Volunteer poll workers mistakenly barred a Daily Planet reporter from watching them handle data chips embedded with thousands of electronic votes shortly after the polls closed on election night.
Jesse Taylor was reporting on the election at the polling station at City Hall, but when the time came for poll workers to remove memory cards from the station’s seven electronic touch screen voting machines, the head poll worker—against state law—ordered Taylor out of the building.
The worker, according to Taylor, said that only poll workers were allowed in the room when the data cards were removed from the machines. Taylor eventually was forced to stand between two sheriff’s deputies in a hallway where he could not view poll workers handling the pocket-sized memory cards embedded with the day’s votes.
Although no fraud was alleged, voter rights advocates said denying public access to any part of the voting process casts a cloud of skepticism over poll numbers.
“When the memory cards are taken out unobserved it’s a big problem, because how would you know that the memory card transported to [election headquarters] is what came out of the voting machine,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.
Alameda County Assistant Registrar Elaine Ginnold said the poll workers had misinterpreted state election law. “Every scrap of what we do is open to the public,” she said. A poll worker can require a citizen to stand a certain distance from the workers, but the worker cannot keep the citizen from viewing the proceedings, she said.
Touch screen voting machines record votes onto a memory card. When the polls close, a poll worker removes a pocket-size card and places it into a package in the presence of the other workers and they all sign a certificate declaring that they witnessed the process.
Sheriff deputies are always stationed at polling stations during closing, Ginnold said, to make sure that no one tries to steal or destroy paper ballots or the memory cards.
Ginnold said that cases of poll workers overzealously guarding privacy are not uncommon, even though they are instructed during their training to allow public observation of the entire process.
“This isn’t something they do every day,” she said. “Sometimes they mistakenly think the closing process has to be closed.”
For Taylor, who has spent more than 30 years in the political arena, it was only the second time he was tossed from a polling station.
The other instance was in Selma, Ala., in 1966, when the notorious Sheriff Jim Clark booted Taylor and other volunteer poll watchers with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.