EDITORIAL Burlington Free Press 11 September 2008
Fix balloting mess by November electionWell, it's more than that: it's incompetence from City Hall. Notice in the news reports how the SoS and City Hall nincompoops just pass the buck and blame the "newbie" poll workers. Owen told me he had phoned City Hall repeatedly about the ballot shortfall and it took a while for them to respond. Otherwise, the election day ran smoothly up until the time they had to count the votes - and it was the convoluted, complex SOP's of the Secretary of State's office that bogged the poll workers down. Notice that tv media reports give the impression that poll workers walked off the job, when in fact, Owen Mulligan was in communication with City Hall about the problems at every turn and asked for assistance. You'd think City Hall had come to rescue democracy, from the way Pacy and Bergman explained it. Notice that Kiss appointee Pacy is again not accepting responsibility for his failure to perform, after the mess up in March.
Few people seemed to care very much about the primary on Tuesday, including state and Burlington city officials charged with running the election.
Amid a voter turnout that approached historic lows, the Burlington election was beset with problems including a shortage of ballots, and delays in tallying results and promptly reporting the outcome.
State and city election officials have less than eight weeks to make sure there is no repeat of the mangled performance that marked primary day in Burlington. They need to make sure the city can handle the expected heavy turnout for the November elections that include the presidential race.
Lack of attention to details seems to be at the core of the problems that tripped up the Burlington voting.
In two wards, the Secretary of State's Office sent too few ballots to the polling place -- 200 ballots instead of 2,000 in Ward 5 -- yet local officials failed to notice the shortfall until too late. The only way an 1,800-ballot shortfall goes unnoticed is if nobody at the state and local level is paying attention.
The problem with the ballots added to the difficulties poll workers were having in filling out results forms required by the state. Some election workers were too exhausted to finish the task. Election officials were forced to find more counters at 11 p.m., four hours after the polls had closed.
Owen Mulligan, clerk for Ward 6, told the Free Press that he received inadequate training before election day, adding City Hall had failed to do its job.
In general, results were slow to make their way to City Hall, something Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Ben Pacy attributed to having to follow directions from the Secretary of State's Office. The same requirements, however, failed to significantly delay results from the other Chittenden County towns.
But for Burlington, following election rules closely might be a good thing given the problems that a failure to follow procedures caused after last Town Meeting Day.
In the days after the March elections, Pacy improperly broke the seal on the ballot box from Ward 7 several times before a recount was conducted. That incident led to a lawsuit accusing the city official of possible vote tampering and calling for a new election. A judge rejected the claims.
This time, the judgment will come from the voters. The ruling may be less benign, especially from those who took the time to cast ballots in an election that state and city officials failed to manage competently.
The problems in Burlington happened when fewer than 3,000 votes were cast. For the general election on Nov. 4, the city can expect 10 times that number heading to the polls. Election officials must fix this mess. Otherwise, the verdict will be clear: guilty of contempt of voters and the election process.
UPDATE: John Briggs has an article in today's BFP.
Mulligan said the vote tabulations and the requirement to record the tally on state forms proved to be "extremely time-consuming." He said the pre-election training he received was an overview and involved no "hands-on" training, either with the voting machines or the state forms.I'm glad to see that the Free Press is finally waking up and is not accepting the excuses of City Hall.
"Overall, we were able to pull this off, which is why we were there so long, but it took quite an effort," he said. "I don't want to see a repeat of it. I don't understand how we can't have enough ballots."
If City Hall doesn't offer hands-on training before the November general election, "I'm going to conduct it myself," Mulligan said. "I'm going to make sure it doesn't happen again, but if they don't give me enough ballots, there's nothing I can do about that."