Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Election Postscript and Voting Machines

My friend Leo is happy today: Jerry Ryan came through his recount and is still the Ward 4 councilor-elect. Leo's a big Ryan supporter; I only hope it works out--I'm a lot more cynical and a lot less enthusiastic about individual politicians than he is. One only has to look at the state house and the parade of low expectations in the corner office to know what I speak of ("Together we can...Casinos! Casinos!")

During this past election, I was very interested in how the Automark voting machines would work and wanted to try one. I could have really used it last year when I was nearly blind from complications from my cataract implant and could barely read the ballot during the gubernatorial election.

This is the Automark:


When a disabled person votes, he or she gets the ballot in the usual way after checking in with the poll workers. The ballot is identical to the ones other voters mark with pens.

The voter feeds the ballot into the machine, and follows the instructions on the screen. There are headphones with audio instructions for the blind.

The voter navigates through the ballot and makes choices through either the touch screen or the navigation keys on the right.

It is straightforward to anyone who has ordered online or made selections on a web page. (There is support for write-ins but I didn't try this so I'm not sure how that works.)

After making selections, you can either commit your ballot or go back to change your selections. Commit your ballot, and the machine will print marks on the ballot and feed it back out to you, where you then put the ballot back in its sleeve and go to the poll workers to turn it in as usual.

It's a transparent process without any of the well-known problems that beset the Diebold machines. The machine worked very well for me.

But I'm concerned. The Commission, and myself, are very interested in how many people take advantage of the accommodations for people with disabilities that we work towards. We often hear the refrain, "but how can we spend money on only a few disabled people!?", and we fight the "tyranny of the majority" all the time.

The Commission wanted to know how many disabled voters used the Automark. Apparently, the machines don't store that information. This is probably because the machine is not a voting machine like the old lever machines but is just a ballot marking device.

For example, If you cast a vote by mistake, you are allowed up to two more ballots (the third ballot counts.) The Automark can't know how many unique voters come up to cast ballots--there is no voter login procedure--but at best, how many ballots were fed through it, and they may not even provide that information.

The other problem with the machines brought to our attention during the last Commission meeting, is that they are heavy, 80 lbs. each, and at one per precinct, there are 14 of these to lug around.

Cheryl LaPointe (our city clerk) and her staff are nothing less than professional, but they were understaffed up to Election Day. Several of us on the Commission offered to volunteer to move the machines for next time, but it's not clear we can legally do that.

I only know three people who used the Automark: myself (the first voter in my precinct to do so), Charlie Reardon and Andrew LaPointe. We don't and perhaps can't know of any other voters who took advantage of the machine.

The state requires these machines so they aren't going away. We'll be using them next for the presidential primary.

Still I worry about some clerk in a town somewhere saying to the state, "The only disabled people in my town are in institutions, why do we all need these machines!"

I'd hate to lose that machine. This past election was the first time I had ever been able to cast a ballot after first being able to read it! Usually, I just guessed at it, knowing that one blob meant "Harvey" and another meant "Deval", or "No on Question N". I'm usually very well prepared before I enter the polls, but low vision is miserably demoralizing.

The Automark works very well.

The right likes to talk about civil rights organizations being obsolete because "they won already!", but this is why I'm on the Commission. We may win our rights but we still have to fight to keep them.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

2007 Election Night Photos

Pictures from Election Night at SATV

Director, David Gauthier

Our director, Dave Gauthier.

The Election 2007 hosts, just before airtime.  Mike Allen, standing, Bill Burns, George Ahmed, Mike Sosnowski and Claudia Chuber

The Election 2007 hosts, just before airtime. Mike Allen, standing, Bill Burns, George Ahmed, Mike Sosnowski and Claudia Chuber.

My crew position during the telecast

My crew position at the graphics console.

Claudia Chuber's excellent spreadsheet

Claudia Chuber's excellent spreadsheet.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Inaccuracies in North Shore Sunday article about blogging

I was contacted earlier this week by Barbara Taormina about what I thought was my blog. I told her about my work with SATV and the Salem Commission on Disabilities, and that I would be liveblogging the elections from SATV, which I did do.

