Sunday, October 25, 2020

Why I spit on your technology. Or, whaddya have to do to make your vote stick around here?

      This is probably not a photograph of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. But I won't swear to it.

I went to vote early today, here in New York City. I won’t do it by mail, for two reasons.

First because the local Elections Board screwed up the Democratic primary mail-in ballot in my Congressional district so badly a few months ago that it took over a month to sort out. And second, because I trust a United States Postal Service run by Louis DeJoy about as far as I trust an overweight python with an eating disorder. 


DeJoy, with his bullet head and tough guy sneer, somehow makes me think that if this had been Italy toward the end of the end of WWII, they would have strung him upside down from a gas station awning before they disfigured his face with bullets. Not to mention whoever it is who has a strong enough stomach to be sleeping with him.


I take a hike, to take a hike,

to take yet another hike


But I disgress. I went to vote. The polling place had moved from the usual school, three blocks from my home, to the dormitory gym of the City University’s nursing school, a hike of more than half a mile for me. I have walking issues, as well as standing for a long time with no place to sit issues. So I grabbed a cane for extra support and hiked to the polls by bus. 

When I got there, I discovered that the line snaked back in the direction I had come from for three blocks. I took a three block hike in the direction I had come from, got on a slow-moving line, and after a half hour a woman holding a “handicapped” sign yelled at my clothing. She yelled, “Hey, you, the red jacket, get off that line!” 


The woman shouting at my red jacket was a Handicapped Voter Assistance lady, and since I had a cane, I was given to understand that I was now handicapped and had better accept assistance. (Actually, I would have needed the assistance a lot more if I didn't have the cane.)

The Handicapped Assistance consisted of enduring the glares of thousands of people who had been waiting patiently on a three-blocks-long line while I got taken on another hike from to the rear to the head of the line, inside the dormitory building. I was panting to keep up with the lady and begging her to slow down as she did a quick trot to the polling place. If you're handicapped and have trouble walking, you'd damned well better be able to run.


Once inside the building, I found myself on yet another line, this one to sign in. In the good old days, like a year ago, they put a book on a table, and you signed the book with a pen, after which they handed you a blank ballot. Now they’ve got all kinds of goddamned technology complicating the process.


A poll worker rotated a  I-pad screen in my direction. The screen was approximately waist high to me, vertical on a pole rather than flat on a table, and four inches away. She handed me what looks like a pen, but with a rubber tip. “Sign in,” she told me.


The pressure over 

pressing too hard


I tried. I swear, I tried. But you try signing an I-pad with a rubber doohickey that looks like the eraser side of a pencil, while bent over nearly in half, with an I-pad screen you need to sign while it's in a vertical position, rather than flat on a table. I tried to write my signature. Nothing appeared on the screen.


You’re pressing too hard!” the poll worker shouted at me.


So I pressed softer. Still nothing.


“Still too hard!” the poll worker said, furiously.


Eventually, after some pen strokes appeared on the screen and others didn’t, it became evident that the problem was not that I was pressing too hard. The problem was, I wasn’t pressing hard enough. By really bearing down, I was able to make some squiggles to appear on the screen. I say squiggles because, thanks to the weird confluence of the screen at a height not meant for signing anything, the bizarre vertical angle, the pen, and pressure issues, the signature bore almost no resemblance to my customary signature.


“This doesn’t look like my signature,” I said to the poll worker.


“That’s because you pressed too hard!” she shouted at me, furiously.


“Okay, may I have my ballot?” I asked.


“The machine will print out your ballot” said the poll worker, pointing to a machine behind her. It looked like a cross between a popcorn vending machine and some set designer’s fantasy of what a computer should look like, circa some Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy movie.


The microchip signature war


So I waited. And waited. People behind me in line began groaning. I was attracting glares again. My imagination began to run wild. I wondered if a bunch of microchips were comparing the signature I had left on file when I registered to vote with the scribble I’d left on the I-pad screen. If so, they were most assuredly working themselves up to a microchip version of a free-for-all fist fight to settle whether I was really cranky old me, or an imposter.  


Still another thought occurred to me. And that was, that at the other end of whatever I had signed, a group of Proud Bois and a group of Antifa were sitting around a table pointing paint ball guns at each other and screaming bloody murder that no-it-isn’t, yes-it-is the Crank’s signature.


