When we check in a voter in Harris county, we scan their ID or perform a simple database search to pull up their unique voter ID.

If there are notes, like say someone needs to update their address, we see that and can help them do that before proceeding.
When a person has applied for a mail ballot, the system has a note there to that effect so that we'll see it if they show up in person.

We're supposed to have them fill out a mail ballot cancellation form and update the system so that it gets canceled right away.
I don't know for sure because I just started working early voting this year, but I understood that the voters weren't previously required to surrender the ballots during early voting. On election day, yes, but during early voting ballots can be slow to arrive in the mail.
This makes sense, too, because a voter filling out the mail ballot cancellation form and having it updated in the system when they vote in person effectively means even if it shows up later, it can't be used.
On the actual election day, however, the procedure is that the voter must surrender that ballot or else he must vote provisionally.

Not a big deal, really; if the mail ballot doesn't come in, the provisional ballot is pretty much automatically counted.
Here's where things got frustrating in Harris county.

At around 4 pm on the first day of early voting, we received a communication telling us ALL voters with a mail ballot note on their voter profile needed to vote provisionally if they didn't surrender their ballot.
This meant that we had to fill out the cancellation form AND provisional ballot forms for EACH VOTER who forgot, lost, threw away, or never received a mail ballot.

Maybe you didn't see my post about how many mail ballots we were getting back the first three days:
A lot of that stack is made up of surrendered ballots. But a good number were from folks who said they didn't request one, lost it, etc.

It takes at least 5 minutes to do a provisional vote in our system if you're being careful and thorough.
And you can't really do more than one provisional at a time if you want to be accurate. There's a huge risk you'll mix up the paperwork between two voters and screw something up.

And our clerks can't record provisionals. Only our judges can.
This means the county wanted us to record dozens of provisionals each day during early voting. It would be all we did all day as judges, with little time for other vital functions of our jobs.
At one point in the first week, we were auditing the paperwork, making sure we had accurate counts of provisionals and whatnot. We had entered all the provisionals into the system, but we had 4 missing from the list on the system. We started looking them up.
Turns out it was a minor thing - voters who weren't in the system (and thus voting provisionally) weren't showing because they had no official unique ID yet.

I still think they should have showed, but it's whatever. We had the paper copies.
But here's the really strange part. While looking these up, we noticed a few had the mail ballot notes removed from their unique ID.

The voters now appeared as if they never had a mail ballot notation at all.
We checked all of them. Most of them still had the designation, but some didn't.

And with our ID laws, someone could walk in with a bank statement or voter registration card and vote REGULARLY for that voter.

And that would mean their provisional wouldn't count.
And as I understand it, there's no way to unvote a fraudulent regular vote.

Now, the odds of this happening are pretty small, but it should still be a concern. It should still be something we guard against.
I tried raising the alarm about this, but I don't think anyone was too concerned at the elections office.

I made a list of these provisionals and which designation their unique ID was tagged with. Every few days I checked on them.
One of them changed from "Mail Ballot Requested" when we checked the person in, to no notation a couple of days later, and finally to "Voted Early".

I checked these provisionals against the matching mail ballot cancellation forms we were holding on to.
The cancellation forms we had turned in corresponded to the voters on the list with no notations.

The voters whose cancellation forms we still had retained the Mail Ballot Requested or similar status.

So we sent in the rest of the cancellation forms.

A few days later I checked all the names again.

Almost all of them were showing no notation, greenlighting the voter to vote regularly, with no mention of mail ballot status.
The county had us filling out both forms, as per directions in the handbook, and were processing the cancellation forms they received, which had the effect of removing those mail ballot notes from the system, but not indicating that the voter voted provisionally.
I'm not a programmer or even a really computer literate person, but the easy fix to me seems to be adding some designation that the voter had voted provisionally once he has done so.

At minimum, the voter should not be 'cleared' to vote regularly in the system.
When I brought this up to the party, they mentioned that while the scenarion of an ID thief was bad, a ballot thief was a) more likely and b) more problematic.

It turns out, they said, that mail ballots get counted first, before provisionals. Makes sense.
* IF a guy doesn't turn in his ballot because he never got it
* AND someone was lifting ballots from people's mail
* AND this guy votes provisionally
* AND that mail ballot gets sent in by the thief

The mail ballot will count, and the provisional won't.
To be clear, I don't think this happened.

But we don't need to guard only against what HAS happened but also what CAN happen. Anyone in any kind of security can tell you that.
When I was trying to get clarity from someone at County Elections, I mentioned how I was sympathetic to their heavy load managing 112 voting locations.

The harpy snapped at me "We don't have 112 locations, we have 139!" WUT?