I read the article this morning, and I really need to make a correction. Ms. Taormina cites my blog at http://salempolitics.blogspot.com/ That's not my blog. It's a good blog but it isn't mine. Mine is http://salemmassblog.blogspot.com/ Of course, I'd wish I'd known about it before the article hit.

I've been trying to reach the proprietor of Salem Politics to give him or her a heads-up but there's no email listed.

I have to wonder just how she found me and whether or not she actually read my blog. I think my name came up somewhere and she found Salem Politics and conflated us both.

Wag the blog - Peabody, MA - North Shore Sunday

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Salem Election 2007 final results

Ward 4 Pct 1. This is the last precinct to report at 9 PM. At Large: Looks like Lovely, Sargent, Pinto and Furey. Furey finishes fourth as he did in 2005. School Committee: Fleming, Martin and Bryant. As mentioned earlier in Ward 1, McCarthy has won the ward. Pelletier retains Ward 3.
UPDATE: Ward 4 is a statistical dead heat: Ryan, 600, Barton, 579.

Question 1 has been defeated.

Ward Four had the most votes cast, followed by Ward One; both wards had important contested races.

The Salem News reported the turnout at 35%.

I'd like to thank Claudia Chuber for her excellent spreadsheet without which SATV could not have put up the results so quickly, and Claire White-Sullivan for standing by at City Hall to phone in the results. And thanks to SATV for letting me blog this while doing my "real" graphics work.Once again the results are unofficial! [still unofficial in Ward 4 as I write this Wednesday.]

Salem Gazette coverage
Salem News coverage

Welcome to the live blog of Salem's 2007 election

UPDATE: The election's over, but I'm archiving this post and the final post with unofficial results.

Welcome to my live blog of the 2007 municipal elections in Salem, Massachusetts, for Tuesday, November 6th!

As I'm writing this, the polls have yet to close. It's 7 PM. If you're in Salem and haven't yet voted as you read this, there's still time, go!

There are six races in contention this year: School Committee, Councilor at Large, Ward 1, Ward 3, Ward 4 and Ward 5. Ward 2, Ward 6 and Ward 7 have no opposition. There is no mayoral election this year; that election takes place every 4 years and the next one is in 2009 per charter.

As I post the results, keep in mind that they are unofficial! The results are usually certified by the clerk on Wednesday, unless there is a recount.

I'm posting from Salem Access Television, where we are broadcasting the results live on Channel 16 starting at 7:35. Hosting our coverage are: George Ahmed, Inside Salem, Mike Allen, former School Committee member, Bill Burns, former city councilor, Mike Sosnowski, Ward 2 Councilor (my ward), and Claudia Chuber, former School Committee member.

Mrs. Chuber will keep track of the results as they are phoned in from City Hall, and I'll post them from my position in the control room. I'll keep this blog updated as best I can but I have a "real" job as a graphics operator and this takes precedence, or so my director tells me!

Note also that I'll be writing in a neutral point of view (NPOV as they say on Wikipedia). I don't make endorsements for or against and I'll leave the editorial comments out; plenty of time for that tomorrow!

Details on the candidates in my next post.

Educational classism and our broken state colleges

Deval Patrick is looking for $2 billion to renovate state college campuses:

[Corrected figure--Thanks, Henry!]

At Fitchburg State College, decades-old lead pipes in the science center mean students can't drink the water. Bunker Hill Community College hasn't added a building since it opened in 1973, forcing it to hold overflow classes late at night and on weekends. Salem State College has closed its 38-year-old library indefinitely because of fears its foundation is failing.

"When students and parents see Jersey barriers around the library, that's hard to explain," said Patricia Maguire Meservey, president of Salem State College. Newcomers to the college's science facilities, she said, feel as though "they are stepping back in time."

I'm a graduate of Salem State (class of '87) and I can confirm both these points. I had a work-study job at the library for the five years I was there. Even then, there were serious problems with the building. One year, the elevators had to be taken out of service: The roof over the elevator shaft leaked and seriously rusted one of the elevator cabs, at the top where the cables are attached.

