thursday I have general training and Friday I have tabulator training.  Should be fun.

Record Breaking Opening Day for One Stop Early Voting

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Yesterday was the first day for One Stop Early Voting in North Carolina and it was immediately evident that people really want to vote.  The previous record for number of voters voting in a single day during early voting in Durham was 4,476, set on October 29, 2004.  Yesterday, Durham county had 6,264 people vote.  Durham Board of Elections Director Mike Ashe has been quoted that he thinks this new record will be broken!  You can keep track of each day’s totals at this link (note: pdf file).

Early voting is especially convenient in North Carolina due to the fact that you can register, or update your registration, and vote on the same day.  With that in mind, it’s useful to review who is eligible to register to vote in NC.  Anyone in NC may register to vote provided they sign a voter decleration attesting that:

  • They are a U.S. citizen.
  • They have been a resident of North Carolina and the county they are registering in for 30 days before the election.
  • They will be at least 18 years old by the next general election.
  • They are not registered to vote, nor will they vote in any other county or state.
  • If they have been convicted of a felony, their rights of citizenship have been restored.

Note that untruthful answers on any of these questions on your registration form is considered a felony, so make sure you answer truthfully!  In addition, the person registering to vote must provide proof of residency by showing the elections official an appropriate form of identification with the citizen’s current name and current address. Note that if you are registering at a One Stop Early Voting location you are only allowed to vote at the early voting election and not in the next general election. I’m not sure why you’d want to leave and then come back to vote, but since you can’t, it doesn’t matter. In any case an “appropriate form of identification” is defined to be:

  • A North Carolina driver’s license with current address
  • A utility bill with name and current address
    • A telephone or mobile phone bill
    • An electric or gas bill
    • A cable television bill
    • A water or sewage bill
  • A document with name and current address from a local, state, or U.S. government agency, such as:
    • A passport
    • A government-issued photo ID
    • U.S. military ID
    • A license to hunt, fish, own a gun, etc.
    • A property or other tax bill
    • Automotive or vehicle registration
    • Certified documentation of naturalization
    • A public housing or Social Service Agency document
    • A check, invoice, or letter from a government agency
    • A birth certificate
  • A student photo ID along with a document from the school showing the student’s name and current address
  • A paycheck or paycheck stub from an employer or a W-2 statement
  • A bank statement or bank-issued credit card statement

You can find out much more about registering to vote at the State Board of Elections website.  In addition, you can look up your own voting information and get both your polling location and a sample ballot for your district.  So, if you want to vote but are not yet registered, go register and vote!  Or, if you don’t want to fight the crowds on election day (although, apparently 25% of all voters in the U.S. voted early in the 2006 election and that number will almost certainly grow for this election), go vote early.  But, whatever you do, please go vote!

One Stop Early Voting

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One Stop Early Voting in North Carolina starts today.  In Durham County there are 7 locations you can go to vote early in person.  If you are not yet registered to vote, you can register on the spot and vote right away.  Polling places, in general, will be open from 9am to 5:30pm Monday through Saturday.  This Sunday, the 19th of October,  they will be open from 12pm to 3pm and next Sunday, the 26th of October they will be open from 12pm to 5:30pm.  As we get closer to the election, there are extended hours.  Thursday & Friday, October 30 & 31, the polls will be open from 9am to 7pm.  But, beware, the last day the polls are open for One Stop Early Voting, Saturday, November 1, they are only open from 9am to 1pm.

Election officials are expecting a large turnout but officials are planning on staying open to accomodate everyone in line at the time the polls close.  So, with all the options available to vote early, there really is no excuse for not voting.  If you want to know who the candidates are, there are several locations you can go to find that information:

In addition, unlike during the primary, there will be Kids Voting in the November election.  Find out more information about that at the Kids Voting Durham webpage.

Finally, if you have any more questions about voting in Durham or North Carolina, see the Durham Board of Elections web page or the State Board of Elections web page.

Voter Registration Deadline This Friday

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If you want to vote in the November presidential (and local, of course) election you need to make sure you are registered to vote before the deadline this Friday.  After Friday, the only way for you to be able to vote in NC will be to go through One Stop Early Voting where you can register & vote at the same time.  However, even if you think you are registered, you should double check to make sure you haven’t accidentally been purged from the voter rolls.  While I definitely think Durham BOE Director Mike Ashe would not knowingly purge valid voters from the rolls, mistakes are possible.  That’s why it is important for everyone to check their voter registration status.  You can check your own registration status at the Durham County Board of Elections website.  Besides that, a group called Project Vote 2008 has lists of voters recently purged from voting rolls around the country including Durham County.  You can check their online Google spreadsheet for a list of voters recently purged from the Durham County voter rolls and if you see yourself you can fix things.  Or, if you see a friend on the list let them know to go check their registration.  This is something you definitely want to do soon since if you show up on election day and are not registered you won’t be able to vote normally.  You can almost certainly vote provisionally, however, if you aren’t registered the chances that vote will be counted are slim.  So, act now before time runs out.

Again, the deadline for registering to vote is this Friday, October 10, 2008.  Information on how to register can be found here.

Update: As my friend Lisa mentions, my voter registration lookup link only works in Durham County.  You can look up your NC voter registration information for any county in North Carolina at the State Board of Elections website.

Election Officials Needed in Durham Couny

Durham, Elections Comments Off on Election Officials Needed in Durham Couny

The Durham Board of Elections is once again seeking people to act as election officials, this time for the November 4 election.  From their recruiting ad:

“Join a team of committed community members who help maintain the integrity of the election process. This is a non-partisan sport.”

“Along with celebrity status, you will receive full training and compensation.”

“Registered voters and qualified high school students are eligible to serve.”

“Half-day shifts available.”

