Skip to comments.First-hand account of District 2 electioneering violations
Posted on 09/21/2008 5:19:49 AM PDT by CE2949BB
First-hand account of District 2 electioneering violations
Susan Bergmann recounts a disturbing day of District 2 poll watching and electioneering violations by partisans.
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[Editor's note: California Elections Code § 18370 forbids certain activities within 100 feet of a polling place, such as electioneering, placing an election sign, or speaking to a voter about whom to vote for.]
Just two days before the election, I decided I wanted to spend Election Day as an observer. So I read some materials about election rules, charged up my digital camera, and found a friend willing to spend part of the day with me. What I found surprised me.
Here in Oakland's District 2, I did not see any evidence of voters being discouraged from voting or disenfranchised in any way. But what I did see was very disturbing: illegal activities on behalf of political campaigns that ranged from minor (and curtailed by assertive poll workers) to a major disturbance that required police intervention.
At 8 a.m., Karen Newton (National Park Service Ranger) and I met at my house, with the goal of visiting every polling place in Oakland's District 2. She drove, I navigated, and we set off.
We found problems at the very first stop, Garfield Elementary School, just a few blocks from my home. Loud, aggressive electioneers were advertising for their local candidate very close to the polling entrance. The lead poll worker informed us that they had been right at the front entrance, and had told him, "if theres no chalk mark, we can go wherever we want." So he found a piece of chalk and marked off 100 feet in either direction of the entrance. Meanwhile, when he wasn't looking, someone wrote in chalk, right near the entrance, "VOTE FOR ALLISON."
Our first few stops were in the Eastlake and San Antonio neighborhoods. At almost every stop, we either personally observed aggressive electioneering or poll workers reported problems with illegal campaign activities. Several polling places also reported problems with machines. Not everyone could figure out how to make the scanning machines work and, often, a minor problem would make the machine stop working. Neither Karen nor I knew how to fix the machines, so we weren't much help. But in each place, there was an old-fashioned ballot box as well, so no votes were missed.
At Roosevelt Middle School, the poll workers reported that there had been a man who was "snooping." They said they hadnt trusted him, and he had tried to look at their materials. But he had gone before we arrived.
At Bella Vista Elementary School, there were electioneers very close to the building entrance. In addition, signs for several local candidates had been placed along the edge of the school property. The head worker was unclear on the rules regarding polling places and uncomfortable confronting the electioneers. Karen was not at all shy. She told the campaigner, "Im in law enforcement. I know 100 feet when I see it, and thats not 100 feet from the entrance." The head poll worker was also unwilling to deal with the campaign signs, and told us it was up to the school principal. A quick visit to the principal's office was informative. She did not know the signs were there, and wanted them removed from the school property immediately. So Karen and I went out and removed the signs; workers from Abel Guillens campaign were there and took care of their signs, as well as signs for Phil Angelides. No one was present from the Allison campaign, so a school district employee took her signs and put them in his truck.
Once we got above Highway 580 (to the more affluent neighborhoods), the problems disappeared. There were no electioneers to be seen, no signs near entrances, and the polling places were all well organized and running smoothly. There were still problems with non-working scanners, but manual ballot boxes were used when the machines were not working.
Karen needed to get back to work around noon, so we decided to visit one last polling place on the way back to my house. When I went inside, the poll workers assumed I was from the Registrar of Voters. They were desperate to see me, and anxious for me to take over! It turned out there were 2 Chinese American workers who spoke little English, and 2 high-school students who didnt really know what was going on. They were all upset because "Polly," the head worker, had left two hours before and hadnt returned. They could not get the scanner to work, and no one from the Registrars office had shown up.
I called the Registrar again, and the high-school students struggled to help the voters who came in. Finally, I told the workers I had to leave but promised to return.
I returned about 30 minutes later, and "Polly" had returned. She smiled brightly, with bloodshot eyes, and told me everything was fine now. She did not appear to be sober.