The physics lab I had classes in had barely changed since Meier Hall was built in the '60's. The second-semester physics lab, which covered electromagnetic theory, used 30-year old voltohmmeters. They were in good shape, but I had newer tools at home as an electronics enthusiast. I and my lab supervisor probably would have preferred newer Fluke meters that are safer and less prone to being blown up or broken by clumsy students.

You'd think we'd want a good state college system with enough money to let those students on the wrong end of the economic scale (as I was then) have the same opportunities as Harvard-educated students, but that's not so.

Earlier this year, State Rep Doug Petersen (D-Marblehead), was speaking at a Swampscott School Committee earlier this year about school aid.

Quote via Pazdziernik:

When answering a question dealing with state aid and the disparity of aid between Swampscott and Lynn, Petersen said, “At no point has anyone from Swampscott ever called me, nor will they ever call me to get their child into a Lynn school,” Petersen said. He continued to say, a lot of Swampscott kids are going to be captains of industry someday and you want those Lynn kids to be educated because they are your future employees.

“The way I used the analogy was wrong and if I could take it back and do it again I certainly would,” Petersen said.

“I certainly wish I could have phrased it in a different way,” Petersen said. (State Rep. Petersen backpedals on insults to Lynn students by Henry J. Collins, The Daily Item)

Translation: He wishes that he hadn't spoken from his heart. There are things that no elected official can ever say out loud and this is one of them. But I have no doubt that, to a person, most if not all state elected officials have this same thought in mind.

(Rep. Petersen's Youtube appearance.)

In the early '90's, a few years after I graduated from Salem State, the Boston Globe wrote an editorial I was very upset with. The editorial--unfortunately locked up behind the paywall of Lexis--expressed gratitude that Massachusetts had both a concentration of prestigious private schools (Harvard, MIT, etc.) and a state college system, and that the graduates of these private schools had a state college system to turn out workers for them. In other words as best I remember: We have private schools to turn out entrepreneurs and public schools to turn out the little folk who work for these bigshots.

There wasn't a lot of outrage over that editorial, perhaps a letter or two. No doubt that Globe editorial spoke for a lot of people.

Another quote from LaborStandard.org:

That question leaps to the heart of the matter, and the answer is a not-so-simple: “No, of course not, but… yes.” No, the upper-class kids are not inherently better than their working class peers. The indignation of the Lynn parent is based on the democratic ideal that all Americans are created equal. Confronted by demeaning words, this parent demands respect for all the children of Lynn. It is an expression of stubborn pride and rebellion, not at all encouraged in America, at least not in the working class, and it deserves to be applauded.

Yet the reality is that while the Swampscott kids are no better, they will, in fact, lead better lives. They will, on the average, attend better schools with better-qualified teachers, will obtain better jobs, will have better access to quality health care and medical insurance, and will live longer—all of which adds up to a better life. The economic, legal, and political system of America, on every level, will better accommodate their interests and will guarantee that this better treatment will be passed on to their children.

This is outright classism: Education is the great equalizer amongst all classes. I am offended that we would let our college system decay just because "those people", those lower-class people, "the little people", the "drones", want to work for the same opportunities that someone in private school has taken for granted. I'll never forget, nor forgive, the gibe that Marblehead high-school students use on one another to this day: "You could end up at Salem State!"

Consider our governor, Deval Patrick: He got his start at Milton Academy after being fortunate enough, as an inner-city youth, to be accepted into A Better Chance, the program that develops gifted African-American youths. Good for him.

But how much better for us would it have been to have our next governor be a graduate of our state system, of Roxbury Community College or Bunker Hill Community College, for example! Imagine if those institutions were so good that they could feed good, proud, graduates into our 4 year colleges, or even our private schools! Imagine if we had a public law school (Massachusetts doesn't) in a state where a law degree is a de facto prerequisite to higher office. Imagine higher officials who actually love the state and want to live and stay here! (Most of us state college alumni don't go anywhere.)

