Poll worker fatigue may have caused election box mixup

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 27, 2002

The cat was officially let out of the bag, or perhaps one should say the box, on Wednesday morning at the Dallas County Courthouse.

A computer tape containing the official voting results from the East End Fire Station precinct for Tuesday’s run-off elections was accidentally placed in a record of elections box and sealed.

All polling stations received these boxes, according to election officials.

Because only 148 votes separated House District 67 candidates LaTosha Brown and Yusuf Salaam, Dallas County Probate Judge Johnny Jones called the candidates to the Dallas County Courthouse Tuesday evening to ask their permission to open the box.

After candidates and their supporters arrived, Jones explained that unofficial vote totals showed that Salaam had won the election. However, he said that to obtain the official results, the box had to be opened.

While Salaam and his supporters agreed to the opening, Brown, after being advised by campaign personnel, decided that a court order would be required to open the box.

The box, which was placed in the custody of the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, was finally opened Wednesday morning after the department received a circuit court order granting it permission to open the box.

Jones told the Times-Journal Wednesday that fatigue, and possibly inattention by poll workers is what led to the tape being placed in the box.

“I really think they should have been watching a little more carefully,” said Jones. “But anyway, we’re glad it’s finally over with.”

Mark Kelley, general manager of the Alabama division of Elections Systems and Software, the company that provided the election equipment and training for Dallas County, said the error may have been caused by a mixup in the envelopes used by poll workers.

Kelley said that all polling stations were given two types of envelopes &045;&045; one brown, one white &045;&045; in which to place all voting material. Poll workers were asked to place all brown envelopes, containing various types of ballots, in the record of elections box.

However, all white envelopes were to be left outside the box, and given to the office of the probate judge. One of the white envelopes, he said, was supposed to have contained the computer tape.

“I guess what happened was the poll worker, for whatever reason, may have placed the wrong envelope in the box,” said Kelley. “This is probably the reason why the error occurred.”

Kelley, whose company teaches a course for poll workers on proper vote collection procedures, said such errors are not that uncommon.

“You usually see a few of these every election,” Kelley said. “We aim to be as clear as possible in what we tell them [workers], but sometimes they just may forget to do certain things.”

Kelley suggested several possible solutions that he felt would help to reduce such errors, including paid holidays for poll workers. He also suggested that poll workers be assigned to different precincts, rather than just being assigned to the precinct in which they live.

“One problem is we never have enough poll workers,” Kelley said. “I think giving workers a paid holiday would definitely encourage more people to come out.

“The other problem is that in some areas there are a lot more people volunteering than in other areas. The thing we really need to do is to take all our volunteers and ask them to go to different precincts throughout the area, rather than having them only be assigned to the area where they live.”