“Democracy Loves Help”

“Priceless Info Found 4 Ways…”
Call: 919-560-0690
Visit: 706 W. Corporation St.

Here’s the full PDF with all the information:

Durham Pollworker Recruiting Ad

Having worked as an election official in the 2006 election and then as an election judge in the 2008 primary and runoff I can definitely recommend it.  Last I heard they were expecting record crowds for this election so people are definitely needed.  So, if you are at all interested, give the Durham BOE a call or send them an e-mail and sign up today!

Runoff Election Tomorrow

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I’m just about to head to bed so I can get up and be at the precinct at 6am for tomorrow’s runoff election.  While I know there are only 2 races on the ballot in Durham county, I still encourage everyone to go out and vote.  It won’t take that long and you’ll have your say in who will be on the school board and who will be the NC Commissioner of Labor.  If we really want a democracy, then we need to work at it.  After all, we wouldn’t want to end up like Zimbabwe is right now where the opposition candidate has pulled out of a runoff election and is in hiding in the Dutch embassy!  So, please come out and vote tomorrow.

Election Recap (aka the best laid plans…)

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I started writing up my day as an election judge and then life intervened and I didn’t get it done. But, I had set myself up that I wanted to get it done before doing anything else, so the longer it went, the worse it got. I felt I couldn’t write anything new without finishing my election recap. So, I’m now backing off on that and presenting here an abbreviated version of my election recap so I can get on with life and actually post again.

P1010081.JPGElection day for me started early. Very early! I woke up at 4:15am and left my house in south Durham before 5:30am so I could be at the NC School of Science & Math by 6am. I’m an “emergency [election] judge” in Durham county, meaning I fill in where other judges cannot during an election, and as an unaffiliated voter, I can serve as a replacement judge for either party. For this election I was filling in for the Republican party judge in precinct 4 who was unable to be here for the election. We had set everything up the night before, so we were pretty good to go and opened the doors right at 6:30am.


We had a line waiting for us as we opened the door and for the next two hours turnout was fairly heavy. We got about 200 votes over those 2 hours.  After that it slowed down quite a bit.  I talked for a while with our other judges and election officials and because I was the judge with the least to do (because my main function was watching over the ballot machine), I ended up processing curbside voters.

P1010021.JPGThe big news of the morning was that our chief judge had talked to someone the night before that had said the Bill Clinton was planning to come by, probably sometime between 5-7pm.  We weren’t really sure if it was the real thing, though. 

We had brought quite a bit of food to snack on and had planned to call up and order lunch from Elmo’s and have my wife bring the order by, since we couldn’t, by law, leave the polling place.  When we went to order lunch, though, neither of the other judges were hungry and the other officials were only working a half day, so I ended up being the only that that ordered lunch.

P1010067.JPGAbout 2-ish, we had someone come by and say that the democratic party office had told him Bill Clinton would be arriving at 3:30.  Sure enough, we started seeing Secret Service and State Police outside.  We didn’t want anyone voting to miss the opportunity to see the former president, so we made periodic announcements about his imminent arrival and worked out a schedule so that officials could go outside to see him and we’d still have everything covered.  I managed some provisional ballots while our Chief Judge was out trying to see Clinton and then I went out to try to see him myself.  I managed to get lucky and both shake his hand and get this picture of him.  He looked very tired, not surprisingly.

The main problem, however, with Clinton’s visit was that the police ended up blocking off our handicap parking and curbside voter location.  In fact, I ended up walking down the street to process two curbside voters while Clinton was visiting.  I understand the need for security, but the primary reason we were there that day was to vote, not to see Clinton and I fault his group a bit for that.

Other things that happened that day include running out of under 18 ballots and getting more delivered.  We also processed over 20 provisional ballots! (By contrast, the last election they said they only processed a very few provisional ballots, under 5.)

By the time 7:30 came around, we had started taking things down and closed down the polls right on time since there was no one waiting to vote.  We hooked up the ballot machine to the phone line to transmit the results and may have actually transmitted them twice since it wasn’t clear if it went through the first time. (Note that they aren’t actually counted twice since it is the same data.)  We broke everything down, loaded up and the chief judge and other judge headed off to the BOE for the audit. (Normally only the chief judge goes, but our chief judge has an eye disability where she can’t drive at night so the other judge drove her.) The chief judge was concerned about making it to the BOE in time, but I heard later that she ended up being the first precinct to make it to the BOE for the audit!

So, all in all, it was a very long, but good day.  We had over 60% of the registered voters in the precinct vote, and this is just a primary!  It will be interesting to see what the general election brings.

Also, it looks like there will be a runoff for 2 primaries.  This will entail a runoff primary on June 24.  I will again be working as an election official that day and have been assigned to work precinct 4 again.  However, this time, instead of expecting 800 voters, we’ll basically be expecting 8. So, not only will that be a very long day, but probably a very boring day.  If only the General Assembly had actually taken up the “Instant-Runoff Voting” bill a few years ago.

Anyway, now that the recap is out of the way, I can finally start posting again.  I want to post about the Trips for Kids Triangle group I went biking with this weekend that takes inner city youth out for mountain biking rides and there’s the Ride of Silence I went to tonight.  Also, I’ve been getting ready to head down to Orangeburg, SC this weekend for the National Sport (High Power Rocketry) Launch with the National Association of Rocketry and I’m busy building a couple of high power rockets.  But more on all that later!

Home From the Election

Durham, Elections, North Carolina Comments Off on Home From the Election

After working 14 hours as an election judge today I’m now home and utterly exhausted.  I’ll write up my thoughts on the process tomorrow, but until then, here’s a photo of someone who stopped by my precinct (well, outside it) and who’s hand I got to shake.


Full set of pictures here.

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