Our own Mayor Driscoll, of course, is a proud graduate of Salem State, but there is an educational glass ceiling between her and those in state government with real power, most of whom went to private schools, some of them all the way from high school (see "Triple Eagles".)

Those people really do believe the good go to private schools and the drones go to public schools. The state colleges won't get anything as long as this philosophy doesn't change.

I don't expect it to.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Liveblogging Salem Election 2007

I'll be liveblogging tomorrow night's election at SATV, where I'm working the live election coverage as a graphics operator.

I'm also interested in how the new AutoMark voting systems work for people with disabilities. These machines use the already-existing optical paper ballots, a touch screen and Braille-marked buttons to let the voter make their selections.


[The ESS Automark, image from their site and used without permission.]

I could have used that machine in last year's gubernatorial races as my eyesight was very bad. My sight ranges somewhere between "kind of blind" to "NFL official eyes". All voters can ask to use this system, and that's what I'll be verifying as a commissioner on our disability board.

UPDATE: I voted with the new machine Tuesday morning. It worked fine, and I was able to read the ballot. I was told I was the first in my precinct to use the machine. I'm sure we'll follow up with Cheryl [LaPointe, City Clerk] to find out just how many voters took advantage of the new machines.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Salem's Halloween and the "character of the city"


[Still, opening of Salem Now]

As we just finished surviving Halloween 2007, I'm going to bring up an editorial from the Salem Gazette that ran a few weeks ago, The thin line between love and hate: Salem's Halloween tradition. It poses the usual debate: Is it exploitative and commercial to celebrate Halloween in Salem? Does it dishonor the memories of those put to death in the Witch Trials?

This question is really a proxy for a bigger tension that is almost never discussed: Is Salem a museum city, unchanged by time, or is it a living city? Is it a city of historic properties and property values, or a city that serves the present?

On the side of the museum city are the neighborhood associations, the Salem Common Neighborhood Association and the Federal Street Neighborhood Association. These two groups are the defacto rulers of Ward 2 and influential to the city as a whole.

They hate the festivities. One person, following last year's celebration, wrote a letter to the Salem News advocating banning Halloween parties and only allowing private parties with a permit!

The "Bewitched" statue in Town House Square is much hated by these people.

City government is on the opposite side, such as it is. Mayor Kim Driscoll campaigned on an anti-Haunted Happenings platform. Now that she's elected, her tune is changed.

What choice did she have? Past administrations let our factories turn to rust. Our commercial tax base has been eviscerated by condo conversions and Salem State College, who assimilated the old Sylvania site on Loring Ave. and is about to do the same with the Attwood and Morril plant across the street.

We let Parker Brothers go away, so we could let a developer build crapbox "luxury" apartments. The snobs in the neighborhood associations did nothing: It wasn't on their street. Regina Flynn, then Ward 2 councilor and chief snob in the city, did nothing. It wasn't on Washington Square.

So what choice did we have? We hate taxes and we hate commercial development. Salem would rather rest on its history and its property values.

A few years ago, I had to produce a new opening sequence for Salem Now, a show on SATV produced by my friend Leo Jodoin. I love the Bewitched statue. I wrote it into my opener as you see in the screenshot above.

I meant that to present a neon middle finger to everyone in the neighborhood associations that wring their hands over the "character" of the city.

I mean it. The history and the character of Salem are not property values! To turn a phrase from Mencken, the neighborhood associations are puritanical--they have the haunting fear that someone, somewhere in Salem, may be happy.

There are legitimate complaints against Haunted Happenings. People like myself who live downtown will never be completely at ease with the month's events. Others who have to navigate our roads in October feel the same.

But if Salem wants a more balanced city, we can't let the neighborhood associations rule by default. The development of Salem as a living city is more important than the property values of your McIntire colonial on Washington Square.

So I'm in favor of Halloween celebrations. We've had them for 20 years. Besides, more personally, I had a good time people-watching and enjoyed the fireworks Wednesday night.

UPDATE: I'm not usually a fan of the Salem News, but their editorial and I are in agreement for once. If you want quiet, live in Ipswich.