Board of Election Meeting Part Deux

Chris Robarge at podium, Worcester police officers at door to meeting room
Photo of Board of Election meeting 9-10-12
Standing room only at B of E meeting. Packed gallery, too

I attended the Board of Election meeting this evening. Work ganged up on me so I was late getting there. Luckily, NicoleCommaWoo live-blogged the first part of the meeting. Her live blog leaves off (as her computer was dying) just about the point where I came in, so you can get the first part of the meeting there. You can also listen to the entire meeting audio, thanks to Steven Jones-Agostino, and read the flow chart that poll workers use to determine what kind of ballot to offer here thanks to David LaBoeuf.

I arrived just as Dinah Winant was taking the podium, so I missed the Tina Hood breakdown described by Nicole. The meeting room was standing room only, with half a dozen people standing in the doorway and a full gallery. Winant expressed her concern as a citizen that anyone voting illegally would negate her vote. She appreciates what Activate Worcester is trying to do. She also thinks it’s a massive conflict of interest for a city councilor to be in the polling place (in an election in which the city councilor is not on the ballot).

Chris Robarge of ACLU took the podium next. He discussed his observations on Sept. 6 at 10-5, the precinct where Bonnie Johnson was “observing”. He notes that her observing included constantly interacting with voters, creating hostile environment. He saw City Clerk Rushford talking  to two police officers outside and Johnson filming the interaction. He followed behind Johnson when she re-entered and observed her continuing to record with her cell phone as she walked past the check-in table. He informed Rushford, who requested that Johnson take her phone to her car as recording on cell phones is not allowed in Worcester polling places. (This is an important point and would come back later in the meeting.)

Robarge has 3 part request for city:

  1. Provide further training for poll workers, including police officers assigned to polls who are also election officials
  2. Post signs at all polls in all the languages that the ballots are printed in stating “All eligible voters have the right to vote today” and a blown-up version of the section of the flow chart that includes all acceptable proofs of residence
  3. Have the names of any people removed from polling places by police or clerk submitted to attorney general for possible sanctions.

Mary Francois takes the podium. She has lived in the same place and voted at the polling place four doors down from her house for 9 years. This year she was told she had to go to an address she has never heard of to vote and wants to know why her polling place was changed. Rushford explains about redistricting as best he can in a brief time, tells her to call him in the morning and he will personally check whether she is on the inactive list and locate her new polling place. She still seems confused and unconvinced as she leaves the podium, but at least two people approach her in the hall outside with phone numbers in hand and offers to drive her to the poll (did I mention I love this city?) before Rushford gets to her with his phone number written down and reiterates that she call him and he will make sure that she knows where to vote and understands why. He tells her that he wants to make sure that every eligible voter in Worcester who wants to vote will be able to cast a ballot.

Meanwhile, back in the meeting room: David LeBoeuf displays the flow chart showing poll workers how to complete the check-in process. He says that he observed a number of infractions on primary day, including people on inactive list being told to go get their ID rather than proof of residency. He states that there seemed to be a lot of confusion between challenge and provisional ballots — not the first time this was mentioned. Poll workers in my precinct, in fact, admitted that they had some confusion when the day started, but they figured it out. LeBoeuf wants to know how many inactive voters were given provisional vs. challenge ballots. For reference, based on flow chart, inactive voters should receive either a regular ballot (if they show proof of residence) or a challenged ballot (if they don’t show proof of residence).

Chris Robarge at podium, Worcester police officers at door to meeting room
Gratuitous shot of Chris Robarge speaking at Board of Election meeting. It was the only time I saw both officers standing at the doors and listening to a speaker.

Next up: A woman takes the podium to describe feeling intimidated by a poll worker when she came in to vote.

Kevin Ksen is up next. He makes the point that this is not the first time the issue of aggressive poll monitors has come up, but that there has been a clear escalation of the tactics used in this primary election. He calls the escalation “purposeful” and says it is part of an active effort by Activate Worcester to recruit and train poll workers. He tells the Board that anyone here today should leave feeling that “strong, swift action” will be taken against efforts to prevent people from voting.