Third degree with a rubber truncheon

And then I began to wonder if I’d get dragged off the line and given the third degree with a rubber truncheon by some underling of Attorney General Barr. In this awful era of Trump, nothing is ever surprising.


“Sometimes the computer prints out the ballot very fast and sometimes not,” the poll worker said to me. “Yours,” she added accusatorily, “is taking a while.”


Eventually  — Was it about four minutes? I didn’t time it. — a ballot plopped out of the popcorn machine. I had to take it to a little booth and fill it out. 

I got to fill in a teensy-tiny little oval for Joe Biden and Kamela Harris. And another teensy-tiny oval next to the name of my Congresswoman, Carolyn Maloney. The ballot had a reverse side, with names of about seven candidates for various judicial positions. I had never heard of any of them, but it didn’t matter. The Republicans, and the Libertarians hadn’t put anybody up against them. I filled in the judge candidates' teensy-tiny bubbles anyway. 

Then I marched my ballot over to the ballot reader machine. "Does it matter which side is up?" I asked a poll worker.

"I'll put it in the machine for you," the poll worker replied.

She did. The machine spat it out. She tried again. Another mechanical spit. The third time, the machine finally decided it had better eat what it was fed, and my ballot disappeared into its maw.


Go stick your sticker


Somebody handed me an “I VOTED EARLY!” sticker. I stuck it to my red jacket.


Then I limped out of there, again enduring the sneers of the people who’d been waiting in line for hours and hours, until I found a bus home.


One block from the polling place, the sticker fell off my jacket and ended up in a puddle in the gutter. If they don’t even have the technology to make an “I VOTED EARLY” sticker that can stick to a nylon jacket for more than three minutes, why should I have any confidence that my vote will stick, either?

Or maybe when I stuck the sticker to my jacket, I was pressing too hard.


grossmismanager said...

As a longtime Elections Officer, I think you’re remarkably unappreciative of the people risking their own health (and sanity) to make it as easy as possible for you to vote. Put yourself in their shoes next time, eh?

grossmismanager said...

As a longtime Elections Officer, I think you’re remarkably unappreciative of people who risk their health and sanity to make it as easy as possible for you to vote. Next time, try wearing their shoes.

The New York Crank said...

I appreciate their public spirited willingness to help. I don't appreciate rudeness, misinformation, and uncaring inefficiency. I also don't appreciate some things mentioned here that had nothing to do with them — particularly pertaining to badly thought out or poorly designed technology. Ultimately, the people who suffer most — and who incur the same health risks as the poll workers, are the voters.

I assume, grossmissmanager, that I don't have to post this response twice.

Yours with extreme crankiness,
The New York Crank

grossmismanager said...

The only reason I posted twice is because it continued to show 0 comments after each attempt (including a restart, to be sure).

The New York Crank said...

That is because this is a comment moderated blog (see the masthead) and that your comments will not post until I approve them. It might be helpful to learn how blogger works.

Yours with increasing crankiness,
The New York Crank

bowtiejack said...

Everybody here know what an ATM is?
You know those things you can get cash out of? In drugstores, casinos, groceries and everywhere?

Isn't it strange that where money is involved, it's so efficient and widely available.
But where democracy and voting are involved, it's so fucked up?

Infidel753 said...

Certainly poll workers have a difficult job, but that's no excuse for behaving like assholes. There's even less excuse for the incompetent equipment design.

Buttermilk Sky said...

When I lived in NY it was sign the book (once the poll worker, who appeared to date from the Smith-Hoover election, found the page), go in the booth, flip the switches, crank the big handle and you're done. The only time I had trouble was 2004, when the machines (also c. 1928) broke down; they handed me a paper ballot.

I see the Empire State has worked hard to make voting as discouraging as it is in Redneckistan. The only thing missing is photo ID. Those screens are not made to be signed, but as part of a complex and sadistic experiment to determine the human breaking point. Really, all you need to vote is a piece of paper and a pencil. Democracies like India and Britain have used this low-tech approach for years.

If I were a poll worker I'd be stressed out, too, but the lady in charge of wrangling the disabled needs re-training.