By Maddy Urken, Community Columnist
I spent most of Election Day 2012 wearing a name tag that said, “Poll Monitor — Maddy Urken — I Can Help.”
Poll monitors are sometimes “challengers” — political party representatives who challenge the eligibility of suspect voters. That wasn’t me. I was part of an effort to provide voting information and to report indications of voter intimidation. That effort was supported by Election Protection, a national, nonprofit organization, Arizona Advocacy Network Foundation, a Phoenix-based nonprofit and Tucson’s Border Action Network. After completing training in the surprisingly intricate Arizona balloting rules, monitors were certified by a state-recognized political party and sent to a polling place in Tucson.
I didn’t witness any attempts to intimidate specific voters, but the crowded conditions and two-hour wait-times might have discouraged some. Too few poll workers were expected to serve many more voters than usual. The need to validate identification and explain provisional ballots to many voters made for a slow process.
During training, we were told that some poll supervisors might not welcome us with open arms. That was definitely not my experience. My supervisor was very supportive as I walked up and down the line answering questions — questions that busy poll workers were then spared — and helping voters with early ballots squeeze through the crowd to get to the drop-off box.
My name tag said I could help but that wasn’t always true. I couldn’t help voters who, although registered and in the right polling place, didn’t have the right kind of identification, even at home. After I explained ID requirements to a few people, they went home to retrieve what they needed to cast a regular ballot. They said they would come back and they did!
I couldn’t help a young woman who arrived at 6 p.m. with an early ballot from Maricopa County. She said a Maricopa official told her she could drop her ballot at a Tucson poll. Maybe the official told her she could drop it at “any polling place” meaning “any polling place in the county in which you are registered.” About a dozen others arrived early in the day with Maricopa ballots in hand. I suggested driving to the nearest Maricopa poll — a few seemed ready to go!
Some people didn’t know that a driver’s license is valid ID only if it’s an Arizona license. Others didn’t know that an Arizona license works as stand-alone ID only if the address on the license and the address they registered with match. This matters most to students and other frequent address-changers who often don’t have the required supplementary ID.
My poll didn’t have precinct maps or computers. My trainer told us to bring our smartphones in order to use the county’s website to confirm a voter’s polling place or registration status. More helpful, and much faster than the website, was the telephone hotline provided by Election Protection. The hotline workers answered the phone quickly, were very knowledgeable, and returned calls promptly if they needed to consult with an attorney.
“Provisional ballot” entered the vocabulary of many Arizonans this year. People who didn’t meet the requirements for receiving a regular ballot could get a provisional ballot. The ballots are “provisional” because they don’t count unless those requirements are met by the relevant deadline. Provisional ballots contributed to the large number of votes that remained uncounted many days after this election.
A Green Valley voter told me she was denied a regular ballot because her name couldn’t be found on the roster. It was only after she cast a provisional ballot that she learned that her name was indeed on the roster — a missing space put her name in the wrong place. Similar roster-related problems occurred throughout Pima County.
Whether problems at the polls were the result of deliberate intimidation tactics as some suggest or were just indications that our systems need improvement, it’s up to us to demand that our state and county governments provide systems that count all votes quickly and reliably and that encourage all citizens to vote.
Arizona Secretary of State Bennett’s recent attention to our voting systems and the need for reducing the number of provisional ballots is certainly welcome. System changes should not be limited to technology improvements: We need student IDs that are as acceptable as an Arizona driver’s license. Easily understood descriptions of ID requirements should be broadcast early and often. Polling places should have precinct maps. Voter registration cards should be in the hands of all registrants in time for upcoming elections.
Citizens are responsible for knowing how to vote, but government should be in the business of removing voting roadblocks, not creating them.
The original article can be viewed here.