Sunday, February 05, 2023

Ballot watcher impressed by primary election day

by Philip A. Clements
| June 19, 2010 9:00 PM

I received a wonderful civics lesson on this year's primary election day, May 25. I learned things I couldn't have even imagined in my high school civics class. I had been asked by Thom George, the Kootenai County Democratic Party chairman, to watch the absentee ballot counting (become a ballot watcher) and report back.

I arrived at the Elections Office a few minutes before the appointed time, 10 a.m. with my copy of the requesting letter for identification. At 10 a.m. I was escorted into the ballot processing room by Carrie Phillips, the Elections Manager. The processing room was secure with limited access. I was given the use of a small table behind a little plastic chain that reminded me to stay clear of the workers. I was able to talk to the supervisor and ask questions as a team of seven people began counting the ballots a few minutes after 10 a.m.

It was a real production line. There were sealed metal boxes in a group on the floor. Some boxes contained the ballots that had been mailed into the Elections Office and a few contained ballots that had been brought in by voters. The seals on the boxes had numbers, which were recorded. This assured the boxes had not been tampered with.

Two women opened the boxes and counted the number of envelopes and recorded the count. (I learned later that the count was checked against the count of the optical reader that reads the ballots and counts the votes.)

Then the envelopes were put into plastic boxes for the next step. The mailing envelopes were opened by machine and the inner sealed ballot envelopes were then removed from the mailing envelopes. This separation completely removed any way to identify whose ballot it was. The output of the process was a collection of green tagged boxes of ballots ready for the optical scanner. The ballots were to be scanned later that day.

I took notes as I watched the proceedings. I was able to ask questions but I was careful to interrupt as little as possible. My questions were answered - mostly by just observing. I learned that every operation was carefully documented. The staff worked as a unit with little direction. I learned that, although they are temporary employees, they are regular temporary employees who return each election time.

I was relieved a little after 11:30 a.m. by the next Ballot Watcher. Carrie Phillips escorted him into the processing room and to the table. I was able to spend a few minutes briefing him on the processes we were observing. Ms. Phillips then escorted me back to the lobby.

Philip A. Clements is a Hayden resident.

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