I made another call to the Registrar, letting them know the latest details. This time, their response was immediate. Within ten minutes, a replacement for "Polly" had arrived. I retuned for a final visit around 7:00 p.m. The polling place was bustling with activity, and all six poll workers were present and keeping busy (and Polly no longer looked high). The machine was working smoothly and had logged over 200 voters since it had been fixed.
The most dramatic incident of the day occurred back at Roosevelt Middle School around 3:30 p.m. When I returned for my follow-up visit, I checked in again with the poll workers.
"How are things going?" I asked. The head worker, an elderly African American man, paused.
"Fine," he said, "except that guy sitting out there telling people how to vote and handing them stuff." He showed me an Aimee Allison brochure that a voter had given him as she entered the poll. It was the same man that had been "snooping" earlier in the day.
I went to the door and spoke with the man sitting at the entrance. He was wearing an inside-out orange Allison t-shirt and held a plastic bag with UFCW written on it. I told him he needed to move to 100 feet from the entrance.
At this, the man jumped up and immediately became belligerent. He said, "I dont have to move. Im just sitting here. Im allowed to sit here." I told him that he was not allowed to campaign near the entrance. He then demanded to know who I was, and to know who had said he was campaigning. Soon, he was back inside the poll, challenging the elderly workers. He demanded to know their names (each was wearing a nametag with their first name on it) and got right in their faces.
I proceeded to call the Registrar of Voters to report the situation. They asked me to ask the man if he would speak to them. When he refused, they asked me to call the police.
While I was on hold, waiting for the police, several more workers with UFCW bags arrived. I naïvely assumed that "Orange Shirt" was simply a renegade, and that his associates would help control him. But when I explained the situation, they defended him, and insisted they all had the right to stand wherever they liked. At one point, when I was inside, the head poll worker went outside, and "Orange Shirt" insulted him and called the other worker (who happened to be the head poll worker's mother) "senile." Around this time, the older women told me they felt scared of the situation and were afraid to leave the poll at closing time.
Fortunately, there were few voters present during this time. I believed that if potential voters showed up, they might have been intimidated by the hostile situation and left without voting.
When I left the poll, the four campaigners all stood together, not far from the entrance. I avoided eye contact and crossed to the other side of the street. The man in the orange shirt then began chasing me. I ran to my car. He then ran to his car and began chasing me in it, laughing.
Just as I was pulling away, two men from the Registrars office showed up. I jumped out and quickly gave my version of the situation. Since "Orange Shirt" had left and only one of the four workers was still there, I was afraid that the Registrar workers might not understand the severity of the situation. But, in fact, the one remaining man with the UFCW bag immediately began arguing with the Registrar employees, and it seemed the problem at the poll was obvious.
I returned several hours later to the school, and all was calm. The workers said the police had come and taken a report. They indicated that the police had been helpful, and had given them the number for the Sheriff, to call in case of further problems.
I took two photos during the incident. Unfortunately, my hands were shaking at the time, and the pictures are blurry. Sigh. I didnt do so well at documenting the incident. But I believe if I hadnt intervened, "Orange Shirt" would probably have persisted all day with his activities.
I learned a lot from this experience. First, strong, well-trained leaders are needed at each polling place to control illegal campaigning.
Second, it appeared that workers for one candidate were targeting polling places in the poorer neighborhoods, and using aggressive and illegal techniques.
Third, there was no system set up for anyone to check the polls for problems throughout the day; I believe that the workers at each polling place were just told to call if there are problems. But sometimes, the workers did not seem to be aware that they should make a phone call to get help and, when they did call, the response was not necessarily speedy. I found that my calls to the Registrars office were much more effective than theirs had been. It seemed to me that the problem was not unresponsiveness by the Registrars office, but rather poll workers who were not given proper guidance about how to deal with emergency situations.
I am now curious about something. Are there any penalties for candidates who use illegal activities on Election Day? If not, I hope that documenting and publicizing these techniques might provide a deterrent for candidates in the future.
I've underlined the disturbing parts.
Mods: If this article is too old, please kill it.
Don’t forget...cell phones and Youtube are a poll watcher’s best friend.
I’m sorry, but UFCW is?
Poll Watchers, always bring a cell phone, a video camera and a large male friend.