So what if there were 27 unknown sites?
The harpy seemed so certain.
I guess someone COULD be sitting in a site flipping through those cancellation forms and voting REGULARLY for people who had filled out provisional ballots.
I don't know how they'd slip those into the counts, but I imagine they could.
After we raised a stink about this, we received new directions (like, the 4th change on this topic in the course of the week)

"Stop filling out the cancellation forms for provisional voters."

That left the Mail Ballot Requested designations in place.
I checked all those names again yesterday during election day. They were all still listed as voters with no mail ballot designations. So probably nobody anywhere tried to vote for them.

Actally probably nobody but me and a few other people even knew this was an issue.
But I'm still salty about it.

And really, you should be too.

Harris county is the third largest in the nation. And some of the people running the elections here had really, really bad processes and poor communications around them.
I'm confident in the elections I actually run. But it's getting harder to do it.

Everything y'all see people celebrate as 'increased access' has a learning curve and a cost associated with it that you never see.
Drive thru voting was great, right?
Except it's harder to monitor interactions and prevent undue influence.

24 hour voting sites are amazing, right?
Except the successful handoff to a night crew depends on trained and experienced clerks, which wasn't the case.
Extended hours until 10 pm were so convenient, right?
Except hardly anyone came then, and it also meant 16+ hour days for the judges, since we are first in, last out.

Then we'd have to be back on site at 6 am the next morning.
And do you know who serves as election judges?

Older people. Few twenty-somethings take those positions. How well do you imagine election judge grandmas can perform after several consecutive 16 hour days?
I can say all this now because everyone has voted, and Harris county seemed to be decisive in all of the results.

But I urge you to reconsider supporting all these massively expensive and expansive voting initiatives. This election was brutal to many election workers.
My last week as an alternate judge I clocked about 94 hours.

Maybe the medical professionhas positions with those kinds of hours, but I can't think of anyone else.
And believe me, as good as the pay is, it's not enough to compensate for the folks who have foul tempers and who bellow threats and who pitch fits when you tell them the law requires them to hide the candidate name on their hat/shirt/mask.

We took so much abuse in three weeks.
Anyway, my main point was about ballot security. It's something we need a lot more people involved in.

I believe it should be pretty easy to vote.

But I also believe voters need to make the effort to be registered and get proper ID where required.
I know during COVID nobody can get to the DPS to get a license, but we take expired ones in TX up to four years past the expiry date.

That's really generous.

We also have a process if you don't have an ID or passport, or have just an out of state license.
Just know that photo ID laws aren't there to stop you from voting, they are there to STOP SOMEONE FROM VOTING IN YOUR PLACE.
I just remembered an interaction I had with a voter during early voting that illustrates just how much you need honest people running elections.
Every voting location in Harris county has the ability to offer curbside voting for people with disabilities. So every clerk and judge gets trained on how to do it.
The best training is actually doing it, though.
The idea is to check the voter in like normal on an iPad we take to the car, then go detach the last machine on one of the lines and take it out to the voter.

Then we step aside but stay close, and let them vote without us standing over them.
We watch for other occupants trying to influence the voter, but otherwise we just make sure we're handy if there are questions.
So the buzzer goes off signaling a curbside voter has pulled up. I go out to direct them to park and check them in.

It's a nice gentleman about my age, and his mother. He's super excited to vote, and very chatty. His passport says he was born in Venezuela.
He hands me both of their passports, but I tell him we'll do them one at a time so I don't mix things up. And it'll give him time to rouse his mother, since she'd fallen asleep in the front seat, crumpled up into a little human ball.
I check him in and then go inside to get the voting machine. We always send two clerks (of opposite parties when possible) to bring out the machine, so that there are checks and balances, accountability. So I grab one of the Democrat young guys working and let him carry it.
We pass the voter the machine and I chat with the clerk while the voter does his thing.

When the voter finishes, he tells us he's going to have to help his mother vote.
He says she has Alzheimer's and needs his assistance. And this is where the ethics have to be solid.

You hear stories of folks mining mail ballots at retirement centers, or taking advantage of elderly or otherwise disabled people.
It's easy to see how that could be done at those places, but here's a guy expecting to vote for his mom at the polling place.

For the record, I don't really think he was trying to engage in fraud. But it's a hard rule we have that the VOTER has to request the assistance.
And I had been watching his mom each time I had occasion to be near the car. At best, she was taking a heavy nap. And there was no way she was in any shape to request assistance to vote.

I explained it to him.
'I'm so sorry, sir, I can only help your mother vote if she is able to request assistance herself. You can't request it for her. You still have the rest of the week to find a better time when she might feel more up to it.'
He understood, and said a friendly goodbye as he drove away.

But what are the odds this guy from Venezuela was going to vote for my team? And do it twice, by also 'helping' his mom to vote?
The clerk I took out with me was young, and probably new. I'm not sure how much of his training would have stuck about voters needing to request assistance themselves.

