Most participants in
the process tend to regard their few minutes behind the voting
machine curtain as anticlimactic and take it for granted. While
they're more likely than not at other times to consider their
single vote as just a drop in a statistical ocean, when they're
actually doing it they somehow realize it's important and want
their ballot choices duly registered.
In recent years,
there has been increasing concern over whether that will happen.
There is mounting evidence that the system may be getting
What happened in
Florida in the weeks after the 2000 presidential election
provided ample evidence that is not too remote a possibility --
not because free election has become outmoded, but because of
seemingly decreased ability to cope with the mechanics of
Delaware has never
had to contend with hanging punchcard chads and officials here
are completely satisfied that current concerns about the
competence of some of the voting machines used elsewhere don't
apply to the ones used here.
But that is not to
say that the state is immune from the more fundamental problem
looming over elections departments all over the nation. With
more and more people on the voter rolls as the two-year general
elections cycles roll around, there are fewer and fewer people
willing to offer their services to accommodate those voters.
"It certainly is a
concern, but we're in pretty good shape. It's not a crisis --
yet," said Barbara Lippincott, elections unit manager in the
state Department of Elections for New Castle County.
The polls, she said,
will be fully staffed come 7 a.m. on Sept. 11 for the Democrat
and Republican primary elections and on Nov. 2 for the general
However, it will not
take a great deal of perception on either day to recognize that
the people who check voter identification and operate the
machines are, on average, older than the people they serve. The
department hasn't determined by how much, but Lippincott said it
is safe to say that the average age of poll workers is somewhere
around the mid-70s, about what it reportedly is nationally.
"What I do know,"
she added, "we have quite a few who are in their 80s and have
been with us for many years."
For the first time
this year, there will be a sort of counterbalance. With a change
in state law, the department has been able to recruit teenagers
and has done so through the schools. There will be about 60 high
schoolers, as young as 16, scattered among polling places in the
county for the primary and as many as 100 in November. Each one
will have come with what amount to a recommendation by their
school principal as well as parental consent.
She said that, as a
group, the young people have demonstrated both enthusiasm and a
recognition of the responsibility they're undertaking. "We
expect and hope this will get them interested in voting as well
as working in future years," she said.
There is one
traditional election-clerk job some of them won't be able to do.
Last step in the poll-opening procedure is to have one of the
workers actually cast his or her vote to make sure the machine
is operative. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds not eligible to vote.
against anyone jumping to conclusions when, on primary day, they
find their election district combined with another one at the
polling place. That does cut down on the number of workers
needed to staff that poll, but the principal reason for
combining the county's 306 election districts into 230 polls,
she said, is to cut down on the number of machines that have to
be delivered and collected.
acknowledged, there is difficulty recruiting workers. That shows
up most pointedly in getting the requisite number of workers of
the proper political persuasion. "We don't need more Democrats
in the city of Wilmington, but we'd like to be able to find more
Republicans. That's reversed when it comes to looking for
Democrats in Greenville and Hockessin," he said.
requires that there be a Democrat and a Republican judge of
election at each polling place and that there be an even number
of Democrat and Republican inspectors over the county. The
clerks also must be divided between the major parties although
the law has been changed to permit persons registered as
independent or otherwise, or not registered, to also hold those
the workers are not volunteers. They're paid, but at rates which
fall well short of minimum wage for putting in an uninterrupted
14-plus-hour day -- from 6 a.m. until however long it takes
after the poll closes at 8 p.m. to retrieve the vote tallies and
close and seal the machines. They also are required to attend
two-hour training sessions before election days.
Everyone did get a
$15 raise for this year. Inspectors now pull down $220, judges
$180 and clerks $150. Clerks assigned to deliver the cartridge
containing the electronic version of the vote tally to the
department's vote-counting stations get an extra $15 for doing
about anybody can be a poll worker. Lippincott said the
department is making a particular effort to convince companies
to 'contribute' workers by allowing employees who sign up to
have paid time off to work the polls without having to
cut into their vacation or leave time.
What most people don't realize is that the law allows the
department -- and the inspector of election, who is the boss at
each polling place, on voting days -- to impress workers. They
can be summoned, just as people are summoned for jury duty. An
inspector could actually order someone showing up to vote when
the poll opens to remain there the rest of the day.
Realizing that such strict application of the law would
certainly raise a degree of unhappiness -- to put it mildly --
the department's policy is apply the same rule it instructs poll
workers to apply in their other decision making: Use common
"In a situation like that, an inspector could certainly ask for
volunteers, but there's really not a need to go beyond that. A
poll could operate one [worker] short, or the department could
shift people around if it had to," Lippincott explained. "We
would only draft [workers] in a major emergency." That hasn't
happened any time within recent memory, if it ever happened.
One source of workers, which actually is provided for in the
law, has all but dried up. Each major party is supposed to
supply a list of eight potential workers in every election
district. "The last time we got a list was for the general
election in 2000. It was from one party and had four names.
That's not four names per polling place, but four names for the
entire county," she said.
As for machine reliability, Lippincott said that, unlike other
jurisdictions where electronic 'touch-screen' are raising
concerns, Delaware's machines, which have been in used since the
mid-1990s, are not of the same breed.
"They may seem like they're 'touch-screen', but what you're
actually doing when you touch it is pushing a button," she
Some voters are still confused about the need to push the green
panel at the bottom of the machine after making their candidate
selections. Those who leave the machine without doing so can
easily be instructed to return and do so. Those who think it
should be done after each candidate selection end up voting for
just one person on the ballot.
There also is a 'paper trail' created. In addition to the
electronic cartridge retrieved from the machine and used to
tally votes quickly, there are results printed on paper tapes
taken out. And the sealed machines retain the original data
until the election has been fully certified and the machines are
"The only problem we've had has been in a few cases where [poll
workers] incorrectly entered the count from absentee ballots,"
she said. "That was human error and can be corrected."
So far, she added, there have been, literally, no machine