Their title doesn’t do justice to the importance of their job. In an era when voter skepticism about election results is at an all-time high, those elected to handle the counts are under more pressure to get it right than ever, but many people don’t even know who they are.
They’re your municipal clerks, and two were on hand March 14 at the Inn at Cedar Crossing to answer questions in a roundtable discussion sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
Jill Lau, Door County Clerk of Courts and Stephanie Reinhardt, Sturgeon Bay Clerk, were the afternoon’s main presenters.
With the April 1 election just a couple weeks away, the clerks were on hand to answer questions about securing the accuracy of the count, their responsibilities, and the challenges of their position in a time when state and federal government is heaping ever greater responsibilities on their shoulders and citizens are counting on them as never before to make sure their vote counts.
That pressure doesn’t worry them, however.
“It doesn’t bother me because I know the count is right,” Reinhardt said. “I have full confidence in our count.”
Reinhardt said the city had a recount a few years back that proved to be right on. Lau said each municipality does a public pre-test of their machine a week prior to the election and those interested in viewing it can call their local clerk to find out the time. In addition, the state requires an audit after each November election, and several municipalities will opt into a voluntary post-election audit after April 1 that will be open to the public.
Several studies in recent years have shown it is possible to manipulate elections by hacking into a voting machine’s database, but Lau said steps are taken to prevent such an occurrence. Every municipality in the county uses the same machines produced by Premium Election Solutions (formerly Diebold).
Each machine has a memory card stored in the county vault, Lau explained, and there is a chain of command with a person responsible for the card each step of the way. The machines are then locked with a tamper-evident seal prior to Election Day.
After the 2000 presidential election, in which the nation endured an embarrassing recount effort in Florida that shattered voter confidence throughout the United States, many steps were taken on the federal and state levels to ensure our elections can be trusted. One of those is the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS) project.
The Federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed in Oct. 2002, creating new administration requirements for all states and an upgrade of voting systems. HAVA also calls for the creation of a single, centralized, interactive computerized statewide voter registration list defined, maintained, and administered at the state level containing the name and registration information of every legally registered voter in the state, the SVRS.
The SVRS was supposed to include a public section allowing individuals to check their registration, see where they can vote, and check which offices and candidates are on the upcoming ballot for their areas. Federal law required it be fully functional by Jan. 1, 2006, but the system is behind schedule and voters are still unable to access the SVRS to update their information.
Though not yet fully operational, Reinhardt said it has been a good program to be involved in to this point, “but tweaks need to be made. When it’s fully operational it will be a great tool.”
In addition to complying with ever-expanding requirements, clerks also face a challenge when it comes to finding poll workers. A poll worker must reside within the municipality in which they work and they must be willing to put in long hours in addition to going through extra training. The city of Sturgeon Bay will use 37 poll workers for the spring election, and at least 45 in November. Lau said most other municipalities will use between 5 and 10 workers for each.
“You can’t always find someone willing to take a vacation day to work on Election Day,” Reinhardt said. “We try to get our core back for each election, but it’s not easy. These people put in long days and do a great job. Now the polls are required to open at 7 am, and we don’t split shifts, so these people are here till 11 or 11:30 pm on Election Day. They’re required to know a lot of information.”
Pay for poll workers in Door County runs from $6 – $12 an hour, Lau said. Reinhardt said references from poll workers themselves is usually the best way to find additional workers, and they encouraged anyone interested in performing the duty to contact their local clerk.
A shortage of poll workers was cited as a major reason for problems in the 2006 mid-term elections in Wisconsin when election officials scrambled to comply with the increased requirements of HAVA and poll workers felt the strain. Milwaukee, Madison and Eau Clair in particular reported long lines, counting delays, and allegations of voter fraud in 2006.
When you go to the polls:
• If you don’t have a license you must either provide the last four digits of your SSN or a Wisconsin State ID.
• Don’t write-in phony names. You may think you’re funny, but you end up costing poll-workers time, because they must record every write-in. Phony names slow things down and costs taxpayer money.
• People supporting a particular candidate must maintain a distance of at least 100 feet from the polling place on election day.
• Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Voting has changed dramatically in recent years and poll workers are there to help you.
• Be nice. Poll workers put in long days for minimal pay to perform a vital role in the democratic process. Be courteous, and it wouldn’t hurt to thank them.
For more information about Wisconsin’s voter registration system and election procedures, contact the Wisconsin State Elections Board at 1.866.VOTEWIS or visit http://elections.state.wi.us. For more election information go to vote411.org, the League of Women Voters Web site has all kinds of election information to help you be counted.