Sometimes the place to start when discussing an election is not the Candidates but rather the Process by which the Candidates are "whittled down" prior to that Tuessday in November that election officials dread, political junkies salivate over and the Media swarms about.
With the exception of two jurisdictions in the United States, one just outside of Washington D.C. in Maryland and one somewhere else that I can't remember off the top of my head, you must register to vote. In some states that means that you can walk in on election day, register and vote all at the same time. In other states there is a 7 day period between when you register and when you are able to vote. In some states it is a 14 day waiting period. In still other states there is a 30 day period between when you register and when you can vote. In every instance where there is a waiting period between registering to vote and voting there is a way around it. Yes, I can, and will, tell you how to circumvent the waiting period. Simply walk into your local polling place and ask for a form called an "Election Day Change Of Address" form. Fill out the form, give the form and your application to vote to the election official and you should be issued a ballot. You can register to vote in any Secretary of State office, County Clerk office, City Clerk office or Township Clerk office. Please be certain that you check with your Secretary of State office to be sure that you are registering before the "cut off date" for the election if you want to vote. If it is after the cut off date, and you want to vote, do an Election Day Change of Address.
Every state has slightly different procedures for voting absentee. For instance, Texas allows (or did) in person "absentee voting" in the two weeks preceeding an alection. Michigan will send you a ballotto your home after you fill out the proper form. In Washington State, unless the law has changed again in the last couple of years (which it could have) everyone votes by absentee ballot. Check with your Secretary of State website, County, City or Township clerk with regards to the requirements in your particular jurisdiction with regards to absentee voting because each state is different.
Military and Overseas Voting:
MOVE, the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, allows election officials to e-mail ballots to members of the Military, their dependants and voters who are outside of the United States (such as a student attending college in Australia). In May I wrote a post about MOVE so I am not really going to say a lot about it in this particular post.
Public Accuracy Testing:
In every jurisdiction where there is an election there must be a public accuracy test 4 to 6 weeks before the election. There will be a notice in the paper for a couple of weeks prior to the Public Accuracy Test (PAT). Normally the only people who show up to PATs are election officials. However, the reality is that in most places, your election officials would absolutely love it if you, the voting public, came to the test and witnessed that the machinery is accurate, sealed, etc...
What happens to the tabulators between the PAT and the election?
THey are locked in a closet that, by law, only the clerk of the election has the key/access to.
What about tabulators with wireless modems?
According to the Federal Election Commission, wireless modems may not be placed in tabulators. Nor may tabulators which modem in results be plugged into a phone line other than for the purpose of modeming in the results after the polls have been closed and everyone has voted.
When you go to the polls you see all sorts of people running around the place doing all sorts of things. Some are election inspectors, some are the election chairs, some are the local clerk of the election, some are poll watchers and some are poll challengers. Each has a different job on election day.
~ Election Inspectors~
These men and women are the people who check you in, give you your ballot, keep the press from harassing you while you are inside the polling place, answer your questions (or direct you to either the Election Chair or the Clerk of the Election) when there is a question that the inspectors are unable to answer. Election inspectors must, by law, (a) apply for the job of election inspector, (b) be equally divided between political parties, (c) have been certified every two years, (d) be willing to disclose their political affiliations and provide a copy of their certification to any voter who requests it, (e) work a very long day for very little pay.
The job of the election chair encompasses everything that the election inspectors do plus a few other duties. Election Chairs also "police" the parking lot to ensure that the media doesn't interfere with people coming to vote and that there is no electioneering (that is, campaigning) going on in the parking lot, sign all of the paperwork at the end of the night, seal the ballots that have been voted and those that have not been voted in the locked cans, call the police as needed, answer questions from both election inspectors and the public, hand out Provisional Ballots, supervise poll watchers and poll challengers and generally "troubleshoot" on election day. If you look around the polling place on election day for the person who is busiest you will find that the busiest people have one of two things written under their name on their name tag... "Election Chair" or "Clerk".
~Clerk of the Election~
If you live in a rural area you are much more likely to see the Clerk than if you live in a metro area. In all instances though the Clerk is going to be someone who has been elected by the voters. Either your County Clerk, your City Clerk or, if you are in a state with townships, your Township Clerk. In a metro area your clerk is likely to be tied to their office answering queries from election inspectors, State officials, the Press and the voting public. In rural areas your clerk is likely to be acting as an election inspector.
Poll watchers are not election officials. They cannot answer questions from voters. Their entire purpose is to *watch*. They are not, typically, volunteers from political parties. They can ask questions of election officials but they cannot ask questions of voters.
Poll challengers are people sent by political parties to challenge voters randomly. When you are a voter whose right to vote is challenged all you need to do is get out your driver's license (orother photo ID) and prove that you reside where you vote. If you don't have photo ID (election officials can accept passports, driver's licenses or state issued ID cards as proof positive that you are who you claim to be and do, in fact reside where you claim to) you need to produce 2 non-photo documents... a bill for a utility, your voter identification card, etc... Believe me, there are loads of things accepted... including the registration and proof of insurance to your vehicle (assuming that you drove to the polls).
What happens before the polls open on election day:
The very first thing that happens when the election officials get to the polling place on election day is that they are all sworn in. They swear that they will uphold the laws of the state and the Constitution and fulfill their duties as election officials to the best of their abilities.
The second thing that happens is that the Tabulators are turned on and what are called "Zero reports" are printed. Zero Reports are written confirmation that the totals for all races for the election are set to -0- . The election inspectors present at that time all must sign all of the Zero Reports generated. Those reports are left locked inside of the tabulator until the polls close. Only the Clerk of the election and the election chair have keys that would allow anyone to mess with either the machine or the ballot box and neither one of them will give up the keys. When I was the one with the keys... there was absolutely nothing that would have induced me to give up the keys to the ballot box or the tabulator... including the threat of death. (Gives a whole new meaning to "From my cold, dead hands" doesn't it?)
The third thing that is done is that the election inspectors are given their assignments, poll watchers are confined to their 4 foot square of space that they are allowed to stand (or sit) around in all day and poll challengers are assigned a particular election inspector to "pal around with" and ask questions while they are in the polling place. Both poll watchers and poll challengers must, by law, be identified as either "Name": Poll Watcher or "Name": Poll Challenger.
The last thing that happens before the polls open is that the Election Chair or the Clerk says, in a loud voice: "Hear ye, hear ye: The Polls are now open!"
Next up: During the election