Pollworkers Training for Switch to Paper Ballots in Cuyahoga County

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No one really wants to spend part of their weekend in a city hall basement with 19 other strangers doing nothing for an hour. But that's just what I found when I walked into such a meeting room recently in Lyndhurst.

Saito: I'm a reporter. They told me to show up here for poll worker training.
Person 1: Well we're here. The instructor never showed up.
Saito: The instructor never showed up.
Class: Nope.

Like others there, 78-year-old Janice Beck came to training to find out if what she'd read in the newspaper was true: That with just weeks to go before the Ohio primary, Cuyahoga County was tossing the electronic voting machines they've been using since 2005.

Janice Beck: Now they are going back to paper, I understand, but we were trained before on the touch tone machines so now we're going back, I don't know what to expect. I thought it would be interesting to know what they are going to do now.

Cuyahoga County's three year history with electronic voting machines has been notable interesting more for its mishaps than its successes. Ohio already had a reputation from after the 2004 election after record turnout led to long lines in local precincts. But since electronic voting machines came online in 2005, results were marred thanks to lost memory cards and confused poll workers. Then in November of last year, the server tabulating the electronically cast votes crashed. Twice. So with just weeks before the March primary, Ohio's Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner cast a tie breaking vote to force the Cuyahoga County to go back to paper ballots. Now the county has set up 350 classes to train pollworkers for the change. Jane Platten is in charge of that effort.

Saito: I have to tell you, when I went to training the trainer forgot to show up.
Jane Platten: Oh my god. Great. You know it's the human element. That's why poll workers are so important to us. They have to understand the process, because the element of human error - like someone not showing up - in this system that is what's going to cause a vote not to be counted.

Pollworker trainer: All, we're on page five of our poll worker manual...

After I talk to Jane Platten, I head downstairs to catch poll worker training, this time with a trainer.

Pollworker trainer: We've got a lot of new changes. I'm asking that everybody hold your questions, your past experiences. We're trying to move forward. The big thing the Board of Election is focusing on is customer service.

Training with the electronic voting units used to take over four hours, and a lot of time was spent on setting up the machines. At this training session, the trainer pulls out two battered metal suitcases, one blue and one black.

Pollworker trainer: What I'm going to ask is for two volunteers.

A couple of people get up, open the cases and take out metal poles. The poles screw into the base of the suitcases and turn into legs. The case opens up, some side flaps pop in, and the suitcase turns into a rather flimsy looking voting booth. This is where voters will fill in their ballots. Workers will bring the votes back downtown where they will be read by an optical scanner.

Pollworker trainer: It took us less than two minutes. We got it? It took us less than two minutes.

There's something amazingly underwhelming about the lean-to voting machines the class just assembled. One pollworker next to me whispers that they look cheap. 78-year-old poll worker Janice Beck found the electronic voting machines intimidating, and is glad to be going back to paper. Still she says she feels cheated. Electronic voting machines cost Cuyahoga County 21-million dollars.

Janice Beck: They spent an awful lot of money, our taxpayer money, for those machines, for them not to work. And so abruptly they had to turn around and go backwards instead of forwards, back to paper.

Beck is signed up for another poll worker training class, to make up for the one where no trainer showed up. Poll worker training sessions run through Feb. 29. Mhari Saito, 90.3.

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