I could easily have let this guy vote for his mom, letting him prop her up and move her fingers.
I took an oath, though, and I do my best to live up to it.

That means something to me.

I don't care if the rest of the world is cheating. I have to look at myself in the mirror each day.
When we have 'runners' - voters who left the booth without casting a ballot - we can't press the button for them. We have to try to catch them and get them to return to do it themselves.

I mean, we COULD, but we don't.
In an election of this import and magnitude, we are relying on those ethics to restrain thousands and thousands of election officials, when they could easily break a simple rule for a 'good cause'.
I don't know about the mechanics in other places, but that doesn't matter.

What matters is the ethical weight that people working and administering elections carry with them. Without that, confidence in election results will continue to tank.
Every election process needs a thorough reevaluation to make sure as many loopholes as possible are closed.

Every system needs to be audited to ensure transparency, accuracy, and fairness.
And that needs to happen no matter which side you're on.

We should have honest conversations about how to build in more procedures to prevent fraud, regardless of how much of it actually occurs, regardless of whether it's isolated or widespread.
Unless we do these things, unless we fight for good, clear, honest, fair processes, and do so consistently, we have only ourselves to blame for this mess.

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More from @somethingfishie

22 Oct
I've worked 8 days now out of my 17 early voting day schedule as an election judge in Harris county.

Most of those days I worked 6 am to 7:30 pm, with a half hour for lunch.

It's long days and paperwork and staff management and voter assistance.

And sometimes a joy.
The neatest thing is the number of stories I get to witness, the small slices of life I get to observe.

For instance, each time the team discovers a first-time voter, they announce it to the whole room, and everyone cheers and claps.

I often tear up at that.
Every location in Harris is required to have staff fluent in Spanish, Vietnamese, and Chinese, so I've spent a lot of time getting to know our language specialist clerks.

They have been busy all week.
Read 20 tweets
25 Sep
It's funny how 'fact-checkers' keep making themselves LESS trustworthy every day, and then are so confused as to why people don't pay attention to them.

The other day I posted in several places on Facebook the U-Haul van footage from Louisville. 1/
Here's what the post looked like. This is exactly the wording I used. 2/
Today I find a series of messages from Facebook:

'Independent fact-checkers at PolitiFact say information in your post is missing context and could mislead people. We've added a notice to your post."
Read 16 tweets
20 Sep
It just struck me that the coalition of the left seems to be showing cracks, not over ideology, but over portions of the movement rejecting incrementalism.

I should have seen it with the election of the Squad, but today it's much more obvious.
That aversion to incrementalism was one of the huge hangups we've had on the right, one of the barriers to making progress on our own goals.

We were much less likely on the right to take small wins and move in the desired direction over time.
We've paid for that all-or-nothing philosophy.
Not to say that some 'slow your roll' Republicans were never interested in going in our direction.
But the incremental approach isn't good to fundraise off of, either.
Read 5 tweets
28 Aug
A few of you know I am an election judge in the Houston area. In October I will be working early voting for the November election.

Something tells me it won't be smooth sailing. 1/
First, I agreed to work the election because they really needed a Republican alternate judge in the location I'm assigned to. That provides the checks to the Democrat presiding judge.

Not enough people work elections in general. Early voting is even harder to staff. 2/
Additionally, early voting has been expanded to three weeks in Texas. Not crazy about that, but I get it. We start on 10/13.

And as alternative judge, I'll work 14 hour days most of the time. 6 am to 8 pm or later. (the overtime is great though) 3/
Read 23 tweets
28 Aug
Why DO these 'protesters' take video of everything they're doing, but also block cameras of street journalists trying to document what's going on?

I don't understand. It's not like they aren't proud of themselves.
In so many videos I see these demonstrators operating in a sea of cell phone recordings. Where are they publishing these recordings? Which platforms?

And what's the purpose?
Are they capturing their deeds for historical purposes, or to show they were a part of the resistance?

Are they that confident they will never have those recordings used against them?

Are they an intimidation tactic?
Read 4 tweets
23 Aug
I need to think through something here, indulge me if you will.

I think we can agree that cities like Portland, Seattle, and Chicago - among others - are kind of a mess right now. And also run by liberals/leftists.

I'm not yet drawing any conclusions, just baselining. 1/
I'd think it would be pretty difficult for a conservative, or maybe even a moderate, to effectively challenge the mayors of those cities for the forseeable future. I'm making that assumption based on the firmly liberal/leftist/Democrat makeup of the voting public there 2/
But I'm also noting the anger of activists at these mayors over policing issues, even as some of these cities turn around and bounce folks arrested during protests/riots/looting/whatever. 3/
Read 21 tweets

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