November 9, 2014

Observers and Side-Checkers Barred from Polls

A last minute ruling by Burlington City Clerk caught many people by surprise on Election Day, and blocked observers from polls in the North End and elsewhere in the city. Election law specifies that side-checkers must be accommodated, and nowhere does it say people can't observe.  Traditionally members of the non-partisan League of Women Voters have observed voting procedures in Vermont and across the country.

A member of the League of Women Voters has filed an on-the-record hearing request with the Secretary of State, and a Ward 7 candidate has filed a complaint with Burlington's Board of Civil Authority (aka City Council).

~League of Women Voters:   LWV interests are described here: -  "the election observer program is a statewide volunteer observer corps that protects voters on Election Day and provides valuable evidence for the League’s nationwide advocacy for clean, accessible elections."  
Hearing request:  If a law doesn't specifically exclude something, it is not excluded. This is an important foundation for maintaining access and transparency in government affairs.  Elected Ward Clerks have authority at the polls to allow orderly observation by, for example, the League of Women Voters, and have traditionally done so. Burlington City Clerk exceeded his authority in blocking members of the League of Women Voters,  and citizens generally, from observing voting procedures at the polls. 
~Candidate [Michael Ly, District 6.1 legislative candidate]: Request hearing with Board of Civil Authority to make voters aware of three major issues that occurred during this election cycle [Nov. 4, 2014] that could have affected the results of the race and the integrity of the election:
  • Bad Ballots: The Burlington Clerk’s office left five Justice of the Peace candidates off the original ballots, affecting over 400 voters and specifically over 90 voters in District 6-1. Fortunately, the error was caught early enough by the Burlington Republican Committee so that the Clerk’s office could correct the error and resend the ballots to affected voters. Unfortunately, this mistake error taxpayers $10,000. 
  • Voter District Error: Less than two weeks before the general election, 87 voters were notified that they were switched from District 6-1 to 6-2, removing them from my race. These voters had voted in District 6-1 in 2012 as well as the 2014 Primary Election, but they should have been voting in District 6-2 according to the redistricting boundaries set a few years ago. The Burlington Clerk’s office chose not to notify the candidates nor the respective political parties of this change. Kurt and I only found out about this change because we happened to run into one of the voters who showed us the letter they had received. Transparency is of utmost importance in any election and notifying the candidates and parties could have also saved precious campaign time and money. 
  • Side checkers: As is customary with many campaigns, it is common for a candidate or political party to have their own volunteers stand at the polling places to track which voters have showed up to the polls (aka Side Checkers). I contacted the Ward Clerks for both polling stations in my District and let them know the names of the volunteers that would be showing up for me. I asked specifically if there was anyone else I needed to contact and was told specifically that was all I had to do. On Election Day, my volunteers were asked to leave the polling station because I had not submitted their names to the Burlington Clerk’s office who required a list of volunteer names be submitted in person. I was never informed that this was a requirement and my side checkers had never experienced this as an issue before in previous elections.
Because candidates and voters deserve to have fair and transparent elections, I am urging the City Council to request a formal review of the Burlington City Clerk’s election practices. The mistakes above may have provided me grounds to contest this race, but I have chosen not to do that. I care more about a fair and transparent election process than contesting this race into a possible court decision or special election.