I voted this morning, but it wasn’t easy. I encountered a series of problems as
I went about my civic duty. As a result, I was extremely disappointed with the
election system set up here in San Francisco.
My wife Julie and I headed to the polls around 9:30 this morning. We’d read the
(long) ballot, made our choices, and were ready to cast our votes. Since we
moved into the neighborhood last February, we didn’t know where the polling
station was, but I got the address off the sample ballot The City had sent me.
We walked the two blocks to the address, 360 Fourth Street, where we found the
door locked. A sign outside notified us that, due to situations outside The
City’s control, the polling station had moved to “36 Bluxome Street
(Firehouse).” There were no directions, no cross streets listed.
This was the first problem we ran into. Although The City had sent out a post
card notifying us of the new address, I had never seen it, and didn’t realize
there was a new address. My wife knew about it, but didn’t realize that I hadn’t
seen the card and got the address from the sample ballot. That was a screw-up on
my part, but I wonder how many other people misplaced that card or never got it?
How many people were going to show up at 360 Fourth Street only to find the
address had changed, and have no idea where to find the new address? There are a
lot of senior citizen residences in the neighborhood, so I wouldn’t be surprised
if there weren’t a fair number of people who were confused about the address
change and then didn’t know how or where to find the new polling station.
But that’s not the worst of it. Julie and I consulted a map in a bus shelter,
and after studying it for a few minutes, saw that Bluxome was between Brannan
and Townsend, near Fifth. So we walked up Harrison to Fifth, then the two and a
half blocks to Bluxome. Here we encountered problem number two: There were no
street signs for Bluxome! Neither were there signs indicating that there was a
polling station nearby. On foot, we could see the name of the street imprinted
into the sidewalk, but commuters in their cars were out of luck. There’s just no
excuse for placing a polling station on an unmarked street – especially when
it’s a new, last-minute location for a polling station.
Julie and I walked first one way down Bluxome, then the other, when we realized
that we were going the wrong way. The firehouse, it turns out, is almost back to
Fourth Street. We had gone a full block out of our way. Had there been
directions (or even cross-streets!) on the sign at the old polling station
address, we wouldn’t have taken such a circuitous route.
Once at the polling station, we encountered problem number three: They didn’t
have our names on their list. The station workers, who were friendly though
mostly inexperienced, started to tell us that we needed to go to another polling
station at the Salvation Army on Shipley – right next door to 360 Fourth
Street! In other words, if our names were on the lists at the Salvation Army,
then either a) our sample ballot had listed the wrong polling address for us, or
b) the sign at 360 Fourth Street was mistaken. The former seems likely, since
the workers at the firehouse on Bluxome had worked at 360 Fourth Street last
spring. But either way, we ended up sent to the wrong polling station.
Fortunately, one of the poll workers seemed a little more experienced than the
others, and he had us fill out ballots and put them in special envelopes on
which we wrote our addresses and he marked the box labeled “Claims to be
registered” or some such. We filled out our ballots, turned them in, and he
sealed them. I’m hoping that The City will successfully confirm that we are in
fact registered and count our votes, but I’m becoming increasingly doubtful
it’ll happen. Some ballots were found floating in the Bay last November, and
that doesn’t set a very healthy precedent.
The last thing I did was to ask how to formally file a complaint regarding these
voting problems. I was somewhat annoyed to have been inconvenienced by this
ordeal, but far more concerned that others might have more difficulty –
particularly those for whom English isn’t their first language, or for the many
seniors in our neighborhood who might more easily be confused that I am. How
many of them would simply give up and not vote? I wanted to make these issues
known to The City, to at least alert them ASAP to these voting problems.
But then I was told that there is no formal process – I just have to contact
City Hall directly. What?? That’s right, there’s no formal procedure to let
City Hall know that there were problems – despite the fact that there have been
serious voting irregularities here in the past. “That’s city hall for ya,” the
poll worker told me.
What I think I’ll do now is send a letter to The Chronicle as well as to City
Hall, describing all the problems I’ve narrated here. In this day and age,
there’s simply no excuse for this kind of incompetence. It’s hard enough getting
a good voter turnout each November without these kinds of logistical problems
fouling up the process. In a city as liberal as San Francisco, where voting is
considered so important, where high voter turnouts tends to push a liberal
agenda, it’s simply reprehensible that The City has to make voting harder than
it should be.
Originally published on use Perl;