David Coyne steps up to describe his observations on primary day. He notes that chalk had been used to write “Show ID to vote” on the street in front of at least one precinct, and that there is videotape showing at least one person slipping flyers under doors at the Murray Ave apartment complex telling people that they would be required to show ID in order to vote in the primary.

He said that the efforts to discourage people from voting concentrated on precincts with a large Latino, black and Asian population. He refers to the actions in this primary as a “deliberate, concerted effort to subvert the vote,” and notes that when he went to vote in his own precinct, there were no problems, no aggressive poll watchers and “no one putting out flyers telling me I had to show ID to vote.”

Coyne draws loud applause when he refers to the chalked graffiti and states, “Anyone who wrote that should be criminally prosecuted.”

Jim Savage is next up to the podium. He states that this was his first time volunteering as a poll inspector. He was assigned to 10-5 and 10-3. He presents the board members with a 4-page affidavit and proceeds to give a long, rambling statement that was difficult to follow, but stated a few important things. He states that the city clerk did an excellent job of training and that he is sure he followed all of the rules, though he doesn’t see the problem with requiring people to show IDs.

Still, he says, he didn’t ask to see ID, but a lot of the people who came to vote had their IDs with them anyway. He’s glad they did, because about 75% of them were Spanish and he couldn’t understand what they were saying so it was helpful to see their IDs so he could find their names on the list. Which is an interesting thing to note, since the question of ID or proof of residence shouldn’t even come up until the poll worker has located the voter’s name on the list and seen an ID or i(nactive) beside it.

He also defends telling people to go home to get proof of residency because, according to him, it afforded them the chance to cast a regular ballot and be sure that their votes were counted, and that “to not give them a chance to go home and get a utility bill would be the same as disenfranchising them.” Unfortunately, no one asked the obvious follow-up: how many of them returned to cast a ballot?

He also noted that he had taken a 2nd poll workers training provided by the Republican party, and that he had heard there that in the last election there were “other people” marking voters’ ballots for them and that people who were not eligible were allowed to vote. That’s why we should respect the observers who are there to ensure that only people who are eligible actually cast votes. He finishes by saying that he is opposed to forbidding poll watchers from using cell phones inside the polling places because there is “no law preventing people from taking video inside the polling place.”

He’s still rambling after 10 minutes, and the commission shuts him down and ends public commentary on this item.

The commissioner does responds, however, that there is no law against taking video, but the city’s guidelines for poll monitors forbids using cell phones to record inside polling places because it is against the law to record audio, and cell phones record both together.

Next item on the agenda: Scott Rickert complains that the building in 5-3 was not completely safe and accessible. Rushford apologizes and takes full responsibility, states that a temporary ramp had been provided for the polling place in the last election, but that he had been under the impression that the building had been renovated and the temporary ramp was not needed for this election. He will see to it personally that the polling place is fully accessible for November.

Next, Josh Meduna explains rules regarding photography at the polls:

Photography is permitted from behind the guardrail, as long as it doesn’t interfere with voting, infringe on voter privacy or record the ballot being marked or after it has been marked. In addition, video is allowed, but audio recording is not allowed.

The remaining items concern parking issues at Belmont Towers and Murray Ave as well as signage problems at Belmont Towers. Rushford says he will ensure that there are additional police officers to help keep traffic moving in and out of the parking lots. He will also see about additional signage, and consider sending out a postcard to voters using Belmont Towers announcing availability of alternative parking for that polling place.

John Goggins asks about deadline for changing regulations about poll workers and poll monitors. He says he wants to do something before the November election, but wants to be sure that there’s enough time to print up and disseminate new training materials. Rushford will get ruling from the state on that.

Rushford goes on to state that the “aggrressive tactics beind used across the city are new to us.” He notes that it was not evenly spread across the city. It was targeted and deliberate. Police have never had to remove people from the polls or arrest them. This is the first time we “could not rely on the fact that observers would be respectful of poll workers.”

David LaPierre makes a a motion that the city provide 2 more training sessions for wardens, clerks and inspectors at the polls before the November elections, and that the training be mandatory for wardens. Seconded and passes unanimously.

John Goggins moves that Rushford get clarification from the state about the use of video recording and photography in polling places. Seconded and passes unanimously.

Next meeting scheduled for Sept. 20 at 6 p and meeting is adjourned.


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Written by Deb Powers

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